Posts tagged ‘city’

August 12, 2013

convinced that every innovation in the city influences the sky’s pattern

This is a scattered selection of some favorite passages in Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:

[Eusapia:] They say that every time they go below they find something changed in the lower Eusapia; the dead make innovations in their city; not many, but surely the fruit of sober reflection, not passing whims. From one year to the next, they say, the Eusapia of the dead becomes unrecognizable. And the living, to keep up with them, also want to do everything that the hooded brothers tell them about the novelties of the dead. So the Eusapia of the living has taken to copying its underground copy. They say that this has not just now begun to happen: actually it was the dead who built the upper Eusapia, in the image of their city. They say that in the twin cities there is no longer any way of knowing who is alive and who is dead.

[Irene:] Travelers on the plateau, shepherds shifting their flocks, bird-catchers watching their nets, hermits gathering greens: all look down and speak of Irene. At times the wind brings a music of bass drums and trumpets, the bang of firecrackers in the light-display of a festival; at times the rattle of guns, the explosion of a powder magazine in the sky yellow with the fires of civil war. Those who look down from the heights conjecture about what is happening in the city; they wonder if it would be pleasant or unpleasant to be in Irene that evening. Not that they have any intention of going there (in any case the roads winding down to the valley are bad), but Irene is a magnet for the eyes and thoughts of those who stay up above.

[Laudomia:] On fine afternoons the living population pays a visit to the dead and they decipher their own names on their stone slabs: like the city of the living, this other city communicates a history of toil, anger, illusions, emotions; only here all has become necessary, divorced from chance, categorized, set in order. And to feel sure of itself, the living Laudomia has to seek in the Laudomia of the dead the explanation of itself, even at the risk of finding more there, or less: explanations for more than one Laudomia, for different cities that could have been and were not, or reasons that are incomplete, contradictory, disappointing.

[Perinthia:] But the worse cannot be seen; guttural howls are heard from cellars and lofts, where families hide children with three heads or with six legs. Perinthia’s astronomers are faced with a difficult choice. Either they must admit that all their calculations were wrong and their figures are unable to describe the heavens, or else they must reveal that the order of the gods is reflected exactly in the city of monsters.

[Raissa:] Happy bird freed from its cage by a painter happy at having painted it feather by feather, speckled with red and yellow in the illumination of that page in the volume where the philosopher says: “Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence.”

[Andria:] “Our city and the sky correspond so perfectly,” they answered, “that any change in Andria involves some novelty among the stars.” The astronomers, after each change takes place in Andria, peer into their telescopes and report a nova’s explosion, or a remote point in the firmament’s change of color from orange to yellow, the expansion of a nebula, the bending of a spiral of the Milky Way. Each change implies a sequence of other changes, in Andria as among the stars: the city and the sky never remain the same. As for the character of Andria’s inhabitants, two virtues are worth mentioning: self-confidence and prudence. Convinced that every innovation in the city influences the sky’s pattern, before taking any decision they calculate the risks and advantages for themselves and for the city and for all worlds.

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”

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August 2, 2013

perhaps this garden exists

From Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (Marco Polo speaking to Kublai Khan):

Perhaps this garden exists only in the shadow of our lowered eyelids, and we have never stopped: you, from raising dust on the fields of battle; and I, from bargaining for sacks of pepper in distant bazaars. But each time we halfclose our eyes, in the midst of the din and the throng, we are allowed to withdraw here, dressed in silk kimonos, to ponder what we are seeing and living, to draw conclusions, to contemplate from the distance.

August 2, 2013

a first city that remains implicit

From Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino:

“To distinguish the other cities’ qualities, I must speak of a first city that remains implicit. For me it is Venice.”

“…Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased,” Polo said. “Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little.”

June 20, 2012

turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep

From Compass of Affection by Scott Cairns (155).

Hidden City

…that you might approach the Jerusalem of the heart…
                                                     —Isaac the Least

And now I think Jerusalem abides untouched,
the temple yet intact, its every cornerstone
in place, its vault replete with vivid scent, its ark

alight with vigil lamps whose oil is never spent.
In psalm the pilgrim asks forgiveness, pleads that God
return the Spirit to the heart, and look, the Ghost

had never left, had never for an instant drawn
away, had only watched His presence made obscure
by soul’s own intermittent darkening. Just so,

the three companions of the Lord had blindly walked
the lesser part of three dim years before their eyes
beheld the Light that bathed the Son eternally.

Just so, the Light of Tabor spools extending past
the vision of the multitude, if nonetheless
apparent to the meek, the poor, the pure in heart.

Just so, the Holy City bides within the heart,
awaits the day the pilgrim will arrive, will quit
the road, turn in to greet his City’s boundless sweep, and see.

April 26, 2012

under the direction of the Great Architect

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (compare to this poem):

To say that God is the only architect can be understood in a yet more precise fashion in the case of the construction of the temple. Here, God is more directly the architect of His own abode. …The earthly temple is realized according to a heavenly archetype communicated to men through the intermediary of a prophet or other sacred figure. (46-47)

…The Heavenly Jerusalem, which descends from God, and the shape and dimensions of which were also taught to St John by an angel, is the model of the Christian temple, as is amply proved by the layout of the later, and affirmed by its ritual consecration. (47)

…Now this archetypal building, by its very nature, reproduces the architecture of the universe in such a way that its base corresponds to the earth, its intermediate space to the air, and its roof to the heavenly vault.

From this it follows that the house is a symbol of the universe, which, in a way, is the primordial House of Man; and, as a result, the building of a house will also reproduce or imitate the creation of the world. (48)

…The text from Job evokes the splendor of the original world, spoilt by sin. But God decided to rebuild it. And this new world in the making is the Church, both the earthly and heavenly. The Church is the Holy City, ‘the masterpiece’ of the divine Artisan. ‘It is God who builds Jerusalem’ (Psalm 46). (49)

…The unfolding of this story appears as the spiritual construction of a new world, the New Jerusalem, which under the direction of the Great Architect, is the work of all. It unfolds in three phases. In the first, Christ comes to earth to lay the first or foundation stone, upon this foundation, of which Simon Peter is the visible substitute, the Temple is built with living stones, which are the believers. Finally, in the third phase, the building is completed with the placing of the keystone of the vault, which is again Christ, the Beginning and End, Alpha and Omega. Then the whole building undergoes a glorious transmutation, the stones becoming precious and shining in the Divine Light. At this point, the Heavenly City appears in all its splendor…. (54)

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).

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