Quarter of ten.
Did I detect something pagan about Wordsworth’s poetry which I read this afternoon? It seems to me that being “nature’s priest” is a bit different from the conventional clergyman of Christianity. And I think the “natural piety” idea is exactly what makes me feel good when I absorb his verses. There’s something akin to Goethe here, the exhortation to leave behind the books and everything flat and two dimensional and come outdoors to experience real life that breathes the free air. I believe this is the true spirit of Romantic poetry, the one that rolls through the natural scenery and meets the human eye and ear, where a person perceives and half creates reality, as in “Tintern Abbey.” I keep meaning to read his series The River Duddon, so perhaps I’ll dig it out and pore over it to observe Wordsworth’s grounded style. His writing gives a new understanding of what we call religion or piety, someplace away from the dusty study or monastery. The other book on my list to read again is The Sorrows of Young Werther…
Reading about Newton yesterday made me think of my brother and his science brain. I think of how a great mind was ruined by the pleasure principle: however, my brother is human, not a computer or robot. And, what defines people as human is probably closer to sentiment than pure reason, hence why Rousseau rebelled against the rationalistic trend of the 18th Century, and the Luddites reacted against the Industrial Revolution, sneaking into factories at night and breaking machines. Any attempt to make people conform to pure rationality is doomed to fail because we are human, with all the human complexities. Maybe for this reason we have phenomena like madness and drunkenness in our society. These things are a desperate plea for freedom in a world of numbers and technology and ever diminishing humanity, where no one is personal anymore. The Age of Reason is alive and well today, while the only recourse for individuals is the noble savage, or the barbaric yawp of Walt Whitman: the howl of Allen Ginsberg.
The news from my sister was not good. Funny how the sun can shine on a crap day, or a day of mixed tidings. I retired for a nap not at all confident that things were peachy for my family, then had dreams about my late parents. Before that, I thought maybe I ought to visit church again this Sunday, because this will be the only family left to me when my siblings are gone.
I’m not sure why I picked Keats to read this afternoon, and I saw that scholars disagree on whether he took transcendence seriously: Stillinger says he does, while Bromwich takes the contrary view that this world is good enough for Keats. What a strange disagreement. I don’t know who has the stronger case, but I tend to favor Jack Stillinger’s opinion only because I learned it in school long ago. I put aside the introduction and began reading Endymion again to let the poetry speak for itself. I got as far as his sister leading him away to a bower to fall asleep in after the worship ritual to the forest god Pan. I remember that Diana appears to him and they make love: so how can this not be transcendence? It’s the same issue as happens in “Nightingale.” Already with thee! tender is the night… Does poetry have the power to unify us with the Ideal? If Keats didn’t believe so, then Baudelaire and Mallarme wouldn’t have taken up the concern. Then what is Romanticism really about? Maybe it’s an American foible to take everything literally, even matters of spirituality. It’s hard to tell from an armchair.
I feel okay now. It’s funny; the fall season hit me hard at first but now I can remember many other years besides the crazy ones around twenty years ago. I went through a very long period as a Romantic and mystic but probably in fall of 2009 I started to move away from that. Around that time I bought The Illustrated Jane Austen in six volumes and began thinking like a common sense realist… Reading Whitman again makes me sensitive to the mystical stuff as before. Maybe I’ll stop it and read something else.
The sun went down a half hour ago. The experience of the living godhead is a very strange thing to me. I don’t know if it’s even real or just imaginary, some ventriloquy of the human mind. When you get into a zone of energy, especially with a group of people doing an activity like music or sports or something, then it seems magical and quite powerful. It’s been a long time since I felt anything like that with people. I think the mystical power is a human power that we can give off and share together— or contain and withhold it from each other. I believe that’s what is happening right now: people are very self absorbed so that the experience of spirit doesn’t happen currently.
Even John Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath writes of the human spirit in an Emersonian way. It’s a power that originates with us, with humanity. We kind of project it outside of ourselves and then we depend on it; but this gives us more confidence in ourselves, our decisions, our enterprises. I’m paraphrasing what he said in East of Eden.
I guess it’s up to us whether we want to awaken the spirit of God again. William Blake said that the Poetic Genius and man are the same thing. The Romantics saw it all along. Jon Anderson of Yes sings the same ideas. He suggests that heaven is something that human beings create by the power of imagination; but heaven is no less real for this reason.
We are responsible for the future of our spiritual life because it dwells within ourselves in the first place. So that what Jesus said is true: the kingdom of God is within you.
I woke up at three thirty this morning and put off getting up for another hour, and then I knew I couldn’t sleep any more. An hour ago I walked to the store in inky blackness, mindful of my footing on the way. I feel confident that my addiction to alcohol is all in the past by now. The morning light is coming up overcast blue, the trees not yet green. Being a wordsmith has been interesting for five years, but today I have my doubts about its future. I had a friend who was very literal with language and a nihilist about ethics and metaphysics: things that depend heavily upon abstract language. It’s hard to argue with a positivist, someone so sensory for whom all abstraction is futile. Our relationship ended when I was driven in the opposite direction, towards a myriad of words, words, words, building castles in the air. However, now I believe she might have been right in her quiet, her reticence, and the spareness of her thought. The problem is likely one of those with no answer. In that case I’m bound to be a skeptic, a person who doesn’t know either way, like an agnostic. Romantics use tons of poetic language. Realists cut speech down to what is only verifiable. And the skeptic is the one stranded in the middle: the loneliest place, like an island in the moon.
I’ve just got up from an evening nap. Then I checked my emails: someone liked my post from last October titled “A Calling,” after two other people had since Friday. I frankly didn’t remember it, so I went back and read it again. Turns out it’s about transcendence and also the moon in the sky over the Maxwell overpass: rather a romantic observation, especially when the surrounding streets are in a fallen state of poverty and squalor, ashy gray barrenness like a human desert. Above all that, the moonlight calls from very far away as I trudge the sidewalk early in the morning, the spirit of Diana luring me on (although I didn’t say that in my post). And now I think not of Mallarme but of Keats’ Endymion, which describes a lover’s tryst of himself with the moon goddess. But this wasn’t in my post either. Maybe it was better without the allusion to Keats and Diana. The best part of it is the contrast between reality and the ideal that you can feel tugging at you like the moon’s magnetism causing the tides; still I’m embellishing what is only implicit. I should probably write another post on the same subject: maybe when the moon shows up above the overpass again in the clear sky like a smudge of white chalk against the blue blackboard, a little hazy and dreamlike, a fantasy of Vishnu, not quite real. Kind of like when I walked out of the market and it was virtually framed by an arc of rainbow 🌈 to either side of the doors and the whole building, like a blessing from God, a token, a benediction from a high place, and again, a vision in a dream.
Ten forty at night.
I took a nap this evening and dreamed something about Edgar Allan Poe that went a bit contrary to my high school English teacher who advocated Mark Twain. But really the conflict is internal. In dream I also remembered that Poe was an orphan raised by John Allan. I guess I was thinking of what an incredible poem “The Raven” is, with the whole idea of Nature revealing itself to the narrator through the bird’s voice box. It’s like consulting the oracle for answers regarding his lost Lenore, though the raven comes to him unbidden. How different is this bird from the nightingale of John Keats? Both of them are sublime, but while the latter is delightful, the former is terrible. One sings, the other croaks a prophecy of doom. Both romantic birds indicate a Nature that is mysterious and unknown, unlike the scientific certainty that would characterize Twain later on. Perhaps the Romantics are right to say that we’ll never know everything about the natural world, or maybe Twain’s cocksureness is better? It’s up to me whether I choose progress or regression, and up to humanity as well. Right now it seems that society is quite primitive. It could probably use a dose of the Enlightenment. But if we blow up Merlin’s tower, will we feel remorse for lost magic?
Two thirty five.
I’ve read about 19 pages in Emerson’s journals today and drunk the second Snapple tea. This afternoon is warm and autumnal soft and reminds me of college 31 years ago. For the winter I had an opportunity to take American Romanticism. Actually, I enrolled in it and attended one class, but dropped it because the instructor’s approach was way too elementary for a 400 level course. But now, plainly, I regret that I didn’t continue with it. Our first reading assignment was “William Wilson” by Poe. That class would’ve taken us through Poe, Emerson, Hawthorne, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson, and also Stowe. Call me an idiot for dropping out.
Three twenty five. Tomorrow I have a meeting with my case manager, Misty, at the agency. I hope it’s another fine day like this one. There are so many books I’d like to either read or reread, and right now I like Walden.
Ten forty. It must have been five o’clock when I went to bed for an evening nap. My dreams were mostly nonsense but I rested well. I don’t count myself a Jungian, but I do like the Romantic literature that was inspired by the American soil, like Leaves of Grass. In this way I guess I am a patriot.
Eleven thirty. Sometimes the convenience and commodity of everything Americans can buy fills me with vertigo. I don’t even have a car, but goodness, look at the selection of books I have to choose from to have delivered to my door! Already I have more books than I have shelf space for. But in the name of love of language it’s worth it to indulge in good books, especially when I can’t drink beer again… If I needed a personal bible that was not the Christian Bible, what would it be? What could I stake my life on between the covers of a book? Maybe the question is bogus, because dogma kills the experience of life in all its dynamism and kinesis. Trust the open book of life alone, and the book of yourself. Remember to read as much as you write.
Quarter of midnight.
It is best for me to take responsibility for my loss of faith rather than attribute it to the spirit of the age. I must pick up the pieces and go from there, reassembling them to a picture that pleases the eye and makes the most sense. Do we have to call it a fiction? But there’s a purpose for our imagination, an adaptive reason for being; perhaps it is the science of God, the fingers touching in the Sistine Chapel. Humankind has an instinct to reach for its creator and its own being, as I can remember hearing in an old song by Yes, about creating or recreating heaven by means of the heart’s dream. At the very end of the song, the dreamer is gently awakened to reality once again: like in a Keats poem, but made more powerful by the medium of music… It’s rather odd how we can forget the things that are the most important to human progress and perfection, such as music and Romantic poetry; and if it was only me, then my heart repents this thoughtless trespass. So now, it makes sense to take an hour and listen to Going for the One once again, a classic album of progressive rock, timeless and timely. You who have an ear, may you hear, and let the error of the times slide by.
From everything I’ve read, it looks like the approach to transcendence is the same for the drug addict as it is for the poet or the priest. Getting high either way involves inebriation of a sort, a disengagement of the intellect in order to experience something beyond the known world. I’ve been stuck on the problem of reality and illusion for a long time, and still can’t come to a conclusion. My realism might be naive, yet most people can agree on what’s real. Just when I think I’m sick of Romanticism, something pulls me back to it like the undertow of the surf…
The hike to the store was kind of nice today. There were two Mexican guys ahead of me in line, masked with bandannas. But again I observed that no women were in the market except for Michelle. The credit card reader beeped extremely loudly because the mute under it was removed. A customer had spilled a full 44 ounce Pepsi all over the countertop, drenching everything. There was a fresh supply of peanut butter treats for dogs, so I grabbed a couple. The sun through the front door blared right in Michelle’s eyes so she had to visor her face. I notice that I’m overdue for a haircut. And either today or tomorrow I have to run to Bi Mart to pick up my prescription. While I’m there I might as well buy a new pair of jeans. I have a hole in the heel of my right sock. If any of these details should prove to be significant, I’ll be the last person to know. But sometimes it’s better to leave the particulars alone, without induction. This being said, I needn’t have said it.