I love e. e. cumming's poetry, so much that most of the (few) poems I've memorized are his. Paradoxically, this means that I have more opportunity to have small mistakes when recalling his poems than anybody else's. And, perhaps as a sign of terminal hubris, I've realized I do prefer them the way I remember them (which is probably why I remember them that way).

To be specific, I remember this verse of since feeling is first

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph


as


we are for each other: laugh,
then
, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph


I don't know. It just sounds better to my ears, and I've never been able to convince my memory that it's not the right version.

The other one is from in time of daffodils:


and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.


which to me just has to be


and in that mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.


In this case (I think) not because of how it sounds, but because of what it says. Death is not a mystery to be when time from time shall set us free, it's that mystery to be when time from time shall set us free. You don't need, it doesn't make sense, to describe it, you're pointing to it, and the reference is unequivocal.

Of course, I'm not claiming that these are better in any universal sense, and I wouldn't expect everybody, most people, or anybody else to prefer them, but this is how it plays out to me.

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algorithm angels


These are the Pharoah's life & death guys. These are his guys of life & death, the certainty of making his decisions bursts from their skin every second & every second of that second, like: knowledge! brass reflections! water! white of eye & pure smiles of delight of children! These guys are the full beauty of the Pharoah's decision made. You may die but it will be the perfect call. You may live & it will be the perfect call. Everyone is happier when they pass. Everyone is happier, meeting those guys in the market place. Their tread–light, active, gracile, musical–is a measure. They know the date of birth, they know–within one glowing week, give or take a percentage not even the Pharoah can calculate–the day of death. Some things can not be known, & they glint with the mischief of admitting that. The corner of their eye glints with the delight of the mischief of the residue that can't be known. No one knows when they die, those angel guys, & they keep that residue of laughter all their days. They are the guys of the Pharoah who lives in the dark in the pyramid, in the liquid actuarial core of all the things of the world.


(...) The liquid actuarial core of all the things of the world. My god, what a phrase. If somebody wrote a paean of and warning about contemporary financial technology (and these days everything is financial technology), they could do much worse than to use it as a title, and the whole text as a frontispiece.

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Not nice, but good imaginery


There are many dead in the brutish desert
who lie uneasy
among the scrub in this landscape of half-wit
stunted ill-will. For the dead land is insatiate
and necrophilous. The sand is blowing about still.

— Hamish Henderson, Elegies for the dead in Cyrenaica (fragment)


The context of the poems to which this fragment belongs is the North African desert theater of WWII; not the worst of them, of course, but still, of course, hellish enough, and the landscape was as much part of this as the combat itself. I read it as part of the pdf version of the lecture The Natures of War.

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From Wikipedia's daily email

The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars, life is your child, but there is in me

Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye that watched before there was an ocean.


Robinson Jeffers, "Continent's End" in Tamar and Other Poems (1924)

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I don't know what I could add to this

Mezzo Cammin


Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,–
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,–
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.


— Longfellow

(from here)

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Some poems from Pinsky

From the Childhood of JesusCollapse )

Winning (the last section of Tennis)Collapse )

Also recommended, the short story Jesus and Isolt.

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Emily Dickinson

by Linda Pastan


We think of her hidden in a white dress
among the folded linens and sachets
of well kept cupboards, or just out of sight
sending jellies and notes with no address
to all the wondering Amherst neighbors.
Eccentric as New England weather
the stiff wind of her mind, stinging or gentle,
blew two half imagined lovers off.
Yet legend won't explain the sheer sanity
of vision, the serious mischief
of language, the economy of pain.


The last three lines are the best description I have seen of her poetry.

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A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend:
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I watered it in fears,
Night and morning with my tears;
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night,
Till it bore an apple bright.
And my foe beheld it shine.
And he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole
When the night had veiled the pole;
In the morning glad I see
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

William Blake

Aside of how fun this is on its own, Blake having written this makes me think about playfully poisoned cosmologies (I just finished reading one of Thomas Ligotti's short story collections, so that might explain it). Now, had Milton written it... I don't know. Maybe you could imagine a God angry with humankind because of the Crucifixion, planting an irresistible apple tree in the Garden poisoned with Knowledge and Death? (I know the timeline looks all impossible, but that's only because you're inside Time, or not Moffat).

Emily Dickinson: Nah. She wasn't *nice*, but she didn't have much time for hate, methinks (and she wrote). Although a mean Emily Dickinson would have been a sight to behold --- a poetically minded Jamie Moriarty, if you'll allow me a flight of fancy.

T. S. Elliot: Not his syntax, and too much agency. He'd write of a garden of poisoned trees, time fleeting between corpses, the dust of Babylon and the tears of Roman widows making the mud that feeds the apples, while the children run. Run. Can you hear their whispers? Have you forgotten the apple you took? The bite is in your future, already taken and yet to be tasted.

e. e. cummings: It'd be less a tale than an instruction set, but I can see him writing something along these lines, although perhaps a trifle more generic (all angers, not yours).

Whitman would have written twenty pages about all the apple trees he planted in electric anger, the armies of men killed by them, how they are all America and Walt Whitman as well (their ground - sing the ground where he spilled them and his seed).

And of course Shakespeare would have written a four-story revenge play, The Apple Garden of Milan. The Gardener would have to die at the end as well (conventions being what they are), but his beautiful chaste daughter would find solace as the new Duke's wife, and thus evil met with evil, betrayal with poison, and greed-coined gold with hatred-water'd wood, it would fall to the living to make sweeter fruit of such bitter dead roots.
It rains


In what yesterday, in what courtyards of Carthage,
falls also this rain?


I always find this very small poem weirdly evocative, particularly when it rains. There's something timeless about it: wherever and whenever it rains, it is the same rain. This sort of empirical Platonism is one of Borges' peculiar threads; off the top of my head, he has a poem about wolves being out of time, one where the desert is a single timeless place (I always wanted to write something based on that), and one about an abbey rebuilt (I think) in New York, with a beautiful line about its flowers not opening before the Vikings first reach America.

He's a Platonist, but not a Christian (if anything, he was a Gnostic that assumed ultimate reality was a Library, weirdly in tune with recent cosmological models based on an informational substrate, but that's neither here nor there). Unlike medieval thinkers, he didn't think that, say, events in the Old Testament were practice/predictions of the (only) meaningful events of the Passion (and, later from their point of view, but already preordained) Judgement. There was no One True Rain in history; at most, there was an archetypal One True Rain in some abstract space of ideas, and it probably didn't even look like anything we'd recognize as rain.

This is fresh in my mind because the other day I was reading a book about Gothic Art, and how medieval artists mixed historical figures with contemporary clothes, tools, etc, not because they were naive about those kinds of changes (although they did know less than we do in a lot of ways), but because for them those weren't *important* differences. What mattered was the spiritual/salvational meaning of the event, which tended to be the same across the eras, and it was always in relation to the Creation-Fall-Passion-Judgement timeline.

And then it hit me: Steampunk is a very, very old tradition. I mean, if the fundamental myth/event of your civilization is the/a/any technological revolution, then of course you'll mix and match technologies and places, because ultimately you're telling a mythical story. You're okay with Churchill sending armies of Turing Tin Soldiers to fight Nazi V7 auto-factories in German-occupied Russia not because you ignore the complexities of history, but because robot armies and autofactories are beginning to have as much mythical resonance to us as, well, Allies and Nazis.

"The Candle a Saint" by Wallace Stevens


Green is the night, green kindled and apparelled.
It is she that walks among astronomers.

She strides above the rabbit and the cat,
Like a noble figure, out of the sky,

Moving among the sleepers, the men,
Those that lie chanting green is the night.

Green is the night and out of madness woven,
The self-same madness of the astronomers

And of him that sees, beyond the astronomers,
The topaz rabbit and the emerald cat,

That sees above them, that sees rise up above them,
The noble figure, the essential shadow,

Moving and being, the image at its source,
The abstract, the archaic queen. Green is the night.


(Green is the night and out of madness woven, // The self-same madness of the astronomers ... The abstract, the archaic queen. Green is the night. It sounds a bit Lovecraft, a bit Poe, and a bit Pratchett, doesn't it?)

(As a random elucubration, it's been a while now since humanity as a whole saw a true night sky. You could imagine a sort of reverse plot of Asimov's Nightfall, in which the lack of a night sky we were all psychobiologically evolved into ends up driving us all crazy in subtle ways...)

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