August 12, 2012 § Leave a comment

La Principessa

Lazy Sunday watching videos of Paul Ryan having seniors arrested for talking back at a rally; babying a sick headache with lots of tea and honey; and remembering last night with Jay and Andree, who delight me even when the evening starts as follows: “I’m pretty depressed,” I say. “Me too,” Andree replies. I looked at Jay glowering on the couch and ask, “Are you depressed too?” “No, I’m really pissed off.” “Want to tell me about it?” “I don’t think so. I’m pissed off at my wife.”

Ah, I thought to myself, just the people I want to be with! Then Charles arrived and we ate delicious food and the men played music and Andree and I talked in the kitchen about the intersection of depression and ennui (she lives in France). And by the time they drove us home we were all celebrating our baby step into curmudgeonhood. And I remember being young—ripe, starry-eyed, full of desire, planning to be a ferocious old witch…perhaps feebly ferocious…

I’ve had more ageless fun recently reading writers’ letters for a Cathedral project. Katherine Anne Porter is delightfully crisp describing registering to vote in Republican Saratoga Springs in 1944, where she was busy stirring up the Democratic minority. All her letters are crisp, even when she writes about depression and ennui. Her eye for the joys of life is exceeded only by Wallace Stevens, who comes across as one of the happiest of men—constantly delighted by the weather, flowers and trees, the city, the evening light, his wife, daughter, neighbors, friends, books…

“…And then I came home, observing great masses of white clouds, with an autumnal shape to them, floating through the windy-sky. I wish I could spend the whole season out of doors, walking by day, reading and studying in the evenings. I feel a tremendous capacity for enjoying that kind of life—but it is all over and I acknowledge ‘the fell clutch of circumstance.’ How gradually we find ourselves compelled into the common lot! But after all there are innumerable things besides that kind of life—and I imagine that when I come home from the Library, thinking over some capital idea—a new name for the Milky Way, a new aspect of Life, an amusing story, a gorgeous line, I am as happy as I should be—or could be—anywhere. So many lives have been lived—the world is no longer dull—nor would be even if nothing new at all ever happened. It would be enough to examine the record already made, by so many races, in such varied spaces….” (From a letter to his wife, 1909.)

For drollery, there’s no one better than E.E. Cummings. In a 1918 letter to his father, on why he enlisted though he hates everything about the military.

“…because I am he who would drink beer and eat shit if he saw somebody else do it, especially if that somebody was compelled to do it. And I would think myself partially cheated of the expensive adventure of the universe did I not take a chance…
I reiterate (in my coyly paradoxical style) I should think myself equally cheated if I allowed my humanly-sentimental-mind to interfere one iota with the sealed letters of sensation brought to my soul by these eyes, these ears, this nose and tongue.

So no one would be allowed to take my place? And come here in my stead? And enjoy the privilege of dying (or, more correctly, living for) democracy? …no one shall come out of the valley and the mountain with the same music in his eyes as me. Nor shall that music please, nor shall it exalt the old ideals, but it shall discover a hideous ecstasy whereat the players of other musics shall fall into the gummy latrine of destiny, and the last note of my song shall pull the chain upon them, and they shall be perfectly swallowed, and god help the sea anyway.”

So passes another day when I got nothing called work done, but managed to avoid giving into my various afflictions. I must go and feed the felines dinner now, or be inundated with needling paw-pats and pseudo-loving mrows. (Charles suggests that before I leave for California, I make all his meals and freeze them in plastic containers, since he’ll be feeding the cats…)

The Plain Sense of Things

After the leaves have fallen, we return
To a plain sense of things. It is as if
We had come to an end of the imagination,
Inanimate in an inert savoir.

It is difficult even to choose the adjective
For this blank cold, this sadness without cause.
The great structure has become a minor house.
No turban walks across the lessened floors.

The greenhouse never so badly needed paint.
The chimney is fifty years old and slants to one side.
A fantastic effort has failed, a repetition
In a repetitiousness of men and flies.

Yet the absence of the imagination had
Itself to be imagined. The great pond,
The plain sense of it, without reflections, leaves,
Mud, water like dirty glass, expressing silence

Of a sort, silence of a rat come out to see,
The great pond and its waste of the lilies, all this
Had to be imagined as an inevitable knowledge,
Required, as a necessity requires.

Wallace Stevens


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