Friday, July 15, 2011

Aristarchus of the South Seas

'ARISTARCHUS is charming: how full of knowledge, of sense, of sentiment. You get him with difficulty to your supper; and after having delighted everybody and himself for a few hours, he is obliged to return home; - he is finishing his treatis, to prove that unhappiness is the portion of man.'
-Richard Fulke Greville, Maxims, Characters, and Reflections

'Mr. Melville was probably quite as entertaining and somewhat less abstruse, when his communications were by word of mouth. Mrs. Hawthorne used to tell of one evening, when he came in, and presently began to relate the story of a fight which he had seen in the Pacific, between some savages, and the prodigies of valor one of them performed with a heavy club. The narrative was extremely graphic; and when Melville had gone, and Mr. and Mrs. Hawthorne were talking over his visit, the latter said, "Where is that club which Mr. Melville was laying about him so?" Mr. Hawthorne thought he must have taken it with him; Mrs. Hawthorne thought he had put it in the corner; but it was not to be found. The next time Melville came, they asked him about it; whereupon it appeared that the club was still in the Pacific island, if it were anywhere."
-Julian Hawthorne, Nat. Hawthorne & his Wife, a Biography; Vol. 1

'Melville, as he always does, began to reason of Providence and futurity, and of everything that lies beyond human ken, and informed me that he had "pretty much made up his mind to be annihilated;" but still he does not seem to rest in that anticipation; and, I think, will never rest until he gets hold of a definite belief. It is strange how he persists - and has persisted ever since I knew him, and probably long before - in wandering to and fro over these deserts, as dismal and monotonous as the sand hills amid which we were sitting. He can neither believe, nor be comfortable in his unbelief; and he is too honest and courageous not to try to do one or the other. If he were a religious man, he would be one of the most truly religious and reverential; he has a very high and noble nature, and better worth immortality than most of us."
-Hawthorne, Journal, Nov. 12 1856

'An agreeable day. Took a long walk by the sea. Sands & grass. Wild & desolate. A strong wind. Good talk."
-Melville, Journal, Nov. 12 1856

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Land of Eden

"We're tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles."
-Gilles Deleuze, Anti-Oedipus

On the morrow I journey to the Land of Eden, my home-stretch, where the noble Dan River flows quiet 'neath the trees. My two years amongst the Germans & Sauvages, have barrister'd & lawyered away at my Conscience, till I can no longer stand to be apart from my beloved red clay.

Half the delight of any Journey derives from the anticipatory pleazure. We recall the roads & byways, speckled with the gold & green shadows of summer. We hope for a flagon of dark Mexican beer & a great Dish of Pollo Mole. We imagine the faces of Friends, so long unseen that they seem to have been Characters in a dream. They may only be revived by offering yourself, in the flesh.

Homer gives us a type of this, when Odysseus must pour hot sacrificial blood on the ground, to attract the hungry Shades. We forget the wide distance between ourselves. Gadgetry & Mechanistickal devices - the Cell-Phone - allow us to appear in Effigy, or to breathe a few words into remote ears. But, being good Pagans in heart if not in mind, we prefer always the flesh, to the spirit.

See what grievous loss Departure wreaks: Dido's lovely flesh, burning on the Carthaginian ramparts, after Mercury tugged Aeneas' spirit onward to Italy; poor Fitzgerald, maintaining his mad wife Zelda, who became only a mannequin of her self. For that matter, wou'd not Troy's high walls stand forever, if not for Helen's duplicitous escape?

But Herodotus tells us otherwise, that Helen hid in Egypt, and it was only an image of Helen in Troy. Indeed, no matter how much she was shamed, and whored by the Heroes & Princes of the Mediterranean, always she was reverenced as pure, indeed as a Virgin. Helen escapes from Menelaus, as she later escapes from Paris & the burning Walls of Ilion - by remaining ghostly, uncommitted. There will always be some part of Helen that survives; like a Tree, ever so harshly scoured by Winter & fire, yet blooming in Spring.

The virgins worshipp'd Helen under the sycamores, near Sparta. & it was fruit from the fig-sycamore, the Mulberry, that Eve ate, that expell'd our noble line from perpetuall Happiness. Who can say what spirit they relinquish'd in that garden? Who cou'd say what spirit we have gain'd, by the Toils of our unhappy flesh?

But now it is time to put away recondite Musings, & attend to my tree-dreams.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Overheard, from Tables

-O, I can hoodoo you!
-I have learn'd, that there are women who simply enjoy coition. As soon they have stopp'd drinking, depend on it, they will attach themselves to a man. Certainly, they will find many willing to oblige their appetites, which are positively ravenous.
-I have seen these slippers before, but never in lavender.
-But you have that pair - is't not the same?
-Nay, I look'd far for these, and found them finally in a warren of Myrtle Beach.
-I hope that I can calm my twitches before I go to Pennsylvania. The savages are monstrous fierce.
-The subdivisions are fabulous. So beautiful. I go there, and I query myself, where I cou'd find a tie to match these beautiful homes?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Tincture of Pokeweed-Sense

We have now pass'd a full Day since the suppos'd, predicted end of the World, on May 21st, 2011.

It will be quick enough to guess the Counters offer'd by the True-believers of this Profecy. "Perhaps it was no end of this world, but rather the Beginning of the Tribulation, where all our Mettles shall be tested!"

"Perhaps the holy are already disappear'd, and the Wicked discover'd by their continual Residence on Earth."

"Perhaps there are yet geologick Distempers brewing in the molten Innards of our country - ye need look only to the volcanic Belch, again spewing from Iceland's hoary beard!"

Perhaps ministers & schoolmasters enough are convinc'd of this folly, that the next Generation will grow into a fearful & wither'd State, forever apprehensive of their own Failings. Impending Doom will bend the spines of our proud Country, & scolioted Virginia shall have a Hunchback Governor.

But when I hear these easy-enough Cries, promising the Long Grim Slide, I can only give in Echo four-fold Laughter. If there is this God that tends the trees and watches over each Flock after its kind, to what end this general Conflagration, so eagerly awaited by his Followers?

Why wou'd he allow the trees to bend under their darkening greens? Why wou'd he swell the Gerando River with all the rich silt of a Nile, or Tiber? Why wou'd he allow the wheat-fields to whisper with the softness of distant Surf, and yet in a moment peel back the Rind of the earth, to melt & eternally singe us all?

I put my faith in the downy yellow Ducklings that trundle after their mother, near the nest she made of nettles and twigs. I put my faith in the grackle that makes her nest in a Gutter, high above my head, so that I may only know of her young by the squawks that emerge from my roof. I put my faith in the clay-red calf I saw yesterday in the Fort Valley, running after his mother with all the joy of one who has only just discover'd running.

These are better signs indeed than Disorder in the Middle East, which has ever been a blazing, bloody ground, or the misdoings of a few miscreant Politickos. What cou'd a just God care about a politician, when his eye apprehends as well the Duckling?

What a cruel God He is to these Apocalyptites, that they must live another day on the bounteous Earth. Indeed, to such Unrulies as wish the end of the world, What better punishment than a beautiful weekend, such as this?

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Old Man is Snoring

I don't care if we spend
the night at your mansion

Prodigious Rain. Never before, in the Historie of Virginia, have I seen such torrential pourings. The Gulf has been a whirl-wind all to its own this year, and some few of their offspring have climbed up the Appalachians to menace the Gerando Valley & its settlements.

It wou'd be easy to imagine falsely that the Mountains afford some protection. But these aged Ramparts cannot prevent a Cyclone from entering our valley, and furthermore, they trap the storm within their Bounds, so that that tornadick twisting will bounce & volley all across the poor Farmland.

Thus the Mountains betray us to another Foe. For the Indians have no reason to pass thro' this Land, but only are funnel'd along our Roads & into our Yards by that Appalachian Highway, the Warrior's Path.

I myself was near frighten'd out my Skin by tornadick Action, a mere few weeks ago. In the midst of darkness, Molly, my wife's Irish wench, sprung into my bedroom. Ah, I thought, the bonny hungers for a Frolick - for oft has this pock'd Aphrodite assum'd the office of her Mistress, when it comes to bed-labor.

"Sir! Sir! Master Bainton! There is no time for such ninnery. There is a tornado about!"

"Well," sd I, thinking this a peculiar phantasy of hers, "perhaps we shou'd spend our last minutes in the fullest ripeness!," and rush'd my Hand to her Quickness!

There was a great scuffing, & unseemly Noises proceeded from my Chambers - this I must admit. But, as soon as I understood the full Import of the Slut's importunity, I struggled like a very Laocoon to free myself from her petticoats! "We must needs retreat! Let us away, to the Cellar!"

But here, I was pinn'd by a most troubling Query: What to take with me? Shou'd I grab my compleat Pliny, or my gilt volumes of Ruskin's letters to the workingmen? Shou'd I remove to my underground Lair with a homey copy of Ulysses, or with Djuna Barnes, or Charles Doughty?

For what profit the Man his Library, if it be scatter'd to wind-blown & wet pages, or torn to flecks & Bits? What profit a Millionaire his Mansion, if the compress'd wood lies again in mulch'd chips, and the christall Chandelier now only shards that may slice his children's Feet?

In the end I threw my Manuscripts into a bag from the Food Lion, & hoped. Molly & I pass'd a diverting, if not altogether Joyfull night in the double-door'd Cellar. The Cellar stank to Heaven, which is fitting, as the stench is an augur of Rain. And in the morning, when my watch told that I shou'd go to my Surveyor, we emerg'd to find the World green, twigg'd & branch'd, but alltogether whole, thank God.

"They pursued their march through the Isle of Wight, and observed a most dreadful havoc made by a late hurricane, which happened in August 1726. The violence of it had not reached above a quarter of a mile in breadth, but within that compass had levelled all before it. Both trees and houses were levelled flat on the ground, and severall things hurled to an incredible distance. It is happy such violent gusts are confined to so a narrow channel, because they carry desolation wherever they go.
-W. Byrd, History of the Div. Line

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Chironomia of Place

"I think," said I, "I may infer from all this that you too are a Virginian."
"Of course, I would not suppose you could doubt it. There is a sort of Freemasonry among us, by which we know each other..."
--George Balcombe, Nathaniel Beverley Tucker

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Flagpole Sitta

Met today with a sullen Platonist, who told me that beneath all the sundry Pratings & wildnesses of Man, he cou'd discern but one Idea: LOVE.

"Does not the Mantuan swan tell us that amor omnia vincit?" he asked, with a positively Olympian grandeur. "Does not the peripatetic Master -"

"Halt there, my good man," I said. "If love be all, and infuse all with its grandeur & strength, where then wou'd the Love be when no life breath'd on the earth? What wou'd this love be, when the Blue Ridge rumpled to Life like a folding Carpet? What wou'd the loving Heart be, that gaz'd on vast & measureless wastes, with no Breath upon it but the most vile & noxious of gasses?"

The Platonist sigh'd, as tho' I were but a Stripling that needed thorough Correction. "Sir, the love is of course God's."

"But can we call the mind of God by those same words used of man?"

"Of course not." Again, he beam'd with the assurance of a divine.

"Ah. Just yesterday, my Sappony man Ned Bearskin hopp'd into my tent to tell me that his son has taken a Wife. The poor native considers himself in love. Now, tell me, how can your God look upon the Rocks with a swelling tumescence? How can his trousers inflate at the sight of an airless rock, bald of the greenery that fills our hills? What manner of rotten flagpole sitter is this, that wou'd shun the hot doings of a young Sappony & his wife?"

"Oh, M'syer Bainton - you do try my patience. Oh - piss off, sir!"

And thus we parted on the warmest terms of Love