Space was holy to
pilgrims of old, till the plane
stopped all that nonsense.
W. H. Auden, from "Shorts I," Epistle to a Godson and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1972).
Gilbert Spencer (1892-1979) "The Cottage Window"
I have no complaints. I have the ability to choose. And I am in no position to adopt an ironic, superior attitude to what goes on in this land, as long as no one is harmed in the process.
At some point, however, one wants to get off the Tilt-A-Whirl.
In willow shade
where clear water flows
by the wayside --
"Just a while!" I said
as I stopped to rest.
Saigyō (translated by Burton Watson), in Burton Watson, Saigyō: Poems of a Mountain Home (Columbia University Press 1991), page 61.
William Ratcliffe, "Cottage Interior" (1920)
"Space was holy to pilgrims of old." Auden seems to have had physical space in mind -- the distances we travel. But I think the notion of temporal space is apt as well.
We have to be jealous of the temporal space that we are allotted, for, in the end, it is all that we have. Popular culture abhors a vacuum. I would humbly suggest that this is where poetry and art come in. Poets and artists create a space -- an arrested, timeless moment -- that then becomes available to all of us. But, with all that is going on around us, it requires an act of will to inhabit that moment.
One Almost Might
Wouldn't you say,
Wouldn't you say: one day,
With a little more time or a little more patience, one might
Disentangle for separate, deliberate, slow delight
One of the moment's hundred strands, unfray
Beginnings from endings, this from that, survey
Say a square inch of the ground one stands on, touch
Part of oneself or a leaf or a sound (not clutch
Or cuff or bruise but touch with finger-tip, ear-
Tip, eyetip, creeping near yet not too near);
Might take up life and lay it on one's palm
And, encircling it in closeness, warmth and calm,
Let it lie still, then stir smooth-softly, and
Tendril by tendril unfold, there on one's hand . . .
One might examine eternity's cross-section
For a second, with slightly more patience, more time for reflection?
A. S. J. Tessimond, The Walls of Glass (Methuen 1934).
Tessimond's poetry is full of references (both approving and disapproving) to the popular culture of his day, and he worked for a time as a copywriter in the advertising business. He does not hold himself aloof from the modern world, nor does he disparage his fellow denizens. He knows that we are all in this together. As in these two poems, he often reflects in a wistful, affecting fashion about what has gone missing from our lives.
The clock disserts on punctuation, syntax.
The clock's voice, thin and dry, asserts, repeats.
The clock insists: a lecturer demonstrating,
Loudly, with finger raised, when the class has gone.
But time flows through the room, light flows through the room
Like someone picking flowers, like someone whistling
Without a tune, like talk in front of a fire,
Like a woman knitting or a child snipping at paper.
A. S. J. Tessimond, Ibid.
Anthony Eyton, "A Kitchen Range" (c. 1984)
Looking back at what I have written in this post, I fear that I sound annoyingly haughty or high-minded on the subject of popular culture. But, as I said above, I have no complaints. I am wholly a product of it, it is where I live, and I take the good with the bad. Please take what I have written as an admonition to myself. Something along these lines:
"Some think that sloth, one of the capital sins, means ordinary laziness," I began. "Sticking in the mud. Sleeping at the switch. But sloth has to cover a great deal of despair. Sloth is really a busy condition, hyperactive. This activity drives off the wonderful rest or balance without which there can be no poetry or art or thought -- none of the highest human functions. These slothful sinners are not able to acquiesce in their own being, as some philosophers say. They labor because rest terrifies them. The old philosophy distinguished between knowledge achieved by effort (ratio) and knowledge received (intellectus) by the listening soul that can hear the essence of things and comes to understand the marvelous. But this calls for unusual strength of soul. The more so since society claims more and more and more of your inner self and infects you with its restlessness. It trains you in distraction, colonizes consciousness as fast as consciousness advances. The true poise, that of contemplation or imagination, sits right on the border of sleep and dreaming."
Saul Bellow, Humboldt's Gift (Viking 1975), page 306.
"I'm having five minutes," he said,
Fitting the shelter of the cobble wall
Over his shoulders like a cape. His head
Was wrapped in a cap as green
As the lichened stone he sat on. The winter wind
Whined in the ashes like a saw,
And thorn and briar shook their red
Badges of hip and haw;
The fields were white with smoke of blowing lime;
Rusty iron brackets of sorel stood
In grass grey as the whiskers round an old dog's nose.
"Just five minutes," he said;
And the next day I heard that he was dead,
Having five minutes to the end of time.
Norman Nicholson, The Pot Geranium and Other Poems (Faber and Faber 1954).
Harold Jones, "The Black Door" (c. 1935)