Saturday, May 3, 2008


Perhaps my fond regard for books printed and bound in India comes from my fondness for and close association with the middle generation of pulp magazines, the iconic Haldeman-Julius Blue Books, and the first generation of the massmarket or paperback book. Whatever the source, I think fondly of the pulpy text paper, the sewing of the bound signatures reminding me of my own early attempts at sewing, the covers more reminiscent of a fast food hamburger than a book. Books published in India frequently begin with some invocation to some deity, frequently to Ganesha, sometimes to Saraswati. Praise to Ganesha, the text will begin, shifting immediately to whatever subject the book addresses, suggesting that the invocation has worked and we may now go secular, Ganesha or Saraswati or some other divine being having delivered up the connective tissue to make the reading of the text a benefit for the reader.

Perhaps my favorite of the T.S. Eliot Quartets is Little Gidding, this because in it, Eliot, no stranger to prayer and invocation, attends a cemetery:

And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all. Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfilment. There are other places
Which also are the world's end, some at the sea jaws,
Or over a dark lake, in a desert or a city—
But this is the nearest, in place and time...

Close to exquisite in his description of the state beyond time, space, and causation the creative person must seek when venturing into a new work, Eliot encounters a ghost who, in my view, has to be the ghost of a poet I have long admired, perhaps as much as I admire any poet. No, not Hopkins, not Sexton, nor Thomas, although I dote on them. Not Chaucer, into whom I read so much and from whom I draw so much more. Not even Ezra Pound, whom, his anti-Semitism and archness to the contrary not withstanding, I follow reluctantly at times but doggedly. I speak here of Willie--William Butler Yeats, brought to life for me for the first time by a mentor from my university days, a man who knew him, explained him to me in a way that made sense to my callow nineteenth year. Meeting Yeats thus, Eliot is now free to get on about the understanding and connection he seeks in the very act of writing the poem.

Earlier invocations from writers may be seen as wanting an okay from a divine being, a kind of cosmic sign-off on a task or venture to be undertaken. If we track back such remarkable ancients as Hesiod or Homer, we may find source or contemporary theory that the Muses, those daughters of Zeus, were more capricious than we might have imagined, and since I am dancing around with the capricious nature of such sources can imagine Yeats, who had among other things a sense of humor, thinking it would be fun to have Eliot on, possibly even by suggesting to Eliot that he write a series of poems about cats. Oh, well.

Hesiod and Homer did not begin their careers wanting to practice the narrative arts and may have been led to it by the Muses thinking it would help with their farming ventures. What a surprise.

Which is the point of all this; these events are freighted on the potential for surprise no matter if one ventures forth invoking Ganesha or Saraswati, putting Hebrew letters on one's forehead, or going secular and giving a nod to the forces of inspiration. No matter what wireless service one uses, the results are the same. When thought stops and inspiration takes hold, grab on for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride on steroids.

1 comment:

R.L. Bourges said...

Ah. So that is how Virgil wrote the Georgics. It's all making sense to me now. (Yeats too.)