The Name Had Found Me

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The secluded, the mysterious, this hiding away with myself and my games, that is still with me and stirs within me even to this hour, it makes itself felt every time when I get deep into my work. I was my own master, I created the world for myself. But somewhere lingered the premonition of a calling, of the calling that would at once resound, that would roll across the garden toward me. The expectation of this calling was always present somewhere and even today the calling persists, even today the fear persists that everything could suddenly come to an end.

Peter Weiss, Leavetaking, translated by Christopher Levenson

Precursors by Elizabeth Jennings

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Passages of music, a violin’s slow pace, a picture
Recording the sunset but telling more, stating
History’s alarm and hurry. I watched as a child the slow
Leaves turning and taking the sun, and the Autumn bonfires,
The whips of wind blowing a landscape away.
Always it was the half-seen, the just-heard which enthralled,
My nurse pulling her white dress off in the moonlight,
My sister pushing me in a doll’s pram as I recovered
From a slow illness. There is a library somewhere surely of
Pictures piled waiting for a hand to lift them,
Books with long markers in them. This is the world
Once ahead of me, now behind me, and yet
I am waiting still to record some of the themes
Of the music heard before I understood it,
The books read to me long before I could read
And with me tantalisingly near. So I have come
To believe that poetry is a restoration
Or else an accompaniment to what is lost
But half-remembered. Today it is Autumn outside
And as the sun reddens the whole landscape
And a smell of bonfires haunts me, a tune begins
To sing in my mind. It has no words as yet
And a life and a half would probably be too short
To set the music down with appropriate words,
Record a season completely, words before death.

Dumb Animals

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From Petrarch’s Secretum or Secret Book, an autobiographical dialogue between Franciscus, an apparently introspective and self-pitying sinner. and Augustine, who plays the role of confessor, or Socratic counsellor.

Aug:
What limits are there to your avarice?
Fr:
Not to need, nor have too much; not to exceed, nor to fall short of others: those are my limits?
Aug:
You’d need to strip off all your humanity and become a god in order not to have any needs. Don’t you know that man is the neediest of all animals?
Fr:
I’ve heard it many times, but I’d like you to refresh me.
Aug:
Consider how he is born, amid howls and tears, naked and shapeless, needing only a little milk to calm him; he trembles and crawls, needs the help of others, is clothed and fed by dumb animals. His body is weak, his spirit restless; he is assailed by all manner of diseases, prey to innumerable passions; he is incapable of planning, swinging from joy to sorrow; he has no control over his will, and cannot restrain his appetites; he doesn’t know what or how much he needs, nor how to limit his food or drink. He must go to great lengths to obtain the nourishment that other animals find without difficulty; he is swollen with sleep, bloated with food, bowled over by drink, exhausted by wakefulness, huddled up with hunger, shrivelled with thirst. He is greedy and apprehensive, scorning what he has, yet lamenting what he has lost; he is anxious about the present, but at the same time about the past and the future. He is arrogant in his wretchedness, yet aware of his frailty; he is no match for the lowest of worms; he is short-lived, of uncertain age but bound to die, and vulnerable to a thousand kinds of death.
F:
Such an infinite accumulation of wretchedness and needs makes me almost regret having been born a man.

Things Happen

The Family, 1988 by Paula Rego

This weekend, finally, Paula Rego’s retrospective at the Tate Britain, the first time I’ve seen most of these extraordinary paintings outside of books. Spanning seven decades from the surreal to the austere, the experience was as powerful as seeing Goya’s black paintings in Madrid for the first time, the same feverish intensity. The same day, the first visit in almost two years to the Royal Opera House for Leos Janácek’s Jenůfa, also the first time I’ve seen and heard a live performance of the first opera I bought on CD when still a teenager (for reasons I no longer recall).

Asmik Grigorian as Jenůfa and Karita Mattila as Kostelnička in Claus Guth’s staging of Janáček’s opera at the Royal Opera House

Reading this weekend took the form of drifting between Virginia Woolf’s essays, Geoffrey Hill’s Now and Collected Poems, 1952-1992, Jacques Roubaud’s essays on poetry, and slowly rereading Charlotte Brontë’s Villette. I’m also continuing to languidly thin my library, aiming for a collection that is both smaller and more concentrated.

Ovid in the Third Reich

By Geoffrey Hill

non peccat, quaecumque potest peccasse negare,
solaque famosam culpa professa facit.

Amores, III, xiv

I love my work and my children. God
Is distant, difficult. Things happen.
Too near the ancient troughs of blood
Innocence is no earthly weapon.

I have learned one thing: not to look down
So much upon the damned. They, in their sphere,
Harmonize strangely with the divine
Love. I, in mine, celebrate the love-choir.

Blessed Longing (Selige Sehnsucht)

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Tell it only to the wise,
For the crowd at once will jeer:
That which is alive I praise,
That which longs for death by fire.

Cooled by passionate love at night,
Procreated, procreating,
You have known the alien feeling
In the calm of candlelight;

Gloom-embraced will lie no more,
By the flickering shades obscured,
But are seized by new desire,
To a higher union lured.

Then no distance holds you fast;
Winged, enchanted, on you fly,
Light your longing, and at last,
Moth, you meet the flame and die.

Never prompted to that quest:
Die and dare rebirth!
You remain a dreary guest
On our gloomy earth.

J. W. Goethe, translated by Michael Hamburger