THOU

January 27, 2018

The question I am left with is the question of her loneliness.
And I prefer to put it off.
It is morning.

Astonished light is washing over the moor from north to east.
I am walking into the light.
One way to put off loneliness is to interpose God.

Emily had a relationship on this level with someone she calls Thou. She describes Thou as awake like herself all night
and full of strange power.

Thou woos Emily with a voice that comes out of the night wind.
Thou and Emily influence one another in the darkness,
playing near and far at once.

She talks about a sweetness that “proved us one.”
I am uneasy with the compensatory model of female religious experience and yet,
there is no question,

it would be sweet to have a friend to tell things to at night,
without the terrible sex price to pay.
This is a childish idea, I know.

My education, I have to admit, has been gappy.
The basic rules of male-female relations
were imparted atmospherically in our family,

no direct speech allowed.
I remember one Sunday I was sitting in the backseat of the car.
Father in front.

We were waiting in the driveway for mother,
who came around the corner of the house
and got into the passenger side of the car

dressed in a yellow Chanel suit and black high heels.
Father glanced sideways at her.
Showing a good bit of leg today Mother, he said

in a voice which I (age eleven) thought odd.
I stared at the back of her head waiting for what she would say.
Her answer would clear this up.

But she just laughed a strange laugh with ropes all over it.
Later that summer I put this laugh together with another laugh
I overheard as I was going upstairs.

She was talking on the telephone in the kitchen.
Well a woman would be just as happy with a kiss on the cheek
most of the time but YOU KNOW MEN,

she was saying. Laugh.
Not ropes, thorns.
I have arrived at the middle of the moor

where the ground goes down into a low swampy place.
The swamp water is frozen solid.
Bits of gold weed

have etched themselves
on the underside of the ice like messages.

 

 

I’ll come when thou art saddest,
Laid alone in the darkened room;
When the mad day’s mirth has vanished,
And the smile of joy is banished,

I’ll come when the heart’s real feeling
Has entire, unbiased sway,
And my influence o’er thee stealing
Grief deepening, joy congealing,
Shall bear thy soul away.

Listen! ’tis just the hour,
The awful time for thee:
Dost thou not feel upon thy soul
A flood of strange sensations roll,
Forerunners of a sterner power,
Heralds of me?

 

 

Very hard to read, the messages that pass
between Thou and Emily.
In this poem she reverses their roles,

speaking not as the victim but to the victim.
It is chilling to watch Thou move upon thou,
who lies alone in the dark waiting to be mastered.

It is a shock to realize that this low, slow collusion
of master and victim within one voice
is a rationale

for the most awful loneliness of the poet’s hour.
She has reversed the roles of thou and Thou
not as a display of power

but to force out of herself some pity
for this soul trapped in glass,
which is her true creation.

Those nights lying alone
are not discontinuous with this cold hectic dawn.
It is who I am.

Is it a vocation of anger?
Why construe silence
as the Real Presence?

Why stoop to kiss this doorstep?
Why be unstrung and pounded flat and pine away
imagining someone vast to whom I may vent the swell of my soul?

Emily was fond of Psalm 130.
“My soul waiteth on Thou more than they that watch for the morning,
I say more than they that watch for the morning.”

I like to believe that for her the act of watching provided a shelter,

that her collusion with Thou gave ease to anger and desire:
”In Thou they arc quenched as a fire of thorns,“ says the psalmist.

But for myself I do not believe this, I am not quenched —
with Thou or without Thou I find no shelter.
I am my own Nude.

And Nudes have a difficult sexual destiny.
I have watched this destiny disclose itself
in its jerky passage from girl to woman to who I am now,

from love to anger to this cold marrow,
from fire to shelter to fire.
What is the opposite of believing in Thou —

merely not believing in Thou? No. That is too simple.
That is to prepare a misunderstanding.
I want to speak more clearly.

Perhaps the Nudes are the best way.
Nude #5. Deck of cards.
Each card is made of flesh.

The living cards are days of a woman’s life.
I see a great silver needle go flashing right through the deck once from end to
end.
Nude #6 I cannot remember.

Nude #7. White room whose walls,
having neither planes nor curves nor angles,
are composed of a continuous satiny white membrane

like the flesh of some interior organ of the moon.
It is a living surface, almost wet.
Lucency breathes in and out.

Rainbows shudder across it.
And around the walls of the room a voice goes whispering,
Be very careful. Be very careful.

Nude #8. Black disc on which the fires of all the winds
are attached in a row.
A woman stands on the disc

amid the winds whose long yellow silk flames
flow and vibrate up through her.
Nude #9. Transparent loam.

Under the loam a woman has dug a long deep trench.
Into the trench she is placing small white forms, I don’t know what they are.
Nude #10. Green thorn of the world poking up

alive through the heart of a woman
who lies on her back on the ground.
The thorn is exploding

its green blood above her in the air.
Everything it is it has, the voice says.
Nude #11. Ledge in outer space.

Space is bluish black and glossy as solid water
and moving very fast in all directions,
shrieking past the woman who stands pinned

to nothing by its pressure.
She peers and glances for some way to go, trying to lift her hand but cannot.
Nude #12. Old pole in the wind.

Cold currents are streaming over it
and pulling out
into ragged long horizontal black lines

some shreds of ribbon
attached to the pole.
I cannot see how they are attached —

notches? staples? nails? All of a sudden the wind changes
and all the black shreds rise straight up in the air
and tie themselves into knots,

then untie and float down.
The wind is gone.
It waits.

By this time, midway through winter,
I had become entirely fascinated with my spiritual melodrama.
Then it stopped.

Days passed, months passed and I saw nothing.
I continued to peer and glance, sitting on the rug in front of my sofa
in the curtainless morning

with my nerves open to the air like something skinned.
I saw nothing.
Outside the window spring storms came and went.

April snow folded its huge white paws over doors and porches.
I watched a chunk of it lean over the roof and break off
and fall and I thought,

How slow! as it glided soundlessly past,
but still — nothing. No nudes.
No Thou.

A great icicle formed on the railing of my balcony
so I drew up close to the window and tried peering through the icicle,
hoping to trick myself into some interior vision,

but all I saw
was the man and woman in the room across the street
making their bed and laughing.

I stopped watching.
I forgot about Nudes.
I lived my life,

which felt like a switched-off TV.
Something had gone through me and out and I could not own it.
“No need now to tremble for the hard frost and the keen wind.

Emily does not feel them,”
wrote Charlotte the day after burying her sister.
Emily had shaken free.

A soul can do that.
Whether it goes to join Thou and sit on the porch for all eternity
enjoying jokes and kisses and beautiful cold spring evenings,

you and I will never know. But I can tell you what I saw.
Nude #13 arrived when I was not watching for it.
It came at night.

Very much like Nude #1.
And yet utterly different.
I saw a high hill and on it a form shaped against hard air.

It could have been just a pole with some old cloth attached,
but as I came closer
I saw it was a human body

trying to stand against winds so terrible that the flesh was blowing off the bones.
And there was no pain.
The wind

was cleansing the bones.
They stood forth silver and necessary.
It was not my body, not a woman’s body, it was the body of us all.
It walked out of the light.

Anne Carson
Excerpt from The Glass Essay included in Glass, Irony, and God

a great fire in his soul

January 27, 2018

Does what goes on inside show on the outside? Someone has a great fire in his soul and nobody ever comes to warm themselves at it, and passers-by see nothing but a little smoke at the top of the chimney and then go on their way. So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside, have salt in ourselves, wait patiently.

Vincent van Gogh
letter to his brother Theo, August 14, 1879

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It’s not imagination

January 27, 2018

sun and rain

If you go and look at paintings or at master’s portraits, and you look at faces, whoever they are, there’s always something of the painter in the face. They look like the person who painted it. I think with writing, it’s exactly the same. You write the way you are, in a funny sort of way. Whatever imagination you’ve got . . . I don’t really believe in the imagination; I think it’s all a compound of everything that’s happened to you right from birth. It’s conversation, it’s bits of music that you hear, so you remember all these details. I think there’s one in Titanic somewhere, someone finds a little snow on the ground, on the ship or something. I can remember that happening to my father: finding snow along the deck of a sailboat in Liverpool. It’s not imagination; it’s something one remembers. It’s all in the unconscious, and you just dredge it up out of your memory.

Beryl Bainbridge
Interview in Writer’s Digest

a cursed land

There is something wrong with this country – some sullen brooding presence over it, a vague sense of something mean and cruel and sinister: I have felt the same feeling in the hills behind Sierra Leone, and once in 1919 at Doagh in Co. Antrim. A beastly feeling. On the merely physical side, it was most depressing country. I have never seen any place so enclosed before: wherever you go, the grey road is flanked by old stone walls, and banks on the top of which grow thick hedges, the whole overhung by heavy motionless foliage on old trees and lidded with a grey brown sky. After a time the longing for any sort of escape from these everlasting tunnels became acute, and one almost fancied it to be accompanied by a sensation of choking from trying to breathe air from which the oxygen was exhausted. The natives were as depressing as their landscape: during the whole morning I did not see anyone of any age or either sex who was not definitely ugly: even the children look more like goblins than earthborns….I wonder can it be possible that a country which has an eight hundred year record of cruelty and misery has the power of emanating a nervous disquiet? Certainly I felt something of the sort, and would much dislike to see this place again….[Later in the day, after leaving Waterford on our run down the Suir River, we passed Ballyhack, where there were some early Norman castles.] There was [also] a long succession of big houses, all very shut in and desolate, of which J remarked that Walter de la Mare could write detestable stories: and we talked for some time about horror and its treatment in fiction.

Warnie Lewis
Brothers & Friends

A Hobbit book

It must be understood the [The Hobbit] is only a children’s book in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown-ups. The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and its own way so true.

C.S. Lewis
A world for children: J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit: or There and Back Again