Yeats on ‘supreme art’

William Butler Yeats

‘Supreme art is a traditional statement of certain heroic and religious truths, passed on from age to age, modified by individual genius, but never abandoned. The revolt of individualism came because the tradition had become degraded, or rather because a spurious copy had been accepted in its stead’.

– William Butler Yeats

… and a poem – ‘The Fascination of What’s Difficult’ – from The Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats (1989):

The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theatre business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.

‘On Behalf of the Committee’

Dead light bulb.jpg

Let us begin by briefly drawing
attention to your inevitable death.

We’re sorry if we’ve startled you by writing
so directly, but we worried you

might not otherwise notice, since
you’ve ignored several clear signs

of your demise: the steady rupture
of filaments in old light bulbs,

your car’s plaintive whine, and the pastel
colony multiplying across the Life

brand loaf in your breadbox.
We admit, some of the attempts

to remind you of your limited tenure
among the living were rather obscure.

The squall of the child next door
was, at times, barely audible,

and the ants would only on occasion
march at a pace that allowed

you to observe them carrying off
the parted corpse of some fellow

creeping thing. We remain hopeful
that your mother’s occasional calls

will one day trick you out of your complacency.
However, if you cannot learn how even

the perfect flourishing of a bird in flight
performs the poem of your death, this

body will remain to show you how again.

– Joshua Jones, ‘On Behalf of the Committee’, in Letters Journal.

Jacob Stratman, ‘a poem for my sons when they yell at God’

Jan Brueghel the Elder - Jonah Leaving the Whale (c. 1600).jpg
Jan Brueghel the Elder, ‘Jonah Leaving the Whale’ (c. 1600)

In candied red, the white-bearded
prophet emerges hands still clasped in prayer,
clean, really clean, maybe too clean, first-day-
of-school clean, baptism clean. It is a childish
painting, perhaps, the punished coming up
for air after a three-day, divine timeout,
his begging and pleading inside this flesh
box, sincere or not, but he’s out, old and fresh
in a world around him, Brueghel is sure
to make clear, swirling blue-black and solid
brown, the earth’s bruising, perhaps a wish
of healing yellow in the distance, a light
faded behind the eye’s focus. The dogfish
eyes big and rolling back mouth open

like the cave like the tomb like the brown creek
carp we refuse to touch hate to catch squishy
and formless but counted nonetheless. But
he will dirty himself again after Nineveh
under the vine cussing at God telling
God His own business, and he will forget
the welcoming red the fresh fruit color
of that cloak—the thin (or thinning) clearing
in the background beyond sea and storm,
even the mouth as exit as release.
He will soon forget to consider how
suspicious it is for a man like him
sitting in death’s darkness for three days
to come out so clean so bright so forgiven.

– Jacob Stratman, ‘a poem for my sons when they yell at God’, 2018. (Source)

‘The Mitchells’, by Les Murray

prunes 2I am seeing this: two men are sitting on a pole
they have dug a hole for and will, after dinner, raise
I think for wires. Water boils in a prune tin.
Bees hum their shift in unthinning mists of white

bursaria blossom, under the noon of wattles.
The men eat big meat sandwiches out of a styrofoam
box with a handle. One is overheard saying:
drought that year. Yes. Like trying to farm the road.

The first man, if asked, would say I’m one of the Mitchells.
The other would gaze for a while, dried leaves in his palm,
and looking up, with pain and subtle amusement,
say I’m one of the Mitchells. Of the pair, one has been rich
but never stopped wearing his oil-stained felt hat. Nearly everything
they say is ritual. Sometimes the scene is an avenue.

Audio

Manus

36964621005_5f0e6d8e73_o.jpg

They were returning from the clinic
in Yaqubi district. [Name] was a teacher
at a little school on the edge
of Khost, eastern Afghanistan, where

the Soviets once set up camp but now
the Americans – who shot a bullet into his wife’s
mouth (it was nothing personal, you see;
‘friendly fire’, they said) and into their

newborn. It was the final straw. And
three months later, a long
long journey, via ‘Little Kabul’,
Belantik, Pekanbaru, with

tuberculosis, PTSD,
leptospirosis, to arrive, finally,
nowhere. Nowhere. No where.
Four-and-a-half years nowhere – were here. And

him who moved more deeply into
the world, its fears and its violence – violence
that splits the human soul –
upon an ass, among the mob

somewhere, somewhere political adversaries might reach
across the seemingly unresolvable contradictions and
shake hands, shake hands – when all is said and done, there are
profits to be had and votes to procure from such

goods – a new resolve to resist death’s proliferating
machinery. And Tansey’s three figures hang tangled,
tangled and exposed above
the lawn somewhere in St Kilda, a long

long way from home.

Jason Goroncy
8 December 2017

[Image: Renate Els Aerts, ‘Vluchtelingen/Refugees’. Photo: Dirk A.]

Lazarus

After the wake and speeches, when the guests in black
Had with the charm of ordinariness
Dispelled the gross terror of a fellow dead
(Eyelid grown waxen, the body like a sack
Bundled into the tomb) and the women with their mindless
Ritual of grief had murmured abroad all that could be said –

Then, as the world resumed its customary
Mask of civil day, he came, too late to mend
The broken vase (a cracked one could have been mended)
God’s image blackened by causality.
And the woman said, “Since he was called your friend,
Why did you not come then? Now it is ended.”

And when, the army blanket of grey earth
Put off, Lazarus from the cave mouth stumbled
(Hand, foot and mouth yet bound in mummy cloth)
To the sun’s arrow, furnace of rebirth –
What could they do but weep? infirm and humbled
By Love not their love, more to be feared than wrath.

– James K. Baxter, who died on this day, 45 years ago.

You can read more about Baxter here, and more of his poetry here.

‘The Last Day’

jurek d. - Horizon

When the last day comes
A ploughman in Europe will look over his shoulder
And see the hard furrows of earth
Finally behind him, he will watch his shadow
Run back into his spine.

It will be morning
For the first time, and the long night
Will be seen for what it is,
A black flag trembling in the sunlight.
On the last day

Our stories will be rewritten
Each from the end,
And each will end the same;
You will hear the fields and rivers clap
And under the trees

Old bones
Will cover themselves with flesh;
Spears, bullets, will pluck themselves
From wounds already healed,
Women will clasp their sons as men

And men will look
Into their palms and find them empty;
There will be time
For us to say the right things at last,
To look into our enemy’s face

And see ourselves,
Forgiven now, before the books flower in flames,
The mirrors return our faces,
And everything is stripped from us,
Even our names.

– Kevin Hart, 2015 [Image: jurek d.]

‘My mother’s God’, by Geoff Page

Blake - God Judging Adam (c. 1795).jpg

My mother’s God
has written the best
of the protestant proverbs:

you make the bed
you lie in it;
God helps him

who helps himself.
He tends to shy away from churches,
is more to be found in

phone calls to daughters
or rain clouds over rusty grass.
The Catholics

have got him wrong entirely:
too much waving the arms about,
the incense and caftan, that rainbow light.

He’s leaner than that,
lean as a pair of
grocer’s scales,

hard as a hammer at cattle sales
the third and final
time of asking.

His face is most clear
in a scrubbed wooden table
or deep in the shine of a

laminex bench.
He’s also observed at weddings and funerals
by strict invitation, not knowing quite

which side to sit on.
His second book, my mother says,
is often now too well received;

the first is where the centre is,
tooth for claw and eye for tooth
whoever tried the other cheek?

Well, Christ maybe,
but that’s another story.
God, like her, by dint of coursework

has a further degree in predestination.
Immortal, omniscient, no doubt of that,
he nevertheless keeps regular hours

and wipes his feet clean on the mat,
is not to be seen at three in the morning.
His portrait done in a vigorous charcoal

is fixed on the inner
curve of her forehead.
Omnipotent there

in broad black strokes
he does not move.
It is not easy, she’d confess,

to be my mother’s God.

– Geoff Page

[Audio]

Image: William Blake, ‘God Judging Adam’ (c. 1795)

‘Elegy from a Seaside Graveyard’, by John Stokes

graves-317566.jpg

From ‘The Eden Set – coming on the coast suddenly’

… and this stone-picture’s Wayne, the Suicide
doing it his way: longest finger
cocked up from the earth
into the sealight fading.

Here the surfer, boy of the sea
still suckled by his mother feeling
his salt mouth, his sighing
over the tablet gravestone of the waves.

Here the incongruous Calvinist whalers
moaning with their predestinations:
born in sin, living to lament
relieving themselves in death

and here the mother lover, with her child
still moving, on top and hung
in the harness, the smash cut
gently into the mind at twilight

and Brad, who knew Sherryl
in the fullest biblical sense
and Nathanial, who knew the kill
and the smell and ways of the mulloway.

These deaths are so Australian
and yet the same. They are sung
in the tongue of the water, the hiss
of the sand-grains rubbing

one with another, and another
and another, under bellbirds
sounding their death knells
into the sealight fading.

So leave the dead ones to it
– they are, after all, forever –
love them, leave them, go
pausing once, at some corner

(you will know when)
so the car-hoon
when he misses you by a nail
gives you the finger!

Resurrect your breath.

Drive on.

– published in Meanjin 66–67, no. 4–1 (2008), 22–23.

Some Recent Watering Holes

croft-shutmouthscream-detail-2016
Brenda L. Croft, ‘shut/mouth/scream’ (detail), 2016. Source

 

I haven’t posted one of these for a while. Here are a number of pages I’ve appreciated visiting this past week or so:

And this:

‘The Fury That Breaks’, by Michelle Boisseau

trump-protestsAfter César Vallejo

The fury that breaks a grown-up into kids,
a kid into scattered birds
and a bird into limp eggs,
the fury of the poor
takes one part oil to two parts vinegar.

The fury that breaks a tree into leaves,
a leaf into deranged flowers
and a flower into wilting telescopes,
the fury of the poor
gushes two rivers against a hundred seas.

The fury that breaks the true into doubts,
doubt into three matching arches
and the arch into instant tombs,
the fury of the poor
draws a sharpening stone against two knives.

The fury that breaks the soul into bodies,
the body into warped organs,
and the organ into eight doctrines,
the fury of the poor
burns with one fire in two thousand craters.

[Source: Poetry, May 2013]

‘Playing God’

Playing God.jpg

A lovely little poem with which to finish the year, from the New Zealand poet and GP Glenn Colquhoun, and with renewed thanks to Martin Fey, who, some moons ago now, first introduced me to Colquhoun’s work.

If you play God, play God at tennis.

A strict code of conduct is expected.
Clear lines must be drawn in the sand.
The ball will be either in or out.
At times there is talk of love.

If you play God, play God at chess.

All decisions must be black or white.
There are ways for him to be kept in check.
Bishops are available for consultation.
There is the possibility of mating.

If you play God, play God at cards.

There is clear opportunity for cheating.
You might deal from the bottom of the pack.
Aces can be hidden up your sleeve.
The joker should be specially marked.

If you play God, play God at darts.

He will dislike their resemblance to nails.
An acceptable target must be provided.
There is a fine line he will not be permitted
to cross. Cursing should never be allowed.

If you play God, play God at monopoly.

Everyone will be expected to take turns.
He must sit at a table like everyone else.
You might refuse him a room at your inn.
He is certain to be feeling overconfident.

‘Father and Daughter’

holding-hands

It came to this, the panic at not being loved,
an overdose in the middle of the morning.
She slept for five days
strapped down in a hospital cot,
and when she woke to stew in her shame,
her father was by her bedside.
For a moment as long as a word of praise, neither spoke.
In that small silence, questions ripened.

She stood waiting for an ambulance
to take her to a psychiatric hospital.
She was dressed in a hospital robe and booties,
one size fits all, worn thin by other people’s fear.
The linoleum was as cold as the sea in winter.
She held a paper bag containing a toothbrush
and a copy of Tribune, which a cleaner had given her.
The air tasted bitter, of walnuts gone black in the shell.

– Kate Jennings, ‘Father and Daughter’, in Cats, Dogs and Pitchforks (Port Melbourne: Heinemann, 1993), 14.

‘Children’s Song’

Pat Scala

We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven.

– R. S. Thomas

[Image: Pat Scala/SMH]

‘And there is no dawn’

Night Road

Is there anything behind the façade
of performance and pretence
any bottom to the abyss
of self-doubt and self-condemnation?

Stretches of the road
are long and lonely times of bleak unknowing
plagued by anxiety, uncertainty
memories burdened by guilt, inadequacy,
ineptitude, inaction, time not taken to listen

and there is no dawn
no other side.

– Noel Davis, ‘And there is no dawn’, in Together at the Edge – Trust Me: One Live to Live, Love, Reverence, Give Thanks (Narooma: Lifeflow Education, 2011).

[Image: Songs from the Forest]

‘Tenebrae’, by Geoffrey Hill

Tenebrae

He was so tired that he was scarcely able to
hear a note of the songs: he felt imprisoned
in a cold region where his brain was numb
and his spirit was isolated.

1

Requite this angel whose
flushed and thirsting face
stoops to the sacrifice
out of which it arose.
This is the lord Eros
of grief who pities
no one; it is
Lazarus with his sores.

2

And you, who with your soft but searching voice
drew me out of the sleep where I was lost,
who held me near your heart that I might rest
confiding in the darkness of your choice:
possessed by you I chose to have no choice,
fulfilled in you I sought no further quest.
You keep me, now, in dread that quenches trust,
in desolation where my sins rejoice.
As I am passionate so you with pain
turn my desire; as you seem passionless
so I recoil from all that I would gain,
wounding myself upon forgetfulness,
false ecstasies, which you in truth sustain
as you sustain each item of your cross.

3

Veni Redemptor, but not in our time.
Christus Resurgens, quite out of this world.
‘Ave’ we cry; the echoes are returned.
Amor Carnalis is our dwelling-place.

4

O light of light, supreme delight;
grace on our lips to our disgrace.
Time roosts on all such golden wrists;
our leanness is our luxury.
Our love is what we love to have;
our faith is in our festivals.

5

Stupefying images of grief-in-dream,
succubae to my natural grief of heart,
cling to me, then; you who will not desert
your love nor lose him in some blank of time.
You come with all the licence of her name
to tell me you are mine. But you are not
and she is not. Can my own breath be hurt
by breathless shadows groaning in their game?
It can. The best societies of hell
acknowledge this, aroused by what they know:
consummate rage recaptured there in full
as faithfulness demands it, blow for blow,
and rectitude that mimics its own fall
reeling with sensual abstinence and woe.

6

This is the ash-pit of the lily-fire,
this is the questioning at the long tables,
this is true marriage of the self-in-self,
this is a raging solitude of desire,
this is the chorus of obscene consent,
this is a single voice of purest praise.

7

He wounds with ecstasy. All
the wounds are his own.
He wears the martyr’s crown.
He is the Lord of Misrule.
He is the Master of the Leaping Figures,
the motley factions.
Revelling in auguries
he is the Weeper of the Valedictions.

8

Music survives, composing her own sphere,
Angel of Tones, Medusa, Queen of the Air,
and when we would accost her with real cries
silver on silver thrills itself to ice.

– Geoffrey Hill (1932–2016)

… in contrast to my nature

Botticelli Primavera

I read some really beautiful words today; the middle bit of Clive James’s poem ‘13: You Saw Nothing in Hiroshima’, from his latest collection Gate of Lilacs: A Verse Commentary on Proust:

Proust’s book gave me the courage to admit –
As did the culture of Japan, as did
The architecture of the Winter Palace,
The glass and plaster of the Amalienburg
And many fine and delicate things throughout
Our heritage – think of the Graces swaying
In Botticelli’s Primavera, think
Of the bronzes that a scuba diver found
Two hundred metres down in the sand floor
Of the sea at Capo Riace in our time,
Those bronzes that had spent two thousand years
Being beautiful down there – think of all that
And too much more that I have no time now
Even to name, now that my death comes close –
To admit that almost all I’ve ever loved
Exists in contrast to my nature. I,
A clumsy man, and thoughtless, with small gifts
Of subtlety or intuition, have
No natural business fondling the fine-drawn
And exquisite. Tanagra figurines,
If given to my keeping, I’d have used
For paperweights. We’re talking a born vandal,
A Goth dyed in the wool. Yet all my life
People and things I’ve loved have always shared
Unnecessary grace.

‘Being, After Martin’

Heidegger at spring Gelassenheit

My remarkable partner, a physiotherapist and mad Western Bulldogs supporter (this latter fact is quite irrelevant here), recently dipped her pretty toes into the ponds of poetry. This is without doubt a much-to-be-celebrated achievement. Hell, it calls for a drink!

Her inaugural offering, see below, was inspired by a twin encounter – with a patient, and with the thought of Martin Heidegger, whose work she has been trying to decipher. The poem represents her attempt to bear witness to, and to contrast, two methods, as she refers to them – ‘that of the raw facts (the “scientific method”, as told from the physiotherapist’s perspective) and the subjective experience of the patient’. This is coupled with an effort to take up Heidegger’s invitation to read and recognise being with the other, and that that being itself is not exhausted by such action.

What’s not to love about all that!

 

Being, After Martin

‘Memo to J.C.’

BBQ, Australia Jesus by Reg Mombassa

When you were down here JC and walked this earth,
You were a pretty decent sort of bloke,
Although you never owned nothing, but the clothes on your back,
And you were always walking round, broke.
But you could talk to people, and you didn’t have to judge,
You didn’t mind helping the down and out
But these fellows preaching now in your Holy name,
Just what are they on about?
Didn’t you tell these fellows to do other things,
Besides all that preaching and praying?
Well, listen, JC, there’s things ought to be said,
And I might as well get on with the saying.
Didn’t you tell them ‘don’t judge your fellow man’
And ‘love ye one another’
And ‘not put your faith in worldly goods’.
Well, you should see the goods that they got, brother!
They got great big buildings and works of art,
And millions of dollars in real estate,
They got no time to care about human beings,
They forgot what you told ‘em, mate;
Things like, ‘Whatever ye do to the least of my brothers,
This ye do also unto me’.
Yeah, well these people who are using your good name,
They’re abusing it, JC,
But there’s people still living the way you lived,
And still copping the hypocrisy, racism and hate,
Getting crucified by the fat cats, too,
But they don’t call us religious, mate.
Tho’ we got the same basic values that you lived by,
Sharin’ and carin’ about each other,
And the bread and the wine that you passed around,
Well, we’re still doing that, brother.
Yeah, we share our food and drink and shelter,
Our grief, our happiness, our hopes and plans,
But they don’t call us ‘Followers of Jesus’,
They call us black fellas, man.
But if you’re still offering your hand in forgiveness
To the one who’s done wrong, and is sorry,
I reckon we’ll meet up later on,
And I got no cause to worry.
Just don’t seem right somehow that all the good you did,
That people preach, not practise, what you said,
I wonder, if it all died with you, that day on the cross,
And if it just never got raised from the dead.

– Maureen Watson, ‘Memo to J.C.’, in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse, ed. Kevin Hart (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994), 223–23.

[Image: Reg Mombassa, ‘BBQ’, from the Australian Jesus series]

Jennifer Strauss, ‘The Anabaptist Cages, Münster’

Jan van Leyden1535
Jan van Leyden, Prisoner:

It is enough that God is with me;
I need no priest.

The Sentence:

And let the bodies of those condemned–
Krettech, Knipperdolling, Jan ‘the King’ –
Being brought from the place of execution
Be severally hung in iron cages
Wrought to that purpose.
And let the aforesaid cages hang
High on the steeple of St Lambert’s,
That being the place of first offending.
And let the people thus remember
What follows of misery and excess
When foolish men puffed up by wicked pride
Despise the just and natural laws
Of God and princes.

The Polygamous Wife:

Brag in the wind, old bones!
Preach in your stinking cage till the trumpets sound
To set to partners in that resurrection dance
Where there’ll be neither marriage nor giving in marriage.
Dreaming, we thought you promised with God’s voice
Our spirit’s freedom, but woke to find
You’d bound us harder than ever before
In marriage and childbed. A prisoner to his cell,
Battering at hateful walls, you entered my flesh.
Sisters in God? Did a brotherly hand
Slash off my friend’s head in the market-place
For ‘disobedience’? Did you not hear us all
Pray in our hearts with our first martyr
‘See to it heavenly Father – if you’re Almighty –
That I’m no more forced to mount this marriage-bed.’?
You could say that He answered. I say rather
Let them toll the cages, not the bells,
Let the cages cry to the Sunday city
‘Where is God now? Your God? Our God?
Where is God? Is God? Where?

The Priest of St Lambert’s:

God in my hands: shall I offer Him then
To a congregation with eyes glazed
By terror and something more – a terrible greed
Unsated by mere symbols of torn flesh?
The Bishop says that God is Love,
The Bishop says God is in the wafer,
The Bishop says the Church is in God:
I would set down God and Church together
For my hands’ bones ache with weight
Even as the beams of the church groan
With the spire’s burden. Last night
In the chancel I found another crack.
Every night I beg my God
That the great stones fall
And set me free, that the earth
Open, and swallow me whole.
But is it the same unanswering God
He cried to, breaking upon the wheel?
If I spoke my doubts they’d call me
At best possessed and hunt a witch to burn
At worst, corrupt with heresy.
I have seen exorcism, I have been
Shown the instruments of interrogation;
I am too afraid. In dreams the altar rails
Close round to cage me in.
If the Church be the instrument of God
Let Him use it and make an end.

The Girl:

Every night my heart knocks in its cage of ribs.
If it got out, how they’d startle
These grave masters, hitching their pants,
Laying down coins and solemn reflections
On fallen man. Thoughts are like stones.
My lover’s hands were gentle, to me at least.
Let them think they have him, rags of flesh,
Snared in their iron cage. I know
I can charm him out. Every night
Between midnight and dawn he sings in my thighs.
They’ll not burn me; by day
I creep about in the roots of the city,
By night I have my protectors.
What are beliefs? We might have had children.
In love he’d call me his mouse, his rabbit –
They crunched his bones in the teeth of their traps,
They flayed him living with red-hot tongs.
I vowed the day they set his corpse
To dangle on their ‘House of Love’
I’d never think of God again.

1982

The Tourist:

They seem so insignificant there on the steeple,
Quiet as a birdcage after the bird has flown;
Centuries of rain have rinsed the stones of anguish,
If they are crumbling it’s not from the workings of blood;
Terrible things are done, now as yesterday.
Leaving through sunlit woods, I watch a hawk
Sweep, hover and strike. Unheard on the wind
The thin wail of whatever small furred thing
Had blundered into the open, natural prey.
Leaving Europe, I pack away a Manichean postcard:
The world as God’s cage for heretics.

– Jennifer Strauss, ‘The Anabaptist Cages, Münster’, in The Oxford Book of Australian Religious Verse, ed. Kevin Hart (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1994), 208–10.