by Jonathan Vold

Thursday, April 28

Moleskin 2.9: The World

We perched for four years on the edge of the Buffalo River, and it was a peaceful place for a kid in his Huck Finn days. But the world was getting bigger. The sociopolitical scene of the late sixties and early seventies would dawn on me sometime afterwards; for the moment it was a greater deal to me that my family of four and then five was much bigger than our tributary bounds could hold. We vacationed, locally to an aunt and uncle’s cottage on Pelican Lake, a little farther to our grandparents’ newly built house on Lac La Belle, an extended family fishing vacation —guys only —to Lake of the Woods; and we visited cousins in North Dakota, southern Minnesota, and one summer all the way out to California. In the summer of ‘71 we had eighty people gather on the Buffalo River for a Vold Reunion, and in the summer of ‘72 we traveled to Chicago to see our cousins there. Then, in the fall of that year, the world changed more than I thought it ever would, when Chicago became our home.

Wednesday, April 27

O Solitude, By John Keats (1816), With Annotations

O Solitude (personified, addressed)! (a weary exclamation)
   if (resignation) I must with thee (Solitude) dwell (linger, live),
Let it not be (not resigned to the parameters of Solitude: something must change)
   among the jumbled heap (the city: the present condition described)
Of murky buildings (conventional structures);
   climb with me the steep, -- (first 8 lines, a chained Italian sonnet: ABBA, ABBA)
Nature (personified)'s observatory (an alternative building)
   -- (emphasis added by break in rhythm, a visual dash) whence the dell (valley),
Its flowery slopes (alternative to grey walls of steel),
   its river's crystal swell (and glass),
May seem a span (bridge, another alternative structure);
   let me thy (Solitude’s) vigils (diligent (holy) watches) keep (holding on to the beauty)
'Mongst boughs pavilion'd (another alternative building),
   where the deer's swift leap (what the vigilant one sees)
Startles the wild (abrupt rhythm break; startling within while the vigilant one remains detached)
   bee from the foxglove bell (more break in rhythm: emphasis).
But (sextant, new thought, moving beyond the beauty beheld) though I'll gladly
   trace (outline, scant sketch of the outer profile) these scenes with thee (Solitude),
Yet the sweet (what Solitude isn’t) converse (what Solitude doesn’t)
   of an innocent (undefiled) mind (rhythm breaks, emphasizing the new thought),
Whose words (what Solitude lacks) are images
   of thoughts refin'd (purified) (last 6 lines break from Italian sonnet structure: CDDC DC),
Is my soul's pleasure;
   and it sure must be (trying to be committal)
Almost (non-committal - he doesn’t know) the highest (sweetest, most innocent, most refined)
   bliss of human-kind (not the 19th century “mankind,” thus suggesting womankind),
When to thy (Solitude’s) haunts
   two kindred spirits (he longs for companionship) flee.

Paraphrase (Para-pathy):

I can accept my solitude
but I’d rather be in Minnesota
than here in Chicago,
and I’d rather be there with someone
than to walk these paths of solitude alone.

Tuesday, April 26

Redefining Solitude

English 240, 4/6/90, Prof. Gardiner

In 1816, John Keats’ first published poem, “O Solitude,” was printed in the London Examiner. As the title implies, Keats spoke in this sonnet to a personification of his own seclusion. He followed with a fourteen-line suggestion to Solitude that it might be willing to allow for a couple of changes.

As I read this, I am led to picture young Keats alone in a “murky” city, not happy with his isolation, and trying to escape it by way of a stream of wishful thinking. His imaginary escape takes two distinct steps: first, to change the environment of his solitude, moving from the city’s dinginess to a more pastoral scene, and then to change his solitude’s parameters, allowing for a companion with whom to enjoy the “haunts.” In fact, then, this is not Keats’ escape from solitude at all, but his palliative reshaping of it. And he puts this wishful stream on paper, addressing Solitude itself, but implying---and, as the poem develops, explicating---that he wants to share his thoughts with another, more real audience.

Solitude does not change for Keats as he writes his wishes down, and there is no other audience for him, but just thinking of the possibilities, the two big steps, seems to raise the young poet’s hopes. Within the poem, he moves from his actual, present situation, one which seems to be lonely indeed, to a possible future of highest bliss. Thus he changes his attitude, not by wishing that he could step out of Solitude’s bounds or that it would disappear, but by optimistically redefining it, to the point that a future of solitude would be something to long for, even a haven to flee to. In two poetic steps he is away from a perspective that depresses him, and considering one that pleases him.

That initial perspective shows in the way that Keats begins: “O Solitude! If I must with thee dwell...” The exclamation sounds of weariness, and the “if I must” breathes resignation. He has pessimistically decided that it is possible, even fateful, that he will always live in some seclusion. Even the word “dwell” connotes a continual, exhaustive lingering, and when Keats goes on to show where he is presently dwelling, the tone is stressed further. He is not just in the city of London, he is “among the jumbled heap / Of murky buildings.” And it will not do for Keats.  “Let it not be,” he pleads to Solitude.

But Keats does not merely lament his condition here; he turns around and takes his first step in the new direction of optimism. He suggests that he might lead his Solitude to an alternate environment. It is not a fantastic leap: Solitude will still have its enclosures, and its passive, detached ways. But there would be new buildings and better things to see. There would be the improved architecture of “Nature’s observatory:” a valley walled by “flowery slopes,” a pavilion made of trees, a span defined by the dell itself, bridging between its hillsides. And, of course, there would be new sights in the observatory. Keats describes one imagined scene with what might be the most beautiful lines of the poem: “Let me thy vigils keep,” he writes,

...where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.

But it still won’t be enough, considers Keats, even as he takes the imaginary step. He would be glad to “trace” such peaceful scenes, but he is still aware of his detachment from them, and his isolation, with Solitude, of looking in from the outside, and not being a part of the action (i.e., he is not doing the “startling”). Keats does not want to cross the line; that would be walking away from Solitude, which hasn’t occurred to him as a possibility. Solitude, as “thee” and “thy haunts,” isreferred to with all respect, even to the sonnet’s end. Instead, he wants to take his established companion with him on a second step of wishful thinking.

He imagines, once more, an improved Solitude: this time, one that would allow for a population of two instead of one. He longs for conversation with an additional companion (the first one, Solitude, had not added to the “population”), and as he is explicit about how that conversation would go---sweet, innocent, refined---he implies that these are aspects that had been absent in his Solitude thus far. Innocence and refinement themselves imply a conversation of one voice undefiled by the other, one thought pure from the second, two spirits kindred, but apart; in other words, a conversation different from the one Keats had been holding, and a talk with someone other than himself.

“...It sure must be / Almost the highest bliss,” says Keats about this second revision to Solitude, reminding himself that he still isn’t there, but not yet abandoning all hope. Apparently, he has never been alone with anyone the way he has pictured it, sharing solitude with a kindred soul in a springtime (flowered and river-swelled) valley. He imagines, though, that it would be blissful (maybe just about the highest bliss), and, at any rate, his attitude has certainly improved since he first started dreaming: whereas at first he noted how he “must dwell with his present Solitude, now he appreciates “fleeing” to a future Solitude, just a “climb” and a “leap” away.

Monday, April 25

Tristan, In Verse

I’ve got boxes over there
that aren’t even opened.
I filled them up and sealed them
ten or twenty years ago,
or maybe more. I can’t remember.
They don’t have any labels
and they don’t seem to be stacked
in any order. All I know
is that they had some value
or I never would have saved them.
And each box holds a part of me,
a little bit of history,
and as the years pile up
I’m not inclined to let them go.

I’ve got shelves along my walls
but most of them are empty
and waiting to be used.
I put them up the other day
with the impetuous intention
of organizing things
to get rid of the clutter
that surrounds me. Anyway
I’ll have some room to walk now,
as soon as I get started,
except this next step seems to be
the hardest step to take for me:
to pick my life up off the floor
and put it on display.

Sunday, April 24

Tristan, Unboxed

Tristan lived by himself in a two story house tucked away in a cave at the edge of a valley. He rarely went out —only when he found his kitchen shelves bare of food— and he rarely invited visitors, although he had several neighbors who knew him and invited themselves for a visit now and then. Tristan did not object to his neighbors’ visits and even enjoyed their company, but mostly Tristan kept to himself and to the confines of his house.

His house, from the outside, was not remarkable; beyond its unkempt surroundings and its peeling paint, it was much like any other two story house in the valley. But the inside of Tristan’s house —and his neighbors after a visit would always mention this among themselves— was quite peculiarly decorated. Certainly, all of the items one might expect a bachelor homebody to have were part of the decor: a television, records, half-started repair projects, stacks of dishes; but surrounding the clutter, on all the walls, were long rows of shelves. They stretched from one side of the house to the other, on every wall and always at least five or six levels high. In the whole house, Tristan had left no more than three feet of wallspace shelveless.

A few of the shelves had items neatly stacked and organized on them: clothes, boxes, books; more shelves were less tidily piled upon without any sense of organization; but most of the shelves, certainly more than three quarters of these shelves so dominantly displayed in Tristan’s house, were empty. The strangeness of this emptiness was especially marked, of course, by the completeness of the decor —everywhere one looked were shelves and most of them were bare— but even odder, on the floor of Tristan’s house, everywhere, were stacks of boxes and piles of things, every imaginable knick-knack thing, that could have filled those shelves and given Tristan and his occasional visitors room to stand and move about. Instead, Tristan would crawl and leap and wiggle his way around the rooms and over his unshelved stacks, always telling his visitors with a most apologetic tone, “I’ve been meaning to get to this stuff.” And he was going to do it, too, he told them, as soon as he could find the time.

It was for this spectacle, one might assume, that Tristan’s neighbors visited him at all. He did not have an outgoing personality or a magnetic charisma and he never reciprocated with visits of his own. But he was pleasant whenever called Tristan upon, and however busy he said he was he seemed to enjoy taking the time for a friendly conversation with his visitors.

There was always something to talk about: all one had to do was pick out something curious from among the stacks and ask, “Tristan, what is this thing?” or “What inspired you to save a thing like this?” And Tristan would cheerily answer about a someday plan he had or a reminiscence heintended to properly memorialize, or there was a simple appeal to the object itself that he could not resist. “I don’t know what it is,” he might say, “but I liked it and I just wanted to keep it. It’ll do good on that shelf over there, don’t you think?” And Tristan would hop over some stacks and put the thing on the shelf over there.

All the while, in fact, as Tristan and his company visited, he busied himself with putting things on shelves. If one must assume reasons for Tristan’s neighbors to visit him, this seemed more likely: their occasional visits always accomplished activity in Tristan’s house. But once they left they would notice through the window that the purposeful flurry would abruptly stop. Tristan would pick up a book he had been reading or go to the television, oblivious once more to the piles around him.

This led Tristan’s neighbors to believe they were being good neighbors, helping someone get things done. They agreed amongst themselves to rotate the duty of helping Tristan straighten his house up. It did not require much of them, other than time; just their visits would be helpful by merely prompting Tristan to work. They were genuinely good neighbors, though, and they would chip in, which Tristan was more than happy to allow.

Saturday, April 23

The Hymn He Gurgled In His Throat

Notes from 1990

The Hymn He Gurgled In His Throat:
Tristi fummo

with to: refer, leave to another’s judgment
obsolete: offer, render, give; yield with courtesy:

“he defers to the opinion of...”

“To you, O great one, I defer all things—
My life, my livelihood, my daily living
And all that is given to me, I bring
To your altar in humble oblation.”

sacrifice, worldly obligation

“This is the hymn they gurgle in their throats
but cannot sing in words that truly sound.”

Dante’s fifth circle in Upper Hell
in the River Styx
“tristi” or “sluggish”
“acedia” or “sloth”
one of the seven capital sins

Go to the ant, thou sluggard —Proverbs 6:6

Adams: sloth, sleep and littleness —> rage like a lion

Chaucer: May will have no sluggard

Churchill: No room for the sluggard

The voice of the sluggard: you have waked me too soon.

Tristan lived at the bottom of the see...

Friday, April 22

TWL, Lines 31-42: From Fresh Wind To Dreary Sea

31         Frisch weht der Wind
32         Der Heimat zu
33         Mein Irisch Kind,
34         Wo weilest du?
35     “You gave me hyacinths first a year ago;
36     “They called me the hyacinth girl.”
37     —Yet when we came back, late, from the hyacinth garden,
38     Your arms full, and your hair wet, I could not
39     Speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither
40     Living nor dead, and I knew nothing,
41     Looking into the heart of light, the silence.
42     Oed’ und leer das Meer.

34. FRESH BLOWS THE WIND: See Wagner, Tristan und Isolde 1.1.5-8 (1865; tr. Richard le Gallienne 1909):

“Fresh blows the wind
For home:
My Irish child,
Where tarriest thou?”

This is a sailor’s song overheard by Princess Isolde, en route to her loveless marriage to King Mark of Cornwall; Isolde wants to drink poison to escape her fate, but her maid substitutes the poison with a love potion. She takes the potion in front of the king’s nephew Tristan, the potion takes its effect and they fall in  love. Compare Venus sending Cupid to poison Queen Dido with love for Aeneas, at Virgil, Aeneid 1. 684-685:

“let thy secret fire
breathe o'er her heart, to poison and betray.”

See note 92 for the extended story of Venus, Aeneas and Dido.

TRISTAN was, with Parsifal of the Grail legend, one of King Arthur’s knights. See Weston, The Quest of the Holy Grail.  See also Dante, Inferno 5.61-69, where Tristan commiserates with Cleopatra (see line 77) and the widow Dido (see above), condemned for their lust to the second circle of hell.

36. THE HYACINTH GIRL, reflecting the name of a perennial April wildflower, was initially a Spartan prince endeared by the sun god Apollo (and also, in other accounts, by the wind god Zephyrus). While playing quoits in the sun the prince was killed by a wind-blown quoit; Apollo raised a purple flower out of his blood, traced a mournful “ai, ai” on its petals and named it Hyacinth. See Ovid, Metamorphosis 10:276-343.  For other hyacinth references, see lines 37, 125, 176 and 323 and notes 39, 42, 71, 74, 76.5, 111, 125, 138, 176, 209, 214, 227, 311.5, 312, 323, 378 and 429.

39. AMBIGUOUS IDENTITIES recur throughout this poem. See Eliot’s note at note 125, tying the hyacinth girl, whose gender is already changed from its Ovidian source, to the drowned sailor with pearly eyes; this as the speaker’s own eyes are failing.  See also lines 12, 39-40, 46-48, 54, 126, 207-08, 218-19, 312-18 and 320.

NEITHER LIVING NOR DEAD: See Dante, Inferno 34:25:

“I did not die, and I alive remained not.”

See also Bhagavat Gita 2:11 (ca. 100 BCE, tr. Kâshinâth Trimbak Telang, 1882):

“Learned men grieve not for the living nor the dead.”

Compare lines 117-126 (those who know nothing) and 182 (one who grieves).

41. INTO THE HEART OF ...SILENCE:  See Conrad, Heart of Darkness 3: While waiting for the tide to rise on the Thames, Marlow, “the only man of us who still followed the sea,” told his shipmates of a past journey up the Congo:

“into the heart of darkness. It was very quiet there.”

Compare with Dante, Paradiso 12:30-31:

"Out of the heart of one of the new lights
There came a voice..."

42. WASTE AND DREAR: Eliot: “Id. iii, verse 24.”

See Wagner, Tristan und Isolde 3.1.24:

“The sea is waste and drear.”

This is the report to Tristan’s henchman Kurwenal, who was keeping vigil over his ailing master and had asked a shepherd to “Watch thou the sea” for Isolde’s ship to arrive.

JEAN VERDENAL, a friend of Eliot’s who died in World War I, appears to have influenced this poem on several levels.  See John Peter, A New Interpretation of The Waste Land (1952), and James E. Miller, T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons (1977).  Eliot met Verdenal in Paris in 1910, and they kept a long-distance friendship while Eliot was studying at Harvard in 1911 and 1912. See Eliot, Letters.  In one letter to Eliot, Verdenal had expressed a deep admiration for Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde, which now bookends the hyacinth girl / drowned sailor story. In April 1915 (the cruelest month; see line 1), Verdenal was among troops sent to Gallipoli (see Mrs. Porter’s soldiers at line 199; see also the Stetson friend, line 69), where he was officially commended for helping to evacuate wounded soldiers:

“Scarcely recovered from pleurisy, he did not hesitate to spend much of the night in the water up to his waist.”

He died two days later. That summer, Eliot published The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and he dedicated his first collection, Prufrock and Other Observations (1917) to Verdenal. In 1934, Eliot wrote in T.S. Eliot, A Commentary, Criterion (April 1934):

“I am willing to admit that my own retrospect is touched by a sentimental sunset, the memory of a friend coming across the Luxembourg Gardens in the late afternoon, waving a branch of lilac, a friend who was later (so far as I could find out) to be mixed with the mud of Gallipoli.”

Compare lines 1-11, referring to lilacs, memory, mixing, mud and sunlight coming over the lake.

DROWNING, or “death by water,” which might creatively describe the cause of Verdenal’s demise, is also suggested as the poetic demise of the hyacinth girl at line 38 (“Your arms full, and your hair wet”).  See also the shallow water death of Bavarian King Ludwig II (note 8), Ophelia’s death in Shakespeare, Hamlet (lines 170-172) and the drownings of the pearl-eyed sailor (line 48) and Phlebas the Phoenician (lines 312-321).  Phlebas’s end and the title to Part IV is also portended at line 55 (“Fear death by water”).  See also the simile of perfumes that “drowned the sense in odours” (line 89).

Thursday, April 21

Moleskin 2.8: The Talk

Almost as close, just across a soybean field, were the Ericksens, then the Andersons, young families with kids my age who played as I played, moms who kept house and dads with distant jobs. By sheer time spent, I remember the first set of kids —Dean, Wayne and their older sister Loreen —more than the second —was it Lonny and two others? —and yet it was an episode with the Andersons that sticks with me most, or rather a talking to I had with my parents afterwards, at the end of a domino row. The first tile fell when I had asked my parents about sex one day, and they answered. I don’t recall the phrasing, but I’m pretty sure they never repeated it.  But I did, the next day, to the Anderson kids, and they did to their parents at dinner time, and then their parents called mine, and then the last domino fell, somewhat sternly —“Jon, they were quite upset” —but tolerably —“we’re not mad at you.” Thus my first education about sex, with all its social ramifications, and an eye opener, by the way, on different styles of parenting.

Wednesday, April 20

Hell and Heaven

Hell is other people —
  Heaven is the presence of God.

Hell is a closed room —
  Heaven is an open field.

Hell is being forever judged —
  Heaven is being accepted.

Hell is seeing ourselves as others see us —
  Heaven is putting ourselves aside.

Hell is the dark glass of human mirrors —
  Heaven is seeing face to face.

Hell is the parsing of pimples —
  Heaven is the end of imperfections.

Hell is inescapable reflections —
  Heaven is the lark flying free.

Hell refuses to look at loveliness —
  Heaven is knowing love.

Hell is the end of hope and the continuation of fear —
  Heaven is all we hope for and the end of all we fear.

Hell is remaining alive but being forever dead —
  Heaven is being born anew, having defeated death.

Hell is a faithless existentialism —
  Heaven is a higher existence.

Hell is existing in the company of absentees —
  Heaven is living in the presence of God.

Hell is a room with no exit —
  Heaven is a doorway and the will to walk through it.

Hell is here and now, for those who live it —
  Heaven is here and now, for those who believe it.

Tuesday, April 19

Ecumenical Mantra, Part 1

from Walled Gardens

Sew no purse,
Tear no veil,
Lick no plate,
Buy no flattery.

See no colors, make no claims.
Look past form, shape and shade,
Everything defined in terms
Of evil, good, black and white,

But let the air be hot and wet,
Let the earth feel cold and dry.
Let there be no contradiction.
Fire is hot and water wet,
Everything defined;
Fire dry and water cold
For all Eternity, and yet
Without the quintessential word
Laying down Eternity
Everything is argument
And all things contradict.

Monday, April 18

The Task Of Truth

We are books & blogs on shelves & screens
Collecting dust, the timeless mask,
And who will have tomorrow’s task
Of reading remnants of ourselves
In search of truth and what it means
Beneath the leaves, behind the scenes?

Between the lines, before each word
Was written true, reality
Turned into shards of history,
And who should have the thankless chore
Of faithful repetition, word
For word, unspun, unchecked, unstirred?

Our government’s gone partisan.
The fourth estate’s gone commentary.
Truth has left the sanctuary.
Cyberspace is shopping carts
& garbage cans.  The classroom’s gone
To Googling itself.  Log on,

And look beyond this timeless mask
Of our neglect, beneath the dust
Of idle grayness over us,
Past existential grime: our time
In history remains, the task
Of truth prevails.
    But who will ask?

Sunday, April 17

Beehive Truth

from Walled Gardens

It is better, in this beehive,
to be tailored in the truth of humility
than underdressed in the lies of violence.
This is no place to be naked and raving.
Leave your lie of strength at the door
and put on the armor of lowliness.
God will recognize your allegiance,
and you will trample the heights of heaven
beneath your feet.

Saturday, April 16

Earthworm Theology

from Walled Gardens

God knows what depths and shallows
each soul can navigate,
the draught of every creature. God creates...
– Sanai, tr. Coleman Barks

...and through this sacred rhythm
I come to appreciate
that everything is sacred. God creates

and bestows each godly wisdom
within. There is no mind.
Another knowing lives outside of time,

beyond the basic neurons
that spark our mortal fire,
above the carnal pulse of our desire;

nor can I have desire
of such capacity
to wish for all that God has given me.

Before this altar silence
becomes my eloquence
and emptiness my path to sustenance,

and I will find tomorrow
connected to today,
and I will learn to celebrate the way

that God has set before me,
this day, my daily earth,
the life I live, the wisdom I am worth.

Friday, April 15

TWL, Lines 19-30: Come In Under The Shadow

19     What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
20     Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
21     You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
22     A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
23     And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
24     And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
25     There is shadow under this red rock,
26     (Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
27     And I will show you something different from either
28     Your shadow at morning striding behind you
29     Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
30     I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

20. SON OF MAN: Eliot: “Cf. Ezekiel II, I.”  See Ezekiel 2:1:

“And [the Lord] said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee.”

See also Ezekiel 37:3, later alluded to at line 186:

“Son of man, can these bones live?”

22. A HEAP OF BROKEN IMAGES: See Ezekiel 6:4:

“And ...your images shall be broken.”

For the recurrence of brokenness, see note 303. For the heap, see Job 8:13,17, describing the hypocrite who forgets God as being like a plant without earth and water; at verse 17:

“His roots are wrapped about the heap, and seeth the place of stones.”

See note 4 for the recurrence of roots in this poem.

23. THE CRICKET NO RELIEF: Eliot:  “Cf. Ecclesiastes XII, v.” See Ecclesiastes 12:5 at note 13 (“the grasshopper shall be a burden”).

25. UNDER THE ROCK: See note 28, and see Isaiah 32:2:

“And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; as rivers of water in a dry place, as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”

26. ARIEL’S SONG, from Shakespeare, The Tempest 1.2.376-405, a song sometimes referred to by the first line of its second stanza, “Full Fathom Five,” is repeatedly alluded to throughout the poem.  See below, and see lines 26 (come), 48 and 125 (pearls), 119 (music), 182 (weeping), 186 (bones), 192 (father), 257 (waters), 276 (dogs) and 393 (chanticleer), and see notes 167 (fathom) and 266 (spirits):

“ARIEL [Sings].

Come unto these yellow sands,
    And then take hands:
Curtsied when you have and kissed
    The wild waves whist,
Foot it featly here and there,
And sweet sprites bear
    The burden.

(burden dispersedly)


Hark, hark! Bow-wow,
The watch-dogs bark, bow-wow.


Hark, hark! I hear
The strain of strutting chanticleer
Cry, Cock a diddle dow.


Where should this music be? i' the air or the earth?
It sounds no more, and sure, it waits upon
Some god o' the island. Sitting on a bank,
Weeping again the king my father's wreck,
This music crept by me upon the waters,
Allaying both their fury and my passion
With its sweet air. Thence I have followed it
(Or it hath drawn me rather) but 'tis gone.
No, it begins again.

ARIEL [Sings]

Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made;
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell




Hark! now I hear them.


   Ding-dong, bell.”

Shakespeare’s Ariel, a spirit “which art but air” (5.1.21), causes a passing ship to run aground, then brings all its passengers safely to shore. Compare Virgil, Aeneid 5.89, where Aeneas, having sailed through a tempest, lands on the yellow sands of hospitable Sicilian shores.  See also Thomas Heywood, Hierarchy of the Blessed Angels 4 (1635), in which another Ariel converges the elements of earth, water and air as “earth’s great Lord” and one of the princes who rule the waters. See also Heirarchy 1, echoing lines from Augustine’s Confessions (see note 307):

“I sought Thee round about, O Thou my God,
To finde thy aboad.
I said unto the Earth ‘Speake, art thou He?’
She answer'd me,
‘I am not.’

...I askt the Seas, and all the Deepes below,
My God to know.

...I askt the Aire, if that were hee? but know
It told me, No.

...I askt the Heavens, Sun, Moone and Stars; but they
Said ‘We obey.

...We are not God, but we by Him were made.’”

27. I WILL SHOW YOU: See Jeremiah 33: 2-3, 10, 11:

“Thus saith the Lord the maker thereof, the Lord that formed it, to establish it; ...Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not. ...Again there shall be heard in this place, ...even in the cities of Judah, and in the streets of Jerusalem, that are desolate, without man, and without inhabitant, and without beast, The voice of joy, and the voice of gladness ...For I will cause to return the captivity of the land, as at the first...”

28. SHADOWS: See Eliot, The Death of Narcissus (1915):

“Come in under the shadow of this gray rock,
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow sprawling over the sand at daybreak, or
Your shadow leaping behind the fire against the red rock...”

See also Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher, Philaster 3.2 (1620):

“Preach to birds and beasts
What woman is, and help to save them from you;
How heaven is in your eyes, but in your hearts
More hell than hell has; how your tongues, like scorpions,
Both heal and poison; how your thoughts are woven
With thousand changes in one subtle web,
And worn so by you;
...How all the good you have is but a shadow,
I' the morning with you, and at night behind you
Past and forgotten.”

See also The Allegory of the Cave, in Plato, Republic (360 B.C.E., tr. Benjamin Jowett, ca. 1893):

“[Socrates:] And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards  the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

...[Glaucon:] You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

[Socrates:]  Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another  ...To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images. “

30. A HANDFUL OF DUST: See John Donne, Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: 4. The Physician Is Sent For (1638):

“What’s become of man’s great extent and proportion, when himself shrinks himself and consumes himself to a handful of dust; what’s become of his soaring thoughts, his compassing thoughts, when himself brings himself to the ignorance, to the thoughtlessness, of the grave?”

GRAVES AND BURIAL SCENES recur at  lines 71-75, 193, 246 and 388; see also notes 0.3, 2, 7, 30, 71, 74, 186, 214, 246, 298 and 378.

Thursday, April 14

Moleskin 2.7: Lawrence And Julia

Lawrence and Julia Olsen were our nearest neighbors, just across the gravel road and down a long driveway to a tuckaway farmhouse. It was through Lawrence, a homebound invalid who needed a big hoist to move him from bed to wheelchair to living room chair, that I first got to really know my father. As a pastor, it was Dad’s duty to bring the communion bread and wine to Lawrence, and he would often let me tag along. But Dad would visit Lawrence and Julia a lot more that the once monthly communion Sundays, more than his job seemed to require or the social structures around us seemed to compel: he visited them often, as a neighbor and a friend, and he brought me along, to play in their yard, to play with their bulldog, to play with their grandkids’ toys, but also, I think, to be closer to our closest neighbors.

Wednesday, April 13


the little-brained mosquito dances
'round the room on paper wings

there's wisdom in the way life sings
to give us fools a fighting chance

there's grace in every circumstance
of life if one keeps listening

for God's design upon the wings
and nature’s music in the dance

there's also pain sometimes disease
that pierces through the leather veil

and then eventually there's death
but first despite life's tragedies

there is the whisper of a breath
that grace and wisdom will prevail

the little-brained mosquito dances
round the room on paper wings

with God's design behind the dance
and nature's way to make life sing

Tuesday, April 12

The Owl

from Walled Gardens

Whoever remains forever behind a veil
Is like the owl who would avoid the sun,
Aware the sun would make its eyesight fail,
It hides, and still the sun keeps blazing on.

But if the owl is blinded by the dawn
It is because the owl’s eyes are weak
And not because the sun keeps blazing on
As though it were some terrible mistake.

You dream your dreams, you make use of your eyes
And yet beyond your eyes and dreams you’re blind
And even as the sun lights up the skies
You cannot see the surface and the line,
And what’s the point of having eyes that can-
not see the way the sun keeps blazing on?

Monday, April 11

The Elephant

from Walled Gardens

“I come from the land of Ghur.
    You may have heard
the story I’m about to tell,
    but I’ll tell you more
        than you’ve heard before.
You may have heard
    how soldiers came
and set up camp in the land of Ghur,
    all in the name
of world peace, but did you hear
    about their king
visiting his army troops,
    so full of pomp
and circumstance, riding up
    on his elephant
across our piece of the world
    to claim it as his own?

We’ve seen our share of elephants
    in the land of Ghur,
but this great beast,
    like none we’ve ever seen before,
stood battle ready,
    armored head to toe and armed
with long hollow weaponry,
    all set to blow
our world apart,
    and on its heavy limbs it rose
above us like
    an ancient tower in the sky.

“I never saw this for myself
    but I believe
what I’ve been told by several
    first-hand witnesses
who travel through the land of Ghur
    and testify
to all they’ve come to know. ‘That armor,’
    says the first,
‘seemed like a carpet stretched across
    the desert floor.’
‘That weapon,’ says the next,
    ‘loomed like a Howitzer,
its heavy barrel sweeping o’er
    the poppy fields.’
  ‘That tower,’ says the third,
    ‘casts shadows on us all.’

“There may be truth in everything
    that’s ever said,
and wisdom at the core of every
but in the end we’ll never see
    the elephant
for what it is; we’re ignorant and blind,
    and when
the war begins we fight against ourselves,
    and when
it’s over we are all that’s left behind.”

Sunday, April 10

The Naming Of Parts

from Walled Gardens

Being told we are made in
the image of God, we imagine:
the foot that walks beside,
the hand that reaches out,
the fingers and the touch
and the change of place,
the grace of one descending,
the image of a man,
the form of one who sits upon a throne
with a face that shines upon us
and words to gather round,
with flesh and blood and
a body to embrace.
It is this God that we imagine,
this God we wear around our necks,
that leads to arguments and war,
but I will believe there is a better God than
this God of blind design, a greater God
than mortals can conceive.

Saturday, April 9

Bedtime Stories

Tell me a story said the child
No said pragmatic it’s time for bed
Sensing tactics the skeptic smiled
Just close your eyes denial said
And dream said ignorance sweet dreams
I’ll be in the next room said fear
I love you said despite what seems
Maybe tomorrow said next year
We’ll read two stories busy lied
If you’ll be good condition said
Now say your prayers the hypo- cried
And go to sleep said get to bed
Said once upon a time good night
And nothing read turned off the light

Friday, April 8

TWL, Lines 8-18: When We Were Children

8     Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
9       With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
10     And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
11     And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
12     Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch
13     And when we were children, staying at the archduke’s,
14     My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
15     And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
16     Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
17     In the mountains, there you feel free.
18     I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

8. STARNBERGERSEE, a lake southwest of Munich, was where Bavarian King Ludwig II was found dead in June of 1886, having drowned in shallow waters in much the same way as Hamlet’s Ophelia (see note 172).  Ludwig, known as the Mad King or the Swan King, was a dedicated patron of Richard Wagner and even decorated the walls of his palace, Neuschwanstein, with scenes from the operas of Richard Wagner.

WAGNER’S OPERAS, often inspired by Grail legend themes (see note 0.2), appear several times in this poem: see Richard Wagner, Tristan und Isolde 1.1.5-8 (1865; tr. Richard le Gallienne 1909) at notes 34, 42, 92 and 137 and lines 31-34 and 42; Götterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods, 1876, tr. Frederick Jameson, ca. 1916) at lines 266-295 and note 266; and Parsifal (1882, tr. Henry Edward Krehbiel, 1920), at line 201.

WALLS THAT TALK, beyond the Wagnerian murals and tapestries at Neuschwanstein, will make several more appearances in this poem, through its allusions if not directly.  See the painted walls of Cymbeline’s daughter Imogen (notes 77 and 80); the walls in Cleopatra’s chambers, retelling the story ofPhilomela’s tapestries (lines 99 and 105); the ceiling panoramas of Cleopatra (line 93) and John Day’s Plush Bee (note 197), depicting the hunter Acteon coming across the goddess Diana bathing in the woods (see notes 77 and 197); and, at line 98, the painted sylvan scene of the Golden Bough (see note 0.2).   See also Virgil, Aeneid 1.456-493 and 6.14-31, where Aeneas finds his Trojan War retold “in sequent picture” (1.461) in Juno’s shrine, then later finds other stories told on the doors of the Sybil’s temple.  Finally, see Whitman, Memories 11:

“O what shall I hang on the chamber walls?”

10. HOFGARTEN is a Munich park with a central pavilion dedicated to Diana, the same goddess with whom Acteon and the Plush Bee and Imogene were infatuated (see note 8 above).

12. ORIGINS: “I am not Russian, I come from Lithuania, I am really a German.”  This statement, effectively an intertwining knot of dried up roots, appears to be an overheard fragment, contextually from someone other than the poet or his companion.  Compare Virgil’s introduction in Dante, Inferno 1.66-69:

“Not man; man once I was,      
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
...Sub Julio' was I born...”

See also Adrian, in Shakespeare, The Tempest: 2.1.82-83:

“Widow Dido, said you? You make me study of that.
She was of Carthage, not of Tunis.”

This refers to Queen Dido of Carthage; see Virgil, Aeneid 1.342-343, where Dido is introduced by her origins:

  “Upon the throne is Dido, exiled there from Tyre.”

Tyre, now in Lebanon, was a seaport of ancient Phoenicia; see lines 47 and 312 and note 312 for other Phoenician references.  For other Dido and Carthage allusions, see notes 92 and 307.

13. REMEMBERING YOUTH: Not yet feeling old (see note 219), see Ecclesiastes 12:1,5:

“Remember now thy Creator in the days of thy youth, while the evil days come not, nor the years draw nigh, when thou shalt say, I have no pleasure in them; ...when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets.”

15. MARIE: These lines derive from Marie Larisch, My Past (1913), and from private visits Eliot had with her in Bavaria.  In 1889, Austrian Countess Marie was socially cast out after her cousin Crown-Prince Rudolph (the archduke) and his mistress, for whom Marie had acted as a go-between, died in a suicide-murder scandal. Rudolph was succeeded as crown-prince by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, whose 1914 assassination triggered World War I (see note 61).  Meanwhile, another Prince Ferdinand, from Shakespeare, The Tempest, will be given repeated attention, beginning with the next passage (see line 26).

17. MOUNTAINS reappear throughout the poem, inspiring freedom but also fear and withdrawal. See the Lenten “thunder of spring over distant mountains” (line 327); the desperate sense of “no water, only rock” (lines 331-359); the unnamed range surrounding Ernest Shackleton’s march (note 361); the inverted mountains beneath a city of decaying earth (line 372), a mountain hole that hides an empty chapel (line 386), and finally the snowy Himavant, a holy mountain in the Himalayas (line 398).

18. GOING SOUTH literally refers to the direction Marie went for winter breaks and Eliot went for recuperation in 1921-22 (see note 300), but it may also refer more figuratively to a decline in value or a departure from responsibility.  See, e.g., Elgin (Illinois) Dairy Rep. 11/13/1920: “Meat, grains and provisions generally, are like Douglas Fairbanks, headed south—in other words, going down.”  Fairbanks had starred in a 1918 film, no longer available, called “Headin’ South,” about a U.S. ranger who tracks a fugitive to Mexico, joins the fugitive’s gang then falls in love with one of the fugitive’s victims.

MOOD: Right after recalling a feeling of youthful freedom, the tone becomes somber again.  The mood of this poem may have been set by the convergence of several key events: the great war and the loss of a friend to that war (see notes 15, 42 and 61), the pain of a dysfunctional marriage and the grappling with sexual identity (notes 92 and 218), recuperation from mental exhaustion (note 300), and, generally, the loss of innocence.

Thursday, April 7

Moleskin 2.6: Red River Valley

Joshua Paul was born on the Minnesota side of the Red River Valley during the post-Woodstock years, son of a young pastor and organist team who proudly served a two-point parish. It was during the first four years of Joshua’s life, about which he surely remembers little, that my own memories began to form in full color: now we lived alongside the Buffalo River, whose floodstages our mother would monitor as a side job; as a family, we immersed ourselves in the farming culture, appreciating the black gold soil around us and the sugar beets and soy fields that practically blended into our yard; and, as my brothers toddled at home, I started going to Glyndon Elementary by way of a big yellow school bus. And we got to know our neighbors: the Ericksons and Andersons, the Johnsons and the Kassenborgs.

Wednesday, April 6


from Walled Gardens

Was once a man could tell the difference,
could see into the souls of fools: once was
the kind of man who measured ignorance
with ridicule, who magnified the flaws
of every mote in his periphery
with arrogance: but let the evidence
speak for itself, just as it always does:

“Saffron, my friend, what have you heard of it?
I said Saffron, fool, what have you seen of it?
You know its name, you taste it every day,
     but say just a word of it
     and you give yourself away.”

    Was once a man of quiet innocense
    and simple faith in everything that was
    in front of him, whose life experience
    confirmed what he believed, who had no cause
    to quarrel with the things he could not see,
    no arguments with those whose arguments
    defined what they denied, who simply was.
    “Saffron, you ask, what have I heard of it
    beyond its name, what do I know of it?
    I have it by me, of this I can be sure,
    and it is good. I’ve tasted it
    a hundred times and more.”

    Was once a man who found the resonance
    of saffron in his day to day: once was
    a willing member of the audience
    who loved life with an unreserved applause
    but otherwise had nothing more to say,
    no arguments for those whose arguments
    speak for the sake of speaking for their cause.

No more spite, deceit, envy, slander, hypocrisy,
I long for the pure, spiritual milk, to taste and see...

“Saffron, my friend, what have you heard of it?”
    “Saffron, you ask, what have I heard of it?”

“I said Saffron, fool, what do you know of it?”
    “Beyond its name, what do I know of it?”

“You know its name,...”
    “I have it by me,...”

“ taste it every day,...”
    “...of this I can be sure,...”

“...but say just a word of it...”
    “...and it is good. I’ve tasted it...”

“...and you give yourself away.”
    “...a hundred times and more.”

Tuesday, April 5

Invocations (Translating Sanai)

from Walled Gardens

How can one give a name to God?

Whose every name is a lasting testimony
Of constant grace and steadfast pity,
Exceeding heaven and earth and every angel,
Whose every verb addresses our endless needs,
Whose every truth gives proof of the one who provides,

You, most merciful and compassionate,
You, forming the thoughts in our heads,
Shaping beauty around our warts,
Covering our foolishness with wisdom,
Showering our mortality with mercy, you,

Creator and sustainer of earth and time,
Guardian and defender of spirit and space,
The single source of space and soul,
The sole commander of time and place,
Of fire and wind and water and ground,

You are in control, you have the power
Over all, you are ineffable...

How can one give a name to the One
Who stands alone where there can be no other?

And yet there are those who do not know,
Souls outside who haven’t heard
And hearts who cannot see, who have no name:
Have grace and pity on hearts and souls
Who want so much to know.

Faithful and faithless alike will walk
This path together and they want to see
The one and only, maker and enabler,
All powerful, almighty and immortal,
All knowing, living and eternal,
Giver, taker, conquerer and forgiver,
The push of every movement,
And the place of every rest.

God stands alone and has no equal:
Let nothing come before, let no one stand beside,
And those asserting otherwise, beware!

How can one give a name to God?

Our weakness proves God’s perfection;
God’s power appoints our list of names.
Faithless and faithful alike
Will return from the mansion
With the happiness of their host
And nothing more, but knowing God
Transcends all dreams; awareness of God
Shakes all reasoning and perception;
And standing before God’s throne
Surpasses every posture and position:

And for the knowing soul, God’s throne itself
Will be the carpet under his feet,
And for the seeing soul, all praise is folly
Unless it is given to God.
And as a seeking soul, I want to turn to God
And call on God.  ...but how?

Monday, April 4


I stand still in the woods, taking my time
To gather up the evidence of life
Around me, being witness to the day
That holds me, letting every tree and bird
Reprove me, move me closer to a way
To reconcile my foot of space on earth,

To know there is no richer place on earth
Than where I stand at any given time,
Nor given time is there a better way
To understand the earthiness of life
Than standing by a tree, seeing a bird
Defying gravity, stretching its day

Heavenward, then with each passing day
Returning humbly to its rooted earth
For food, for rest, for giving birth; this bird,
With every beast and bloom of anytime,
Takes part in a community of life,
Sharing one space and orbiting one way

Around a single sun: so on this way
Of revolutions, in this timeless day
Among this great epitome of life,
I take my quiet stand upon the earth
That I may share this place as long as time
Will be defied, as long as tree and bird

Commune with me, and I can hear the bird
Communicating heaven in a way
No other creature can, replaying time
Repeatedly, reflecting every day
From its perspective perched above the earth
By singing out its evidence of life;

I feel that song, though I must live the life
Of one who cannot be the flying bird;
I hold my ground, though I am of the earth
Without the slightest chance to spin away;
I stand still in one place to see the day
Unrushed, though I am running out of time,

But still I stand, with time to look at life,
To live through every day, to watch a bird
Show me the way it lets go of the earth.