Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rowing Home - Winslow Homer



Now through night's caressing grip
Earth and all her oceans slip,
Capes of China slide away
From her fingers into day
And th'Americas incline
Coasts towards her shadow line.

Now the ragged beggars creep
Into crooked holes to sleep:
Just and unjust, worst and best,
Change their places as they rest:
Awkward lovers lie in fields
Where disdainful beauty yields:

While the splendid and the proud
Naked stand before the crowd
And the losing gambler gains
And the beggar entertains:
May sleep's healing power extend
Through these hours to our friend.
Unpursued by hostile force,
Traction engine, bull or horse
Or revolting succubus;
Calmly till the morning break
Let him lie, then gently wake.

~WH Auden (1907-1973)

Wystan Hugh Auden, English-American poet


  1. I'm afraid that George Orwell was right about Auden and the new generation of writers of his "ilk". I'm afraid that you've been swallowed by the whale, FT.

  2. Orwell may have been a chillingly accurate Prophet of Doom [Very sadly he was!], but as a self-admitted leftist his vision came at him from the wrong end of the telescope. A brilliant, but insufferably arrogant, much too captious, rather dismal human being whose life turned out to be short, and I'm sure quite unpleasant.

    by the way I couldn't stand Tropic of Cancer or anything else by Henry Miller whom I, personally, regard as a crass degenerate -- certainly one of the leading indicators of the dreadful fate that was about to befall Western Civilization.

    I hated Lady Chatterley's Lover, Fanny Hill and My Secret Life too -- not because I'm a prude [If you think that, BELIEVE me you have no idea who I am] -- but because ever since our dear Suepreme Kawt in its infinite wisdom decided THEIR understanding of the First Amendment trumped Long-Established Customs and Mores, and thus overrode Community Standards, the country has been swimming neck deep in raw sewage.

    One tires very quickly of the stench and the plethora of deadly diseases both medical and moral that accompany it.

    In short I don't give a flying f-ck what Orwell thought of Auden or any other poet or artist of the time. He was not qualified to judge them anymore than the Chinese Communists were qualified to declare Beethoven "A Decadent Bourgeois Influence and a Threat to the Security of the State," or George Bernard Shaw knew what he was talking about when he declared Fanny Davies, Clara Schumann's favorite pupil and the greatest interpreter of Chopin and Schumann's music in her time, as unworthy of setting foot on the concert stage. [I have heard recordings made by Fanny Davies late in her career with the London Philharmonic under the baton of Ernest Ansermet that prove Shaw's opinion deeply flawed if no downright idiotic.]

    I have reached the stage of life where I have confidence in my own assessment of things. It can't be much worse than any of the others who thought they knew which end was up -- and didn't.

    More and more I must agree with Hume's famous observation:

    Reason is but the Slave of Passion.

    If we don't like something, we ASSUME there MUST be solid REASON that justifies our distaste.

    Sorry, but as Sportin' Life said, "It Ain't Necessarily So."

  3. He had an ear.

    I heard the Goldberg Variations in concert today, FT.
    Put it on a short list of great concerts I've heard.
    Dexter Gordon at the old Jazz Workshop, Dylan and The Band before they were The Band ...

  4. D.H. Lawrence

    Climbing through the January snow, into the Lobo Canyon
    Dark grow the spruce-trees, blue is the balsam, water sounds still unfrozen, and the trail is still evident

    Two men!
    Men! The only animal in the world to fear!

    They hesitate.
    We hesitate.
    They have a gun.
    We have no gun.

    Then we all advance, to meet.

    Two Mexicans, strangers, emerging our of the dark and
    snow and inwardness of the Lobo valley.
    What are they doing here on this vanishing trail?

    What is he carrying?
    Something yellow.
    A deer?

    Que' tiene amigo?

    He smiles foolishly as if he were caught doing wrong.
    And we smile, foolishly, as if we didn't know.
    He is quite gentle and dark-faced.

    It is a mountain lion,
    A long, long, slim cat, yellow like a lioness.

    He trapped her this morning, he says, smiling foolishly.

    Life up her face,
    Her round, bright face, bright as frost.
    Her round, fine-fashioned head, with two dead ears;
    And stripes in the brilliant frost of her face, sharp, fine dark rays,
    Dark, keen, fine rays in the brilliant frost of her face.
    Beautiful dead eyes.

    Hermoso es!

    They go out towards the open;
    We go out into the gloom of Lobo.
    And above the trees I found her lair,
    A hole in the blood-orange brilliant rocks that stick up, a little cave.
    And bones, and twigs, and a perilous ascent.

    So, she will never leap up that way again, with the yellow flash of a mountain lion's long shoot!
    And her bright striped frost-face will never watch any more, out of the shadow of the cave in the blood- orange rock,
    Above the trees of the Lobo dark valley-mouth!

    Instead, I look out.
    And out to the dim of the desert, like a dream, never real;
    To the snow of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the ice of the mountains of Picoris,
    And near across at the opposite steep of snow, green trees motionless standing in snow, like a Christmas toy.

    And I think in this empty world there was room for me and a mountain lion.
    And I think in the world beyond, how easily we might spare a million or two humans
    And never miss them.
    Yet what a gap in the world, the missing white frost-face of that slim yellow mountain lion!

  5. So which is better, vustom or reason? You would appear to contradict you argument in previous post... ;)

  6. So which is better, vustom (sic) or reason?

    As I said earlier:

    It all depends on WHOSE Custom and WHOSE Tradition -- and the mentality it represents. Of course I am opposed to MINDLESS adherence to ANY mode of thinking.

    Truth is constant -- indeed, the ONLY constant -- but our understanding of Truth needs constant maintenance, overhaul and occasional updating, because our mortal perceptions are flawed and need fine tuning all the time if we are to stay on a benevolent, productive course that allows the greatest possible freedom for the individual.

    The ONLY rule is The Golden Rule. How to follow it is where we run into difficulty, because of the human appetite for incessant conflict and one-upmanship.

    The penchant for being [unnecessarily] ARGUMENTATIVE may very well be The Root of All Evil.

    I do not argue. I make pronouncements. ;-)

  7. That's a magnificent poem, Ducky. Elemental and very touching.

    I still don't like Lady Chatterly's Lover, nor did I care very much for Sons and Lovers.

    Lawrence, I suspect, was a better poet than he was a novelist.

    Good for you for embracing The Goldberg Variations! A wonderful work, but not every music lover's cup of tea.

    Who was the performer? I hope it was Simone (sp?) Dinnerstein. I've been very favorably impressed with her approach to this work and the impromptus of Schubert. Alas! I've only heard substantial excerpts.

    To whose "ear" were you referring? I didn't quite catch your drift.

  8. I do not argue. I make pronouncements. ;-)
    Howe VERY convenient for you that truth is a "constant", and NOT a "woman" (as Nietzsche claims) in his "Preface" to Beyond Good & Evil


  9. ...for if truth truly were so "singularly" constant... custom and tradition might one day become "universal".

    No Golberg "variations" to listen to. :(

  10. Personally, I don't believe that you understood a word of Orwell's essay.

    While I have been writing this essay another European war has broken out. It will either last several years and tear Western civilization to pieces, or it will end inconclusively and prepare the way for yet another war which will do the job once and for all. But war is only ‘peace intensified’. What is quite obviously happening, war or no war, is the break-up of laissez-faire capitalism and of the liberal-Christian culture. Until recently the full implications of this were not foreseen, because it was generally imagined that socialism could preserve and even enlarge the atmosphere of liberalism. It is now beginning to be realized how false this idea was. Almost certainly we are moving into an age of totalitarian dictatorships — an age in which freedom of thought will be at first a deadly sin and later on a meaningless abstraction. The autonomous individual is going to be stamped out of existence. But this means that literature, in the form in which we know it, must suffer at least a temporary death. The literature of liberalism is coming to an end and the literature of totalitarianism has not yet appeared and is barely imaginable. As for the writer, he is sitting on a melting iceberg; he is merely an anachronism, a hangover from the bourgeois age, as surely doomed as the hippopotamus. Miller seems to me a man out of the common because he saw and proclaimed this fact a long while before most of his contemporaries — at a time, indeed, when many of them were actually burbling about a renaissance of literature. Wyndham Lewis had said years earlier that the major history of the English language was finished, but he was basing this on different and rather trivial reasons. But from now onwards the all-important fact for the creative writers going to be that this is not a writer's world. That does not mean that he cannot help to bring the new society into being, but he can take no part in the process as a writer. For as a writer he is a liberal, and what is happening is the destruction of liberalism. It seems likely, therefore, that in the remaining years of free speech any novel worth reading will follow more or less along the lines that Miller has followed — I do not mean in technique or subject matter, but in implied outlook. The passive attitude will come back, and it will be more consciously passive than before. Progress and reaction have both turned out to be swindles. Seemingly there is nothing left but quietism — robbing reality of its terrors by simply submitting to it. Get inside the whale — or rather, admit you are inside the whale (for you are, of course). Give yourself over to the worid-process, stop fighting against it or pretending that you control it; simply accept it, endure it, record it. That seems to be the formula, that any sensitive novelist is now likely to adopt. A novel on more positive, ‘constructive’ lines, and not emotionally spurious, is at present very difficult to imagine.

    But do I mean by this that Miller is a ‘great author’, a new hope for English prose? Nothing of the kind. Miller himself would be the last to claim or want any such thing. No doubt he will go on writing — anybody who has ones started always goes on writing — and associated with him there are a number of writers of approximately the same tendency, Lawrence Durrell, Michael Fraenkel and others, almost amounting to a ‘school’. But he himself seems to me essentially a man of one book.

  11. It's a shame really, because I think that Orwell captures many of your own sentiments concerning the decadence of American and European culture within it.

  12. ....Miller as a SYMPTOM of a larger problem (which includes Auden, et al)

    Miller's books are published by the Obelisk Press in Paris. What will happen to the Obelisk Press, now that war has broken out and Jack Kathane, the publisher, is dead, I do not know, but at any rate the books are still procurable. I earnestly counsel anyone who has not done so to read at least Tropic of Cancer. With a little ingenuity, or by paying a little over the published price, you can get hold of it, and even if parts of it disgust you, it will stick in your memory. It is also an ‘important’ book, in a sense different from the sense in which that word is generally used. As a rule novels are spoken of as ‘important’ when they are either a ‘terrible indictment’ of something or other or when they introduce some technical innovation. Neither of these applies to Tropic of Cancer. Its importance is merely symptomatic. Here in my opinion is the only imaginative prose-writer of the slightest value who has appeared among the English-speaking races for some years past. Even if that is objected to as an overstatement, it will probably be admitted that Miller is a writer out of the ordinary, worth more than a single glance; and after all, he is a completely negative, unconstructive, amoral writer, a mere Jonah, a passive acceptor of evil, a sort of Whitman among the corpses. Symptomatically, that is more significant than the mere fact that five thousand novels are published in England every year and four thousand nine hundred of them are tripe. It is a demonstration of the impossibility of any major literature until the world has shaken itself into its new shape.

  13. Lawrence, I suspect, was a better poet than he was a novelist.

    Yeah, I'd tend to agree. His short stories are worthwhile, also.

    I also agree on Henry Miller. Boring.

  14. To whose "ear" were you referring? I didn't quite catch your drift.
    Auden. I think he had a very fine ear for meter.

  15. The Duck likes Audem. What a surprise... NOT!

    ..lAt the moment of writing, we are still in a period in which it is taken for granted that books ought always to be positive, serious, and ‘constructive’. A dozen years ago this idea would have been greeted with titters. (‘My dear aunt, one doesn't write about anything, one just writes.’) Then the pendulum swung away from the frivolous notion that art is merely technique, but it swung a very long distance, to the point of asserting that a book can only be ‘good’ if it is founded on a ‘true’ vision of life. Naturally the people who believe this also believe that they are in posssion of the truth themselves. Catholic critics, for instance, tend to claim that books arc only ‘good’ when they are of Catholic tendency. Marxist critics make the same claim more boldy for Marxist books. For instance, Mr Edward Upward (‘A Marxist Interpretation of Literature,’ in the Mind in Chains}:

    Literary criticism which aims at being Marxist must... proclaim that no book written at the present time can be ‘good’ unless it is written from a Marxist or near-Marxist viewpoint.

  16. Here's the pianist, FT

    I'm not a qualified judge but the concert just shot by. I was never bored and that's saying something for an hour plus uninterrupted piece of music.

    My niece is a better judge. We attended a concert of various sonatas and I thought it was fine but maybe a little lethargic.
    She didn't care for it. "I can't believe how many times he half-keyed. I wonder if he practiced on that instrument."
    Quite knowledgeable musically. There is hope in the younger generation.

  17. Oh yes, Jeremy Denk. I have heard of him, but have not yet heard him.

    Thank you, Ducky. I always like to know who the performers are -- in order to give them credit.

    Unless one has the (rather unusual) ability to hear musical scores accurately entirely in one's own imagination -- as Beethoven obviously did -- one cannot begin to appreciate serious music literature without the technical and interpretative skill of performing artists.

    There are as many different ways of enjoying The Goldberg Variations as there are keyboard artists capable of playing them.

    Frankly, I did not like the tone of Jeremy's remarks -- flippant, self-deprecatory, competitive, and what not, but that sort of thing is "modern" -- we've come not only to accept it, but to expect and demand it -- one of the myriad phenomena that speak poorly for contemporary society. I'm quite sure I'd enjoy his playing, however.

    Talking about music is usually an exercise in futility. Most often it winds up sounding facetious -- either pompous, shallow, self-aggrandizing and pretentious, or downright silly -- UNLESS the speaker happens to possess the soul and the intellect of an Alfred Cortot, a Wanda Landowska, a Deryck Cooke, or a Leonard Bernstein, a protean figure whose skill as a teacher-lecture-recialist was the greatest of his many musical talents in my informed opinion.

    Even Chopin, great master that he was, sounded absurd when describing the supposed "programme" of his F-Minor Fantasy, Opus 49 -- at least as the story has been handed down to us from those who claim to have heard it firsthand.

    Important music speaks best for itself -- to those who have the instincts and the intellectual capacity to love it.

    My piano teacher at the conservatory -- a very famous woman in the field -- had a quotation from Albert Schweitzer handwritten in beautiful calligraphy, framed and posted prominently in her studio.


    She, of course, was probably THE most critical person I've ever encountered, but she really knew what she was talking about -- as many of even our most noted critics do not.

    As for the Goldbergs, they were first brought to the public's attention in the modern era by Wanda Landowska as part of her highly successful efforts to revive interest in the harpsichord and the music written specifically for it. James Friskin, a Scotsman who became most noted for his Bach-playing, taught at the Juilliard. Firskin performed them in recital,to critical acclaim at a time when no concertgoer would have been caught dead at a Bach recital. Eunice Norton, an American girl from Minnesota, who became a protegée of Dame Myra Hess and a pupil of Artur Schnabel, was the very first keyboard artist to play the Goldbergs in the United States on a radio broadcast, BUT it really was not until Glenn Gould recorded them in 1958 or '59, if I remember correctly, that the music-loving, concert-going public really began to take notice of the work.

    Gould set such a high standard with his meticulous, bold, virtuosic, vividly imaginative approach and incredibly brilliant, refined execution of the passagework that it has been impossible ever since for all others who've made the effort to perform the Goldbergs not to be compared with Gould.

    Many have tried, few have fully succeeded. I would love to have heard Jeremy Denk's concert.

    PS: I find it comical as well as highly ironic that the fellow who commissioned Bach to write these variations was an insomniac who hoped Bach's monumental brainchild would help put him to sleep. I kid you not.

  18. Thanks so much for that review, Ms shaw, and for the link to the Gould interview and performance, which I listened to only in part. I found the interviewer a little too precious and obviously awestruck for my tastes. Gould of course, was Gould, as always, -- an improbable, incredible Force of Nature whose capabilities -- almost-but-not-quite like those of Johann Sebastian, himself -- were so profound that even most of us in the field were never really capable of fully appreciating him.

    I had listened to Gould's 1981 recording of the variations for the first time just a few weeks ago. I had intended then to "sample" a few, because I didn't think I had enough time for the entire set, but quickly found myself mesmerized and incapable of NOT listening to the whole thing. Absolutely spellbinding -- as was his earlier historic recording -- but in a different way.

    The reviewer sounds like a sourpuss to me. [Except in the rarest instances, I don't like critics], therefore I would tend to trust Ducky's enthusiastic response more, because, unlike "familiar classics the whole world adores" this work does NOT "play itself." It requires interpretative skill of the highest order to put it across. Mere expertise can turn it into a numbing bore.

    Years ago I actually walked out around the halfway mark on a performance of the Goldbergs at Wigmore Hall in London -- something I NEVER would have done normally -- because the playing was so pedestrian I couldn't bear it. The unknown pianist was capable, but that was all. He has probably stayed unknown all these years for a good reason, poor fellow!

    I'd have to hear Jeremy Denk for myself -- probably several times -- before I could say anything definite about him. The review did sound mean-spirited, but I probably would have been more inclined to accept it at face value were it not for Ducky's "report."

    Thanks so much for contributing.

    I'm sorry you missed Jeremy Denk, but have to say that even The Goldberg Variations would not have kept ME from spending a weekend in coastal Maine at this lovely time of the year. ;-)

    I hope you had a lovely time.



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