Sunday, October 27, 2013

27 October 2013

Robert Duncan [Mark I Chester]

from Robert Duncan’s The H D. Book (The Collected Writings of Robert Duncan):

“What should he read — ” her paramour asked as we walked toward the campus the day of our first meeting — “Should he read Eliot?” “No,” she made her pronouncement, speaking of me in the third person — it was as if he had enquired on my behalf at Delphi of the oracle: “His work is too melodramatic as it is. He should read Pound.”

Just here, with this memory, a third scene, I had the sense of a missing element of my story coming into the picture. It was at once the weakest in its claim to being a living reality — just as the claim of a stylish mode in itself can seem a weak ground indeed. But the reality of art was to be for me always a matter of love and taste, Eros and Form. Had that arbiter not been so purely a creature of taste or fashion, of an even snobbish sense of what was right, and so little — it was my entire impression of her — a creature of soul, I might have mistaken taste for liking. Liking, being fond of like things and people, was itself a mimic of love, and could be then a mimic too of judgment. But taste — even the snob’s presumption — excited in me another apprehension, the lure of a quality in a work in itself that demanded something of me, beyond the recognition of my own feelings expressed in an artist’s work, the recognition of feelings that were demanded by the form of the work itself. Love and the sense of Form and Judgment — passion and law — know nothing of liking or disliking. The modern taste, the exacting predilection, beyond likes, was, just here, a third aspect — my involvement with the structural drama of H. D.’s art. I was as a poet to be not only a Romantic but also a Formalist.

Form is the mode of the spirit, as Romance is the mode of the soul. In liking and disliking there was a beginning of creating one’s soul life, determining in recognizing what would be kindred and what alien to one’s inner feeling of things, making a likeness of one’s self in which the person would develop. In taste, almost the vanity of taste, there were intimations of the formal demand the spirit would make to shape all matter to its energies, to tune the world about it to the mode of an imagined music.

In my conversion to Poetry I was to find anew the world of Romance that I had known in earliest childhood in fairy tale and daydream and in the romantic fictions of the household in which I grew up. I had set out upon a soul-journey in my falling in love with my teacher in which she set me upon the quest of the spirit in Poetry, that reappeared later disguised in this foolish, even vain, presentation of a lady of fashionable tastes who demanded of me the secret of form hidden in the modernist style. The high adventure was to be for me the romance of forms, haunted by its own course, its own secret unfolding form, relating to some great form of many phases to which it belonged. The crux of my work was still to be melodramatic — if we remember the meaning of that word as being “a stage play (usually romantic and sensational in plot and incident) in which songs are interspersed, and in which action is accompanied by orchestral music.” But the elements of stage and play, of romance and sensation, that are usually taken to belong to the psyche-drama, were to come more and more to be seen to belong to, to illustrate and accompany the musical structure. So the world of the spirit hidden in the experience of soul and body becomes dominant, informing romance and sensation with a third possibility, even as soul dramatizes or enacts body and spirit, or as body incarnates as a living idea propositions of spirit and soul. The orchestration no longer accompanies but leads the dance. . . .

Where truth is the root of the art, to come to fullness means to let bloom the full flower of what one was, the truth of what one felt and thought — a flowering of corruptions and rage, of bile and intestines, as well as of sense and light, of glands and growth. For it was not the ideal or the model of feeling that I saw as my work, but the revelation of the nature of Man in my own being. . . .

I was to undertake the work in poetry to find out — what I least knew myself — what I felt at heart. But in the beginning the work was a gift to my teacher. I was to undertake the work to present what I felt at heart to someone who had a trust I did not have in the heart, who wished for just that gift for love's sake. I was to undertake the work in order that Eros be kept over me a Master. . . .

Books were the bodies of thought and feeling that could not otherwise be shared.

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