“Haydn and Hokusai,
Be with me now, lighten
My lumpen moods, drive off
Ungainly panics, spleen.
Purge me of selfish torpor;
Remind me that you loved
Life’s dailiness, its quirks
And frumpish joy; and that
If there is heaven on earth
It’s here, it’s here, it’s here.”
Some artists steel us with joy, that radical, underrated emotion. Listen to “Spring” from The Seasons, Haydn’s 1801 oratorio based on James Thomson’s poem. But some are uncomfortable with art as celebration. For them, it’s too serious to squander on mere praise and delight. Consider the woodblock prints that make up Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, including “Red Fuji in Fine Weather.” Hokusai gives us the mountain at dawn in late summer or early fall.
Davis’ friend, Edgar Bowers, shared some of his tastes. Bowers saw an exhibition of Thirty-six Views and answered with “Thirteen Views of Santa Barbara,” a poem in fourteen sections and an epilogue. Bowers acquired a Hokusai print and it appears on the cover of his Collected Poems (1997). “The Beach” is the fourth section of “Thirteen Views”:
“In spring, we fish for halibut. In summer,
When grunion spawn at midnight in the surf,
We look for them on the sand to throw them back.
In winter, from the point, we cast beyond
The breakers to where bass feed. Solar age
And mythic distance turn round the point’s ellipse.
Earth is dark. Air darkens. The moon is white.
Then, as if I were there, I watch us here,
Immensities of purpose barely visible
Intent upon the message in the line
Startlingly taut with sudden gravity,
Muscle and bone of the reflected light.”
Bowers likewise prized Haydn, and especially Mozart, “who lives still.” Here is “From J. Haydn to Constanze Mozart (1791),” from his first collection, The Form of Loss (1956):
“Incredibly near the vital edge of tears,
I write, Constanze, having heard our loss.
Only the shape of memory adheres
To the most nearly perfect human pose
I hope to find, though mind and heart grow fierce,
Five times again as fierce as his repose.
“The mind of most of us is trivial;
The heart is moved too quickly and too much.
He thought each movement that was animal,
And senses were the mind’s continual search
To find the perfect note, emotional
And mental, each the other one’s reproach.
“With him as master, grief should be serene,
Death its own joy, and joy opposed by death,
What is made living by what should have been,
And understanding constant in its wrath
Within one life to fix them both the same,
Though no one can, unless it be in death.
“Yet we who loved him have that right to mourn.
Let this be mine, that fastened on my eyes
I carry one small memory of his form
Aslant at his clavier, with careful ease,
To bring one last enigma to the norm,
Intelligence perfecting the mute keys.”
In “The Mystery of Consciousness: A Tribute to the Poet Edgar Bowers,” a touching remembrance published in Poets and Writers after Bowers’ death on Feb. 4, 2000, Davis writes:
“He is a hard man to describe, because he eschewed the eccentric and flamboyant, and was almost studiously `ordinary’ in everyday life. He had a deep distrust for the cult of `the poet’ and used to say trenchantly, `A man is only a poet when he is writing a poem.’”