Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I discovered Millay in April on a trip to Paris. I read Time Does Not Bring Relief, which at the time bore precise relevance to my state of mind.

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go - so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, 'There is no memory of him here!'
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

I forgot who wrote it shortly after reading and spent some time searching for it. Then in Turkey recenly, I realised I was carring one of her poems in a book I had with me:

Durge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.

The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

In Paris once more now. I took a walk along the Seine last night, I watched the sun go down over the Eiffel Tower, listened to a guitar duo and sat in what felt like complete and utter bliss at the water's edge. Wild Geese flew over and I was reminded of Mary Oliver, which in turn reminded me of a book shop I had heard of 'Shakespeare and Company', so I wandered back up the south coast of the river, passing a number of delicious cheches of lovers kissing on the banks, and poised in embraces on foot bridges.. Anyway, I found the book shop, in Saint Michel, and was waiting for a book to call to me from the shelves. And there she was; Edna, looking down at me and pleading to be read.

With an old interest in Bluebeard, and an eternal love for sonnets, this one caught my eye:


This door you might not open, and you did;
So enter now, and see for what slight thing
You are betrayed... Here is no treasure hid,
No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
But only what you see... Look yet again—
An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
Yet this alone out of my life I kept
Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
And you did so profane me when you crept
Unto the threshold of this room to-night
That I must never more behold your face.
This now is yours. I seek another place.

Upon buying the book, I sat outside the shop amid a crowd of pretentous poetry types smoking rollies and wearing red lipstick. The first poem in the book was this. I normally don't have the patience to read poems of this length, but this kept me captivated from first to last line:


LL I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked the other way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line 5
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood. 10
Over these things I could not see:
These were the things that bounded me;
And I could touch them with my hand,
Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small 15
My breath came short, and scarce at all.
But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
Miles and miles above my head;
So here upon my back I’ll lie
And look my fill into the sky. 20
And so I looked, and, after all,
The sky was not so very tall.
The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
And—sure enough!—I see the top!
The sky, I thought, is not so grand; 25
I ’most could touch it with my hand!
And reaching up my hand to try,
I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
I screamed, and—lo!—Infinity
Came down and settled over me; 30
Forced back my scream into my chest,
Bent back my arm upon my breast,
And, pressing of the Undefined
The definition on my mind,
Held up before my eyes a glass 35
Through which my shrinking sight did pass
Until it seemed I must behold
Immensity made manifold;
Whispered to me a word whose sound
Deafened the air for worlds around, 40
And brought unmuffled to my ears
The gossiping of friendly spheres,
The creaking of the tented sky,
The ticking of Eternity.
I saw and heard and knew at last 45
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core,
Lay open to my probing sense
That, sick’ning, I would fain pluck thence 50
But could not,—nay! But needs must suck
At the great wound, and could not pluck
My lips away till I had drawn
All venom out.—Ah, fearful pawn!
For my omniscience paid I toll 55
In infinite remorse of soul.
All sin was of my sinning, all
Atoning mine, and mine the gall
Of all regret. Mine was the weight
Of every brooded wrong, the hate 60
That stood behind each envious thrust,
Mine every greed, mine every lust.
And all the while for every grief,
Each suffering, I craved relief
With individual desire,— 65
Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire
About a thousand people crawl;
Perished with each,—then mourned for all!
A man was starving in Capri;
He moved his eyes and looked at me; 70
I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
And knew his hunger as my own.
I saw at sea a great fog bank
Between two ships that struck and sank;
A thousand screams the heavens smote; 75
And every scream tore through my throat.
No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath
That, crying, met an answering cry
From the compassion that was I. 80
All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
Mine, pity like the pity of God.
Ah, awful weight! Infinity
Pressed down upon the finite Me!
My anguished spirit, like a bird, 85
Beating against my lips I heard;
Yet lay the weight so close about
There was no room for it without.
And so beneath the weight lay I
And suffered death, but could not die. 90
Long had I lain thus, craving death,
When quietly the earth beneath
Gave way, and inch by inch, so great
At last had grown the crushing weight,
Into the earth I sank till I 95
Full six feet under ground did lie,
And sank no more,—there is no weight
Can follow here, however great.
From off my breast I felt it roll,
And as it went my tortured soul 100
Burst forth and fled in such a gust
That all about me swirled the dust.
Deep in the earth I rested now;
Cool is its hand upon the brow
And soft its breast beneath the head 105
Of one who is so gladly dead.
And all at once, and over all
The pitying rain began to fall;
I lay and heard each pattering hoof
Upon my lowly, thatchèd roof, 110
And seemed to love the sound far more
Than ever I had done before.
For rain it hath a friendly sound
To one who’s six feet under ground;
And scarce the friendly voice or face: 115
A grave is such a quiet place.
The rain, I said, is kind to come
And speak to me in my new home.
I would I were alive again
To kiss the fingers of the rain, 120
To drink into my eyes the shine
Of every slanting silver line,
To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze
From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
For soon the shower will be done, 125
And then the broad face of the sun
Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth
Until the world with answering mirth
Shakes joyously, and each round drop
Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top. 130
How can I bear it; buried here,
While overhead the sky grows clear
And blue again after the storm?
O, multi-colored, multiform,
Beloved beauty over me, 135
That I shall never, never see
Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold,
That I shall never more behold!
Sleeping your myriad magics through,
Close-sepulchred away from you! 140
O God, I cried, give me new birth,
And put me back upon the earth!
Upset each cloud’s gigantic gourd
And let the heavy rain, down-poured
In one big torrent, set me free, 145
Washing my grave away from me!
I ceased; and through the breathless hush
That answered me, the far-off rush
Of herald wings came whispering
Like music down the vibrant string 150
Of my ascending prayer, and—crash!
Before the wild wind’s whistling lash
The startled storm-clouds reared on high
And plunged in terror down the sky,
And the big rain in one black wave 155
Fell from the sky and struck my grave.
I know not how such things can be;
I only know there came to me
A fragrance such as never clings
To aught save happy living things; 160
A sound as of some joyous elf
Singing sweet songs to please himself,
And, through and over everything,
A sense of glad awakening.
The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear, 165
Whispering to me I could hear;
I felt the rain’s cool finger-tips
Brushed tenderly across my lips,
Laid gently on my sealèd sight,
And all at once the heavy night 170
Fell from my eyes and I could see,—
A drenched and dripping apple-tree,
A last long line of silver rain,
A sky grown clear and blue again.
And as I looked a quickening gust 175
Of wind blew up to me and thrust
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,—
I know not how such things can be!—
I breathed my soul back into me. 180
Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I
And hailed the earth with such a cry
As is not heard save from a man
Who has been dead, and lives again.
About the trees my arms I wound; 185
Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;
I raised my quivering arms on high;
I laughed and laughed into the sky,
Till at my throat a strangling sob
Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb 190
Sent instant tears into my eyes;
O God, I cried, no dark disguise
Can e’er hereafter hide from me
Thy radiant identity!
Thou canst not move across the grass 195
But my quick eyes will see Thee pass,
Nor speak, however silently,
But my hushed voice will answer Thee.
I know the path that tells Thy way
Through the cool eve of every day; 200
God, I can push the grass apart
And lay my finger on Thy heart!
The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,— 205
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through. 210
But East and West will pinch the heart
That can not keep them pushed apart;
And he whose soul is flat—the sky
Will cave in on him by and by.

This morning I came across Love Is Not All. I expected it to tell me, that love is not all, but was joyous to get to the last line, and have my inner feelings on the subject proved right. I too do not think
I would:

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink

Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

All The Things You Are Not Yet.

Another poem which I shared with Jen, which she too loved was this:

All The Things You Are Not Yet.
for tess

Tonight there's a crowd in my head:
all the things you are not yet.
You are words without paper, pages
sighing in summer forests, gardens
where builders stub out their rubble
and plastic oozes its sweat.
All the things you are, you are not yet.

Not yet the lonely window in midwinter
with the whine of tea on an empty stomach,
not yet the heating you can't afford and must wait for,
tamping a coin in on each hour.
Not the gorgeous shush of restaurant doors
and their interiors, always so much smaller.
Not the smell of the newsprint, the blur
on your fingertips — your fame. Not yet

the love you will have for Winter Pearmains
and Chanel No 5 — and then your being unable
to buy both washing-machine and computer
when your baby's due to be born,
and my voice saying, "I'll get you one"
and you frowning, frowning
at walls and surfaces which are not mine —
all this, not yet. Give me your hand,

that small one without a mark of work on it,
the one that's strange to the washing-up bowl
and doesn't know Fairy Liquid for whiskey.
Not yet the moment of your arrival in taxis
at daring destinations, or your being alone at stations
with the skirts of your fashionable clothes flapping
and no money for the telephone.

Not yet the moment when I can give you nothing
so well-folded it fits in an envelope —
a dull letter you won't reread.
Not yet the moment of your assimilation
in that river flowing westward: rivers of clothes,
of dreams, an accent unlike my own
saying to someone I don't know: darling...
I was lucky enough to meet Dunmore after a talk she did in Plymouth. I asked her about All The Things You Are Not Yet. She said she wrote it for her daughter Tess, and it was about the 'uncontrollable passing of time.'

The Ægean and Beyond

In Plymouth I would look across the bay at what I imagined was the French straits. And here I am now, on the the side of the water, looking back at the cliffs of England.
Two weeks ago, we found ourselves on the Aegean Sea. Swimming in it every day. About a year ago I showed it to Jenni, who then did a writing class about it. We crossed the Aegean on a full moon, the first full moon that she wasn't here for.

Dover Beach (I think?) is about the world losing it's meaning with the increase of secularisation... Despite my complete lack of Faith, I am starting to think this true in a sense. The first stanza of Dover Beach, is set out like a Petrachen Sonnet, a sonnet typically referring to a concept on unattainable love. It is written to the lover of the protagonist, which I feel intimately draws the reader into to the poem. The lack of love between the said couple seems to echo the lack of religion in the naked shingles of the world, which are both as a result compared to a darkling plain, /Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

A poem with a similar sentiment, one I studied in the first week of English Literature at HSC, comparing it to Dover Beach. I also used it in my dissertation, 5 years later, the conclusion of which I shall add below.

God's Grandeur
By Gerard Manly Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.


What gives stained glass

its impact, and can it survive in a

secularising Britain.

Reading Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Romantic poem God’s Grandeur I feel it confirms what I have attempted to express throughout this essay. He compared the glory of God to being like the light ‘shining from shook foil’. Like the Romantic painters mentioned, he recognised how light and the Divine are linked. His phrase ‘generations have trod, have trod, have trod’ is an acknowledgement of the importance of time passing. He then said that all this ‘greatness’ has been ‘seared with trade; smeared, bleared with toil’ which echoes my thoughts on the impact of the Enlightenment in Chapter Four. In Resurgem, Hopkin’s voice is echoed once more as he says despite this fall, ‘nature is never spent’ as it continues to be an inspiration for the sublime in religion’s absence.

When I set out to write this essay I considered history and light to be the most essential elements of stained glass, and that they are what will allow it to endure. I still consider these to be the fundamental elements, however I now see that religion is not necessarily the reason why they are fundamental. History exists outside of religion, and that I feel is what draws people to the Church now. It is not necessary to be religious to appreciate the impact of history when entering a church.

The sublime aspect of light in stained glass endures because we, as human beings, seem to have retained this desire to transcend reality. This is evident in looking at prestigious contemporary art that has a reliance on the sublime. I have looked Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project, which was in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, 2003, as an example of this. Using the medium of light Eliasson created an atmosphere of meditation in his installation. Filling the whole hall was a representation of the sun and sky, a giant semi-circular form made up of hundreds of mono-frequency lamps repeated in the mirror overhead. Described as a ‘modern day Caspar David Friedrich’, (see figs. 22 & 23) Eliasson in my opinion is an artist who demonstrates how a manipulation of light can have a sublime effect without reference to religion.

My experience in the Turbine Hall was not dissimilar to visiting one of the most well known Gothic Cathedrals in the world, Notre Dame in Paris.

A congregation of busy tourists is hushed by the serenity of Notre Dame.

I feel humbled as I walk slowly down the aisle, arches rise up on either side of me like poplar trees. Columns and arches rise upwards with a sense of great purpose towards the calm, empty ceiling; towards the heavens. The walls are lined with rows of windows, which I note to be grisaille, which give a serene and elevated sense.

Soft choir music drowns out the shuffle of tourist’s feet and hushed whispers. As I reach the alter, I feel a great quietness creep over me. To my left and right are the ‘rose-windows’, big circular windows, 19 yards in diameter.

The afternoon sun is shining right directly through the glass, and transforms the window from being a beautiful design, to something truly sublime. Each colour really does glint, like a ‘gem’ as the sun moves over it, as Abbot Sugar observed. For the first time I really understand, what the word sublime means. Although this, I realise now is impossible to put into words. No matter how many philosophers and scientists have tried to do so, this is fruitless, because the sublime is just an experience. The word sublime encompasses only that which ‘inexpressible’.

As the sun brings each pane to life, one by one, as it moves across the window, I am overwhelmed; not by the artists’ fine handiwork, or the perfect geometric aesthetics, or by the sense of history; I am simply overwhelmed.

The sun is shining though the window and creating a prism effect on the adjacent wall, and a small child points up at the light, saying to her mother “Look up there… there’s a light, but where’s it coming from?” Her mother has no answer, and neither do I.

It is apparent that stained glass can still have the transcendent impact, even to the non-religious such as myself. Not only does stained glass made hundreds of years ago retain its relevance, but also after looking at the work of Piper and Clarke, it became evident to me that stained glass is still being created and is alive in the 21st century. It didn’t, as I feared, fall to the wayside after the Age of Enlightenment. This gave me hope that stained glass wouldn’t lose its relevancy.

However my interviews in St Andrew dampened this hope, as they suggested that stained glass is now only relevant in the art world. My evidence revealed to me that those who are actually experiencing the stained glass on a regular basis for religious reasons do not see the windows as such an integral connection in understanding God. It seems stained glass is no longer a necessity, and it is seen more as having an aesthetic purpose and is even being taken for granted. Perhaps this provides an answer to Piper’s question concerning whether stained glass is ‘art or anti art’.

Does this realisation that stained glass is becoming an art form devalue its impact? I am inclined to say no. Because of my investigation into Piper and Clarke in comparison to Elaisson’s work, I conclude that the essence of what they are trying to express still thrives; both seek a connection with some sort of sublime, either through a spirituality or through self exploration of emotions. The very essence of humanity seems to me to be this striving for a connection with something beyond reality, and whether stained glass is considered in a religious context or purely as an art form, it will always retain this awe inspiring capability, and therefore continue to endure and thrive.

Vegetable Love

Have read this poem a few times, but never really read it, until Jacob noticed it and woke me to it's brilliance. We read it on an empty beach in Turkey:

To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

I was drawn in by it's complete acceptance of love as something as big and as signifiacant as the Ganges, the Bible..

Of Humber would complain, I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.

I read that the flood is referring to Noah a part belonging to the Genesis in the Bible. So, he would love her since ever. And then he adds 'Till the conversion of the Jews' ... most Jews never have converted ... Those two religious references are just a way to tell her that he would love and praise her during a very very long time before getting into any kind of sexual intercourse with her.
Jacob was touched "My vegetable love should grow". A vegetable comes from the vegetative part of a plant, as opposed to a fruit, which comes from the reproductive part." At any rate, their love for one and the other may well grow slowly, for what ever reason; but it is a growing thing: deep, complex and vast.

May all love be vegetable.