Dec 012017
 

Thought, I love thought.
But not the jaggling and twisting of already existent ideas
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of the conscience
Thought is gazing on to the face of life, and reading what can
be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to con- clusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges
Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.

 Comments Off on D. H. Lawrence: Thought
Nov 212017
 

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
If I could just get my hands on you,
Kierkegaard, or Conor Cruise O’Brien,
they seem to say,
I would bolt the door and beat some logic into your head.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
who wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Students are more modest
needing to leave only their splayed footprints
along the shore of the page.
One scrawls “Metaphor” next to a stanza of Eliot’s.
Another notes the presence of “Irony”
fifty times outside the paragraphs of A Modest Proposal.

Or they are fans who cheer from the empty bleachers,
hands cupped around their mouths.
“Absolutely,” they shout
to Duns Scotus and James Baldwin.
“Yes.” “Bull’s-eye.” “My man!”
Check marks, asterisks, and exclamation points
rain down along the sidelines.

And if you have managed to graduate from college
without ever having written “Man vs. Nature”
in a margin, perhaps now
is the time to take one step forward.

We have all seized the white perimeter as our own
and reached for a pen if only to show
we did not just laze in an armchair turning pages;
we pressed a thought into the wayside,
planted an impression along the verge.

Even Irish monks in their cold scriptoria
jotted along the borders of the Gospels
brief asides about the pains of copying,
a bird singing near their window,
or the sunlight that illuminated their page–
anonymous men catching a ride into the future
on a vessel more lasting than themselves.

And you have not read Joshua Reynolds,
they say, until you have read him
enwreathed with Blake’s furious scribbling.

Yet the one I think of most often,
the one that dangles from me like a locket,
was written in the copy of Catcher in the Rye
I borrowed from the local library
one slow, hot summer.
I was just beginning high school then,
reading books on a davenport in my parents’ living room,
and I cannot tell you
how vastly my loneliness was deepened,
how poignant and amplified the world before me seemed,
when I found on one page

a few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil–
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet–
“Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”

-from Picnic, Lightning (1998)

 Comments Off on Billy Collins: Marginalia
Oct 312017
 

To learn just who you are
Look at tombs as you walk.
They hold the bones, the powdered dust
Of kings and tyrants, of wise men,
Of men proud of their noble fathers,
Of men glorying in their gold and their glory
And their beautiful bodies.
And when the time came
What protected them against death?
Nothing. Everyone living dies the same death.
Look at tombs and learn just who you are.

 Pure Pagan: Seven Centuries of Greek Poems and Fragments (Modern Library Classics). trans. Burton Raffel

 Comments Off on Menander: Vanity
Oct 292017
 

We all pray for it
Before it comes,
Then blame it
When it arrives.
Old age is a debt
We like to be owed,
Not one we like to collect.

Pure Pagan: Seven Centuries of Greek Poems and Fragments (Modern Library Classics). Trans. Burton Raffel.

 Comments Off on Menecrates
Oct 272017
 

I brooded on dark water,
was neither fish nor bird,
an unembodied voice
that made all things by word,

made light, space, words and time
creatures that glow and grow,
bodies that shine above
and root, glide, creep below.

Seeing all this was good
I wanted creatures who
will share my admiration
of everything I do.

Though always bodiless
I have a certain form
so modelled it in clay,
gave breath to make it warm.

You are my image, folks,
greater than all you see
in intellectual scope,
but not as great as me.

Your dreadful faults, alas,
reflect what I desired:
a need to make new life,
a need to be admired.

New lives made with labour,
bodies requiring breath,
come to displace their makers,
condemning them to death.

I will not mend the faults
that generate your woes.
Mistakes can be creative too,
as every artist knows.

(2002)

 Comments Off on Alasdair Gray: God Again