Tag Archives: Literature

Grief.

September 1, 1939

W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973

 

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,”
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Auden was ashamed of this poem — why is debatable by intellects cleverer than I. But it is a response to the feelings of utter helplessness as a world apparently falls into chaos and disaster at the outbreak of World War II.

Mankind is good at disaster – both creating it and rising above it – we are sinner and sinned against. It is the gift of our humanity that allows us to live in paradox and it is the difference between having soul or spirit and the new creature that is being created as the transhuman. What would Auden have said about A.I?

I return to his own words as some sort of response to discombobulating world,

“There must always be two kinds of art: escape-art, for man needs escape as he needs food and deep sleep, and parable-art, that art which shall teach man to unlearn hatred and learn love.”

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The stuff of Life

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‘ It was about being true to the very stuff of life, it was about trying to capture, though you never could, the very feel of being alive. It was about finding a language. And it was about being true to the one fact, the one thing only followed from the other, that many things in life – oh so many more than we think – can never be explained at all. ‘ Graham Swift ‘ Mothering Sunday’

This , then , is what I have to bring today. The closing sentences of the book I have just laid down. It did not disappoint. Within its narrative Graham Swift refers to one of my storytelling heroes – Joseph Conrad – who himself has an interesting comment on storytelling, whose quest was ‘ by the power of the written word to make you hear, to make you feel — it is, before all, to make you see. That — and no more, and it is everything. If I succeed, you shall find there according to your deserts: encouragement, consolation, fear, charm — all you demand — and, perhaps, also that glimpse of truth for which you have forgotten to ask.’

And the overriding sense I am left with is how fiction gives us permission to be most fully ourselves. I cannot imagine being the me I am without having encountered the characters and the writers I have met throughout my days. Science is mastering many of the facts , we are illuminating the darkness, but only dimly. Science is the first to corroborate how much is still unknown. A particle acts differently dependant upon it being observed – does this strike you as prescient on the human condition? We are and simultaneously are not the person we imagine ourselves to be. The codes we observe do not rely merely on the context of our time and culture, but also on our perception of them and of the fluctuating circumstances. That is confusing, much easier to narrate to you a true account of behaviour which shows how I hold personal codes of truth and loyalty , of fidelity and duty to be central to the person I am and yet act in complete opposition to them, choosing to end one marriage to a wonderful man , and father of my two sons because I had walked blindly into a new relationship where I felt at home. Not even a choice. And reader – I married him.

I haven’t learnt enough just from the handful of people who are present in my life, or who have been there in the past – they are priceless, but they do not bring me the breadth and depth of experience which helps me to understand I can forgive myself for frailty, for impatience, for laziness, for ineptitude. Because I am not alone. Because growing up is not just trying to imitate some version of being human handed down by parents et al, it is about encountering the various selves you inhabit, and allowing yourself not to be intimidated or frightened by them. Listening to voices from elsewhere can somehow bring you closer to knowing how to be your own.

In ‘Mothering Sunday’ Graham Swift practices his alchemy – his narrative is from a woman and it has one of the most authorative voice of being woman I have encountered. He is masterly in how deftly he practices this – the small sentences slipped in that are the ‘tell’ of what it feels like to be 22, free, single, and enjoyably bruised by sexual encounter ( not in a violent, abusive way). On removing from the scene, she mounts her bicycle ‘ slightly sore where she met the saddle’ .

I imagine the novelist’s challenge to himself – inhabiting not only the woman’s pysche at 22, but also later on – in her nineties and remembering. I imagine him imagining the reader – me – enjoying his playfulness, his zest for finding the right word, the correct tone, the piercing stab of the dramatic.

The point I am making, albeit clumsily is this – we need stories to remind us not how to live, but that life is mystery. Inexplicable paradox is what exists around us and about us, and the navigation around this mortal coil is facilitated by the storytellers, the magicians, the soothsayers, the lyric writers, the graffiti artists, the dramatists, the teachers.

There is now such a thing as a bibliotherapy – the art of listening to someone’s personal dilemnas and furnishing them with appropriate bookwear. (bookware?) . Such a stance should please me, but I am contrary enough to find something unsettling in it. Something proscribed – but then why not – we go to doctors, why not book doctors? I have a healthy disposition to challenge anything that is ‘good for me’ , and have only just discovered the heady delight of sucking up oranges. Now I evangelise about oranges. And for me they are the only fruit. I still have a long way to go.

I leave the last words to a woman author of impeccable skills, Marilynne Robinson, author of ‘Housekeeping’, ‘Gilead’ and others you may want to discover.

“While you read this, I am imperishable, somehow more alive than I have ever been.”

Notes to Self

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The guy who wrote the original did so in Greek, but was actually an intellectual Roman who was to govern Rome after succeeding the Emperor Antoninus Pius, spending a couple of decades trying to placate the Senate and put down minor rebellions. It was some time ago.

Marcus Aurelius lives long in the mind – this is a book that belongs in the bookshelves of the great and the good throughout history – it has shaped the thinking of men. And yet it was not written for publication – it was written as an ongoing discourse with himself as to how to live a life, how to wrestle with the challenges that being human brings , a ‘design for living’. He is setting  out his set of rules, quite unaware that it would become a key text in later attempting to understand the Roman Stoic philosophy.

 

I am fascinated how threads of understanding weave themselves through history – occurring separately to thinkers from disparate cultures and times – and how those threads resonate generations later, making a fascinating complexity of human thought spinning itself through time and place.

I am reminded of these words,

Knee-deep in the cosmic overwhelm, I’m stricken

by the ricochet wonder of it all: the plain

everythingness of everything, in cahoots

with the everythingness of everything else.       Carl Sagan  ‘Diffraction’

and from Edgar Allen Poe

 “that space and duration are one”

The hope that survives the onslaught of currency.

cultivating limited edition printblog.jpg

Leo Tolstoy  Anna Karenina

 

Image is my own – please do not use without permission.  For more illustration work head over to the landing site at annecorr103.wix.com/modestly  where you can link to the sites.

Spontaneous Me

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Spontaneous Me

Walt Whitman, 1819 – 1892

Spontaneous me, Nature,
The loving day, the mounting sun, the friend I am happy with,
The arm of my friend hanging idly over my shoulder,
The hill-side whiten’d with blossoms of the mountain ash,
The same, late in autumn—the hues of red, yellow, drab, purple, and light and dark green,
The rich coverlid of the grass—animals and birds—the private untrimm’d bank—
the primitive apples—the pebble-stones,
Beautiful dripping fragments—the negligent list of one after another, as I happen to call
them to me, or think of them,
The real poems, (what we call poems being merely pictures,)
The poems of the privacy of the night, and of men like me,
This poem, drooping shy and unseen, that I always carry, and that all men carry,
(Know, once for all, avow’d on purpose, wherever are men like me, are our lusty, lurking,
masculine poems;)
Love-thoughts, love-juice, love-odor, love-yielding, love-climbers, and the climbing sap,
Arms and hands of love—lips of love—phallic thumb of love—breasts of
love—bellies press’d and glued together with love,
Earth of chaste love—life that is only life after love,
The body of my love—the body of the woman I love—the body of the man—the body of
the earth,
Soft forenoon airs that blow from the south-west,
The hairy wild-bee that murmurs and hankers up and down—that gripes the full-grown
lady-flower, curves upon her with amorous firm legs, takes his will of her, and holds himself
tremulous and tight till he is satisfied,
The wet of woods through the early hours,
Two sleepers at night lying close together as they sleep, one with an arm slanting down across
and below the waist of the other,
The smell of apples, aromas from crush’d sage-plant, mint, birch-bark,
The boy’s longings, the glow and pressure as he confides to me what he was dreaming,
The dead leaf whirling its spiral whirl, and falling still and content to the ground,
The no-form’d stings that sights, people, objects, sting me with,
The hubb’d sting of myself, stinging me as much as it ever can any one,
The sensitive, orbic, underlapp’d brothers, that only privileged feelers may be intimate where
they are,
The curious roamer, the hand, roaming all over the body—the bashful withdrawing of flesh
where the fingers soothingly pause and edge themselves,
The limpid liquid within the young man,
The vexed corrosion, so pensive and so painful,
The torment—the irritable tide that will not be at rest,
The like of the same I feel—the like of the same in others,
The young man that flushes and flushes, and the young woman that flushes and flushes,
The young man that wakes, deep at night, the hot hand seeking to repress what would master
him; The mystic amorous night—the strange half-welcome pangs, visions, sweats,
The pulse pounding through palms and trembling encircling fingers—the young man all color’d,
red, ashamed, angry;
The souse upon me of my lover the sea, as I lie willing and naked,
The merriment of the twin-babes that crawl over the grass in the sun, the mother never turning
her vigilant eyes from them,
The walnut-trunk, the walnut-husks, and the ripening or ripen’d long-round walnuts;
The continence of vegetables, birds, animals,
The consequent meanness of me should I skulk or find myself indecent, while birds and animals
never once skulk or find themselves indecent;
The great chastity of paternity, to match the great chastity of maternity,
The oath of procreation I have sworn—my Adamic and fresh daughters,
The greed that eats me day and night with hungry gnaw, till I saturate what shall produce boys to
fill my place when I am through,
The wholesome relief, repose, content;
And this bunch, pluck’d at random from myself;
It has done its work—I tossed it carelessly to fall where it may.

 

If you would like more illustration, then I sell some illustration work on Etsy and also sell prints via Society6 , Redbubble and other Print on Demand sites.

Link to all my work at annecorr103.wix.com/modestly

 

 

 

 

Meet Ceridwen

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I have named my medieval lady – meet Ceridwen – isn’t she absolutely heavenly?  She was helped into the world by the marvellous ceramacist Midori Takaki , whose work I have adored since first finding it.  I had told Midori how much I loved her work, and she was the most kindhearted seller -offering to save me the particular item I wanted until I was ready.  I didn’t do that at the time as we were pennypinching and I couldn’t justify an art purchase.

Quite a long time later I mentioned to my husband how much these works meant to me – how I longed to own one.  He knows it is not often that I see something I want to own, mainly I am happy to just be in the world alongside what I have.  So being the romantic he is, he immediately asked me to choose the one I liked for Valentine. I did.

Midori is a busy lady, so I waited a while before the mask arrived. And I wasn’t disappointed.  Now I never anticipate. It is something of a strange attribution and connected to memory or lack of it. I cannot see things that are in the past of the future, only the present. So in the same way I hadn’t named my sons prior to their birth, neither had I given Medieval Lady a name.  I had to come up with something that meant something to me, and that suited her.

After some reflection, and some of Keat’s ‘negative capability’ I remembered a poem that goes back to the myths of Celtic Britain which I had fallen in love with moons ago.

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre

I am Taliesin. I sing perfect metre,
Which will last to the end of the world.
My patron is Elphin…

I know why there is an echo in a hollow;
Why silver gleams; why breath is black; why liver is bloody;
Why a cow has horns; why a woman is affectionate;
Why milk is white; why holly is green;
Why a kid is bearded; why the cow-parsnip is hollow;
Why brine is salt; why ale is bitter;
Why the linnet is green and berries red;
Why a cuckoo complains; why it sings;
I know where the cuckoos of summer are in winter.
I know what beasts there are at the bottom of the sea;
How many spears in battle; how may drops in a shower;
Why a river drowned Pharaoh’s people;
Why fishes have scales.
Why a white swan has black feet…

I have been a blue salmon,
I have been a dog, a stag, a roebuck on the mountain,
A stock, a spade, an axe in the hand,
A stallion, a bull, a buck,
I was reaped and placed in an oven;
I fell to the ground when I was being roasted
And a hen swallowed me.
For nine nights was I in her crop.
I have been dead, I have been alive.
I am Taliesin.

 

I wanted my lady to be Taliesin , the bard in the Tales of Taliesin but I couldn’t cross the gender gap. Taliesin is a man. So it made sense to me that if she couldn’t be the bard, then she would mother the bard. She would be responsible for bringing into the world this legendary bard whose tales would ring through history. She would give birth to Awen  – the Welsh, Cornish and Breton word for  the inspirational muse of creative artists in general.

It is not all pretty though – Ceridwen in the stories of Celtic myth had given birth to a son, Morfan  who was deformed, hideous to look at. In order to somehow compensate for this misfortune Ceridwen went to work to make a potion which would give her son wisdom and poetic inspiration. This was no simple task – it was to take a year  and a day to brew in her magical cauldron, and she had helpers – a blind man and a young boy Gwion. Gwion’s task was to stir the concoction, and as luck would have it three drops of the mixture spilt onto his thumb, which he instinctively sucked.  Now only the first three drops of the mixture would have the transformative powers, the rest would be fatally poisonous. So Gwion did waht any young man would do faced with a powerful woman fatally disappointed. He ran. As Ceridwen gave chase , he used the powers of  the brew to turn himself into a hare, and was then pursued by Ceridwen transformed into a greyhound. He became a fish and jumped into a river. She transformed into an otter. He turned into a bird; she became a hawk. Finally, once he became a single greain of corn Cerdwen ate him as a hen. Even this did not destroy him because of the power  ofthe potion – Ceridwen became pregnant, and knew the child was Gwion, deciding to kill him when she gave birth.  Of course she could not do it – he was so beautiful, but she did set him into the sea in a leather-skin bag.  Fortunately for the child a passing prince rescued him on a Welsh shore, and this infant became Taliesin.

Some tale – the celtic tales are full of magic and imagination- powerfully romantic and date as far back as the 6th century. It is from the 12th century that the stories of the Mabinogion appear , and these were translated into English in 1849  when Lady Charlotte Guest’s version was produced. The tale draw upon the myths and history of Celtic Britain, with four branches of a storyline mainly set within Wales and the otherworld. They have a dreamlike atmosphere, preserving the primitive, imaginative world of Celtic myth.  A link to The Harvard Classics Volume 32 will fill you in further on the importance of this body of work on European literature that followed. Link to Harvard Classics page 146 Volume 32

For those interested in researching the work of Midori Takaki , her website is wonderful.-website of artist Midori Takaki