Saturn

Seven o’clock.

Daylight comes to an overcast morning. I walked to the market an hour ago with the music of Gustav Holst in my ear, from The Planets. It was pitch dark, but well lighted by artificial means. Several times I paused and looked around me. But my mind was really on things years in the past, though similar to the present time. I’m getting onto the spirit of the age, whether others agree with it or not. The newbie at the store, Lisa, wore a triangular Celtic pendant that I mistook for AA. She told me she used to get into Wicca and she distrusted organized religion, etc. I listened to her and said good for you, then turned to go out the door.

The Saturn piece by Holst reminds me of buying King Voltaire dog biscuits for my pug in his old age; sometimes I bought Beggar Dog if I was at the convenience store. There’s probably a reason why this music haunts me lately. I see Aesop getting mellower as he ages, so I just hope for a few more good years together. I remember when he was a puppy and would lick my ear off when we retired to bed, and I’d be breathing alcoholic fumes. Aesop forgave everything. There were times when he was my only family; indeed, my only friend. Meanwhile the sun keeps climbing behind the clouds and never stops chasing its own tail.

The blonde assassin passes on,

The sun proceeds unmoved,

To measure off another day

For an approving God. 

Sonnet

Hans Pfaal

On one side time, eternity the other:
The Dickinsonian sky’s a leaden veil
By grace so interposed that human eye
Won’t be offended and the heart won’t quail.

The landscape shows us nothing but a screen,
Blank sheet on which we paint the natural world
From Spiritus Mundi within ourselves,
Like raveling out the colors in us furled.

But if we really want to know the truth,
One way to revelation can obtain:
To ride the hills and canyons on the moon
For Eldorado someplace in the brain.

And travel by balloon’s the surest path:
You navigate by myth and not by math. 

Written at Night

Ten o’clock.

I tried to rest in bed for a few hours, but my shoulders hurt when I lay on my side. Only now does it occur to me that my electric bill is going to be higher because of the air conditioner. It was kind of fun to walk to the market this afternoon in the 90 degree heat, although I saw almost nobody else on the streets. It was a ghost town in my neighborhood. The sun beat down out of a cloudless sky like the blonde assassin of the Dickinson poem. I didn’t stop at the salon today, and proceeded straight to the store, marching mechanically as a Capricorn robot on a mission. When I arrived, I found Cathy wearing a light summer dress, while Hank hid his baldness with a baseball cap like always. I purchased a peach Snapple tea and a peanut butter bone for Aesop and then went home. On the sidewalk I hugged the inside, close to the fence, just in case of reckless drivers who might lose control and run off the road. Home again, I gave Aesop his treat and watched him enjoy it while I quaffed the Snapple. My mind was quite occupied with the inevitable questions of each day, but right now I feel more relaxed. Like Robert Frost, I have been one acquainted with the night: the time after the sun goes down soothes my hyperactive brain and all things are settled. I think I’ll stay up a while longer and simply chill out. 

Unguessable

Eight o’clock.

I got myself a one liter of Coke to see if I could tolerate it. The first few sips were really good, though it might not settle well with my stomach. It was cold outside and my body ached for the walk over and back again. Here and there I would make a little groan of discomfort and think, “I’m getting old.” And this is exactly the reason I seek to transcend the physical and material world, as fruitless as my quest may be. My sister asked me yesterday about cab fares in case she wanted to ride to Fred Meyer. She’s feeling less comfortable driving herself places. I gave up driving out of anxiety; I wouldn’t want to have an accident… 

I just remembered my mom’s symbolic activity of working crossword puzzles for hours a day. As if this behavior could unlock the secret of immortality, like the poems of Emily Dickinson, one riddle after another… 

The weather is rather tasteless today, with no appearance of the sun, yet there is sufficient light. I can’t think of another time in the past that compares with this morning, so maybe the experience of life is not cyclical after all. It just proceeds ahead in linear fashion towards an unguessable future. I wonder what more I can do for my sister? I believe she spends a lot of time by herself. Meanwhile the sun breaks through, glancing off Roger’s old Ford. The clouds are a bit blueberry— while Aesop stares me down for his breakfast. 

What a Poem Can Do

Two o’clock. I just started reading A Cold Spring. So far, much better than North & South. Bishop’s use of details is really great. I like her idea that the world is her teacher, her source of knowledge. And she substantiates this with her love of travel. Her sketches are so realistic, with surprises here and there. Lots of colors. She interprets landscapes and scenes on their own merits, gives them their own expression, as little biased as possible. In A Cold Spring, she advances from being simply personal to being a chronicler, transmuting these places with her poetic voice into a revelation. It’s like the art of Van Gogh in this sense, except more realistic and not so impressionist. And the difference between a poem and a photograph is exactly this kind of Platonic revelation that a poet can give. A poem reaches in and pulls out the sublime essence of an image. Emily Dickinson was a genius at doing this.

I miss the soda I didn’t buy this morning. I might make a run for my cranberry ginger ale even now. It doesn’t feel too warm this afternoon, so why not?

Real and Ideal

Four forty.

Here I am in the dead of the wee hours, awake and keeping vigil. It’s always a shock to think of how I belong to a church. The people are very lovely, and their ideas no less so, yet my reason rejects Christ. If I must have a spiritual outlet, it is Plato and the tradition he started, visiting the figures of Emerson and Dickinson before culminating in Mallarme. There’s something about the use of metaphors that contains a lot of power. What is on the other side of Dickinson’s nature descriptions? You can feel it teasing your peripheral vision, the world of the Forms. For every particular tree in reality, a tree ideal in the spirit world. And only the ideal realm is true. Earthly life is but a mirror reflection of the sublime. If what we see is a pond, then the Ideal is the ocean. Similar to Plato is the Upanishad verse,

Lead me from the unreal to the real,

Lead me from darkness to light,

Lead me from death to immortality!

This is not a crude paradigm of a heaven above and a hell below. It is far more sophisticated and beautiful… As day begins to dawn, I consider going back to bed. I slept badly, and now there’s nothing to do.

Dust and Dickinson

Four thirty. I’m not sleeping well, but Aesop is. I’m writing this from my new queen bed. It is such a busy week for me. I look forward to a day’s respite at some point in the future. At the crack of dawn I will make a run for foodstuffs. Maybe I’ll buy some pumpkin pie ice cream? It might taste really good to me after all the hullabaloo is over…

It was good to sit down and read some Milton yesterday afternoon. Last night I read some Dickinson too. Her metaphors for the afterlife are so well done. Death was the big mystery she riddled about all her life. I wonder why she was so obsessed with that? “Parting is all we know of heaven and all we need of hell.” She was aware that her figures of speech got her no closer to the revelation she sought, yet she didn’t stop writing her poetry, or anyway not completely. My mother’s preoccupation with crossword puzzles always minds me of Dickinson’s compulsive writing. The more aged Mom became, the more furious her pursuit of the puzzles. She worked them by the volume; actually bought books of them at Barnes and Noble and solved them all, only to start the process again. Likewise the poet Emily Dickinson cranked out 1789 very personal poems, many of them on the topic of what happens to us when we die. Had she succeeded in solving the problem once and for all, she would’ve left a ladder for her readers to be enlightened, the mystery laid out and exposed for everyone to see. But if the project of her content failed, then the beauty of her form and style still abundantly triumphed. It makes me wonder what drives poets to write poetry. Is a life of self awareness so short and precious that the call of death motivates compulsive scribbling? Kansas: “Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky… And all your money won’t another minute buy…”

Hyperbole

I shall gather my thoughts on poetic transcendence, IMO best epitomized by Emily Dickinson. The project of nineteenth century American poetry often was union with the spirit world through the use of metaphor. When Ralph Waldo Emerson came to light in the 1840s, he brought to the language the influence of Plato in the West and Hinduism in the East. What Dickinson added to his vision was wavering Christian faith and extended metaphor. Like an impressionist, she could transmute a view of the landscape into something personal and sublime. But she didn’t merely conceive an image, she perceived past the literal things to their Platonic ideal, leaving us the record in a “riddle.” I lack for examples except for “It Sifts from Leaden Sieves.” The blanket of snow to Dickinson’s imagination “deals celestial veil” to the scene. But she sees the snow not as literal snow, nor even as a metaphor: she sees the snow as it really is. The snow is a copy of the Platonic Form for snow, an ideal in the spirit world. It’s almost as if the prospect Dickinson looks upon were three dimensions in two, like a sheet of paper, and the question to her mind is, “What’s on the other side of the paper?” That would be the fourth dimension, the one concealed by the snow. Dickinson furnishes us not with a personal vision but, through writing it down in poetic language, the very essence of the sublime. It is hyperbole on my part, but Dickinson makes visible to us what we otherwise would never suspect. She gives us the truth—- as also did Vincent Van Gogh after his illness. The project of art is and always will be the discovery of the absolute. In a sense, poetry is the science of God…