May 2009


It’s been a long time since I’ve showed up around these parts. Thanks, Anne for holding up the fort during my ignominious absence.

This current post is going to be even more tangentially related to all things properly Victorian, so consider yourself forewarned. 

Longtime readers of Anne’s POTW series, should any of you exist, may know that I occasionally show up in Anne’s posts as the wet blanket who hangs dripping over any comment she makes that smells of aesthetic appreciation. In Anne’s last post, one might imagine me to be less piqued when reading of her aesthetic condemnation:

 [T]his poem bothers me in ways that “Dover Beach” and “The Buried Life” don’t. A rather forecful interior voice calls out, “It’s so whiny!”–hence, I’m sure, the Dover Bitch thing. The scientific language of the third stanza, coupled with the image of a severing God in the fourth, takes this mounting sense of helplessness over the top–it’s a kind of geological version of Tennyson’s “Lotos-Eaters,” where the self-administered narcotic lethargy has become a matter of mindless plate tectonics–a situation in which we not only cannot intervene, but we are never asked nor expected to. This seems like kind of a troubling model for thinking human relations.

I agree with everything Anne’s saying here, but… is this an aesthetic judgment? an ethical judgment? a political judgment? I suppose it’s somewhere along the faultline where the three meet, but it’s clear where I would like to stand and where I would like Anne not to stand. So yeah, its “a troubling model for thinking human relations” for political reasons, I’d emphasize. I’ve really got nothing more than party-line marxian doctrine to say: Arnold’s claiming alienation is metaphysical, or a product of secularism, which thereby obscures socioeconomic alienation, class struggle, yada yada yada.

I could probably make a more exciting Radical answer to Arnold’s complacent Torydom (and parrying Whiggish reformism as well), but I’ve realized recently just how much aesthetic appreciation actually does matter to me, except it’s far more likely to matter for me through music, rather than through literature.

I’m in Montreal right now, my homest of towns for my homeless self, but I’m here primarily because it’s Mutek, which is one of the biggest electronic music festivals worldwide, and, I think, the only one this side of Europe that really shows the high-art, avant, experimental Appolinian aspect of electronic music while providing ample opportunity for Dionysian, not necessarily drugged-up but not necessarily not drugged-up bootyshaking. When I tell people, especially Americans (elec. music is much bigger in Canada, especially in Montreal, in large part due to Mutek), that I like techno (I’m actually obsessed), I usually get a bit embarrassed. It’s not a guilty pleasure kind of thing–I really believe in this music, but I never know exactly how to explain that I’m really snobby about it, that I really hate the stuff that most people who don’t know much about electronic music think techno is. The techno that I’m into is actually about the most deeply introverted (but collectively so) kind of music that I know of, and it’s not the stuff that obnoxious people blast out of the cars they want to show off. I used to specify that I’m into minimal techno, but then I’d have to explain what that was, and now, the whole minimal sound has become a bit dated, and nobody quite knows what to call the stuff that’s coming out of Berghain in Berlin. In short, the techno that I’m into is un peu recherché–but I don’t like to defend the music I believe in in elitist terms by saying it’s high-brow, musically sophisticated stuff that someone with loads and loads of “classical” music training and education would be into. (I’ll not go into why classical music is such a misnomer in many cases.)

My basic point is that the aesthetic project that I ruthlessly attack Anne for bringing to the reading of poetry is more or less exactly the affect with which I approach techno.

I was thinking about all of this while I was watching Wolfgang Voigt’s performance on Wednesday night. He’s one of the most important figures in the history of techno for all kinds of reasons, but his performance wasn’t techno at all–it was his ambient Gas project. Hmmm, how to explain what ambient music is? Well, if techno is repetitive electronic music set to a four-on-the-floor beat, then ambient is repetitive electronic music without beats, more or less. Both forms are intensely concerned with questions of time and duration and change, following more or less the blueprint laid by minimalist godfather Steve Reich in “Music as a Gradual Process.” I’m sure there’s a lot–well, a fair deal–of academic work out there on the aesthetic of techno and ambient with which I’m not familiar, but I’m guessing that a lot of it would link it to post-modern or post-structural stuff: the manipulation of recorded or synthesized sounds rather than the production of “natural” sounds, the rhizomatic shifts that determine the “structure” of an individual track or a DJ’s transitions between tracks, the blurring of boundaries between woman and machine.

Maybe, though, there’s a nineteenth-century connection? The best description I’ve found of the Gas sound is from Resident Advisor’s review of the mini-box set rerelease of the Gas albums last summer:

 Distinct from the dance tracks is Voigt’s Gas project, which had a more ambitious agenda: the aim was to produce ambient/experimental tracks by running German cultural history – from Schlager to Wagner – through a sampler. This same process defines the sound of all Gas releases: Voigt creates loops of crackly brass and woodwind phrases, and then obscures this source material with dense layers of processing, smearing the sound into a hazy, bloated wash that shimmers like the blurred contours of a Rothko painting. Underneath all of this is often an unwavering bass drum, the pulse which gives the clouds focus.

If that description mystifies you, here’s a recording of probably my favorite track:

I’ve heard this described as looped snippets of German classical music, but really it’s pure German Romanticism, late Romanticism in particular. Zauberberg VII, at least, for me isn’t about “all of German cultural history”–its the lush, rich colors found in the music of Johannes Brahms, Gustav Mahler, Richard Strauss. And this is where the long 19th century connection comes in. Quite long: I’m thinking specifically of R. Strauss’s last of the Four Last Songs:

 

This post is getting kinda long, and I don’t quite what I’m talking about anymore, so maybe I’ll end here, and finish up some other time.

In Part II, I’ll speculate on this strange nexus between late C19 organic romanticism and late C20 cyber-minimalism and what, if anything, this has to do with my own aesthetic sensibility and what I get out of Victorian lit.

Advertisements

Something about gray weather near the end of May puts me in a quasi-canonical mood. Kind of. Also, in the interest of at least partial disclosure, I spent most of my afternoon reading Melanie Klein and various Kleinians. This seems at least obscurely relevant to what I’m about to inflict on you, and stands in for all those other things I can’t say in this semi-professional space.

270. “Isolation” by Matthew Arnold ( 1822-1888 )

Yes: in the sea of life enisled,

With echoing straits between us thrown,

Dotting the shoreless watery wild,

We mortal millions live alone.

The islands feel the enclasping flow,

And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,

And they are swept by balms of spring,

And in their glens, on starry nights,

The nightingales divinely sing;

And lovely notes, from shore to shore,

Across the sounds and channels pour;

O then a longing like despair

Is to their farthest caverns sent!

For surely once, they feel, we were

Parts of a single continent.

Now round us spreads the watery plain–

O might our marges meet again!

Who order’d that their longing’s fire

Should be, as soon as kindl’d, cool’d?

A God, a God their severance rul’d;

And bade betwixt their shores to be

The unplumb’d, salt, estranging sea.

(1852, 1857)

Oh, Matthew Arnold. You have a way of making me feel like the Dover Bitch (“To have been brought / All the way down from London, and then be addressed / As a sort of mournful cosmic last resort / Is really tough on a girl, and she was pretty”)–even when I’m in the mood to be much more serious, liable to feel guilty about how I never really believed in the “object as in itself it really is” and I may have kind of used Tennyson to poke fun at your whole “Buried Life” troping–even though I think it’s a much better poem than its omission from the Oxford Book of Victorian Verse suggests.

But the thing about this poem–yeah, I get it. Believe me. You thought nineteenth century society was all estranging, try living among Facebook and Twitter and Gchat and *still* feeling enisled and isolated–yes, there’s something about these fictions of connectedness that are always throwing the gaps in intimacy into stark relief, at least for a certain kind of personality…I think part of what you and I share–what allows, for instance, a poem like “Dover Beach” to stop me in my tracks as if I am encountering it for the first time every time I read it–is a genuine wish for things to be better than in themselves they really are–things, of course, beginning with ourselves as we really are.

Except that this poem bothers me in ways that “Dover Beach” and “The Buried Life” don’t. A rather forecful interior voice calls out, “It’s so whiny!”–hence, I’m sure, the Dover Bitch thing. The scientific language of the third stanza, coupled with the image of a severing God in the fourth, takes this mounting sense of helplessness over the top–it’s a kind of geological version of Tennyson’s “Lotos-Eaters,” where the self-administered narcotic lethargy has become a matter of mindless plate tectonics–a situation in which we not only cannot intervene, but we are never asked nor expected to. This seems like kind of a troubling model for thinking human relations. Not that I haven’t been guilty of this myself. And it’s also not like you invented the trope exactly…it’s just–maybe it’s that first line. “Yes” as in response to something, a gesture that necessarily opens and connects this poem to something–as in, it is not itself an island (more on this anon)–but it’s followed by this very disconnected non-image image of being “in the sea of life enisled”–we don’t even know what’s “enisled” until the “we” of line 4. (Thanks, GRE reading sections!) It’s meant to be oppressive, I know, meant to make us feel boxed in–and, again, the limitedness of these human/islands is thrown up against the limitlessness of whatever it is that estranges us, which is given a kind of absolute power of separation and force and movement and expansion. This isn’t your sea of faith.

But it still is the *sea*–which I think is why this metaphor seems so frustratingly partial to me. The sea separates but it also connects and moves and allows–for instance, the “lovely notes” of the nightingales to travel across great distances. Instead of longing for the time when we were all one big supercontinent (yawner), why can’t there be another way of understanding the archipelago, as it were?

Yes, Matthew Arnold, I know it’s your poem. But the answer may have more to do with the title that Arthur Quiller-Couch chose to attach to this particular set of stanzas in the OBVV. To call this poem “Isolation,” as you did in the 1857 edition of your Poems and as AQC does here, rather reinforces that whole enislement, forcing us to see ourselves as fixed in our estrangement, about which we can do nothing.

On the other hand, if we were going to approach this poem as, “To Marguerite, in returning a volume of the Letters of Ortis” (as we would do if we were reading this poem in 1852 or thereabouts), things change a bit. Personally, I might have just let you keep that copy of the Letters of Ortis, even though I can’t get it on Google Books. And what makes this all more confusing, of course, is that “To Marguerite” in the 1857 edition is a different poem and this one also appears as “To Marguerite: Continued.”

My point in going through all of this (and I’m sure someone’s untangled this somewhere) is only to highlight this very obvious tension, wherein a poem that seems to be about the fixity of isolation is itself part of a conversation with another person (even an imaginatively projected one) and with other texts, real or not. And on the one hand this makes me even more annoyed by this poem–not only is it positing an entire lack of agency, it’s doing so while making use of agency that it isn’t supposed to have. And that’s the kind of thing that Coleridge is always going to do better.

But then again. The act of responding to this poem has helped shake me out of some of my own despair, at least temporarily. Nothing you say here is anything that doesn’t cross my mind on a regular basis, that I wasn’t thinking about tonight. I came to the OBVV looking to have my own sense of something articulated and reinforced in a way that would help me gain some comfort. In this, you failed miserably, taking all those thoughts that I was hoping to cherish a little longer and taking them to such an extreme that it’s making me intervene to say, “No–this isn’t how it has to be”–and to look for possibilities within the poem of thinking these relations differently.

Because maybe we’re not the islands–maybe we’re just on the islands. And if that’s the case, then there doesn’t have to be this absolutely estranging space between us–if the longing is already there as a connection, that’s something. Sure, we can’t turn back the tide of divine severance. But we can teach ourselves how to build boats, right?

Yes, that’s right. I’m On A Boat.

Also, a quick follow up on one of the recent Poems of the Week. When I was consulting the Penguin Book of Victorian Verse (a collection of rather more recent vintage) to see what its stance on the Marguerite poems were, I noticed that Emily Bronte’s “Stanzas”–which I wrote about here–made it into this anthology as well, with a few changes. The poem does contain the final stanza that Mia mentioned in her editor’s note, but–perhaps more intriguingly–the poem is attributed to either Emily or Charlotte. Daniel Karlin’s editor’s notes mention that this poem was originally published in a memorial edition of Wuthering Heights (edited by Charlotte) in 1850–but apparently there’s some debate about the authorship. Karlin’s source is Janet Gezari’s edition of Emily Bronte’s Complete Poems (Penguin, 1992)–but, sadly, GoogleBooks is giving me only a snippet view. Alas.

245. “Say not the Struggle Naught availeth” by Arthur Hugh Clough (1819-1861; Wiki)

Say not the struggle naught availeth,

The labour and the wounds are vain,

The enemy faints not, nor faileth,

And as things have been they remain.

If hopes were dupes, fears may be liars;

It may be, in yon smoke conceal’d,

Your comrades chase e’en now the fliers,

And, but for you, possess the field.

For while the tired waves, vainly breaking,

Seem here no painful inch to gain,

Far back, through creeks and inlets making,

Comes silent, flooding in the main.

And not by eastern windows only,

When daylight comes, comes in the light;

In front the sun climbs slow, how slowly!

But westward, look, the land is bright!

(published posthumously 1862)

In an unexpected fit of came across this poem during last week’s wanderings through the OBVV and knew I wanted to blog about it for this week. It seemed at the time like an appropriate coda to the spring semester, following on the last entry. I didn’t realize at the time how devastatingly relevant it would feel after the events of the past week. Suffice it to say that I had a lot of conversations with myself about what, precisely, this struggle was availing and was coming up with “naught” more often than not.

As usual, there’s a lot I want to say about this poem. Because as consolation, it’s slippery at best. It can make you feel a bit better, but you have to work just to get to that point–this poem seems to me to be as much about the effort of hope as it is about the consolations thereof. And this is true from the very first line, which I had trouble holding in my mind this week. For some reason no doubt at least partially related to the flatness of my midwestern American accent, I had an incredibly hard time holding “Say not the struggle naught availeth” in my head. I get tripped up in the knottiness of the not/naught every single time and I kept thinking the words out of order–” ‘Say not the struggle availeth not’…? No, that can’t be right.” At least the not/naught has been untangled for me by listening to a recording of the poem at Classic Poetry Aloud. I highly recommend listening to it, if only because it underlines the degree of deliberation and metrical mindfulness involved in succesfully speaking that first line, even if you happen to be possessed with a deep English-accented male voice.

And I think the difficulty of the opening is incredibly important. It keeps the message of the poem from being either “Cheer up, bucko, things will get better tomorrow” or “ye of little faith, God totally has a plan that you can’t see,” even though there is the sense throughout the poem that many of our problems are ones of perception, of seeing through a glass darkly. Perception, or maybe just language. What’s somewhat troubling about all this, what makes it such fragile consolation, is partly the conditional language (fears only “may” be liars, they could also be telling the truth) and partly the fact that a lot of this boils down to what you call it–say not the struggle naught availeth…even if the struggle, in fact, naught availeth. And, much as in last week’s poem, we have to do a lot of work to articulate exactly what it is we’re *not* saying.

I also feel like this poem is operating on too many different temporal registers to be fully stable. The second stanza seems very individualized, a matter of very limited personal perception, but also seeming to say, “maybe it’s just you, maybe you’re the one holding things up.” The third stanza is geological time, recalling those epic sweeps of In Memoriam–though, of course, that means that the consolatory potential is limited there, too. We can’t count on a beneficent God to pull us out of the mire when we lose our faith; rather, we trust in these mindlessly sublime processes that pass far out of our view. (I’m thinking about the mindlessness of the sublime after reading Gayatri Spivak on “Terror” yesterday.)

The last stanza seems to be the poem’s best effort at bringing the two together, uniting, at least momentarily, the personal and the geological. And I can tell you that this is empirically true. All the windows in my apartment face west; the last stanza seems particularly apropos as I sit here in reflected morning sunlight that is perhaps more conductive to working and thinking than the more direct rays of the afternoon which often encourage me to nap on the couch. The fact that I value the one over the other right now probably signifies that this is a Victorian moment for me.

And I don’t know if any of this is consolatory. Most of the time I’m making up my interpretations as I go along, and I wasn’t expecting to write this way about this poem. (I also planned to do more background on Clough, but he’s not so uncanonical that you can’t find him.) It really was supposed to be my Victorian poetry power ballad, the summer theme song around which I could rally to remind myself why I do what I do. Perhaps it still is, just in a different way.

We Victorianists are such trend-setters, I tell you!
http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/13/dining/reviews/13wine.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=absinthe&st=cse

I try to approach the OBVV each week with an open mind, ready to write about whatever leaps from the page for whatever reason. I generally try to keep to the order that the poems appear in the text, regardless of whether that works from a chronological perspective. Beyond that, I’m mostly looking for something that’s manageable both for retyping and reading–I’m sure there are many fantastic poems that go on for several pages that I am missing here, such as Frederick William Faber‘s “The World Morose” (#221).

But of course I’m always driven by obscure, less articulated desires, looking for something I can’t describe but swear I will know by sight. Some weeks this is all more clear than in others. Some posts become retroactively autobiographical. I’m not going to tell you which ones.

Tonight’s trajectory went something like this: I began by deciding not to write about Robert Browning (#195-213). Thing is, Bob and I are going to be spending quite a lot of time together this summer as it is, so there’s no need to rush into things. There will be all kinds of opportunities for you to hear what I have to say about him. (However, Maggie will be happy to know that “The Laboratory” comes in at #198.) After this, I paged listlessly past Aubrey de Vere–best known in my world for a comment he made about Tennyson writing Maud backwards–then on through Henry David Thoreau (you all know that there are Americans in here, I’m just being horribly non-transatlantic and not writing about them because, ack?) and a host of minor poets with names like Wathen Mark Wilks Call (#229-31) and Thomas Toke Lynch (#233) and no Wikipedia pages. You can, however, read about both of these last figures as “Lesser Poets of the Middle and Later Nineteenth Century” in the Cambridge History of English and American Literature in Eighteen Volumes.

Normally a name like Thomas Toke Lynch and a poem about children as cannon fodder in spiritual warfare would be enough to get me going here. Yet my eye was drawn instead to #234, which I present to you without further ado:

“Stanzas” — Emily Bronte (1819-1848)

Often rebuked, yet always back returning

To those first feelings that were born with me,

And leaving busy chase of wealth and learning

For idle dreams of things which cannot be:

To-day I will seek not the shadowy region;

Its unsustaining vastness waxes drear;

And visions rising, legion after legion,

Bring the unreal world too strangely near.

I’ll walk, but not in old heroic traces,

And not in paths of high morality,

And not among the half-distinguish’d faces,

The clouded forms of long-past history.

I’ll walk where my own nature would be leading:

It vexes me to choose another guide:

Where the grey flocks in ferny glens are feeding,

Where the wild wind blows on the mountain side.*

There are any number of reasons to love this poem. To be fair, I’m probably too groggy to do justice to them all, and this grogginess may be the reason why the poem seems to be somewhat shimmeringly suspended among several levels right now, not just in terms of the literal and figural aspects of the proposed walk itself, but also in its generic positioning.  And perhaps this has to do with the poem’s material aspect–the physicality of those last two lines after all those tropes that come before. It’s not exactly unexpected, since the entire poem is, in a sense, going through all these different tropes of walking and where one might walk if one were so inclined–all, of course, to reject it for some return to the moors. There’s a certain romanticism to this–and we know that it’s coming from that first stanza, a kind of return to self against the incursions of the world, turning aside from all teachers that are not nature, and so on. The “unreal world” is “too strangely near” and the answer is clarity, hardness, wind on mountains, and the present moment (that is, whatever is not occluded by “the clouded forms of long-past history).

Yet to the extent that there is a romanticism to this pedestrianism, it, too, seems to get turned back and refused for something more stark. It’s difficult to write well about refusals, to write well about other people’s refusals, and to write well about the kind of refusal that involves the invocation and citation of what is being refused. And this is why you should all immediately go get a copy of Eve Sedgwick’s Touching Feeling and read the chapter on the periperformative utterance. It’s not exactly applicable to what Bronte’s doing here, but it at least approximates the process that interests me.

But I think what attracts me to this poem most of all right now is its reminder to focus on the present, to be mindful of what is needed, to take a break from speculations and bleak prospects of uncertain futures and ungraspable pasts. It doesn’t really, in my view at least, make grand claims for self-identity or authenticity–to a certain extent, to “walk where my own nature would be leading” is presented more as a choice among other choices, all valid and helpful at times, but not entirely in this particular case. This is not the agonistic longing of Arnold’s “The Buried Life” or some straightforwardly gendered rejection of predominately male poetic forms. (Though now as I type that, I can see it as an entirely plausible way to read the poem.) Indeed, despite the reference to “first feelings,” there’s not much of a hierarchy in this poem, which reveals those feelings–and the physical act of walking according to one’s own inner guide, away from striving and the “busy chase”–to be as important, as sacred even, as the sublime, epic, morality, history. And this, in turn, gives these stanzas a kind of grace.

It’s a grace (and I mean that in a loosely spiritual sense) that I’m seeking myself right now at the end of an exhausting, uncertain, wildly productive, intensely painful semester. It’s been that way for lots of reasons and not just for me either. Even the best things can tear our focus away from–well, from whatever it is we’re doing, from our efforts to be good to each other and our students and ourselves. The time it’s taken me to write this post is a case in point. And it’s not to say that Emily Bronte is going to solve all of my problems or keep me from getting sucked into Gawker rather than Zizek tomorrow or–whatever. But Bronte’s right about one thing: “unsustaining vastness” does wax pretty damn “drear.” And that makes me want to accept poetic grace where I can.

*Ed. note: I was checking the wording of one of the lines, and I found the poem on wikisource. There’s one more stanza:

What have those lonely mountains worth revealing?
  More glory and more grief than I can tell:
The earth that wakes one human heart to feeling
  Can centre both the worlds of Heaven and Hell.

In any case, Emily for the win. And it’s nice to think what happens to poem when they’re suggestively truncated.

Apologies to those of you who have, no doubt, been assiduously checking this page at the beginning of each week waiting patiently for the next step in our tour through the Oxford Book of Victorian Verse. April was truly the cruelest month in the land of the Long 19th Century (though T.S. Eliot would probably not admit that), and in the case of yours truly, that meant–among other things–that Arthur Quiller-Couch’s anthology collected dust on my shelf while I dealt with the 9,000 other things that life decided to throw in my direction. Many of which involved writing about 19th century British poetry, just not…here.

A new month, and we’re back to the OBVV. By all rights, we should be hitting Tennyson next, but, um…I just had a lot of writing on Tennyson come out recently–you can look me up on Project Muse–and I think maybe I should leave it at that for now. (I will say, briefly, that the Tennyson selections are fairly predictable, except for the part where there’s nothing from In Memoriam. My guess is that AQC wanted that to be fully a part of the Oxford Book of English Verse, which he’d previously put together. Or something. There are also a couple other selections that don’t make it into the one-volume selected Tennyson edited by Christopher Ricks. But, like many collections since–I assume–it’s pretty heavily weighted towards the Tennyson of 1855 and before, with the obligatory nod to “Crossing the Bar.”)

And so, with all of that impossible preamble, I give you the long-awaited Poem of the Week, which I fear will not live up to the hype.

180. “Faith” by Frances Anne Kemble

Better trust all, and be deceived,

And weep that trust and that deceiving,

Than doubt one heart that, if believed,

Had bless’d one’s life with true believing.

O, in this mocking world too fast

The doubting fiend o’ertakes our youth!

Better be cheated to the last

Than lose the blessed hope of truth.

(1844? This is a guess.)

I could probably come up with a whole subcategory within this of “poems by people who are famous for things other than poetry.” And Frances Anne “Fanny” Kemble–actress, abolitionist, travel writer, memoirist, divorcee–certainly fits here. Seriously, go read her Wikipedia page–she’s someone we should all know about, particularly with the American connection.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between things like faith and stupidity and how they are sometimes kind of indistinguishable (see any of the Great Pumpkin-themed Peanuts strips). My reaction to this poem thus went a bit like the following. First impression: yes, this poem is pretty much the plot of every Victorian novel, ever. Second impression: this poem knows what it’s talking about. What I mean by the second impression is mostly that it’s another lovely example of the Victorian double poem, in that on the first pass it expresses a conventional, almost stereotypical conduct-manual type counsel (“tis better to have loved and lost / then never to have loved at all”; “and may you stay forever young”) and on the second pass it makes us wonder about all of that, without really giving us an out.

A bit more slowly, what I mean is this: the first quatrain is doing something really interesting with its line endings. The deceived/believed and deceiving/believing rhyme scheme suggests, not entirely subtly, the ways in which the two are indistinguishable. But I find it more interesting that we go from the past participle/adjective to the gerund (deceived–>deceiving / believed–>believing), which suggests all kinds of other possibilities, perhaps how we can move from being deceived to going out and deceiving, but also disrupting the self-sameness of these states, particularly since the whole scheme of tenses is already a bit convoluted. (As is my prose here. I apologize. Clearly, The Poem of the Week is not to be analyzed with the baseball game on in the background. Also, the Cardinals lost.) Whether belief and that “hope of truth” are even possible is never really clear in this poem because of the way that first stanza works.

And what is “true believing,” anyway? Especially when by the end of the poem it’s become “the blessed hope of truth”? This does not strike me as being particularly consolatory. The “truth” that seems most evident in the poem lies in something like that movement to action charted in the first stanza–the truth being in the affective investments that we make again and again, even though most of them will lose. If we don’t “trust all” and be deceived, we almost by definition trust more than we don’t trust when we decide to get out of bed in the morning. If we justify it in retrospect as being worth it–well, we’re still here to make that retrospective judgment, so maybe it *is* worth it after all.

I’m not feeling particularly eloquent or focused right now, so I won’t subject you to more ramblings. (Don’t want to presume on how much anyone missed me.) I will say, though, that there’s a lot to be done with thinking about temporality in this poem, particularly the way it is forward-looking, subjunctive, perhaps even suspensive. Possibly I’m just marking this for myself right now, too.