devotions 1624

by John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

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dormir plutôt que vivre!

Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

from the very beginning of ‘The Secret History’ I sat up and took notice. apart from the incredibly lush writing, littering of literary allusions like treasure, perfectly paced chronology (the narrator relates the story very authentically, with apologies for the haze and forgeries of memory), it reminded me endlessly of The Great Gatsby, a book that I remember very fondly despite its manifold flaws and sentimentality. Superficially there are plenty of things that are similar: a perpetual alcohol-induced miasma; invented histories; socioeconomic differences; but most importantly to me, a fundamentally detached narrator, who despite his horror and moral judgment of the events happening around him, remains passive and hence a part of them; with a tendency to romanticise even the objectively terrible. It was with some joy that I read that The Great Gatsby was one of Richard’s favourite books.

“Y’know,” he said, “Julian is like one of those people that’ll pick all his favorite chocolates out of the box and leave the rest.” This seems rather enigmatic on the face of it, but actually I cannot think of a better metaphor for Julian’s personality. It is similar to another remark made to me once by George Laforgue, on an occasion when I had been extolling Julian to the skies. “Julian,” he said curtly, “will never be scholar of the very first rate, and that is because he is only capable of seeing things on a selective basis.”

When I disagreed- strenuously- and asked what was wrong with focusing one’s entire attention on only two things, if those two things were Art and Beauty, Laforgue replied: “There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty- unless she is wed to something more meaningful- is always superficial. It is not that your Julian chooses solely to concentrate on certain, exalted things; it is that he chooses to ignore others equally as important.”

It’s funny. In retelling these events, I have fought against a tendency to sentimentalize Julian, to make him seem very saintly- basically to falsify him- in order to make our veneration of him seem more explicable; to make it seem something more, in short, than my own fatal tendency to try to make interesting people good.

in the trust that up high/ lie here together

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“I absolutely agree. It’s interesting that it’s an experience of standing before a figure of a god, but in the 20th century. This god is broken, this god’s head isn’t there. The speaker tries to make a connection. Attempts to link himself to that source, even broken or lost, of authority, power, vision…

“Otherwise / the curved breast could not dazzle you so.” In Greek sculpture, there’s this line that goes underneath the abdominal muscles and down to the hips. (It doesn’t matter how many sit-ups you do, you can’t get this line.) He’s seeing that line as a smile. The stone otherwise—we keep hearing what it’s not. If it were this, actually broken, we couldn’t know what we do. The translucent cascade, the wild beast’s fur, the burst like a star, figure after figure, and what do these figures have in common? Well, not so much. Light in the case of the lamp and the star, and to some degree maybe the fruit—you can imagine the ripening fruit glowing. But it feels like the speaker here is groping to describe what’s in front of him. Trying to name this power, which is palpable, real, but perhaps essentially unsayable. When we confront a great work of art, a great work of the spirit, we feel something, but how difficult, how impossible it is to say what it is…

It’s very difficult to say rationally why the experience of beauty or spiritual power produces this strong sensation. The poem makes the leap for us that’s like the experience, I think, of seeing the work of art. The speaker tries to take it in, he thinks of all these figures to describe it, none of them quite do it, and then there’s the kind of immediacy of experience that’s similar to the Pound poem. Boom, the whole appears.”

Mark Doty, On ‘Archaic Torso of Apollo’

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by Rainer Maria Rilke

I love the dark hours of my being.
My mind deepens into them.
There I can find, as in old letters,
the days of my life, already lived,
and held like a legend, and understood.
Then the knowing comes: I can open
to another life that’s wide and timeless.

So I am sometimes like a tree
rustling over a gravesite
and making real the dream
of the one its living roots
embrace:

a dream once lost
among sorrows and songs.