the woman who gave you that jewel?
To High Spirits
You have taken the vodka
That I was probably
Saving for tomorrow.
Go on and take it
For there’s more enterprise
in waking naked.
– Kenneth Koch, New Addresses, NY: Knopf, 2000. (62.)
I don’t feel much direct relevance of ancient things to modern things. It was the temper of the times, especially in the seventies and eighties when I was getting my degree and teaching, to claim that the project of being a classicist was to find relevance to antiquity and invent courses that convinced students that you could learn everything you needed to know about modern life from studying the ancient Greeks. Well, this is bizarre, to say the least. What’s entrancing about the Greeks is that you get little glimpses, little latches of similarity, embedded in unbelievable otherness, in this huge landscape of strange convictions about the world and reactions to life that make no sense at all.
Drawing is quite, quite naked. Horrifyingly naked. But I’ve always felt that if I could have forced myself to draw every day I’d be a better person. That it would pull me into an honesty and diligence about honesty that I otherwise slack off from.
“…It is this infernal St. Simon marriage case. I can make neither head nor tail of the business.”
“Really! You surprise me.”
“Who ever heard of such a mixed affair? Every clue seems to slip through my fingers. I have been at work upon it all day.”
“And very wet it seems to have made you,” said Holmes laying his hand upon the arm of the pea-jacket.
“Yes, I have been dragging the Serpentine.”
“In heaven’s name, what for?”
“In search of the body of Lady St. Simon.”
Sherlock Holmes leaned back in his chair and laughed heartily.
“Have you dragged the basin of Trafalgar Square fountain?” he asked.
“Why? What do you mean?”
“Because you have just as good a chance of finding this lady in the one as in the other.”
– A.C. Doyle, “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor,” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (171)
“You reasoned it out beautifully,” I exclaimed in unfeigned admiration. “It is so long a chain, and yet every link rings true.”
“It saved me from ennui,” he answered, yawning. “Alas! I already feel it closing in upon me. My life is spent in one long effort to escape from the commonplaces of existence. These little problems help me to do so.”
“And you are a benefactor of the race,” said I.
He shrugged his shoulders. “Well, perhaps, after all, it is of some little use,” he remarked. “‘L’homme c’est rien–l’oeuvre c’est tout,’ as Gustave Flaubert wrote to George Sand.”
– A.C. Doyle, “The Red-Headed League,” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (41)
“…Holmes, who loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul, remained in our lodgings in Baker Street, buried among his old books, and alternating from week to week between cocaine and ambition, the drowsiness of the drug, and the fierce energy of his own keen nature.”
– A.C. Doyle, “A Scandal In Bohemia,” The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (5)
“The classic result of all sudden ruptures and reversals is the rumination on one’s own worthlessness and the desire to punish oneself, known as delectatio morosa. I would never have been cured of it had it not been for the beauty of the earth. The clear autumn mornings in an Alsatian village surrounded by vineyards, the paths on an Alpine slope over the Isère River, rustling with dry leaves from the chestnut trees, or the sharp light of early spring on the Lake of Four Cantons near Schiller’s rock, or a small river near Périgueux on whose surface kingfishers traced colored shadows of flight in the July heat–all this reconciled me with the universe and with myself.
But it was not the same as it had been in America; it was not only nature that cured me. Europe herself gathered me in her warm embrace, and her stones, chiseled by the hands of past generations, the swarm of her faces emerging from carved wood, from paintings, from the gilt of embroidered fabrics, soothed me, and my voice was added to her old challenges and oaths in spite of my refusal to accept her split and her sickliness. Europe, after all, was home to me. And in her I happened to find help…”
– Czeslaw Milosz, “Tiger 2,” Native Realm, 293
“Here’s a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they’d intended to write. It’s one of the heartbreaks of writing fiction. You have, for months or years, been walking around with the idea of a novel in your mind, and in your mind it’s transcendent, it’s brilliantly comic and howlingly tragic, it contains everything you know, and everything you can imagine, about human life on the planet earth. It is vast and mysterious and awe-inspiring. It is a cathedral made of fire.
But even if the book in question turns out fairly well, it’s never the book that you’d hoped to write. It’s smaller than the book you’d hoped to write. It is an object, a collection of sentences, and it does not remotely resemble a cathedral made of fire.
It feels, in short, like a rather inept translation of a mythical great work.
The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation.”
– Michael Cunningham, “Found in Translation,” NYT
Friday, two parties, one on a rooftop. Yesterday, “Animula” in Parallel Octave, and the Baltimore Book Festival. Today, chakra-balancing yoga and more of Eliot’s prose: which, unlike his poetry, grows more and more congenial to me as he ages. Also, finishing the poem (finishing the hat). The late Eliot is helpful in this regard. Encouraging.
“When a man is engaged in work of abstract thought — if there is such a thing as wholly abstract thought outside the mathematical and the physical sciences — his mind can mature, while his emotions either remain the same or only atrophy, and it will not matter. But maturing as a poet means maturing as the whole man, experiencing new emotions appropriate to one’s age, and with the same intensity of the emotions of youth.”
-T.S. Eliot, from “Yeats,” (Selected Prose: 247-8)