Thursday, October 22, 2009

Three Poem Drafts

I will be at the South Central Seminar in the History of Early Modern Philosophy this weekend, so I'll likely be quiet until Sunday. I really don't like the ending of the third poem, although it captures Lady Philosophy's point very well.

Milky Way

Once a year at the end of day
I pack my bag to walk the Milky Way
through all there is and all there was;
on every side a hundred billion suns
rise and bloom and slowly pass away.
And somewhere in the coursing night
where the spiral arms are lost to sight
my heart begins to sigh and softly pray:
all this flame and all this light,
the planets, clouds, and splendors bright,
are fragile as the dust and shattered clay.
Ever they are perched on high
to catch some distant lullaby;
and after ever, never comes,
empty voids and endless years
devoid of even sorrow's tears:
such are the thoughts you overhear
when you pack your bag some autumn day
to walk the path of the Milky Way.


Sun with passion
leaps up, a steed
at the trumpet.

Cons. Phil. 1m2

Depth-drowning, his once-sharp mind
now is made dull with darkness of brine
and this man, now far from shore,
whipped by wave, and wind, and wind more,
treads in water, in cold, in despair,
who once trod earth in open air.
Once he observed the vital sun
and the stars that around the light moon run
and the evenstar bright in the twilight west
which leaps in the morrow in dancing jest,
and studied the world in effect and cause,
knew how wave and wind have their laws,
how stars dance in circle and sphere,
how the sun rises up to make all things clear,
how spring is warm and calls to light
the blossoms that cheer and render earth bright,
how autumn brings harvest to finish the round,
fruit of the earth, grain from the ground.
But he who the secrets of nature had spied
lies low, the heights of his mind now denied,
weighed down by the chains binding him now
to look at the dust, not a man but a cow.

Absences in the Common Uneasiness of Life

Every one knows, that the mind will not be kept from contemplating what it loves in the midst of crowds and business. Hence come those frequent absences, so observable in conversation; for whilst the body is confined to present company, the mind is flown to that which it delights in. If God then be the object of our desires, we shall relieve ourselves in the common uneasiness of life, by contemplating His beauty. For certainly there cannot be a higher pleasure than to think that we love and are beloved by the most amiable and best Being. Whom the more we contemplate the more we shall desire, and the more we desire the more we shall enjoy. This desire having the pre-eminence of all other desires, as in every other thing so particularly in this, that it can't be disappointed; no one who brings a sincere heart, being ever rejected by this divine lover. Whose eyes pierce the soul, as He can't be deceiv'd by imposture, so He never mistakes or neglects the faithful affection; which too seldom finds ways to make itself understood among mortals, even by those who pretend to be the most discerning, but who give themselves up to the flatterers and deceivers, whilst they treat the plain and honest person with the utmost outrage.

Mary Astell, The Christian Religion as Profess'd by a Daughter of the Church of England (from here)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Question about Bosch's Invidia

One of Hieronymus Bosch's most famous (and also least surreal) paintings is his tabletop painting, The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things. The wheel at the center of the painting shows, as you might expect, representations of the seven deadly sins: luxuria (extravagance), gula (gluttony), avaricia (greed), accidia (sloth), ira (wrath), invidia (envy), and superbia (pride). Much of the symbolism is actually fairly straightforward, considering that we are talking about Bosch, who excels in the weird. For instance, avarice is represented by a judge leaning in to consider what someone is saying while his hand deftly and smoothly reaches back behind him to take a coin from someone who wants a case decided a certain way. There's certainly something deliberate about the fact that, only of all the sins, the person representing pride is alone -- well, alone except for the demon holding a mirror in which she admires herself. And the list can be continued. But for the life of me, I can't quite figure out what's going on in the invidia frame. It's notable that everyone is looking at what other people are doing, and you notice the dog who has several bones at his feet is nonetheless looking up at the one bone he doesn't have. But I don't quite understand what's going on in the scene. What are the human figures doing that represents envy? Is it gossip? But what's going on with the heavily burdened person who is walking away? Any help would be appreciated.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Break, Break, Break

'Break, break, break'
by Alfred Tennyson

Break, break, break,
On thy cold gray stones, O Sea!
And I would that my tongue could utter
The thoughts that arise in me.

O well for the fisherman’s boy,
That he shouts with his sister at play!
O well for the sailor lad,
That he sings in his boat on the bay!

And the stately ships go on
To their haven under the hill;
But O for the touch of a vanish’d hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still!

Break, break, break
At the foot of thy crags, O Sea!
But the tender grace of a day that is dead
Will never come back to me.