On Music – Colin Wilson

from ‘Modern Music – The Problem’ (Part One)

The essence of the ‘Modernist’ controversy was stated in the 1880s by Max Nordau in his book Degeneration; since then it has turned up in various forms, sometimes modestly, as in Haggin’s chapter on modern music in his Musical Companion, sometimes thoroughly aggressively, as in Henry Pleasants’s Death of a Music. As Mr Pleasants’s book is the most recent, I may as well take it as the starting-point.

death of a musicModern music, says Mr Pleasants, has edged itself into a cul-de-sac; it has become intellectualized to an extent where it is meaningless to the general listener. And it may well be that the musical historian of the future will see jazz as the vital musical tradition of the twentieth century. Why do we snobbishly insist that a symphony must be a more important form of music than a Broadway musical, when the musical may be artistically vital and the symphony arid and formal? Is it not time that we faced the decadence of our serious music, and stopped looking down on jazz and popular music?

It is difficult not to feel at least some partial agreement with Mr Pleasants. The ‘modernists’ argue that all important artworks are ahead of their time, and that Schoenberg, Webern, and Boulez will one day be as acceptable in the concert hall as Bach is today. They may point out that contemporary critics accused Eliot of a kind of deliberate practical joke in offering The Waste Land as poetry, while nowadays any college student can appreciate its emotional force. But, as Mr Pleasants points out, Wozzeck, Pierrot Lunaire, and The Rite of Spring sound as strange today as they did fifty years ago; they have not been assimilated in the same way.

And yet it seems to me that this kind of arguing fails, to some extent, to grasp the essential root of the matter. We cannot argue as if popularity in the concert hall were the only criterion of value. Artistic experience is related in a curious way to the personality of the spectator. One might say that it affords an escape from personality, a broadening of the personality. Men can mature only by allowing themselves natural expression; the emotions have to be taught to flow. The inner being has to be kept in motion. In the same way, a woman might feel that she must have a child if her personality is to find its natural expression. But there is an obvious difference. In becoming a mother, a woman has allowed a certain part of her personality its fullest expression; having a dozen children will not necessarily enlarge it further. But the fulfilment brought about by certain artistic experiences has no clear limitation. A youth may discover that the music of Wagner brings about an inner release, an expansion of his personality; but that is not to say that he will not find still greater release in Schoenberg or Bartók.

schonberg1rWe do not yet know enough about the psychology of personality to know whether it could go on developing indefinitely, or whether it has a certain limit of expansion analogous to the blooming of a flower. The artistic career of such men as Yeats and Gide seems to indicate that there are no true limits. But since it is impossible to know how far a personality is capable of development, it is equally impossible to make rules about whether various forms of art are valid or not. It may be true that Pierrot Lunaire remains an intellectual rather than a musical experience. But then, it is possible to imagine a person for whom its strange sounds create an experience that he could find nowhere else in music.

In short, the point that is generally overlooked in arguments about modern music is the question of the psychology of the kind of people who enjoy it. Both the attackers and defenders write as if music had an absolute value, to which Schoenberg either conforms or does not conform. This is like assuming that everyone who professes to be a Roman Catholic has carefully thought out his beliefs, and weighed them against the claims of Buddhism and Mohammedanism. In fact we know that, ideally speaking, religion and philosophy ought to be concerned only with ‘truth’. And yet we only have to hear a convinced Catholic arguing with a convinced Communist to know that the emotional needs of the personality play an important part in a man’s conception of ‘truth’. The true philosopher is not discouraged by this; he attempts to allow for his emotional prejudices. But the philosopher has the advantage of being able to appeal to the laws of logic. The logic of art is an altogether more difficult matter, since art is essentially an appeal to the personality rather than to the reason.

It must therefore be conceded that for certain people the rarified atmosphere of ‘modern music’ is pleasant to breathe. To some extent, then, modern music is justified. But it might be contended that previous revolutions in music – from modal polyphony to diatonic harmony, from classicism to romanticism – were natural evolutions of public taste. Wagner may at first have sounded odd to the admirers of Bellini, but it did not take too long for the general public to find the new music assimilable. Is it ever likely that the general public will follow the admirers of Schoenberg, or come to accept Boulez’s Marteau Sans Maître at a concert, sandwiched between the Beethoven Fifth Symphony and Debussy’s La Mer?

Conceding that the answer is ‘probably not’, might it yet be contended that serial music is the central musical tradition of the twentieth century, whether the public accepts it or not? After all, no one denies that the theory of relativity is a natural development in physics, even though the general public does not understand it.

Again, this seems to be missing the point. Music is not eventually judged by how it says things, but by what it says. Beethoven seemed a difficult composer to the general public of his day, and his late quartets are still as ‘difficult’ for the average listener as any Schoenberg; but the manifest importance of what he had to say carried the day. The proof that the public responds to what is being said can be found in Alban Berg, whose only ‘popular’ works are Wozzeck and the Violin Concerto, both clearly driven by a powerful emotion. The Chamber Concerto or the Altenberg Songs say nothing of comparable importance, and are seldom heard.

The emphasis in all the discussions seems to have got misplaced. Composers who have defended their right to compose ‘difficult’ music include Schoenberg, Copland, Roger Sessions, and Hindemith. If any of these men were obviously of the stature of Beethoven, there would be no argument; the works themselves would carry the day.

Where Schoenberg is concerned, the unpopularity is very clearly a matter of content as well as form. The artists of the early nineteenth century tended to be ‘popular’ in that they spoke of unifying emotions, of the brotherhood of man. The late nineteenth century – the era of ‘decadence’ – cultivated a kind of artistic solipsism, and the idea of individualism was sometimes carried to an absurd point of selfishness, as in Lautreamont, who seemed to believe that a man would be justified in murdering a baby if it gave him pleasure. Far from feeling universal brotherhood, the ‘decadent’ poet tended to make no secret of his contempt for his reader, the ‘hypocrite lecteur’. So it was hardly surprising if most readers responded with coolness to the work of these artists. Now Schoenberg, Berg, and Webern most emphatically belong to this tradition. Berg set Baudelaire poems in Der Wein; Schoenberg and Webern both set Stefan George. The strange, solipsistic world of decadence is always present in Schoenberg’s music. In the Gurrielieder, Verklärte Nacht, Pelléas and Mélisande, the First Chamber Symphony, and the First String Quartet, it is open and undisguised. It is still obviously present in the choice of text of the George songs (op. 15), Pierrot Lunaire, Erwartung, Die Glückliche Hand, and Herzgewächse. An unkind listener might still detect it in the over-dramatized self-pity of the Survivor from Warsaw (which has always seemed to me Schoenberg’s one total artistic flop). Schoenberg’s admirers claim that Moses and Aaron reveals a greater Schoenberg, preoccupied with the universal issues of man and God; but again, one observes that the centre of the opera is the dance about the golden calf, and Schoenberg’s text dwells on the lust and violence with an obvious satisfaction that recalls Oscar Wilde. (People eat raw meat, a youth is murdered, four naked virgins are sacrificed, then men strip women and possess them on the altar; Schoenberg spares no details in describing the orgy.)  Moreover, when Schoenberg returned in later life to writing ‘tonal’ works – the Second Chamber Symphony and the Suite for String Orchestra (1936) – they sound as if they had been written thirty years earlier. (The Second Chamber Symphony was, in fact, begun in 1906.) The idiom is still that of Verklärte Nacht. Finally, we have the curious fact that Schoenberg never expressed any kind of dissatisfaction with his earlier music. Most critics have seen in this only evidence of his iron consistency, his recognition that his development had proceeded according to a rigorous musical logic. But when one considers his lifelong failure to escape the romanticism of his youth, it seems equally plausible that his development after 1908 was a technical development only, concealing an inability to develop in a more fundamental sense. The curious rigidity of Schoenberg’s personality, his lack of humour and the unwavering hatred with which he regarded anyone who was even lukewarm towards his music, tends to reinforce this probability.

chamber musicThe comparison with James Joyce affords some interesting parallels. Both began by writing in a naïve and romantic idiom; both showed a curious innocence in their total self-preoccupation. Both suffered a number of early snubs, and developed a formidable intellectualism to cover the over-sensitivity. Joyce also refused to ‘disown’ his early work – the poems Chamber Music (1907) reveal an unexpected strain of Irish sentimentality – and the later Pomes Penyeach show that Joyce was writing exactly the same kind of poetry twenty years later, although the achievement of Ulysses came between the two volumes. Acquaintances who knew Joyce in his later years have all remarked on a certain naïve element in his personality: the childish sense of humour, the constant dwelling on the past, which seemed to indicate that, in a certain way, he never grew up. His stature as an intellectual was considerable, since he had forced it on himself as Shem the Penman in Finnegans Wake shows that he still saw himself in exactly the same light as thirty years earlier , when he wrote Stephen Hero; pride and self-pity are still the leading traits of his character. One might also observe that the sexual perversion and violence that erupt in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake bring to mind the central scene of Moses and Aaron; the same perverted romanticism is apparent.

All this is not intended to minimize the achievement of either Joyce or Schoenberg. The achievement remains; but it must be recognized that it was largely an achievement of will, not the true development of the whole human being that we find, for example, in Beethoven. One must recognize this in order to see the music of Schoenberg in perspective. It is something that one would not realize from reading books about Schoenberg, or listening to the kind of discussion of him that is presented on the Third Programme: for example, a recent (December 1963) discussion of Pierrot Lunaire between Hans Keller and Egon Wellesz that seemed to be based on the assumption that Schoenberg is the only interesting composer of the twentieth century.

The parallel with Joyce raises a further question. Joyce’s influence in literature has been equal to Schoenberg’s in music; and yet, in a certain sense, his work is a dead end. No one can continue it, and one might perhaps be forgiven for suggesting that Joyce himself never really continued the work began with Ulysses. Finnegans Wake is an elaborate game rather than a living work of literature. Joyce’s influence was not fundamental and seminal; no one could say, as Dostoevsky said of Gogol’s Overcoat, that a whole literature came out of it. Joyce’s technical influence is present in Döblin‘s Alexanderplatz, Berlin, in Wolfe’s novels, even in Graham Greene of the 1930s; but only in the most superficial sense.

In the perspective of another half-century, Schoenberg may well be seen in the same light. His language has obviously exercised an enormous influence; but how profound is this influence? Has it, like Gogol’s Overcoat or Schiller’s Robbers, really created a new kind of sensibility, a new ‘world outlook’ that will continue to bear fruit?

For a new language to exercise a genuinely profound influence, it must be an integral part of a new sensibility, a break with old patterns of feeling as well as of expression. The language of Wordsworth and Coleridge was such a breakaway from the sensibility of the age of Pope: hence its seminal influence on the nineteenth century. But, as we have already pointed out, Schoenberg’s ‘feeling’ is a continuation of the ‘feeling’ of Wagner and teuton symbolMahler; he might be regarded as the last fruits of their line of Teutonic romanticism, rather as Delius could be described as the ultimate expression of the French school of musical impressionism. Delius has exercised no influence comparable with Schoenberg’s because his technical procedures had less to offer; but it may well be that, in many other ways, he is Schoenberg’s musical equivalent.

The only way in which the listener can judge this is, of course, by ear. And the difficulty of Schoenberg’s musical language may make it difficult to reach any conclusion. Berg’s musical language is easier to come to terms with. It presents initial difficulties in the more formal works, but the listener can have no difficulty in recognizing the relationship between the Violin Concerto or the D Minor Interlude of Wozzeck and the world of Mahler’s Ninth Symphony. And yet Schoenberg’s language is not so inaccessible, as soon as one has an inkling of what he is ‘saying’. Getting to know Schoenberg’s music is like getting to know a person whose haughty and abrupt manner conceals shyness and a desire to be liked. The listener is advised to begin with the Verklärte Nacht, the two Chamber Symphonies and the 1936 Suite for String Orchestra; after these, the transition to the Violin Concerto and Piano Concerto should prove both interesting and pleasant. The language of the Violin Concerto may seem strange at first, but the opening cadences make it clear that this is a romantic concerto wearing a false moustache. There is none of the harsh feeling of torn silk that one gets from Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto. In fact, Schoenberg’s concerto is in many ways reminiscent of Berg’s, allowing that Berg’s feeling is tragic, while Schoenberg’s is only dreamily romantic, somewhat after the manner of Verklärte Nacht. The Piano Concerto is equally easy to get to know. One critic described it as ‘Brahmsian’, and in fact much of the orchestration has a curiously Brahmsian sound. A great deal of the concerto sounds as if someone had accidentally played a tape of a Brahms concerto backwards.

Part of Schoenberg’s difficulty in finding wider appreciation is undoubtedly due to the excessive claims made for him by admirers who seem determined that admiration for him shall be confined to a small clique. Hence we have Hans Keller writing (on a Schoenberg sleeve note): ‘The sole trouble about Schoenberg is that he is the first composer of supreme greatness who is more talked about than played. This is our age’s fault, not his, and if he is the least played and most talked about, that may only go to show that he is the greatest of them all.’ The uninitiated listener is thus prepared for tremendous messages of Olympian profundity; and if Schoenberg is the ‘greatest of them all’ composers of ‘supreme greatness’, then this profundity must, at the very least, be equal to that of the late Beethoven quartets. These absurdly excessive claims only tend to conceal from the listener the fundamentally simple romanticism of Schoenberg’s music; they seem, in fact, designed to increase its inaccessibility.

schoenberg2Schoenberg has been accused of many things including deliberate faking – musical confidence trickery. But the worst that can fairly be alleged against him is that the complexity of his musical language is not true complexity – the complexity that is the attempt to communicate a complex emotion. (Eliot once made the same point against Milton, citing Henry James as an example of ‘true complexity’.) Moreover, it would be unfair to say that Schoenberg tries to pretend to be profounder than he is. Irritation at the cliché-ridden nature of one’s language is a legitimate reason for trying to change it. The linguistic complexity of Mallarmé, Valéry, Joyce, and Dylan Thomas is of this kind. No one can blame an artist for making what he has to say as interesting as possible. It is true that the greatest artists have never had need to resort to linguistic fireworks for their own sake, and that extreme preoccupation with technique is usually a sign of a certain dilettantism. But it might be said in Schoenberg’s favour that he is a German, and the Germans have a tradition of making heavy weather of self-expression. No one claims Kant or Hegel were fakes because they did not express themselves as clearly as Hume or Descartes.

The other composers who are mentioned in attacks on ‘modern music’ (I continue to write ‘modern music’ in inverted commas, meaning ‘difficult modern music’) are Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Webern. Thirty years ago Bartók was usually mentioned as well, but time has shown that his music has a far wider appeal than that of the others.

webernWebern is the easiest to justify. He is a musical contemplative who never set out to be popular. He practised music with the same mystical devotion that Flaubert and James practised writing. The most essential Webern works are very short, and for small numbers of instruments; it is typical that many should regard the Piano Variations, op. 27, as his masterpiece. One cannot conceive of Webern writing an opera; even the songs (many to Stefan George poems) strike one as ‘impure’ Webern.

He sits above music like a hermit on a mountain-top; or perhaps a better simile would be a great chess player looking down on a chess board. At long intervals he reaches down and makes a single move. Webern reminds us of a line of Yeats:

Like a long-legged fly
His mind walks upon silence.

It is pointless to include a musician like Webern in an attack on modern music, because he seems to have almost no interest in communication: he plays music like a game of patience.

Hindemith is a totally different matter, and the objections raised against him by Constant Lambert in 1933 still hold good today. It is slightly difficult to understand why Hindemith should be regarded as one of the three colossi of modern music (the other two being Schoenberg and Stravinsky) if men like Poulenc, Milhaud, and Honegger are to be regarded (rightly, in my opinion) as minor composers. The sheer quantity of his musical output is impressive; but so is Milhaud’s; he owes much of his reputation to his teaching, but so does Milhaud. One can only assume that his fashionable creed of ‘classicism’ and his German  seriousness recommend him to people who are irritated by Milhaud’s Gallic frivolity.

W. J Turner has an interesting passage about Bach that applies, in many essentials, to Hindemith. ‘Bach had arrived at the point of being able to sit down at any minute of any day and compose what had all the superficial appearance of being a masterpiece. It is possible that even Bach himself did not , and it is abundantly clear to me that in all his large-size works, there are huge chunks of stuff to which inspiration is the last word that one could apply.’ Haggin, who quotes this, goes on to remark that he agrees with it, and that he has also come to find only certain passages ‘moving’.

The word ‘moving’ causes one to pause for reflection. Modern Bach enthusiasts often claim that what they like about Bach is that he is not moving – that he was aiming for something quite different, a kind of mathematical perfection. And it is as well to remember at this point what Constant Lambert said of this idea that emotional and romantic music is a ‘late and decadent excrescence’. ‘Music, far from being abstract, is… naturally emotional… The romantic and emotional nature of music is latent in its origins.’ (Music Ho! Penguin edition.) And elsewhere he points out that ‘classical music has little sense of horror about it, not because classical composers despised such an appeal to the nerves, but because they were unable to achieve it.’ Bach may strike us as unemotional if we have been listening to Wagner; it is doubtful if he saw himself in this light.

paul-hindemith-06Now Hindemith appears to be suffering from the mistaken notion that Lambert exposed in Music Ho! – that there was a time when music was a kind of abstract exercise, meant to appeal to the mind alone. This is the kind of music that he writes. Listening to Hindemith is often like listening to Bach in the sense that there are often long periods in which very little seems to be happening. The consequence is that when Hindemith wishes to be moving and impressive – as in the climactic passage of his opera The Harmony of the World, where the music has to suggest music of the spheres – he has forgotten how, and the result is totally unexpressive.

There seems to be a kind of fallacy in Hindemith’s music. It may be that Lambert is right when he suggests that the whole idea of Gebrauchsmusik (utility music for everyday purposes) is a misunderstanding of the nature of music, since ‘there is no regular demand for musical material as there is for writing material or boxes of matches; there is only a demand for something which creates its own demand – a good piece of music…’ One can see that, in Hindemith’s early days, the unexpressive quality of his music must have contrasted piquantly with the violence or satire of his chosen subjects, as in Murder, Hope of Women, Das Nusch-Nuschi (which has a chorus sung by monkeys), and Cardillac, based on a Hoffmann story about a jeweller who murders his customers because he cannot bear to part with his work. It was this Hindemith who exercised a dubious influence on the young Kurt Weill – dubious because the Hindemithian passages of Mahagonny are the dreariest in the score – and who was regarded as the enfant terrible of his generation. But in the ‘respectable’ later Hindemith there are only occasional flashes of beauty or power to sweeten the pill. Gebrauchsmusik has been translated ‘bread and butter music’, but Hindemith’s later music better deserves to be called ‘bread and water music’! As with Schoenberg, one feels that his music must be understood as an attempt to escape a romantic heritage; but Hindemith’s method of escape is altogether less interesting than Schoenberg’s. In his best works, Schoenberg scrambles his language, but does not betray the emotion he wants to convey. Hindemith deliberately turned his back on his romantic heritage for many years, and wrote what Haggin describes as ‘harmonically sour and emotionally dry works’. Later he allowed a certain romantic element back into his music, but it only served to underline the mechanicalness of long passages of textbook variations. Works like the 1940 Symphony in E flat and the ‘Harmony of the World’ Symphony begin with purposeful-sounding fanfares that promise an interesting musical journey; but within minutes the traveller is in the old musical desert, with miles of flat, bare country on either side.

Part of the trouble is Hindemith’s unwillingness to write anything that sounds as if it has a definite key. But unlike the music of Schoenberg and Berg, which has a harsh, mountainous quality, Hindemith’s music moves along so uneventfully for much of the time that the ear feels that it ought to have a key. The consequence is that the ear often feels a kind of embarrassment, as if in the presence of some disability, like a stutter or a tendency to sing slightly off-key.

The truth is that, whether Hindemith likes it or not, he is by temperament a romantic composer, and romantic music must have a feeling of a key centre. The most effective moments in some of his works – the opera Mathis der Maler (not the symphony, which tends to aridity), the 1939 Violin Concerto, the 1937  Symphonic Dances, the ballet Nobilissima Visione, the Concert Music for Brass and Piano, op. 49 – have a strong feeling of tonality. (This need of romantic music for a key centre can be seen even more clearly in Kurt Weill’s Mahagonny; at its best – the scene in the ‘Do-what-you-like’ bar, the chorus ‘Rasch Jungens, hé!’ – it is romantic, tonal, and has a sense of musical economy and drive; when it is being avant garde in the manner of Hindemith, as in the long passage following the Benares song, it loses direction and drifts.)

Like Schoenberg and Bartók, Hindemith has achieved one of the few individual styles of the twentieth century; any piece of his music identifies itself in a matter of seconds; but it is the dubious individuality of the club bore, whose voice sends everyone scurrying for magazines to hide behind. It is a pity that the man who could achieve the bizarre effects of Cardillac and the sense of weight and sincerity of Mathis der Maler should have chosen to be identified with Gebrauchsmusik written according to a Bachian formula, and should become best known to concert audiences for the comparatively trivial Metamorphoses on a Theme of Weber.



colin-wilsonBorn in 1931, Colin Wilson was a highly prolific British writer of creative and critical prose, writing 150 books over 50 years, and covering subjects of philosophy, literature, mysticism, the occult, religion, science fiction, spirituality, crime, and studies in consciousness. He is arguably best known for his first book ‘The Outsider’, for his philosophic amendments to popular European existentialism, and for his compendiums on the occult. He died in December of last year. This essay was first published in ‘Brandy of the Damned’ (1963) and later as ‘Colin Wilson on Music’ (1967). It was re-published by Foruli Limited in July. (A second part is forthcoming).




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David Gascoyne: 2012 – Niall McDevitt

Is it possible for a 20th century poet to be a contemporary? David Gascoyne, who died in 2001—just managing to dip his toes into the third millenium—is a special case. A first biography of the cultic but widely overlooked poet has been published in 2012, Night Thoughts by Robert Fraser. This finely wrought Oxford University Press tome by the man who resurrected the reputation of George Barker might serve to make England wonder about the nature of achievement in the field of poetry. The Dracula-like presence of Gascoyne is emerging from his coffin, a benign vampire, a blood donor. He walks. His breath makes patterns. Many of the most successful poets writing today will never have biographies written about them. They’re not interesting enough. Name England’s most important 20th century poets… Hardy, Auden, Bunting, Hill? Many say Philip Larkin. The 20th century’s mistake was to think it could judge itself. It will have to be judged posthumously, not by anthologies brought out for the Christmas market in the year 2000. England doesn’t know itself poetically because it doesn’t know David Gascoyne, but it is going to have to get to know him. His quarantine is over. The plates are shifting. As Hopkins was a 19th century poet who became widely known in the 20th, I believe Gascoyne is a star of the future, an essential English messenger, a politico-religious poet.

DG photoJokingly, I call him ‘the real T.S Eliot’ though I don’t know what this means. Certainly, Gascoyne is my favourite English poet of the 20th century. Eliot, an American regarded as the greatest poet in any language of the 20th century, is unassailable. Also, he has become a naturalised English poet, a Tory guru, the thin-blooded ‘mentor’ of such right-wing cheerleaders as Roger Scruton. However, when I re-examine Eliot’s tiny oeuvre with its many second-rate poems, I wonder why he is such an icon. His few masterpieces are too well-known, and seem museum-pieces of modernism. They exist for undergraduates who will be unwittingly exposed to the subliminal advertising of the Anglo-Catholic, Classicist, Royalist hymn-sheet. Gascoyne’s oeuvre is, by comparison, so unknown, so off-campus, so strange and illegitimate and unpropped, that it seems more like silvery manna than any human bread. Its profundity, radicalism, spirituality and bohemianism are unique. His left-wing genius was extended by Surrealism, and later by Existentialism, he being the first Englishman to fully immerse himself in both movements. In France, he is probably also an underground legend. He formed deep relationships with outstanding people across the Channel; Blanche Jouve was his therapist; he was Pierre Jean Jouve’s translator. His exemplary French connection aroused the hostility of his British peers, who ignored his aesthetic imports. Perhaps the most emblematic vista of his lack of success was that instead of being summoned to Buckingham Palace to be honoured by the Queen of England or to the Elysée Palace by the President of France, he took it upon himself to break into both buildings while suffering from amphetamine psychosis. He is the most out-there major poet of modern times. This repels bourgeois readers, so far. It’s understandable. Most English poets if given the choice would prefer an MBE to a straitjacket, though others wouldn’t see any difference.

The poems, the stories of the sacrifices it took to make them, are disseminating. The biography helps us to fuse the life and the art, and see the legend whole. I did not realise, for instance, the story behind his classic poem A Vagrant. The poem is in quotation marks so I had thought Gascoyne was ventriloquising a beggar he had encountered. But no, it was actually himself, homeless in Paris on his 31st birthday, Rimbaud as a mature man. Its sprightly voice, its out-there odyssey, really give a sense of what’s at stake — the cruelty of the megalopolis, the stoicism of humanity. There’s nothing like it. Voices within the voice add soupçons of madness, a sheep breaks in, but the voice retains its crispness. It’s fascinating. If Jean Genet read it he’d have been flabbergasted. Gascoyne himself becomes a genie of the streets and quays herein. The experience offers him an incredible vantage-point, and a sympathetic eye to see through the stone-walling city:

                                                                                       the soul
Is said by some to be a bourgeois luxury, which shows
A strange misunderstanding both of soul and bourgeoisie.

It is both Paris and Atlantis, a poem of urban shamanism. We could almost be grateful for the poverty that enabled him to see what he saw, write what he wrote. Kathleen Raine, a friend and travelling companion on a reading tour of America, notes that he regarded himself as a ‘vagrant’. Safety-netless, his acrobatics are all the more breathtaking. Though he could fall to his death, he doesn’t. In an era in which homelessness is rightly regarded as ‘The Big Issue’, this is an illuminating poem on the theme. Like Rimbaud before him and Dylan after him he attunes to the ‘mystery tramp’, partakes of the Chaplinesque aura, dustbinning academies in the process.

The city, no matter what city, is always Dis, as in a free sonnet Inferno:

One evening like the years that shut us in,
Roofed by dark-blooded and convulsive cloud,
Led onward by the scarlet and black flag
Of anger and despondency, my self:
My searcher and destroyer: wandering
Through unnamed streets of a great nameless town,
As in a syncope, sudden, absolute,
Was shown the void that undermines the world:

That he was a teenage genius adds to his lustre. The 19-year-old friend of Eluard, encouraged by the Frenchman, wrote his First English Surrealist Manifesto in 1935, against a backdrop of Royalist jingoism. Published in the new biography and translated by Robert Fraser from Gascoyne’s own French, it seems eerily relevant to the England of 2012 in the throes of Diamond Jubilee. ‘At the very moment at which we are composing these lines in London (May 1935), the whole of England—orchestrated by the capitalist press—is preparing for an hysterical frenzy of the most dispiriting kind: the Silver Jubilee. May one not discern in this fact a manifestation of historic justice? Just when the country is enjoined by its government to a travesty of rejoicing in the names of patriotism and imperialism, despair is the principal reaction of the poets.’ To read this for the first time in 2012, alongside a contemporary poem such as Heathcote Williams’ Royal Babylon, was doubly exhilarating. Gascoyne was joining in with the zeitgeist, lending his neglected weight to the resistance. For poets wondering if politicised poetry was less than poetry, his manifesto offers an assurance: ‘Qualified poets are not confronted with a stark choice between two directions: on the one hand the pursuit of a simplified art, populist and proletarian and possessing no purpose  beyond the efficacy of its propaganda or, on the other hand, de-politicised art, subjective in the extreme, aspiring to nothing save the personal expression of the writer. Surrealism indicates a third way, the only authentic one, leading victoriously out of the twin traps on which the first two approaches are impaled.’ Today a poet can read this and—without having to walk lobsters on Oxford Street—know there is nothing second-rate about political poetry. Ginsberg demonstrated it in the 20th century to a vast congregation, but Gascoyne is still being debriefed. (The two poets enjoyed a late-flowering friendship and can be seen in the Italian documentary ‘Lunatics, Lovers and Poets.’)

There is as yet no Complete Poems of Gascoyne. What you get looking into various selections and collections is a miraculously stylish 20th century: Surrealism, WW2, Existentialism, psychogeography. His Surrealist poems are from a distinct phase (1933-36) and never overburden the oeuvre. He is along with Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan one of the few poets in English to make Surrealism work. Today when English poetry is attached to a life-support machine called social realism, his example is not only a third way but a way out. His most anthologised Surrealist  poem is the beautiful And the Seventh Dream is the Dream of Isis which came before Robert Graves’ The White Goddess but speaks to all those who’d prize the Gravesean flame above the Larkinian squib:

she was standing at the window clothed only in a ribbon
she was burning the eyes of snails in a candle
she was eating the excrement of dogs and horses
she was writing a letter to the president of france

His World War Two poems are much less known than those of Dylan Thomas or, say, W.H Auden’s September 1,  1939 and the third part of his elegy for Yeats. They fill a huge void, the void of their own absence from English anthologies. They are still cultic rather than a cornerstone of the cultural heritage. Unlike Auden, Gascoyne didn’t flee England, but returned to England from France. He would rather have served in the army than be imprisoned as a conscientious objector, but was classed as a Grade 3 conscript, i.e unlikely to be called up and only suitable for sedantary work. A great anecdote tells how he was in the company of George Barker as bombs were landing on Hammersmith. When Barker turned to look at Gascoyne he saw his friend in immaculate suit and bow-tie reciting Baudelaire, in French, to a mouse in the fireplace. Gascoyne—following in the footsteps of his theatrical forbears, the Emerys—enjoyed an unlikely career as a professional actor during the war. His suite of World War Two poems is atmospherically painted on large-scale canvases. One of them, Zero, from September 1939, is a dizzying vision of the abyss that would apply to any human situation in which catastrophe is imminent. It speaks as powerfully to our time as any poem I can think of, staring into the eye of the apocalypse:

Who can by now not hear
The hollow and annihilating roar
Of final disillusion; or not know
How our condition is uncertain and obscure
And difficult to to bear? Yet through
The blackness of his dungeon there still peer
Man’s eyes, unmoving, lit by their desire
To see the worst, and yet not die
Of their lucid despair
But in such vision persevere
Through time into Eternity.
For this is Zero-hour

This is surely one of Gascoyne’s inimitable talents, seeing into the heart of the matter, going beyond polite emotion, assizing the gravity of the human situation, expressing it with gravitas. It earns its exclamation mark. The English reading public, steeped in Kipling’s ‘If you can keep your head while all about you are losing theirs’ clearly have no time for this sort of thing. ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is preferable to the ‘incoherent Nada of the seer’. Though Zero is too truthful to court popularity it is nonetheless possessed of the brilliance of a great popular song. Why are Eliot’s dirges better known than this? It is surely the implied critique of Conservatism in such poems as Eros Absconditus that debars advancement, say, the damning alexandrine: ‘In blind content they breed who never loved a friend’. A rare example of the poet-as-artist, his freethinking is enabled by his bohemianism, the abandon of imagination. (It was a later poet-as-artist, Jeremy Reed, a brilliantly distinguished and unaccountably marginalized protégé, who first alerted me to Gascoyne’s importance.) Such a poet inspires artists working in other media. An Englishman who did get Gascoyne was the actor/writer Simon Callow. He describes Gascoyne’s 1978 joint reading with Stephen Spender at The Roundhouse:

The voice that emerged from the hunched, haunted man was, by comparison with Spender’s bold clarity, feeble, despite the microphone in front of him… The passion gripped him, a strange vatic figure, now become Beckett-like, nothing but burning eyes and a mouth urgently speaking of isolation endured and alienation transfigured, of pain universal and particular, of high noon and eclipse. He spoke of these things with a presentness and a personal truth which was more than moving: it was nearly unbearable. The man’s life had been a sort of ‘via crucis’; he knew whereof he spoke… ‘Ecce Homo’. The memory of the generalised seventeen-year-old emotionalism I had brought to the poem… made me blush in the face of this authenticity, these molten feelings poured into a cast of such precision. It was the stubborn pursuit of the precise word, the exact image as a conduit for the expression of experience that Gascoyne, in his reading, made so evident.

First Edition of Gascoyne's 'Poems 1937-42' with cover artwork by Graham Sutherland

First Edition of Gascoyne’s ‘Poems 1937-42’ with cover artwork by Graham Sutherland

The poem Ecce Homo from the sequence Miserere is proof of further repulsions. Gascoyne writes Christian poems. Though Eliot’s and R.S Thomas’s and Geoffrey Hill’s Christianity-in-lyricism is palatable, Gascoyne’s must be kept at arm’s length. What’s wrong? It’s simple. Gascoyne’s Christianity is that of Blake, of Coppe, of the millenarians and Gnostics. ‘Christ of Revolution and of Poetry’ is the startling refrain. One really doesn’t get better crucifixion poems than this; it is the equal of a painting by an Old Master, yet it is updated to the Fascist era. The whole sequence Miserere is evidence of his religious existentialist quest, via friends such as Pierre Jean Jouve and Benjamin Fondane, as well as the posthumously influential Kierkegaard. There are many self-styled humanists who would refuse to read Christian poetry, but they are foolish. The purpose it serves, certainly at Gascoyne’s level, is not to proselytise or even to pray, but to wrestle with Christendom. None of us can deny that we are surrounded by Christian architecture, iconography, educational and charitable institutions, tourist rubble etc. Our ancestry is Christian, our guilt is Christian and the wars we watch on television being fought in our name are Christian also. Even our nihilism is  Christian. True Christian poetry is a critique of Christendom, which is, after all, the superstructure of capitalism. As poetry cleanses the language, it cleanses the superstructure. Secular poetry, afraid of metaphysical ideas, afraid of the cobwebs in the corner of the ceiling, only goes so far.  That Gascoyne is a latter-day Christian mystic only makes him all the more repulsive in neo-Darwinian England. The establishment embraced Eliot’s hymns and Eliot himself, but Gascoyne was much more the Christian hermit, undistracted by office jobs. Eliot himself, as publisher, rebuffed Gascoyne the poet. Stephen Spender confessed that he and Eliot—both from haut-bourgeois backgrounds—didn’t wish to share a carpet with Gascoyne for fear of the traces he might leave on it. Spender also confessed envy. But how the held-down poet later soars, as if the holding-down was a bow-string.

And we must never sleep during that time!
He is suspended on the cross-tree now
And we are onlookers at the crime,
Callous contemporaries of the slow
Torture of God. Here is the hill
Made ghastly by His spattered blood

Whereon He hangs and suffers still;
See, the centurions wear riding-boots,
Black shirts and badges and peaked caps,
Greet one another with raised-arm salutes;
They have cold eyes, unsmiling lips;
Yet these His brothers know not what to do.

Gascoyne’s anti-Fascism, anti-imperialism, anti-capitalism, anti-patriotism therefore can contribute much to our time, to the current debates, especially in the apocalypse-tinged year of 2012. The Occupy protesters of St. Paul’s were not afraid to taunt Christian capitalism, and the city of London, with the question ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ Gascoyne’s Christian poems are formulated in the same spirit, and add a mocking ‘What would Pontias do?’

The poem Demos in Oxford Street—with its richly ambiguous ‘Demos’–seems to evoke the spirit of a one-man May Day protester in the heart of the  satanic malls:

the mature
And really average population passing by, away
And onward down this thoroughfare, of all surely the most
Average in any modern capital. O Sting!
Where is our life? Where is my neighbour, Love?
We have hardened our faces against each other’s weariness
Who walk this way; we are not bound to one another
By bomb panic or famine and it is not Christmas Day.
We are aware of Socialists in power at Westminster
Who seem to be making a pretty mess of things…

(Needless to say, his seeming anti-Socialism here does not imply Conservatism but a disgust with the Labour Party. Though he was capable of lapsing to the right, he was always more than capable of relapsing to the left).

‘The real T.S Eliot’ has for a ‘Waste Land’ given us the radiophonic poem ‘Night Thoughts’. It is another unknown, ineffable goldmine, a great meditation on London written by a native Londoner, one whose mystical attunement to the city was a birthright. One of many voices is called the ‘Anonymous Mass Voice’ and this is one of the poem’s arias:

Fear, fear: you speak of fear.
What is this fear? Is it the fear we dare not fear,
That fear of fear itself, or fear of other’s fear,
Such fear as ends
In passionate untruth, self-justifying falsehood without end?
Demonic fear
Of individual guilt, of being caught, of doing wrong,
And fear of failure or of being found a fool,
And fear of anything that might contrast with me
And thus reveal my insufficiency,
My lack, my weakness, my inferiority,
In showing up my difference from itself;
Fear of uncertainty and loss, fear of all change,
Fear of all strangeness and all strangers; and above all else the fear
Of Love, of being loved, of being asked for love,
Of being loved yet knowing one has no love to return;
Fear of forgiveness —
Fear of that love which is so great it can forgive
And the exhausting fear of Death and Mystery,
The Mystery of Death, of Life and Death,
The huge appalling Mystery of everything;
Arid fear of Nothing,
Yes, after all the fear of Nothing really,
Fear of Nothing, Nothing

Fear of Nothing, Nothing, absolutely Nothing.

In Britain, much contemporary poetry is totally trivial. It is thought in literary circles, in modern art too, that the trivial, the throwaway is the postmodern profound. Not so. The example of David Gascoyne, coming in from the cold, shows us what is at stake. He is one of the few English poets who have anything to teach us in the current crisis. Having died on Sunday 25th November 2001, he was alive for the defining moment of the 21st century. I would like to know his take on the events of 9-11. It is good for humanity that he saw it, exiting Christendom, even if it was too late for him to write about it.



Photo of Niall McDevitt by Max Reeves

Photo of Niall McDevitt by Max Reeves

Niall McDevitt is the author of two critically acclaimed poetry collections, ‘b/w’ (Waterloo Press, 2010) and ‘Porterloo’ (International Times, 2012). He organised the event ‘An Evening Without David Gascoyne’ in 2012, featuring Hilary Davies, Robert Fraser and Jeremy Reed. (This essay was taken from McDevitt’s second book; ‘Porterloo’.


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In Defence of Pound’s Propertius – Mark Wilson

Although Ezra Pound’s Homage to Sextus Propertius was written in 1917 it would not appear in print until the publication of his Quia Pauper Amavi in 1919 where it elicited, in the main, negative reviews and controversy. Classical scholars scornfully critiqued Pound’s loose “translation” methods (something which still happens today) and the bold eroticism of the poem undoubtedly made the genteel Georgian literary clique wince with embarrassment. Eliot, with his usual far-too-circumspect detachment, left the sequence out of Pound’s Selected Poems in 1928 as if he too couldn’t cope with the heat that the poem had generated. Thomas Hardy was a far more perceptive reader when he gauged that Propertius had more to do with EP’s equivocal position as poet-artist in relation to the imbecility of the British Empire in 1917 and that certainly correlates with Pound’s own understanding of what he was trying to do by playing ventriloquist to Propertius in such a liberal fashion. Once more Pound was donning the mask or the persona in order to record his own emotional and aesthetic odyssey in early 20th Century Europe which was something he had successfully done with his earlier archaic, Pre-Raphaelite and Provencal troubadour efforts a few years previously. With the decorative confectionary stripped away though the effect with his books from Lustra (1915) onwards was more stark, strident and ultimately offensive to many.

Pound's Quia Pauper AmaviControversy still stalks Homage to Sextus Propertius, even in 2014. Despite the fact that the poem has been fully rehabilitated into the EP corpus and recognised as the key Pound poem-sequence, along with Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, to pre-date The Cantos. Mauberley, however, still appears to be the preferred poem amongst most readers and critics (especially in England), but there have been exceptions to this rule of course. One thinks of how Thom Gunn in the Faber Poet-to-Poet Ezra Pound volume (published in 2000) bravely chose selections from Propertius as opposed to anything from out of Mauberley suggesting more than just a millennial sea-change in fortune. Perhaps Gunn was the first to recognise that Propertius, more than even Mauberley, was Pound’s construction of a lexical matrix that configured a distinct paradigm and vision for The Cantos itself which is embedded sporadically with ‘creative’ translations throughout. For “creative translation”, as practised by Pound and others since, certainly possesses an artistic vitality that is essential if contemporary poetry (of any period) is to be reinvigorated heedless of, and despite, the many shrill voices of dissent that have railed against it for the past century since Propertius was published. However, it needs a poet of high calibre who is both skilfully inventive and fully attentive to techne, such as Pound was, to pull the feat off.

Pound’s whole approach to ‘translation’ had been foreshadowed by precursors such as Arthur Golding and Christopher Marlowe who, working in the Elizabethan era, had not only translated Ovid’s Metamorphoses and Amores so that English readers could enjoy this great Latin poet’s finest two works, but had also with these “translations” created powerful contemporary English poems full of the new syntax and semantic cunning of the age. Later in the 19th Century Dante Gabriel Rossetti had done a similar thing with Dante’s La Vita Nuova and Pound wrote of Swinburne’s Villon translations: “Swinburne’s Villon is not Villon very exactly, but it is perhaps the best Swinburne we have”. Of course, Chaucer, “le grand translateur”, pre-dates all these writers and is perhaps the ultimate poet-translator-exemplar that Pound was hoping to emulate most with his many “versions” and “personae”. All these historical and literary precedents would suggest that the hue-and-cry caused by Propertius or any of Pound’s translation-projects seems to be extremely strange, otiose and ill-judged. Perhaps the real problem is poets who, since Pound, have tried to be ‘translators’ in the Poundian tradition, but who lack his inherent poetic acumen and precise employment of techne to achieve success. Usually the result of these poets’ labours is a production-line of sub-standard travesties of the original authors as well as being impotent failures as contemporary poems. Of these more later.

Back to Propertius and what makes it such a great poem-sequence. Pound was usually intent on bringing out the melopoeic (musical or sonic) qualities of the intonation in his verse-craft, but with Propertius we have the sense that he was lengthening out and trying far more for logopoeic “effects” as well. The “dance of the intellect” is indeed something which resonates in the nexus of Propertius‘s phrasing. In fact, its effect is virtually noticeable in the interplay between lines which perpetually blend ultra-modern vocabulary with words that are deliberately archaic. In addition, Pound is consciously breathing out a new configuration for his cadence rather than stuffing his words into an existing and, by implication, dead “form”:

Nor are my caverns stuffed stiff with a Marcian vintage,
                       (My cellar does not date from Numa Pompilius,
Nor bristle with wine jars)
Nor is it equipped with a frigidaire patent;
Yet the companions of the Muses
                               will keep their collective noses in my books,
And weary with historical data, they will turn to my dance tune.

Internal rhymes, alliteration and assonance certainly create melopoeic richness, but the main thrust is definitely the logopoeic “dance” between Propertius’s 1st Century BC Rome and Pound’s 20th Century AD London. “Frigidaire patent”, “Marcian vintage” and “historical data” are as contemporaneous as most of the phrases in the English poems that were being written around 1917. They also create electrical and multi-layered tensions with the more archaic nouns: “caverns, “cellar”, “dance tune”, “companions” and “Muses”. This scintillating dance between historical epochs would be something Pound would develop more radically in The Cantos but here we have its early lexical stirrings. Despite the fact Pound is employing vers libre here there is no sense that he is “padding out” or using any unnecessary words; rather the reverse. The verbal exactitude is extremely compelling and also creates an authoritative, memorable pitch. If the translation of Propertius’ original was undeniably “free” and “libre” (undoubtedly improvised from a Latin gloss with varying degrees of accuracy) there was no doubt that Pound’s writing in English wasn’t.

One of the controversial elements of Propertius when it was published was its unabashed eroticism. Pound wrote of the mysteries of Eros throughout his career and has arguably penned some of the most beautiful poems about sexual love in the English language. The appeal of the Latin love-elegists (Catullus, Ovid, Propertius) was, therefore, a natural one for Pound. What was shocking to readers in 1919, still recovering from a repressive Victorian value-system, is obviously fairly tame to late 20th/early 21st century readers/viewers visually glutted on watershed cinema and TV, colour-gloss magazines and images freely-downloadable on the internet. Pound’s approach was far more subtle though:

How easy the moving fingers; if hair is mussed on her forehead,
If she goes in a gleam of Cos, in a slither of dyed stuff,
There is a volume in the matter; if her eyelids sink into sleep,
There are new jobs for the author;
And if she plays with me with her shirt off,
           We shall construct many Iliads.

Sextus Propertius drawingHere Pound skilfully creates the erotic medium through sheer suggestion as opposed to a blatantly coarse and gratuitous presentation. The sibilance of “a slither of dyed stuff” creates sexual tension from its provocative, and intimately whispering, noun “slither” which implies “scantily dressed” and, by a further implication, purposefully so. Meanwhile “gleam of Cos” utilises a metonym to suggest the pleasure of partially-undressed foreplay with “Cos” being, perhaps, the 1st century Latin equivalent of what “Dior”, “Armani” or “Chanel” are to 20th Century fashion-speak. However, Pound’s legerdemain with language here is subtle and exquisite, which avoids making his presentation heavy-handed or cliche-ridden. Nevertheless, the jewel in the crown of this particular cluster is: “And if she plays with me with her shirt off, / We shall construct many Iliads”. The play-off between the personal/private and the public (which is Propertius’ ongoing poetic dilemma) set-up by the allusion to Homer’s Iliad revels in the irony that the extremely public Trojan War was fought for an extremely private indiscretion by one man involving another man’s wife literally “with her shirt off”. Pound’s seemingly odd choice of “shirt” here seems to work better than the more feminine “blouse” because it suggests the active, almost “masculine”, side of Cynthia in the heated agon of her intimacy with Propertius (confirmed later in the poem with: “Struggles when the lights were taken away; / Now with bared breasts she wrestled against me”). All in all, Pound seems an extremely knowing observer of sexual mores and his masterful presentation of the acts and pheromones caused by Eros is significantly better than most poets who seek to engage in this type of verse-craft. After the stifling hypocrisy of Victorian (and, by extension, Georgian) morality Pound’s poem seems a liberating cry of honest passion forty years ahead of the sexual revolutions of the 50s/60s and the films, literature, art and other cultural phenomenon that accompanied this personal-public reawakening. It also signals the more hermetic and ritualistic “mysteries of love” and natural-regeneration passages that occur frequently in Pound’s Cantos. If Mauberley was a “farewell to London”, the English cultural scene and Pound’s previous incarnation as a poet then Propertius surely heralds a new beginning for him that would eventually crystallize into the sublime macaronic and ideogrammic tesserae of The Cantos.

In terms of Propertius as a “loose” translation or even a mistranslation this, of course, was always Pound’s intention and overriding vision for the sequence. As a poet he was far too intent in capturing something essentially living, vital and dynamic in the original, qualities that are quite beyond the usual grasp of the metronomic taxidermy of more conventional, or literal, translators. Pound’s aim with Propertius was to write a contemporary, but startlingly new, English-language poem that would transcend its time by remaining “news” and thus allow it to eventually attain “classic” status. This involved inventions of new forms, linguistic kennings and structural configurations in the English “versions” which are exploits a more conventional translator of classical poetry would not even consider let alone entertain. Propertius is definitely looser than Pound’s other translations such as his Cavalcanti, Arnaut Daniel, the Anglo-Saxon Seafarer and his versions of Rihaku/Li Po in Cathay. In fact, Pound’s use of the words “Homage to…” in the title of Propertius should have signalled to readers that a ‘close’ and accurate translation was never his prime aim or intention. “Homage to…” suggests a way of grasping something much deeper about a poet-precursor rather than just technically reduplicating their poems in the English language. Pound wasn’t even trying to palm Propertius off as accurate translation (the fact that the sequence isn’t included in Pound’s 1953 Translations is conclusive proof of this) rather he was sincerely and consciously following Chaucer, Marlowe, Golding, Rossetti and Swinburne in a creative act of pure linguistic “invention” that would produce an enduring and remarkable poem-sequence. This is proved when reading the far more accurate translations of Propertius’ poems (Constance Carrier and W.G. Shepherd’s are the translations I am most acquainted with) which seem formal and dry “plaster-casts” in comparison to Pound’s living-breathing Propertius. The original Sextus Propertius certainly wrote with more decorum in the original Latinate and elegiac constraints than the American-English verbal and vers-libre swagger employed by Pound in Homage; but Pound has certainly unlocked the inner Propertius, the man of passion, by breaking-up the line, by playing more loose with the syntax and returning to more ‘natural’ speech-patterns. If Sextus Propertius had lived in London in 1917 this is certainly a credible capturing of his idiolect:

If she confer such nights upon me,
                                                       long is my life, long in years,
If she give me many,
            God am I for the time.


And yet again, and newly rumour strikes on my ear.

Rumours of you throughout the city,
                                             and no good rumour among them.


All things are forgiven for one night of your games…
Though you walk in the Via Sacra, with a peacock’s tail for a fan.

Always Pound’s desire is to “pitch” a naturally inflected and organic “voice” which constantly surprises the reader in timely, urgent fashion whilst also being “timeless” poetry. This memorable turn of phrase is what makes Propertius such a compelling and pleasurable work which can be read many times over without exhaustion: surely the indubitable sign of a true classic. And it would also herald the way for Pound’s “free” translations of Homer, Ovid, Sappho and many others that would eventually be enshrined in the gleaming marble veins of The Cantos.

Pound's Propertius VIII

Pound’s handwritten quotation from ‘…Propertius’ 1970

Unfortunately, most of those who have tried to emulate Pound in attempting “free” or “creative” translation have failed possibly because they have lacked Pound’s linguistic acumen and vision to create something new in the English language. Robert Lowell, for example, goes for a sort of half-way house in his Imitations (1962) and the result is awkwardly unsure of itself either as accurate “translation” or inspired “invention”. Since then it seems to be quite faddish for contemporary poets, who have absolutely no knowledge of original languages, to stick a “free” translation into their collections and the result is usually an uninspiring melange that employs colloquial expressionisms far too often for “effect” but which jars tonally with the rest of the poem’s vocabulary. Christopher Logue is a supreme exception to this rule with his five-volume War Music (an unfinished “account” of Homer’s Iliad) which is a magnificent work of endless literary fascination as well as genuine semantic invention which remains true to the Homeric spirit. Another successful exception to the rule is Geoffrey Hill’s 2006 version of Eugenio Montale’s The Storm where radical invention, close attention to techne and verbal precision is unsurpassed. Pound was, of course, conversant with most of the languages he “translated” from: Latin, Italian, French, Provencal and Spanish. Critics seem to forget that, for a time, he was a university Professor of Romance languages and wrote The Spirit of Romance. He could have made ‘close’ translations if he had wanted to, but in some cases chose to translate more “freely” and “creatively” in order to create great English-language poetry.

To make conclusion then: it seems to me that there is ample literary room for both types of translation in contemporary poetry. We certainly do need accurate and “close” translations in English of poets writing in other languages in order to gauge a fair representation and true assessment of that particular writer and their work. Having said that, there is still plenty of space for poets to attempt “creative” or “free” translations so long as this is clearly stated as part of the title or in some form of appended annotation. It is also clear that only a few poets have actually possessed the poetic acumen, or commanded the necessary techne, to pull-off a “creative translation” that resulted in great literature. One of these, Homage to Sextus Propertius, is Pound’s finest work outside of The Cantos as it did, indeed, create the microcosmic paradigm and poetic conditions needed for that most colossal and vital work of Modernism to come into being in the first place.


Mark Wilson, April 2014

Mark Wilson has published three poetry collections: ‘Quartet For the End of Time’ (Editions du Zaporogue, 2011), ‘Passio’ (Editions du Zaporogue, 2013) and ‘The Angel of History’ (Leaky Boot Press, 2013). His poems and articles have appeared in ‘The Black Herald’, ‘The Shop’, ‘3:AM Magazine’, ‘The Fiend’ and ‘Le Zaporogue’.

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The Coming Trauma of Materialism – Owen Barfield

The Fiend is making available a pdf version of Barfield’s essay
The Coming Trauma of Materialism with the permission of The Literary Estate of Owen Barfield. It was first published in The Denver Quarterly in 1976, and collected the following year in his astonishing book of essays The Rediscovery of Meaning.

Born in London in 1898, poet, philosopher, author and critic, Owen Barfield studied at Highgate School, and then at Oxford’s Wadham College.

monks7.JPGowen barfieldHe first began publishing with the novel The Silver Trumpet (an influence on the early writing of both J.R.R Tolkien and C.S Lewis) in 1925. Two books; History in English Words (1926) and Poetic Diction: A Study in Meaning (1928) followed, focussing on subjects that would become a life-long obsession; language usage in the arts and the evolution of consciousness, as well as the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner (whom Barfield later went on to translate). Throughout this period he established himself as a key member of the well-known literary group; The Inklings, centred on the Oxford pub The Eagle and Child, and then in other locations around that town.

There followed a long period where Barfield worked for his father’s law firm Barfield and Barfield, beginning in 1929, and through WWII. After the war his literary creativity seems to swell once more, with many works, including Unancestral Voice, History, Guilt, and Habit, Romanticism Comes of Age, What Coleridge Thought, The Rediscovery of Meaning, Speaker’s Meaning, Worlds Apart and Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry as well as many novels and poetry. Many of his works of criticism allowed him lecturing opportunities, particularly in the U.S, where his work is perhaps more well known than in the U.K. The last surviving Inkling, he died in 1997.

His many books have, in the last few years, been reprinted by Barfield Press, headed by his grandson Owen Barfield Jr. All things Barfieldian (including a full bibliography) can be found at the website for his literary estate.

Some video introductions can be found on the internet, also. The later documentary Man and Meaning is an excellent overview, while the Cambridge poet Malcolm Guite‘s youtube presentation on Barfield (part of a series on The Inklings) is also well worth watching.

Thanks go to Owen Barfield Jr. for granting permission on this piece.

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from St. Mawr – D. H Lawrence

[this section of the story describes the aftermath of the character Rico’s riding accident (Rico is Lawrence’s fall guy for the ‘bad artist’ type) and the thoughts of the main character, Lou Carrington, immediately following. – Ed.]

There lay Rico, crumpled and rather sideways, staring at the heavens from a yellow, dead-looking face. Lewis, glancing round in a sort of horror, looked in dread at St. Mawr again. Flora had been hovering.–She now rushed screeching to the prostrate Rico:

“Harry! Harry! you’re not dead! Oh, Harry! Harry! Harry!”

Lou had dismounted.–She didn’t know when. She stood a little way off, as if spellbound, while Flora cried: Harry! Harry! Harry!

Suddenly Rico sat up.

“Where is the horse?” he said.

At the same time an added whiteness came on his face, and he bit his lip with pain, and he fell prostrate again in a faint. Flora rushed to put her arm round him.

Where was the horse? He had backed slowly away, in an agony of suspicion, while Lewis murmured to him in vain. His head was raised again, the eyes still starting from their sockets, and a terrible guilty, ghost-like look on his face. When Lewis drew a little nearer he twitched and shrank like a shaken steel spring, away–not to be touched. He seemed to be seeing legions of ghosts, down the dark avenues of all the centuries that have lapsed since the horse became subject to man.

And the other young man? He was still standing, at a little distance, with his face in his hands, motionless, the blood falling on his white shirt, and his wife at his side, pleading, distracted.

Mrs. Witt, too, was there, as if cast in steel, watching. She made no sound and did not move, only from a fixed, impassive face, watched each thing.

“Do tell me what you think is the matter,” Lou pleaded, distracted, to Flora, who was supporting Rico and weeping torrents of unknown tears.

Then Mrs. Witt came forward and began in a very practical manner to unclose the shirt-neck and feel the young man’s heart. Rico opened his eyes again, said “Really!” and closed his eyes once more.

“It’s fainting!” said Mrs. Witt. “We have no brandy.” Lou, too weary to be able to feel anything, said:

“I’ll go and get some.”

She went to her alarmed horse, who stood among the others with her head down, in suspense. Almost unconsciously Lou mounted, set her face ahead, and was riding away.

Then Poppy shied too, with a sudden start, and Lou pulled up. “Why?” she said to her horse. “Why did you do that?”

She looked round, and saw in the heather a glimpse of yellow and black.

“A snake!” she said wonderingly.

And she looked closer.

It was a dead adder that had been drinking at a reedy pool in a little depression just off the road, and had been killed with stones. There it lay, also crumpled, its head crushed, its gold-and-yellow back still glittering dully, and a bit of pale-blue showing, killed that morning.

Lou rode on, her face set towards the farm. An unspeakable weariness had overcome her. She .could not even suffer. Weariness of spirit left her in a sort of apathy.

And she had a vision, a vision of evil. Or not strictly a vision. She became aware of evil, evil, evil, rolling in great waves over the earth. Always she had thought there was-no such thing–only a mere negation of good. Now, like an ocean to whose surface she had risen, she saw the dark-grey waves of evil rearing in a great tide.

And it had swept mankind away without mankind’s knowing. It had caught up the nations as the rising ocean might lift the fishes, and was sweeping them on in a great tide of evil. They did not know. The people did not know. They did not even wish it. They wanted to be good and to have everything joyful and enjoyable. Everything joyful and enjoyable: for everybody. This was what they wanted, if you asked them.

But at the same time, they had fallen under the spell of evil. It was a soft, subtle thing, soft as water, and its motion was soft and imperceptible, as the running of a tide is invisible to one who is out on the ocean. And they were all out on the ocean, being borne along in the current of the mysterious evil, creatures of the evil principle, as fishes are creatures of the sea.

There was no relief. The whole world was enveloped in one great flood. All the nations, the white, the brown, the black, the yellow, all were immersed, in the strange tide of evil that was subtly, irresistibly rising. No one, perhaps, deliberately wished it. Nearly every individual wanted peace and a good time all round: everybody to have a good time.

But some strange thing had happened, and the vast mysterious force of positive evil was let loose. She felt that from the core of Asia the evil welled up, as from some strange pole, and slowly was drowning earth.

It was something horrifying, something you could not escape from. It had come to her as in a vision, when she saw the pale gold belly of the stallion upturned, the hoofs working wildly, the wicked curved hams of the horse, and then the evil straining of that arched, fish-like neck, with the dilated eyes of the head. Thrown backwards, and working its hoofs in the air. Reversed, and purely evil.

She saw the same in people. They were thrown backwards, and writhing with evil. And the rider, crushed, was still reining them down.

What did it mean? Evil, evil, and a rapid return to the sordid chaos. Which was wrong, the horse or the rider? Or both?

She thought with horror of St. Mawr, and of the look on his face. But she thought with horror, a colder horror, of Rico’s face as he snarled Fool! His fear, his impotence as a master, as a rider, his presumption. And she thought with horror of those other people, so glib, so glibly evil.

What did they want to do, those Manby girls? Undermine, undermine, undermine. They wanted to undermine Rico, just as that fair young man would have liked to undermine her. Believe in nothing, care about nothing: but keep the surface easy, and have a good time. Let us undermine one another. There is nothing to believe in, so let us undermine everything. But look out! No scenes, no spoiling the game. Stick to the rules of the game. Be sporting, and don’t do anything that would make a commotion. Keep the game going smooth and jolly, and bear your bit like a sport. Never, by any chance, injure your fellow-man openly. But always injure him secretly. Make a fool of him, and undermine his nature. Break him up by undermining him, if you can. It’s good sport.

The evil! The mysterious potency of evil. She could see it all the time, in individuals, in society, in the press. There it was in socialism and bolshevism: the same evil. But bolshevism made a mess of the outside of life, so turn it down. Try fascism. Fascism would keep the surface of life intact, and carry on the undermining business all the better. All the better sport. Never draw blood. Keep the hemorrhage internal, invisible.

And as soon as fascism makes a break–which it is bound to, because all evil works up to a break–then turn it down. With gusto, turn it down.

Mankind, like a horse, ridden by a stranger, smooth-faced, evil rider. Evil himself, smooth-faced and pseudo-handsome, riding mankind past the dead snake, to the last break.

Mankind no longer its own master. Ridden by this pseudo-handsome ghoul of outward loyalty, inward treachery, in a game of betrayal, betrayal, betrayal. The last of the gods of our era, Judas supreme!

People performing outward acts of loyalty, piety, self-sacrifice. But inwardly bent on undermining, betraying. Directing all their subtle evil will against any positive living thing. Masquerading as the ideal, in order to poison the real.

Creation destroys as it goes, throws down one tree for the rise of another. But ideal mankind would abolish death, multiply itself million upon million, rear up city upon city, save every parasite alive, until the accumulation of mere existence is swollen to a horror. But go on saving life, the ghastly salvation army of ideal mankind. At the same time secretly, viciously, potently undermine the natural creation, betray it with kiss after kiss, destroy it from the inside, till you have the swollen rottenness of our teeming existences.–But keep the game going. Nobody’s going to make another bad break, such as Germany and Russia made.

Two bad breaks the secret evil has made: in Germany and in Russia. Watch it! Let evil keep a policeman’s eye on evil! The surface of life must remain unruptured. Production must be heaped upon production. And the natural creation must be betrayed by many more kisses, yet. Judas is the last God, and, by heaven, the most potent.

But even Judas made a break: hanged himself, and his bowels gushed out. Not long after his triumph.

Man must destroy as he goes, as trees fall for trees to rise. The accumulation of life and things means rottenness. Life must destroy life, in the unfolding of creation. We save up life at the expense of the unfolding, till all is full of rottenness. Then at last we make a break.

What’s to be done? Generally speaking, nothing. The dead will have to bury their dead, while the earth stinks of corpses. The individual can but depart from the mass, and try to cleanse himself. Try to hold fast to the living thing, which destroys as it goes, but remains sweet. And in his soul fight, fight, fight to preserve that which is life in him from the ghastly kisses and poison-bites of the myriad evil ones. Retreat to the desert, and fight. But in his soul adhere to that which is life itself, creatively destroying as it goes: destroying the stiff old thing to let the new bud come through. The one passionate principle of creative being, which recognises the natural good, and has a sword for the swarms of evil. Fights, fights, fights to protect itself. But with itself, is strong and at peace.


220px-StMawr‘St. Mawr’ is a short novel or novella written by D.H Lawrence. It was first published in 1925.

The heroine of the story, Lou Witt, abandons her sterile marriage and a brittle, cynical post WWI England. Her sense of alienation is associated with her encounter with a high-spirited stallion, the St Mawr whose name provides the title for this tale. She eventually settles in a remote ranch set high in the mountains of New Mexico, near Taos.

Lawrence wrote most of this brief novel whilst spending five months of the summer of 1924 at what is now known as the D.H Lawrence Ranch, a property which he and wife, Frieda, acquired from Mabel Dodge Luhan earlier that year.

‘St Mawr’ first appeared in ‘St Mawr and Other Stories’ which, in addition to the novella, consists of two short stories ‘The Overtone’ and ‘The Princess’, and two unfinished stories ‘The Wilful Woman’ and ‘The Flying Fish’. All these works were written during Lawrence’s stay in America between 1922 and 1925.

[book background courtesy of wikipedia. ‘St Mawr’ is in the public domain.]

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Two Prose Poems – John Olson

Whereby the World Smacks of Mackinaw

I assume my existence is a republic of blood and bone and that we walk through ourselves to places of beauty in a revealing intuition of consciousness as a form of headlight. It is in this sense that a book exists as distinct from its author, moss amid moss in the milieu of its solitude, lady bells and a garden in Montmartre. A bottle of wine travels through itself. It is in itself only nothingness, a shine in the blood whispering eventual sleep.
            Paris glimmers in the evening. I am only my perceptions. Death is a theater in which I will one day play a role. Meanwhile one can give being to a transcendent nothingness and go on one’s way, cast oneself into the flux of existence, diversions and chocolate and long walks in the rain.
            Being is everywhere. A Picasso trembles with the sugar of appearance. Exasperation heats a language detached from its destiny. One can conceive of a creation as a calliope of smells, an admonition of pins designed to stimulate beatitudes of ardor and hammer. An amber emotion softens the touch of day. My cuts are healing. Perception is a creative event, and there is redemption in this paradigm. Images run to agree with it. Subtlety grows wings. The dirt smells richly of pain and labor. The railroad unrolls in the distance. Truly, my shoes are literal shelters for my feet. I am like an emotion flapping in the wind. I could be employed as a ribbon on a box of spiders or the slow drool of honey from a spoon.
            One can see where this theory is leading. The puddle hugs the sky in its reflection and the skin at the elbow has long been a fascination for my fingers when the spirit of idleness has presented itself and the problems of others tossed in my mind like a green salad with anchovies and cheddar. Food for thought, as the saying goes.
            What can the relativity of being mean if the being finds its being in something other than itself? The slow white groan of raw sienna.A jar of candy.A tonic in F minor.A sentence boiling with windows and cerulean dossiers of hypnopompic shampoo.A basket of laundry barking at a pair of freshly creased pants.
            Language is the shadow of reality. It can do and say what it wants and yet reality will go on shaking and percolating as if nothing had happened. Things give themselves to us as appearances and we convert them to sermons. The greenhouse mimics the heat of the tropics and bromeliads dazzle us with shape and color. I feel a little sweat trickle down my back. Waves of intoxicating fragrance remind us that a little moisture can tingle on the skin like a thesis of undulation. And so we widen our lens and see that the world is with us in some way, not against us, but mingling itself with our desires in such manner that no pleasure is exempt from pain but is a blend of pleasure and pain and our dreams are sewn with the thread of sleep.
            Being is what it is. A skull whose two holes were eyes.The feel of a feather on the skin.



How Far Can I Go?

How far can I go without arriving anywhere? Consciousness moves toward the meaning of being and finds a dynasty of sense in a gumbo of words. Being is opaque to itself because it is filled with itself and this filling is the emptiness of a street swirling with snow.
The pulse of a peacock is soft as punctuation. Consciousness, which is the punctuation of being, is an abstraction in which carbohydrates wear the fog of time and sensations corresponding to the tenderness of mushrooms and beans give us the mystery of one another. An ocean climbs into speculation and extrudes prophesies of salt. The ocean recedes leaving a wet slick sand addressed to a shadow, a comet’s tail tasting of ice and metal.
            Thus, the ocean is a great power, and should be nailed to the wall, where it may be viewed at our pleasure, that is to say its image rendered in watercolor, for the guests of the motel. The cars repose in the night. They are parked at angles. A pop machine hums. Palm trees whisper to the moon,and the adult in 3C stirs with childhood memories, making the bedsprings squeak.
            What is this planet we call home? What is it? It is more than a rock. More than a ball of water. More than its clouds and mountains.
            What is it?
            It glitters in its rhythms. It rolls through space marbled with clouds, blackbirds and orchards, catwalks and broth. Creatures emerge from the water and begin to speak. Their words glare of abstraction.
            What is this light? How does it serve the meaning of the dark?
            Due to the requirements of language, everything is infrared. Space and light are married in emulsion. A patch of trembling flowers are spirits that strain to speak.
            A kitchen knife shares the air with a glass of grape juice. But my God, what happened to the butter? It has melted into the shape of a sparrow. And the bread is a page in the chapter of an invocation.
            All consciousness is consciousness of something. Even a spoon accommodates the rising sun by providing a palette for its heat and light. A smooth silver curvature with a handle whose tip depicts a tangle of vegetation.
            What more can I say?
            Let our blood warm the leather of our inquiry. As for Nothingness, it, too, has a truth to tell. The non-being of being topples into the sentence like a load of whipped cream and puzzles the will to express some authority over it. But nothingness is, after all, nothing, and there is nothing to say to nothing but whatever rolls from the mouth, and that may be an apple, or the representation of an apple, which implies the absence of an apple at the same time it presents the appleness of an apple.
            The rest is silence.
            And bananas and cherries and jujubes and dates.




John Olson is the author of eight books of poetry, his most recent being ‘Larynx Galaxy’ from Black Widow Press. He is also the author of three novels, including ‘The Seeing Machine’, about French painter Georges Braque, ‘The Nothing That Is’, an autobiographical novel presented from the 2nd person point of view, and ‘Souls of Wind’, in which French poet Arthur Rimbaud visits the United States in the 1880s and meets Billy the Kid while on a paleontological dig in New Mexico, which was shortlisted for a Believer book of the year award in 2008. He is the recipient of ‘The Stranger’s Annual Genius Award’ for literature in 2004 and was one of eight finalists for the ’2012 Arts Innovator Award’.

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Three Poems – Andrei Bely


In fields hopeless and dumb
Droops the pale-bladed grain;
It is dozing and numb
Amid dreams that are vain….
With a high sudden hum
The field tosses its mane:
“Unto us Christ is come!”
The wild news shakes the plain.
Like a wind-beaten drum
Shouts the quivering grain.

The bells ring soft and slow,
There is clamor and pain
In the church, and a low
Voice is lifted again
That reiterates: “Woe!”
To the poor folk and plain
Are brought candles aglow:
“Christ is coming again!”
But with voices of woe
They file doorward, in pain.



The shining and ponderous goblet
I empty: the earth drops below me,
All things sink away, —I am treading
Cold space—the vast void—the dim ether.
But distant, in ancient space looming,
My glimmering goblet: the Sun.

I look—far below me are lying
The rivers, the forests, the valleys,
Estranged in the vanishing distance.
A cloud, blowing fog on my eyelids,
Trails gossamer gold in its going.

The flickering landscape is burning
Its last: mid-day stars newly-kindled
Look into my soul, sparkling: “Welcome,”
With radiance silently streaming:
“The end of long wanderings, brother,
Lies here, in your motherland, welcome!”

Slow hour upon hour in procession,
Slow centuries, smiling, pass onward.
In ancient space proudly I lift it,
My glimmering goblet: the Sun.


(Opening poem of the “Funeral Mass” cycle)

“You sit on the bed there
In the sunset’s full crimson,
Pillows crumpled,
Looking distracted, —what
Troubles you?”

                                  “Oh, swept by
                                  Gold cataracts,
                                  The fir-tree tops
                                  Loom athwart the sky’s blue.”

“Orphaned, alone, I shall
Through summery
Twilights and Winter nights.
There are new flights, but
Try them I dare not.
Oh, do not die!”

                                  “Oh, above the pines
                                  I float off into æther seas.
                                  Who, there, what, there,
                                  Swathes the sky with whitenesses,
                                  As with vestments of silver?”



Andrei_Bely_(1910s)Reared in a professorial atmosphere, in which science was the major element, Boris Bugayev, better known under his pseudonym of Andrey Bely, has lived a double life of artist and analyst. The artist was engrossed in problems of form. He created an interesting, experimental genre which he called “symphony,” with cadenced prose, verbal instrumentation and musical development of themes. The analyst, on his part, used mathematical formulæ on the poet’s fine frenzy, inaugurating a science of rhythmics, at least for the Russians. Yet Bely is no æsthete, but a mystic, who gropes toward the light of Christ, “the timeless taper,” and who lives by the uncertain hope of the ineffable coming. The  metaphysical conflict is constantly invading the field of his poetic endeavor, until his lyrics become the battle-cries of his spiritual journeys. He is responsible for more theorizing about symbolism than any one else, ‘Weltanschauung’ and almost intto an ethics.

His poetry is rarefied and difficult. Its delicate imagery is but an overtone of a resonant spiritual note. His poems have an esoteric quality which is also evidenced in his two famous novels, “The Silver Dove” and “Petersburg.”Through both moves a curious counterpoint of the apocalyptic and the homely, muffled by theosophic speculation.

The proletarian revolution elicited from Bely a cycle of poems, suggestively entitled “Christ is Risen!” Herein he envisions Russia, of which he once despaired, as the new Nazareth. Quite Recently he completed the first part of a monumental epic planned for ten volumes.

[from the original introduction to the poetry of Andrey Bely in Modern Russian Poetry; An Anthology translated by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky (Bodley Head, 1923). Bely went on to produce numerous works of critical prose, memoir and fiction. He died in Moscow in 1934.]

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Selections – J. Karl Bogartte


They might wallow in the arcs, licking down the precious curve, eyes pinned for lepidoptera, whispering eccentricities, a very silent gasp. You fulfill the desert spaces, inflowering arc. The languid fruit of torches. A conspiracy of starry nights left unattended… Unexplained…


Darkness is a tribal chant. An affair of agitation. Unthinkable germination.


Memory is that clock ticking in the dark, flooding the room with pearls, setting fires in a way that enables a sense of pathos with long painfully soft envelopes addressed to “the way she moves.” A poisonous flower crushed between your legs. A melancholy gesture, between shadows.


The future belongs to the assassin and to the bride in transition indistinguishable from a literal translation. Her portrait is a window dragged out of darkness and wiped with blood. She is the knife splitting tongues to facilitate silence with barely detectable movements, sliding into desperation. Twin solutions of the bird of prey. Forked. Improper negotiations can be fatal without an impenetrable shield. Daylight is no longer logical.


Always your movement implies a forgery of the double-cross, to increase light, moving to conspire appropriately. A mothering device hidden among fractures, synaptic decisions, “the way her index finger barely insinuates a decisive affliction” and “Oh, but she has not been here for many years…”Pouring gold into unavoidable cracks.


The distance between you and your emulation is exceeded only by the claw marks on the door to your last identity, to the cluster of lasting impressions, ambiguous remarks, embedded codes, punctuated sighs, the rattle of evening horns and the guards, drugged and dreaming. You have no plans to return. There is no silence more luxurious than this. No meanings sufficient enough… Shadows penetrate words.“But, you will return… inevitably figured, deciphered, with other words, a deeper hunger, your body transparent as light…”


Grace is the art of luring ravenous dogs into a state of springtime.


The word arouse deliberates in unseemly fashion, stalks the flight of stairs just ever so slightly above the phrase: “There is nothing to question, only the light hovers in its cage”,andlife in the garden is rancid with constant trembling, a garden in a frenzy on the other side of the street, another world undreaming itself.


No one wanders the perimeters without slouching, or without lunar diversions tending to throw the scent like a voice across a lake, allowing for invisible passage. Rubbing females together produces a sound unlike any other, and always causes a sudden change of weather, like a hurried change of clothing, in the dark, in the middle of a recurring dream.


Writing in the dark is swallowing light, a face of Alexandrian spindles in fierce combat with rapidly stroking lynx, your image smeared. Fatal to the touch, throwing capillaries. She is tantamount to a fire-glance, transmitting seeds that sting and flare up, warming the roots, a friction of the foreground. A pathology of arousal in clairvoyance, glistening stains. Listening with rain.



Animating the solitude of helmets intimidating night-hungry theatre. An illusionary pandemic of darkness, lamping, lymphing, crawling along the edges, converging, that ridiculous light from your body clears away whatever debris resists it. Slipping into an unspoken “touché.” The dead man’s bluff. A sequence of events not ordered by insanity of reason…


The sun inside, on the other body of the moon, spitting out the pearls of dawn… “no, swallowing them…” The leper’s kiss, a hive of bright planets under your dress. The deer legs, the fire skimming across the water, interrupted by speaking, throwing words, conspiring to contaminate, spilling a flesh-like fog. Resistance is a derisive luminosity. a desert council on the prowl…


Threading each selection for acute proximities against aggressive numbers, shadowy and seductive numbers, those in the ambush and the clustering. To repeat “the shadow” and “the reflection” as often as necessary to affect an unreasonable glow. Where variance is the opposite window, opening the double-cross, throwing magnets to destabilize the arrival of appearances. Where they are visible only in the dark…


The solace of the hunt, scent of the sense that seeing takes your eyes through the forest, and through the city walls, fire of the kill, virtues of a higher order of gravity…


Aspects of prediction, reasonably troubled, perturbing the edges in a quandary of caresses to outline the inner constellations, fragments of silence to raise sirens, a species of phantom to contain your body, intact and bewildering and albino. The torn layers of a ghostly body, the necessity of an encoded species that forms the nervous system of all that swims and then dives, jarring the bell, somewhere… “your identities are revolving in the archives.”


What is lucid in your presence, however tentative, is the attitude of transparency, in its active state, which is a furious refusal – not simply to mystify, but to remove all doubts. The sense of nakedness violated with pleasure, and disfigured with a passion to exchange places, when the landscape intervenes. To visualize fire, engender it, yet remain nebulous and orphaned by chance, and choice, firing through the ashes… The virus of a window.


They pinnacle in the garden and fabricate spirits, grappling with tokens wrapped up in the radiant slime of merging, and hiving, in dark corners. Sistered and daughtered… Licking up your breath, splatters, subliminal attitudes of a fresh kill, sipping blood from parted lips.


Your shadow thrown, pinnacles into mistaken identity, extracting a sunken awareness of regal disproportion.A lunar pelvis breaking silence into the hemophilia of a nightly charade. Hypnos is a shattering device. A tincture of warring presence.


Theatre of mutation, following the caress. Movement of the body following the hands, stillness of your shadow, eating her way out of abundance and annotation, a babel, jabbering in Arabic. Priming the seizure, spawning against the current. La Mandrágora…


The distance between presence and pleasure is the speed of light, the revolving effigy reduced to the intrigue of desolate angles. On a pedestal fed with womanly delight, the broken vessels release the devastation of your whispers. The cinema opens on a street of suspicion, where your gestures outline the sense of emitting slender crystals, your sign, passport into the forest, where mummies are wrapped and numbered 1 thru 21 and spun into gold. You feed provocation its bright and ignoble splendor.


“There’s an idiot savant wrapped in the wings. The lamp is a curtain call of surprise endings, a fortune-teller’s demise and the howling of chance. Your blood is the taste of a winning number and a mercenary sense of living without the gravity of targets. I am your precious barricade, and your singular urge. I am your instinct, teeth sinking into all that shimmers in your heavy warmth…”



J. Karl Bogartte

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Selected Artworks of Martin Cibik

(mixed media)


Ganesh (painting)


Koala (drawing)


Square in the Field (photograph)



Martin Cibik was born on the 12th March 1980 in Slovakia. He writes; “I finished my secondary school where I studied Textile Design (Trencin, Slovakia) achieving a General Certificate of Education as Fashion Designer. After a short time I decided to change my career and pursue different kind of jobs. I have achieved success in a number of art competitions and won some prizes with my photography and drawings too. In 2006 I spent six months on the Greek islands, which was a great inspiration for me. In 2008 my steps were directed toward the UK. After studying two levels of English Language at City College I finished with a Certificate at Cambridge University. Since then I have settled down a little bit and have finally had some more time for my art. In 2013 I joined PAOS and held my first exhibition in the UK. My this year exhibition will be at the Art in the Heart gallery in Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, UK. My life is connected with creating since I remember. My art is based on the experience, emotions, energies and whole range of consciousness-states such as waking, dreaming, transcendentalism and world of illusions. I am interested in Shamanism, Meditation, Lucid dreaming, OOBE and development of consciousness. I am trying to show with my art something which is paradoxically without a physical form. (Even though I am using some kinds of form such as animals etc.) You don’t need to understand it with your everyday mind, but when the piece is good it will fit into your subconscious part like a key. For example: if I can connect myself to the healing energy, I open up and let the energy flow to the paper or canvas. The energy, with my little help and guidance, will create some physical pattern of itself. So open your minds and let the experience begin.”

He has a website and can be contacted at: cibo@hotmail.co.uk

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from Body Electric – Robin McLachlen

a pdf excerpt from a section of McLachlen’s long poem; Body Electric, entitled Manipur, can be downloaded here:

Manipur – Robin McLachlen

Robin McLachlen is the author of Turn (lulu.com 2009). He rarely updates his blog.

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