About Anthony

Time's Flow Stemmed is a notebook of my wild readings.

Exuberance and Decay: H.D.’s Visions and Ecstasies

Everything below this paragraph is taken from Visions and Ecstasies, a series of essays by the American writer H.D. They are collected in a volume published by David Zwirner Books, part of a series I enjoy collecting. The pages in this volume are few, but there are genuine ideas to be found from an unfamiliar perspective, amidst a stream of merely intelligent thought. H.D.’s brief list of pornographic literature would make a satisfying winter reading list.

‘My sign-posts are not yours, but if I blaze my own trail, it may help give you confidence and urge to get out of the murky, dead, old, thousand-times explored old world, the dead world of overworked emotions and thoughts.’

***

‘Two or three people, with healthy bodies and the right sort of receiving brans, could turn the whole tide of human thoughts, could direct lightning flashes of electric power to slash across and destroy the road of dead, murky thought.

Two or three people gathered together in the name of truth, beauty, over-mind consciousness could bring the whole force of this power back into the world.’

***

‘There is plenty of pornographic literature that is interesting and amusing.

If you cannot be entrained and instructed by Boccaccio, Rabelais, Montaigne, Sterne, Middleton, de Gourmont and de Régnier there is something wrong with you physically.’

***

‘But a man has intellect, brain—a mind in fact, capable of three states of being, a mind that may be conscious in the ordinary, scholarly, literal sense of the word, or sub-conscious—those sub-conscious states varying in different states of dream or physical feeling, or illness, delirium or madness—a mind over-conscious as well, able to enter into a whole life as Leonardo entered, Euripides, the Galilean with his baskets and men’s faces and Roman coins—the first hermits of the Ganges and the painter who concentrated on one tuft of pine branch with its brown cone until every needle was a separate entity to him and very pine needle bore to every other one, a clear relationship like a drawing of a later mechanical twentieth-century bridge builder.’

***

‘I draw the curtain across my window, across them, their impertinence and their greatness. I cannot bear to think of them. But with my fingers stained with moss and scratched with whortleberry and oak-tangle, I open a little Tauchnitz volume.

With my fingers too, rather than with my eyes, I read these poems.’

***

[Anacreon] ‘is gone. There floats this legend through old text-books, a date, an anecdote, but he, he himself is gone. He is gone, cruel in his immortality. He has left us—he has left me, and before me fingering this little volume, there is a path, set with small white paving-stones, a little edge of white marble, laid in long, even, slender, graceful books, stone blocks, imperceptible curves, two steps, columns, very small, very perfect.’

That Astonishing Excavation: White Egrets by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott, Portrait of Claudia in Yellow Armchair, 2005

In many of the poems in Derek Walcott’s White Egrets, it is possible to imagine the influence of post-impressionist painters with his intensity of attention for ordinary things: domesticities or the expression on a face:

Irises stipple the hot square in passing showers,
shadows pause in their casework, ornate balconies rust,
the sunlight of olive oil slowly spread in saucers
and loves that are hard to break have a screw crust.
Esperanza, cherished Esperenza!
Your lashes like black moths, like twigs your frail wrists,
your small, cynical mouth with its turned-down answer,
when it laughs, is like a soft stanza

That concentration on the essence of a plain object, without sentimentality, with such clarity, brings to mind painters like Bonnard or Degas, who would be capable of finding ‘the sunlight of olive oil slowly spread in saucers’. No surprise that Walcott is a painter as well as a poet (and a playwright).

White Egrets is his fourteenth collection, the work of mature Walcott, stripped of any complication and obscurity, though that may be a personal reaction after my recent immersion in the recondite poetry of Friederike Mayröcker and Paul Celan. What is immediately evident is the unpretentious lucidity of his verse. It is easy to take this for granted, but all the more necessary with these poems to slow down and reread. What is beneath the surface readability are a range of concerns and passions recorded with such heightened intelligence and objective observation.

Where there is melancholy in Walcott’s poetry, you feel the reverberations of a human struggling with the lived experience of love and ageing, rather than the vulgar professional unhappiness of a lesser writer.

If I fall into a grizzled stillness
sometimes, over the red-chequered tablecloth
outdoors of the Sweet Life Café, when the noise
of Sunday traffic in the Village is soft as a moth
working in storage, it is because of age
which I rarely admit to, or, honestly think of.
I have kept the same furies, though my domestic rage
is illogical, diabetic, with no lessening of love
though my hand trembles wildly, but not over this page.

What is left after reading these poems, something I will do often, is Walcott’s insistence that he cannot escape from himself. There is weight to this work, but an absence of dogmatism:

in March, you blaze in her praise like a sea-almond
the crab scrawls your letters then hides them,
certain that she would never understand.
How boring the love of others is, isn’t it, Reader?
This page, touched by the sun’s declining arc,
sighs with the same whinge, the Sonnets and Petrarch.

Walcott’s poems are best read in the original collections rather than in anthologies or journals. There is a cumulative effect, which gives the sense of bringing us closest to the poet’s intention.

Nothing to Talk About

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“Gilles Deleuze
53 rue de Colombier
Lyon 7ème

Dear Francois [Châtelet],

Thanks for your letter. You know that I would be happy to write for La Quinzaine, if the chance arose. Unfortunately, I can’t for Painter*. I am like you, I find the book atrocious and meaningless, and poor in its principle. And I do not want to do an article “against” something or “savaging” it (here again, I think I am like you, since as far as I know you have never done an article solely to say something was bad). To be able to write, you have to have some small amount of esteem. Painter was vaguely detective, vaguely ethnographer, vaguely erudite American shit . . . there is nothing to talk about. I will be in Paris at the end of the month and would be happy to see you if you have time.

Friendship and wishes,

Gilles”

*A reference to Painter’s Marcel Proust: A Biography, a nasty, gossipy, psychoanalytical-type biography, all that I loathe in biographies, as compared to the magnificent Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew by John Felstiner, or David Gilmour’s The Last Lepoard, a biography of Lampedusa. For the same reasons as Deleuze, I think I only wrote one post here about a book I found vaguely bad, to which the author, also a vaguely erudite American shit wrote to correct some points. I don’t remember the author or book and think I deleted the post.

Flashes of An Eye (Paul Celan)

Gisèle Celan-Lestrange, 1975

Ian Fairley translates Paul Celan’s Augenblicke as follows:

Instants whose eyewink
no brightness sleeps.
Increate, in every place,
gather yourself,
stay.

Whereas Pierre Joris:

Eye-glances, whose winks,
no brightness sleeps.
Undebecome, everywhere,
gather yourself,
stand.

Reading this the first few times, I thought increate a neologism, but the OED tells me it means “not created, uncreated: said of divine beings or attributes”, and quotes Milton’s Bright effluence of bright essence increate (Paradise Lost). In the original the word is unentworden. Where Fairley makes a recondite choice, Joris goes for undebecome, a neologism, presumably a literal translation of the German. In her book on Celan, Beckett and Eliot, Shira Wolosky opts for Un-dis-becoming. Fairley’s choice of ‘increate’ seems an elegant choice, especially with its Miltonian reference to uncreated Beings.

Esther Cameron, a poet who studied and was influenced by Celan: “I have seen a postcard, written in the last months of [Celan’s] life, whose message consisted of one word: ‘Standing’.”

As a poem I think I prefer Fairley’s translation (with some hesitation around eyewink), though I cannot attest to how much of Celan remains. It doesn’t seem that Michael Hamburger or David Young translated this poem. Celan’s often abstruse poems, like Montale’s, raise the question as to how much a translator needs to understand a poem to be able to retain the poet’s intention. I try to read as many translations as I am able to get a sense of what Celan intended.

Celan’s work comes unannotated, without footnotes, so reading his prose and letters is important to get something from the poems. He cared immensely about etymology and forces an attentive reader to do the same, or perhaps attracts readers with such tendencies. It is possible to spend hours pursuing a phrase or a single word, which is part of the pleasure of the encounter with this poetry.

In his Meridian speech, Celan said, “the poem holds on at the edge of itself; so as to exist, it ceaselessly calls and hauls itself from its Now-no-more back into its Ever-yet”. Celan’s frustration with language pushes him out of language, a reflection that the fundamental reality of being human is itself beyond expression.

Evolutionary Translation

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“Yet with lyric verse as charged as Celan’s, the translator enters its evolution. Hölderlin knew this vis-à-vis Sophocles, Rilke vis-à-vis Valéry, to name the German poets whom Celan prized. In After Babel George Steiner writes about translation at its fullest, saying the process culminates in restitution: something is given back to the source in return for what is lost. After all, the act of translation repeats an original poem with a difference: each line of verse in English, reflecting backward towards its origin, is scrolling one line closer to the future.”

John Felstiner, Paul Celan: Poet, Survivor, Jew