‘The public as a whole is composed of various groups, whose cry to us writers is:
“Make me dream.”
“Make me laugh.”
“Make me shudder.”
“Make me weep.”
“Make me think.”
And only a few chosen spirits say to the artist: “Give me something fine in any form which may suit you best, according to yout own temperament.”
The artist makes the attempt: succeeds or fails.’
Guy de Maupassant: Le Roman (The Novel) first published as a preface to Pierre et Jean (1887), translated by Clara Bell as Of the Novel and readable online. I came across the quote in Kate Brigg’s The Long Form (which succeeds).
Detail from Patrick William Adam’s portrait of John Miller Gray
‘Tis to rebuke a vicious taste which has crept into thousands besides herself,—of reading straight forwards, more in quest of the adventures, than of deep erudition and knowledge which a book of this cast, if read over as it should be, would infallibly impart with them.—The mind should be accustomed to make wise reflections, and draw curious conclusions as it goes along; the habitude of which made Pliny the younger affirm, “That he never read a book so bad but he drew some profit from it.” . . . It is a terrible misfortune for this same book of mine, but more so to the Republick of Letters;—so that my own is quite swallowed up in the consideration of it,–that this self-same vile pruriency for fresh adventures in all things, has got so strongly into our habit and humours,—and so wholly intent are we upon satisfying the impatience of our concupiscence in this way,—that nothing but the gross and more carnal parts of a composition will go down:—The subtle hints and sly communications of science will fly off, like spirits, upwards;—the heavy moral escapes downwards; and both the one and the other are as much lost to the world, as it they were still left in the bottom of the ink-horn.
—Laurence Sterne, (The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, p.49)
The great storms
are behind you now.
Back then you never asked
why you were or
where you came from, where you were going,
you were simply a part of the storm,
But it’s possible to live
in the everyday as well,
the quiet gray day,
so plant potatoes, rake leaves,
or haul brush.
There’s so much to think about here in this world,
one life’s not enough.
After work you can roast pork
and read Chinese poetry.
Old Laertes cleared brambles
and hoed around his fig trees,
and let the heroes battle it out at Troy.
Olav H. Hauge (translated by Robert Hedin)
Come near again, Destroyer,
That I may look upon your face and it give me counsel
But it is I who approach and I believe I see him before me
Behind the mask scented with carnival violets
Isn’t it urgent to know him before he breaks my bones?
But he takes the question out of my mouth,
he disarms me, scattering me like almond flower petals
and the more I search, the more he misleads me,
the more I want to defy him, the larger he grows and
I’ve already given up earthly concerns to contemplate
when he attacks beauty, when he demolished the city walls.
In him I saw the source of day,
and in him I must learnt to recognise
the one who poisons the water.
I must contain in one invisible reality
Both source and ashes, lips and a dead rat’s carcase.
I was too quick to praise him for what daylight he spreads,
his revenge is to seem unspeakable in this clarity,
refusing me peace at so low a price,
regaining vigour in this exquisite guise.
I am already imagining trees coming into leaf as I read Rowan Williams’ poem:
Under the soil, humming,
lips closed till the frequencies break cover,
Yet I don’t wish this blessedly cold winter to end, to yield to what Williams elsewhere has called the false hope of spring. But that image: the frequencies break cover is so moving.
These poems have within them a kernel of light. Although it is the first book of Williams’s poems I own, I am inordinately fond of his work through PN Review. His poems speak of his own religious experience, of his reading of poetry, of beautiful frescoes and landscapes. Each poem offers a word-clothed vision of Williams’s imaginative power.
FEOFAN GREK: THE NOVGOROD FRESCOES
Did Yeats mean this? because when sages
stand in the fire, this happens Skin
umbers and cracks and shines. And then
on hands, shoulders and skirts, the splash
and dribble; you should think the bells
have melted from their perch,
so that the roaring hollows fall, lazy as snow,
bright liquid pebbles. And then, long
after the eyes have gone, the cheekbones
gleam, razored with little scars in parallel,
the surgery of initiation, letting through
furnaces under the dun hard skin.
We slow down more and more as the heat rises; surfaces
dry up, something inside swells painfully.
The razor makes its first cut. From the oven walls,
out of the searing dusk, they smile
(not at us) blindly.