Monday, April 18, 2011

On War...

War. War never changes.
I read an article in today's paper wherein one of the columnists mused on the prevalence of war metaphors in recent election coverage.
It reminded me of my undergraduate, when my friend and I would compare our progress during the semester with language borrowed from Vietnam War movies, with Platoon being the most notable.
I have, lately, been tempted to return to war metaphor in an effort to describe my life.
Yesterday, I noted to a colleague that despite being in the Humanities (or social sciences; we never seem to know which), my life had become governed by the cold hard facts of mathematics. I can read 20 pages/hr. There are 24 hrs in a day. I have 500 pages to read in 7 days (light stuff too. Feminist philosophy).
Math, Gentle Reader, is not my friend. I do not like its logic, its cold relentless march toward an essential truth.
No, I prefer the hazards and vagaries of war. Valor, chance, and might. God on our side. Or someone's side, anyway. Me vs. the books. Once more unto the breach, dear friends.
Shakespeare (Henry V - Act III, Scene I):

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

I do, on occasion, and more so recently, enjoy a good quote from Shakespeare. I have not, truth be told, read all that much of him. No more really, than your average lit major, and in some cases, much less. Nevertheless, the Bard is eminently quotable, and I enjoy doing just that.
There are a few things about this particular speech that really thrill me. Firstly, the breach. With the possible exception of "Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war" (also the bard, Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I), no line so encompasses for me the sentiment of girding oneself for strife (or horrendous amounts of reading). In addition, it describes a war face, including instructions. Big fan of the war face.
War, Gentle Reader. War.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

"Then I'd lie in my bed once again"

It is no secret, at least not to we few, we proud, we band of readers, those of us who regularly read those words written here (Hello, Denmark!), that poetry has become significantly more present in my life now than some times previous.
In part, this lies in the rediscovery of poetry read aloud, preferably to me by someone else (and pretty girls seem to work best), but, in a pinch, by me to me. I suppose I always, somehow, knew this to be the best means of receiving verse, but, as with all things, time occasionally robs us of knowledge and memory. I forgot, Gentle Reader, as I grew older, that one aught to read poems aloud, forgot that one should read them at all.
God! What a horror show. I am so glad that I have come back to my senses. A poem:

If when my wife is sleeping

and the baby and Kathleen

are sleeping

and the sun is a flame-white disc

in silken mists

above shining trees,--

if I in my north room

dance naked, grotesquely

before my mirror

waving my shirt round my head

and singing softly to myself:

"I am lonely, lonely.

I was born to be lonely,

I am best so!"

If I admire my arms, my face,

my shoulders, flanks, buttocks

against the yellow drawn shades,--

Who shall say I am not

the happy genius of my household?

William Carlos Williams

This poem, read to me not once, but twice this weekend, sparked a discussion (and rumination) on the nature or rebellion (mostly of the youthful kind), and also as to the nature of Kathleen. Over all, it reminded me of a story I once heard (and have since told) about a boy who enjoyed sneaking out of his house at night, and running naked in the woods of the back lot. Would that boy grow up to be the happy genius? If he did, Gentle Reader, I hope in my heart that he would not forget the beauty of poetry, the childish wonder of the meter and the rhyme (sometimes the rhyme, anyway). Too many people see poems as elitist stuff, complicated or esoteric. Not so, not so. Think of songs, for instance. It was an revelation to remember the beauty of verse, as an adult, to rediscover the simple joys of poetry, and to remember the story of the boy running naked through the woods, night wind and moon light on pale skin. Don't forget, boy. Don't forget those feelings, don't forget the childish pleasure, or the ease of joy.