Sunday, March 25, 2007
I woke up this morning and thought of Cid Corman, so I picked up the Origin anthology and it fell open to this page because of the postcard.
The Overlord of the North Sea said: "A frog
living in a well cannot be told of the
ocean, for its habitat limits it; nor can
an insect flourishing in summer be told
of winter's ice, for the season sways it;
an opinionated fool cannot be told of Tao,
for he is bound by one doctrine or another.
Now that you have moved beyond the shores
and reaches of the River to be graced with
sight of the Great Sea and are abashed,
you can be told of the Great Verities.
—Chuang Tzu, Autumn Flood (ch. 17)
I went to see the film, Venus, yesterday which will probably be Peter O'Toole's last and the scene in the film when he recites the famous lines from Hamlet while standing in an empty ampitheatre swept by the wind and falling leaves, remembering the triumphs and tragedies of his long life, had me thinking again about economy of words. Venus is good by the way. At the very least it served as the impetus for this random blog entry. And thinking of Chuang Tzu has me thinking of Lao Tzu.
We put thirty spokes together and call it a wheel;
But it is in the spaces between spokes where there is nothing
that the usefulness of the wheel depends.
—Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu
So thinking of Cid's economical poems had me thinking of the master of the economical, Emily Dickinson, and her antithesis,
Between Dickinson and Whitman there's such a huge gulf. It seems like the impulse to write anything using a long line has disappeared for this writer. Here's a funny negative review of Dickinson's work that was published soon after her death in 1886.
"It is plain that Miss Dickinson possessed an extremely unconventional and grotesque fancy. She was deeply tinged by the mysticism of Blake, and strongly influenced by the mannerism of Emerson....But the incoherence and formlessness of her— versicles are fatal...[A]n eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village (or anywhere else) cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar."
—Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Atlantic Monthly
Whitman, however, was an eccentric, dreamy, half-educated lover of crowds who walked the streets of Manhattan enthralled by the humanity there—he had necessary moments of solitude but he required the thrum of the crowd to function.
As Frank O'Hara said
"And after all, only Whitman and Crane and Williams, of the Americans are better than the movies."
To that I'd have to add Dickinson because
THE DUTIES of the Wind are few—
To cast the Ships at sea,
The Floods escort,
And usher Liberty.
And then to take it farther out, watch this Monk video. That's another master of economy, Count Basie, watching Monk from across the piano. Thelonious Monk's off-kilter solos have more in common with Dickinson's work than one might expect.