Saturday, February 13, 2010

Olympic Diary Day 1 - A Golden Reverie

I've spent a little time watching Vancouver Olympic fever and I'm sure I will have something to write before long about the morality of this grand festival. But my mind remains unfocussed. So a few impressions... Downtown, the streets are bathed in Canadian red, with the accessory of choice, as pushed by the people and the powers that be, being red mittens with white maple leaves.

So popular is this item that they have even begun to outfit the summer athletes, like Harry Jerome.

Call me queer; but what, with all the national obsession with mittens and "going for gold", I couldn't help but think of Archibald Lampan's classic Canadian poem, In November:
With loitering step and quiet eye,
Beneath the low November sky,
I wandered in the woods, and found
A clearing, where the broken ground
Was scattered with black stumps and briers,
And the old wreck of forest fires.
It was a bleak and sandy spot,
And, all about, the vacant plot,
Was peopled and inhabited
By scores of mulleins long since dead.
A silent and forsaken brood
In that mute opening of the wood,
So shrivelled and so thin they were,
So gray, so haggard, and austere,
Not plants at all they seemed to me,
But rather some spare company
Of hermit folk, who long ago,
Wandering in bodies to and fro,
Had chanced upon this lonely way,
And rested thus, till death one day
Surprised them at their compline prayer,
And left them standing lifeless there.

There was no sound about the wood
Save the wind's secret stir. I stood
Among the mullein-stalks as still
As if myself had grown to be
One of their sombre company,
A body without wish or will
And as I stood, quite suddenly,
Down from a furrow in the sky
The sun shone out a little space
Across that silent sober place,
Over the sand heaps and brown sod,
The mulleins and dead goldenrod,
And passed beyond the thickets gray,
And lit the fallen leaves that lay,
Level and deep within the wood,
A rustling yellow multitude.

And all around me the thin light,
So sere, so melancholy bright,
Fell like the half-reflected gleam
Or shadow of some former dream;
A moment's golden reverie
Poured out on every plant and tree
A semblance of weird joy, or less,
A sort of spectral happiness;
And I, too, standing idly there,
With muffled hands in the chill air,
Felt the warm glow about my feet,
And shuddering betwixt cold and heat,
Drew my thoughts closer, like a cloak,
While something in my blood awoke,
A nameless and unnatural cheer,
A pleasure secret and austere.

Meanwhile, in the quiet neighbourhoods of the city, life as art goes on...


Eowyn said...

"And shuddering betwixt cold and heat,
Drew my thoughts closer, like a cloak,
While something in my blood awoke,
A nameless and unnatural cheer,
A pleasure secret and austere."

I would argue that all pleasures, planted in truth, ought not to be embarrassments ... but I certainly understand about keeping certain beauties secret, if for no other reason than naming them out loud in common hearing somehow stains them ...

Sorry! Most off-topic, I confess :)

(But you have a way of triggering that, truepeers!)

truepeers said...

Heh, this is a post where there is no "on topic" :-)

Some pleasures can only be pleasures as long as you don't take them too much to heart. I take great pleasure in just being a little silly sometimes. Hence this post. But say what you like about that, I still say that is one great poem; and, in ways some will not want to admit, it's so Canadian. There's just something about mittens...

Eowyn said...

"A semblance of weird joy, or less,
A sort of spectral happiness;"


Not sure why joy should ever be "weird," not happiness "spectral" -- except at those times we think we aren't entitled to them.

(And why shouldn't we be?)

(Not that happiness hasn't ever been ~spectral~ ... how many, many times haven't we clutched at the superstition that do we want happiness, it will somehow be taken away ... ?)

The point is we don't ever, ever WANT happiness to contain the slightest tint of anything that is less than "it will take care of itself."

For, if so, we will forever be slaves to our own doubts.

And, at this point, it behooves us to admit that we don't really know what the @#$% we're doing. But God does.

*Wry grin* We humans don't want to give up control while, at the same time, unable to avoid the eternal truth that, in fact, we don't REALLY know what the @#$% we're doing.

In point of fact, we pretty much think we know better than God.


What kind of God would allow such misery to exist on earth?

Here's what I think.

God is, as has been said, like, the mega, mondo, incredible force of the Universe.

Just like we've been taught.

For a very good reason.

If the rest of the world willfully turns its back, oh, well.

Thatisall. Carryon.

*rueful :)*

truepeers said...

Not sure why joy should ever be "weird," not happiness "spectral" -- except at those times we think we aren't entitled to them.

-well, remember that this poet grew up in small-town Victorian Canada and worked as a lowly clerk in the Post Office.

Even with all his learned romanticism, how could his imagining such an experience in the woods be imagined as something simply natural or innocent? The subject is not exactly nature, but the marriage of physical pleasures that nature affords us, with human desire; and the dependence of the human physical pleasure on desire and imagination make it a not-entirely innocent thing, even today. Desire, because we learn it from others with whom we then come into competition, is inherently conflictual and its seeming resolution, if only for a golden moment, involves something mysterious because somehow apart from or above that conflict.

I'd say a "weird joy" is something unexpected, surprising; and yet isn't there always something of that in joy once we are fully concious of feeling joy? In an age when sex was a dangerous thing - diseases that could kill, pregnancies that one could not really hope to escape - there must have been a discipline about all things sexual that made the association of any related pleasures a powerful and not unambiguous experience.

"Spectral happiness" strikes me as a sound intuition or allusion to the mystery of the divine. As I think you are saying, Eowyn, we are not really happy when we are obsessed with control. Real happiness is those moments when we can let go without giving up, when we are full of faith and knowingly involved in the creation we cannot control but than involves us nonetheless. One might also think of a spectrum on which one locates both solitary anticipation and fully-committed realization of one's participation in creation.