Saturday, September 4, 2021

Enchanted Or Disenchanted, Part Eight: Exile

Is the World we live in enchanted or disenchanted?  Happily, we cannot think, or reason, our way to an answer to this question. Moreover, the answer may be beyond words, which is appropriate. The World is mostly reticent.  But, if we pay attention to it, we may receive glimpses, glimmers, inklings. 

And, in the end, the answer we may stumble upon applies only to a single soul: our own.  Still, we may encounter kindred souls in our travels.  What would we do without them?

"What a marvelous time it was when everything was alive, according to human imagination, and humanly alive, in other words inhabited or formed by beings like ourselves; when it was taken as certain that in the deserted woods lived the beautiful Hamadryads and fauns and woodland deities and Pan, etc., and, on entering and seeing everything as solitude, you still believed that everything was inhabited and that Naiads lived in the springs, etc., and embracing a tree you felt it almost palpitating between your hands and believed it was a man or a woman like Cyparissus, etc., and the same with flowers, etc., just as children do."

Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone (translated by Kathleen Baldwin, Richard Dixon, David Gibbons, Ann Goldstein, Gerard Slowey, Martin Thom, and Pamela Williams) (Farrar, Straus and Giroux 2013), page 69.

As an unrepentant Wordsworthian pantheist (the Wordsworth of 1797 through 1807) and a lover of the poems in The Greek Anthology, I fully concur with Leopardi's thoughts.  How far we have fallen!  But some may say: "What of Progress?"  Ah, yes, "Progress."  We now find ourselves in the hands of political, scientific, technological, and media "experts."  That seems to be working quite well.

H. S. Merritt, "Woodford Bridge in the Avon Valley" (c. 1942)

I am also wholly in sympathy with Walter de la Mare:


Had the gods loved me I had lain
     Where darnel is, and thorn,
And the wild night-bird's nightlong strain
     Trembles in boughs forlorn.

Nay, but they loved me not; and I
     Must needs a stranger be,
Whose every exiled day gone by
     Aches with their memory.

Walter de la Mare, The Listeners and Other Poems (Constable 1912).

The pang of exile from a lost, ever unreachable world is a thread that runs throughout de la Mare's poetry.  But it never leads to a slighting of the World as we find it.  Nor does it lead to despair, or to lack of love for the beautiful particulars of the World.  Thus: "Now is the all-sufficing all/Wherein to love the lovely well,/Whate'er befall." ("Now.")  Or this: "Look thy last on all things lovely,/Every hour." ("Fare Well.")  

And, despite the sadness and the sense of irremediable loss expressed in "Exile," de la Mare still catches glimpses of the lost world in the English countryside:


Seven sweet notes
In the moonlight pale
Warbled a leaf-hidden
And Echo in hiding
By an old green wall
Under the willows
Sighed back them all.

Walter de la Mare, Bells and Grass: A Book of Rhymes (Faber and Faber 1941).

This brings to mind a lovely poem from The Greek Anthology:

High up the mountain-meadow, Echo with never a tongue
Sings back to each bird in answer the song each bird hath sung.

Satyrus (c. 1st century B.C. - 1st century A.D.) (translated by F. L. Lucas), in F. L. Lucas (editor), Greek Poetry for Everyman (J. M. Dent 1951), page 358.

There is no telling what one might suddenly see out in a field:

                            Flood Water

What saw I -- crouching by that pool of water
     Bright-blue in the flooded grass,
Of ash-white sea-birds the remote resort, and
     April's looking-glass? --
Was it mere image of a dream-dazed eye --
That startled Naiad -- as the train swept by?

Walter de la Mare, Inward Companion: Poems (Faber and Faber 1950).

H. S. Merritt, "Bowerchalke" (c. 1942)

The ironic moderns among us have "progressed" too far to take any of this seriously.  They fancy themselves to be unillusioned and undeceived.  Products of the so-called "Age of Enlightenment."

Leopardi again: "[T]here has never been an age so tainted and corrupted that it did not believe itself to stand at the pinnacle of civilization and social perfection, and to be an example to the other ages, and, in particular, superior in every respect to all past ages, and at the farthest point in space yet traveled by the human spirit." (Giacomo Leopardi, Zibaldone, page 395.)  

Enchanted or disenchanted?  Each of us makes a choice in this matter every day.


That we've broken their statues,
that we've driven them out of their temples,
doesn't mean at all that the gods are dead.
O land of Ionia, they're still in love with you,
their souls still keep your memory.
When an August dawn wakes over you,
your atmosphere is potent with their life,
and sometimes a young ethereal figure,
indistinct, in rapid flight,
wings across your hills.

C. P. Cavafy, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) (Princeton University Press 1975).

H. S. Merritt, "Wishford, Wylye Valley" (c. 1942)


Shanti said...

I love your blog and the artwork you include. Thank you for speaking from a place that sees the spiritual eternity in the transient beauties, and is not hypnotized by a world for which only product and production has value, and which is blind to the sweet suchness of things and the divine (the gods and goddesses) dwelling here and now if we have eyes to see.

- Shanti

Esther said...

“Enchanted or disenchanted? Each of us makes a choice in this matter every day.” This gave me great pause and was my absolute favorite part of your post today, although I enjoyed it all, as usual.

As you have been quoting de la Mare recently, I thought you might enjoy G. K. Chesterton’s remarks about him in his Autobiography, and the impossibility of defining "the imaginative man” through anything other than his actual work, which is a concept you frequently touch on, yourself.

"I have known one or two isolated cases also of the mere man of imagination. It is always difficult to give even an outline of men of this kind; precisely because an outline is always the line at which a thing touches other things outside itself. I have already suggested very vaguely, for instance, something of the position of W. B. Yeats; but that is precisely because Yeats does touch some things outside his own thoughts; and suggests controversies about Theosophy or Mythology or Irish politics. But he who is simply the imaginative man can only be found in the images he makes and not in the portraits of him that other people make. Thus I could mention a number of detached and definite things about Mr. Walter de la Mare; only that they would not, strictly speaking, be about him. I could say that he has a dark Roman profile rather like a bronze eagle, or that he lives in Tallow not far from Tallow Court, where I have met him and many other figures in the landscape of this story; or that he has a hobby of collecting minute objects, of the nature of ornaments, but hardly to be seen with the naked eye. My wife happens to have the same hobby of collecting tiny things as toys; though some have charged her with inconsistency on the occasion when she collected a husband. But she and de la Mare used to do a trade, worthy of Goblin Market, in these pigmy possessions. I could mention the fact that I once found a school, somewhere in the wilds of the Old Kent Road, if I remember right, where all the little girls preserved a sort of legend of Mr. de la Mare, as of a fairy uncle, because he had once lectured there ever so long ago. I’ve no idea what spells he may have worked on that remote occasion; but he had certainly in the words of an elder English poet, knocked ‘em in the Old Kent Road. But even a thing like this has not strictly speaking anything to do with the subject; the centre and fullness of the subject. And I have never been able to say anything that is, in that sense, about the subject. The nearest I could ever come to judging imaginative work would be simply to say this; that if I were a child, and somebody said to me no more than the two words Peacock Pie, I should pass through a certain transforming experience. I should not think of it especially as being a book. I should not even think of it as being a man; certainly not as something now so sadly familiar as a literary man. A sacramental instinct within me would give me the sense that there was somewhere and somehow a substance, gorgeously coloured and good to eat. Which is indeed the case. Nor would any doubts and differences about the theoretical or ethical edges of Mr. Yeats’s personality affect my appetite, even now that I am no longer a child, for the silver apples of the moon and the golden apples of the sun.” (pp. 293 - 294)

Anthony Hill said...

Thank you, I love the paintings you find. Do you like Hopkins, the theistic pagan? I think of Stevens, sometimes, as a pagan theist. What was de la Mare? As you note, though, such definitions - and the need for definitions - are nonsense in the end.

"The sun is God" said Turner. allegedly. That is a fine film: "Mr Turner", and recommended if you have not seen it.

bruce said...

Dear Steve,

The great god Pan is dead, so are his peers, those with whom he frolicked: the fauns, the Dyads, the Hamadryads, and old Silenus. The spirits of the forest, those fairies who used to gambol there, are gone, as are all the great gods and goddesses who lived above. The enchanted world vanished with the dawn of one particular day--or so says Milton in his "On the Morning of Christ's Nativity." With the birth of Christ, says Milton, we see the fleeing of the pagan gods. Now, of course, we may choose not to believe Milton and choose to believe the trees and flora of the forest are inhabited by gods of some sort. In his stunningly beautiful "Ode to Psyche" Keats says he will "build a fane." "And there by zephyrs, streams, and birds and bees, / The moss-lain Dryads shall me lulled to sleep." I sure that Keats, in his powerful imagination, believed in his revelry that spirits dwelt in the forest, that Pan and others danced gaily and sang sweet songs, and, who knows, perhaps those sensibility prone to dream can still find them in the forest, Pan there with his pipe. But my guess is that when he lay dying in Rome, barely twenty-five years old, all enchantment had been wrung from him.

But it's only reasonable to say that most men do not think the forest enchanted, or if it is enchanted it is an enchantment given rebirth in the forest by the opulent excess of a high human imagination. One would have to admit that the way we humans have plundered the earth, despoiled and sullied it, is proof enough that few believe in the gods and goddess of nature. The most majestic tree in the world has become merely a thing, cold and silent, adamantine, no room inside for a spirit.

But let's to Milton, who says, I remind you, that on the morning of Christ's birth, the pagan gods fled, leaving the world forever. He says the ancient "oracles are dumb." "The pale-eyed priest" which was wont to prophesy is uninspired and his tongue is locked. The "genius," the god of a place "weeps." The household gods, the Lares, emit "a drear and dying sound." The gods of old-- Peor, Baalim, Ashtaroth, and Moloch have fled, all hurried away by the Christ Child and a new beginning. In short, says Milton, all the old gods no "longer dare abide." When dawn breaks on Christmas morning, Christ in his manger, "The flocking shadows pale / Troop to the infernal jail: / Each fettered ghost slips to his several grave, / And the yellow-skirted fays / Fly after the night-steeds, leaving their moon-loved maze,"

One might argue--not I, for I am sorely ignorant and can only dumb-guess--that it was the appearance of Christianity that disenchanted the world, that unpopulated the forest of its dyads, removed the gods and goddesses from the waters, shook the thunderbolt from Zeus's mighty hand and silenced the supplication to Apollo. Pan's flute no longer sounds through the limbs of the high trees. He no longer dances in the perfumed night wind, his flock gracile around him.

Below is what Milton says are the consequences of the birth of Christ.

The Oracles are dumb;
No voice or hideous hum
Runs through the arched roof in words deceiving.
Apollo from his shrine
Can no more divine,
With hollow shriek the steep of Delphos leaving.
No nightly trance or breathed spell
Inspires the pale-ey'd priest from the prophetic cell.

Stephen Pentz said...

Shanti: Thank you very much for your kind words. We each take the World as we find it, and there is no accounting for what we may find in it, is there? I agree with your thoughts. Your reference to "product and production" immediately brought to mind one of my favorite poems by R. S. Thomas, which seems apt here:


As life improved, their poems
Grew sadder and sadder. Was there oil
For the machine? It was
The vinegar in the poets' cup.

The tins marched to the music
Of the conveyor belt. A billion
Mouths opened. Production,
Production, the wheels

Whistled. Among the forests
Of metal the one human
Sound was the lament of
The poets for deciduous language.

R. S. Thomas, H'm (Macmillan 1972).

As always, thank you for visiting, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Esther: Thank you very much for your kind words. I'm pleased you liked the post.

And thank you as well for the excerpt from Chesterton, which I haven't seen before (Chesterton is unknown territory for me, I'm ashamed to say). Based on my sense of de la Mare as a person from reading his poetry and other works, and from the biography of him by Theresa Whistler (which I recommend), Chesterton has added a marvelous further dimension to my perception of de la Mare, which could only have come from someone who knew him. Chesterton's focus on de la Mare as a "mere man of imagination" is perfect. His use of the phrase "peacock pie" as an embodiment of de la Mare's imaginative life and powers is wonderful. (His comments on Yeats (and his pairing him with de la Mare) are enlightening as well.)

Chesterton's words lead me to the title of Theresa Whistler's biography: Imagination of the Heart: The Life of Walter de la Mare (Duckworth 1993). Through family connections, Whistler knew de la Mare from the time she was a young girl. In her prologue, she writes of hearing de la Mare speak about there being three types of imagination: "imagination of the intellect," "imagination of the body," and, finally, "imagination of the heart." Hearing him talk about these, it was clear to Whistler that "imagination of the heart" was the most important of the three for him: "Obviously, by the way he said it, this was, for him, supreme." (Ibid, page xi.) Chesterton is right on the mark, isn't he?

As ever, it is a pleasure to hear from you, and to exchange thoughts. I hope that all is well. (Especially given the worrisome news about COVID in Japan that I have been seeing on NHK in recent weeks.) Take care.

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Hill: I'm pleased you liked the post, and the paintings (present and past). Thank you.

Those are marvelous ways to describe Hopkins and Stevens! I think you are right on the money. Even apart from the contradictory accounts of whether Stevens converted to Catholicism in the final year of his life (many of his secular admirers appear to be alarmed or disconcerted by the possibility), the unresolved presence of God in his poetry is quite evident from beginning to end. As for Hopkins: yes, I am quite fond of him, and his poetry has not appeared here as often as it should have (which I ought to rectify). You have now reminded me that it has been too long since I have visited him. Thank you.

Your question "What was de la Mare?" is a good one. I think either of your descriptions for Hopkins and Stevens are apt for him as well. He wrote a large number of poems that provide us with hints. A good place to start might be "Nobody Knows" from Peacock Pie. Here is the final stanza:

And so we live under deep water,
All of us, beasts and men,
And our bodies are buried down under the sand,
When we go again;
And leave, like the fishes, our shells,
And float on the Wind and away,
To where, o'er the marvelous tides of the air,
Burns day.

(By the way, this is a fine example of one of the many "poems for children" by de la Mare that go far beyond what is usually implied by that category. (The same can be said of Christina Rossetti.) He was reluctant to make a clear distinction between his "children's poetry" and his "adult poetry," and rightfully so.)

Thank you very much for the recommendation of "Mr Turner," which I wasn't aware of. I found the trailer on the internet, and it looks wonderful. (The brief glimpses of paintings in the trailer are tantalizing.) As you might imagine, it is right up my alley. I have discovered that it is available for rental on Amazon, and I will be watching it soon.

Thank you for visiting again, and for sharing your thoughts.

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: Well, you have given us a great deal to digest, and raised provocative issues. Thank you very much for doing so.

I am no expert on Leopardi, but I suspect he would agree with you regarding the role played by Christianity with respect to the disenchantment of the Greek world (although he wouldn't see this as a good thing). With respect to Wordsworth (who both of us are fond of), we know that he moved away from his 1797 through 1807 self in his later years. But what he felt, thought, and wrote during that time is what it is. As for the role of Christianity in the disenchantment of the World: that is hard for me to evaluate. I say this as someone of Scandinavian heritage who was raised in the Lutheran Church of the lost, beloved, wonderful Minnesota world of the late fifties and early sixties, which I wouldn't part with for anything. But, as you've no doubt noticed over the years, the Japanese and Chinese poets (grounded in Taoism and Buddhism) are quite compelling to me. [An aside: don't get me started on what the "Age of Enlightenment" has wrought.]

But the World is wide open as far as I'm concerned. As I stated in my reply above to Shanti's comment: we each take the World as we find it, and there is no accounting for what we may find in it. Milton found something, as did the Wordsworth we love, and Bashō, Saigyō, Po Chü-i, as well as Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson -- to name only a few, of course. But, as de la Mare says: "Nobody Knows."

As ever, thank you so much for your thoughtful, and thought-provoking, presence here.

Wurmbrand said...

A late comment on a comment (Bruce's) on a blog posting is probably not the place for a treatise -- despite the degree to which that comment invites a treatise!

Milton was alluding to an ancient pagan record. It's Plutarch's De Defectu Oraculorum, quoted here:

Make of that what you can!

(NB Milton was steeped in the Classics -- perhaps no major British poet would equal him therein.)

The rise of Christianity didn't, then, simply dispossess the "old gods" and nature spirits but enable their renewal* in the poetic forms familiar to those who read literary works and enjoy European art prior to the World Wars. On this topic, one may consult Seznec's The Survival of the Pagan Gods (this "survival" predated the Renaissance, by the way), Wind's Pagan Mysteries in the Renaissance, Gombrich's Symbolic Images, and so on -- as well as primary sources such as Dante's Comedy, Spenser's Faerie Queene, etc.

Byt he way, Tuesday, Sept,. 14, is the 700th anniversary of Dante's death in exile in Ravenna.

*After they were already losing their vitality among the Greeks and Romans, thanks among other things to the pressure of the philosophers (Plato 400 years before Christ is already rejecting the tales of licentious Zeus, etc.) on the one hand and the deifying of the Roman State on the other. There's an interesting discussion about this in Chesterton's The Everlasting Man.

Dale Nelson

Stephen Pentz said...

Mr. Nelson: It's good to hear from you again. As always, thank you for stopping by.

Thank you very much for sharing the information about the background to Milton, as well as the other sources you cite. Both you and Bruce are far more erudite than I am, so I am not qualified to contribute anything to what either of you have said. But I do recognize that there was skepticism about the gods even among the Greeks and Romans. You cite Plato, but, as you probably know, Xenophanes of Colophon (6th to 5th century B.C.) expressed similar sentiments, as reflected, for instance, in these lines:

Of the Gods and these other matters none knows the verity --
No man that lived before us, no man that yet shall be.
However full-perfected the system he hath made,
Its maker knoweth nothing. With fancy all's o'erlaid.

(Translated by F. L. Lucas.)

Thus, Xenophanes appears to agree with Walter de la Mare: "Nobody Knows." I'm with them. As I noted above, the World is wide open as far as I'm concerned.

I'm with Philippe Jaccottet as well: "All I have been able to do is to walk and go on walking, remember, glimpse, forget, try again, rediscover, become absorbed. . . . I've merely passed by, open to impressions. I have seen those things which also pass -- more quickly or, conversely, more slowly than human life. Occasionally, as if our movements had crossed -- like the encounter of two glances that can create a flash of illumination and open up another world -- I've thought I had glimpsed what I should have to call the still center of the moving world. Too much said? Better to walk on." (Landscapes with Absent Figures; translated by Mark Treharne.)

Again, it's nice to hear from you. I'm pleased to know you're still visiting, which I greatly appreciate. I hope that all is well.

Bruce said...

Dear Steve,

Thank your for describing me as "erudite," but I don't deserve this plaudit, though Mr. Nelson does. He is clearly an astute scholar. I learned early in my college career that though I had an intense affinity and even love for literature, I was no scholar. Frankly, I had no gift for it, found it laborious and joyless, whereas I found high delight in reading literature (I had something like an epiphany on the power of words one night reading Macaulay's essay on Samuel Johnson). For example, I have read all of Milton. liking him a great deal, to the amazement of most. It's possible that Milton may be the last man to have read every book ever printed.

The simple truth is, Steve, that when I read your post on enchantment, I simply remembered Milton's poem on the birth of Christ and the resulting vanishing of the pagan gods. I did know that long before Milton bright men doubted the existence of these gods. Through a friend I once corresponded with Tony Hecht about a piece he had written about Keat's "Ode to Psyche." I told him I admired the poem for the great beauty of the final stanza. I also mentioned that I didn't believe Keats believed Dryads dwelt in trees. Mr. Hecht's answer was succinct: "I wouldn't be so sure."

I want to thank Mr. Nelson for revealing to me things I didn't know. His knowledge is capacious; compared with him mine is painfully meager The aim of my comment was to speak only to what Milton says about the "death" of the pagan gods. No more than that. I had no desire, knowing my limitations, of going any deeper than this: one man's words on the birth of Christ and the consequences of this birth.

I don't know whether is germane to the point of pagan gods, whether they exist or not, but thinkers like Ernest Becker, the author of the book "The Denial of Death," conclude that the primary reason Christianity superseded the pagan gods, especially in Western culture, is because it offered humankind what, at the core, it yearned most for: immortality. Christ was a way in which to cheat death.

Steve, I do think you are right when you intimate that poets like Wordsworth, Stevens, Keats, and others find a way around the strictures of Christianity that separate man from Nature. In "'Angel Surrounded By Paysans" Stevens says:

Yet I am the necessary angel of the earth,
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again,

Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set,
and, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone . . .

Would it be fair to say that if we learn to see the earth "cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-lock set," we will once again find our planet full of enchantment?

Stephen Pentz said...

Bruce: Thank you very much for your follow-up thoughts. As I have noted here in the past, I am fortunate to find such thoughtful and articulate readers. You and Mr. Nelson have given me a great deal to think about, for which I am grateful.

Thank you so much for sharing Anthony Hecht's wonderful comment about Keats and the Dryads. It is lovely, and fits perfectly here. And thank you as well for the lines from Stevens. Over the years, I've come to realize that very few poets (or anybody else, for that matter) have thought and felt as deeply as Stevens did about this puzzle of God, humanity, the World, and the imagination (i.e., what it means to be a human being) -- or have written about it so beautifully. I wholly agree with your final thought. You and I both love Wordsworth: this seems to be what he was getting at as well.

Thank you again for taking the time to follow up on your prior thoughts. It's always a pleasure to hear from you.