From whiskey river:
We are not transparent to ourselves. We have intuitions, suspicions, hunches, vague musings, and strangely mixed emotions — all of which resist simple definition. We have moods, but we don’t really know them. Then, from time to time, we encounter works of art that seem to latch on to something we have felt but never recognized clearly before. Alexander Pope identified a central function of poetry as taking thoughts we experience half-formed and giving them clear expression: “what was often thought, but ne’er so well expressed.” In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly.
(Alain de Botton and John Armstrong [source])
I’m Working on the World
I’m working on the world,
revised, improved edition,
featuring fun for fools,
blues for brooders,
combs for bald pates,
tricks for old dogs.
Here’s one chapter: The Speech
of Animals and Plants.
Each species comes, of course,
with its own dictionary.
Even a simple “Hi there,”
when traded with a fish,
make both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.
The long-suspected meanings
of rustlings, chirps, and growls!
Soliloquies of forests!
The epic hoot of owls!
Those crafty hedgehogs drafting
aphorisms after dark,
while we blindly believe
they are sleeping in the park!
Time (Chapter Two) retains
its sacred right to meddle
in each earthly affair.
Still, time’s unbounded power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won’t be enough to tear
lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced,
too much like timid sparrows.
Old age is, in my book,
the price that felons pay,
so don’t whine that it’s steep:
you’ll stay young if you’re good.
Suffering (Chapter Three)
doesn’t insult the body.
Death? It comes in your sleep,
exactly as it should.
When it comes, you’ll be dreaming
that you don’t need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark
and it’s part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.
Only a death like that. A rose
could prick you harder, I suppose;
you’d feel more terror at the sound
of petals falling to the ground.
Only a world like that. To die
just that much. And to live just so.
And all the rest is Bach’s fugue, played
for the time being
on a saw.
(Wislawa Szymborska [source])
Not from whiskey river:
Monologue of a Dog Ensnared in History
There are dogs and dogs. I was among the chosen.
I had good papers and wolf’s blood in my veins.
I lived upon the heights inhaling the odors of views:
meadows in sunlight, spruces after rain,
and clumps of earth beneath the snow.
I had a decent home and people on call.
I was fed, washed, groomed,
and taken for lovely strolls.
Respectfully, though, and comme il faut.
They all knew full well whose dog I was.
Any lousy mutt can have a master.
Take care, though — beware comparisons.
My master was a breed apart.
He had a splendid herd that trailed his every step
and fixed its eyes on him in fearful awe.
For me they always had smiles,
with envy poorly hidden.
Since only I had the right
to greet him with nimble leaps,
only I could say good-bye by worrying his trousers with my teeth.
Only I was permitted
to receive scratching and stroking
with my head laid in his lap.
Only I could feign sleep
while he bent over me to whisper something.
He raged at others often, loudly.
He snarled, barked,
raced from wall to wall.
I suspect he liked only me
and nobody else, ever.
I also had responsibilities: waiting, trusting.
Since he would turn up briefly, and then vanish.
What kept him down there in the lowlands, I don’t know.
I guessed, though, it must be pressing business,
at least as pressing
as my battle with the cats
and everything that moves for no good reason.
There’s fate and fate. Mine changed abruptly.
One spring came
and he wasn’t there.
All hell broke loose at home.
Suitcases, chests, trunks crammed into cars.
The wheels squealed tearing downhill
and fell silent round the bend.
On the terrace scraps and tatters flamed,
yellow shirts, armbands with black emblems,
and lots and lots of battered cartons
with little banners tumbling out.
I was adrift in this whirlwind,
more amazed than peeved.
I felt unfriendly glances on my fur.
As if I were a dog without a master,
some pushy stray
chased downstairs with a broom.
Someone tore my silver-trimmed collar off,
someone kicked my bowl, empty for days.
Then someone else, driving away,
leaned out from the car
and shot me twice.
He couldn’t even shoot straight,
since I died for a long time, in pain,
to the buzz of impertinent flies.
I, the dog of my master.
(Wislawa Szymborska [source])
Why I Write
Of course I stole the title for this talk, from George Orwell. One reason I stole it was that I like the sound of the words: Why I Write. There you have three unambiguous words that share a sound, and the sound they share is this:
In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. You can disguise its aggressiveness all you want with veils of subordinate clauses and qualifiers and tentative subjunctives, with ellipses and evasions — with the whole manner of intimating rather than claiming, of alluding rather than stating — but there’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a secret bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space.
(Joan Didion [source])
About the image: photographer JD Hancock has posted a series of (currently) nine images on Flickr. (Capsule description: “Greetings, stormtrooper cadet. Sign up now for the Art Appreciation class at Death Star Academy.”) Each image features a Star Wars imperial-stormtrooper action figure holding up a placard on which appears the name of a color, and the plain gradient background is lit and/or colored accordingly. The text accompanying each photo purports to be the text of a lecture in this “academy,” on the same color. The one on “blue” ruminates on various associations with the color, and concludes:
“So … is blue good, or is it bad? This one is hard to call, cadets. I must admit, it’s a bit of a stumper. In that light, my advice to you is this: if you get confused about the color blue, don’t let it get you down.”
Today’s lesson: We’re stormtroopers, and we don’t get blue.