Stanzas Quotes

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After two or three stanzas and several images by which he was himself astonished, his work took possession of him and he experienced the approach of what is called inspiration. At such moments the correlation of the forces controlling the artist is, as it were, stood on its head. The ascendancy is no longer with the artist or the state of mind which he is trying to express, but with language, his instrument of expression. Language, the home and dwelling of beauty and meaning, itself begins to think and speak for man and turns wholly into music, not in the sense of outward, audible sounds but by virtue of the power and momentum of its inward flow. Then, like the current of a mighty river polishing stones and turning wheels by its very movement, the flow of speech creates in passing, by the force of its own laws, rhyme and rhythm and countless other forms and formations, still more important and until now undiscovered, unconsidered and unnamed. At such moments Yury felt that the main part of his work was not being done by him but by something which was above him and controlling him: the thought and poetry of the world as it was at that moment and as it would be in the future. He was controlled by the next step it was to take in the order of its historical development; and he felt himself to be only the pretext and the pivot setting it in motion... In deciphering these scribbles he went through the usual disappointments. Last night these rough passages had astonished him and moved him to tears by certain unexpectedly successful lines. Now, on re-reading these very lines, he was saddened to find that they were strained and glaringly far-fetched.

Boris Pasternak
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I have used the theologians and their treatment of apocalypse as a model of what we might expect to find not only in more literary treatments of the same radical fiction, but in the literary treatment of radical fictions in general. The assumptions I have made in doing so I shall try to examine next time. Meanwhile it may be useful to have some kind of summary account of what I've been saying. The main object: is the critical business of making sense of some of the radical ways of making sense of the world. Apocalypse and the related themes are strikingly long-lived; and that is the first thing to say tbout them, although the second is that they change. The Johannine acquires the characteristics of the Sibylline Apocalypse, and develops other subsidiary fictions which, in the course of time, change the laws we prescribe to nature, and specifically to time. Men of all kinds act, as well as reflect, as if this apparently random collocation of opinion and predictions were true. When it appears that it cannot be so, they act as if it were true in a different sense. Had it been otherwise, Virgil could not have been altissimo poeta in a Christian tradition; the Knight Faithful and True could not have appeared in the opening stanzas of "The Faerie Queene". And what is far more puzzling, the City of Apocalypse could not have appeared as a modern Babylon, together with the 'shipmen and merchants who were made rich by her' and by the 'inexplicable splendour' of her 'fine linen, and purple and scarlet, ' in The Waste Land, where we see all these things, as in Revelation, 'come to nought.' Nor is this a matter of literary allusion merely. The Emperor of the Last Days turns up as a Flemish or an Italian peasant, as Queen Elizabeth or as Hitler; the Joachite transition as a Brazilian revolution, or as the Tudor settlement, or as the Third Reich. The apocalyptic types-empire, decadence and renovation, progress and catastrophe-are fed by history and underlie our ways of making sense of the world from where we stand, in the middest.

Frank Kermode
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STAINS With red clay between my toes, and the sun setting over my head, the ghost of my mother blows in, riding on a honeysuckle breeze, oh lord, riding on a honeysuckle breeze. Her teeth, the keys of a piano. I play her grinning ivory notes with cadenced fumbling fingers, splattered with paint, textured with scars. A song rises up from the belly of my past and rocks me in the bosom of buried memories. My mama's dress bears the stains of her life: blueberries, blood, bleach, and breast milk; She cradles in her arms a lifetime of love and sorrow; Its brilliance nearly blinds me. My fingers tire, as though I've played this song for years. The tune swells red, dying around the edges of a setting sun. A magnolia breeze blows in strong, a heavenly taxi sent to carry my mother home. She will not say goodbye. For there is no truth in spoken farewells. I am pregnant with a poem, my life lost in its stanzas. My mama steps out of her dress and drops it, an inheritance falling to my feet. She stands alone: bathed, blooming, burdened with nothing of this world. Her body is naked and beautiful, her wings gray and scorched, her brown eyes piercing the brown of mine. I watch her departure, her flapping wings: She doesn't look back, not even once, not even to whisper my name: Brenda. I lick the teeth of my piano mouth. With a painter's hands, with a writer's hands with rusty wrinkled hands, with hands soaked in the joys, the sorrows, the spills of my mother's life, I pick up eighty-one years of stains And pull her dress over my head. Her stains look good on me.

Brenda Sutton Rose
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A sixteenth-century poet, especially one who knew that he ought to be a curious and universal scholar, would possess some notions, perhaps not strictly philosophical, about the origin of the world and its end, the eduction of forms from matter, and the relation of such forms to the higher forms which are the model of the world and have their being in the mind of God. He might well be a poet to brood on those great complementary opposites: the earthly and heavenly cities, unity and multiplicity, light and dark, equity and justice, continuity-as triumphantly exhibited in his own Empress-and ends-as sadly exhibited in his own Empress. Like St. Augustine he will see mutability as the condition of all created things, which are immersed in time. Time, he knows, will have a stop-perhaps, on some of the evidence, quite soon. Yet there is other evidence to suggest that this is not so. It will seem to him, at any rate, that his poem should in part rest on some poetic generalization-some fiction-which reconciles these opposites, and helps to make sense of the discords, ethical, political, legal, and so forth, which, in its completeness, it had to contain. This may stand as a rough account of Spenser's mood when he worked out the sections of his poem which treat of the Garden of Adonis and the trial of Mutability, the first dealing with the sempiternity of earthly forms, and the second with the dilation of being in these forms under the shadow of a final end. Perhaps the refinements upon, and the substitutes for, Augustine's explanations of the first matter and its potentialities, do not directly concern him; as an allegorist he may think most readily of these potentialities in a quasi-Augustinian way as seeds, seminal reasons, plants tended in a seminarium. But he will distinguish, as his commentators often fail to do, these forms or formulae from the heavenly forms, and allow them the kind of immortality that is open to them, that of athanasia rather than of aei einai. And an obvious place to talk about them would be in the discussion of love, since without the agency represented by Venus there would be no eduction of forms from the prime matter. Elsewhere he would have to confront the problem of Plato's two kinds of eternity; the answer to Mutability is that the creation is deathless, but the last stanzas explain that this is not to grant them the condition of being-for-ever.

Frank Kermode
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The discords of our experience-delight in change, fear of change; the death of the individual and the survival of the species, the pains and pleasures of love, the knowledge of light and dark, the extinction and the perpetuity of empires-these were Spenser's subject; and they could not be treated without this third thing, a kind of time between time and eternity. He does not make it easy to extract philosophical notions from his text; but that he is concerned with the time-defeating aevum and uses it as a concord-fiction, I have no doubt. 'The seeds of knowledge, ' as Descartes observed, 'are within us like fire in flint; philosophers educe them by reason, but the poets strike them forth by imagination, and they shine the more clearly.' We leave behind the philosophical statements, with their pursuit of logical consequences and distinctions, for a free, self-delighting inventiveness, a new imagining of the problems. Spenser used something like the Augustinian seminal reasons; he was probably not concerned about later arguments against them, finer discriminations. He does not tackle the questions, in the Garden cantos, of concreation, but carelessly-from a philosophical point of view-gives matter chronological priority. The point that creation necessitates mutability he may have found in Augustine, or merely noticed for himself, without wondering how it could be both that and a consequence of the Fall; it was an essential feature of one's experience of the world, and so were all the arguments, precise or not, about it. Now one of the differences between doing philosophy and writing poetry is that in the former activity you defeat your object if you imitate the confusion inherent in an unsystematic view of your subject, whereas in the second you must in some measure imitate what is extreme and scattering bright, or else lose touch with that feeling of bright confusion. Thus the schoolmen struggled, when they discussed God, for a pure idea of simplicity, which became for them a very complex but still rational issue: for example, an angel is less simple than God but simpler than man, because a species is less simple than pure being but simpler than an individual. But when a poet discusses such matters, as in say 'Air and Angels, ' he is making some human point, in fact he is making something which is, rather than discusses, an angel-something simple that grows subtle in the hands of commentators. This is why we cannot say the Garden of Adonis is wrong as the Faculty of Paris could say the Averroists were wrong. And Donne's conclusion is more a joke about women than a truth about angels. Spenser, though his understanding of the expression was doubtless inferior to that of St. Thomas, made in the Garden stanzas something 'more simple' than any section of the Summa. It was also more sensuous and more passionate. Milton used the word in his formula as Aquinas used it of angels; poetry is more simple, and accordingly more difficult to talk about, even though there are in poetry ideas which may be labelled 'philosophical.

Frank Kermode
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