online:9 may 2009
modified: 19, 20 april, 9 may 2009

19 april 2009 the larger picture

Hampstead Heath Extension

...Sunday evening beneath a newly awakened oak... looking north towards playing fields surrounded by trees, beyond which is the garden suburb... a couple in denim jeans and jackets are walking very slowly, with bowed heads, and embracing as they walk... he is large, she small, and i cannot guess their states (or state) of mind...

...for most of today i've been reading the biography of Thomas Hardy, supposedly written by his second wife Florence* with quotations from his diaries and letters (but perhaps written largely by him)... it reminds me of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas** (which is actually a biography of Gertrude Stein written by herself)... she was seeking a way to write about herself as if from without... Alice being her lifelong partner... the book consists largely of Alice's perceptions of Gertrude as well as description of Alice's life with her (as inferred by Gertrude)...

...did Thomas Hardy have a similar purpose... and a similar subtlety and brilliance of formal invention?...

...i look up and see a large crow walking in the rough grass and pecking at the ground... i am surprised by the absence of its mate, is it nesting?... and i realise that i am writing today about other things than what's happening on the heath.... the larger picture you could call it...

...but i detect a loud buzzing and on looking around i see a bumble bee visiting young shoots of nettle and bramble just behind me... orange spider walks onto the touch screen and when i blow it away it is propelled inside my unbuttoned coat and i don't pursue it further... then a ladybird appears on the coat collar and i blow that off too...

...i was intending to write about the great work that Hardy wrote after ceasing to write novels... a long dramatic poem called The Dynasts*** that may seem much less interesting than his novels or his shorter poems... it's difficult to read because many of the characters are abstract spirits and the theme (the causes and the tragedies of the Napoleonic wars, and perhaps all wars and collective sufferings) is presented as a vast drama of over 100 scenes which is intended to be read not performed... here is a randomly chosen part of the introductory scene:

Hold what ye list, fond believing Sprites,
You cannot swerve the pulsion of the Byss,
Which thinking on, yet weighing not Its thought,
Unchecks Its clock-like laws.
...i was thinking as i came here that this much criticised poem is in fact a great attempt by a strong mind at the kind of epic poetry that is a proper ambition for anyone who wants to write of 'greater things', namely the culture itself, or the nature of life, or of collective reality...

...i was comparing it in my mind with the Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, John Milton's Paradise Lost, Goethe's Faust, Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, Ezra Pound's Cantos, W C William's Paterson, and others...

...well i've been writing for one-and-a-half hours and i've only walked half a kilometre and i intended to walk several... and the battery is already two thirds empty... immediately i am walking... on a field of daisies that have simultaneously closed for the night... (it's like walking on the stars!)

later: i think over this writing i realise that, despite finding The Dynasts to be unreadable and dull, it is of a theme and a scale that attracts me greatly... could a writing of that character emerge from my attempts at the electric book, notes and plays and other fictions?... this i remember Goethe's advice to J P Eckermann**** not to attempt a great work 'snatched from the air' (likely to fail and leave you with nothing) but instead to limit yourself to small works on familiar subjects (more likely to succeed and to satisfy you and others)... this i hear the digital diary laughing contentedly while Utopia and Numeroso look unhappy... (perhaps i will go to their rescue tomorrow)

* Florence Hardy, The Early Life of Thomas Hardy 1840-1891, Macmillan, London 1928, and The Later Years of Thomas Hardy, Macmillan, London 1930 (there is a recent combined edition published by Wordsworth publishers).

** Gertrude Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, 1933.

*** Thomas Hardy, The Dynasts, Macmillan, London,

**** J P Eckermann, Conversations with Goethe

(complete references to follow)

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