29 September 2009

Counterpoint of Composition

I was going to write a lovely post on static vs. fluid arts, but I find I haven't made the time. So instead, here are some of Northrop Frye's thoughts on the topic:

"Some arts move in time, like music; others are presented in space, like painting. In both cases the organizing principle is recurrence, which is called rhythm when it is temporal and pattern when it is spatial. Thus we speak of the rhythm of music and the pattern of painting; but later, to show off our sophistication, we may begin to speak of the rhythm of painting and the pattern of music. In other words, all arts may be conceived both temporally and spatially. The score of a musical composition may be studied all at once; a picture may be seen as the track of an intricate dance of the eye. Literature seems to be intermediate between music and painting: its words form rhythms which approach a musical sequence of sounds at one of its boundaries, and form patters which approach the hieroglyphic or pictorial image at the other. The attempts to get as near to these boundaries as possible form the main body of what is called experimental writing. We may call the rhythm of literature the narrative, and the pattern, the simultaneous mental grasp of the verbal structure, the meaning or significance. We hear or listen to a narrative, but when we grasp a writer's total pattern we "see" what he means..... Narrative and meaning thus become respectively, to borrow musical terms, the melodic and harmonic contexts of the imagery.

--Northrop Frye, The Archetypes of Literature.

23 September 2009

The Making of Meaning

I just read a really stimulating article by Stanley Fish. It does not appear to be available in its entirety online, but here are selections. You might want to skim those to get the gist of his Reader-Response approach to theory before reading my response (!) below.

This essay evoked in me a very powerful visceral and cognitive response. It is delightful, scintillating, virtuousic, brilliant—and absolutely infuriating. Fish is an extremely clever writer who knows how to play with language, manipulating it to create layers of simplicity and complexity to suit his whim. Yet although the tone is whimsical, the purpose is deadly serious: this is a logical, syllogistic apologetic for his critical approach. While it is initially persuasive, it is full of holes—and it’s tons of fun to stick one’s metaphorical fingers into these rents and tear them open.

Here’s the first hole. That student, the one who approached his colleague with the question about a text: surely she was joking? Surely she was being coy, presenting a question that she knew would have one meaning in the assumed context, just for the fun of being able to play with the professor’s mind for a moment with the delicious words, “No, no, I mean…”? Surely she knew exactly what she was doing, and presented the ambiguity purposefully?

And that, I believe, is the biggest fissure to catch Fish. He says, “Sentences emerge only in situations.” Assuredly. But the situation is not the room full of readers or the mind of the reader: the poem is the situation. The poet’s skill, experience, craft, and historical context guide the structure of the situation and therefore DETERMINE THE RECEPTION. Meaning is located not in the reader’s context, but in the author’s.

For example. If I speak the word “Batter,” with no explanation or further context, a whole host of associations will determine whether you take it as a culinary noun or an aggressive verb. If, say, you are a literature professor and you happen to know that I just gave a presentation last week centered on Donne’s poem, it is likely that you will take it as the latter. Fine. But in the poem, there are no two ways about it. There is no cookie dough in his sonnet. It is authors, not readers, who determine meanings.

Certainly, various readers will come up with various readings. But many readings are dead wrong. If, as Fish claims, meanings are the products of circumstances, well, a poem is a carefully crafted circumstance designed to convey its singular, determinate (or intentionally ambiguous or multiple) meaning(s). Fish chooses words, phrases, and sentences (from his eponymous query to Hirsch’s 'crisp air') and wrenches them out of context in order to give them his own variety of selective, various contexts: the whole poem is the utterance! Why extract sound bites in order to prove that they could mean different things given different frameworks? We all knew that.

He also omits any discussion of new utterances, neologisms, or the intentional ambiguities I mentioned above. A contemporary poet might use “batter” in both its meanings—or “wrench,” or “tool,” as in this poem by William Aarnes. If the poet acknowledges several (I won’t say infinite) meanings of a word and s/he invokes them all, where does that leave the reader? The reader does not then create meaning. At most s/he can choose among the meanings and discard others; which detracts from the poem rather than enhancing or fully appreciating it. There are bad readings. And what of new, nonsense, or purposefully defamiliarized utterances? What can we make of “ ‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimbel in the wabe” without a serious gloss, in this context? It conveys no meaning to the reader’s mind without assistance. Once the research has been performed, however, it might convey one particular reading. The author (perhaps tongue in cheek) himself translated it into “It was evening, and the smooth active badgers were scratching and boring holes in the hill-side; all unhappy were the parrots; and the grave turtles squeaked out” ( 23 September 2009>source). I grant that perhaps Carroll/Dodgson was playing with readers here: but his game was in fooling with language to allow ambiguity; again, the multiplicity is located in the author, not in the reader.

This leads to my last big gripe with Fish. (Oo, couldn’t “gripe” be a verb there?) He claims that there is no pause, no dead space, between experiencing language and comprehending it. We could, he says, miscomprehend, but we never simply uncomprehend. I strongly disagree. I have most distinctly experienced a “two-stage procedure in which a reader or hearer first scrutinized an utterance and then gives it a meaning.” I know this happens to my students: I will read them a poem, and they will respond with a blank, “Huh?” Then I will walk them through definitions, historical relevancies, author biography, literary device, and BOOM, the poem leaps into meaning. A meaning, if a complex one.

I have experienced this myself: I will read a dense text and it will, on a first reading, convey no meaning whatsoever to my mind. There is, very plainly, almost tactilely, a mental fog where a comprehension of the text belongs. This is not merely a symptom of exhaustion or illness; it is the first stage, the necessary if painful first step towards comprehension of the text’s intended communication. If it is a complex but not particularly obscure text, the meaning will begin to take shape in my mind on a second reading. If it is more difficult, on a third. If significant patches of mental fog remain after an attentive third reading, I know the time has come for the dictionary, the scholarly gloss, the research into the author’s life and times, the search for allusion, etc.

An example might help here. I’m working on the poetry of Charles Williams, which is dense and packed with obscure allusions to both the work of previous poets and to his own idiomatic, symbolic system of theology. When I first approached some of his lines, they meant nothing to me. Here is a quote from “The Calling of Taliessin”:
The cone’s shadow of earth fell into space,
and into (other than space), the third heaven.
In the third heaven are the living unriven truths,
climax tranquil in Venus.

When I first encountered those lines (I think it was a Sunday afternoon in Blackwell’s or another bookstore café in Oxford; days of bliss), I had no idea what they meant. They conveyed no sense to my brain. I suppose I had a confused image of a shadow and of Venus. On a second reading, I could connect “the third heaven” with the sphere of Venus in the Ptolemaic system. Then I resorted to some scholars, who explained that Williams has earth’s cone-shaped shadow touch Venus in order to show how fertile Nature imprints her form upon receptive matter. Well. This gives me a Platonic sense, which aids in deciphering “the living unriven truths.” I could go on, but I hope the idea is clear. There was a moment when the text had no meaning. Soon after, it had only vague, unassociated images. Then it had snippets of unconnected meaning. It still does not convey one holistic sense, and that is due to my failure in research, not to Williams’s failure as a poet or to the indeterminate nature of language. Williams knew exactly what he was doing. And if I keep studying, I will know exactly what he was doing. Taking those lines in context helps: and the poem, Williams’ oeuvre, the body of Arthurian legend to which he was responding, and his historical times are the context. I am not the context.

22 September 2009

More on television and film

This was started as a comment on Admonit's post "Turn On Your Television," but I realized it was becoming long enough it deserved to be its own post, so I promoted it.

I have never owned a TV myself. I've always prided myself in that fact. I had a button (distributed by my undergraduate university's bookstore) which had a picture of a TV surrounded by a circle with a slash through it and the words "Read instead."

We did watch some TV as kids, but my parents restricted us to an hour a day, only during the time between school and dinner. And we could never eat in front of the TV. When we watched, we were concentrating on the show. (I do remember one special occasion when they let us all, as a family, eat dinner on my parents' bed -- which is where the TV viewing space was in our house -- because it was a Christmas special or something.)

I used to hate it when I'd go over to someone's house and their TV was on as background noise throughout our visit. It made me feel unappreciated. There was something else competing for my host's attention with me. Even if she had learned to tune out the TV noise and focus just on her company, the noise was distracting to me and bothered me.

I'm like you, Sorina. When I do happen to sit in front of a TV for any reason (e.g., at the health club during the first Gulf War), I can easily get sucked in. For a few years I was making a point of trying to watch one episode each of several of the shows that were big at the time: E.R., Melrose Place, Survivor (the first season), Frasier, Desperate Housewives, one of the many cop/crime ones. Can't remember what else. I wanted to stay somewhat educated about popular culture. But it appalled me how easily I was gripped by Survivor; I wanted to know what would happen in the next episode. This was after I'd been ridiculing the show based on what I'd heard of it. I mean, what a stupid concept: reality TV. Who would want to watch real people interacting with each other? That's what your own real life is for! Get a life! But surprisingly, I found the format compelling, and could easily have seen myself getting hooked for the whole season if I'd had a TV. I was disappointed with myself, but glad I had that safety valve in place.

Now several years later, I'm still adamant about never getting a TV. I watch films on my laptop computer -- now with a big projection screen and digital projector which I bought. But the creep towards a unified system of computer-Internet-TV-DVD player-recording device has meant that I get to see "TV" clips quite often, either on news websites or YouTube. I've taken to watching entire archived episodes of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and "The Colbert Report" for an occasional dose of laughter and astute political analysis. (NB: The Daily Show just won an Emmy for best variety, music or comedy series.)

So I've relaxed on my principles a bit, I guess. I'm not sure how I feel about that. I don't sit there for hours watching TV with commercials in it, so I guess that's a benefit. But I did see this one commercial today (passed around on Facebook) which is amazing: clever, funny, poignant, and great short filmmaking:

Don't read further in my comments until you've watched it twice.


OK, you can read on now.


Did you get that this guy is the Wind? I had to watch it a second time to get it, and a third time to realize that all those things he did which alienated people were things the wind normally does. Notice how none of the people got angry at him (people don't get angry at the wind), they just ignored him and went on their way.

It's brilliant that the actor they chose is apparently someone who suffers from acromegaly. Those are people who are often not accepted in society because they are large and ungainly and ugly. Thus, the giant having a hard time making friends represents the wind, which is not appreciated for being just itself, until someone recognizes its potential. A wonderfully creative story. Advertising has come a long way since the days of "ring-around-the-collar" and Mr. Whipple!

Here's more about the piece. It's called "Power of Wind" and it "garnered a Cannes Gold Lion [in 2007] and was one of the main contenders for the Grand Prix, and [last] year again [rose] to the top of the heap to earn a 2008 Creativity Award." (this quote is from which tells more about the production). I've been trying to find out the name of the actor, because he looks familiar to me, but with no luck. Someone pointed out that the actor was very gusty to take on that role! :-)

Back to watching films at home vs. in the theatre: I prefer the latter, too, when it's possible. But so much of what's being made these days is schlock that I don't want to see. There are probably enough decent movies each year to keep me getting out to the cinema once a month if I made time for it, but I don't. However there is such an abundance of great classic films in the archives (Netflix, or the Vancouver-based Videomatica which I joined instead since Netflix doesn't operate in Canada) that it'd be a shame not to educate myself on the history of film. Most good films today owe a great deal to films of the past and pay conscious homage to great directors of yesteryear. So if you know the films they are referring to, you'll get that much more out of the current ones. It's just like with literature. In order to be a good reader, you have to know good books, and in order to enjoy and understand good books, you have to be a good reader. It takes a while to enter into this cycle. A while of stumbling and bumbling around not really knowing what you're doing. (I remember in high school being hopelessly frustrated in English class, positive I'd never be able to figure out what a book's theme was, as if it were some hidden mystery that only the author knew and he'd hidden it in there, and there was only one right answer, and I was always wrong when I tried to guess what it was for a school assignment.) But if you press on, it's well worth the time investment. So it is with film.

Since I bought my large projection screen for home, watching films in my family room has been a pleasure! I opted for an Elite ez-Cinema 72in 4:3 Portable Pull Up Screen. It's easy to use, light, excellent quality, and a good value for the money (about $250). I can have friends over now for movie night (still need to find time to start planning those regularly).

I agree with your comments on media overload. Sometimes less is more. But as long as I'm not feeling the overwhelm yet, I keep trying to absorb more because there are so many more great books I want to read and films I want to see. I've nearly stopped listening to music altogether, which makes me sad. I just don't like listening to music as background to something else, and I'm usually not willing to take time to sit and just listen to music. The one exception is doing house cleaning, which I do so seldom that it's pitiful.

a little more on Plato

I know there's been a lot on this blog in the past about Plato's metaphysics and their implications for the arts. But I'm taking a class now in which we read snippets of Plato and Aristotle and wrote a tiny response. So, here's my response, to remind us of the ongoing struggle between the earthly and the divine -- and th pressure both put on the poet.

Response to selections from Plato & Aristotle

Plato and Aristotle, two foundational philosophers in the history of “Western” thought, are a bit of an odd couple. Their minds work similarly, by means of investigation and logical progression, but their assumptions, conclusions, and practical applications are extremely dissimilar. I find this comparison/contrast fascinating, because I am (in theory) a Neoplatonist, but resonate more sympathetically with Aristotle’s literary conclusions.

The introduction to our reading selection from Aristotle’s Poetics gives a convenient comparison between this writer and his teacher, which I paraphrase here.

considers poetry in comparison to forms/ideals
thinks art is propaganda
says that poets are skillful LIARS
thinks analogically
considers poetry as a general category
stresses the similarities among all arts
focuses on content/subject matter
all art is COPYING
writes poetically, eloquently, dramatically

considers poetry itself
thinks art is…art
says poets are SKILLFUL liars
thinks analytically
considers generic categories
stresses the differences between works of art
focuses on artistic form
all art is CREATING
writes dryly, technically

To this list I add some observations of my own.

likes, but condemns, Homer
wants to dry up emotions
considers art in the ideal world
poets have no access to the Good
relevant only for philosophers and great men

praises Homer as a great example
wants to evoke fear and pity
considers art in the real world
poets communicate Universal Goodness
relevant for everybody

It might not be an exaggeration to summarize these differences thus: Aristotle is actually interested in poetry (he loves the gritty metrical details of it, the rhythm and swing and sway of it); Plato is not (he looks beyond it, with a vague look of distraction in his eyes, to the shapeless invisible Forms in the eternal world). Plato, of course, banishes almost all art from his Republic. But then, he does feel great regret over this action, and gives poetry a chance to defend herself. And Aristotle does rather analyze poor poetry to death, dissecting it, sorting the severed limbs into neat little piles and labeling with a Sharpie in clear, stubby capitals. So this dichotomy is not, perhaps, as neat as I might like it to be.

Which makes sense, given my own artistic and theological struggles. I’ve written a lot about the pleasures and pains of my own Platonism. I’ve rejoiced in how it provides artistic motivation—always striving to express the true Form, knowing that all failure here is only a weak copy of some success in the other world, longing for the multi-dimensional reality that will be that much more beautiful than even this achingly lovely terrestrial existence. I’ve been relieved to find how it helps make theological sense of suffering and imperfection by the promise of the Ideal, Incarnate, finally ruling in a complete kingdom without spatial or temporal boundaries. Indeed, that’s how I’ve reworked Platonism to fill in some of the holes in the Allegory of the Cave etc.: by reinterpreting the Realm of Pure Forms into (now) the Mind of God and (future) the final Kingdom of God (heaven/new earth). This is all very C. S. Lewisian, of course, and Charles Williamsian. No wonder: I was raised on the Inklings as well as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. They were my baby food, my childhood meats, my mature sweet wine of the soul.

But then there’s the other side: the terrible body-soul dichotomy that arose throughout Christendom as a result of widespread misapplication of Hellenization. If the body is only a copy of an Ideal one, and a poor sickly shadowy copy at that, and (furthermore) if the “flesh” is the residence of sin, then the body must be the house of evil. Hence all kinds of abuses in the historical Church, both of oneself and of others.

And this has artistic consequences, too. The simplest to relate came up in a workshop just a month ago. My fellow poets chided me thus: “Nothing ever actually happens in your poems. It’s always going to happen, or speculation about what might happen, or what could or should, but it’s never actually happening in the poem. You never feel or experience anything in the poem itself.” Indeed. That is the problem. But I suffer from an overdose of Plato, which Yoda expressed so well: “Never his [/her]mind on where [s]he is, what [s]he is doing.” Precisely. This is the result of Plato’s moratorium on creation, his denial of true invention.

So Aristotle is kind of a breath of fresh air, for all my love of the Ideal. Even though he is dry enough to put anybody to sleep at any time of day (hurrah! a cure for insomnia!), he’s kind of bracing compared to Plato. There’s something there to chew on. Lots of nice earthy, solid, papery examples to analyze. I tried last night to write a poem in which something actually happened and in which the narrative persona actually felt something. It ended up being mostly a list of anatomical terms for the physical sensations of climbing a mountain. But maybe that’s a start. At least my narrator made it to the top of the mountain. If the mountain was really there!

21 September 2009

Turn on your television

(for only certain, specific shows)

The lady who lives in the apartment below mine turns on her television everyday at 7:00 a.m. and turns it off at 11:00 p.m. She is hard of hearing, so the volume is very high for the entirety of those 16 hours. Now, this is usually not a problem for me, because I generally have music playing. In the hiatus between two pieces of music, or the switch from the radio to iTunes, however, I can tell what show she’s watching and sometimes even pick out bits of the conversation. There’s one commercial that employs the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, which plays at least once every commercial break.

Now, this is not going to be a tirade against my neighbor (she’s elderly and lives alone; I imagine the TV is just a substitute for companions, a noise to block the terrors of solitude). Instead, I want to talk about the negative artistic effect of too much of one medium. I want to discuss how watching TV all day, listening to the same radio station all the time, playing your iTunes library on shuffle indiscriminately, and so on, can deaden our sensory and intellectual experience of art.

Let’s start with the TV example. I was brought up completely without television; we rented videos occasionally. I still don’t have TV. We have rabbit ears; we bought a converter box, but we don’t have it set up right now. Even with it, we only get one PBS station, two local Christian channels, and two Spanish broadcasts. So, I never watch TV. We rent movies, and it’s a special treat. So, here’s what happens to my senses. I am completely and totally distracted by television. When there’s one playing in a room anywhere (doctor’s office, friend’s house, electronics section of Walmart [dozens of huge ones! All playing the same film clips, over and over!]), I am mesmerized. I can’t pay attention to what anybody says, if the TV’s on. Now, although this can have negative affects on, say, my shopping or my social life, from an artistic point of view I think it’s a good thing. I am still sensitively aware of the art form of the television. I critique cinematography; I listen to the musical score; I analyze the screenplay; I am drawn into the lives of the characters and can’t bear to be torn away from even the most trite drama. That’s really, in a sense, one reason I don’t watch television; from the little I see, it’s not great quality. It’s basically the visual equivalent of the cheap-paperback-romance-novel. So I watch movies, selectively, rarely, and enjoy them as a beautiful, extravagant indulgence in art as well as entertainment. I would love recommendations here of films whose artistic value far surpasses that of the sloppy chick-flick forgettable series knock-off.

I’m sure if I watched more—movies or television—I would become inured. Immune to the magical spell of the screen. I don’t watch anything on a tiny screen (iPod, etc.); that takes away the awe of immersion. I love the big screen, and try to plan ahead to see anything important in the theatre. The darkness, the size of the image, and the power of surround sound enhance what is still a powerful experience for my emotions and my mind.

This is one reason I encourage my students not to listen to music or to have the TV on while they’re studying. Not necessarily because it detracts from the quality of their studies—which it might—but because it detracts from full enjoyment of the music or the TV show. One of my sisters always sews while watching TV; I can’t do that! I don’t want to miss a frame.

So then, let’s talk about music. I’m not pleased with what I’ve been doing to music recently. I used to be a selective and intentional about music as I am about films. But for the past few years, ever since I got my iPod, I’ve been less and less thoughtful. Now I generally just pull up iTunes and let it shuffle through everything I’ve got. This makes for some funny juxtapositions; Arabic pop gives way to a movement from a Beethoven sonata, which fades into a U2 song, then Glenn Gould playing his austere and precise Bach sinfonias, then a piece of Celtic folk music, then a Chopin etude, then a Wagner prelude, then an impressionistic piano composition by one of my former students, then something by Janacek, maybe a track from a Lord of the Rings score, and finally Domingo singing his heart out in a Puccini aria. It’s weird. And my iTunes library is small enough I’ve listened to every number dozens of times. The result is that I don’t actually listen to anything anymore. It’s all blurred together. The sharp distinctions between those genres and pieces I listed above have faded. New recordings temporarily revive my listening attention (have you heard the new U2 CD, “No Line on the Horizon” yet? It’s great). But it isn’t too many times through before it jumbles into the old stuff and loses its edge. I rarely listen to a piece of Classical music all the way through, movements in order, focusing on its architecture and structural development. I’m working to correct this: last week I loaded only Mahler symphonies (and podcasts, but that’s a different story) on my iPod, and listed intentionally to numbers 1 and 2 while working on Charles Williams research in a quiet library. Tomorrow, it will be symphony #4 (I don’t have #3; I guess I should purchase it right away). The point here is that I believe one should be thoughtful and intentional about music consumption, just as one should be limited and selective in film/TV watching.

The same can be true of the [static] visual arts, but is not usually a problem for us middle-class Americans. Have you experienced sensory overload in an art museum? There comes a point that you just can’t look at one more sculpture, no matter how sensuously pure and thrilling, nor one more painting, no matter how lush or verdant or celestial. Your eyes just get dazzled, your mind cluttered with images. This is rarely a problem at home: who has an art gallery in their hallways anymore? Having just one great work of art on the walls, though; hum. Does that create insensibility to the work, or greater sensitivity to its complex charms? I have two lovely paintings on my walls: “The Artist's Honeymoon” and “Windflower”. You know, I never stop to really look at them. I will try to be intentional about that, soon, too.

In the words of Susan Sontag, “We must learn to seemore, to hear more, to feel more”—by looking at less, listening to less, and touching less, or fewer, works, in order to see, hear, and feel BETTER.

I saw the PA Shakespeare Festival's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream three times this summer!!! It was fantastic, unforgettable -- but seeing it three times did dull the sharp tang a bit. Twice would have been perfect.

So, tomorrow, chose one piece of music to listen to straight through, uninterrupted, and one poem to read out load three times. Find a quiet room. And see what happens! Let me know.

18 September 2009

The Aural Aesthetic

Today I read, in my French textbook, this lovely little poem by Paul Verlaine. I apologize to any French readers/speakers for the lack of accents in this transcription.

Il pleure dans mon coeur

Il pleure dans mon coeur
Comme il pleut sur la ville,
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui penetre mon ceour?

O bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un coeur qui s'ennuie
O le chant de la pluie!

Il pleure sans raison
Dans ce coeur qui s'ecoeure.
Quoi! nulle trahison?
Ce deuil est sans raison.

C'est bien la pire peine
De ne savoir pourquoi,
Sans amour et sans haine,
Mon coeur a tant de peine.

Now, reading this poetry brought to mind some old questions about the nature of art, in response to the lovely sounds of the words. I found I was compelled to read it out loud to myself, enjoying the many rhymes, assonances, and consonances. My simple, sensory pleasure at the sounds was enhanced by my elementary comprehension of French. I am able to translate this poem, with a little dictionary help, but my first response is to the sounds, not the sense. And that distance, that primal response driven by the ear and not the mind, gives me a fresh perspective on poetry.

This reminds me of the first poetry writing workshop I ever took, to which (on the first or second day) we were each asked to bring in and read a favorite poem. I read Hopkins' "Windhover," a poem packed with auditory pleasures. The teacher asked each of us why we had chosen that particular poem, what we liked about it. I was in the throes of just learning to really read and understand poetry, and I could not have accurately paraphrased every phrase of that dense work with precision. I said, "I just love the sounds. Even when I'm not sure exactly 'what it means,' it moves me as a piece of music does. I believe I would love this poem just as much if I didn't know English." And now, here I am barely knowing French, and being musically moved by the sounds of these verses.

I do not have the knowledge to make a literary critique of the Verlaine poem. For all I know, it might be bad poetry. It kind of strikes me that way -- very simple, rather cliched, kind of emo. But my ignorance holds me at a distance, to the point that the individual dots (like those in a Monet) blur and render the entirety that much more beautiful.

I will probably always participate in some way or other in the debates about "What is art?" and "How do we measure artistic quality?" Those debates are valid, perennial, and important. But tonight I was reminded that simple pleasure is one measure of artistic quality. And pleasure of the ear is as important as pleasure of the mind.

01 September 2009

September poem of the month

This is the third section of a poem whose first section I posted in July and whose second section I posted as the August poem of the month. There should be one more section forthcoming.

III. A Storm is Coming

Eyes can see a sizable swathe, and the mind can take
spectrum and miscellany, the gamut, with ease. Why then
is the brain astounded and confounded by the diachromatic scheme
of this simple scene? Only the brown of a catastrophe of rock
backed by the pale of a terrible sky. Between annihilation and me
a crumble of granite, pebbles stacked by a laughing titan,
sloping up into exclusion, complete and indifferent.
Give me more complexity!
I cannot stand the stark, the tranquil, horror of it,
nor the endless stretch of bread-sized rocks, piled, mile-high, silent,
wild in a way no beast can be, set as a quest in solidity.

But the spirit can, and the body does. It sets its teeth
and its feet, in all their acrophobia, for the heights.
This is virtue, or something palpable that deeds
of less tactile goodness can only adumbrate. There is no afterlife
for embodied acts of topographic goodness:
defy gravity, encounter vertigo, drown paranoia in sweat, strain tendons
past the point of hesitation, bend knees to climb, and the act lives on.
Eternally. The immaterial self, inseparable from plain materiality,
takes each step and knows each strain, and all is paid
in performing. No double recompense.
The aching thighs, the listening for an avalanche, the thinner air
clearing the fog inside and out the skull, the alert tension
in pectorals abs and calves, the Achilles taut and strong:
all delight in terror and tread down the fear.

Whatever the spirit does, does something to the flesh.
This touchable meat of me and the glorious intangibility
both suffered and endured: both ache as the summit nears,
and both will be stiff with victory tomorrow.
The mind fought panic, the body fought shakes;
the mind won over fear of heights, the body won
from fear of heights. I see no separation, no divide.
No Purgatory: all is purged.