Henry David Thoreau’s Walden (W. W. Norton & CO. 1992)
I have been thinking about Thoreau’s account of sounding Walden Pond, in response to imaginative fantasies (hear-say) that Walden is bottomless. It is a painstaking process that evidences the fact that reality always inevitably decenters perspective as many measurements are gathered slowly by hitting depths with a rod. It also recognizes that movement into a wider range of presence requires the accumulation of myriad other points of view:
If we knew all the laws of Nature, we should need only one fact, or the description of one actual phenomena, to infer all the particular results at that point…Our notions of law and harmony are commonly confined to those instances which we detect; but the harmony which results from a greater number of seemingly conflicting, but really concurring, laws, which we have not detected, is still more wonderful. The particular laws are as our points of view, as, to the traveller, a mountain outline varies with every step, and it has an infinite number of profiles, though absolutely but one form. (“The Pond in Winter”)
Sounding the depths offers one of the most beautiful revelations of Walden—namely, that destabilizing the melody of one perspective allows it to gather toward what Thoreau refers to as A CLEAR AND ANCIENT HARMONY in his Journal. It bolsters his conviction that the individual phenomena Walden attempts to chart will layer into a harmony of “concurring” laws, an essential economy that finally reveals itself in the form of a leaf as ice melts down an embankment in “Spring”:
You find thus in the very sands and anticipation of the vegetable leaf. No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype.
The whole tree itself is but one leaf, and rivers are still vaster leaves whose pulp is intervening earth, and towns and cities are the ova of insects in their axils.
Thus it seem that this one hillside illustrated the principle of all the operations of Nature. The Maker of this earth but patented a leaf.
This is a faithful affirmation that attention is a process of externalization and Thoreau cleaves to the poverty of his life as one budding forward.
Ronald Johnson’s Songs of the Earth (via To Do As Adam Did: Selected Poems of Ronald Johnson, Talisman House 2000)
Like Walden, Songs of the Earth takes root in ancient harmonies that border confounding experience. Reading is the pleasure of being patterned into activity beyond the scope of thinking. Spring life as it rings itself in to be. It’s a marriage that distills visual and aural acoustics perforated by the echoes of other springs and their beings.
Lorine Niedecker’s Collected Works (University of California Press 2002)
I’m also happily reading the 1965—1967 section of Lorine Niedecker’s Collected Poems (University of California Press 2002) because I’m getting ready to talk about it with students in a couple of weeks.
Time to garden
my compost maker
of the cemetery.
Tend to life and its commotion like a garden, knowing we’ll return to the compost (another activity). And, who doesn’t feel glad to read that “the weeping willow still/ hangs green/ and the old cracked boat-hulk/ mud-sunk/ grows weeds/ year after year” (“Untitled”).
Shelly Taylor’s Black-Eyed Heifer (Tarpaulin Sky Press 2010)
I water the dirt for the weeds to grow, lo
(“She said this is mine, pine street”).
This is a great book! Have you read it? Black-Eyed Heifer is tough, plainspoken, loose (talky), and stridently exuberant, full of startling grace and presence. Deeply committed to the destabilizing intensities of Taylor’s respective environment(s), Black-Eyed Heifer calls us to “adorn [ourselves] with movement” by acknowledging the innate wildness of becoming: “as in morning shed a blue coat I wore all day” (“This sonofabitch land had to be broken”). There is real urgency to its music(s) and a drive to embrace each shift of attention as long as it lasts: “One minute you are a person, the next you’re a bird shadow over the concrete: a wide action given width, post-tree top harmony” (“Money for the horse”).
Bob Dylan’s Whitmark Demos: 1962-1964 (Columbia 2010)
B Dylan scatters the wild turkey toward muddy horses at pasture while I drive our trash to the dump: “Try and follow Gypsy Lou./ Hey, gone again.” Songs like “I Shall Be Free” are so raw and unsteady that Dylan forgets the words.
Taylor: “Put a carnation in your buttonhole. Gone” (“Keylight”).
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