The Literary Table Welcomes Patrick O’Donnell Reply


Please join me in welcoming to the Table Patrick O’Donnell. Patrick also contributes at Ratio Juris and Religious Left Law. Amongst the things we can look forward to are Patrick’s fond descriptions of Chinese and Japanese poetry, contemporary Vietnamese poetry, haiku, and classical Sufi poetry. WOW!

Patrick, Please have a seat at the table!

The Art of the Pseudonym Reply


How do you create a good pseudonym? I’m not sure, but lets pay homage to perhaps the best collection of pseudonyms on television — Seinfeld. Props to those that can place the character with the correct pseudonym.

Martin Van Nostrand
H.E. Pennypacker
Art Vandelay
Kel Varnson
Dylan Murphy
Paloma

Speaking of Van Nostrand, I found today in flipping through an old copy of Rayford Logan and Michael Winston’s The Negro in the United States Volume II an order card for D. Van Nostrand company the publisher. Was Seinfeld paying homage to a past publisher?

Pseudonyms enjoy the time of mystery. Without mystery, wouldn’t life be less than complete. Here is a poem by W.h. Auden.

If I could tell you
By W.H. Auden

Time will say nothing but I told you so,
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

There are no fortunes to be told, although,
Because I love you more than I can say,
If I could tell you I would let you know.

The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so.

Perhaps the roses really want to grow,
The vision seriously intends to stay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.

Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

There’s a Seat at the Table… and A Semi-Revolution Reply


Please join us at the Literary Table! The conversation is good and the requirements are none. Send me an email at warren[dot]emerson[at]gmail[dot]com. You may blog out in the open or under pseudonym. I only ask that you identify the persons sitting around your literary table in your first post. You may post critique and commentary, works of fiction, works of poetry, etc…  Have a short story that you want to post, do it here.  I am looking forward to reading your contributions.

A Semi-Revolution
By Robert Frost

I advocate a semi-revolution.
The trouble with a total revolution
(Ask any reputable Rosicrucian)
Is that it brings the same class up on top.
Executives of skillful execution
Will therefore plan to go halfway and stop.
Yes, revolutions are the only salves,
But they’re one thing that should be done by halves.

Published in The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems.

Weekend Poet Reply


Prairie Harvest
by Robert Penn Warren

Look westward over forever miles of wheat stubble
The road of the red machines is gone, they are gone.
Their roar has left the heartbeat of silence. The bubble,
Enormous, red, molten, of sun, above the horizon.

Apparently motionless, hangs. Meanwhile, blue mist
For uncountable miles of the shaven earth’s rondure arises,
And in last high light, the bullbats gyre and twist,
Though in the world’s emptiness the sound of their cries is

Nothing. Your heart is the only sound. The sun,
It is gone. Can it be that you, for an instant, forget
And blink your eyes as it goes? Another day done,
And the star the Kiowa once stared at will requite

Man’s effort by lust, and lust by the lead-weighted eyes.
So you stand in the infinite circle, star after star,
And standing alone in starlight, can you devise
An adequate definition of self, whatever you are?

Published in the Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (Ed. John Burt).

The City 2


Robert park wrote in the 1920’s:
the city and the urban environment represent man’s most consistent and, on the whole, his most successful attempt to remake the world he lives in more to his heart’s desire. But if the city is the world which man created, it is the world in which he is henceforth condemned to live. Thus, indirectly, and without any clear sense of the nature of his task, in making the city man has remade himself. The City as Social Laboratory.

Cities force humanity into conversation with one another. Forced conversation. Unintentional conversation. Rubbing elbows on the subway conversation, brushing shoulders walking down the stairway conversation. Which is why cities define humanity’s greatest attempt to remake itself as a non-intentional social creature.

It seems that early twentieth century authors understood this. Paul West, writing a short pamphlet on Robert Penn Warren noted that Warren’s “overview is of the incalculable, unpredictable repercussions our least endeavors provoke. Identity, in particular, is not a fixity, but a studiously maintained transaction with other people. The means of self-establishment is also the prime agency of confusion, especially for those who want perfection and utter consistency.” Pamphlet printed by University of Minnesota Press.

Its the story of Jay Gatz and Tom Buchanan and George Wilson. Thrusted unintentionally, almost haplessly into a narrative of ambition, jealousy and manipulation. Fitzgerald ends his great work on Jay Gatsby (or Gatz if you prefer his true identity) with these words: “[Gatsby] has come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night. Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…And one fine morning….”

Perhaps man’s city is doomed by the lack of intentioned interaction, a collection of vacant defunct houses, like the prostitute in Whitman’s The City Dead-House.

By the city dead-house by the gate,
As idly sauntering wending my way from the clangor,
I curious pause, for lo, an outcast form, a poor dead prostitute brought,
Her corpse they deposit unclaim’d, it lies on the damp brick pavement,
The divine woman, her body, I see the body, I look on it alone,
That house once full of passion and beauty, all else I notice not,
Nor stillness so cold, nor running water from faucet, nor odors morbific impress me,
But the house alone – that wondrous house – that delicate fair house – that ruin!
That immortal house more than all the rows of dwellings ever built!
Or white-domed capital with majestic figure surmounted or all the old high-spired cathedrals,
That little house alone more than them all – poor, desperate house!
Fair, fearful wreck – tenement of a soul – itself a soul,
Unclaim’d, avoided house – take one breath from my tremulous lips,
Take one tear dropt aside as I go for thought of you,
Dead house of love — house of madness and sin, crumbled and crush’d,
House of life, erewhile talking and laughing – but ah, poor house, dead even then,
Months, years, an echoing, garnish’d house – but dead,dead, dead.

Perhaps. But perhaps, the city is just the place where man exemplifies his greatest humanity. Where mankind constantly remakes himself in the image of god — intentionally caring for the poor, intentionally nursing the sick, and intentionally fighting for the oppressed.

The City Dead-house, published in Leaves of Grass (the Death Bed Edition).

Rest, Sweet, Rest 4


A Clear Midnight
by: Walt Whitman

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,
Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,
Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best,
Night, sleep, death, and the stars.

Published in Leaves of Grass Death-bed Edition

Courtesy and New Law Students Reply


The classical model of liberal education has been eroded, I must conclude, so that students before they arrive in law school have lost any sense of propriety and courtesy in their interactions. Martha Nussbaum in Volume 70 of the Chicago Law Review writes that the traditional view of liberal education included the capacity to “develop each person’s capacity to be fully human, by which he means self-aware, self-governing, and capable of recognizing and respecting the humanity of all our fellow human beings, no matter where they are born, no matter what social class they inhabit, no matter what their gender or ethnic origin.” She concludes this statement with Seneca’s charge “Soon we will breathe our last. Meanwhile, while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity.”

In laying out the case for the developing of human beings in law school, Nussbaum advocates for several critical components:

  1. Socratic Self-examination — to be critical of one’s self and one’s traditions
  2. Cultivation of a world citizenship — moving outside of the narrow confines of personal, economic, or social interests
  3. The development of narrative imagination

Learning these things is critical. They will not make students successful of themselves. But certainly lacking them will hold them back from achieving a truly good life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “life is not so short, but that there is always time for courtesy.”

Martha’s article Cultivating Humanity in Legal Education, 70 Chicago L. Rev. 265 can be accessed here.

An Earth Day Poem Reply


Tomorrow Morning
By Robert Penn Warren

In the morning, the rivers will blaze up blue like sulphur.
Even the maps will shrivel back in their own heat,
And metaphors will scream in the shared glory of their referents.
Truth will embrace you with tentacles like an octopus. It
Will suck your blood through a thousand suction-cups, and
The sun utter the intolerable trill of a flame-martyred canary.

Does this suggest the beginning of a new life for us all?

Or is it only, as I have heard an eminent physician remark,
A characteristic phase at the threshold of the final narcosis?

Published in The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (ed. John Burt).

Truth and Loneliness Reply


Robert Penn Warren, as a writer viewed the world through two lenses: one was the lens of the perceptive — the wanderer in time who encounters phenomena and tends to make conclusions about their significance.   The other was the lens of the stationary — the constant.   Thus, RPW tended to gravitate towards hisorical narrative as a means of developing his characters.  The following two poems exemplify RPW’s lens of the world:

Truth

Truth is what you cannot tell.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Truth is for the grave                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Truth is only the flowing shadow cast                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           By the wind-tossed elm                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               When sun is bright and grass well groomed.

Truth is the downy feather                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           You blow from your lips to shine in sunlight

Truth is the trick that history,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Over and over again, plays on us.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Its shape is unclear in shadow or brightness,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             And its utterance the whisper we strive to catch,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     Or the scream of a locomotive desperately                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Blowing for the tragic crossing. Truth                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Is the curse laid upon us in the garden.

Truth is the serpent’s joke,

And is the sun-stung dust-devil that swirls                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                On the lee side of God when he drowses.

Truth is the long soliloquy                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Of the dead all their long night.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Truth is what would be told by the dead                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  If they could hold a conversation                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 With the living and thus fulfill obligation to us.

Their accumulated wisdom must be immense.

The serpent’s joke that man can know truth.  In the end we just tell narratives — stories of our perceptions.  And perhaps the Dead might correct us if they could — oh how wise they would be.   How history taunts us, tempting us that we might be immortal, or at least our presence immortal.

Timeless, Twinned

Angelic, lonely, autochthuonous, one white                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Cloud lolls, unmoving, on an azure which                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Is called the sky, and in gold drench of light,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             No leaf , However gold, may stir, nor a single blade twitch,

Though autumn-honed, of the cattail by the pond.  No voice                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Speaks, since here no voice knows                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               The language in which a tongue might now rejoice.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  So silence, a transparent flood, thus overflows.

In it, I drown, and from my depth my gaze                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Yearns, faithful, toward that cloud’s integrity,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           As though I’ve now forgotten all other nights and days,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           Anxiety born of the future’s snare, or the nag of history.

What if, to my back, thin-shirted, brown grasses yet bring                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  The heat of the summer, or beyond the perimeter northward, wind,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Snow-bellied lurks? I stare at the cloud, white, motionless.  I cling.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    To our single existence, timeless twinned.

Poems by Robert Penn Warren, published in The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (Ed. John Burt).

Setting the Table Reply


The table is set. The greatest minds of literature are assembled. Robert Penn Warren, Herman Melville, Fydor Doystoyvesky, Edgar Allen Poe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and…You. That’s my table of course. Perfectly set with trimmings, wine and comfortable chairs. They would talk long into the night. I’d have so many questions. I would refrain. Asking questions would only lead to answers they did not want to give, questions they were forced to engage by an impolite host holding them captive by a warm table, succulent food, and the dribbled questions of groupies forever wanting to find some significance of themselves in the works of the author, and to have the author verify that significance of the individual as if the individual was as timeless as the work itself. Oh to hear Robert Penn Warren say that “You are exactly the sort of Jack Burden I wrote about!” Such need for validation is the common call of a modern man — unable to find his own self in the world. More…