Sunday, March 28, 2010

Counting my steps

Last night walking through the courtyard of Christ Church (Tom quad), amid the throngs now allowed in for the literary festival, ourselves coming from a debate between an optimist and a pessimist taking part in the lit. fest, passing the fountain, I felt the urge of tragic outpouring begin to arise, how could it be that I won't be coming back here, how can it be that one can find the very place where one can be wholly oneself and be asked to depart, or at least not to be begged to stay, and from this perhaps you may think me aligned with the pessimist, but no, I'm not, though I often flee from optimists like they would drain all my self-attentiveness & honesty to notice without controlling and contriving what it is that swirls around my mind.  Naya asked, while our footsteps echoed around that beloved courtyard, and cellos seemed to play in my head, "Are you an optimist or pessimist?"  And I replied that I don't like how either of them cap, tie up, smother what they are feeling.  I said I wouldn't have studied at Oxford for these three months if I wasn't the finest of optimists; yet, if I were true to optimism I would right now shove the lamenting down and make myself flutter about something else.  I will flutter in time.  But not until my body gives the go ahead.  So I respect the pessimists because they'll often let themselves go to the places the optimists won't, i.e. deep tragic human feeling, which is utterly beautiful in its longing.  I wouldn't give that up for any monotone nirvana of continual, relentless happiness.  Yet, the pessimists are tiresome when they won't ride the wave that does also arise in the body and carry one away to heights that I've never known to be for me except at Oxford.  So, I think there must be another term coined that better describes those that feel what it is that they are feeling, rawly, savagely, longingly, with ecstasy, twitterpattedly, forever tumbled by the rise that seems to take the breath away, capable of much awe, followed by falls from heights that feel excruciatingly hard to survive.  This particular emotional aptitude is not a composition I'd necessarily wish for my daughter, but it is who I am, and it is brutally, artistically open to what actually is.  I said something of all of this to Naya.  Poor child.  Lucky child.

Then we came around the north corner of the quad and a bowler-hat-clad porter looked up and smiled so beamingly at us and said, "Well, it sure is nice to see some familiar faces amid all of this hubbub!"  Could he know how much that was what this tragic character needed most to hear---because it fanned my fire--he recognized me as one who belongs in that quad, oh sweet comfort of that!  Yet he has no idea that he soon won't be seeing us, oh depth of sorrow, familiar lover of mine, why do you visit so loyally?  I replied appropriately instead of all of that with, "It is so good to see you too."  And it was.  I will miss three of the porters in particular.  Him especially.  He blocked us one night and didn't believe I was a student just after our arrival...but another porter knew us and so said...from then on this porter seemed to treasure us and tip his hat, with a twinkling eye, and kind, jolly phrases always aimed to make us smile and feel welcome.  We walked in the opposite direction from him.

Coming around the last corner before walking out Tom Gate, under the grand arch & bell tower & clock,  here walked another familiar face, who met my gaze and smiled so wholeheartedly I found myself smiling warmly back without the usual reserve one has with strangers.  He was a doctoral student I'd sat next to or across from at dinner many times, and exchanged nods and smiles many times, yet never talked.  No exception now, no words passed across the gap.  Yet again, this sense of belonging, of being of this quad surged me heavenward.  And then the fall--I had imagined so thoroughly coming back again for dinners here in the fall that I hadn't pushed on some of these connections.  It seemed there was no need to hurry and push.  All would unfold.  All these friendships would have chance to flower with ease.  I would have the chance to learn my favorite porter's name, and befriend this doctoral student & others for a walk around the meadow, for a debate over port.

Yet Oxford says it isn't so.  Or so the woman on the phone said.  My letter still has not arrived.  The optimist in me says aloud to Naya, "What if the letter came on Monday and said 'Congratulations, Ms. Brigette, on your admittance to the Master's of English (1900-present).  You, unfortunately, have not been granted the colleges you listed on your application as Magdalen and Balliol are satiated, however, you have been assigned to Christ Church.  We understand you to be of the substance of that place.  We hope this pleases you.  Warm regards, your fellows."

The pessimist weeps for the sweetness of such hope.

Two more days in Oxford.  I feel I'm counting my steps to the gallows.

What about you, optimist or pessimist?  & why or what for?

Friday, March 26, 2010

the darling buds of may

















a question that keeps arising in this mind o' mine:
if Shakespeare lived in England
why did he say "rough winds do shake the darling buds of May" in that favored sonnet
instead of the darling buds of March?
because these buds are budding,
or perhaps he had a certain bud in mind
like a later sort--roses?
or perhaps global warming since 1600ish to 2010
has shifted England's budding-time from May to March?
or perhaps he was scripting it for a woman from the mountains who wouldn't see buds until May?
or perhaps he was just tired of figuring out what rhymed with "How shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" and so went with May?

anyhow one of the points of all of this silliness was really just to show you how lovely the buds of March are in England right this moment.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

As though of hemlock I had drunk



Not having been granted continued access to these behind-the-wall-things of Oxford, I am feeling a bit melodramatic and melancholy today.  It is not from a pitying state, however, that I look to the TB-consumed Keats for comfort but as a reminder that what I feel is reasonable for one that wants little else of life than to be swept, tossed, drowned, picked up gently, warmed by the fire by the insatiable restless mind that is mine.  This mind sighs vulnerably today making my body sorrowful that it might choose the unreasonable again as it always has.  It is more devoted to itself, its intricacies, fervor, wonder, fatalistic tendencies than it is devoted to its long complacent continuation.  I don't speak of hemlock, no, not that.  But I do speak of listening to what it is that I am, bowing down to that, not talking myself out of it.  My life is a slave to this mind that will die if it is not continually swept into a fury of emotion, into a fury of breath-paused captivation by being surrounded with the things those Oxford walls now stand against it seeing.  But other doors will open, for this hand will forever knock on behalf of its weeping, longing, melodious mind that will not rest.  Will not rest until this hand can no longer knock on doors.




(If you were me you would hear Terry Davies playing "Sebastian" in the background as you read the above paragraph, followed by Mark Bradshaw's "Ode to a Nightingale" as you read what is below.  Thankfully you are likely not--like me.)

Ode to a Nightingale
John Keats (1795-1821)

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains 
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk, 
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains 
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk: 
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot, 
    But being too happy in thine happiness, - 
        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees, 
              
  In some melodious plot 
    Of beechen green and shadows numberless, 
        Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been 
    Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth, 
Tasting of Flora and the country green, 
    Dance, and Proven├žal song, and sunburnt mirth! 
O for a beaker full of the warm South, 
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene, 
        With beaded bubbles winking at the brim, 
                
And purple-stained mouth; 
    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen, 
        And with thee fade away into the forest dim:


Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget 
    What thou among the leaves hast never known, 
The weariness, the fever, and the fret 
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan; 
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs, 
    Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies; 
        Where but to think is to be full of sorrow 
                
And leaden-eyed despairs, 
    Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes, 
        Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.


Away! away! for I will fly to thee, 
    Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards, 
But on the viewless wings of Poesy, 
    Though the dull brain perplexes and retards: 
Already with thee! tender is the night, 
    And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne, 
        Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays; 
               
 But here there is no light, 
    Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown 
        Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.


I cannot see what flowers are at my feet, 
    Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs, 
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet 
    Wherewith the seasonable month endows 
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild; 
    White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine; 
        Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves; 
                
And mid-May's eldest child, 
    The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine, 
        The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.


Darkling I listen; and, for many a time 
    I have been half in love with easeful Death, 
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme, 
    To take into the air my quiet breath; 
Now more than ever seems it rich to die, 
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain, 
        While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad 
           
     In such an ecstasy! 
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain - 
        To thy high requiem become a sod.


Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird! 
    No hungry generations tread thee down; 
The voice I hear this passing night was heard 
    In ancient days by emperor and clown: 
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path 
    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, 
        She stood in tears amid the alien corn; 
               
 The same that oft-times hath 
    Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam 
        Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.


Forlorn! the very word is like a bell 
    To toll me back from thee to my sole self! 
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well 
    As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf. 
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades 
    Past the near meadows, over the still stream, 
        Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep 
                In the next valley-glades: 
    Was it a vision, or a waking dream? 
        Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?


Thursday, March 18, 2010

A pretty girl I saw in Oxford

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

While awaiting something that will change your life one way or another, perhaps best to acquire something like Dante's 'Divine Comedy: Inferno', just in case you need a lift after the envelope and letter fall to the floor

So while I await THE letter in the post
(from the Oxford English Department
on my MSt. application
due to be decided the 19th of March)
I have done just that

Prepared to descend into the bowels
of despair
where I will be reminded
that there are far worse things
imaginable (--imagination--all in one's mind--perspective--not real--fictitious--imaginable)
to the human mind
than a decline
from Oxford

                                                                       dante alighieri

Yet I will read Inferno either way (& probably Paradiso & Purgatory too)
because I haven't yet
and because I want to swirl with Francesca da Rimini
in either swooning exuberance for seizing onto the thing in life that must be just like the taste of blood to a vampire (ie admittance into Oxford minds for another year)
or in sheer despair for being condemned to vegetarianism for the eternity a vampire cannot get out of (ie barred from what is behind the walls & skulls of Oxford past next week).

In the meantime
after my four day break from reading
I am compiling my own reading list for the remainder of this week:
1. Andre Gide's Strait is the Gate
2. Maupassant's Bel-Ami
3.  Zola's L'Assammoir
prep work for Brussels & Paris.

Three more things:
(1) I'm ready to depart for the continent (europe),
(2) though biking around Oxford's alleys aimlessly today
with my books in my basket
I realized yet again
this place stirs me, moves me, unhinges me in very charming ways
which isn't all good because (3) After giving a presentation yesterday to Naya's class
on conservation in the Rockies--on being a backcountry ranger in Glacier--and spending hours gazing at wall-size photos of our backpacking/peak-climbing/wildlife photos from over the years, I want to go home and nestle in with nature and forget all this human stuff
that is at the very heart of it
something I am not loyal to
in any way
as much as I am
(at the end of wolf article
by Chadwick
in the current issue
of National G.)
to wolves being allowed
to be.

Okay--there's a (4) Yet
without
human minds
like those you might find in Bodleian skulls roaming over books
voraciously
wolfishly
pressing at human philosophy, etc.
we may never arrive to a place
(not even talking collectively--that would be asking too much--but just a handful)
where humanism actually
finally
recedes
enough
to see what we humans
are actually capable of
when we
are being
smart animals.

grey wolf in montana

                                                                  jane goodall & friend

Monday, March 15, 2010

Dance, then, wherever you may be


My little Naya bug hurt her neck quite a bit on Thursday & we've been a bit stressed since.  Taking it easy, resting, stretching, massaging, hugging, watching movies, reading books... Today she's staying home from school as her neck isn't quite ready for a full day of school with swimming.  

This morning I left her upstairs in bed resting & working on her new hobby of stitching with embroidery (thanks Helen!), went down to make breakfast & bring it up to her.  When I came back up she was twirling around singing this song they've been learning at New Hinksey primary for Easter--so sweet to see and hear, particularly since she has seemed quite pensive and sad since her neck injury, and not in the twirling mood.

You all know, by now, my dislike for the surety of religion, however, what you may not know is that I love the sentimentalism, sweetness, hope of what is behind religion.  I appreciate it most keenly particularly when standing below a statue of Mary in a cathedral or peering at the effects of oil dabbed precisely on canvas to make one sadly bow the head or brush a tear for humans hanging humans on crosses, other humans taking them down, mourning, painting, singing songs, etc. etc.  Below are the sweet lilting lyrics of the song Naya was singing & below that is a video of a little old man singing the song:

I danced in the morning
When the world was begun,
And I danced in the moon
And the stars and the sun,
I came down from heaven
And I danced on the earth,
At Bethlehem
I had my birth.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.
I danced for the scribe
And the pharisee,
But they would not dance
And they wouldn't follow me.
I danced for the fishermen,
For James and John -
They came with me
And the Dance went on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced on the Sabbath
And I cured the lame;
The holy people
Said it was a shame.
They whipped and they stripped
And they hung me on high,
And they left me there
On a Cross to die.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

I danced on a Friday
When the sky turned black -
It's hard to dance
With the devil on your back.
They buried my body
And they thought I'd gone,
But I am the Dance,
And I still go on.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.

They cut me down
And I leapt up high;
I am the life
That'll never, never die;
I'll live in you
If you'll live in me -
I am the Lord
Of the Dance, said he.

Dance, then, wherever you may be,
I am the Lord of the Dance, said he,
And I'll lead you all, wherever you may be,
And I'll lead you all in the Dance, said he.