Friday, June 30

the pole

In Haitian voodoo, all you need to begin a ceremony is a pole and people. You begin to beat the drums and far away in Africa the gods hear your call. They decide to come to you, and as voodoo is a very practical religion, it takes into account the time that a god needs to cross the Atlantic. So you go on beating your drum, chanting and drinking rum. In this way, you prepare yourself. Then five or six hours pass and the gods fly in -- they circle above your heads, but it is not worth looking up as naturally they are invisible. This is where the pole becomes so vital. Without the pole nothing can link the visible and invisible worlds. The pole, like the cross, is the junction. Through the wood, earthed, the spirits slide, and now they are ready for the second step in their metamorphosis. Now they need a human vehicle, and they choose one of the participants. A kick, a moan or two, a short paroxysm on the ground and a man is possessed. He gets to his feet, no longer himself, but filled with the god. The god now has form. He is someone who can joke, get drunk and listen to everyone's complaints. The first thing that the priest, the Houngan, does when the god arrives is to shake him by the hand and ask him about his trip. He's a god all right, but he is no longer unreal: he is there, on our level, attainable. The ordinary man or woman now can talk to him, pump his hand, argue, curse him, go to bed with him -- and so nightly, the Haitian is in contact with the great powers and mysteries that rule his day.

In the theatre, the tendency for centuries has been to put the actor at a remote distance, on a platform, framed, decorated, lit, painted, in high shoes -- so as to help to persuade the ignorant that he is holy, that his art is sacred. Did this express reverence? Or was there behind it a fear that something would be exposed if the light were too bright, the meeting too near? Today, we have exposed the sham. But we are rediscovering that a holy theatre is still what we need. So where should we look for it? In the clouds or on the ground?

-- Peter Brook The Empty Space

Thursday, June 29

careering on the utmost verge

I write diligently, but not so rapidly as I had hoped. I find the book requires more care and thought than the "Scarlet Letter"; -- also, I have to wait oftener for a mood. The Scarlet Letter being all in one tone, I had only to get my pitch, and could then go on interminably. Many passages of this book ought to be finished with the minuteness of a Dutch picture, in order to give them their proper effect. Sometimes, when tired of it, it strikes me that the whole is an absurdity, from beginning to end; but the fact is, in writing a romance, a man is always -- or always ought to be -- careering on the utmost verge of a precipitous absurdity, and the skill lies in coming as close as possible, without actually tumbling over.

-- Nathaniel Hawthorne, on the writing of The House of the Seven Gables, Letter to James T. Fields (3 November 1850)

Wednesday, June 28

and still I gaze

And still I gaze -- and with how blank an eye!
And those thin clouds above, in flakes and bars,
That give away their motion to the stars;
Those stars, that glide behind them or between,
Now sparkling, now bedimmed, but always seen:
Yon crescent Moon, as fixed as if it grew
In its cloudless, starless lake of blue;
I see them all so excellently fair,
I see, not feel, how beautiful they are!
My genial spirits fail;
And what can these avail
To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
It were a vain endeavour,
Though I should gaze for ever
On that green light that lingers in the west:
I may not hope from outward forms to win
The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.

-- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, from "Dejection: An Ode"

Monday, June 26


So it is with life, and especially with love. There is no point. There is nothing you can cut out, except falsity, which isn't love or life. But the love itself is a flow, two little streams of feeling, one from the woman, one from the man, that flow and flow and never stop, and sometimes they twinkle with stars, sometimes they chafe, but still they flow on, intermingling; and if they rise to a floweriness like a daisy, that is part of the flow; and they will inevitably die down again, which is also part of a flow. And one relationship may produce many flowerinesses, as a daisy plant produces many daisies; but they will all die down again as the summer passes, though the green plant itself need not die. If flowers didn't fade they wouldn't be flowers, they'd be artificial things. But there are roots to faded flowers and in the root the flow continues and continues. And only the flow matters; live and let live, love and let love.

-- D.H. Lawrence Phoenix II

Saturday, June 24


This is what it means to be an artist — to seize this essence brooding everywhere in everything, just behind aspect.

-- Frank Lloyd Wright

Friday, June 23

like so many uncaged birds

The one great glory of the film is this language. The greatest credit I can assign to those who made the film is that they have loved and served the language so well. I don't feel that much of the delivery is inspired; it is merely so good, so right, that the words set loose in the graciously designed world of the screen, like so many uncaged birds, fully enjoy and take care of themselves.

-- James Agee, on Laurence Olivier's Henry V, in Agee on Film

Thursday, June 22


... we
are morning wind in the leaves that

makes the branches move. Silence
turning now into this, now that.

-- Rumi, from "We Prescribe a Friend"
Translated by Coleman Barks

Tuesday, June 20

when I was a child seems to me that the boy I was, was aware of the dangers I have fallen into now — for didn't I read in many legends of purposes forgotten, of forests full of thorns, of grails unnoticed? My mistake was to think that my own nature would make everything easy. Perhaps I was less a child when the purpose was clearer, and now that I am old I am encumbered by many childish things. Yet the fact remains that I am and was the same person: when I was a child there were moments when I stood up within my whole life, as though it were a burning room, or as though I were rowing alone on a sea whose waves were filled with many small tongues of fire...

-- Stephen Spender World Within World

Friday, June 16


For Love to be fully satisfied,
it must lower itself even unto nothingness,
and transform this nothingness into fire.

-- Thérèse of Lisieux

Thursday, June 15


Speechlessness: that is the great sorrow of nature (and for the sake of her redemption the life and language of man -- not only, as is supposed, of the poet -- are in nature) ... Lament, however, is the most undifferentiated, impotent expression of language; it contains scarcely more than the sensuous breath; and even where there is only a rustling of plants, in it there is always a lament. Because she is mute, she mourns.

-- Walter Benjamin Illuminations

Tuesday, June 13


For poetry is not revelation and has no need to pretend it is. Poetry is art and does what art can do -- which is, as Lu Chi said, to trap heaven and earth in the cage of form.

-- Archibald MacLeish Poetry and Experience

Sunday, June 11

each glimpse

Each glimpse is not just a repeat performance; it is a fresh new experience.

-- Paul Brunton The Notebooks of Paul Brunton

Saturday, June 10

the willing

The pure willing, the current that runs through this matter, communicating life to it, is a thing which we hardly feel, which at most we brush lightly as it passes.

-- Henri Bergson Creative Evolution
Translated by Arthur Mitchell

Wednesday, June 7

the gift

This sense of being suspended over nothingness and yet in life, of being a fragile thing, a flame that may blow out and yet burns brightly, adds an inexpressible sweetness to the gift of life, for one sees it entirely and purely as a gift.

-- Thomas Merton Dancing in the Water of Life

Monday, June 5


Time does not pass
Words pass.

-- Jasper Johns, quoted in Jasper Johns by Michael Crichton

Down the gullies of the eras we may catch ourselves looking forward to what will in no time be staring you larrikins on the post-face in that multimirror megaron of returning-ties, whirled without end to end.

-- James Joyce Finnegan's Wake

Sunday, June 4


In the case of the flower, the plastic journey is up and down the crags of petals, down its curving sides, passing through the crevice between the petals, and climbing up the curved inclines of the next. The sum total of that journey is the metal flower, yet it cannot be perceived without having taken that journey. One has gained knowledge of the flower by taking a topographical tour.

-- Mark Rothko The Artist's Reality

Saturday, June 3

In Our Souls

In our souls everything
moves guided by a mysterious hand.
We know nothing of our own souls
that are ununderstandable and say nothing.

The deepest words
of the wise man teach us
the same as the whistle of the wind when it blows
or the sound of the water when it is flowing.

-- Antonio Machado
Translated by Robert Bly

Friday, June 2

The single flower contains more brightness than a hundred flowers.

-- Yasunari Kawabata Japan, the Beautiful and Myself (Nobel Lecture 1968)
Translated by Edward Seidensticker

Yasunari Kawabata

Thursday, June 1


At night David can fly.

In the daytime he can't. In the daytime he doesn't even remember that he can. But at night, after his mother has put him to bed, he wakes up, sometimes.

-- Randall Jarrell Fly By Night

Randall Jarrell