26 March 2013

Cheap-got Doubt

NB. Today is my "day off." No classes today at the seminary. Cleaning, laundry, errands, and an afternoon of catching up on reading that mountain of poetry that threatens to topple over and crush me!

Below, a taste of what I'm reading. . .

Private and Profane

By Marie Ponsot
From loss of the old and lack of the new
From failure to make the right thing do
Save us, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu.
     From words not the word, from a feckless voice
     From poetic distress and from careless choice
     Exclude our intellects, James Joyce.
From genteel angels and apostles unappalled
From hollywood visions as virgins shawled
Guard our seeing, Grünewald.
     From calling a kettle an existential pot,
     From bodying the ghost of whatever is not,
     John save us, 0 most subtle Scot.
From pace without cadence, from pleasures slip-shod
From eating the pease and rejecting the pod
Wolfgang keep us, lover of God.
     Couperin come with your duple measure
     Alter our minds against banal pleasure.
Dürer direct with strictness our vision
Steady this flesh toward your made precision.
     Mistress of accurate minor pain,
     Lend wit for forbearance, prideless Jane.
From pretending to own what we secretly seek,
From (untimely, discourteous) the turned other cheek,
Protect our honor, Demetrius the Greek.
     From ignorance of structural line and bone
     From passion not pointed on truth alone
     Attract us, painters on Egyptian stone.
     From despair keep us, Aquin’s dumb son;
     From despair keep us, Saint Welcome One;
     From lack of despair keep us, Djuna and John Donne.
That zeal for free will get us in deep,
That the chance to choose be the one we keep
That free will steel self in us against self-defense
That free will repeal in us our last pretense
That free will heal us
     Jeanne d’Arc, Job, Johnnie Skelton,
     Jehan de Beauce, composer Johann,
     Dark John Milton, Charter Oak John,
Strike deep, divide us from cheap-got doubt,
Leap, leap between us and the easy out;
Teach us to seize, to use, to sleep well, to let go;
Let our loves, freed in us, gaudy and graceful, grow.
". . .divide us from cheap-got doubt. . ." Excellent! If there's a phrase that aptly describes our corrupted postmodern reason-addled media culture, this is it. So certain are we of our doubt that doubt comes easily, cheaply. Such doubt is as useless as cheap grace.

I'm thinking of René Descartes and his hard-won doubt. And David Hume and all that he abandoned in an honest pursuit of knowing full and well. Even when they are wrong, they are honestly wrong. Their errors came with sacrifices, real oblations offered to Reason. Not the tacky trinkets postmodern minds throw at their ideological idols to assuage their fetish-guilt.
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  1. Well, OK, you've sold me on this modern poetry stuff! I could sit for a while with this one. I see why you like the line you picked out, but my personal favorite is just after that "Teach us to seize, to use, to sleep well, to let go;/ Let our loves, freed in us, gaudy and graceful, grow."

    I was chuckling quite a bit as I read through this one.

    My complaint with so many "modern" poets is they forget about how things sound - almost as if rhythm, sounds, flow of words/phrases is not important. If I had to give only one reason for my love of poetry it is the way it sounds - must be the musician in me :-)!

    Thank you! (what book/collection is this from?)

    1. Modernist poets went out of their way to deconstruct all the things we normally associate with poetry--rhythm, rhyme, the line, etc. They focused on the well-turned image and an ironic distance from truth and affections. "Modern poets" are all over the place stylistically.

      Postmodern poetry is recovering a lot of what was lost in the modernist period. If you want to read an early modernist who still manages to shine formally, try Rainer M. Rilke, Dunio Elegies. They're translated, of course, but still quite powerful.

    2. I have found that translated poems really depend so much on the translator, which I discovered after reading two separate translations of the same Pablo Neruda poem. But I do like Rilke, and wasn't really placing him in the "modernist" category (probably because I like his poems) - thanks for the suggestion!

    3. Rilke is a bridge figure btw German Romanticism and early modernism. . .he's sort of the German Whitman in that sense. The Ninth Elegy--Kinnell's translation--is beautiful.

    4. Thanks, found it. Wow!

      Now, Whitman: there's a poet I can sink my teeth into:
      (from "To You")
      "You have not known what you are, you have slumber'd upon
      yourself all your life...."

      Guess I'm a bit of a Romantic.

    5. You are! I wrote my dissertation on Whitman. BTW, the Dunio Elegies translation I like is Stephen Mitchell's not Galway Kinnell's. Thought GK's is good too.

  2. Being ignorant of American poetry I much liked the exposure to it. Great one... I liked the ending verses too, but the opening ones also rang a bell.
    Poetry-reading is among the (many) things I should do more in my life. The only thing I miss from High School is the Portuguese and Brazilian literature classes in which I was the semi-official poetry lector. Even this one I couldn't help reading aloud...
    I like short stories a lot too. Last Christmas I bought myself a brick-like volume of O'Henry's short stories but haven't brought myself to read it yet.

    1. MFT, start with Whitman's "Song of Myself" and Emily Dickinson's "Collected Poems."

    2. Thanks for the suggestions! Haven't read anything from Whitman but I knew about this. And looking for the link I found this too.