Tuesday, February 18, 2014

POESIS 65 WOLF: A Dirge by John Webster

Walking around Padden. Towards evening. Not as many people on the path. Takes about an hour. Just a little over 2.5 miles. This is my primary place to walk and memorize.

I stop by the bridge to record the sound of the water flowing out of the lake, through the concrete dam, into the creek. Like white noise.

Working on three pieces:

John Webster's Dirge:

CALL for the robin-redbreast and the wren,
Since o'er shady groves they hover,
And with leaves and flowers do cover
The friendless bodies of unburied men.
Call unto his funeral dole
The ant, the field-mouse, and the mole,
To rear him hillocks that shall keep him warm,
And (when gay tombs are robb'd) sustain no harm;
But keep the wolf far thence, that 's foe to men,
For with his nails he'll dig them up again.

Initial encounter with Webster was through The Waste Land:

That corpse you planted last year in your garden,
Has it begun to sprout? Will it bloom this year?
Or has the sudden frost disturbed its bed?
Oh keep the Dog far hence, that’s friend to men,
Or with his nails he’ll dig it up again!          75
You! hypocrite lecteur!—mon semblable,—mon frère!”

Note the change from wolf to dog. In the footnotes, this note:

74. Cf. the Dirge in Webster’s White Devil.

Then, Eliot's Whispers of Immortality begins:

WEBSTER was much possessed by death
And saw the skull beneath the skin;
And breastless creatures under ground
Leaned backward with a lipless grin. 
Daffodil bulbs instead of balls     5
Stared from the sockets of the eyes!
He knew that thought clings round dead limbs
Tightening its lusts and luxuries.

Walking through the forest around the lake, repeating that beautiful line:

The friendless bodies of unburied men.

And the ever present wolf. And the echo in Dylan Thomas' "war on the spider and the wren."

Hamlet, Act 5, Scene 1. A Churchyard:

Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow
of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy: he hath
borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how
abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rims at
it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know
not how oft. Where be your gibes now? your
gambols? your songs? your flashes of merriment,
that were wont to set the table on a roar? Not one
now, to mock your own grinning? quite chap-fallen?
Now get you to my lady's chamber, and tell her, let
her paint an inch thick, to this favour she must
come; make her laugh at that. Prithee, Horatio, tell
me one thing.

The suicide of David Foster Wallace haunting the second line for a moment.  The archetype of acting: the actor holding the skull. The humor amidst the bones. Phrase: "my gorge rims at it." The vision of kissing the skull. And the image of the thing caked with make-up: who we are. And that last question: what becomes of the ruler of all the world?

Psalm 23, King James Bible:

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

This quiet piece as I am coming back to the beginning of my walk. Ducks dark on the water. Wondering about a shepherd, tending his herd. Prophecy of Jesus Christ. Puzzling over the translation that has a sheep eating at a table, being anointed with oil and having a cup. And furthermore, being the house of the Lord implied to be a slaughterhouse.  A curious psalm.

All three resonating strangely against each other as the night falls. Dead men unburied in the woods, the skull of a jester, David surrendering to a dark shepherd of a God.

I step towards the ducks to take a photograph. They all swim away from me.

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