Archive for March, 2012

March 30, 2012

where you want your slave to go

Good stuff from an honest man. These are the lyrics to another Leonard Cohen song from his album Old Ideas.

“Show Me The Place”
by Leonard Cohen

Show me the place
Where you want your slave to go

Show me the place
I’ve forgotten I don’t know

Show me the place
For my head is bending low

Show me the place
Where you want your slave to go

Show me the place
Help me roll away the stone

Show me the place
I can’t move this thing alone

Show me the place
Where the Word became a man

Show me the place
Where the suffering began

The troubles came
I saved what I could save
A thread of light
A particle a wave
But there were chains
So I hastened to behave
There were chains
So I loved you like a slave

Show me the place
Where you want your slave to go

Show me the place
I’ve forgotten I don’t know

Show me the place
For my head is bending low

Show me the place
Where you want your slave to go
The troubles came
I saved what I could save
A thread of light
A particle a wave
But there were chains
So I hastened to behave
There were chains
So I loved you like a slave

Show me the place
Show me the place
Show me the place

Show me the place
Help me roll away the stone

Show me the place
I can’t move this thing alone

Show me the place
Where the Word became a man

Show me the place
Where the suffering began

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March 29, 2012

all but invisible through that lavish debris

The Glass Man

He is the transparence of the place in which He is…

This is where he washed to shore
during rough weather in November.
We found him in a nest of kelp,

salt bladders, other sea wrack—
all but invisible through
that lavish debris—and we might

have passed him by altogether
had he not held so perfectly
still, composed, so incoherently

fixed among the general
blowziness of the pile.
Unlikely is what he was,

what he remains—brilliant,
immutable, and of speech
quite incapable, if revealing

nonetheless. Under foot,
the landscape grows acute, so that it seems
to tremble, thereafter to dissolve,

thereafter to deliver to the witness
a suspicion of the roiling
confusion which brought him here.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (pages 55).

March 27, 2012

Ghent Altarpiece

Details of flowers from the Ghent Altarpiece (containing the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb), begun by Hubert van Eyck (who died in 1426) and completed in 1432 by his younger brother Jan van Eyck.



The first detail is from the background in the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb (center of the lower panels). These flowers are just to the right of the female martyrs and above the male saints. (Unfortunately, only one of the open lilies from a large cluster is visible on the left-hand side of this detail.)

The second detail is from the crown of the Virgin Mary (on the left in the three central upper panels of the full altarpiece).

Finally, there is an image of the full altarpiece for context (in the open position, with the other side having depictions of donors and additional religious figures).

March 26, 2012

we saw the City

City Under Construction

As you might suppose, the work was endless. Even when at last the
City stood gleaming like flame in the troubled radiance of that
distended sun, we could not help but be drawn to where our next
project should begin: The loosening bolt, flaking surfaces, another
unnerving vibration in the yawning superstructure.

We made a joke of it: The Eternal City! And let our lives run out
reworking the old failures, refining our materials, updating tech-
niques, but always playing catch-up to a construction that just
wouldn’t hold, fretwork that wouldn’t stay put, girders complaining
under the accumulating matter of successive generations and an
unrelenting wind.

Granted, it could have been worse; at least the work served as an
emblem of perpetual promise as every flagging strut commenced
another stretch of unquestioned purpose—mornings when we rose
from our beds eager and awake, thoroughly enjoyed our food, and
hurried out to work.

Nor would it serve to slight the rich pathos we shared like a warming
drink with co-workers. For there we’d be—touching up the paint or
turning the heavy wrench for the hundredth time—and we’d smile,
shake our head theatrically, say to each other how our City was
insatiable.

Just the same, this was not precisely what we had intended—that
our City should grow into a self-perpetuating chore. Earlier, we had
imagined—more or less naively—a different sort of progress, one
with a splendid outcome. We fancied a final . . . conclusion, from
which we would not be inclined to retreat.

I recall how, long before we had so much as made a start,
before we had cleared the first acre or drawn the first plan,
we saw the City, and as near completion then as it would
ever be, infinite in the best sense, its airy stone reaching to
the very horizon, and—I think this is the issue—extending
invisibly past.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (pages 60-61).

March 26, 2012

sees the world rightly

Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (ending with the significant number seven and calling for silence regarding things that can only be seen):

6.54 My propositions are elucidatory in this way: he who understands me finally recognizes them as senseless, when he has climbed out through them, on them, over them. (He must so to speak throw away the ladder, after he has climbed up on it.) He must surmount these propositions; then he sees the world rightly.

7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

[Note: Wittgenstein’s confidence in the abilities of language to portray reality is largely restored later in life as this passage indicates.]

March 24, 2012

the thing to remember

Imperative

The thing to remember is how
tentative all of this really is.
You could wake up dead.

Or the woman you love
could decide you’re ugly.
Maybe she’ll finally give up
trying to ignore the way
you floss your teeth as you
watch television. All I’m saying
is that there are no sure things here.

I mean, you’ll probably wake up alive,
and she’ll probably keep putting off
any actual decision about your looks.
Could be she’ll be glad your teeth
are so clean. The morning might be
full of all the love and kindness
you need. Just don’t go thinking
you deserve any of it.

By Scott Cairns in Compass of Affection: Poems New and Selected (page 3).

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March 18, 2012

trained emotions

Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment.

Lewis, Abolition of Man, 1965, pp. 33-34.

March 12, 2012

mad to be saved

Kind compliment from a former student:

The only people for me are the mad ones. The ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time. The ones who never yawn or say a commonplace word but burn burn burn like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

From Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. Calls to mind Psalm 131 for me and this much-loved passage from Augustine’s Confessions, book I, chapter 1:

You arouse us so that praising you may bring us joy, because you have made us and drawn us to yourself, and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.

March 7, 2012

signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine

So many profound insights and lovely phrases:

“The service and the loyalty I owe, / In doing it, pays itself.”
“I have begun to plant thee, and will labour / To make thee full of growing.”
“But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine / On all deservers.”

Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1.4.22-43):

MACBETH
The service and the loyalty I owe,
In doing it, pays itself. Your highness’ part
Is to receive our duties; and our duties
Are to your throne and state children and servants,
Which do but what they should, by doing every thing
Safe toward your love and honour.

DUNCAN
Welcome hither!
I have begun to plant thee, and will labour
To make thee full of growing. Noble Banquo,
That hast no less deserved, nor must be known
No less to have done so, let me enfold thee
And hold thee to my heart.

BANQUO
There if I grow,
The harvest is your own.

DUNCAN
My plenteous joys,
Wanton in fullness, seek to hide themselves
In drops of sorrow. Sons, kinsmen, thanes,
And you whose places are the nearest, know
We will establish our estate upon
Our eldest, Malcolm, whom we name hereafter
The Prince of Cumberland; which honour must
Not unaccompanied invest him only,
But signs of nobleness, like stars, shall shine
On all deservers. From hence to Inverness,
And bind us further to you.

March 1, 2012

from morn to night, my friend

Up-Hill
by Christina Rossetti

Does the road wind up-hill all the way?
   Yes, to the very end.
Will the day’s journey take the whole long day?
   From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting-place?
   A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
   You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
   Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
   They will not keep you standing at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
   Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
   Yea, beds for all who come.

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