Rilke, New Year’s Eve.

twomblyrilkerose

Cy Twombly loved Rilke’s poetry and
often put it in his paintings, as in
Rose V, which quotes The Roses XXVI:

Infinitely at ease
despite so many risks,
with no variation
of her usual routine,
the blooming rose is the omen
of her immeasurable endurance.

(Click on the Twombly to read
these words on the canvas.)

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(But for tonight we’ll seek
Our own level in Rilke.
We’ll locate ourselves, not the rose,
Our human placement in the cosmos.

Do you remember those comic post
Cards: YOU ARE HERE? It’s of those
Sorts of things UD speaks
Through Rilkean lyrics.)

***************************

EVENING

(translated by Stephen Mitchell)

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven, one that falls;

and leave you, not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

*******************************

This translation opts for inexact rhyme to convey our inexactitude, our unpinpointable, virtually inexpressible, form of being. We watch the night divide the world into sky and land and we know we are neither earthen (“the darkened houses”) nor metaphysical (“a star”), but something else. When night sweeps away non-human realms it strands us with drama and clarity in the quandary of our lives, which is to say in the imperative to live them, to assume the burden of their twin conflictual mysteries, their immensity (the conviction they give us of starlike passionate expansiveness) and their fear (the knowledge of fragility – as with the rose: “so many risks” – and of death). The night world leaves us humanly alone to unravel the knot of existence, and the best we can do is accept each opposing entwining strand – stone, star, stone, star – as it arises.

Another translation goes for exact rhyme (a canny job, but rather far from the original text), in which we “cannot be unraveled” at all; yet a third has us left “wordlessly to untangle” our lives.

Whether we can get anywhere with ourselves is, I guess, an open question; but there’s no question that grappling honestly with fear and vulnerability is one of the best things we do. I love Philip Larkin’s night poem, which shares the stars and the trees and the twine with Rilke, but peers more intimately at us – at our most vulnerable:

Night-Music

At one the wind rose,
And with it the noise
Of the black poplars.

Long since had the living
By a thin twine
Been led into their dreams
Where lanterns shine
Under a still veil
Of falling streams;
Long since had the dead
Become untroubled
In the light soil.
There were no mouths
To drink of the wind,
Nor any eyes
To sharpen on the stars’
Wide heaven-holding,
Only the sound
Long sibilant-muscled trees
Were lifting up, the black poplars.

And in their blazing solitude
The stars sang in their sockets through
the night:
`Blow bright, blow bright
The coal of this unquickened world.’

****************************

So for me the heart of this is here:

Long since had the living
By a thin twine
Been led into their dreams
Where lanterns shine
Under a still veil
Of falling streams…

There is our fragility, so beautifully expressed, as we first sink into nightly rest and then lie quiet as our minds open on to our dreams. Led into nightly dreamlife by a “thin twine” separating conscious from unconscious, we watch again and again our deepest most private dramas on a stage whose curtains are thin watery veils, and whose lights are little swaying lanterns… How weakly cobbled together it all is! How thin the twines and veils and streams.

“King emphasized that students aren’t against paying toward athletics. But, she noted, student participation at UA sporting events traditionally has been poor.”

Yes. Looked at with a smidgeon of rationality – not to say self-respect – the situation for students at the University of Akron (as at so many universities) is less than optimal. They pay a lot of money every semester in athletics fees. Yet they are not told how much, because the university doesn’t itemize the general student fee number. Ms King up there – a current UA student – would like the school to disclose this information so that she can get a better grip on the strange situation in which she finds herself: She’s a student at a school where interest in athletics is “poor,” but the money she and her fellow students cough up every semester is making the athletics program “rich.”

So lookee here.

UA estimated that $400 of the $428 fee per semester goes for athletics.

Wow. That’s a lot. In fact, UD thinks UA should be honest and rename the UA “student fee” the “athletics fee” because who’s kidding who? Basically the whole thing goes to athletics. You pay close to a thousand dollars a year at UA to support a sports program about which you probably could care less.

***************

Now in Virginia things have gotten to the point where politicians are stepping in. Their effort to cap student fees will go nowhere, but it’s certainly suggestive that the House majority leader is at least giving the cap idea a try.

“In Virginia, only about 3 percent of college students will play intercollegiate athletics. But mandatory student fees account for, on average, 69 percent of athletic program expenditures,” [Kirk] Cox said. “In other words, we are asking non-athletes and their parents to cover two-thirds of the cost of college sports. In my view, we simply cannot ask students who will never play a minute of college sports to bear such a disproportionate share of the costs associated with these programs.”

“A coach in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference told The Chronicle how he had helped players trick webcams set up to monitor their online exams.”

I mean, it’s already so classy to subject examination students to camera surveillance…

You might as well also hire coaches who show them how to cheat the surveillance…

*******************

Sure, I hear you. It’s expensive! Plus it’s absurd! The university is spending immense sums of money to install security cameras all over the place, plus it’s spending immense sums of money on athletics personnel who train athletes to cheat the cameras!

*******************

It’s getting so you’ll be able to tick one of three boxes on your annual giving form.

Where would you like your donation to go?

____ the greatest need
____ surveillance cameras
____ cheating the surveillance cameras

*******************

The most sacred phrase in the contemporary university athletics playbook is online independent study. Those three words will make the Lord’s face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you, and grant you peace.

[The fixer] wrote down the player’s online log-in and password, and completed [the player’s course] by himself.

The setup was so simple…

He made some students believe they were completing the classes, handing them packets of practice problems he had picked up from the math lab at his community college and making sure they logged time in study halls as if they had done the work. After they finished the packets, he would toss them in the trash. Then he would log in to BYU’s website to complete the real assignments.

Such compassion! Let the little ones believe they are going to college!

In the old days, this blog used to cover a lot of diploma mill stories.

For whatever reason (no really big stories? you’ve seen one you’ve seen ’em all?), University Diaries doesn’t do much of that anymore. But the business of buying degrees online, or just saving money and making them up out of thin air, continues to thrive. Local blowhard politicians – like this guy in California – remain a rich source.

Accepted to Cornell at age 16. A Ph.D. by age 21. A degree from UCLA Law School and membership to the state bar.

I sat down with him at his restaurant and presented evidence that he’d never attended those schools or passed the bar. He brushed my findings aside, stuck to his claims and a couple weeks later even posted online what appeared to be his Ph.D. from Cornell. … [T]he signatures of the dean and president weren’t those of anybody who’d ever been dean or president at Cornell.

Ole Miss Scholar Chad Kelly will Major in…

Virology.

The latest dispatch from the Garrett Park Bugle…

“Garrett Park’s Garrett,” by UD.

The Rule of Law at the Opera

In a year-end review of the condition of Muslim women, a columnist for The Telegraph writes:

In October in Paris, at La Traviata opera, the cast stopped mid performance when they saw a woman in a full-face veil. She happened to be a tourist from the Gulf on a visit to take in some French culture. They refused to carry on until she was removed from the theatre. [Here was a Muslim woman] acting contrary to stereotype – … enjoying Western high culture. However, [her] choices were reduced by others to nothing more than what [she wore].

As we leave 2014, let’s give a cheer for the rule of law, something this writer has overlooked.

Any account of the Opéra Bastille incident needs to feature the fact that wearing a burqa in public (the woman sat in the front row directly behind the conductor, which is way public) is illegal in France. Close to eighty percent of the French population (including many Muslims, some quite prominent) supports the ban.

2014 saw not only the Opéra Bastille incident; it saw the European Court of Human Rights uphold the French burqa ban. This ban is not some sort of rogue state operation; it has the backing of the ECHR.

So this incident wasn’t a group of bigots showing insufficient enthusiasm for intercultural communication (“enjoying Western high culture”) by “reducing” a human being to “nothing more than what she wore.” This incident was a group of people aware of the laws of their country and behaving according to them.

Nor does it seem to UD that this was a reductive act; rather, it was an expansive one. The reductive act issued from whatever outer and inner forces fashioned a human being who in order to enter the public sphere annihilates her identity.

The burqa ban is a significant expression of precisely the French culture this visitor from the Gulf wanted, as the Telegraph writer puts it, “to take in.” If a Western woman who visits the Gulf to take in some Saudi culture fails to cover herself (and fails to find a male minder to take charge of her wherever she goes), she may well be threatened with expulsion as soon as she deplanes.

Gotta respect the law.

“Additionally, Chief Financial Officer James Openshaw said the university projected spending more than $9 million in fiscal year 2014 on athletics while bringing in only about $2.9 million.”

A local newspaper does an end of the year tip of the hat to one-hell-of-a-mess South Carolina State University. Although basically bankrupt – financially, intellectually, and certainly morally – it continues to spend money it doesn’t have on athletics.

I mean, SCSU has no money at all. It’s tens of millions of dollars in debt. It’s on probation. Its board chairman’s on his way to jail, and its chief counsel just got six months’ probation. The state’s going to give it some bail-out money, but it won’t be enough, and students are fleeing in droves.

But the games must go on.

Spectacular hot pink sunset…

… as our train winds through the woods of
Mystic Connecticut.

After a busy Christmas break during which
La Kid played with one of her cousins,

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we’re heading home.

Stanislaw Baranczak, a great Polish poet…

… and a kind and good man (UD knew him a little from the Harvard Polish community) has died.

Inspired by the villanelles of Elizabeth Bishop, Baranczak wrote this:

She Cried That Night, but Not for Him to Hear

(To Ania, the only one)

She cried that night, but not for him to hear.
In fact her crying wasn’t why he woke.
It was some other sound; that much was clear.

And this half-waking shame. No trace of tears
all day, and still at night she works to choke
the sobs; she cries, but not for him to hear.

And all those other nights: she lay so near
but he had only caught the breeze’s joke,
the branch that tapped the roof. That much was clear.

The outside dark revolved in its own sphere:
no wind, no window pane, no creaking oak
had said: “She’s crying, not for you to hear.”

Untouchable are those tangibly dear,
so close, they’re closed, too far to reach and stroke
a quaking shoulder-blade. This much is clear.

And he did not reach out — for shame, for fear
of spoiling the tears’ tenderness that spoke:
“Go back to sleep. What woke you isn’t here.
It was the wind outside, indifferent, clear.”

*****************************’

It’s a lot like Stephen Spender’s poem, “The Trance”:

Sometimes, apart in sleep, by chance,
You fall out of my arms, alone,
Into the chaos of your separate trance.
My eyes gaze through your forehead, through the bone,
And see where in your sleep distress has torn
Its path, which on your lips is shown
And on your hands and in your dream forlorn.

Restless, you turn to me and press
Those timid words against my ear
Which thunder at my heart like stones.
‘Mercy,’ you plead, Then ‘Who can bless?’
You ask. ‘I am pursued by Time,’ you moan.

I watch that precipice of fear
You tread, naked in naked distress.
To that deep care we are committed
Beneath the wildness of our flesh
And shuddering horror of our dream,
Where unmasked agony is permitted.

Our bodies, stripped of clothes that seem,
And our souls, stripped of beauty’s mesh,
Meet their true selves, their charms outwitted.
This pure trance is the oracle
That speaks no language but the heart
Our angel with our devil meets
In the atrocious dark nor do they part

But each forgives and greets,
And their mutual terrors heal
Within our married miracle.

***********************

Baranczak’s is better, because it’s much less sentimental – “married miracle” is pretty horrible. Language fit for a diamond ring commercial. Yet the poems have in common that common lovers’ moment, when you’re awake and they’re asleep, or half-asleep, and you’re marveling at their utter vulnerability, stripped down in bed, late at night, with terrors and despairs most private, most enduring, most true. These are the moments you realize that for all your long intimacy there’s no getting at the psyche of those “tangibly dear” to you.

Like yourself (and that’s another thing about Baranczak’s poem – it’s as much about his convoluted unsharable cosmic grief as it is hers) the lover is essentially adrift in a separate sphere. In the wilds of her own consciousness.

Soft, in the Cambridge drear…

… the illustrious back garden of John Kenneth Galbraith’s house on Professors’ Row comes into focus. UD walks around its big green square, stopping to check out the bones of various dogwoods and cherries. There’s a little brick amphitheater with curved urns; there’s a pergola on the way to the shed. The long balcony facing the garden also looks good for orations.

Inside and out, the enormous convoluted old house (there are big public rooms, but, in the way of old houses, many dark passageways with unexpected steps up and down) looks good for formal gatherings, and indeed Galbraith often met classes, held end-of-year celebrations, and hosted visiting dignitaries, here. The “large oak bookcase in John Kenneth Galbraith’s elegant sitting room in Cambridge” glimmers, in the day-long winter dusk, with title after title by and about him.

I remember his monumental physical presence in the chair just there, between two vast, sashed, windows; he sat amiably, almost without moving, rehearsing tales of Roosevelt and Kennedy.

“Ken and Kitty’s house on Francis Avenue was, for decades, Boston’s most glittering intellectual and political salon.” It is very quiet now, on a cold Christmas night. Underlit throughout, it whispers that history.

‘PORT AFTER STORM … PEACE AFTER WARRE’ …

… says the elaborately decorated stained-glass window at the landing outside our bedroom in Cambridge.

UD thought: A nice thought for a house to which you retire each day after high-level government and academic battle. As did, I suppose, its last mucho-mucho-eminent owner.

(UD has visited the house a few times over the years, but had never been on the second floor, which is where the window is.)

The full couplet, from The Faerie Queen (Joseph Conrad put this version on his gravestone) goes like this:

Sleep after toyle, port after stormie seas,
Ease after warre, death after life, does greatly please.

Which gives it a less domestic, more cosmic, dusting…

Altogether, Maison des UDs (for a few days) seems to have functioned as Paul Fussell’s primary model for his chapter on houses of the upper classes. Fussell quotes Veblen on the main principle in play: “the veneration of the archaic.” The walls of most rooms retain the carefully preserved shells of some ancient servant-summoning technology; a circa 1950 refrigerator glimmers out of the darkness adjacent to an updated kitchen; the bones of those phones they use in old movies (Doc? You better get here on the double!) are strewn here and there.

I’m sure the views out of various windows are spectacular in the spring; but as usual UD is in Cambridge during its long dreary winter, so the setting is all about drab bushes and pale wasted lawns…

Mark Strand on Donald Justice:

[T]he work for which he will be remembered is of course his poems whose principal beauty lies in the wistful articulation and sad acknowledgement that little or nothing survives the great drama and effort that is life. Sorry news

Sorry news while my train crawls up the coast on a cold day.

It’s like Pyongyang in this car, internet connection-wise; I told YouTube to take me to The Essential Nina Simone, and it’s … you know… chewing over the matter …

Oh, okay, black screen with … An error occurred; please try again later on it… With Learn More on it…

I’m trying to learn more! (Once again Trenton New Jersey this is Trenton New Jersey.) Why do you think I’ve tried to summon her husky dusky wistful articulation and sad acknowledgement?

Donald Justice was a jazz musician too – poet, painter, jazz musician. Let’s see if I have enough connection to grasp hold of Nostalgia of the Lakefronts.

Yes. Here it is, a most affecting and difficult poem.

Cities burn behind us; the lake glitters.
A tall loudspeaker is announcing prizes;
Another, by the lake, the times of cruises.
Childhood, once vast with terrors and surprises,
Is fading to a landscape deep with distance—
And always the sad piano in the distance,

Faintly in the distance, a ghostly tinkling
(O indecipherable blurred harmonies)
Or some far horn repeating over water
Its high lost note, cut loose from all harmonies.
At such times, wakeful, a child will dream the world,
And this is the world we run to from the world.


Or the two worlds come together and are one
On dark, sweet afternoons of storm and of rain,
And stereopticons brought out and dusted,
Stacks of old Geographics, or, through the rain,
A mad wet dash to the local movie palace
And the shriek, perhaps, of Kane’s white cockatoo.
(Would this have been summer, 1942?)

By June the city always seems neurotic.
But lakes are good all summer for reflection,
And ours is famed among painters for its blues,
Yet not entirely sad, upon reflection.
Why sad at all? Is their wish so unique—
To anthropomorphize the inanimate
With a love that masquerades as pure technique?

O art and the child were innocent together!
But landscapes grow abstract, like aging parents.
Soon now the war will shutter the grand hotels,
And we, when we come back, will come as parents.
There are no lanterns now strung between pines—
Only, like history, the stark bare northern pines.

And after a time the lakefront disappears
Into the stubborn verses of its exiles
Or a few gifted sketches of old piers.
It rains perhaps on the other side of the heart;
Then we remember, whether we would or no.
—Nostalgia comes with the smell of rain, you know.

So if little or nothing survives, if the lakefront itself disappears, we do what we can, while we still live, to recuperate – or, say, aestheticize – what life we have had, have been able to have. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, Lolita! Humbert’s obsessive love letter keeps the two of them going… Or think of that curious novel The White Hotel, with its evocation of memory real and unreal, untraumatic and traumatic – the utopian hotel where every woman opens her breasts to suckle every man… a world of vital perpetually renewed love … This is the world we run to from the world.

When it’s young the world glitters, cities burn bright, and we run toward that. Cruises, prizes. Loud speaking. And then distance, distance, distance, three uses of the word one after the other, the whole poem obsessively repeating the same words as the poet circles and circles the life that he had, the great drama and effort.

Ah. YouTube has finally granted me some music. A few plucks of Anoushka Shankar… Constant interruptions as the train (We’re pulling in to Newark.) lists…

Harmonies, when it’s all behind you, blur and become the drone (says Justice) that pulls everything she plucks down to One…

Or the two worlds come together and are one
On dark, sweet afternoons of storm and of rain,
And stereopticons brought out and dusted,
Stacks of old Geographics, or, through the rain…

Privileged moody moments, then, when you see in stereo, past/present; but this only when the world itself shuts down (dark afternoons, storm, rain) and, quieted and still, lets play out the geography of past and present. And then the artist can perform her utopian replenishment… As in: The frost performs its secret ministry…

To anthropomorphize the inanimate
With a love that masquerades as pure technique

What if Heathcliff were an artist! Instead of puling and wasting away (“Cathy! Come back!”), he’d take his insane life-force and make her live again through whatever technique he let himself be taken by.

There are no lanterns now strung between pines—
Only, like history, the stark bare northern pines.

We brilliant it up with lanterns – folk art – decorative art – to go with gestures of purer artistic technique – but little or nothing survives the effort. So what. Embellishment as a kind of kiss of life is what we do.

And after a time the lakefront disappears
Into the stubborn verses of its exiles
Or a few gifted sketches of old piers.
It rains perhaps on the other side of the heart;
Then we remember, whether we would or no.
—Nostalgia comes with the smell of rain, you know.

All gone. Stubbornly, though, from exile, we write verses or paint pictures about it; and that’s our form of life-abundance, life-replenishment — the aestheticization of the existence we loved.

Or no – there’s also that involuntary memory about which Proust wrote. Prompted unbidden by a taste or by the smell of rain. We have that too.

In a few minutes, Les UDs take a train to Cambridge, where….

… every year they spend their Christmas.

UD will of course blog from there.

“After sitting down with Kelly and deciding his past was behind him, Freeze ultimately decided to bring Kelly in.”

And that’s the kind of decision-making that earns you one of the highest salaries in the state of Mississippi!

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