Wednesday, May 04, 2005
Giotto's Ascension, 1310
When we understand,
we are at the center of the circle,
and there we sit
while Yes and No chase each other around the circumference.
We say that someone has the wondrous ability to play the zither or the lute, but if we ask where that art resides, not even the wisest man can answer....This art, produced by something we cannot fully know, is like the innate nature of the mind that operates in all our daily activities.
who will buy this hat,
glazed with snow?
Tomorrow is a day of considerable spiritual significance. It is Yom Hashoah, a solemn day of remembrance of the Holocaust. It is Cinco De Mayo, another celebration of the dead that can jar the outsider with its often festive atmosphere. In Mexico it also marks the defeat of French forces there in 1862. And it is Ascension Day throughout most of Christendom. For many Christians the picture of an actual and tangible living body of Christ rising up into the air to be with the Father in Heaven overhead is a bit of a reach...but perhaps it always has been so.
I find myself thinking of these things as I reread the latest folio of poems to arrive the other day from my teacher and mentor, John Tagliabue. Approaching 82, Tagliabue, once so quick and light, now is slow...but still and always light. He is not allowing himself to be slow enough yet, for he says that again he has fallen...this time breaking his left arm and elbow. But he writes on in longhand, and must have to peck out the poems on his typewriter with extra difficulty. He must do it everyday, it is his instinct, his nature. He still refuses to use a computer to write or send out poems to friends---just as he always refused to learn to drive a car. He gets others to do these things for him...and I'm a guy he's glad shares his work out into the world, like apple blossoms showering upon us.
As usual his letter begins with concerns about why I don't write to him more, and commiserations about our health situations. Inevitably there is a booklist of amazing titles I ought to read...probably instead of buying all those DVDs that I do and sit and watch. Watching is so different from reading. And yet perhaps the best thing to do with one of John's poems is just to watch it. Anyway, he goes on to mention how he tires more easily these days...and then he begins to write rather differently than he normally does. His letters tell of news and accomplishments and other friends, mutual or otherwise, and he reserves great wisdom for the poems. But now comes a section of pondering the great realities~~~
"The universes & we have the lives of flowers. We blossom, wilt, change. Sure we pray, sing, doubt, etc etc as we change. And beyond the change of seasons, the various stages of our game, our more or less vitality, what do we know? For me my poems give some of the answers. Are they answers or songs. Kiss a doubt or joy as it flies---& live in eternity; sunrise. Sensible sensational wise dramatic Shakespeare stayed within certain limits. But can a physicist or philosopher define a limit? I wouldn't try to do that though especially in old age I sure know I have my limitations. Natural---as a flower or bee. To buzz or not to buzz. I buzz while I can. Now back to my stimulating reading; I seek stimulation as a youth seeks a bride, as a poem seeks a poet; and here I am seeking to stimulate a response from you."
With the subtle breeze as prompter
Good looking nameless
almost naked young people doing their exercises,
bending over, in much breeze, in light and shadows
as the sound
of many young leaves on nearly trees are like whistling
pansies wink yellow and purple at my feet, as bicyclists
A black sweating rehearsing athlete walks by talking in
his cell phone.
I believe that Krishna with one finger has lifted the world up.
"I had written other notes and poems praising Mark Van Doren after I heard his lectures about Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Yeats and others while a student at Columbia (1941-45) and later when Grace and I met him in NYC and a few months before his death in Connecticut. What follows was written just a few weeks ago (2005). Then I started reading the 1973 issue of VOYAGES published the year after Mark's death; it includes writings about him by Archibald MacLeish, Allen Tate, Allen Ginsberg, Mortimer Adler, Donald Keene and others. And it includes my journal responses to Mark's THAT SHINING PLACE. I like what Keene reminds us: 'Mark remarked once in class, in connection with some passage in Saint Augustine that no action was more specifically human than to praise.'"
Brightening active continuing Influence (a note for
artist grandson Adam Van Doren)
I think of your remarkable
well contained purposeful grandfather Mark
going from Greenwich Village down into the subway
with a few books that continued to enlighten him and
riding in the rattling noisy train sometimes crowded with
a motley democratic crowd of all sizes and shapes from all
castes, many countries, Mark developing his thoughts related
to his Shakespeare or Dante or Yeats lectures of the day, those
poets' images, thoughts free and active like bees in a bright
field in his respectful mind; then at 116th Street he
ascends continuing his thoughts and I am one of the
thousands who eventually hear what he's discovered
in the dark and in the enlightening dramatic poems;
I listen and write poems, and years
later go on to lecture with those
four poets more or less
brightening in my mind.
Now in old age can you figure out the name of the
station and figure out its "meaning"?
and the train of thought
are going to stop sometime, I guess.
Now late in life I guess I don't know much -
after all lusts, day dreams, forms of silliness,
after the unpredictable procedure is punctuated by
physical pains, staggering thoughts, disappointments,
what not; you console yourself with Brahms
that you hope will be a little balmy;
more or less goes on and then as has
before time must have a stop.
Tagliabue, in many ways a realized being, nevertheless remains attached to being remembered...unlike the apple blossom or even the tree. He always mentions he hopes some friend will read a poem and especially one of his...and even buy a book. So dutifully and with much gratitude I pass along, for the international reader this time, a link to John's wonderful collection~~~