Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Eolian Harp...

Coleridge is genius. His poetic describing of the world is so pitch-perfect the leaps of his imagination appear obvious. I love the following self-defense statement about his overzealous loyalty to colleagues known only to him through their work.

"The controversies, occasioned by my unfeigned zeal..." could be applied by the writer of this sentence to any number of occasions, conversations, relationships, et al. Passion hath a habit of spilling over...

Coleridge invented a word, esemplastic, by literally joining two Greek fragments. Some of his epigrammatic poems are subtitled, "Described and Exemplified" and thus the form is content and the title is both. "The Homeric Hexameter" and the "Ovidian Elegaic Metre" are two examples to which we may return. Esemplastic means "to shape into one." We continue thus with another varied and episodic, cryptic and enigmatic, esemplastic musing.

The previous rambling mentioned the association between romantic inspiration (afflatus) and the Aeolian harp. Coleridge's ode to Orpheus, the origins of music and artistic romanticism is entitled "The Eolian Harp," and is full of "honey-dropping flowers" of images like

The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence

The liquid alliteration of the diction mimics water, but even more striking to me is the odd little adjective "stilly." I take such delightful diminutives to be emblematic of Colerdge's original genius. The eloquent, poetic turn of phrase is another distinction that marks his genius original. Like "the desultory breeze caress'd." Pure music!

As in the witty phrase "occasioned by my unfeigned zeal" above, ignorance of the subject matter does not bar one from admission into this lyrically imaginative world. Another entry point is the vivid fancy of "twilight Elfins" from some accessible (not nearly so "long ago & far away" as we accustom ourselves) "Fairy-land."

The "honey-dropping flowers" that may or may not be Homer's - and Tennyson's - "Lotus-Eaters" are products of one of "many idle flitting phantasies." As if the poet tasted of his own artistic opiate to dull the pain of the cruel, unfeeling, profit-driven world (the Lotus-Eaters are lulled by forgetfulness and numbed to desire by partaking of the Lotus flower). The poem of Sir Alfred the Lord opens with the orphic invocation,

There is sweet music here that softer falls
Than petals from blown roses on the grass

Still the romantic ideal that is idealism itself shines a light through the dreamy balm of unbearable lightness. To return to Coleridge's musician waxing utopian,

Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so fill'd;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.

Coleridge's most famous visionary image is the 50-line fragment, "Kubla Khan" The poem's subtitle is "Or, A Vision In A Dream" and in a preface the author describes its origin.

The Author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than two to three hundred lines; if that indeed could be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of correspondent expressions, without any sensation or conscious effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole...

And that is one of the most lively descriptions of the creative process vis-a-vis its "flash" or "divine spark" of inspiration, the imagination "set fire" or "ablaze" by inspiration. The creative person "possessed" or "driven" by inspiration. Whether "as if in a dream" or vision literal or figurative.

My imagination has been subject to vision-like experiences as a veil falls between myself and the outer world (to paraphrase Hesse's Steppenwolf, to which we shall return).

I have been inspired by dreams and by the waking hours leading up to sleep, especially the periods from dusk (the gloaming) through night to early morning. A series of "Nocturne" poems are the humble, half-chiseled results.

I. The light keeps changing across this landscape
so the mountains never appear the same twice.
People are happier here, I've heard it said.
With so much beauty always around -
the magic of living in a valley is to always
be surrounded by peaks -
how can at least some peace not be found?

Nowhere near as visionary as Samuel Taylor C, I hope my intention to honor our esteemed saint and patron of the imagination might absolve me of some of my presumption and rudeness. As Uncle Walt reminds us, our "many faults and derelictions" exist inextricably with our virtues, visions and aspirations.

One of my aspirations is bound up in sharing both Whitman's voice with a world in desperate need of such affirming creativity, and pitching my own voice to such unabashed, inclusive and all-embracing joy.

Whitman is our most operatic bard, and not merely because he was an opera-lover himself. I cannot imagine how anyone could spend enough time with Whitman to become acquainted with the original tone of his voice, and not recognize how indiscriminate is his compassion, how unconditional his love. His is a portrait of the artist as a saint.

Another attempt at articulating more of my visions and dreams resulted in approximating a 7th Nocturne:

The birth of 1,000 suns
the opening of one to the many
one opening to the manifestation
of 1,000 flowers of the soul

Entering the place
reserved for madmen
poets and musicians
writers and other bohemians
leaving preconceptions like baggage
selves, practical concerns all left
before the threshold

Entering the world
beyond the world
behind the facade
beneath the ground
already below the surface
above the limits

Such poetic thinking is also indebted to Hesse's Steppenwolf, who observes "man is the narrow and perilous bridge between nature and spirit."

Precarious bridges span many gulfs in our figurative worlds. The linked shores appear as twins or polar opposites. Castor and Pollux. Cain and Abel. Yin and Yang. Scylla and Charybdis. Tweedle-Dee and -Dum. Apollo and Dionysus.

I came to Coleridge yesterday through Wordsworth. Particularly the philosopher Don Cupitt's noticing the "promising lines of thinking being opened up" in / by Wordsworth's romanticism. The opening-up of thinking and the piquing of curiosity. The opening of the senses via the the body's relationship to life and experience. The opening of the heart to the range and depth of human emotion, the authentic experience of being touched, feelings that resonate and reverberate deeper than imagined. And the ultimate opening up of the soul to the "other." To transcendence. Nirvana. Bliss. Salvation.

Or simply, Life.

The romantics were possessed of vision and imagination our contemporary, post-modern world needs in order to correct a long-developing imbalance. One of the correctives is poetry. Its excessiveness. Its inventiveness. Its openness. Its life-affirming embrace.

One of the other delightful benefits of poetry is its regenerative capabilities of surprise. As in the nugget of wisdom registering more deeply for being unexpected. As in Ashbery.

"The Later Me" contains typically opaque bon-bons worthy of the term Ashbery-esque. The delicious non-sequitir, for example:

The China is all converted,
So we can dress together.

Thus the poem's closing couplet is a jarringly direct proverb:

Sitting alone in an open boat tells you a lot
about discipline. Any wrongdoing will be overlooked or punished.

Ha! Subversive. Trenchant. Mysterious. Sagacious. Poetic.

Borrowing an m.o. from John Cage, we connect Ashbery to Rimbaud through the French surrealists, particularly Reverdy. Surrealism plays at least one of Romanticism's roles, namely articulating the visionary. This also connects our esemplastic to Coleridge and Whitman.

Who wrote "a thousand profane phantasmagoria?" And how marvelous is poetry's colorfully inventive utilization of language! Our man, Rimbaud invites us to join him and "dance the witches' sabbath in a red clearing" and he is not referring to some anti-clerical, satanic ritual. We will let Rimbaud have today's last words.

Like many similar artists of the open imagination, his poetry is psychologically penetrating:

I shall never have done seeing myself in that past

The possibilities for exploration in the world of poetry are seemingly limitless:

Geography, cosmography, mechanics, chemistry!

Art is also and ultimately about alchemy. What else is esemplastic? Synthesis. Union. Marriage. In the cosmic and universal sense(s) of the words.

Taking a page from Homer and Ovid through Dante's Inferno to Coleridge, Poe and co., A Season in Hell charts the soul's journey, with poetic afflatus as guide.

We are going toward the Spirit. There's no doubt about it, an oracle, I tell you. I understand, and not knowing how to express myself without pagan words, I'd rather remain silent.

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