English 407, Victorian Studies

Reading through the day’s news, I felt the usual pangs of disgust and anger — mostly but not entirely at Republican politians. When will enough of them, while scratching their asses, discover their backbones? It could happen, right? In fact, it will happen.

And at that point a wee small timorous voice in the distance whispered a couple famiar lines.

Oh yet we trust that somehow good
will be the final goal of ill

That can happen to unreconstructed English majors, even in their eighties. So I listened to the line again. Aha, says I. Tennyson.

Tennyson? That pompous Victorian Empire and Bible salesman? Yeah, him. I’d forgotten he might have written something good along the way. But I couldn’t recall the whole poem, so I looked it up.

Oh well. Should have known. Later verses ramble through gloom and pain and random misery, all — perhaps — to be balance out. Sometime.

Or not.

Is there a lesson here for the Trump generations. Not really.

Is there any lesson at all to be gained from these word squanderings I keep posting on Some Old Guy?

Yeah. The lesson is to hell with Victorian poets.

Except Browning, him and her. And the Rosettis, both of them. And Hood and Morris and Arnold and (maybe) Carroll. And Edward Lear, him too.

But still, to hell with Tennyson.

Short takes

There’s seldom a shortage of things — issues, events, weapons, crimes — to vex the rational brain and/or the charitable soul. Claiming both those features in moderation for myself, I’m never at a loss for something to get pissed off about — or occasionally to be amused by.

When I don’t post new items for a while it’s usually that my brain or my soul is just worn out. But I’ve been remiss lately, and will try to compensate over the next few weeks with overload.

  1. Like the witch, Glacier National Park is melting. In the late 1800’s the park contained 150 glaciers. At last count, it was down to 26. Latest estimate on durability — they’ll vanish at the rate of about one a year.
  2. You might find two ways to take this, but the US Military is running out of bombs. Really. Our generals are dropping them faster, apparently, than weapons makers can produce them.
  3. And if you favor old-fashioned surrealism, you now can watch new episodes — or re-watch old episodes — of Twin Peaks. It recently resumed after a quarter-century. New episodes feature much of the old cast.

The Show Must Go On!

Let me elaborate on that. The show will go on until it comes to an end.

Any reasonable evaluation of a show must include a careful study of its ending. Its resolution. The point at which an audience picks up and goes home… or as may be in a few instances, when the audience picks up rotten vegetables to throw at the stage and the actors. Or takes some other action to indicate not only that this performance is at an end but that no further performances of this show will be attended, or perhaps even tolerated.

This  odd image — call it a metaphor if that pleases you — came to mind late last evening. I attended an uncommonly good performance of the Kander and Ebb masterpiece Cabaret. It is the last few moments of Cabaret which are most dramatic. Last night they were grim. Heart-wrenching. (Yes, it was a very good show.)

I stood with the rest of the audience to applaud when the cast came back on stage. As was right for such a show, there were only quick cast bows, no mugging or waving to friends or other bullshit. The cast bow, just like the show and the message at its core, was hard and cold and unrelenting.

I looked around at people near me. Most were gathering coats and heading quietly and thoughtfully — and not a few tearfully — to the exits. But there were a few — the couple next to me, for instance — who stood looking about, puzzled looks on their faces. As if they were trying to figure out what had just happened.

They must, I decided, have been Trump supporters.

If it walks like a fascist…

Art, literature, history, politics.

Also, grief and humor, graphic novels, childhood trauma, Art Spiegelman and Si Lewen. You may not know Lewen. Read on. You will, and be better for it. And Philip K. Dick, he’s in there too. All of which incorporates our immediate grotesqueries, but then, what doesn’t?

Here’s a quote from Spiegelman to get you started.

I’m finding more and more that I’m really interested in Sam Beckett. I just keep returning to him as some kind of bedrock—“can’t go on, must go on, will go on.” Godot is called a tragicomedy, and I’ve been thinking about that word a lot, because it doesn’t mean tragedy and then comedy; it’s trying to conflate them into being one word, so that these things are simultaneous. Looked at one way, from an Olympian point of view, it’s hilarious! And from another point of view, it’s an absolute tragedy, with all of the depths of meaning that that has.

I’ve been trying to focus on my own writing, on the rambling poem-like things which suddenly capture my attention and my energy. But what I write there also works, as if magically driven, to the immediacy of our world, our people. Some of those, sooner or later, I’ll put up here as well.

You have been warned.

Mid-Hudson Trainscape

Sun now clear of the ridge
glitters on sheets of ice
breaking and reforming
in ponds beside these tracks
A bleak winter trainscape
heading South toward Manhattan

The Hudson some eons past
swerving this way and that
plowed the cluttered slope
marking an efficient path
for a steady downhill ride
Albany to Grand Central Station

But water, more pliant than steel
turns quickly, even more abruptly
drops a foot or two or ten
with enthusiasm and sparkle
and with no apparent ill effects
moves which metal rails reject

I named the trainscape bleak
and it is, as much as can be seen
on the nearby eastern shore
from seats on a rigid metal car
swaying and lurching as it tries
to follow Hudson’s antic trail

Halfway up the hillside, sad houses
painted or faded to mute earth tones
back yards furnished with car parts
old appliances and broken toys
brave doomed gardens invaded
by mulberry willow and hemlock

Everything nearby in light
reflected from brown earth
and hillsides and filtered
through the dirty train windows
is brown, but across the river
intermittent bursts of color

Blue tarpaulins on boats in a marina,
yellow brick church halfway up a hill,
scarlet shingle roof lavished
on a vast Baroque structure
private school, retreat center
or home of a tasteless billionaire

Such sumptuous living is rare
sad houses easy to see on this side
must have peers on both sides
but West, across the river
here and there quite wide
distance is a reducing lens

At this distance you can see only
large white houses on ample lots
furnished with small vague items
pale gray and tan stone buildings
set high on the tops of hills
or promontories, expensive land

weed trees long since excised
leaving behind in casual array
or still more careful disarray
a select few maples and oaks
and a sycamore stately enough
to justify its own survival

Farther south hills to the west
beyond this valley rise in duochrome
Murky green gray near at hand
above a million white caplets
flicking on the river surface
then brown bank winter earth

Beyond brown flat lands
those slowly rising hills
still streaked with snow
erotically swirled, folded
creased and rounded
lie open to the morning sun

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Well, why not?

Is literature confined to novels and plays? To the kind of poetry college English majors have to trudge through?

It is not. And here now, a major acknowledgment.

For a detailed study of the reasons Dylan won, you might check out an op-ed from The New York Times three years ago, one which argued then that Dylan should get the prize.

For me, this is also one big step — and perhaps the Nobel people had it in mind — toward compensating the world of logic, decency and good sense for that grotesque Peace Prize of 1973 which went to Henry Kissinger.

In fact, when I heard the bulletin that Dylan had won, my first thought was, can’t be, this year’s Peace Prize has already been awarded.

I think Dylan could have got that one too.