Friday, December 24, 2010

retail, Pericles, peace

Posted by Picasa Thisangel which I photographed in a fashion shop  called Wunderkind in Mount Street, London, apparently took an entire night to construct from units of  origami put together with the help of a strip of tracing paper 50 meters long. It seems a suitable image with which to wish all those, in no particular order - Clare Grant, Barrett Bonden, Marja- Lena, Martha The Crow,  Lucy, Lucas, cc, Dave Bonta, David King -  who visit this site quietly or with comments, occasional or frequent, a Christmas joyful but mindful of doubt and disfavour, peaceful but true to the harshness of the world in which we live. Cheers, be merry and think carefully about this moment and the next.

About four years ago I began to read Shakespeare's play Pericles in the Arden edition. I read the plays when I was travelling on the train and the occasional aeroplane  and I was about half way through the entire canon and making good progress. When I stopped it was because this blog quickly became a full time job in the sense that I could no longer travel anywhere without keeping eyes and ears obsessively open for "beautiful things"  to report. So Pericles, my travelling companion,  came to be neglected. Until the other day that is, when  I responded to a poem on Dave Bonta's website Via Negativa, by quoting the opening lines of Eliot's poem Marina, where I detected a distinct though unintentional echo. Dave's response took the form of a link, to a full length post on the Eliot poem. It told me,among many other things, that the Eliot poem is about Pericles' daughter of the same name, who, believed drowned at sea, is restored to her father at the end of the play. What else could I do? It was back to Pericles, which I finished in a few hours, and enjoyed all the more for knowing its provenance. The poem begins with the magic lines:
What seas what shores what grey rocks and what island
What water lapping the bow
And scent of pine and woodthrush singing though the fog
What images return
O my daughter.

The best of many things about Christmas is the Christmas story and the message behind it.  I have come to accept that  the story has a reality and a truth of its own derived from the peoples and cultures which have adopted and embellished it over the years. But I cannot believe, and never did, that the details as recounted in the gospels have much  if any historical truth. This morning I go over the opening chapters of Matthew and Luke to refresh my memory and the magnificent words of the King James bible lift my heart as they always do.  "Fear not: for, behold, I bring you tidings of great joy, which shall be to all the people."  Then, " "Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men."  Word so familiar that they barely need repeating , except that copying them here is a pleasure in itself. For hope and aspiration, you can't do much better than that. And though  a voice in your ear says, " that is impossible to attain", you know that  impossible though  it may be, what we are talking about is art,  and all art strains toward the impossible. As does scinece towards the unknowable.  And it is the tension of the process that makes it sublime. "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, Or what's a heaven for?

Compasses (see right)  has a new poem by Lucy Kempton. posted just now. It replies to the question, "How then should we live in the space there is?"   I love it for its music and the pictures it brings of the countryside where Lucy lives.


CC said...

Wishing you and yours a joyful Christmas.
And thank you, Joe, for the pleasure your blogging efforts bring. Always something to amuse and/or ponder.

Lucy said...

Three excellently beautiful things indeed for the season. The lines from 'Marina' make my eyes sting.

Love and best wishes, and much gratitude, to you and yours. Happy Christmas, Plutarch.

Dave said...

Merry Christmas to you, too. I think one of the things I like about the Christmas story is the sense that ordinary people (shapherds) are the ones most likely to receive an epiphany -- and that kings and tax collectors aren't to be trusted.

Roderick Robinson said...

It's six on Christmas Day morning and having over-eaten the night before I needed to adopt a rather more vertical position to aid the process of digestion. But that wasn't the only indulgence last night. First Simon Russell Beale on a review of sacred music from the original papyrus to modern-day Rutter(accom: Taittinger NVT), then examples of that progress by Harry Christophers and The Sixteen, then a civilised interview of SRB by Mark Lawson on how to act (accom: a bottle of white Beaune).

You talked earlier about structures created by believers that might be appreciated by non-believers and here was one such example. Because faith, by definition, cannot be proved through logic I remain in control when presented with the arguments. But faith and the appreciation of music are both inexplicable and when they are combined the music-loving non-believer finds himself drawn into one mystical experience while contemplating the possibilities of the other.

Post-Reformation the emphasis on shared singing in churches was played down ("No new hymns were written under Cromwell.") and I can't help thinking what a short-sighted policy this was. Unless the church - any church - believes there is only one way God can be approached, then a slightly sneaky combination of sincere music and the more poetical passages of KJV represents persuasion of a far more tempting kind than somewhat arid discussion on, say, original sin.

Had you read those passages with the unselfconsciously professional Sixteen, a capella in the background, probably uttering the self-same words, you might have thought that things could get better and had just done so. I hope this doesn't sound too glib.

However, since your post is, as it were, providing a text for this impromptu secular sermon, I can turn from the above to Eliot and detect a tinge of irony. In this sense: Eliot the high Anglican, without recourse to mysticism (other than that provided by the act of reading poetry as poetry) makes a direct appeal to an emotion we can all recognise as purely human. The relief we feel, as parents, when a child is restored. God isn't in sight. There is only this visceral confirmation of our instincts. Human, imperfect and almost out of control, states Eliot captures in the triple use of "what" in one line which briefly suggests a slight fall in poetic invention and then quickly reveals that this deliberate incoherence (I can't think of a better word) echoes the tumult in the parent's mind. Instead of offering us faith, in these few lines at least, we are being shown the profundity of our existence.

And so I have come full circle. Tempted by the Lorelei of an undefinable process I am rescued by something tangible that can be defined, re-read, chewed over, and used for comfort. Music is beyond this, words aren't. It is OK to be simply a human, using the tools provided, occasionally progressing alone, not depending on what the ether may or may not contain. There is no proselytising here, it's up to the individual. In this instance the priests do not attempt to mediate, they lay their works down for scrutiny and there is an implicit invitation to participate.

I am sure there are large holes in all this but perhaps my next effort will be better, more coherent. For that is the nature of the human condition. And thank you for laying down your work and inviting (without insistence, without bribes) participation.

Anonymous said...

Happy Christmas dad, without articulating your thoughts, I had a similar experience, taking the children to a christdingle service, we sang carols in a darkened church while the children held up candles and walked home through the Dorset snow, an experience that bought cheer and happiness to a family of non believers. Love p x

Unknown said...

Thanks all.

Dave I agree: The King James Bible says "all men". A spoof letter from Mary twi years after the birth, in which she "catches up with Miriam," who assisted in the manger, refers to the visitors including the sheperds; "...and didn't they smell!" But that's the point "all men".

BB You were up half an hour before me. Why does Radio 4 have such good programmes at unearthly hours? I commend Something Understood at 6 am on Sunday mornings and 11.30pm on Sunday evenings. I like the association of faith and music. But I think, thouogh not musical, that I understand music better than faith. Faith in what? I always hope that the sun will rise but I can't be certain. I am not convinced by immaculate conception, but I believe passionatly in the magi and their gifts - francinsence, the bark of a rare tree, that has a wonderful perfume when ignited, myhrre, which is stil valued for its soothing and healing properties and gold, which depsite its adoption by notoriously corruptible capitalists and speculators, is an incorruptible metal

Annonymous daughter. It is always good to hear from you. It warms my heart to know that my grandchildren sang carols and walked through the Dorset snow with candles - an experience which they won't forget. That's a truth I can enjoy and celebrate.

marja-leena said...

Joe, I'm jut catching up with reading after a few days away. I found your last paragraph very moving as I agree about thinking of the Christmas story as art and inspiration. I'm not expressing it well but you have certainly written it beautifully, thank you.

And I love the angel, and your greetings!