Saturday, July 15, 2017

`Vary a Verse a Thousand Ways'

Today’s post is a mélange of choice bits plucked from the week’s reading. As Guy Davenport puts it in his translation of Heraclitus’ fragment #40 (Herakleitos and Diogenes, 1981): “The most beautiful order of the world is still a random gathering of things insignificant in themselves.” What follows is not quite random and probably not beautiful but it does contain a covert order. First is a lengthy digression from Partition II, Section 2, Member 2, “Exercise rectified of Body and Mind,” of The Anatomy of Melancholy, in which Burton suggests strategies for ridding one's self of idleness as a way to dispel melancholy. A sufferer, he says:

“. . . may apply his mind, I say, to heraldry, antiquity, invent impresses, emblems; make epithalamiums, epitaphs, elegies, epigrams, palindroma epigrammata, anagrams, chronograms, acrostics, upon his friends' names; or write a comment on Martianus Capella, Tertullian de pallio, the Nubian geography, or upon Aelia Laelia Crispis, as many idle fellows have essayed; and rather than do nothing, vary a verse a thousand ways with Putean, so torturing his wits, or as Rainnerus of Luneburg, 2,150 times in his Proteus Poeticus, or Scaliger, Chrysolithus, Cleppissius, and others, have in like sort done.”

In other words, boys and girls, write a poem. In the Winter 1981 issue of The Sewanee Review, D.E. Richardson reviews Hello, Darkness: The Collected Poems of L.E. Sissman and Innocent Bystander: The Scene from the Seventies, and says of Sissman: “At his best he belongs to the company of ruefully private men of affairs such as Montaigne, Pepys, and Boswell, who are no less men of letters for not seeming so.”

Finally, I was reading the poems of a man better known for his prose. In “Envoi” (One-Way Song, 1933), Wyndham Lewis writes:

“These times require a tongue that naked goes
Without more fuss than Dryden’s or Defoe’s.”

1 comment:

Choderlos Laclos said...

Now this is fascinating for poets. You quote Wyndham Lewis:

“These times require a tongue that naked goes
Without more fuss than Dryden’s or Defoe’s.”

A few days ago you quote Schmidt on CH Sisson: “His poems can seem Augustan, but his poetic logic is, like Marvell’s, a language of association, not analysis (which belongs to prose). The poetry does not anatomize experience: it establishes connections on the other side of reason, communicating to the pulse through its distinctive rhythms.”

Schmidt almost apologises for implying that Sisson is 'Augustan' and, then, Lewis laments that we have no equivalent to the Augustans perhaps. There is a definite tension between what Schmidt says and what Lewis says. Schmidt compensates by saying that Sisson makes up for his Augustan leaning towards sense by suggesting a "poetic" counterbalance of rhythm and things "beyond reason." I wonder if this suggests that Pope and Dryden somehow lacked rhythm or that their rationailty was a hindrance.

The party line these days (and one sometimes espoused by Schmidt) is that, at all costs we must "show not tell" and that any attempt to write modern Pope or Dryden would commit the ultimate sin of being "Olympian" or talking to the reader "de haut en bas" Personally I agree with Lewis - it's time real corrosive wit in poetry was re-established and what is true discussed. There is material galore for it. I have recently completed a poetic testament in heroic couplets airing these precise views called "Sense Unbound."