Black beauty, which above that common light, — , Sonnet of Black Beauty
Whose power can no colors here renew
But those which darkness can again subdue,
Do’st still remain unvary’d to the sight.
And like an object equal to the view,
Art neither chang’d with day, nor hid with night;
When all these colors which the world call bright,
And which old poetry doth so pursue,
Are with the night too perishéd and gone,
That of their being there remains no mark,
Thou still abidest so entirely one,
That we may know thy blackness is a spark
Of light inaccessible, and alone
Our darkness which can make us think it dark.
Herman Melville read and studied the poetry of the great romantics. And so he likely had read, at least once, John Keats’s sonnet, “When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be.”
When I have fears that I may cease to be
Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain,
Before high piled books, in charact’ry,
Hold like rich garners the full-ripen’d grain;
When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,
Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And feel that I may never live to trace
Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour!
That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
Of unreflecting love;—then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
Compare Keats’s sonnet with these lines of verse that conclude Melville’s prose-and-verse piece, “Rip Van Winkle’s Lilac.” Keats, young; Melville, elderly; both writing in verse to express their hope for posthumous literary fame and glory. Neither knew wide-spread fame while alive, but because of the few friends and family who did understand and appreciate their work, they each flourished creatively.
That neighbors, unconcerned before
When bloomed the tree by lowly door,
Craved now one little slip to train;
Neighbor from neighbor begged again.
On every hand stem shot from slip,
Till, that region now is dowered
Like the first Paradise embowered,
Thanks to poor, good-for-nothing Rip!
Some think those parts should bear his name;
But, no, — the blossoms take the fame.
Slant finger-posts by horsemen scanned
Point the green miles–To Lilac Land.
Go ride-there down one charmful lane,
O reader mine, when June’s at best,
A dream of Rip shall slack the rein,
For there his heart flowers out confessed.
And there you’ll say,–O, hard ones, truce!
See, where man finds in man no use,
Boon Nature finds one–Heaven be blest!
What a movie! See it while it is still in theaters. Daniel Day-Lewis brings Lincoln to life – he was born to play the part. Sally Fields, Hal Holbrook, Tommy Lee Jones – and, of course, Director Spielberg, how many Academy Awards can one movie get? I think Tony Kushner will be remembered as much for the “Lincoln” screenplay as his wonderful, powerful screenplay for “Angels in America.”
A roller coaster ride for your mind — have a look at this documentary, “Dangerous Knowledge,” on the work of Georg Cantor, Kurt Gödel, and Alan Turing. YouTube changes its offerings for all sorts of reasons, so you might need search a bit if this video link goes bad. At one point, the narrator uses a most memorable phrase to characterize what it is to be “modern”— I can only paraphrase:
The vertigo of the modern: the whirlpool of thinking about thinking about thinking about thinking . . .
This morning I found myself remembering the early 1960′s when I used to listen to Ken Nordine on AM radio while doing homework. He was the first poet I ever heard perform and to this day I have never heard anyone deliver lines of verse better. I have been to many poetry readings, most readers have a strange, stilted, stiff, and stylized delivery that has little to do with the meaning of the words. I’m sure you know what I mean. Most singers—folk and country especially—render their lyrics with rhythms, pitch, tone, and inflection that express so much more faithfully the meaning of the lines they perform. Ken Nordine is unique in that while he does not sing his lines, the manner in which he speaks them is essentially musical–spoken song, or as he calls it, “word jazz.”
Podcasts of many of his performances and shows are available at his Word Jazz website: http://www.wordjazz.com
If you have not yet had the pleasure of hearing Ken Nordine — please, treat yourself, have a listen to his “Infinite O’Clock.”