online: 24 june 2003

23 june 2003 coherence

19:30 Seat overlooking wooded valley. I've written many entries at this place, but not recently.

Blue sky with a few small clouds, perhaps getting smaller... I watched the two smallest for a few minutes and now both have disappeared... A philosophic looking man and a peaceful looking dog walk slowly by. I'm surprised to see that the dog is muzzled - I thought retrievers were exceptionally safe and friendly.

It's midsummer and it looks it. Every tree is in full leaf and as yet I can't see any yellow ones. A small dragonfly hovers at my side before darting off to another location.

Today I've been reading a life of Ezra Pound by Noel Stock*. He tries to write a factual and neutral account but his likes and dislikes are evident. He likes Pound's ability to write lines and phrases 'of unearthly beauty'** but he seems not to like the 'ideogramic' method (learnt from Chinese poetry) for combining any kind of text or subject without need of an imposed theme or purpose - as in The Cantos***. But that is what I like most in Pound's writing - his ability to compose or discover large scale coherence. Like the coherence of nature. In this he resembles John Cage and has a 20th century character despite (or because of?) his translations of, and liking for, ancient forms of poetry.

But here, before forest, sky and valley, I prefer to look at the coherence of things than to think about the coherence of words (though I am often pleased and surprised to find more coherence in these words than I was aware of while writing them).

20:20 I've sat here now for 50 minutes and I'm thinking of moving but I decide to just sit and look for a few more minutes - without writing.

On the way back I was more surprised than usual by the coherence, the indescribable order, of the interior of a covered glade with birch trees growing at slight angles to the vertical - after which came the memory of Paul Cezanne's paintings of such scenes... and of his practiced way of looking at foreground and background 'as one'.

Then I thought of the 19th century, and of 'Sordello' the baffling poem by Robert Browning, which Ezra Pound declared to be the best poem of that time... and I wondered if that century was more experimental than I thought...

...and then, looking in one glance at the red brick mansion flats of about 1900 and the hospital of the 1960s (both showing above the trees) I saw them as more similar than different... and then a slug creeping slowly along the path... and sunlight, reflected off a window and then off the surface of a pond... and the semi-gardened paths... the almost purposeless railing... even the litter (including a discarded appointments card to the hospital)... an oldish man who seemed enthralled by an electronic gadget (perhaps some kind of mobile phone)... all these diversities seemed not to contradict a wider sense of order that I experienced for a few minutes... and then I thought, yes, I am suddenly feeling so amenable to everything...

At the station I remembered that, intending to write only of one or two immediate sights or sounds, I am often overtaken by a perception of the coherence 'of everything'. But seldom so completely as today.

*Noel Stock, The Life of Ezra Pound, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1974.

**page 585 (of the above)

***from the flyleaf of The Cantos:

The appeal of The Cantos is partly based on a system of echoes. Each line counterpoints another, building up a passage into a larger ideogram: but each passage, each Canto, and each group of Cantos are themselves juxtapositions which make better and better sense in the light of each other as ideas are repeated in different contexts. The whole of The Cantos is a giant ideogram whose subject is, ultimately, the human intelligence trying to make meaning out of flux, the artist-statesman whose very material is transient because it is composed of actions.
(from the flyleaf of The Cantos of Ezra Pound, Faber and Faber, London, second impression (with a black cover and white lettering) 1968, Cantos 1-109).

[An ideogram is a written character denoting the meaning not the sound of a word. Chinese ideograms are composed of two parts, upper and lower, each of which denotes a thing, and the two parts together can denote a more abstract idea (for instance, sun + plants bursting forth = spring). Thus I understand that each pair of small parts of The Cantos combines to form a more abstract meaning which, combined with another pair of parts, forms a more abstract meaning again... and so on until all the Cantos together form a vast 'ideogram', or general meaning...]

Noel Stock does not seem to believe this (perhaps incredible) claim. He writes: ' so far as the work asks to be taken as a whole it verges on bluff' (page 369)... But I remember Pound's great concern that the poem should cohere, his fears that it might not, and the cry 'SUMBAINAI' (Greek: it coheres) in Canto 100.

William Cookson, in his A Guide to the Cantos of Ezra Pound, Anvil Press Poetry, London 2001, page 237, says that 'SUMBAINAI' is quoted from Sophokles, Women of Trachis, translated by Ezra Pound, New Directions, 1957 | Faber 1990, page 50 | 66:


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