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A PICTURE OF ITALIAN LIFE AND MIND

italy2

A STELLAR ITALIAN CASE

Italians have never needed much encouragement to believe in a wisdom of the stars, but if you want to prove astrology to the average layperson today, arguably the best and easiest way is via the new study of asteroids. One scarcely needs to know or understand astrology to absorb their evidence. Asteroids truly help describe not just persons but even the characteristics and concerns of nations and peoples.

I will demonstrate this through the fascinating case of modern Italy which became a republic after being a kingdom on 10th June 1946 (at 6 pm in Rome) thus finally realizing earlier nationalist aims begun by Mazzini in the nineteenth century. Italy is an ideal test case because it has an abundance of asteroids that can be applied to its pattern and famous figures. But in a few paragraphs I shall first set the scene by briefly describing salient features of the nation’s chart from the traditional standpoint that emphasizes planets and houses and against whose pattern the asteroids appear and interact with such great descriptive accuracy against chance.

italy

Italy’s sun resides in the sign of Gemini, the Twins and division. This reflects how ever since Romulus and Remus there has been something of a civil war or at least competition taking place through the Italian peninsula. City has been against city, north against south, the Papal states against the rest. Even Italian art is a story of many rivalries between artists. But Gemini is also the sign of language and the late achieved Italian nationhood would entail imposition of a single language upon the peninsula’s numerous dialects. Even before nationhood, the country’s Renaissance was itself very much a linguistic revolution dependent upon the discovery and translation of ancient texts. Nationhood finally settled upon a language, one based on the Florentine employed by the Gemini poet, Dante. Gemini is also the sign of the hands and no country in the world has more by way of a language of signs through the hands.

The national sun is conjuncted by the natural ruler of futuristic Aquarius, Uranus, a pointer to independence even to the point of anarchy, originality and the periodic flashes of a Renaissance type genius. The national sun is in the eighth house of secrets and the hidden, of sex, death  – Italy loves big funerals and has drivers with something of a death wish! –  shared resources and debts. Italy is full of secrets and has been home to a variety of secret societies and financial scandals. Yet most things will surface and become visible eventually. With the sun and all the planets in the upper half of the birth pattern, the nation is essentially extravert, ideas and feelings are demonstrated and shown.

Self-image, image before the world, national mythos and the body of the people will nonetheless all be described by the first house with its rising/ascendant sign. This is Scorpio, typically the sign of sex, death, mysteries, the occult  (Renaissance magus Marsilio Ficino was a Scorpio) and mega power. Positively this has something to do with Italians feeling themselves to be inheritors of the Roman empire which bore its power across the world beneath the eagle of Scorpio. Italy celebrates the traditional birth of Rome under opposite sign, Taurus, but the long lasting empire was of the Taurus/Scorpio axis.

Scorpio rises at 17 degrees to define the first house, but the national moon representing emotions, home, women and mothers falls behind the ascendant angle at 4 Scorpio somewhat obscured in the twelfth house of dreams, films, loss, the unconscious and mysticism. With the moon here, home has something private and absolute about it and might actually be lost (as through massive emigration and natural disaster) while women could be seen as the great mystery and/or a notable sex object especially in this also films-associated sector.

The most personal emotions run deep and strong and could at worst be vengeful (the Italian vengeance drama is celebrated) and despite popular ideas about Latin temperament,  Italians are not wholly spontaneous – Italian watcher John Hooper even writes of “the people who don’t  dance”, (they don’t just jump up and down like Spaniards to express joy, they prefer a little more dignity and calculated effects). Scorpionic Italy can be serious and it’s obviously the Italy of Mafia and ecclesiastical mysteries, the shadowy and at times coarser and angrier side of an otherwise physically and temperamentally bright and polite society, indeed so bright many might doubt intense Scorpio could ever possibly rise and assume the defining role it does.

scorpio

The seeming contradiction of a national brightness hiding an also essential dark is due to the exact aspect of a genial Jupiter at 17 Libra to the 17 degree Scorpio ascendant angle. Added to which the national Jupiter is in a robust fortunate trine aspect to the 19 Gemini national Sun. Jupiter in Libra aspecting both ascendant and sun and from the eleventh sector of friends, hopes and wishes, bespeaks style, refinement, optimism, the arts, l’amore, a disinclination to fight, elements of dolce vita, a certain will to be happily idle (dolce fa niente) and both to establish and ignore many laws. Italian-American Heritage month falls in Libra’s month, October. This Libran Jupiter is definitely a major key to at any rate the most visible and popular side of Italian character and culture.

By contrast, it’s not the eighth house that carries the sun nor the eleventh that carries Jupiter but the ninth house of beliefs and religion which contains Jupiter’s opposite: serious Saturn. It’s a planet without natural affinity for the house (Jupiter is the ninth’s natural affinity). Its position bespeaks especially Catholicism as bastion of order and tradition not to say some ongoing national difficulties with, even cynicism around, an often politicized religion which via the Great Mother sign of Cancer inclines to Marian devotion. Catholicism is Roman Catholicism, and anticipating the concern here with the asteroids, it is noticeable that Saturn aspects Romulus, builder of Rome’s first temple. Only because Jupiter (whose highest octave is religious and philosophical)  is so strong in the national chart does Italy work with the Saturnian nature of the predominant faith to the extent it does.

The ninth house always covers aspects of a nation’s legal profile, especially its judges. Saturn here points to the notoriously slow dealings of the national legal system and its relative ineffectiveness in punishment of crime, a situation helped by the mentioned Jupiter in Libra, sign of laws, which in its negative expression can simply inflate the number of legal dealings at the same time as it may indulgently permit too many loopholes. Close to Saturn from just inside the previous eighth sector, Venus’ conjunction to Saturn signals various things, including that love/eros in Italy is related to a few mama mia complexes (the phenomenon of mammoni sons) rather as in Israel Venus in Cancer bespeaks some yiddishe momma issues. However, three planets in Cancer  including quick witted, inventive Mercury and within conjunction of a world point (0 Cancer) and then with even Essen (Ger.food) in the sign, clearly announces the importance of food and dining for the entire culture and its world fame besides.

Finally I note that the celebrated drama and grandeur of Italy, the tendency where possible to build a palace rather than a house, a cathedral rather than a church, is linked to a Leonine factor. Both Mars and Pluto fall in Leo in the ninth house, Mars being within conjunction of a destiny, reputation and leadership related Midheaven angle also in Leo – big building Mussolini was a Leo – and conjunct the fixed star Regulus, a bestower of honours and fame. More could be said, but this is enough to supply the main features of the chart in traditional, planetary terms.

SEEING THROUGH THE ASTEROID WINDOW

asteroids

Although as in striking instances given presently a national chart will recapitulate a cultural past, obviously it describes what is developing at the time of birth. For Italy this was the nation’s new expression in 1946 as a republic; any asteroids in the first house of image and mythos are therefore significant for that. The chart affirms the republican ideal whose chief founder and exponent was if anyone Giuseppe Mazzini (1805-1872). Accordingly asteroid Mazzini rises in the first house at O Sagittarius, sign of theories and ideals and he is followed at 6 degrees by Unitas the principle beloved of nationalist theory. This pair have been preceded at 23 Scorpio by Verdi, whose operas early functioned as a national unifier. His chorus of the Hebrew Slaves in Nabucco, rapidly became an anthem for the national independence and unification movement now finding new expression. But Italians are anyway a people who sing – of freedom, love or whatever. Asteroid Chant (Fr. Song) rises behind Verdi at 5 Sagittarius close to the Unitas the nation desires and from where it makes almost to the minute perfect aspect to a 5 degree Libran Neptune, ruler of anything musical. In short, it’s a signature for a people of opera in their past, present and future. Monteverdi with whom opera seriously begins, rises just within the first at 15 Sagittarius.

Even so, the rising Scorpio that defines the first house surely puts its stamp on the whole by the way it contains asteroid UmbertoEco, author of the complex murder mystery, The Name of the Rose rising at 28 Scorpio (and even in trine to asteroid Rosa in the eighth house of death!). Below him, still just within the first house and reflecting an image some have of Italy less as home of the cheerful enthusiast than the radical cynic or even nay-saying melancholic behind the smiles, is a conjunction of Renaissance philosopher Machiavelli with tragic, Romantic era atheist poet Leopardi at 12 and 13 Sagittarius respectively.

As stressed, modern Italian identity is unusually based upon discovery and imposition of a language. Language and writing are related to the third house whose affinity is with the third sign, Gemini. It’s surely against chance that we find in precisely this house asteroid Manzoni whose classic novel The Betrothed, virtually established what form Italian must assume, namely an updated version of the Florentine Tuscan dialect employed by Dante. Dante’s crucial move to use the vernacular rather than Latin was anticipated by St Francis of Assisi who wrote poetry in Umbrian. If Francis can stand for St Francis (and he likely should since there is no other asteroid could be used and he widely conjuncts Clara besides), then Francis is just within the third house at 27 of original Aquarius . From there he also opposes the Midheaven of any national leadership which for such an anti-establishment figure seems correct.

There are two other points of relevance in this third house. Though late developed, Italian is one of the Romance languages whose roots are in Latin. So we find asteroid Roman is strong and pointing to novelty at 0 Aquarius in this house of language. Interestingly too its cusp is conjuncted by Pinocchio, a book which though now internationally famous as a child’s fairytale, some consider to be something of an adult’s fairytale that portrays important elements of the national character.

Sometimes obviously, sometimes subtly, national pictures will recapitulate cultures and character (a principle wonderfully exemplified in the chart for modern Israel whose Solomon is conjuncted by The Part of Wisdom). For Italy what may be the most striking case is how asteroids Dante and Vergilius form conjunction in the eighth house at 25 Gemini. The conjunction is remarkable seeing that, as is well known, Dante employed Virgil as his literary model and spiritual mentor who conducts him through Hell and Purgatory, Virgil’s Aeneid itself having conducted its readers to Hades. Both poets fall in the eighth house which can cover for any debt, death, hell and transformation issues. Yet neither asteroids are in the house of national language with Manzoni. But again, and remarkably against chance, at 25 degrees they are making exact quincunx aspect (150 degree ) to Manzoni and a meaning of that aspect is “adjustments must be made”. Precisely adjustments are what Manzoni would deliver in forming modern Italian out of the tradition of Dante.

Due to the great amount of information available, for brevity’s sake I shall select and divide up material into three sections 1) politics and the land, 2) art and creativity 3) Philosophy, Faith and Values.

POLITICS AND THE LAND.

land

The enduring division of Italy along with its mafia and secretive side is well reflected in the way Puglia (a major underdeveloped region of the south at 18 Virgo is in direct stress square aspect to the national sun. In rather the same way Sicilia (Sicily) at 4 Leo is in exact stress square to the nation’s Scorpio moon. This suggests the island’s long history and cultural identity is at risk of being undermined by hidden forces, not least because at 27 Scorpio, Palermo, a major centre of Mafia, makes stress square to the Midheaven of leadership and destiny – the government can be beholden to hidden forces! Italy’s Gemini sun “rules” the Leo destiny/career/leadership Midheaven, but Gemini itself being a mutable sign, this potentially encourages frequent changes in government and leadership following 1946. Although no asteroid for South exists, the long standing North/South tension seems reflected in the way that asteroid Nord (North) at 17 Taurus exactly opposes the national ascendant, in some respects an opposition to the general interest, the body of the people at large.

There is no asteroid for Milan unless Mediolanum, its Latin name, but this happens to be both in semi-sextile aspect (often deemed a financial aspect) to Nord from 18 Aries and in opportunity sextile aspect to the native sun. So Milan can drive the necessary economic machine but not necessarily to the benefit of the South. At the same time Milan/Mediolanum is perennially a, or the, major creative hub of Italy in arts, science, industry and also religion – even western Christianity as exemplified by Roman Catholicism was largely formed by Ss Augustine and Ambrose working in ancient Milan in the century after the Edict of Milan had made Christianity legal. Suitably Augustinus at 19 Leo in the religion house sextiles the national sun at 19 Gemini and trines Mediolanum at 18 Aries a sign of Augustine’s enduring influence on attitudes and policies.

The fourth sector of any chart is the place of origins, ancestors, home and its territory, the land itself. Italy’s origins house contains Italia at 0 of oceanic Pisces. This seems relevant to being a largely sea-girt peninsula much of whose traditional wealth derived from sea trade. Within the same house is Roma at 13 Pisces, an indication Italy is the descendant of imperial Rome. (The great classicist Petrarch called his homeland of many warring states Italia simply because the Romans once called the peninsula by that name). The more specifically Christian legacy is represented by San Pedro at 23 Pisces. Here St Peter is not simply a forefather in faith but one who gives his name to an actual piece of land as far as St Peter’s basilica and the related Vatican territory is concerned and so, unsurprisingly, San Pedro trines the crucial religion house Saturn, a suggestion of Papal states or property. With Aquarius (accidents, surprises) on the fourth cusp exactly opposed from fiery Leo by Vesuvius (itself loosely conjunct Etna), some disposition to natural disaster seems to attach to the land and at any time Italy might come to an end it would likely be through fire, quake and volcano.

ART AND CREATIVITY.

boccaccio

Anything to do with the arts, especially visual arts, is associated with Venus. There is accordingly significance in the fact that Venus at 21 Cancer (the chief sign for painting) at the end of the eighth house is bracketed by Saturn at 23 Cancer in the ninth of Religion and Vaticana in the eighth of shared resources at 19 Cancer. What all this means is that the artists and their art will have a special relation to the church as patron and also to the ancient classical world (Saturn) drawing upon its traditions and ideals. Since however the eighth is the house of eros, it follows sex, or at least the sensuous, will colour the arts in everything from the way that the artist’s mistress might portray a Madonna or the baroque style engage sensation.

Creativity itself is generally of the fifth house so it seems relevant that within it at 19 Aries is asteroid Imago with its implication – despite Dante, Verdi et al including the novelist Moravia whose asteroid falls on this degree, – for the supremacy of the visual in Italian creative endeavour.

There are obviously lacunae, but many names in Italian art and music have their asteroid. One would need a very thorough knowledge of art and biography to interpret each position, some are clearer than others. Asteroid Bernini at 6 of original Aquarius connected by trine to Neptune (any dreams) at 5 Libra marks the sculptor who more than any other realized the beauty of motion and dream in marble. Michelangelo, all of sculptor, painter, poet and architect, is in the house of destiny and reputation as undoubtedly one of Italy’s most completely iconic figures at 14 Virgo from where he connects by trine – just – to another Renaissance genius, Leonardo at 16 Capricorn. The latter’s rather unexpected sign and position (second house) likely reflects the heavy scientific input (Capricorn) to his work and his concern with money and pay for his work (second house). In terms of real connection however, through their work on St Peter’s it is notable that Michelangelo connects to High Renaissance architect Bramante by semi-sextile (a meetings/connections aspect) at 13 Leo.

If Italian painting may be said to begin with Cimabue and Giotto, then that seems reflected in the way that at 0 and 11 of Gemini respectively this pair introduced some of the realism, humanism and expression of this mutable sign away from the pure fixity of the Byzantine art of icon and mosaic which has more natural affinity with the previous sign of “fixed” Taurus.

Overall, like Michelangelo and Leonardo, leading Italian artists tend to take the middle degrees of a sign from around 13 to 18: Leopardi 13 Sagittarius, Vivaldi 14 Gemini, Monteverdi 15 Sagittarius, Puccini 16 Aries, Fellini 17 Cancer, Botticelli 18 Aries. If they don’t there’s some reason like the brilliant but unfortunate Tasso at 24 of shocking Aquarius in the writing house opposite Mars, an aspect involved with the misfortunes of his madness and painful dealings with authorities. Rebel and virtual criminal Caravaggio at 9 Taurus is almost predictably in exact stress square to the power and religion factor of Pluto at 9 Leo in the religion house. Raphaela (originally asteroids were registered in female form) conjuncts the leadership Midheaven itself conjunct the star of fame, Regulus. This has to reflect not just Raphael’s extreme popularity internationally (reproductions of his Sistine Madonna in so many Catholic homes), but the unusually easy favour he enjoyed as an artist with precisely the papacy and leaders. (No asteroid I know of for Italy or elsewhere covers for Pope or Papacy unless at 17 Aquarius for Italy and 19 Capricorn for the Vatican it’s possibly the father asteroid Abbe,  a matter that may become clearer over the next couple of years as Italy and Vatican undergo distinct challenges).

Still more descriptive is Petrarca’s 23 Aries in the creative fifth house in tense square to Catholicism’s Saturn at 23 in the religious/philosophical ninth. This suggests the poet’s controversial Christian humanist theory against late medieval religion that Christianity in some respects continues and fulfils the classical world, a theory that helped facilitate the Renaissance synthesis. By contrast Petrarca trines Ungaretti at 23 Sagittarius. In the last century Ungaretti reformed Italian poetry (towards Modernism) as Petrarch in his generation helped reform poetry through especially the Sonnet form.

It could be harder to understand why Pavarotti (in stress square to Verdi !) and Paganini are in the “religious”  sector, but as that house also covers principles (philosophy) this may be pointing to questions Pavarotti’s personal life and career raised (including as regards the commercialization of opera), while the dissolute Paganini was always seen as evil and believed to have sold his soul to the devil, a question for religion, certainly. An odd ball heretic philosopher who likewise raised questions for religion, Giordano Bruno, makes his way into the ninth via the Giordano asteroid. Paganini was heterosexual, but if so many notable culture heroes like Michelangelo, Leonardo, Botticelli, Donatello and more recently such as Visconti, Versace, Zeffirelli and Pasolini have been gay this must be referred to the national sun conjunct Uranus. A symbol at one level of intellectual brilliance and difference at another, Uranus often points to homosexuality. The Renaissance was born in the exceptionally gay-friendly Florence while only today more information is emerging about the practice of same-sex marriages in Renaissance Rome. Definitely Italy is not to be described through Casanova (though for better or worse he is so iconic he does make it like Michelangelo to the tenth sector of national reputation).

What is most distinctive about Italian art of all kinds is a certain urge towards the ideal and beautiful. This is supported by especially two factors. First that asteroid Bella (beautiful) at 16 Gemini is conjunct the national Uranus (its genius, the exceptional) at 17 (and more loosely the sun at 19) and then trine Jupiter at 17 of Libra, the often artistic sign of good form and balance. La bella figura is what Italy and Italians seek to present. They will also speak la bella lingua. Beauty rules and also poetry, or at least the poetizing of things because Poesia at 28 plus of Pisces is within conjunction of the 0 degree Aries (a world point) cusp of the fifth house of general creativity (and any love affairs….and yes, Italy does have Amor in the house!). This is beauty that can go international and which in modern times would spawn a major fashion industry. However, the Bella word and concept unusually defines the ethics of Italy almost replacing the ethical with the aesthetic judgement.  E bello, (it’s beautiful/lovely) also means it’s good within a language where bueno (good) as in buongiorno is not that strong. And this leads to the final and most complex issue of what Italians really think and believe. It’s a fascinating subject in which my observations are influenced by two notable recent studies, John Hooper’s The Italians and Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy (broadcaster and journalist Jones is a Scorpio with his sun conjunct Italy’s moon –he can tell you a few things!).

PHILOSOPHY, FAITH AND VALUES.

aquinas

The chart shows two forms of Italian philosophy. With Philosophia conjunct the Italian sun, arguably the core philosophy may be simply the Italian way of life itself. Formal philosophy however is represented by ThomasAquinas at 19 Cancer exact conjunct Vaticana which last still pronounces under that philosopher’s influence which in some respects means under the influence of Aristotle too. The universe of Dante is set out and judged following certain ethical principles of Aristotle which don’t in all cases correspond to either biblical or common sense. Aquinas also had a strong line on beauty but associated it rather with the intellect and recognition of harmonies than the senses as such.   Dante would famously declare  “beauty awakens the soul to act” .  If what’s good is assessed against what looks good, (or even measured against abstract reason and the intellect), can what’s right be quite known? The spirit which is unique to humans as opposed to the soul (biblical nephesh which even animals possess in order to exist), may need more than beauty. Warning signals against recourse to the easy subjective aesthetic judgement is supplied in the way that Italy’s Lucifer (the devil as light) at 17 Cancer makes exact semi-sextile, a meeting aspect, to precisely Bella and exact easy trine to the imagination-defining ascendant.

A hint that Italy might actually be somewhat confused about good and evil is offered by the conjunction in the philosophy sign Sagittarius of asteroids Goode at I degree and Veritas at 2 degrees, with Malus (Bad) at 1 degree. Conjunctions are very for or against something, a mark of harmony or conflict depending – here it’s clearly conflict (in the way that Plato and Boccaccio conjunct at 29 Cancer are like reason against instinct, gay against straight etc!). Further confirmation of some conflict and confusion is given by the way Christen (Ger. Christians) at 8 Leo in the religion house makes easy trine to Malin (the devil as darkness)) at 8 of religion/philosophy sign Sagittarius. Apart from the fact that this likely reflects how it is in Italy exorcism has been revived and is more taught and used among Catholics in Italy than anywhere, it also implies it might be easy to deceive Christians about what’s right and wrong in and out of religion. Like Pinocchio’s nose which grows with every lie, untruth is perhaps one of the greatest problems for Italy compounded as it is, to follow Hooper, by a tendency towards free flowing fantasy, not necessarily malicious but which can make up reality as it goes. The same kind of extravagance can cast so many veils over the facts you may never quite get to the bottom of any major scandal or crimes as Jones demonstrates – even history with its facts is called storia in Italian!

The crucial influence of untruth whether deliberate or more fanciful, seems shown by asteroid Lie conjunct Christian strong on the descendant angle directly opposing the rising – the body of people, their image and mythos. Since conjunctions are very harmonious or conflicted, this could mean either there are too many Christians who lie, or more likely that from the seventh house of war and peace the Lie is the great enemy of national life so that Christians need to fight its power, though they will put themselves against the body social if they do so, much as those who fight the Mafia have their problems.

What do Italians really believe? It’s an intriguing question. Hooper cites statistics which reveal Padre Pio (no asteroid) is vastly more prayed to than Jesus and even the traditionally favoured Virgin. Maria at 20 Cancer conjuncts Venus at 21 and thus she haunts the imagination through numerous images everywhere displayed and sold throughout Italy. Years of life in Italy persuade Jones that Italians are so concerned with the saints, relation to God hardly exists. It’s almost too democratic! If so, again our data provide some clues how and why this situation comes about. With asteroid Credo in pragmatic, conservative Capricorn in opposition to the Venus/Saturn conjunction associated here with Catholicism, it looks as though Italians are liable to be challenged by and will sustain a love/hate relation to Catholicism, but we can go a bit further…..

rome

Asteroid Theotes (God or Divinity) is caught in one of those conflicted conjunctions, this time at 13 Sagittarius with virtual and actual atheists Machiavelli and Leopardi; but from the struggles of this bed of doubt it makes a trine to Isa (Ar. Jesus) at 14 of regal Leo in the religion house. It’s a connection which would support all and any Christ the King type images. Otherwise, and influenced by ubiquitous images of crucifixion and pietà, Jesus gets associated almost more with death than life. Indeed, what regularly functions as the Christ asteroid, namely Christa (traditionally most asteroids have been registered in feminine form), is found conjunct Requiem in the death house in the sign of the mother, Cancer – clearly a signature for the widespread pietà and Stabat Mater images! Despite this and suggestively, the asteroid Spirit does conjunct Christa possibly reflecting traditions like that of Gioacchino da Fiore who looked towards a Christian age of the Spirit.

I subscribe and for empirical reasons to the view that in their highest octaves the three outer “generational” and “spiritual” planets (Uranus, Neptune and Pluto) symbolize the persons of the Trinity in any strictly religious frame of reference with Pluto symbol of the Creator/Father. Suitably for a Catholic nation, Pluto in the religion house stands in one sense for God. And since Pluto is also Italy’s chart ruler (because Scorpio rises) God rules or at least haunts the people’s mind as ultimate Plutonic power or fate. But Pluto does not connect with Theotes, rather it’s conjunct two asteroids, Fantasia and Aristoteles (though that is meaningful as I will indicate). In similar non-connection, neither Jesus nor even Maria feature as notable figures in terms of actual salvation – asteroid Salavat (Ar. Salvation) at 4 Leo is unrelated whether to Jesus or Mary and is in stress square to the national moon. Relations with God are liable to be  left to the mystics; and given Amor in the fifth of love affairs in aspect to the Plutonic deity symbol, this love can finish unusually sensuous as in the case of Blessed John of Verna who kept kissing and being kissed by Jesus or Angela of Foligno whom the Holy Spirit assured her she was more sweet to him than any in the vale of Spoleto!

Harmonious with the bureaucratized nature of Italy, the intercessor figure tends to be one to whom one takes petitions rather than relates more spiritually. Despite the suggestively spiritual Logos conjunct the verbalizing national sun, Italians are more a people of the image (Imago) than the book. Religious cultures of the book are more inclined to approach faith in terms of paradox and the interaction of persons and minds following narrative account of salvation history. Noticeably, one of the two bible asteroids Biblioran (Old Testament) from 19 Sagittarius opposes the national sun and Logos.

If today the saints still assume importance and are even what the national religion is largely about, it is not simply because they are the natural extension of a traditional Marian devotion. It’s rather more because common images of God render their involvement almost imperative. With God conjunct Fantasia, deity can receive some of that fantasia highlighted by Hooper. There can be all manner of popular speculation on the character of the divine; however and more officially, the image of deity remains essentially that of Dante via Aristotle, i.e. the Unmoved Mover with which the Paradiso ends. Dante’s God is “love”, but with it he scarcely any prophetic, biblical or paternal deity to oversee or interact with history or know “every sparrow that falls”. That’s more for his servants the saints! And Dante’s souls, saintly or otherwise, are such free agents it is effectively they, not God, who choose, and very largely work out, their own salvation, without any suggestion of Pauline predestination involved. Ironically it’s the classicist Petrarch who is in some respects more Christian than Dante, God being addressed by him as Father.

stars

There is so much material to detail and interpret where Italy’s chart is concerned that one must leave it incomplete; but it is appropriate to do so where Dante leaves the Paradiso, with a declaration before ultimate mystery and pointing to the stars. Except that in this instance we could cite the biblical statement. “The night skies utter knowledge” (Ps 19:2). It has never been very clear what this means, but while scientists and even religious authorities unite for their different reasons to dismiss astrology as any proper study, I suggest that especially the new micro-astrology of asteroids brings us nearer to understanding what night skies uttering knowledge is likely to mean.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT LUCIFER

   Lucifer  ACTOR TOM ELLIS

A NEW FACE FOR AN OLD DEVIL?

Though here in Australia we won’t be viewing it – yet anyway – I  see that some Christians (thousands) are upset about and have had a petition going against a Fox channel TV series called Lucifer being premiered in the US on Jan 25th.

In this series a bored devil abandons the hell regions for earth and shows his charming side to persons in California’s LA, City of Angels. Named Lucifer Morningstar he opens a nightclub called Lux (light) and makes people admit the truth about themselves. He even  assists the LA police dept in a way that insures some people get punished for their deeds. If as intended the drama extends into series 2 and 3 the devil may even finish reformed and redeemed in variation upon the set text.

The origins of the present story lie in a comic book, Sandman by Neil Gaiman, an English author with a background in Judaism and Scientology, who introduced a Lucifer figure (who stayed first in Perth, Australia rather than LA) and whose image was influenced by the late David Bowie. The series stars someone of very different appearance, the Welsh born actor Tom Ellis who, to judge from the trailer, very much acts his role as the seductive English gentleman with plum Brit accent.

It will be disputed whether this kind of small screen entertainment really matters. Some believers, fearing via comedy a trivialization of evil with some mockery of scriptures and perhaps influenced by the old saying “speak of the devil and he appears”, want the series pulled. Still more protests, and if reports are true with possibly more reason, are already swirling around a comedy  series of similar kind, Angel from Hell which premiered in America on Jan 7th.

In fairness, trivialization of evil is a risk anytime, anywhere. Currently there’s plenty of it around and without assistance from any charming L. Morningstars. A notable example might be offerings from Ireland’s rising star of fiction, Rob Doyle, whose first novel Here are the Young Men revels in drug orgies, mindless violence, sadistic porn and deliberate evil for its own sake. The personable Doyle, a philosophy graduate with a half repressed punkish side, apparently found his subject matter for the most part screamingly funny to write and some readers (but far from all) also found it amusing. (One youth fainted out at a Dublin reading which Mephistopheles Doyle, whose next book – out Jan 27th – is This is the Ritual, took to be a good sign of something). Doyle feels we must acknowledge, release and examine our subconscious. He is more certain than some it is chock-a-block full with rape, violence, the ugly and obscene. The trailer for Lucifer,  albeit in a lighter vein, suggests a somewhat similar call to “honesty” from everyone.

WHAT THE HEAVENS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT THE NEW LUCIFER

From curiosity I decided I would look up the position of the asteroid Lucifer on the 25th January. Suitably for a devil come to earth and speaking and acting in quasi-idealistic fashion, Lucifer is at 8 of earth sign Virgo. By itself this might not seem too significant even with the hell asteroid suggestively on a world point (0 degrees of earthy Capricorn). More strikingly however Lucifer’s 8 degrees of Virgo is exactly opposed by Neptune strong in its natural sign of Pisces. Not only is Neptune (negatively) the planetary symbol of deception and false glamour so that the series arrives at a time that can challenge images of evil by  fantastically playing around with them and via the mode of film that Neptune rules, but this same Pisces-Virgo axis is the axis of the era we still inhabit on the cusp of the new age.

Late in watery Pisces we are being appropriately “flooded” if not drowned by all manner of desires, addictions, pollutions, hopeless political situations and human disasters – not least at sea –  signs of the era’s last gasp or flame burst. A relativisation of good and evil very much belongs to the late era mutability and, however mildly compared with some expressions of the problem, our notions of the devil and the demonic are liable to partake in all this.

Fascinatingly, I also find that on the 25th Jan the devil as light, the mentioned Lucifer at 8 Virgo, is conjunct asteroid Malin (French for devil and the devil as darkness)  at 10 Virgo which also means Malin relevantly opposes Morgenstern (Morning Star) at 11 Pisces, an asteroid itself loosely conjunct Neptune. The coincidence is suggestive of an element of darkness behind the light with consequent misunderstanding, confusion and glamourization as regards the real character of Lucifer.

The choice of Tom Ellis for the role of the fallen angel is peculiar in context. If I look at his birth date, (given on the Net as 17th November 1978), we find this oddity as it affects four planets, three of them the outer planets, deemed generational, trend setting and spiritual in meaning. Uranus is at 17 Scorpio, Neptune is at 17 Sagittarius, Pluto has just left 17 Libra by a minute of a degree but Mercury is at 17 Sagittarius conjunct Neptune. Checking the birth of Neil Gaiman, Lucifer’s modern originator, (born Nov 1, 1960) we find Sun at 17 Scorpio and Mars at 17 Cancer while David Bowie was born with sun at 17 Capricorn. What if anything might this signify?

For this writer at least, the interesting thing is that in the birth data for Christ (which I claim to possess and which work for Jesus issues to this day – see below), Lucifer is at 17 degrees of Leo (i.e. trine Sagittarius) surrounded by and aspected from there by plainly relevant, eloquent factors. For the star of the series there is accordingly a spiritual connection of sorts, however ironic or eccentric, to the original Luciferian subject. Speak of the devil and he does appear, if need be through TV screens or a comic images!

None of this means that the forthcoming Lucifer  series is automatically the most evil of small screen shows, but it does suggest affinities for the wrong thinking of late era society. There is also the implication that everything is ultimately connected and fated or permitted within an overarching, defining pattern. Thus we can say that Ellis, who was born with Lucifer at 7 of shocking Aquarius opposite Jupiter the religion planet at 8 Leo (a guarantee his work can engage petitions and protests from the religious!), though he’s hardly wickedness incarnate, has been able to land himself a role that not just anyone could. There always have to be these hidden connections to other relevant factors and persons.

REVISIONING AND PUBLISHING LUCIFER THIS YEAR.

As to what the devil is really like, I will be offering – almost trendily it may seem if this is to be a year of the devil – my own portrait in a mini epic Raphael and Lucifer . It will be published later this year in America along with some other visionary/metaphysical poems. My depiction of the fallen angel will actually be a bit more theologically correct than Milton’s – oddly Milton makes Beelzebub a separate spirit rather than a name/aspect of Satan himself – and I should say I render the famed Accuser both more crafty and self-deceived. No one can of course hope to get it all right about such a figure. Still, born as I was with Milton and Shelley, the two poets most concerned with literary portrayal and understanding of Satan, rising conjunct at my birth, I am within my rights to add a few new perspectives after what will have been a strangely long pause in English language writing, poetically at least, in this area.

As regards my claims about Christ’s birth, their proofs must await till probably September for publication and what then ought to be the needed last word on that too long contested issue. The evidence will be harder to critique and oppose than a television series, though doubtless some will try…if they don’t decide it would be safer and better to ignore the whole subject.

 
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Posted by on January 25, 2016 in religion, Uncategorized

 

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LIFE AND POETRY IN 2016

Geothe3

“Art is long, life is short” is a saying from Goethe’s Faust. It’s true enough. Unless you are writing ditties or making sketches most art requires your time, researches, even leisure. Life certainly seems to crowd in if you have plans for poetry composition, especially anything epic, even if only mini epics such as I gave example of on this blog with Coming to Syracuse.

Currently I have two mini epics or long poems in mind, one in relation to Dante and another about Europe at this time of migration crisis – the latter stands to change the face of Europe for ever. I am not however sure if I will get round to my subjects soon and therefore at all because so often delay can destroy the force of inspiration…..Be that as it may, for creative purposes too many things are involving or distracting me right now including that finally and happily I have had two books accepted for publication in America later this year: the long delayed Testament of the Magi and a collection of my poetry.

The collection will include some of the poems (the more visionary and metaphysical ones) published on this blog but it will begin with a whole new mini epic, Raphael and Lucifer written last year and not issued here or anywhere before. In style and ideas it is distinctly original and for now not much more need be said except that for promotional purposes I am thinking about having the first section of the epic videoed but using my own voice as isn’t the case with Coming to Syracuse.

All this is to say that I do not reckon for the time being  to be posting poems on this blog which can itself take a little rest unless something in the world and current events strikes me as specially demanding a response. By and large I have tended to put passing comments or minor, more vers de circonstance type poems on McCleary’s Additions https://mcclearysadditions.wordpress.com/  rather than here.

What gets read on this blog and who reads it can be rather intriguing at times. I have never understood – and now after 2 years – quite how and why my article Colton Burpo’s Real Heaven, Akiane’s Jesus and New Christ Images, remains quite so popular in so many places. At the same time I can’t understand how and why even for Irish associated material (material that may get read anywhere from France to India) almost no one from Ireland comes in to read it. Ireland is not a land of the thousand welcomes where this citizen is concerned. I have never had a feature or interview there nor has any poem of mine been published in the nation.

Something else I have found most odd is that despite all the advice given out these days about how to self-advertise and increase traffic, traffic is very little determined by whether I promote the blog and its latest article or not. What the pattern might be when I am published overseas will be interesting to see.

Quite recently and very little promoted by myself ( but of course you can always spread the word), I now have a third blog, called gaythoughtsblog. It exists – so far and because I don’t have big plans for it – simply to be a home space for a substantial essay that has been on my mind for a while now.. The essay is called Beyond Marriage Equality, Queer Fantasy and Christian Disinformation, what does being gay today mean? I have today published its second half which covers a wide range of themes from relationships to tantra and the esoterics of the gay body  (see  http://wp.me/p6Zhz7-1f, ) thus extending some ideas broached in my poem Jeremiah’s Loincloth on the present blog.

Although any astrologer or even just calculator of economic and climate trends would advise you to expect a rocky year, I wish all readers a good one despite. “It’s an ill wind blows no one any good” as the saying goes, and there will still be opportunities for many. And where poetry is concerned it will even be the year in which publishing will let you know what poems make grown women cry, while yours truly will hopefully be providing a new poetic vademecum towards poetry more metaphysical and visionary. Today it’s in short supply.  It has yet to be decided if the title of the collection will be Raphael and Lucifer and Other Metaphysical Poems or Other Visionary Poems. It may finish depending upon what kind of art work will grace the cover.

But most important of all we shouldn’t come to next Christmas and year’s end (and quite likely next September) without the Magi of my writings arriving at their destination and letting their long kept secrets known. If anyone will care to dispute the findings I offer, I think they will have a very hard time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 12, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

BAROQUE: A POEM

BAROQUE

(The impressions in this poem are a composite of several experiences; no single baroque church is described and I am aware that not all baroque churches are dark and shadowy but sometimes quite light)

BAROQUE

Below weighty pillars and arches
Unpraying eyes in silence observe them:
Donors all richly attired attending the Virgin,
St Helen in triumph for tomb find and cross piece
Alexandria’s Catherine presenting her wheel.
They, like Jerome in wilderness tatters nursing
A lion, all once shone in their frames now
Much lost to high gloom, their oils half rotted
And bled into canvas that age, incense
And candle smoke darken. The coloured remains
Bear witness, fixed by grand gestures, to
Saints’ tales, pious half truths dependent
For meaning and standing on rivers and fires
Of God’s story otherwise lost to shadows or absent,
A stranger to even side altar themes.

If faith should be seen, of divine source
There’s nothing to view save the host, “he”
As wafer behind a cabinet’s doors (1)
And hidden entirely if no monstrance (2)
Bears him about in brief sunburst of gold gleam
Or above a high altar no agony’s glimpsed. There
A figure more darkened, the crucified
Hangs nailed as though it might be forever,
Sad eyes directed to heaven, limbs strained
To pure immolation. He, less Lord than an
Ever sacrificed lamb, is still caught in a
Hell world scarce overcoming earth’s ills and
The curse, unless by whatever it’s trusted
Can be re-enacted by priest’s hands amid
This scented but mouldering pomp. There
Celestial power must be drawn through
The shadows, upheld and furthered by prayers
Of the many but lessening faithful… (3)

There’s a life I am drawn to outside.
No dome to enclose nor candles to soothe me
Air, sunlight, earth and luminous sea
Let these meet and surround me. With these
Rising Godward I’ll speak into heaven
For miraculous change having chosen
Self within light, promise taken from (4)
Dawn Star and bright noon of sure resurrection. (5)
Without you, pure elements sensed and
Desired I cannot own fullness of Truth,
Cannot obtain what soul should acquire
With strength of corporeal feeling and
Nature, holding thoughts and images naked
As Francis in quest of meaning and grace. (6)
The point of reception is here, now, even
This temple, the body; with this I greet change.

NOTES

1) cabinet i.e. the tabernacle where the host is reserved
2) An implicit critique of the transubstantiation miracle whereby  Christ is not a sacrifice once offered (Heb 9:28) but repeatedly offered when the priest transforms the bread and wine.
3) A monstrance is a vessel that carries the host in processions behind glass typically surrounded by a sunburst design in gold with a cross above it.
4) Miraculous.change i.e. of soul preceding and leading to change of body (resurrection) rather than trans-elementation of bread.
5) Christ is the Morning Star (2 Pet 1:19, Rev 22:16) though Lucifer can be called that but not the Sun in full strength (Rev 1:16) i.e. noonday. A new dawn promises the various fulfilments of noonday.
6) Francis is St Francis who divested himself of his clothes to return them to his father. He also preached a sermon in the nude.

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2015 in Poetry, religion, Uncategorized

 

THAT POETRY MAKING GROWN MEN CRY

CRYINGMEN

THAT POETRY MAKING GROWN MEN CRY

A NEW LITERARY EXPERIMENT

Since in my role of poet I want and ought to keep abreast of what’s currently considered good, memorable poetry, finally and rather belatedly I have got round to obtaining and attempting to absorb that trendy production: Poems That Make Grown Men Cry (2014). A hundred men, not alpha males but notably successful in their various fields,  writing, scripting, film directing and the like (even science like Richard Dawkins!) were asked to contribute a poem with comment on how and why certain lines moved them, evoked their tears or a choked up reading. The project’s original idea had been a publication to generate funds for Amnesty International which was aware that once behind bars prisoners of conscience often take to verse. But along the way the book also aimed to break down a few gender stereotypes about men and emotions.

The end product is a fascinating experiment which however finishes a very mixed bag that carries both outstanding and (to my mind) less impressive, even forgettable verse. Taken all together, the anthology is rather hard to assess and even represent. “Poetry” in this book can range from choices like James McManus’s of a prose extract (albeit poetic) from Finnegan’s Wake and Carl Bernstein’s of the nursery rhyme All the Pretty Horses, The latter is not really moving in itself but seems to have been admitted because Bernstein feels overcome by private memories of early fatherhood triggered by just reciting the words. Some of the poems are quite lengthy and others rather short – very much so in the case of Boris Akunin’s chosen Hokku (sic): “Dragonfly catcher/ Where today have you gone?”. Its seventeen syllables in the Japanese are said to be not just moving but to encapsulate the meaning and power of poetry itself and they have been inspiring Akunin’s fictional endeavours for years.

Poems by Auden top the choice list followed by A.E. Housman, Thomas Hardy and Philip Larkin. One of Housman’s poems (Last Poems XL) was a choice shared by Richard Dawkins and former poet laureate Andrew Motion. I can’t help feeling that the Victorian poet’s tight rhymes and/or firm metres using octosyllabics or less, have a way of punching things home to the heart in a way stately, traditional iambic pentameter may not always manage to do. This struck me when I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s very felt Requiem, (chosen by novelist and Presidential speech writer, Thomas Buckley). Its simple beat and images with its sailor home from  sea and hunter home from the hill, evokes something universal that is at once touching in its sense of finality and peace.

SOME LAUGHTER AND THE TEARS TEST?

For the most part, however, I found the ensemble less moving than quirky and even an interesting, rather special sign of our times whether as regards the types of poetry selected or the beliefs they conveyed – obviously a lot of the poems deal with attitudes to loss and death…. One or two choices seemed so off base they left me closer to laughter than tears, like the mentioned Akunin’s hokku and then Anish Kapoor’s choice of Adrienne Rich’s not unmeaningful but over-the-top Eastern War Time I, with statements Kappor weeps to like: “I’m a canal in Europe where bodies are floating…..I am a corpse dredged from a canal in Berlin…”. I could agree, as I am sure many would, with actor Hugh Bonneville in finding Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier moving (and even if you’re not English),,,, except that, however grand the feeling and the style, some of us happen to know that when he was dying Brooke wasn’t thinking about England as he imagined he would be, but love in Tahiti.

It must be admitted nothing in the anthology moved me to tears as such (I even kept  feeling how distant my own inner life must be from the Anglo-American one chiefly represented) but only to melancholy or gloomy thoughts. But that is what numbers of contributors more or less admitted was the case for themselves. Certainly some poems that got past the gate like D.H. Lawrence’s masterful and hauntingly strange Bavarian Gentians, chosen by oet Simon Armitage and about descent to the underworld, are just gloomy rather than tearful. The father and son editors Anthony and Ben Holden might have needed to take more time to track down men who really cried over their poem. Numbers of contributors admitted to a possible choke line or a few words that had been  difficult for them to read out loud on occasions, but far fewer admitted to anything like the “breathing pure grief” which   the last verse of Keith Douglas’s Canoe generates for Clive James, or that a part of Brian Patten’s Armada does for actor Paul Bettany which he says can make him wail. (Objectively Armada is a sad poem for a mourned parent and a lost childhood world).

Apart from the mentioned Requiem poem, for myself one of the most moving poems in the collection is Wilfred Owen’s war poem Dulce et Decorum Est selected by the late Christopher Hitchens shortly before his death. Of course I knew it already and it could be called a fairly conventional choice in an anthology that to a striking degree eschews the traditional – most of the poems are modern and outside the canon – and bereft of almost all traditional belief and feeling about death and immortality too. There’s nothing here of Milton, Herbert, Donne or others, but a good deal in the spirit of what Philip Larkin does best for the outlook of total unbelief. Even the Auden poem Friday’s Child chosen by former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, unless read very carefully and well understood (it’s about both the execution of Dietrich Bonhoffer and Christ’s crucifixion) sounds more like mockery and denial of belief than any kind of affirmation. Quite why the Archbishop, indeed any Archbishop, would chose such a poem is a mystery, but reading this book is a reminder that indeed as the saying goes, “it takes all sorts to make a world”, because little here follows what one might expect.

IT TAKES ALL SORTS….

How could it possibly be that illustrator and screenwriter Mark Haddon would favour Derek Wallcott’s Midsummer Sonnet XL111 (it’s much longer than a conventional sonnet) which begins “Chicago’s avenues, as white as Poland/ A Blizzard of heavenly coke hushes the ghettoes” .Haddon is moved because Wallcott’ss list of urban details and objects (including “cars like dead horses”) is somehow moving just in itself. Presumably this is something an illustrator understands. Then there is Salman Rushdie’s choice of Auden’s In Memory of W.B. Yeats. This is a wonderfully sophisticated and witty poem except for its crazy, much criticized assertion “poetry makes nothing happen” ; but Rushdie, another of the anthology’s atheists and agnostics, finds overwhelming emotional force in its concluding words, (a contradiction of the nothing happens assertion), “In the prison of his days/teach the free man how to praise”…Oh well.

Absolutely not moving as poetry, nor I think even distinguished as same, is Harold Pinter’s It is Here (for A) the choice of film director, Neil Labute. It is a mere ten line evocation of  PInter’s first meeting with Antonia Fraser – the first line is “What sound is that?” and the last line is “Listen it is here”. I can’t understand why anyone would be moved by what merely registers or celebrates, and rather poorly in poetic terms (Ms Fraser seems like a disembodied je ne said quoi, not a person), the onset of by many accounts one of the nastiest adulteries (for its consequences) in the modern literary world.

Since I am not especially familiar with the poetry of Emily Dickinson, I looked up just what it was she is supposed to be saying in novelist Douglas Kennedy’s choice of her After Great Pain which includes such as “- was it He that bore/and Yesterday – or centuries before”. Is the poet talking about her heart or Christ’s suffering or just what? It turns out nobody is sure and I am not surprised. Dickinson can be quite ambiguous, sometimes just disjointed in composition, but the fact you need to think what she’s saying at a point where she might be intending to pull at heart strings, makes you question this whole issue of poetry that makes to cry and/or be deeply moved.

Dickinson (1830-1886) composed a relatively clear and by now almost canonical poetry, but she anticipates elements of modernism, and sufficient chunks of this grown men’s anthology enlarges upon the direction she takes when touching on ultimate themes. It beats a path deeper into a verse so ambiguous, gnomic, riddling or Japanese suggestive as with actor Colin Firth’s choice of Emily Zinnemann’s Regarding the Home of One’s Childhood One Could: that it prompts speculation about what is happening to the modern sensibility poetry does its part to form or reflect.

It is my impression that Anglo-American society is so averse to deep emotion that it seeks to hide and suppress it as something foreign. In consequence, it may finish suddenly and unaccountably moved by the quirky and riddling where a maze of possible meanings both cloaks deep emotions and half releases them. The maze becomes a privileged site imagined as housing answers of sorts in the face of normally rejected, insoluble problems. Profundity lies not with affirmation and faith but rather with agnostic pointing in a world of often very random signs. A lot of the anthology is just melancholy whimsy (which is what I would consider a fair amount of English poetry to be) and of which the evidently popular Thomas Hardy is the great master if you like that kind of thing.

SO WHAT IS POETRY TODAY?

Faced with this would-be revealing, confessional anthology, some of us may still be left asking just what poetry is now supposed to be and where headed. Clearly this collection is nowhere near to the tears which, as opposed to those of regret or puzzlement, belong with a certain admiration before the sublime of which I recall Chateaubriand wrote somewhere. Rhapsodic, inspirational tears don’t appear. And if this sample of (largely) contemporary verse is anything to go by, it’s farewell to poetry that is, broadly speaking, didactic or inspirational/romantic in favour of something more like therapy or Zen realizations (the vaguer painterly sort rather than the instant flash variety born of specific meditational techniques). There is nothing here of the epic spirit, though something which recalls it is present in the long poems some contributors chose of Elizabeth Bishop, where it’s present ironically even eccentrically and therefore not very emotionally beyond feelings of a general regret.

It cannot be stressed enough today, that poetry emerged in the prophetic function and thus traditionally has connection with religion, something even atheist poets like Shelley understood – his Ode to the West Wind clearly aims at vision, claims a prophetic role and the sublime. Modern poetry has abandoned not just faith but with it the sublime of the Romantics in favour of the humdrum world and the aforesaid whimsy. I feel like saying what most makes me want to cry in this collection is what it implies for poetry itself! Still, as I’ve said, the book marks a very interesting experiment. And I gather that what makes grown women cry is in preparation and will be revealed to the world in the northern spring of next year. Await further revelations and enjoy the contrast!

 
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Posted by on October 21, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

OVID FOR EVER and PAUL JANKA FOR SOMETIMES

Ovid         OVMETA       Janka    Pickup

OVID FOR EVER AND PAUL JANKA FOR SOMETIMES

A POET MADE FOR FAME

Ovid can well be considered one of the most important poets of all time, along with Shakespeare for whom Ovidius was his favourite classical writer. An entire line in romance, courtly love and even typical western portrayal of love as a battle of the sexes, is hugely indebted to an Ovidian legacy.

The bard of Stratford owed rather more to the bard of Sulmo than is acknowledged and not simply because of references to myths preserved in Ovid’s celebrated Metamorphoses which for Shakespeare as for many poets (and musicians, painters and sculptors, supremely Bernini) has been a treasure house to plunder. One thinks rather of the influence of such as Heroides in which women soliloquize about their fate and experiences with men (mostly in modification or contradiction of the existing accounts of their stories from Homer and others). This anticipates the role of females in Shakespeare’s plays (or even just the poetry of confession in the likes of Richard 11  meditating on his life). Ovid’s work is, scintillating, witty, critical, dramatic and unusually psychological for his era. He wrote drama as well as poetry – we know of his Medea which is lost to posterity.

Ovid (March 20th 43 BC Julian/-42 Greg – 17/18 AD) was prolific and his memory for the myths, ancient sources and customs he refers to was prodigious too. He claimed, as was surely necessarily the case, that he wrote in poetry almost as naturally as prose. His natural facility must have given him the confidence from his only middle class origins to leave the legal career expected of him by his father and social background for a purely literary career which seems to have been launched as early as eighteen.

Despite the obvious delight in myth as in the Metamorphoses and in traditions as in the Fasti, Ovid can sometimes be sceptical and cynical about both and in a way that adds to our impression almost nobody in the ancient world was quite so modern as Ovid. He is the Italian artist and cinematographer before the time. He is very much the western individualist in preparation on the cusp of the new age (of Pisces), the age which would propel western humanity to the forefront in historical/cultural terms. All the ancient writers and poets, no matter how insightful and enduringly relevant can still seem somehow archaic in comparison. Arguably Thucydides is rather modern, but on the whole, especially the Greeks, almost plod in comparison with Ovid whose only possible rival for a contemporary feel among the Latins is Catullus.

Ovid has been so influential it can well be asked whatever does anyone have to do to become  a famous, prolific writer of major verse like Ovid and Shakespeare who dashed off the work that almost all other poets worldwide have had to labour over because poetry is an art of excellence and often compression akin to the work of sculpture or mosaics?

Here the astrologer can affirm something others can’t. Both Ovid and Shakespeare have their writer’s Mercury at 16 of cardinal, (action orientated) Aries. Things just flow out of them, the energy is boundless and it’s likely most of the time that, like Shakespeare according to Ben Jonson, Ovid never blotted a line…albeit he is on record as wishing to have polished the Metamorphoses except that exile and disgrace got in his way. (The astrological effect may extend to a degree or two either side. A lesser but still major prolific poet for all occasions, Wordsworth, had his sun at 18 Aries).

But if we can observe this, are there other things the birth pattern can help us perceive? I believe that crucially we can do so but I shall say a little more about the poet and his life first.

OVID MYSTERIES

There are all sorts of mysteries around Ovid, his motivation, his themes, his exile but they might be said to begin and end with an overwhelming conviction that his fame would endure for ever, or at least, as he declared at the end of the Metamorphoses, for as long as anyone uttered the name of Rome. Metamorphoses is not however the only place he forecasts a uniquely privileged future. Where did this obsessive, insistent conviction and its self-confidence derive from? I will come to this presently.

Particular mystery attaches to the poets banishment from Rome in 8 BC to the miserable outpost of Tomis (modern Constantia) on the Black Sea on the order of the Emperor Augustus.

Two reasons are given for this most celebrated of literary experiences of exile. The first was that the poet was a corrupter of Roman morals (through his Amores and Ars Amoris, the Loves and the Art of Love) which Ovid would later claim represented fantasies and follies not reflective of his personal life. He will also protest that there was little cause for blame given the already well-established “wanton verse” of such as Catullus, Propertius and Tibullus in the generation before him. And it is undeniably strange given that legacy, that any strongly felt charges of corruption weren’t brought earlier. On the love theme Ovid had been published and known for years before perhaps jealous rivals of the successful poet influenced the Emperor whose reform of the marriage laws in 18 BC was challenged by Ovid’s permissive oeuvre. (It is of course a popular myth that Roman society was engaged in almost continuous orgy before Christianity came along – one has for example only to read the atheist poet Lucretius’ negative account of sex and love to recognize Ovid was far from expressing or catering to some unquestioned norm. Ovid himself describes concern with adultery as “provincial” which is to affirm it existed). Even if we allow that Augustus in seeking to reform morals could begin with punishing a living writer rather than just speaking against dead ones, the emperor may have had more private reasons.

The second cause of banishment was involved with the fact the poet had witnessed or been involved in something of which we aren’t clearly told by either Augustus or the poet. Ovid’s poems of exile admit only to some folly, (perhaps witnessing or speaking of something he shouldn’t have), but he insists there was nothing criminal or of criminal intent behind it. Since however the order occurred the same year as the Emperor’s daughter, Julia, was also sent into banishment for (persistent) adultery, it is not inconceivable that the well-connected Ovid had been some witness to, or an influence behind events which ran counter to Augustus’ new moral laws aimed to reform the ultra-permissive lifestyles of the Rome’s wealthy new upper classes. They certainly didn’t serve the militaristic values of the Roman empire. Ovid effectively turns away from this offering not an expansionist epic but a comedy of the wars of the sexes.

OVID AND MORALITY

Before looking further into this I will say something about Ovid and morals.

Endearing, charming, amusing and often kindly though Ovid can be – he abhorred mistresses being cruel to servants, he was appalled at easy abortion – and though his 26 year long sufferings till death in the wilds of Tomis are heartbreaking, I think one is bound to agree that few have argued more blatantly and strongly for adultery. He tells his readers how to go about it and to treat it all as a love game, chiefly but not wholly to a man’s advantage. Ovid is not obscene, but he is frankly, boastfully immoral and in a way that argues against his own comparison with the Latin poets before him.

Love poets of the previous generation like Catullus, Propertius and Tibullus represent a unique experiment and moment in history. Comparable in some respects to the medieval troubadours, they were born to be upper class men of leisure in a way Ovid wasn’t. They had sought love and an exploration of female character in a very individual, independent way against the strictures of the old Republican and very patriarchal world. There weren’t many places for adventuring poets to go except prostitutes or other men’s wives – Catullus famously pursued “Lesbia”, the wife of the absent Metellus Celer and Propertius pursued the high class prostitute Cynthia. Quite whom dreaming Tibullus and his Delia and other women represent is less clear. But in the case of Catullus and Propertius not only was there some genuine and memorable even painfully memorable love involved, but when it didn’t work out there was frank recognition of the fact. Moreover some of Catullus’ poems celebrate marriage and more traditional values. Propertius too admires the faithful traditional wife. One may be left with the sense of some lessons learned, an evolution of ideas and character.

Though Heroides does sympathize with abandoned lovers and ill treated wives and is almost feminist, nothing like this attaches to Ovid’s erotic verse which is full of glittering, throw away cynicism. Its tricks to further seduction, chiefly of the wives of other men whom one is delighted to deceive, would leave a legacy in the rituals of elegant but decadent courtly and aristocratic lifestyles across the centuries. Augustus surely had a point about writing that corrupts, though we might need to consider if the emperor didn’t have motives apart from the moral ones and associated rather with his developing religious policies that he didn’t openly declare in this particular case.

But in turn did Ovid have a point in protesting that his erotic verse did not represent the facts of his life and experience? There could have been some truth in that claim even if it was made with some exaggeration in order to plead the case for release from exile.

The Heroides does in fact suggest an author with as strong a feeling for virtue and loyalty as anything opposite. It is therefore possible – just – that the love poetry could be thought of as largely a satire of nouveau riche Roman morals but voiced through the mask of a Casanova. The claim to private innocence amid public folly would even be consistent with Ovid’s birth sign, Pisces, which imagines much.

One need only read the adultery filled fiction of the devout, church going John Updike to see  the Piscean comparison and ( because people are rarely too honest about sex and love and whatever his precise birth date) the poetry of the cavalier clergyman Robert Herrick. Herrick even writes as though he had a variety of mistresses he never had. He even uses the name of Ovid’s supposed chief mistress, Corinna. But just who was the original Corinna whose name Herrick borrows? For fame, influence and scandal in some respects an even closer comparison to Ovid, though a non poetic one, would be with Piscean Erika Leonard/ E.L.James (7.3.1963) author of Fifty Shades of Grey. Again like Ovid we have a Piscean with a moon in Leo, and though apparently long term happily married, Mrs Leonard takes the world by storm with her unbridled sexual fantasies.

Ovid had three wives. He was married off to the first very young and he described her as “useless” and divorced from her as from a second wife divorced before he was thirty for reasons unknown. His third well connected wife was left in Rome guarding the family home when he went into exile. (By imperial favour the poet’s home and goods weren’t taken from him. Perhaps Augustus realized the Tomis would be prison and purgatory enough as proved to be the case). Ovid declared he had been faithful to his (third) wife. He may have exaggerated or lied, yet he had a case to make for his release and he had been well known in sometimes critical Roman circles. Could he have professed the innocence he maintained and not had it all easily denied if it was all manifestly untrue?

Some critics detecting that Ovid must be describing his own home in the Amores, have suspected that Corinna was not the mistress but a record of the ultimately detested first wife. It is my own suspicion that it was from this rather extravagant, free living Lady Gaga style character that Ovid discovered what the tricks of seduction were (in addition to what he would have easily enough learned from earlier poets). I suggest a way to read The Art of Love is a virtual satire on existing Roman mores while the tricks of seduction constitute a revenge upon the first wife. Why? Because at one level there is an Ovid who is genuinely sympathetic and romantic towards women – he could never have written whole tracts of his work and the Heroides if that were not the case – but there is another Ovid who wants to be revenged upon women. He despises them and offers the love game and seduction as the way to be revenged. 1: 646 et seq of Ars Amoris might well be the key to the whole work and its author’s psychology when he declares against women:

They’re cheats, so cheat them; most are dumb and
Unscrupulous: let them
Fall into the traps they’ve set themselves…
So let perjuries gull the perjured
Let woman smart from the wounds she first dealt out!  (tr Peter Green)

I suggest a long suffering cuckold is talking, one saving face by pretending to strings of conquests he never had. After all, he does declare in the Corinna centred Amores, “your morals turn me off, your body on” and he pleads she will at least pretend to be faithful so he won’t be too hurt.

If true this of course still can’t automatically and fully exonerate Ovid. His sins may not be of commission but they could be of the imagination. To the extent he is blasé about rape (by the gods in Metamorphoses) and teaches heartless cynical infidelity in a big way that will influence society for generations to come, he can’t be deemed only an innocent and thus only the victim his nightmare banishment made him. One could even argue that here is the culture hero who acts as one of Satan’s little helpers. Whether he was or not we must surely see something remarkably symbolic in the moment of cultural and ethical conflict that marks his life.

OVID AND THE NEW AGE

I said that Ovid was born under Pisces, the age that was dawning in his lifetime. Christ was born in 7 BC the year following Ovid’s banishment and (as maintained on various blog article on this site) Christ was born, as we know the Emperor Augustus was, under the sign of Virgo – in late Virgo with his sun opposing Ovid’s late Pisces sun and exactly so: 27 Virgo to 27 Pisces which didn’t help Ovid.

Everything Virgo as being both opposition and complement of Pisces would represent the ideal or better half of the new age; and while that “feminine” era would advance such themes as romance, compassion, tolerance and the status of women to some degree, it would necessarily do so through the filter and mode of its Virgoan ideal. That  would mean it would oppose any mere confusion and permissiveness, just as the end of that same era (now) things would tend to sink back into permissiveness and the confusion of values that in its negative expression Pisces too often represents. The parables of Jesus are almost built on a Pisces/Virgo axis of imagery, his hearers are even counseled not to be drunk with the servants (Pisces is a servant sign, a sign of inebriation and addiction). Something in Ovid even adumbrates the Christian feeling of the coming era. Hypermestra to Lynceus in the Heroides is already giving us the martyr’s sacrifice, the suffering, the higher love, the forgiveness, attachment to the ideals of virtue, even a virtue that will be its own reward.

Ironically it may have been the more spiritual side of Ovid which contributed as much as anything else to his mystery-ridden downfall. In harmony of sorts with the incoming era the Virgo born Augustus Caesar, himself in power when Jesus was born, sought to direct his own and Roman authority towards a new imperial cult. The emperor would be increasingly viewed as divi filius, son of God. Arguably Ovid could be seen as undermining the trend. He had always been rather sceptical about the gods but in his incomplete Fasti, a record of the various cults and festivals of Rome he is at once independent doubter and believer through the way in which he has interviews with or visions of deities to sort out mythic/theological issues with them. There are vague intimations here of a Protestant independence, reliance upon the personal belief or revelations.

This individualistic approach could end as unhelpful to Augustus as the Ars Amoris to his reformist marriage laws and perhaps more so. I am even inclined to think those critics who emphasize this point are on the right track. There is a strong hint from the birth pattern that Ovid was a victim to religious policy.

OVID’S HOROSCOPE

OVIDCHART

Even without a birth time to help us (the above chart is set for midday) the day of Ovid’s birth is striking enough for his fate and character and because it is it isn’t too difficult to guess at an approximate birth time. (see below)

The obsession with and conviction about fame is strikingly staked out by the rare way in which five planets planets can be considered as being on world points (it is usual to allow 1.30 by way of conjunction). There is little to compare in other writers, not even in Shakespeare (who suitably for his pattern took his role as dramatist rather lightly and half despised it as not quite respectable).

Pluto at 0.43 Cancer

Mars at 1.03 Cancer

Saturn at 0.24 Capricorn

Uranus at 1.26 Libra (just within the 1.30 limit)

Neptune at 14.11 Leo (WP is 15 Leo)

The fact that shocking, revolutionary Uranus is in the marriage/unions sign, Libra, just by itself bespeaks the destabilizing of marriage ideals.

This is then backed up by Venus in separative and different Aquarius at 13 Aquarius opposed to romantic Neptune in the Leo sign of passion and big loves. The moon has to be somewhere in Leo that day presumably within conjunction of Neptune which is the poet’s romantic/mythic imagination directed upon the life of the gods in Metamorphoses. Albeit Leo is a fixed sign, the metamorphosis theme is linked to the mutability of the natal Pisces sign which Neptune rules. Also in Aquarius is Jupiter which reflects the modernity of Ovid’s outlook on and treatment of almost any theme. The fact that 15 Leo is deemed the most unfortunate of the six world points and Venus is basically opposed to it is an invitation for the things of Venus to be in trouble.

However, far and away the most distinctive feature is the world points involved in a tight, difficult, tension-giving T square of the malefic planets or even, if one includes the position of the sun which is not closely conjunct the Aries world point, that frustrating signature, the Grand Cross, thus:

                         SUN

MARS/PLUTO           SATURN

                       URANUS

Somewhere along the line Ovid was going to run into big trouble, even big political trouble because Saturn on a world point in the sign it rules points to such problems and they could be exacerbated by the in itself very difficult and frustrating close Mars/Pluto conjunction. (The latter conjunction incidentally renders it doubtful Ovid would be too easily successful in love and sex; and with the opposition from Saturn any embittered cuckold theory gains some weight). Shakespeare had Mars in Cancer (but not on the same degree) but for Ovid Mars placed here with Pluto and in the sign of homes and hearths, this has also to be the aspect of the long and frustrating exile from the home base.

Given Ovid’s various interests, his modes of seduction and a great loquaciousness to which he admitted, it is fairly clear he was probably born between 11 am and 12 pm with late Gemini or early Cancer rising this then making the difficult T square or Grand Cross central to the pattern and Saturn (political authority, the emperor), opposed to the rising from the house of open enemies.

But what is then interesting is that if we run the chart for Augustus (there is an asteroid Augusta which since asteroids were originally registered in feminine form is the appropriate asteroid for Augustus, we don’t find it conjunct Saturn…. or not closely. Instead at nearly 26 Sagittarius it is in difficulty square to Ovid’s identity-giving sun at 27 Pisces. Sagittarius is the sign of philosophy and (organized) religions. The hint is surely that Ovid offended the political authority of Augustus most nearly through what material like the Fasti represented for the emperor’s emerging state religion. The morals come into it, but not necessarily as the prime consideration.

PAUL JANKA AND PICK-UP ARTISTRY

At the end of the Piscean era which from its outset the Piscean Ovid was able after a fashion to haunt and dominate culturally, comes Paul Janka author of How to Get Laid in New York City (2004). He is not a poet and, on 1st June 1975, he was not born under Pisces but rather Gemini. However certain links with Ovid are interesting.

First of all, that sensitive degree again. Where is Janka’s Jupiter (his beliefs, his religion almost)? Sure enough it’s on that fatal 16 Aries from which Ovid was able to write so much (including about pick-ups and seduction in a big way) and again Uranus is destabilizing notions of unions but now at 28 degrees and thus the end rather than the beginning of marriage signs Libra as for Ovid.

Janka was propelled into his search for formulae by what he originally considered to be the great difficulty for him and for men, even good looking males, to attract women or to attract them in the way desired – especially for exciting quickies. (Ovid is more interested in landing a suitable mistress). This block is reflected in the exact square of restricting Saturn at 16 Cancer to that sensitive 16 Aries which carries Janka’s Jupiter. Even on top of his game Janka will speak Saturnian style of “the discipline” of working his technique.

As Janka’s sun is at 9 Gemini and his Mercury at 23 Gemini, one wonders if either of those two degrees wouldn’t correspond to Ovid’s unknown birth time and ascendant. (In favour of a Gemini ascendant for style and appearance Ovid was, beside his loquaciousness, slim and reedy as is Janka who corresponds in many ways to the text book version of Gemini-in one of his interviews it is even admitted he is not too concerned with erotica, it is conversation turns him on. Ovid is more concerned with women’s appearance and advises them in some detail how to enhance beauty and present themselves to advantage). If he is telling the truth about his past he nonetheless seems to have begun much like Janka.

………I’m the poor man’s poet,
Was poor myself as a lover, couldn’t afford
Gifts so spun words. Poor suitors must woo with caution,
Watch their tongues, bear much that the rich
Would never put up with

I haven’t analyzed Ovid’s theory of seduction and I haven’t read up on Janka’s theories of same which are the subject of whole courses and seminars in especially New York. In both cases however there is an unwavering belief in the power and ability of simply “technique” (a Geminian theme – Janka has spreadsheets and detailed records) and technique has a lot to do with saying the right things on cue and time (another Geminian theme) and at the right place. Both have a sense of place, the proper sites of opportunity, though one wonders if it doesn’t betray elements of Ovidian fantasy when the poet suggests the ardent lover could hover around Rome’s Jewish synagogue. Did Ovid harbour desires for a Jewish mistress, indeed had he read Genesis, a point of scholarly debate given oddly biblical elements in the creation story with which the Metamorphoses opens?

Ovid insists upon agreeing with almost anything a woman says and thinks provided one has her attention. Likewise promise anything. Janka is also very verbal but concerned  American style with a quick kill, the bang. In effect though, he agrees with Ovid in not wasting time pursuing uncertain, elusive cases. Grasping a woman’s interest and attention fast and insuring it’s strong enough to be worked upon later can be certified through the simple expedient of just obtaining her phone number. Janka  wants as many numbers as possible as then one is always assured of a certain percentage however small. Ovid more interested in mistresses and affairs, is both the eternal Latin and natural Piscean (sign of service) in insisting on being at woman’s service. Promise a woman anything, flatter her, pick up whatever she drops, give her whatever she wants, solicitously follow her. “Don’t jib at a slavish task like holding/her mirror; slavish or not such attentions please…”

Both evidently believe that woman’s vanity and/or curiosity can carry things along if only once the foot is in the door. This incidentally allows at least Ovid to stray in non PC, Christian Grey directions which may have some kernel of truth, especially for the less verbal when he declares:

It’s all right to use force……
What in fact they love to yield…
They’d rather have stolen. Rough seduction
Delights them. The audacity of near rape
Is a compliment – so the girl who could have been forced, yet somehow
Got away unscathed, may feign delight, but in fact
Feels sadly let down. Hilairia and Phoebe, both ravished
Both fell for their ravishers

In the case of both Ovid and Janka all such statements rest upon a certain understanding of the sexes which, whether true or false and they do seem exaggerated (and they are fascinatingly different from anything one might say about authentic same sex relations), are nonetheless promoted to boost male confidence to go on the attack. Essentially both assume and assure their audiences that women want it badly if only the right note can be struck.

Like men, girls love stolen passion,
But are better at camouflaging their desires.
If masculine custom precluded courtship of women
You’d find each besotted girl
Taking the lead herself. A heifer amid lush pastures
Lows to the bull, a mare
Whinnies at stallions, but our male libido’s milder,
Less rabid….

Really? To the extent the animal and human kingdoms can be compared and there is truth here, it is a half truth and linked to something Asia and the Bible better grasp as stressed in my Solomon’s Tantric Song  (amzn.to/14aa5Qe). The woman leads sexually as at the beginning of the Song of Solomon once some kind of relation is established. (The mystery of just what has been established with whom in the case of the elusive Song is something I attempt to establish in the book).

Janka has had both a lot of praise and criticism for his techniques, but his most recent shock delivered to his followers has been settling into monogamy and even getting married to his latest girlfriend.  I suppose this possibility was always present given the fact that not just Uranus but transformative Pluto is also in the unions sign Libra and opposite his sun. He would be challenged, even compelled, at some stage to rethink and change direction somewhat.

So, despite all critics and enemies calling him a creep and worse, the half Czech Janke has not gone into any exiles unless voluntary to Europe and he might even end up happily ever after. Since however he is not a poet and belongs most essentially to the ephemeral world of New York rather than the more eternal one of Rome and was born with no links to any world points, it is likely his eventual fate is to be disappear and be forgotten in a way it is unlikely Ovid who foresaw his destiny ever will be. And curiously readers might feel it is Ovid who is more alive and real. It is sometimes hard to think he isn’t with us still and that we didn’t meet him last week.

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015…AND MORE

YEATS2015         YEATSCard

WHY IRELAND NEEDS YEATS 2015….AND MORE

Ireland has designated 2015 the year of Yeats – it’s the 150th anniversary of his birth. Celebration is appropriate, not least because this is a poet who sounds surprisingly modern and relevant – lines from such as The Second Coming are often cited today as people observe IS and worldwide turmoil. And unlike the also Nobel prize winning Seamus Heaney, Yeats was always willing to be engaged in politics and with almost any subject.

Yeats’ legacy is however at once something notable and negligible. It can seem like the latter in terms of real influence upon modern Irish poetry which I will argue, despite its contemporary profusion and the cult of Heaney, has –  by and large –  lost steam and been in decline since Yeats’ death in 1939. It has been so despite Ireland’s earlier and celebrated history of bards and schools of poetry. The situation is radical because now even the very notion of poetry is in eclipse in Ireland. This is evident when one reads for example that Michael Davitt (1950-2005) was “…one of modern Ireland’s finest poets in either of the nation’s languages, (according to critic Philip O’Leary in The Irish Literary Supplement, 22.3.04)). As translated by another of Ireland’s “leading” poets, Paul Muldoon, the kind of adolescent, “avant-garde” level at which Davitt worked as in To Pound from God, was in the order of:

“ I suppose you’ll want me to wipe your bum
Or open a tin of Pedigree Chum….

At least, and unlike Trinity College’s now retired Professor of Modern Literature Brendan Kennelly, Davitt didn’t write a collection of verse called Poetry My Arse and opine that the subject of poetry as he understands it is “basically a celebration of human inadequacy and failure” ( cited An Anthology of Irish Poetry, ed.Wes Davies, p.307).

Those seeking by contrast a confident secular sublime, can always try verse from poetry festival organizer, poetry prize winner and university lecturer in creative literature and poetry, Conor O’Callaghan. The first verse of his two verse poem Comma  runs

Infinite
blip that
a flyover
sped beneath
scores into
a down-

(and the second verse begins with the word ‘pour’).

Nowadays you are almost more likely to find the spirit of Irish verse and vision in some prose works like Jamie O’Neill’s At Swim Two Boys or in the work of Colm Toibin, a writer who always wanted and intended to be a poet rather than the novelist he has become. So…what happened? And what might Yeats teach us if poetry is to be significantly revived today in West Europe’s former home of many muses, or at least aisling sky women?

NATIONALISM AND SOUL AS POETIC INGREDIENTS

Yeats

I will  presently give more examples (they could, alas, be greatly multiplied) to suggest just how seriously something is amiss in the emerald fields of Hibernian poesia, but I can state from the outset what is wrong as regards the general direction of the verse since Yeats.

It is of course possible – just – to  be anti-Yeats and produce some good poetry as the work of such as Northern Ireland’s Seamus Deane ( b.1940) indicates, but the first de-potentiating mistake of Irish poets was, however politely and surreptitiously, to dismiss or swerve from Yeats as any exemplar. It was felt he was too nationalist in inspiration and there could be no value or future in that because, with Ireland independently established, literature should become international (pursue Modernism in effect). The trend began mildly with a diplomat of the newly independent Ireland, Denis Devlin (1908-1959), but soon it would gather pace and even become a torrent. Rejection of the Yeatsian poetic could hardly go further than in the irony of Celtic Twilight from Brendan Kennelly (b.1936). Instead of any sense of myth or “magic”, the poem evokes a Dublin of prowling decrepit whores and a Grand Canal in whose “rank waters bloated corpses float”. Even studies of Yeats – and even last September’s curiously early London launch of Yeats 2015 somewhat – tend to place the undeclared laureate somewhere apart, in a disappeared society and time past because of his obvious contribution to foundational events of 1916. The psychological and cultural reality however is that by understanding a national history and ethos a poet may better understand and reach into the world at large.

I would hardly be the first person to stress that point – it’s almost a commonplace. Walt Whitman voiced and helped shape American democracy but also espoused universal ideas beyond it while Goethe was the very cosmopolitan founder of a liberal Germanic tradition. But I know for certain the national/international principle is true as regards Yeats from having lived in Asia. I found him to be appreciated there and I might be asked to read from him. Some of Yeats’ verses like Lapis Lazuli are mentally or geographically located in Asia, while it’s well known some of the poet’s best verse dramas draw upon traditions of Japanese Noh. At least one accomplished poet, Desmond O’Grady (1935-2014). author of The Wandering Celt, is an exception to prove the national/international rule within Ireland. He does manage to combine Celtic with wider themes and like Yeats at one point he was strongly influenced by Pound – perhaps too much so when he got side-tracked into mammoth labours of poetic translation. But though appreciated, O’ Grady enjoys neither the status nor the influence of a Heaney or Muldoon, both poets of the North; and the troubled North has attracted a lot of attention in Irish poetry.

Although Yeats’ affinity for Asia owes something to his attachment to the theosophy and theories of magic many could never accept, more generally he was simply following the wisdom of the archetypes with which most serious poetry will always be involved. Genuine introspection will bring one there. Intense affinity with just place may not. Influenced by Joyce, a notable poet, Patrick Kavanagh, believed that one could be universal by devotion to a place, a notion that owed not a little to Joyce’s Dublincentric imagination. He risked becoming, as I think he often was, merely parochial because place will not quite generate the same imaginative verve as society or nation which can be a matter almost of soul. Linked to the archetypes one could say that Yeats was about – in the broadest sense – “soul”, something which, like contemporary Western poetry generally, modern Irish verse singularly isn’t despite the reputation of the Celts for spirituality.

But poetry itself is first and foremost spiritual. If you don’t believe that, then you must at least accept spirituality is what many people either assume poetry is about or appear to want from it – the biggest selling poet in the world today is, like it or not, the medieval Sufi mystic, Rumi. Poetry is Orphic and originated in the ecstatic, prophetic function and the serious poet, i.e. one who offers something beyond the entertainment or instruction which have their place, can never quite escape that root function….and/or the love theme which will often accompany it as we see everywhere from the Bible’s Hosea to Dante in the Vita Nuova.  Even major atheist poets like Lucretius and Shelley have dealt in the universe, large vistas and the sublime.

At its highest and best, poetry heals, inspires and creates – including whole peoples. Critic Harold Bloom may exaggerate but is essentially correct to propose Shakespeare has helped form modern humanity; Bloom maintains the bard did not only reflect humanity, he also made it and we have become his characters. In somewhat similar fashion, the rhapsodies of Isaiah inspired and remade a lost Hebrew society and largely through introducing new images of God and the self that allowed a new synthesis for a new age to emerge. Dante half created the modern Italian language itself amid his visions. The poets of the Romantic era expressed and half made the age they inhabited.

Sometimes, just sometimes, poets can and do change the world (though of course the noncommittal Seamus Heaney predictably denied it). Granted most poets cannot and need not aspire to such a degree of achievement. No nation is anyway likely to produce more than four or five really outstanding poets in a century, and society needs not just seers and culture heroes but minstrels, balladeers, teachers and entertainers. Poets nonetheless need to avoid through resentment, dullness or, sloth merely subverting the almost alchemical Great Work to which at varying levels their tribe contributes across time. What seems to have happened post Yeats is that any national/collective issues and feelings have been transferred onto the issue of what one can broadly call “voice”, writing and thinking with a Gaelic tone and style. At this level at least, especially in such as Pearse Hutchinson and Desmond O’Grady and whether one is writing in Irish (like Sean O’Riordain) or not, something vital emerges, but not as  strongly as where the Yeatsian emphasis on symbolic/archetypal prevails.

THE JOYCE/BECKETT PROBLEM

JJOYCE         BECKETTPHOTO

What could and should have been the ongoing influence of Yeats on modern Irish poetry has, I believe, been blocked and limited within his homeland by the strong competing legacy of Joyce and his admirer cum devotee, Beckett. Both these Modernist writers have cast long shadows. Though both composed a few poems they were essentially authors of prose and both were unspiritual or very negatively spiritual. (Beckett’s prize winning and obscure Whoroscope, written in a hurry to pay Paris rent and rewarded by the heiress Nancy Cunard, if and when it can be understood is arguably one of the most nihilistic, sordid and profane poems in the canon of verse. It surely belongs to “the throne of the faecal inlet” it refers to). The prose of the Joyce/Beckett duo has nevertheless been more weighty in influence upon modern Irish poetry than any poetic antecedents. Some want to claim it for life itself. I admire the wide-ranging erudition on most things Irish of Declan Kiberd, but I can’t accept as per his Ulysses and Us that Ulysses is really any notable guide to the management and celebration of life.

Although Yeats was something of a heretic in relation to most beliefs and traditions, his origins were Protestant. This has been held against him, or at least left him less favoured as a model for novice writers and poets than the by comparison more street-wise, democratic (sometimes), Catholic-raised Joyce who managed to voice those feelings of frustration and discontent many Irish Catholics have felt at least now and again. By contrast, and although Joyce himself could demonstrate an almost non serviam Luciferian pride, Yeats’ Protestant voice would be regarded as imperious and elitist, in short merely Anglo-Irish of the past, something Yeats scarcely even sounded like in real life. (To hear recordings of his voice which is neither very Irish nor English and not particularly emphatic, can come as a surprise and challenges the image some have of him). Patrick Kavanagh reflecting an all too familiar social resentment in a poem called Yeats  exclaims, “Yes Yeats, it was damn easy for you protected/ By the middle classes and the Big  Houses”. This is green-eyed nonsense like the whole poem in effect, highly proficient and well crafted though it is  –  Yeats faced enormous struggles in all directions and rightly called himself poor until well into middle age and winning the Nobel prize.

So the class objection was again a mistake fostering further error because even though with age Yeats undeniably evolved some dubiously elitist, even loosely “fascist” notions (partly in disgust at the sheer ruin the ultra-Catholic Ireland of De Valera was doing to hard won new freedoms), the fact is that poetry of the serious, bardic kind will often sound or seem elitist. Such poetry declaims, declares, reveals from the higher mind or worlds and as such is not about the everyday nor issues describable in its terms. Even England’s witty, socialist Auden decided in his latter years that what poetry needed next was to get back to the high style. Getting back there could nonetheless prove harder in our egalitarian times than leaving it behind. Ireland especially would seem to have to prepare for a very steep climb. It might even need to engage a bit of “censorship”, a self-censorship of a new and not merely puritanical kind to arrive there and at least try to be serious.

It may be mildly entertaining, but does a poem like James Simmons’ Epigrams constitute something – anything – worthy of a place in Wes Davies’ critically acclaimed and all-encompassing Anthology of Modern Irish Poetry? Epigrams 2 and 4 run:

Declining appetite
Made him polite

Now my faculties give in
I see the need for discipline.

Modern Irish poetry could use some discipline. Too many contemporary offerings such as one can read at  PoetHead on the Net which has showcased new Irish women poets, seem just self-indulgent and trite.

Award winning Denise Blake, an advisor to the RTE national broadcaster on poetry (like the mentioned Michael Davitt – no wonder poetry is in some trouble!) begins her poem, Adjusting,

The saucepan is full of left over potatoes
And I keep cooking too much rice and pasta
Three placemats still sit on our dining table

In musing on an absent son in Beyond the Front Door she writes of

“Cold pizza slices in a cardboard box, an empty coke can
lying on the table”

Subject matter for Irish still life art perhaps? Doubtless Mrs Blake is a caring family person and her sentiments genuine enough, but one finds nothing here and elsewhere that couldn’t be said as well or better in prose. But possibly she was remembering precedents like Beckett’s in Whoroscope with its ridiculous and profane reference to Hovis bread.

Dr Emily Cullen, noted harpist, short story writer and much else if one can quite locate her anywhere, seems willing to inhabit the same kind of kitchen zone if more impishly than  Mrs Blake.. In Galway Mould  we learn

For fun I bought you mouldy cheese,
Last night it took revenge on me
Inducing a vivid dream
Of a while chandelier of mould
That slowly lowered
Through our kitchen space.

Although without question Mairtin O’ Direain of Aran (1910-1988) can be hailed, as he has been by some, as a gifted poet of real distinction, apart from him let no one imagine any back-to-Gaelic direction such as Sean O’Riordain  (1916-1977) and Michael Hartnett (1941-1999) took would improve much inside or out of any Irish kitchens and better preserve the true Ireland. O’Riordain was a good and proficient if somewhat overrated poet whose illness and dramatic depressions seem like an unintended metaphor for the sad fate of things Gaelic he must be commended for helping preserve before present times when (for non poetic, non literary reasons) Gailige has become almost trendy in some circles. Hartnett is sometimes good but also sometimes gratuitously weird as in Death of an Irishwoman where she is described as “a card game where a nose was broken…a child’s purse, full of useless things”. If this is the latest incarnation of Yeats’ Cathleen ni Houlihan, that lady is now in serious trouble and indeed a bit useless!

Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill born in the Kerry Gaeltacht in1952 has devoted herself to verse in Irish. Translated, one of her poems begins,  “I wake up and my hands are sticky/With the smell of blood” and it concludes…”I’m stuck forever with this stink of blood/That’s on my hands”. In the course of the poem she has reduced bars of Sunlight Soap to slivers trying to rid herself of the smell at the tap. Nowhere is it explained what this blood represents or why it sticks. Does it symbolize, war, Ulster Troubles, the poet or anyone from history or myth? In his Nobel prize address Heaney compared poetic inspiration to breeze over a scullery bucket. Why not the kitchen sinks and dustbins of Hibernia? Well, at least with the likes of Vona Groarke (b.1964) you may find yourself in the open air, kitchen observations exchanged a sort of gardener’s diary verse – “I let the gooseberries / Rot for not knowing when to pick them”.

But let it be said, Ireland’s contemporary female bards are more delicate than the menfolk, including the revered Heaney who (as only one example of the gratuitously sordid) writes – in Mycenae Outlook – having just referred to a vision of webbed blood and bodies raining down on the speaker “like tattered meat” –

“I would feel my tongue
Like the dropped gang plank of a cattle truck
Trampled and rattled, running piss and muck
All swimmy-trembly…

Not to consider what an über baroque evocation of a state of tension this is, it is really just more from the stock of sensationalist Joycean prose with its “snot green, scrotum tightening sea”, the world as a human theatre where people are holding on to or letting out their urine and never quite forgetting urine like Bloom who enjoys “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.

JOYCE: FROM REALISM TO NIHILISM

chastened

If it belongs anywhere, modernist realism of the Joycean kind belongs principally with prose whose main sphere is the factual report and which is not something designed to the same degree as poetry to convey or reach the transcendent. But post-Yeats Irish poetry has constantly, pedantically and monotonously appropriated the themes and style of Joycean realism and cynicism for verse. We need to ask why.

As said, Joyce spoke for those of the Catholic background that Yeats and his advisor in things Gaelic, Lady Gregory, did not share. Jesuit educated Joyce did not however pronounce on religion in any way prophetically – he was closer to a satirist, even just lampoonist of Irish and Catholic traditions. He had no alternative vision that might help reform, modify or substitute for Catholicism; he did not even reject it like an atheist. Like the true Luciferian he sometimes was, and possibly even aspired to be, Joyce simply subverts and renders toxic, contributing by his example to the also unhelpful example of the (Protestant raised) Beckett’s extreme paralysis of thought and action, his Murphy/Molloy/Belacquaism sitting in a corner cursing and despairing of existence – when not farting, evacuating, or masturbating. Inclusion of the latter theme to the field of poetry, (and rather insultingly to the Irish farmer as in Kavanagh’s half good poem, The Great Hunger,) can be traced back to Joyce, Ulysses and its anti-hero Bloom.

In accepting Joyce as high literature and a suitable object of academic study (he quite intended us to make it our life work!) we risk, and Ireland has risked, accepting him more metaphysically by osmosis. And the sad fact is that despite his obvious and undisputed brilliance, Joyce is at root unhealthy, certainly almost the last thing any new nation, not to say nascent poetic circles, should look to for prime inspiration, and if he wrote about the common man, apart from some early work, he certainly didn’t write what the common man could ever hope to understand.. Even just humanly Joyce does not come up to the mark, straining the kind of tolerance society normally reckons to extend to artists. Ignoring his questionable treatment of both parents at their death, this was a person so ungratefully arrogant he could turn even his main benefactor Harriet Weaver from the door. This was a person so merely contrary that having been keen to make Nora Barnacle his mistress, he prevented publication of his first biography because Nora was not portrayed in it as his wife. If Joyce wasn’t Lucifer he was periodically Judas and to follow him leads inexorably to precisely the Judas theme – it receives its fullest treatment in Brendan Kennelly’s bombastic, overflowing  succes de scandale,  Book of Judas (1991) which supplies the Messiah the traitors he is assumed to need to be himself and identifies Ireland itself with a species of Judas complex. (Jung considered both Joyce and Beckett Antichrist writers)

Such perspectives apart, practically, Joyce’s values were never truly liberal of an exemplary kind for us to follow; they were merely rebellious designed to shock like the basically unnecessary, irrelevant incest theme of Finnegan’s Wake. Even the repulsive reference in Ulysses to “the snot green, scrotum tightening sea” is merely a sideward glance to Dublin’s Forty Foot nude beach often frequented by gays. Anyone from his friends to the Trinity (as in the famous “my Mother’s a Jew, my father’s a bird” etc doggerel ditty) were the pretext of largely aimless, self-congratulatory Joycean humour and cynicism.

The Joyce and Beckett effect has been to divert energies from, rather than to encourage attention to the needed reform and development of modern Irish life including not least its spiritual life to which poetry might have been expected to contribute. One doesn’t need to plough through the earnest examination of the Catholic theme in modern verse that Andrew Auge pursues in  A Chastened Communion (2013), to realize that the poets, like the people at large, have  few religious ideas to offer (though it does have something – such poets as Padraig O’Tuoma and Micheal O’ Siadhail , both poets are respected including among theologians outside Ireland, a reason perhaps that  Wes Davis’s huge Anthology of Modern Irish poetry almost insultingly in the of academic secularism gives them no space or acknowledgement).  Mainstream Irish religion has been and remains too weak in theology and philosophy in the first place. This nonetheless means that once the roof has been blown off traditional pieties and reverence there is little substance left but instead just hollow, trivializing profanity like Patrick Fiacc’s whose poem Our Father begins, “Our Father who art a Belfast night /Pub bouncer”. Or again the purely bizarre like Brendan Kennelly’s God’s Laughter. This pictures God unable to stop laughing or “freezing in fear” when he hears words. As fear is a negative emotion plainly it could not be a meaningful attribute of any true deity. But at least Kennelly’s half dotty admirer, U2 frontsman Bono, (who has used the poem for U2’s pop theology), hasn’t controversially praised it as he did Kennelly’s The Book of Judas as poetry flying “as high as the Holy Spirit flies” for sheer inspiration!).

Scriptures and especially the reformist/prophetic Hebrew tradition scarcely register for Ireland despite some natural Celtic affinity for such, a reason perhaps that the Irish and Jews have been so associated, at least politically, in America. Irish Catholicism is, alas, more a matter of devotions, rituals and folk religion, not to say superstition, though in earlier centuries and before Catholicism invaded via England like Protestantism later, the Celts produced the likes of Pelagius and Erigena in theology and philosophy. The convolutions of Joycean thought which could serve an almost “rabbinical” examination of life and literature, are expended by Joyce and his imitators on what is often little more than lavatory wall scribble. The attack upon Irish religion given Joycean example has become a matter of aesthetics rather than thought, and there the matter has become largely stuck. Reform and development are highjacked by aimless, passive complaint which the poetry echoes. Joyce’s interest in Ireland may at one level have been futuristic in revolt against nationalist nostalgias of his time, but paradoxically his labours (eighteen years alone on the still almost unreadable, Finnegans’s Wake whose best effects are contained in the first and last sentences!) catch the culture in a circling, repetitive torpor from which it seems unable to emerge.

If it wasn’t clearer earlier, it is fully apparent in the wake of the Murphy and Ryan reports and ongoing church scandals, that the Catholic church has failed Ireland abysmally.The country has survived less because of Catholicism as long popularly maintained, than despite it. For long the hierarchy opposed most Irish moves and calls to independence, (notoriously one prelate declared that hell wasn’t hot enough nor eternity wasn’t long enough to punish Fenians). Meanwhile, hidden in  orphanages, monasteries and nunneries was behaviour fit for the Inquisition. Some of it (and despite the vein of quasi-Wildean preciousness in a lot of Irish culture) seems as though arisen from some, satanic, nightmare level of Celtic consciousness which the modern poetry almost celebrates in its vision of existence as virtual vomitorium and lavatory, a dream world in which one falls in a shower of waste as in a ridiculous short poem Free Falls by Thomas Kinsella. (You can read it with a commentary many times its length in Britain’s Guardian newspaper’s Poem of the Week for 9.12.13 where you will be assured Kinsella b.1928, “significantly helped shape the course of poetry in Ireland, and beyond”. By conducting it to Sam Beckett’s lavatory?)

Only Catholicism whose semper idem principle has almost automatically opposed change, fails to recognize the at once psychological and spiritual principle, that there is a duty to seek change for the sake of soul, and even for spiritual health and progress to question religion as mere tradition and “to let the dead bury their dead”. Biblically God is portrayed as departing from the Jerusalem temple (Ezek 10:18) when a certain level of evil is exceeded, this in itself a declaration that no institution however venerable is automatically, eternally sacrosanct in the eyes of God. The Judaeo-Christian tradition always declares “come out of her my people” (Rev 18:4 ) the reason being “so that you do not partake in her sins….so that you do not share in her plagues”. Christianity is, or should be, less about tradition than the in-break and formation of the new. In our own times and faced with certain features of Islam, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has proposed, (what Christians seem fearful of doing even while Christians are persecuted by Muslims and denied the legal right to use the Allah word in some places), namely that Muslims should reject their faith and become either atheists or Christians or (more recently she concedes) at least definitively reject the traditions of Sharia Law.

In The Invention of Ireland  (1995) Declan Kiberd proposes the Protestant perspective could have been more used and useful to Ireland. I agree. Maybe reform is yet possible for Irish Catholicism, but as the author of Temple Mysteries and Spiritual Efficiency who believes religion must work for people, I feel I could go further than Kiberd and maintain it’s probably high time Ireland abandoned the Catholicism it seems no longer able to trust, love and believe – not abandon for pure secularism which would be defeatist and perhaps even impossible given certain features of the Celtic mind, but some alternative. Obviously one would not recommend surrender to anything like Paisleyite Protestantism and Ireland wouldn’t go there anyway. But anything from Orthodoxy to Charismatics might serve….anything in order to start again and actually to exert a spiritual will, to integrate the levels of Celtic vision. This, where it is strong in persons, is currently sinking back into the vaguest neo-paganism, new ageism or  perhaps Buddhism, going everywhere and nowhere like the repeated ambiguities of Bono lyrics or an agnostic Heaney advising in Doubletake,

….“Believe that further shore
Is reachable from here.
Believe in miracle
And cures and healing wells”.

If even Latin America has been casting off Catholicism usually for Protestant alternatives, why not Ireland if it would help cauterize the wounds and go somewhere definite?

I think there can be no question but that influences on Irish leaders of opinion stemming from Joyce and Beckett and their often slavish successors colour the social outlook and have favoured poetic themes in a way to justify a certain victimology, a culture of complaint and aimless protest much of it just a Beckettian sinking Winnie passivity. And we readers of such authors are even encouraged by the guides and critics of their productions to take a “poor Joyce” and still more a “poor Beckett” line in estimation of their lives and work. Contrary to Yeats’ meaningful dictum “in dreams begin responsibilities”, it as though these artists’ deliberate life choices meant little or nothing. Especially depression in the style of Beckett somehow excuses speaking darkness and a sitting-Murphy despair to the rest of the world at every opportunity –the sort of thing some of us like myself, who has suffered clinical depression, have made actual effort to avoid.

We need moreover to wake up and realize that like the bad tree which can only produce bad fruit, in pursuit of their aims these persons have, however unwittingly, contributed to establish new and unacceptable restrictions. Obviously much censorship in Joyce’ youth was absurd and we have all heard of how the accomplished prose of Dubliners got refused for publication because of inclusion of the word bloody. Yet a century later admirers and inheritors of the Joycean legacy are not themselves without their prejudices and the society which readily tolerates what today would have the likes of Beckett executed if he were a Muslim for repeated profanities, behind the scenes can prove  controversially censoring in the area of religion and much else. Even to include such words as “conduct” and “bestow” can be sufficient to refuse you publication.

I had no special intention to make this article personal, and I don’t really have any need now that the scandals and injustices experienced in relation to persons of the literary establishments and publishing is available for anyone to read as an aspect of my memoir Reflections of an Only Child. (amzn.to/1rRagvl). However if I do include a personal note at this point, it’s because while preparing this article I received from The Irish Review, and not unexpectedly – I only applied to satisfy pressures on me to do so – an incoherent refusal from a writer (ironically and almost hilariously of all people  the author of Deconstructing Ireland) as regards a request for some exposure of my poetry.

ROAOC     NPTCDRAMAS

I was informed in one and half lines they couldn’t publish “it”, whatever poem could have been meant by “it”, since I’d suggested seeing a collection of verse (New Poems and Two Celtic Dramas) from which something might have been selected. As self-recommendation I had pointed out a poetic drama of mine on a Celtic theme had been performed in Australia. I also suggested my Coming To Syracuse mini epic could  be looked at on my blog [it’s now a 6 part Canadian made You Tube video at http://bit.ly/1pi8Hn1 ] as proof of some basic competence in poetry (It would be too long for their publication so I didn’t offer it for such). As no one from specifically Ireland visited the poem between my sending the email and receiving the refusal two days later, plainly those of The Irish Review didn’t bother to check.

Had he/they done so, it would have been clear, apart from shortage of space or a special theme of the month such as could have been told me, there would be at least no moral right to refuse me. Any occasionally expressed claim of mine to be writing and as a Protestant of Irish nationality closest to Yeats in theme and style is not any boast but a statement of fact. I am more inclined to the mythic, metaphysical and visionary theme, and I deserve the attention denied me and not for the first time, but continuously in Ireland for anything poetic or otherwise. And I could well demand it in the face of the sometimes insulting and selfish way those of the diaspora are too easily dismissed as having no inheritance, no stake in anything Irish at all. (I can’t imagine Jews or Italians suffering the same kind of treatment). I suspect what the refused “it” was and which damned me, was that I also mentioned, (and I admit I was testing the waters!), that he could also look on the Net at my (quite popular) Remembering Seamus Heaney. No one today is allowed to blaspheme the Heaney god. He is Irish poetry, even if some of us like Camille Paglia (who refused to anthologize him) would consider him third class Yeats.

“OUT OF SHAPE FROM TOE TO TOP”

Heaneyverse

Well might Yeats’ valedictory Under Ben Bulben almost prophetically declare:

Irish poets learn your trade
Sing whatever is well made
Scorn the sort now growing up
All out of shape from toe to top…

Well made” here is key. Poetry (above the simple entertainment level) is first and foremost the art of excellence. It’s because it is about excellence that Yeats like his virtual mentor, Shelley, often felt that what he had produced was not quite good enough. ”True” poetry is what is as distinctively finished as a piece of sculpture or memorable as the strains of a major  symphony. And despite the self-doubt, it was this absolute quality that at his best Yeats was able to achieve and it’s why he continues to be internationally celebrated. Obviously he wouldn’t have appreciated those many Irish poets who have followed him who are too often writing what is almost an anti-poetry that has not issued from heart and intellect working in harmony. And there is something else here.

It is an admitted embarrassment that the elderly Yeats should have leaned towards fascist views of genetics and eugenics and that his Under Ben Bulben too baldly refers to the new Irish poets in terms of:

Their unremembering hearts and heads
Base born products of base beds

but there is arguably a kernel of truth here to be considered.

POETRY THAT REMEMBERS

Ben Bulben

It was and still is yet another mistake of post-Yeats poetry that it too lightly assumed there is scarcely anything Irish to represent whether through the “remembering” of Yeats’ Great Memory (read Collective Unconscious) or raw temperament. By the latter I mean those things like a sense of rhythm, pattern, even a way of observing people and objects that seems as distinctive as La Tène Celtic art yet spontaneous and minimally acquired through cultural means.

There are two ways in which persons belong or deeply feel they belong to a country. One may do so, as the perhaps more Anglo-Irish than Irish Yeats seemed to, namely by some hard-to-understand and as good as occult principle of earth consciousness of the kind Jung accepted. It is a belief that the land itself can leave some imprint beyond any effects of culture or the length of time spent there. (Like actress Joanna Lumley, unquestionably many Anglos born in India have felt there is some “touch” of Asia left on them that time and cultural education away from it will not erase or explain). Plainly there was something in Yeats that would always want to arise and go to Innisfree or stand beneath Ben Bulben even when dying in France. Just recently I read on the Net the poem of an Irish American plainly in the grip of the same kind draw to the Irish earth itself. Some accomplished late poems of the mostly self-exiled C.Day Lewis could be deriving their strength from the principle.

The other important way one belongs to a people is – likely enough – genetically. It is almost taboo in a multicultural society to speak of race as any determinant of anything, but there may even be a hidden injustice to that position, one which obscures certain realities. How do we explain (as the last week that I have been writing this, one hears of the Lebanese son of an Australian mother and the Libyan son of a French Canadian mother, both feeling themselves different and maladjusted and turning against family, homeland and every sensible advantage to become IS fanatics.

Multiculturalism is a value system relying much on the empirical/pragmatic outlook Yeats held suspect, and it is apparent the kind of society it encourages too often produces divided, discontented even tormented individuals left to feel an impulse to realize – precisely what? It may be, and probably is, the ineradicable drumbeats of something profoundly genetic that feels unaccepted, inalienably different and struggles to reach expression beyond whatever a post-enlightenment culture of reason lays out. I have myself protested in Reflections of an Only Child what seems like the blithe indifference to questions of race and inheritance among Irish leaders of opinion. If some nations have had too much race theory, Ireland has arguably had too little, even almost none though of no people group might something like racial inheritance be more obvious – the character of the Celts is easily recognizable in the descriptions of the ancients over two millennia ago. It is too easily imagined in Ireland (and originally because pragmatic, empirical England had assumed something of the kind) that as long as a person can make a living and be fed, it doesn’t much matter where on the face of the globe they reside. Accordingly, immigration is almost regarded as necessary and convenient even while it may in fact prove quite disorientating and take a real psychological toll on individuals.

Reacquainting myself after many years with Irish poetry and its issues, I found a reading of Stan Smith’s Irish Poetry and the Construction of Modern Identity (2005) and Wes Davies’ compendious An Anthology of Irish Verse (2013) dispiriting. There were fine examples of poetry from numbers of poets, but overall I would judge the collection, especially as it covers the scene over the last two generations, trashy. Too often it presents a punkish anti-poetry in which the only Irish thing about it is the will to act and pose, in this case to act out not being Irish, to uncharacteristically understate oneself, to be cool because it’s hip, sophisticated and neo-international to be so. (As I shall inevitably be accused of exaggeration, I was pleased to read a Paris Review interview (The Art of Fiction. no 82) in which even Edna O’Brien, whose concern is with prose fiction not poetry, charging modern Ireland with just imitating Anglo-American mores).

“STILL THE INDOMITABLE IRISHY”?

Shamrocks

If I hardly recognize any distinctive, perennial Celtic character in the poetry of especially the last thirty years (beyond perhaps, however negatively, a quality of  violent/surrealistic “vision” in elements of Brendan Kennelly), it is because something counter-intuitional is going on. There is a refusal of the “remembering” which Yeats rightly considered essential to poetry, Irish or any other. It will be protested that Heaney, a poseur if ever there was one, does remember – he remembers a dark ancient bog past and a rough farmland present or recent past. But his roughness is either inauthentic or unnecessary or both. If he genuinely aimed to represent a rural coarseness he should not have weighed his verse down like an over burdened Christmas tree with jargon and obscure technical vocabulary that avoids, or substitutes for, real emotion or committed statement (a really great and passionate poet could, like Racine, say everything with only two thousand words). Also if Heaney is indifferent (as in The Early Purges) to the killing and drowning of kittens and pups, then he was just a rough cur who we can and should just dismiss as such. I can only say, as indicated in my memoir, my own forebears in Ireland didn’t take that kind of attitude towards animals despite being raised on a farm and I know plenty of Irish didn’t and don’t either. Indeed I looked up an article on the Net where some protested similar things, in one case someone insisted their people had been farmers not far from the Heaneys and didn’t approve such views. Heaney’s sentiments cannot just be excused on the basis they are only “representative” of Irish life and farmers.

In response to Early Purges words like

….Still, living displaces false sentiments
And now, when shrill pups are prodded to drown
I just shrug, “Bloody pups”, it makes sense.

one disgusted correspondent was even moved to extemporize:

Seamus is dead thank God
I hated the words of this man
Cruel and unthinking and more than a little odd
Now he’s gone, give his work an outright ban

My chief overall impression of modern Irish poetry is of so much quasi-journalism presuming to call itself verse. (And again, having arrived at that conclusion, I was again fascinated to note that from her different sphere Edna O’Brien opines in the mentioned interview that the trouble today is so many writers are just journalists). Ireland’s poets sound too often depressed, glum, sullen, resentful, mocking and shocking, even occasionally cruel like Michael Hartnett – his Pigkilling belongs with Heaney for indifference to animals – almost totally devoid of a smile and certainly lacking any good story to tell. Indeed it’s can be so remote from any light touch that isn’t outright clown-silly with Paul Muldoon (”with a stink and a stink and a stinky-stick”) that it’s hard to imagine Oscar Wilde ever came out of Ireland. It’s typical of what’s wrong that a quite well known, almost popular poem by Sean O’Riorain called Saoirse (Freedom) includes such sentiments as:

I’ll bear affection for people
without anything original
in their stockthoughts.

One can of course do that; it belongs today to various relativist and egalitarian tendencies – Yeats’ “levelling wind” – but if you surrender to the humdrum in this way you won’t be going on any Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage to anywhere (certainly not to Yeats’ Byzantium)  and have much to say or be at all. Ultimately most modern Irish poetry, like too much poetry elsewhere, is just a bore, an activity for in-groups, precisely the scene Yeats would encourage us to turn from and even scorn. And necessarily so if one doesn’t want to lose all sense of social, let alone literary direction.

According to one of his reviewers, the essential idea behind Colin Graham’s The Deconstruction of Ireland (2001)  is that what’s called ‘Ireland’ just “stages its own deconstruction and that at every turn the idea unravels and reforms itself, always in anticipation of the next act of definition and criticism which…will be inadequately applied to it”. It follows that both affirmation and deconstruction for Ireland are but a “momentary stop on a seemingly runaway train” and Ireland, itself a concept in flux, “is a future which is always posited and never attained”.

Undeniably Ireland and our world is changing, but change is not everything; and notions of an ungraspable, indefinable “Ireland” bespeak how things are – or will just feel and seem – to the secular consciousness for which there is no “remembering” in the Yeatsian sense, little or no scope for poetry in the broadest sense as contributing to culture, and perhaps most importantly as indicated, no personal or collective willingness to take real control of the spiritual life from which so much else flows.

We inhabit an almost post-poetic age in which the magic, the mystery, the spirit of the poetic art has been lost, but which the policy direction behind the granting of  bursaries, prizes, professorships of poetry, publications are almost busy helping us lose, putting what was once a fairly public medium – even when difficult, Isaiah, Dante and Shakespeare were essentially for everyone – into the hands of cliques. Yeats, even in his greatness may not be the perfect poet – who is? – and most could never reckon to follow him into ritual magic. But if poets and modern Ireland cannot regain some grip upon his magic and the magic of existence, we shall continue in the shallows rather than the heights of literature if we don’t bring it to near  outright extinction. Hopefully Yeats 2015 will provide new inspiration and beginnings.

IRISH AUSTRALIAN  (Irish Australian Heritage Flag)

 

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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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