Saturday, February 25, 2012

Nought by Time Revealed

Nought did endure
without measurement or thought
Nought did exist
that is if you call it any kind of an existence
for it really had nought to commend itself (forgive the pun)
save perhaps its unknown immutability

And, of course, nothing was known of Nought
for Nought only began to be known when Nought died
for when Nought died something else started
And when this happened
only then could Nought be defined
like the writing of a word on a blackboard

and whether it took a few minutes, days
or even a whole eternity,
suffice to say that a change occurred
like the gentle shift of an unseen wind on water
or an immense explosion unheard in a distant land
and nothing (I repeat nothing) has ever been the same since!

Richard Scutter 15 February 2012

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Time - Allen Curnow

I am the nor-west air among the pines
I am the water-race and the rust on railway lines
I am the mileage recorded on the yellow signs.
I am dust, I am distance, I am lupins back of the beach
I am the sums the sole-charge teachers teach
I am cows called to milking and the magpie’s screech.
I am nine o’clock in the morning when the office is clean
I am the slap of the belting and the smell of the machine
I am the place in the park where lovers were seen.
I am recurrent music the children hear
I am level noises in the remembering ear
I am the sawmill and the passionate second gear.
I, Time, am all these, yet these exist
Among my mountainous fabrics like mist,
So do they the measurable world resist.
I, Time, call down, condense, confer
On the willing memory the shapes these were:
I, more than your conscious carrier,
Am island, am sea, am father, farm, and friend,
Though I am here all things my coming attend;
I am, you have heard it, the Beginning and the End.

Allen Curnow (1911 - 2001)

Award winning New Zealand poet.
This was written when he was living on the Canterbury Plains at the start of his long career in poetry. Lupins were prevalent in the South Island countryside and many schools had only one teacher.

Some comments ...

The poem contains sets of three rhyming lines.

In the first line time is expressed as the wind moving in trees. A good place to start. Biblically the universe started by the movement of wind. Wind cannot be seen so much at the effects of what wind does - as in the movement of a tree or the sound from branches. Just as we cannot see time but are ever conscious of what happens over time. This is the most important aspect of time in that time continually facilitates change. In line two time is latent in both the movement of water and the change that water can make to the environment and in lines three and four we see that time is integral in defining distance and of course speed.

Time is independent of the measurement of time which is a human structuring based on the cyclical movement of the heavens over time. Time ‘just is’ and resists such measurement but such measurement allows definition of set events as in the office is clean at 9:00am (line 7) or the time set by a need as in the milking of cows (line 6).

Everything is defined by time including of course our personal association with specific events as in the time lovers meet in a park (line 9).

Time is like a mountainous fabric in which we clothe our lives (line 14). Mountainous because of the continual build of events. We only see life through a mist because we are limited by our perceptions and senses. Perhaps time has a purer view of life?

We can reflect on time past but it is only a poor second to what time can provide (line 18).

And of course the last line has Biblical connotation to the a ‘beginning’ and an ‘end’. Interestingly we tend to favour that there was a beginning and that there will be no end. Perhaps time has and will always be - if you like - a never ending fabric. I guess in due time we will find out.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Annoiting Ann Anonymous

when she was a child
and she was quite sure
that no one was looking
she picked up a stick
to scratch in concrete
      ‘I was here’

each day
as she walked to school
she would see her work
and laugh to herself
no one would know it was her

in her teenager years
she had that teenage crush
and melting against his name
cleared the dust on his car
with words that only she could write
      ‘I love you’

She thought he really knew
but she would never tell,
in later years
when thinking about him
she would laugh inside
with a little embarrassment

she had a long and ordinary life
a husband, children
and memories to drown
and if she could paint the sky
these would be her words
     ‘life is beautiful’
before she died
and with a knowing smile
she left these words
especially for you …
     ‘I was here
      I love you
      life is beautiful’
© Richard Scutter (and for a certain anonymous person)

15 September 2011

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Analysing Prufrock: T. S. Eliot

This well-known poem by T. S. Eliot was written when TSE was in his last year at Harvard and completed in 1911 when on vacation in Munich while studying at the Sorbonne in Paris. TSE was only 22 years old.

 What is the nature of this person Prufrock. The following is the first part of a discussion in relation to this poem …

First, look at the name J. Alfred Prufrock. It has a certain pretension or arrogance whether or not given by family. Of course if that was the case Prufrock would never change it because of his timid nature. Apparently there was a Prufrock family in existence in America.

An interesting choice ...

PRUde … a person who affects extreme modesty or propriety.

PRUdent ... a concern for the future and the taking of action in relation to what might happen … careful of one's own interests; provident, or careful in providing for the future.

FROCK ... well, feminine dress association ... and one definition … a coarse outer garment with large sleeves, worn by members of some religious orders.

deFROCK /unFrock... to deprive of priestly status

… so maybe to prufrock (as a verb)… is to deny self-expression or the self by fear and inaction … in the severe case it could lead to death by inaction … to deprive oneself of one’s own being … to be a fraud (consider the reference to Dante in the epigraph below).

So Eliot creates the subliminal connotation of a ‘prude’ in a ‘frock.’

The Dedication

Jean Verdenal was an important friend from his time in Paris. Interestingly, TSE’s foundation work is dedicated to this person and not to family or other friends so perhaps Verdenal understood TSE as a fellow student and one with an appreciation of literature. Verdenal was certainly not a Prufrock. Unfortunately he died in the Dardanelles in 1917 in action while treating a wounded soldier. TSE updated the dedication in the 1925 edition of Prufrock with details of his death. (Verdenal was born on 11 May 1890 and not in 1889 as recorded by TSE.)
The quote is from Dante … Purgatorio, Canto XXI, lines 133-136

Or puoi la quantitate
Comprender dell' amor ch'a te mi scalda,
Quando dismento nostra vanitate,
Trattando l'ombre come cosa salda.

[TSE’s translation from the Italian - Now can you understand the quantity of love that warms me towards you, so that I forget our vanity, and treat the shadows like the solid thing.]

TSE ensures Verdenal will be remembered with love.

The Epigraph

The published version of the epigraph also came from Dante's Inferno:
S'io credessi che mia risposta fosse
a persona che mai tomasse al mundo,
questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma per cio che giammai di questo fondo
non torno vivo alcun, s'i'odo il vero,
senza tema d'infamia ti rispondo.

A translation …

‘If I thought that my reply would be to someone who would ever return to earth, this flame would remain without further movement; but as no one has ever returned alive from this gulf, if what I hear is true, I can answer you with no fear of infamy.’
These words are spoken by Count Guido da Montefelltro (1223-98) in Dante's Inferno xxvii, 61-6. Dante recounts his visit to the underworld. In the eighth chasm of Hell he meets Guido, punished here, with other false and deceitful counsellors, in a single prison of flame for his treacherous advice on earth to Pope Boniface. When the damned speak the voice sounds from the tip of the flame which trembles. Guido refers to this, and goes on to explain that he speaks freely only because he believes that Dante is like himself, one of the dead who will never return to earth to report what he says.

(TSE had a a draft version of the epigraph - Purgatorio, Canto XXVI, lines 147-148.)
Relating the Epigraph to Prufrock in the poem …

Prufrock is fraudulent and deceitful – if only to himself – guilty and being punished … punished by his continual paralysis … living a shadow existence … ‘like a shade’ in Dante’s underworld.
Prufrock is only willing to share his unfortunate nature to himself… never to the world at large … in the form of dramatic monologue … TSE invites the reader into this hidden world of his sub-conscious thinking … Just as Dante invites the reader to the shaded world of the dead who speak without being heard.

Looking at lines 1-12
Let us go then, you and I,
An invite to join Prufrock as he talks to himself …

When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;

To Prufrock the sky is etherised … ether,  an anaesthetic to take away pain … Prufrock can’t appreciate the sky … he also fears pain … ironically his fear of pain is much more crippling

Later we see that Prufrock himself is an etherised patient … unable to stir from his mental paralysis
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The streets are half-deserted in another sense because of Prufrock’s internal preoccupation

The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
Connotation of cheap love … unable to sleep … unhappy, and of course something is on his mind
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
The floor of cheap restaurants with shells as plates … concentrating on negative

Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
… perhaps the physical journey and the mental are one of the same, I know people who find the mental indecision in this poem a little tedious

To lead you to an overwhelming question…
Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

He has a problem … like many who have problems … don’t ask me  … it is too big to discuss … I don’t want to think about it … while of course it is ever present and it is usually followed by an elaboration ... in this case provided by the poem

Let us go and make our visit.
Come join me (Prufrock) on this journey … and you will discover more of Prufrock

Prufrock is clearly a thinker and his indecisive thoughts contribute directly to his paralysis. But perhaps of more import living in his thoughts and fears dulls his awareness of the present. He inhibits sensitivity to his surrounds which are somewhat a bleak and empty city, an expression of where he is mentally.
Later we will see how ‘his problem’ surfaces through the continuing expression of his underlying thoughts. He may be a solitary figure vying for communication but at least he invites you to a privileged insight into his underground world (perhaps under the sea is more appropriate).

How would you like all your underlying thoughts known to others?
End of the first part of a discussion for U3A.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Handwritten: Ten Centuries of Manuscript Treasures

At the National Library Canberra

An extraordinary exhibition open to 18 March 2012 ... and features 100 unique manuscript treasures from the Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin (Berlin State Library).

Spanning more than 1000 years of history, the exhibition includes exquisite illuminated manuscripts, rare letters, sketches and documents and priceless musical scores, each handwritten by major figures in literature, religion, science, music, exploration and philosophy. Beethoven, Galileo, Goethe, Kafka, Michelangelo and Napoleon are just some of the many names represented in this exhibition.

See this link ...    Australian National Library

Exhibition of Manuscript Treasures
Australian National Library Canberra
(The Bonhoeffer Exhibit)

precious scrapple from the table of the famous
foundation of thought from the fragments of a life
give a certain personal perspective

a handwritten strangulated poem
Bonhoeffer, condemned unjustly
now glass-celled and preserved for posterity

thoughts flow freely on the mighty mind of man
and the truth escapes
rattling the freedom of visitors as they pass along the way

Richard Scutter 15 January 2012