Category Archives: literature

Eugenio Florit, preface to “Selected Writings of Juan Ramón Jiménez”

 

 

PREFACE

 

Posted here (downloadable Word document above) is the preface, by Eugenio Florit, to Selected Writings of Juan Ramón Jiménez, translated by H. R. Hays (New York: Farrar, Straus and Cudahy, 1957). It is a very well written essay, and Florit provides a comprehensive, brilliant overview of Jiménez’s oeuvre.

I believe this book — and presumably Florit’s preface — are not readily available.

Eugenio Florit (1903-1999) was a Cuban-American poet, critic and essayist and a Professor of Spanish at Columbia University.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

 

 

 

 

Thomson and Milton

 

 

‘Thomson and Milton’

 

Note the similarities.

 

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THE ARGUMENT

 

This first Book proposes, first in brief, the whole Subject, Mans disobedience, and the loss thereupon of Paradise wherein he was plac’t: Then touches the prime cause of his fall, the Serpent, or rather Satan in the Serpent; who revolting from God, and drawing to his side many Legions of Angels, was by the command of God driven out of Heaven with all his Crew into the great Deep. Which action past over, the Poem hastes into the midst of things, presenting Satan with his Angels now fallen into Hell, describ’d here, not in the Center (for Heaven and Earth may be suppos’d as yet not made, certainly not yet accurst) but in a place of utter darkness, filthiest call’d Chaos: Here Satan with his Angels lying on the burning Lake, thunder-struck and astonisht, after a certain space recovers, as from confusion, calls up him who next in Order and Dignity lay by him; they confer of their miserable fall. Satan awakens all his Legions, who lay till then in the same manner confounded; They rise, their Numbers, array of Battel, their chief Leaders nam’d, according to the Idols known afterwards in Canaan and the Countries adjoyning. To these Satan directs his Speech, comforts them with hope yet of regaining Heaven, but tells them lastly of a new World and new kind of Creature to be created, according to an ancient Prophesie or report in Heaven; for that Angels were long before this visible Creation, was the opinion of many ancient Fathers. To find out the truth of this Prophesie, and what to determine thereon he refers to a full Councel. What his Associates thence attempt. Pandemonium the Palace of Satan rises, suddenly built out of the Deep: The infernal Peers there sit in Councel.

 

Of Mans First Disobedience, and the Fruit
Of that Forbidden Tree, whose mortal taste
Brought Death into the World, and all our woe,
With loss of Eden, till one greater Man
Restore us, and regain the blissful Seat,
Sing Heav’nly Muse, that on the secret top
Of Oreb, or of Sinai, didst inspire
That Shepherd, who first taught the chosen Seed,

In the Beginning how the Heav’ns and Earth
Rose out of Chaos: Or if Sion Hill
Delight thee more, and Siloa’s Brook that flow’d
Fast by the Oracle of God; I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th’ Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime.
And chiefly Thou O Spirit, that dost prefer
Before all Temples th’ upright heart and pure,

Instruct me, for Thou know’st; Thou from the first
Wast present, and with mighty wings outspread
Dove-like satst brooding on the vast Abyss
And mad’st it pregnant: What in me is dark
Illumine, what is low raise and support;
That to the height of this great Argument
I may assert Eternal Providence,
And justifie the wayes of God to men.

Say first, for Heav’n hides nothing from thy view
Nor the deep Tract of Hell, say first what cause
Mov’d our Grand Parents in that happy State,
Favour’d of Heav’n so highly, to fall off
From their Creator, and transgress his Will
For one restraint, Lords of the World besides?
Who first seduc’d them to that foul revolt?
Th’ infernal Serpent; he it was, whose guile
Stird up with Envy and Revenge, deceiv’d
The Mother of Mankind, what time his Pride
Had cast him out from Heav’n, with all his Host
Of Rebel Angels, by whose aid aspiring
To set himself in Glory above his Peers,

He trusted to have equal’d the most High,
If he oppos’d; and with ambitious aim
Against the Throne and Monarchy of God
Rais’d impious War in Heav’n and Battel proud
With vain attempt. Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th’ Omnipotent to Arms.
Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night

To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe
Confounded though immortal: But his doom
Reserv’d him to more wrath; for now the thought
Both of lost happiness and lasting pain
Torments him; round he throws his baleful eyes
That witness’d huge affliction and dismay
Mixt with obdurate pride and stedfast hate:
At once as far as Angels kenn he views
The dismal Situation waste and wilde,
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great Furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv’d onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum’d:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepar’d
For those rebellious, here their Prison ordain’d
In utter darkness, and their portion set
As far remov’d from God and light of Heav’n
As from the Center thrice to th’ utmost Pole.

— John Milton, Paradise Lost

 

 

 

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THE ARGUMENT

The subject proposed. Inscribed to the Countess of Hartford. The Season is described as it affects the various parts of nature, ascending from the lower to the higher; and mixed with digressions arising from the subject. Its influence on inanimate matter, on vegetables, on brute animals, and last on Man; concluding with a dissuasive from the wild and irregular passion of Love, opposed to that of a pure and happy kind.

 

 

Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come;

And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,

While music wakes around, veiled in a shower

Of shadowing roses, on our plains descend.

O Hartford, fitted or to shine in courts

With unaffected grace, or walk the plain

With innocence and meditation joined

In soft assemblage, listen to my song,

Which thy own season paints-when Nature all

Is blooming and benevolent, like thee.

And see where surly Winter passes off

Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:

His blasts obey, and quit the howling hill,

The shattered forest, and the ravaged vale;

While softer gales succeed, at whose kind touch,

Dissolving snows in livid torrents lost,

The mountains lift their green heads to the sky.

As yet the trembling year is unconfirmed,
And Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
Chills the pale morn, and bids his driving sleets
Deform the day delightless; so that scarce
The bittern knows his time with bill engulfed
To shake the sounding marsh; or from the shore
The plovers when to scatter o’er the heath,
And sing their wild notes to the listening waste.

At last from Aries rolls the bounteous sun,
And the bright Bull receives him. Then no more
The expansive atmosphere is cramped with cold;
But, full of life and vivifying soul,
Lifts the light clouds sublime, and spreads them thin,
Fleecy, and white o’er all-surrounding heaven.

Forth fly the tepid airs; and unconfined,
Unbinding earth, the moving softness strays.
Joyous the impatient husbandman perceives
Relenting Nature, and his lusty steers
Drives from their stalls to where the well-used plough
Lies in the furrow loosened from the frost.
There, unrefusing, to the harnessed yoke
They lend their shoulder, and begin their toil,
Cheered by the simple song and soaring lark.
Meanwhile incumbent o’er the shining share
The master leans, removes the obstructing clay,
Winds the whole work, and sidelong lays the glebe.

White through the neighbouring fields the sower stalks
With measured step, and liberal throws the grain
Into the faithful bosom of the ground:
The harrow follows harsh, and shuts the scene.

Be gracious, Heaven, for now laborious man
Has done his part. Ye fostering breezes, blow;
Ye softening dews, ye tender showers, descend;
And temper all, thou world-reviving sun,
Into the perfect year. Nor, ye who live
In luxury and ease, in pomp and pride,
Think these lost themes unworthy of your ear:
Such themes as these the rural Maro sung
To wide-imperial Rome, in the full height
Of elegance and taste, by Greece refined.
In ancient times the sacred plough employed
The kings and awful fathers of mankind;

 

— James Thomson, The Seasons

 

 

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“He has joined with great art the most beautiful imagination and the finest reflection together, adorned with a masterly diction and versification, suitable to its other excellencies. And thus he has happily attained the two great ends of poetry, of instructing and delighting the reader …. He must be allowed to have the genuine spirit of sublime poetry in him, and bids fair to reach at length the heighth of Milton’s character.” — review of James Thomson, The Seasons, London Journal,  June 4, 1726

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

 

 

 

 

Ruth Harwood Cline — Chrétien de Troyes

 

 

‘Ruth Harwood Cline – Chretien de Troyes’

 

 

Au jor de Pasque, au tans novel,
a Quaradigan, son chastel,
ot li rois Artus cort tenue.
Einz si riche ne fu veüe,
que mout i ot boens chevaliers,
hardiz et conbatanz et fiers,
et riches dames et puceles,
filles de rois, gentes et beles.
Mes einçois que la corz fausist,
li rois a ses chevaliers dist
qu’il voloit le blanc cerf chacier
por la costume ressaucier.
Monseignor Gauvain ne plot mie,
quant il ot la parole oïe.
« Sire, fet il, de ceste chace
n’avroiz vos ja ne gré ne grace.
Nos savomes bien tuit piece a
quel costume li blans cers a :
qui le blanc cerf ocirre puet
par reison beisier li estuet
des puceles de vostre cort
la plus bele, a que que il tort.
Maus an puet avenir mout granz,
qu’ancor a il ceanz .v.c.
dameiseles de hauz paraiges,
filles de rois, gentes et sages ;
n’i a nule qui n’ait ami
chevalier vaillant et hardi,
don chascuns desresnier voldroit,
ou fust a tort ou fust a droit,
que cele qui li atalante
est la plus bele et la plus gente. »
Li rois respont : « Ce sai ge bien ,
mes por ce n’an lerai ge rien,
car parole que rois a dite
ne doit puis estre contredite.
Demain matin a grant deduit
irons chacier le blanc cerf tuit
an la forest avantureuse ;
ceste chace iert mout mervelleuse. »

— Chrétien de Troyes, Erec et Enide (c. 1170)

 

 

In spring, when Easter Day began,
in his walled town of Cardigan,
King Arthur held a lavish court,
with none more splendid to report.
He gathered many valiant knights,
tough, stalwart, feisty men in fights,
and maids and ladies, rich and fair,
kings’ daughters, nobly born, were there.
The king, before the courtiers went,
informed his knights of his intent
to hunt the white stag, to restore
the custom of the days of yore.
To hear this royal proclamation
filled Sir Gawain with consternation.
He said: “Sire, this hunt would preclude
your ever winning gratitude.
The custom of the white male deer
To all of us has long been dear.
The custom of the hunt is this:
the slayer of the stag must kiss
the maid at court whom he selects
as fairest, come what may come next.
Great harm may come of it, I fear,
with some five hundred maidens here.
These maidens are of noble birth,
kings’ daughters, wise and great in worth,
and not a one without a friend,
a bold brave knight, who will contend,
each speaking for himself headstrong,
and whether he is right or wrong,
the maiden he has most desired
is loveliest and most admired.”
“I know it well,” the king replied,
“but will not put my plan aside,
for words a king has said aloud
ought never to be disavowed.
Tomorrow morning, with delight,
we all will hunt the stag that’s white
within the forest of adventure;
this hunt will be a wondrous venture.”

— Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline

 

 

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Eric and Enide is the earliest of Chrétien de Troyes’ Arthurian romances.

“Chrétien de Troyes was the creator of the Arthurian romance as a literary genre: he was the first known writer in Western Europe to put the Celtic legends of King Arthur and his knights into the long romance form in order to illustrate themes from the twelfth-century codes of love and chivalry. His five romances, Erec and Enide, Cligès, Lancelot, Yvain, and Perceval, were written between 1160 and 1190. … he wrote Erec and Enide, the oldest Arthurian romance, around 1160. … Probably he returned to Troyes soon afterward, where he entered the service of Countess Marie of Champagne (daughter of Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine). There he composed Cligès, a romance with Byzantine overtones which reflects the Tristan legend, and, around 1172, Lancelot, with its theme of the adulterous love between Lancelot and Queen Guinevere which was suggested by Countess Marie herself. Between 1173 and 1176 he completed Yvain and possibly Guillaume d’Angleterre; his authorship of the latter work is heavily disputed. In 1181 Chrétien left the service of the widowed Countess Marie and entered the service of Count Philippe of Flanders, at whose bidding in 1182 he began his last and longest romance, Perceval or The Story of the Grail. He died before Perceval was completed.” — Ruth Harwood Cline, Introduction,  Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, Or the Knight with the Lion, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1975), pp. xi-xii

 

“The original works of Chretien de Troyes were written in Old French octosyllabic verse. Old French is a language that encompasses several dialects used between the ninth and late fifteenth centuries. It retained from Latin a two-case declension system (subject/object) and flexible word order. It had not undergone the enrichment in vocabulary that occurred in the sixteenth century. Thus Chretien expresses sophisticated ideas with a relatively limited choice of words. The verse form he chose, octosyllabic rhymed couplets, was an intrinsic part of his creative process. Verse shaped the expression of his thoughts, encouraged his word­play, and established the forward movement of his poem. Verse allowed him to halt that movement for emphasis by repeating a key phrase without wearying his listeners by redundancy.” — Ruth Harwood Cline, Introduction, Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 2000), pg. xxiv

 

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“Ruth Harwood Cline’s translation is a remarkable literary achievement. She has not only understood Chretien’s difficult and subtle text-­which is no small matter, but she frequently succeeds in re-creating his witty style, his irony, his playfulness, his masterful use of octosyllabic couplets which, in his hands, can gallop or meander or creep, depending upon the matter being treated. Sometimes her version even suggests his varied and effortless use of rhymes–now rich, now mere vowel rhyme, now an arresting use of homonyms, now a play on words. And she has studiously avoided archaisms, which are the bane of so many translators. In a word she has made much of the quality of Chretien’s masterpiece available in present-day English.” — Julian Harris, Forewrod, Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, Or the Knight with the Lion, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1975), pg. viii

 

“First of all, Chrétien de Troyes is a wonderful poet, who practically singlehandedly invented the Arthurian legend. Secondly — but actually, most importantly — Ruth Harwood Cline is a SUPERB translator. She does total justice to the original text, does not mangle it, and manages to translate into rhymed verse (the original French is rhymed) that totally “works” while never sacrificing meaning. To put it simply, there is magic in this translation. It is totally readable, it carries you along, and you don’t want to stop until the end.” — Roger W. Smith, Amazon.com review of Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot Or the Knight of the Cart, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1990)

 

 

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I have read all five of Cline’s Chrétien translations. You won’t find a better translator of medieval literature anywhere — well, practically anywhere. Two other books (translations) that are brilliant:

Poems of the Elder Edda: Revised Edition, translated by Patricia Terry (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990)

 

Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot Du Bellay, Ronsard; bilingual edition; English versions by Norman R. Shapiro (Yale University Press, 2002)

 

I have read all of the books the images of which are shown below, except for not having read Lyrics of the French Renaissance from cover to cover.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   November 2020

 

 

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Chrétien de Troyes, Yvain, Or the Knight with the Lion, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1975)

 

 

Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval: Or the Story of the Grail, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1983)

 

 

Chrétien de Troyes, Lancelot; Or the Knight of the Cart, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 1990)

 

 

Chrétien de Troyes, Cligès, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 2000)

 

 

Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide, translated by Ruth Harwood Cline (The University of Georgia Press, 2000)

 

 

Poems of the Elder Edda: Revised Edition, translated by Patricia Terry (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990)

 

 

Lyrics of the French Renaissance: Marot Du Bellay, Ronsard; bilingual edition; English versions by Norman R. Shapiro (Yale University Press, 2002)

“On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet”

 

 

Condemned to Hope’s delusive mine,
As on we toil from day to day,
By sudden blasts, or slow decline,
Our social comforts drop away.

Well tried through many a varying year,
See Levet to the grave descend;
Officious, innocent, sincere,
Of every friendless name the friend.

Yet still he fills Affection’s eye,
Obscurely wise, and coarsely kind;
Nor, lettered Arrogance, deny
Thy praise to merit unrefined.

When fainting Nature called for aid,
And hovering Death prepared the blow,
His vigorous remedy displayed
The power of art without the show.

In Misery’s darkest cavern known,
His useful care was ever nigh,
Where hopeless Anguish poured his groan,
And lonely Want retired to die.

No summons mocked by chill delay,
No petty gain disdained by pride,
The modest wants of every day
The toil of every day supplied.

His virtues walked their narrow round,
Nor made a pause, nor left a void;
And sure the Eternal Master found
The single talent well employed.

The busy day, the peaceful night,
Unfelt, uncounted, glided by;
His frame was firm, his powers were bright,
Though now his eightieth year was nigh.

Then with no throbbing fiery pain,
No cold gradations of decay,
Death broke at once the vital chain,
And freed his soul the nearest way.

 

— Samuel Johnson, “On the Death of Dr. Robert Levet”

 

 

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Robert Levet (1705–1782), described in an obituary as “a practitioner in physic,” was an unlicensed medical practitioner in London during the eighteenth century. Levet was befriended by Samuel Johnson. He lived in Johnson’s home for many years. He practiced medicine among the poor and destitute of London, for modest fees.

 

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A few observations on the poem, and a few platitudes of my own. It is good — following the example and preaching of Jesus — to assist, and not to shun, the needy and downtrodden; and it is good — as exemplified not only by Levet, but by Johnson, in befriending Levet (who was regarded by some of Johnson’s friends as being coarse in manner and who was of humble origins himself) — to show kindness and solicitude for those whom one encounters in the byways, so to speak, of daily life, on our journey through it.

This is essentially what the poem says to me. I could relate it to my own experience and, for me, that matters a lot when it comes to reading and literature.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2020

a disservice to Walt Whitman

 

 

Walt Whitman – NY Times 9-14-2020

 

 

Whitman to John Addington Symonds

 

 

re:

“Walt Whitman, Poet of a Contradictory America: During the Civil War era, the writer emerged as an emblem of the country’s dissonance. Now, in the midst of another all-consuming national crisis, his work feels uncannily relevant.”

By Jesse Green

The New York Times

September. 14, 2020

 

 

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This article includes “pictures, the essay’s writer and T’s editors chose some of their favorite passages of Walt Whitman’s poetry — excerpted below as he published them in the 1891-92 edition of “Leaves of Grass” — which the photographer, stylist and models referenced to inspire the images, taken on July 24, 2020, at St. Josaphat’s Monastery in Glen Cove, N.Y.”

Take a look for yourself to see how tawdry and pitiful this is.

 

 

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The following are excerpts from the article, by Jesse Green, the Times’s co-chief theater critic. With thoughts/comments by me in ALL CAPS.

 

The 13-part newspaper series on manly health he wrote a few years earlier, in 1858, under the pseudonym Mose Velsor, is full of epigrammatic dictums — “the beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat” and “we have spoken against the use of the potato” — but for long passages comes off as unintentional gay porn.

Of course, so do long passages of his signed work.

GAY PORN? COME ON! I HAVE READ THE ENTIRE 1858 NEWSPAPER SERIES BY WHITMAN REFERRED TO. (IT WAS RECENTLY PUBLISHED IN BOOK FORM AS Manly Health and Training.) GREEN DELIBERATELY MISCHARACTERIZES THIS WORK OR ITS INTENTION.

 

Six years before the war, in June 1855, Whitman published the first edition of “Leaves of Grass,” a book of poems he would prune and shape, like a massive topiary, until his death in 1892 at the age of 72. That he believed it to be not just his masterpiece but America’s, and that America somehow came to agree, seems so wildly unlikely when you actually read it that the reading throws you into a time warp. Are we in classical Greece, as the antique cadences and references sometimes suggest? Adamic Eden? The Summer of Love in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury? Pre-Columbian America? Or tonight on Grindr? (Polar Bear, highly verbal, Masc4Masc.) Not many other masterpieces of the 19th century fill their pages with kisses among “camerados,” testicular gropes (“the sensitive, orbic, underlapp’d brothers”), hydrothermal ejaculations (“the pent-up rivers of myself”) and the scent of armpits “finer than prayer.” Even in the unlikely event that Whitman merely imagined such things, they have the authenticity of aspiration. You can see it in the portrait he chose for the frontispiece of the first edition: an engraving of the author with his hips, hat and eyebrows all cocked, with his lanky frame in a louche slouch that any gay man in Brooklyn Heights today (I live a quarter-mile from the printing house where it was typeset) would take as a welcome, a come-on, a song of himself.

TOTALLY UNJUSTIFIED INSINUATIONS/INFERENCES, “CRITICAL OBSERVATIONS” ABOUT LEAVES OF GRASS. THE REFERENCE TO ‘ANTIQUE CADENCES” SHOWS IGNORANCE. WHITMAN WANTED, CHOSE DELIBERATELY, TO AVOID ALL ECHOES OF CLASSICAL LITERATURE.

 

It is only as an icon of queerness that Whitman’s legacy is sometimes denied, as if gay people, rooting through the crypts of time, had dug up the wrong body. For decades, heterosexual critics commonly treated the homoerotic passages as metaphor or, like Harold Bloom, asserted that all those loving comrades were actually just platonic friends. (Bloom called Whitman’s sexuality “onanistic.”) And though it’s true (as Justin Kaplan tells us in “Walt Whitman: A Life,” his 1980 biography) that in old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea to acknowledge the actual sex shadowing the metaphysical sex in his work — “morbid inferences,” he answered in an 1890 letter, “disavow’d” and “damnable” — that hasn’t stopped gay men since liberation from celebrating the truth for what it is and making Walt their poster boy. After all, how metaphysical can an erection be? (In the preface to the 1856 edition of “Leaves of Grass,” Whitman pledges to restore the “desires, lusty animations, organs, acts” that had been “driven to skulk out of literature with whatever belongs to them.”) Whether or not he sired six children, as he sometimes claimed, though none are known to have come knocking in search of a handout or benediction, they would not be dispositive anyway: Most homophile men have until recently also had wives and children — and Whitman called at least one of his likely young lovers “dear son.”

RE WHITMAN AS AN ICON OF QUEERNESS, SEE MY COMMENTS BELOW.

RE “In old age the poet casually, even cruelly, dismissed an anguished acolyte’s plea,” [ITALICS ADDED], THE LETTER OF WHITMAN TO AN ENGLISH ACOLYTE (JOHN ADDINGTON SYMONDS) IS PRESERVED IN DRAFT FORM — I.E., A DRAFT BY WHITMAN. SYMONDS’S LETTER (I.E., FROM WHITMAN TO HIM) HAS NOT BEEN PRESERVED APPARENTLY. (IT HAS NOT BEEN PUBLISHED.) I HAVE POSTED HERE (ABOVE) AS A WORD DOCUMENT MY TRANSCRIPTION OF WHITMAN’S DRAFT. TO CALL THE LETTER OR ITS TONE CRUEL AND TO SAY THAT IT AMOUNTED TO CASUAL DISMISSAL IS OVERREACH — TO SAY NOTHING OF BEING INACCURATE.

GREEN DID NOT STUDY WHITMAN’S DRAFT LETTER CLOSELY. HE LEARNED ABOUT IT FROM JUSTIN KAPLAN’S BIOGRAPHY OF WHITMAN. KAPLAN STATES THAT WHITMAN’S LETTER (DRAFT OF SAME) TO SYMONDS WAS “CALCULATINGLY CASUAL,” WHICH IS NOT THE SAME AS CASUAL. IN FACT, WHILE WHITMAN DID TRY TO KEEP THE TONE MEASURED, IT IS OBVIOUS HOW CAREFULLY HE DRAFTED THE REPLY. WHITMAN, IN WRITING TO SYMONDS, CLEARLY WAS ON THE SPOT, FELT DEFENSIVE. HE WRITES WITH RESERVE AND ISSUES A FIRM DENIAL. NOTHING LESS AND NOTHING MORE.

 

What he isn’t, at least at the time he went on his milk diet, nor during the years when he produced the first editions of “Leaves of Grass,” is amatively mature. “The best I had done seem’d to me blank and suspicious,” he admits in the same poem. “Many I loved in the street or ferry-boat or public assembly, yet never told them a word.” Despite their enthusiastic (and unquestionably transporting) wide-world embraces, these early writings often suggest high school aesthetes pining in diaries for high school athletes. They want more from others than they dare say directly.

THIS IS PSYCHOBABBLE TRIVIALIZING THE WORK OF A GREAT POET (AMERICA’S GREATEST), AS IF HE WERE THE WRITER OF LYRICS TO POP SONGS OR PERHAPS GRAPHIC NOVELS.

 

 

… his need for the “comradeship and sometimes affection” of stevedores, farmhands and omnibus drivers begins to make sense when you recognize that unresolved split in him. Here was a nascent voice of the common man but also a mama’s boy, theater buff and opera freak who shared elderberry wine with Oscar Wilde. Wobbling like an adolescent between wanting to possess the other and be him, Whitman — and, because he represented America, America — did not yet know what destiny held or how to find it. In that way, his diet was spiritual: a means of annealing his body for the great work ahead.

MORE JEJUNE PSYCHOBABBLE.

 

 

Whitman embodied cognitive dissonance. His freethinking coexisted with a lifelong project of self-editing, literal and otherwise, in service not just to his art but his ambition. “Leaves of Grass” was no less ruthlessly pruned and reshaped over the decades than his own public persona; he could not have become The Good Gray Poet without sanding down his pervy edges in deference to prejudices he may or may not have outgrown himself. It remains impossible to say whether his denial of gay affairs, like his denial of full personhood for Black and Indigenous people, was unexamined prejudice or savvy self-promotion.

“COGNITIVE DISSONANCE” … “PERVY EDGES”: MORE PSYCHOBABBLE AND DEMEANING WITH CANT.

 

How different he sounds from his contemporaries, even American ones, except for Emily Dickinson, whose similarly pioneering and proto-queer work would not become widely known until after her death in 1886.

NOTE THE SNARKY, CONFIDENT ASSERTION THAT EMILY DICKENSON’S POETRY WAS “PROTO-QUEER.” THIS IS MORE CUTE GLIBNESS. SERIOUS LITERARY SCHOLARS HAVE RECENTLY WRITTEN ESSAYS INVESTIGATING WHETHER EMILY DICKINSON HAD LONGINGS FOR WOMEN AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH THEM. IT MAY BE TRUE. IS IT PROVEN?

 

 

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My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp Jr. – a highly literate and well-read person and a scholar in his own right, how many MDs and psychiatrists or therapists can this be said of? – made two significant observations to me about Whitman. First, that gays were very eager to claim him as one of them, and that this reflected something gays tend to do. Second, that he (Dr. Colp) felt that Whitman handled questions about his sexual orientation very well – meaning discretion, not disclosing more than he wished to – as Whitman’s way of dealing with such inquiries.

A comment (responding to the Times article) that was posted on the Times site yesterday reads as follows:

Samuel, Denver

Sept. 15

It’s not that anything this article says is wrong. It’s just that because of the lens the writer writes through (proud gay) and the contextual pictures (over-expensive clothing), there is nothing quite right here either. Whitman celebrated sexuality — all sexual desires and behaviors — and he celebrated freedom, including the freedom to NOT be defined by any particular bent of those sexual desires. This is the exact opposite of modern gay movements, which insist on the definition of the self by one’s sexual preference. This is why Whitman denounced “an anguished acolyte’s [John Addington Symonds, not named by Green] plea” – because the acolyte got it wrong and wanted to pigeon-hole a man whose manifesto was freedom.

Whitman’s poetry isn’t gay. It’s pan-sexual, free to ever cross borders and return back — completely free of being defined by the preference of the moment. This sort of freedom is almost entirely unknown today in a world where people want to loudly define themselves by all sorts of preferences, and do not seek or admire the freedom that comes with refusing to be defined by one definition and embracing a multitude of possibilities. That is what Whitman continually did: he included everything in his self-definition; he “contained multitudes.”

As for the pictures with the article . . . really? How tone-deaf can you be?

I completely agree with Samuel. I don’t care whatsoever whether Whitman was gay or not. I think he probably was gay. But there is no conclusive proof. And, anyway, as I just said, I don’t care.

 

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   September 16, 2020

“See, in my poems” (Walt Whitman)

 

 

 

excerpt 2 from ‘Starting from Paumanok’

 

 

 

See! steamers steaming through my poems!
See, in my poems immigrants continually coming and landing;
See, in arriere, the wigwam, the trail, the hunter’s hut, the flat-
boat, the maize-leaf, the claim, the rude fence, and the
backwoods village;
See, on the one side the Western Sea, and on the other the Eastern Sea, how they advance and
retreat upon my poems,
as upon their own shores;
See, pastures and forests in my poems—see, animals, wild and
tame—See, beyond the Kanzas, countless herds of buffalo,
feeding on short curly grass;
See, in my poems, cities, solid, vast, inland, with paved streets,
with iron and stone edifices, ceaseless vehicles, and
commerce;
See, the many-cylinder’d steam printing-press—see, the electric
telegraph, stretching across the continent, from the Western Sea
to Manhattan;
See, through Atlantica’s depths, pulses American, Europe
reaching—pulses of Europe, duly return’d,
See, the strong and quick locomotive, as it departs, panting,
blowing the steam-whistle;
See, ploughmen, ploughing farms—See, miners, digging mines—
see, the numberless factories;
See, mechanics, busy at their benches, with tools—see from
among them, superior judges, philosophs, Presidents, emerge,
drest in working dresses;
See, lounging through the shops and fields of The States, me,
well-belov’d, close-held by day and night;
Hear the loud echoes of my songs there! Read the hints come at
last.

 

Walt Whitman,. “Starting from Paumanok.” (excerpt)

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   August 2020 

 

Walt Whitman creates a catalogue

 

 

 

Walt Whitman: Daybooks and Notebooks, edited by William White, Volume III, pg. 733 (New York University Press, 1978)

 

Interlink’ d, food-yielding lands!
Land of coal and iron! land of gold! land of cotton, sugar, rice! Land of wheat, beef, pork! land of wool and hemp! land of the
apple and the grape!
Land of the pastoral plains, the grass-fields of the world! land of
those sweet-air’d interminable plateaus!
Land of the herd, the garden, the healthy house of adobie! Lands where the north-west Columbia winds, and where the
south-west Colorado winds!
Land of the eastern Chesapeake! land of the Delaware!
Land of Ontario, Erie, Huron, Michigan!
Land of the Old Thirteen! Massachusetts land! land of Vermont
and Connecticut!
Land of the ocean shores! land of sierras and peaks!

— from Walt Whitman, “Starting from Paumanok”

 

 

excerpt from ‘Starting from Paumanok’

 

 

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Walt Whitman’s catalogues. Long lists. A stylistic feature of his poetry.

 

 

 

posted by Roger W. Smith

  August 2020

 

Balzac, Père Goriot post updated

 

 

I have updated my recent post about Balzac’s Père Goriot

 

at

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2020/07/28/balzac-le-pere-goriot/

 

with the text in English of the opening pages and some additional commentary.

 

 

— Roger W.  Smith

   August 2020

Walt Whitman (again)

 

 

from ‘There was a child went forth’

 

 

The streets themselves and the facades of houses, and goods in
the windows,
Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank’d wharves, the huge crossing
at the ferries,
The village on the highland seen from afar at sunset, the river
between,
Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables
of white or brown two miles off,
The schooner near by sleepily dropping down the tide, the little
boat slack-tow’ d astern,
The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping,
The strata of color’d clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint away
solitary by itself, the spread of purity it lies motionless in,
The horizon’s edge, the flying sea- crow, the fragrance of salt
marsh and shore mud,
These became part of that child who went forth every day, and
who now goes, and will always go forth every day.

 

— from Walt Whitman, “There Was a Child Went Forth” (1855)

 

 

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As noted by James Perrin Warren in his monograph Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment, “This passage catalogues the scenes of New York and Brooklyn, scenes that will become central to later poems like ‘Crossing Brooklyn Ferry;’ ‘Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking;’ and ‘As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.’ ”

 

The beautiful passage evokes images and thoughts of New York City which I can relate to.

 

 

Roger W. Smith

   August 2020

the poet (Walt Whitman)

 

 

Walt Whtiman, from ‘Song of the Broad Axe’

 

 

His shape arises!
Arrogant, masculine, naive, rowdyish,
Laugher, weeper, worker, idler, citizen, country-man,
Saunterer of woods, stander upon hills, summer swimmer in
rivers or by the sea,
Of pure American breed, of reckless health, his body perfect,
free from taint from top to toe, free forever from headache
and dyspepsia, clean-breathed,
Ample-limbed, a good feeder, weight a hundred and eighty
pounds, full-blooded, six feet high, forty Inches round the
breast and back,
Countenance sun-burnt, bearded, calm, unrefined,
Reminder of animals, meeter of savage and gentleman on equal
terms,
Attitudes lithe and erect, costume free, neck open, of slow
movement on foot,
Passer of his right arm round the shoulders of his friends,
companion of the street,
Persuader always of people to give him their sweetest touches,
and never their meanest,
A Manhattanese bred, fond of Brooklyn, fond of Broadway, fond
of the life of the wharves and the great ferries,
Enterer everywhere, welcomed everywhere, easily understood
after all,
Never offering others, always offering himself, corroborating his
phrenology,
Voluptuous, inhabitive, combative, conscientious, alimentive,
intuitive, of copious friendship, sublimity, firmness, self-
esteem, comparison, individuality, form, locality, eventuality,
Avowing by life, manners, works, to contribute illustrations of
results of The States,
Teacher of the unquenchable creed, namely, egotism,
Inviter of others continually henceforth to try their strength
against his.

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe” (1856 version)

 

 

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For a discussion of this passage — and of Whitman’s brilliant use of –er nouns, formed from adding suffixes to verbs — see James Perrin Warren, Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990), pp. 56-57,

Note Whitman’s genius in creating his own “grammar” in which the repetition of these nouns functions to create what the Whitman scholar Gay Wilson Allen* (drawing upon the work of the Italian scholar Pasquale Jannaccone, in his La Poesìa di Walt Whitman e L’Evoluzione delle Forme Ritmìche) calls “grammatical and logical rime.”

 

*Gay Wilson Allen, Walt Whitman Handbook (Packard and Company, 1946), pg. 408

 

 

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My former therapist, Dr. Ralph Colp. Jr. said, exclaimed, to me once, that Walt Whitman was a wonderful, a marvelous, PERSON. How true. How much I would like to be able to say I partook of some of these personal qualities.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   August 2020