Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems
is available for $16.00 from FootHills Publishing, P.O. Box 68, Kanona NY 14856 or see www.foothillspublishing.com.

Tourist Snapshots is available for $8.95 from Randy Fingland, CC Marimbo, P.O. Box 933, Berkeley CA 94701 or see www.ccmarimbo.com.

Dada Poetry: An Introduction was published by Nirala Publications. It may be ordered on Amazon.com for $25 plus shipping. American buyers may order a copy from me for $23 including shipping.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Hungarian Food

The Hungarian word for food -- eter -- has, of course, no relation whatever to “eat.” As a non-Indo-European tongue virtually all Hungarian words are inscrutable even to the traveler who knows French and German. Few tourists gain any substantial acquaintance with the language, but every visitor comes to know something of the cuisine. The intimate communication of dining, the very paradigm of travel as the foreign outside is taken into oneself and assimilated with delight or dyspepsia, is available from every café, restaurant, and street vendor; it is all but inevitable. (It takes really stubborn satisfaction to return from Acapulco’s Hilton as Henry did, saying, “They eat just like we do: big steaks, salad bar . . .”) Eating Hungarian food while meditating on the word eter, one may come to associate that assertive t with insistent garlic, paprika, and heavy-handed salting, the liquid r with the richness of fats (lard and deep-frying are still popular; cream, sour or fresh, may top anything; pastries and snacks are popular at all hours, including the humblest of all: langos or fried dough, susceptible to toppings ranging from sugar to garlic), and those precise little es with the strength of the basic ingredients, the goose, duck, pork, and carp, the potatoes and pasta and egg noodles veering toward gnocchi that form the cuisine’s foundation. Eter. The word food sounds flat-footed by comparison, but no more than an American diner meal might taste.

The stereotype of Central and Eastern European meals as weighty affairs has some truth yet (though for me Hungarian restaurants offer nothing as hefty as their Czech cousins whose ubiquitous “farmer’s plate” may include two types of dumplings and three varieties of pork, the entire composition chromatically muted, a sort of grey tending toward beige). The category of “special diet” or “health-conscious” options in restaurants with an English menu may list only deep-fried foods, starting with deep-fried Camembert which has earned its role as a “diet” dish due to being meatless.

The Jegverem restaurant in Sopron glories in substantial offerings, calling itself “a restaurant for guzzle-guts.” A rhyme in the menu entertains the waiting customer with its pleasantly garbled English, though reserving a trap-door for the last line:


Be it lunch, dinner, or other meat,
Our lifestyle is to have big feat.
Hungarians always up tull eat,
Whilst they lie under a coffin-sheet.


At this establishment Patricia had venison stew, while for me it was a pig’s knuckle, served over leeks and pickles inside a container of bread topped with sour cream and accompanied by a half liter of Soproni beer. (As this was a “gypsy” preparation, the ever-whimsical menu description said, “First, steal a pig and singe the hair off. If you are too lazy to do this, steal a pig already singed . . .”)

The Hungarian cook operates on a principle of savory overkill, overwhelming the diner with rich substance. At the Lukac in Budapest, I had pork stuffed with liver pate and then breaded, fried, and served with paprika sauce; Patricia had veal stuffed with Roquefort, then rolled in nuts and fried. There was such a quantity of Roquefort she left a great pool on her plate. Ordering goose leg at the Cellarium in Pecs, she was given two sizable legs with thighs attached as well as a side dish of cabbage prepared with apples and champagne. And we were eating at modest establishments.

The typical Central European breakfast of (bread with cheese and cold cuts or sausages in its minimalist form in a cheap pension was enhanced with little individual packets of liver and ham paté, hazelnut butter, and tarragon mustard. One could pass on the sorry sort of juice drink and make the most of the muesli.

At the main indoor market of Pest, the Vamhaz, a fanciful turn of the century building with excited ornamentation, one sees the noble fresh-water fish so popular here, catfish, and trout, giant carp and pike-perch from Lake Balaton. Apart from a marvelous variety of peppers, root vegetables abound: overgrown radishes, unapologetic celery roots, parsnips, even kohlrabi. These fine and sturdy vegetables seem rarely, though, to make their way to restaurant plates where salad is apologetic: a few slices of cucumber, a bit of shredded cabbage, and a pickled morsel or two.
Louis XIV called tokay "Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum" ("Wine of kings, king of wines"), and, having come to its hometown, we sampled the celebrated Tokaj Aszu which we could hardly stomach in spite of its praise by popes and nobles of earlier eras of taste. Then there are the wines: Egri Bikavér or Bull’s Blood, of course, and some palatable enough others, kekfrankos and kekoporto. Hungarians make as well a variety of distilled palinkas with their intense fruit spirits, and the mysterious bitter liqueur Unicum. John Cross relayed his mother’s folk wisdom about this dark blend of many herbal flavorings, “It’s medicinal, really. After sleeping your blood sugar is down low and you need a swig or two of Unicum in the morning to get going. You see, it has a white cross on the bottle. That’s because it’s good for you.”

A New Look at Jaufré Rudel: Amor de Lonh as Criticism

The ultimate object of this study is not even dear Jaufré or poetry at all, but dualism. The poet wrote not of satisfied love, but of love from afar, love “under erasure,” if I may make him sound Derridean. The notion could as well be linked to Nagarjuna’s tetralemma; it has links to Graham Priest’s dialetheism. To fit the notion in a fortune cookie, it might be “if the truest love is absence of love, existence is emptiness.” Should these thoughts seem silly or fruitless, have no fear. Jaufré’s poems are so lovely, the rest need not matter.





Since early troubadour poetry stands at the historical fountainhead of the the vernacular European lyric, one's understanding of it will have profound implications. In part for that very reason, many of the most basic questions concerning the themes and techniques of this poetry, not to mention its origins and development, are vexed indeed. If the problem is courtly love, its heart is Jaufré Rudel. [1] Jaufré’s amor de lonh (“love from afar”) has been interpreted as biography, mysticism, and allegory. [2] A more structural analysis of this extraordinary poetry of paradox and metaphysical sensuality [3] reveal the fundamental relationships of several ever-varying sets of associative possibilities [4]. Their variation and transformation doubtless accounts in part for the multiplicity of critical opinion, yet this very ambiguity allows the poet to enact a notion of the nature of poetry itself. Though I believe that readings around themes of love, spirituality, and psychology are all fruitful, it is the self-reflective reading, in which the apparent self-contradiction of the rhetoric is most clearly essential to its precision, that I intend to pursue here. In this connection I mean to note an analogy for the problem of Jaufré in the work of Robert Johnson, [5] an American blues singer. I believe that the relationship between the medieval courtly poet and the itinerant American musician are apparent not only in the semantic content of the text, but equally in the manipulation of sound values. Though consideration of the musical element of Jaufré’s work is not possible today, his poetry may be read as music and this music then read for its critical implications about the genre of poetry.

Particularly in view of the portion of this project that will be devoted to sound patterns, I will isolate a very small portion of Jaufré’s work for examination. The canso “Lanquan li jorn son lonc en may,” called “undoubtedly the best known of Jaufré's works,” and “also the most enigmatic,” [6] begins with the following stanza.


Lanquan li jorn son lonc en may
M’es belhs dous chans d'auzelhs de lonh,
E quan mi suy partitz de lay
Remembra•m d’un’amor de lonh:
Vau de talan embroncx e clis
Si que chans ni flor d'albespis
No•m platz plus cue 1'yverns gelatz.



[When the days are long in May. the far-away song of the birds seems beautiful to me, and when I have gone away from there, the parting reminds me of my far-away love: I go bent with desire and my gaze downcast, so that neither songs nor hawthorne blooms please me more than frozen winter.]


The Natureingang (nature introduction, similar to the French reverdie) in its simplest forms celebrates the speaker’s love together with the spring-time rejuvenation of vegetation. Here, however the primary values inverted as in several albas. [7] Nature is conceded its obvious fecundity and life-richness, but it is also viewed as mocking the poet by the contrast in their moods. Perceiving nature as hostile, he expresses indifference to it. In fact there is a hint of hostile perversity in the last line suggesting a morbid sentimental preference for nasty weather. But the poem has pretensions far beyond the depiction of the depression of a frustrated lover. The poem develops with other vectors in the field: the senhor (lord, l. 8), the pairi (godfather, l. 51), the themes of pilgrimage and pagan lands, but the first mystery of this stanza stands at its center, in the fourth line. The quality of distance, lonh, which asserts the lady’s absence as a constitutive element of her value epitomizes the contradiction I am seeking to explicate.

Ignoring the many possible erotic-psychological implications of this formulation, [8] I would propose an alternate reading of the stanza in question. Birds are not a simple emblem here of nature's unselfconscious reproductive energy; more specific associations are at play. For instance the birds suggest freedom [9] and are often thought to be intermediaries between god and man. [10] Further, and most immediately to the point at issue, birds are very commonly identified with poets. The reader has license for this association from Jaufré’s own usage: the first stanza of “Quan lo rius de la fontana” (“when the waters of the spring”) declares that he should modulate his song as the nightingale does. If one interprets the birds of Jaufré's stanza as other poets with whom the author is familiar, the attribute lonh here would mean the distance between the poet and tradition, in time, space, and set of mind. With this association one finds Jaufré rejecting poetry even as he sings. The entire weight of past art is insufficient for his needs and is thus irrelevant. He is “embroncx e clis” (bent and bowed) by his desire in spite of hearing the birds, though he had been fond enough to call them belhs only a few lines earlier. While recognizing the charm of song, Jaufré finds it impotent in the face of his current despair. His response is to relegate song (though not song alone, for it is still linked to the larger world of nature through the bird’s perch, the albespis) to a category worse than useless. He likens it in value to the ivern (winter), clearly an enemy of life.

But the opposition is a complex one, and it is significantly blurred. The birds’ song had pleased him and in fact led him to his own canso. Yet Jaufré says he now cares no more for song than for winter, but he says this in a song. He is a poet; his fate is that of poetry, and the text before us leaves no doubt that, whatever else may be said about the occasion it describes, it produced poetry. In fact, in an almost magical way, the unease of the poet’s depression elicits the verse as a balm, though the line itself says that singing is useless.

If one considers the song of the first stanza to be poetry, this stanza of Jaufré’s canso rejects past literature, as every new poem must do, and claims for the itself a privileged position as the only meaningful text (for the moment of its creation at any rate). (Following that moment, it will be obliged to submit to the judgment of others.) Just as tragedy laments the human predicament and in some sense exorcises it or redeems it, just as the music of the blues is an aesthetic remedy to suffering, Jaufré’s song of complaint is a victory over his circumstances.

The stanza's structure is even more nakedly present when emptied of the aesthetic terminology of self-reference and, indeed, of the languages of alternative applications. One might call the vague but directly life-bearing quality which subsumes notions of god, beauty, love by none of these names but plainly X. The canso’s singer notes X in birds, but feels put off and depressed by it as he recalls his lack of some great X of his own. Lacking X he spitefully embraces not-X, all the while employing rhetoric which itself exudes the X-factor.

Now because of the very fact that the poem itself possesses X-like qualities of formal beauty, pleasure, and design, the poet’s verbal technology, far from perverse, is as effective at salving the speaker’s suffering as it was at formulating the pain. The whole operation is like a magical spell, the goal of which is to reproduce X qualities anew within the poem and thus, through verbal technology, to reintegrate the poet with X. These relationships, while cumbersome to describe and abstract, function smoothly and naturally in the poem, whether one thinks of the Countess of Tripoli or the logos or the crusader's halo as the primary meaning of the greater X.

To return, then, to the self-referential terms one may insert legitimately into this abstract paradigm of relationships, one finds the reaction to tradition which Jaufré exemplifies one that is most familiar in contemporary critical discourse. (12) Bloom’s talk of the “anxiety of influence” and Paul de Man’s concept of literary modernity are both quite close to what Jaufré seems to be saying. But the pattern in the poem is prior, conceptually as well as historically, to the formulations of these critics. The whole notion of the primacy of structural relationships clearly disallows any final delimiting semantic fix on the poem's position. The most significant structure is that which precedes and encourages polysemic interpretation. It might most generally be conceived as a psychic mood, a posture of the mind that might be elicited by any of a variety of situations, but which is limited by none of them. Such a structure will exemplify the critics’ statements without being contained within them. Its power derives from its formal “rightness,” rather like a fugue or a blues lick, though, like those musical forms, it may bear considerable affective energy.

As a highly conventional linguistic structure, troubadour poetry is particularly laden with comment on the weight of past tradition and the poet's relationship to it. Stanza-form, melody, phrasing, image choice, even in the earliest period, are heavily dependent on intertextuality for their effects. The phenomenon has then been multiplied by the vast and complex tradition that has since sprung from these poems. These facts in part justify my reading of Jaufré’s stanza as a description of itself within that larger setting of literature necessary to its existence, but which it must fend off to make room for itself.

A similarly conventionalized and self-referential lyric genre commenting on the varieties of frustrated love developed in the twentieth century United States. As Jaufré is the quintessential mysterious troubadour, the touchstone for any theory of “courtly love,” Robert Johnson has for some years been accepted by blues aficionados as the most artful and enigmatic of blues musicians. Both have accumulated biographies rich in legendary accretions, though Johnson was singing hardly more than forty years ago. One might compile a catalogue of coincidences connecting the two artists, but a meaningful relationship may arise from even a single point of contact. A reading of the following stanza from one of the bluesman’s most celebrated songs “Stones in my Passway” [13] will immediately suggest comparison with Jaufré’s previously cited stanza.


I have a bird to whistle, and I have a bird to sing,
I have a bird to whistle, and I have a bird to sing.
I got a woman that I’m loving, boy, but she don't mean a thing.


Here the significance of the bird, is the same as in Jaufré. Its song is assumed to be beautiful (to possess a positive power one might call X) but that song is either meaningless or faintly mocking to the poet since he lacks satisfying love. The “whistle” is the trivialized negative projection of music, as the song is its positive promise. The bird song is available but scorned. Though the post claims to have a lover, the second half of the line undercuts that claim, leaving it sounding both bitter and wistful. Though Jaufré’s stanza is neither so compressed nor so elliptical as Johnson’s, the same information is present. Song is revalued in the present crisis and found wanting, thus allowing the poet to produce his new song. [14] In order to maintain the dialectic of the situation, the new song, the poem being enacted, is perverse or “diabolical” in that it willfully embraces inverted values — icy weather for Jaufré, acceptance of the frustration of an unsatisfying love for Johnson. [15]

The ambiguous value of Johnson’s bird, which represents on the one hand the possibility of lyric liberation and its unattainability, lying beyond the poet's grasp, is conveyed by the ironic contrast between “whistle” and “sing” and by the driving ferocity with which the line is delivered. When the line is repeated, the tension intensifies by repetition alone, but also by the sinister disappearance of the ego in the “I” of the second line. Having emphasized the psychic cul de sac against which the bird is impotent by the first two lines, the poet concludes with the balanced paradox of the third line. The rhyme with which it ends promises a harmonious resolution, but its superstitious vagueness (“thing”) and defensive retreat into cliché contrast dramatically with the potential of “sing.” Thus there is no resolution to the problem apart from what is unstated here and unstated in Jaufré but implicit in both, that the poem is the product of the contradiction the poet experiences, that the poem is an assertion of ego against all previous poets and
an attempt to magically harmonize the contradictions of experience by orchestrating them in language. [16]
The ambivalences I have been tracing represent reactions toward a quantity I called X. It displays both a positive and a negative face and could most broadly be identified with the dualistic structure of thought itself. Just as the cosmos was created by separating polar opposites, whether light and dark, land and sea as in Genesis, or antimatter and matter as the scientists tell us, the world of dualities generates also pain and pleasure, life and death. As the man tries to charm love from it, the poet tries to charm a poem. Thus, having passed from a consideration of content to one of structure, I have returned to thematics, now defined as the binary organization of thought. In this sense the poem’s concerns are epistemological.

Approaching from a different direction altogether, one may also trace the events and relationships suggested by the sound of Jaufré's poem and investigate the implications of the sound patterns.[17] The stanza has seven lines of eight syllables each, rhyming ababcca. In some manuscripts the poem ends with a three line tornada. This in itself suggests an exposition tending toward a pattern of resolution for the whole. Within the stanza the rhyme scheme would cause the first four lines to cohere and the last three, though the unrhymed last line must stand to some extent alone. Thus the verbal foundation for each statement in the poem decreases: from four to two to one line and then vanishes completely, making way for the next stanza which will prove equally unstable. [18]

A source of regularity that flows against the trend of the diminishing line groups is the end rhyme where it does occur. Since the end rhymes knit otherwise unrelated portions of the text, they tend to increase order and coherence. The end words in this stanza are may, lonh, lay, lonh, clis, albespis, gelatz. The first and third lines have unobtrusive and commonplace sounds, while the second and. fourth highlight the unusual and thematically central lonh. Lines five and six end in a sound which does not attract attention, though the three syllables of albespis prepare the way for the cynical and odd gelatz that ends the stanza. The rime riche on lonh is the only appearance of the on sound except for embronx in line five. Thus, just as in Robert Johnson’s blues pattern, the rhymes lead one to look for a problem (lonh, line two), which is restated in a more intense form (lonh, line four), and which then concludes with a wholly new element which remains for the present ambiguous in implication. One is impelled toward the next stanza for further information.

The first line flows decorative idyllic way, its 1’s and n’s lulling the reader, but these sounds leave by mid-stanza, though both return at the end. So they reinforce the ambivalent pattern of flight and return with renewed vigor. As for vowel sounds, the a’s dominate the first line and e’s the second; the pattern precisely repeats in lines three and four. In the last three lines, though, the two vowels occur in a balanced static pattern. The nasalized sounds which were identified with the nut of the mystery lonh, are repeated in the rhyme words of Iines two and four, yet are absent from the last line.

Is the dilemma resolved or is it merely kept at bay? The center line, stuffed with consonants, slows to make a statement of the problem being processed, but its shape is so very elegant that it implies that the problem cannot be devastating.

The penultimate syllable of every line of the stanza has the vowel sound e. This subtle effect is at once a bearer of an absolute drumbeat of regularity and a representation of the distance between desire and fulfillment, a sound, that holds itself back just before the end.

In reviewing the sound patterns, harmonious patterns include the shrinking size of the syntactical unit, the unfamiliarity of the sounds in the last line, and the inconclusiveness of the penultimate e's. Contrary to these elements are the predictably returning stanza form, the symmetrically returning 1’s, and the dependability of the e’s. The evocation of ambiguity is not, then, limited to the words’ meaning in the poem, but also includes their sounds.

What does the balance of these patterns suggest about the nature of poetry? The same concept that the muses were enunciating when they told Hesiod they could both lie and speak the truth, the same as Prometheus had in mind when he said that in his agony he could neither speak nor be silent. Though the poet cannot dissolve the distress, he can assume magical control over it and act out its subjugation once it is rendered in a form available to manipulation. He presents even intractable elements of his situation in forms that are apparently “tamed,” though neither sounds nor idea can be wholly tamed; that is, neither will cease generating problems, but this is precisely the energy that moves the poem forward.

To cast a poem, however, the poet must first conduct his own work safely through the gauntlet of paternal tradition, what Bloom calls the paternal/prenatal/protonomic. Though the materials of art may react ferociously against one another, their field of play is reduced to an arena of graceful and melodic piping in relation to the world beyond the work of art. This is true even for an artist like Robert Johnson in whose recordings the enacted tension is so great it is as though the man sang by grinding his teeth. In Jaufré’s poems the differing requirements of convention produce a surface more cosmetically calm, but with a calmness profoundly ironic. For this canso is evidence to the reader of what he already knows, that only in struggle, in the no man’s land between silence and speech, can language turn on itself and make a poem.



1. The complex love Jaufre expounds provides one of several “germinative moments” for this poetry. Another is found in the highly economical statements of riddling as in several poems of William IX, old English riddles, etc. At times both the richness and the red herring of erotic associations are removed and the contradiction appears bare, as in Zen koans.

2. Very briefly, one might note the biographical approach to be characteristic of earlier critics. Grace Frank (“The Distant Love of Jaufré Rudel,” MLN 57, 1942, p. 528) reads the poems as allegories of a desire to go to the Holy Lands, while Carl Appel (“Wiederum zu Jaufre Rudel," Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen 107, 1902, p. 138) took their true object to be the Virgin. To my mind the
most sophisticated formulation is that of Leo Spitzer (L'amour lointain de Jaufré Rudel et les troubadours, Chapel Hill, 1944). Spitzer provides meaningful parallels for certain troubadour expressions in the writings of St. Bernard and explicates both as evidence for the “paradox of love,” combining an ego-aggrandizing wish to possess with a devotional, self-debasing impulse.

3. This is attempted in a rudimentary way in Wilhelm's Seven Troubadours (University Park, Pennsylvania; 1970), though there the intent is only to dispose of more unlikely hypotheses.

4. Rupert Pickens in his edition of The Songs of Jaufré Rudel (Toronto, 1978) provides in his introduction an original rationale for the acceptance of a polymorphous text. Not only is he critical of the generally accepted search for a single authoritative reading; he is also interested in the text's subsequent mutation through emendation and the like, regarding even changes that are definitely not the original author's intention as possible "improvements", and the text that results is to him deserving of critical attention qua poems regardless of authorial intention.

5. Perhaps the very violence of this yoking is itself salutary. The surprise we expect each text to show in reaction to the other may shake loose certain rarely questioned assumptions and allow us to come up on ourselves unawares.

6. Alan R. Press, Anthology of Troubadour Poetry (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971), p. 18. The text of Jaufré’s poem which I am using is from this edition, though it lacks the tornada, which may be found, for instance, in that of Thomas G. Bergin, Anthology of the Provençal Troubadours (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1973).

7. See the thorough discussion of nature values in the alba in Jonathan Saville, The Medieval Erotic Alba: Structure as Meaning (New York: Columbia University Press, 1972).

8. Among the possible extensions of the situation in erotic psychology would be sado-masochist lovemaking, yogic sex without orgasm, infantile longing for the remote and all-powerful mother.

9. A specifically poetic example of this association is in the rather sham use of the word "metarsios"by Pindar to describe the poet in inspiration.

10. This is, of course, very familiar. One might think first of Greek divination and of the Holy Ghost.

11. Though the identification is a commonplace, I would like to mention two especially intriguing examples: first, the complicated metaphor of the Falkenlieder of Minnesang and second, the negative form of the type -- the poet as absurd chicken in the film of Der Blaue Engel or in Neidhart von Reuental’s “Sinc an, guldin huôn, ich gibe dir weize.” Here not only the plumpness of chickens makes them ridiculous and even hateful, but also their economic use as food source which compels their keepers to view them with contempt.

12. I am thinking here specifically of Bloom’s discussion, toward the end of Kaballah and Criticism (New York: Seabury Press, 1975) and of de Man's in Chapter 8 of Blindness and Insight (New York: Oxford Press, 197l).

13. The song is recorded on Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers (Columbia Records CL l654), side 2, track 4. The recording was made in 1937. Unable to obtain a transcript- of the text, I simply copied the words from the record. The only transcription of which I am not entirely certain is the exclamation in the last line which may be slightly misrepresented by my rendering “boy.”

14. Often early troubadour poets will explicitly claim to be making a new song, or a new sort of song. One example among many is William IX's “Farai chansoneta nueva.” Similar claims occur in many traditions, including archaic Greek and ancient Hebrew.

15. Johnson deals frequently, even obsessively with themes of diabolism. Compare his “Me and the Devil Blues” or “Hellhound on my Trail” on the same record cited above.

16. The very blues form, with its repeated first line of the stanza and the rhyme
that ends the second line, implies this sort of pattern. See below for its likeness to the stanza-tornada system in Jaufré.

17. The same sound analysis could be set forth for Johnson's work, of course, as
well, but I will not delineate its details here not only for reasons of space, but because, having a recorded performance of the poem enormously complicates the task of understanding in ways irrelevant to Jaufré for whom we can have no such recording.

18. The same obvious pattern is expressed in the modulation of end-line punctuation, from rest to half-rest, and in the enjambement or lack of it.

19. There are not only four l’s in the last line as opposed to three in the first, but also the end position implies by its geography on the page a greater weight, a solidity of conclusion, just as the end of a line does in a lesser way, and the of the work as a whole in a greater.

Han Shan

This is another period piece from the 70s. The loose syntax shows my breathless enthusiasm, yet the fracture of the era is evident as America’s brief intoxicating glimpse of one variety of liberation/enlightenment faded. I continue to think Han Shan is beautiful, though the Chinese critics don’t rate him so high on their charts, and I continue to relish early Gary Snyder but not late.


O.K., the definitions in the column are sometimes a little fuzzy, but for me Gary Snyder's translation of Han Shan is a classic. I became a missionary of it upon a first reading, xeroxing copies to give friends and reading it aloud to whomever let me. It's true, it's beautiful, and it's not even as pretentious as those adjectives lead you inevitably to expect, and that only because of a heap of worse poetry going back to the Greeks.

We know really that the splendors promised in our highest moments are identical with the world we see every day, but the thought is so commonplace itself that it loses competition for attention to more bizarre notions like money, astrology, and your choice of illuminated master. So here's a poem that does what Chinese poetry does so well, simply describing the world and thus setting out a hundred implications to drift into increasing complexity and finally duplicate the cosmos itself. And for someone proud not to be a magician that's a great stunt. But the stories recounted about Han Shan at the beginning of the work are hardly of the striding on the clouds and eating only light and air variety. They are both marvelous and ordinary, like today.

The prose is irresistible and the message divine. I won't begin to tell these things second-hand because they'd hardly stay the same. But it's clear that Han Shan couldn't have written his introduction himself with any grace, so it’s fortunate that he had an ideally respectable straight man to do it for him. And the flatness and humility of this man’s tone could silence a gabbling room: "I hold to the principle of the Buddha mind. It is fortunate to meet with men of the Tao, so I have made this eulogy." And this from the governor of a state! Greek generals (classical, not modern) and Imperial Chinese bureaucrats teach us it's possible to be civilized and at the same time shove the world through its more sordid changes.

The exteriorized mind. As Snyder says "When he talks about Cold Mountain he means himself, his home, his state of mind." And that, of course, is only part of the projection. As I said, the implications float outward. The first poem begins, “The path to Han Shan's place is laughable/A path but no sign of cart or horse. Converging gorges — hard to trace their twists . . .” “Body asking shadow, how do you keep up?”

What does this remind you of? It's the solid base in culture that informed their poetry all the distance from that great inventory of images, the I Ching to the present day of Mao who can write of a million willow leaves, red blossoms flying through the air, and spring wind.

This reclamation of nature’s astonishing code builds a structure of parts that is dynamic as it contains tension, and yet balanced at least enough to believably hold together. Like all the finest metaphors, its strength is precisely the ability to extend meaning to so many possibilities with affect and conviction. Effortlessly, gracefully, even through messy situations and sadness. How many spiritual leaders, for instance, have written cleanly about their attachments like Han Shan on his feelings of grief at the death of friends. Or about his pleasure in things as they are. Spontaneous and refreshing. But the strongest point is that he is always realistic. Never a hint of magic or the delightful fairy tale symbols that make Zhuang Zi illuminated with playfulness and elegance like a late Roman poet dealing with mythology. Never any promises. Just things as they are. And yet, the quiet certainty that occasionally wells up and shines numinous through the lines.

His was a fantasy life come true, living among the rocks on wild greens and roots, scrawling poems on the wall when he couldn't help himself. But he was not only real and most likely really lived as we are told, but he was only one of the magnificent series of Chinese mad and holy men who didn't trifle with asceticism or tantric elaborated system or Japanese/Tassajara hierarchy master and devotee life but simply went out and captured perfection direct. Took it by surprise or perhaps it was waiting on the other side of the veil, equally eager to pounce on Han Shan and embrace him with recognition.

It's a fatal style for poets to read because it’s so fine and final, so powerful with image and ultimate in concerns that it makes less ambitious work difficult. But it's also the easiest style to fuck up, like free verse. (Does this term still exist? Does anyone think any verse is free?) Such freedom imposes the heaviest responsibilities.
Snyder since Han Shan has taken another route and seems to be losing his reliance in observed images and patterns and sound systems and relying more — to the detriment of his work — on pat ideological contained statements which may be true and massive but are not therefore poetry. I'm thinking of the “Revolution in the Revolution in the Revolution” and suchlike. A lot of Turtle Island, unfortunately. It's a sort of poetry that might work if he were Alexander Pope maybe. Or if these symmetric revelations were funnier, or ironic, curving back to make fun of themselves. But no, unfortunately, they tend in the direction of the satisfied monks so absurd in the tales of Han Shan.

Make no mistake, I feel that Snyder is one of the best poets now writing with an exquisitely acute ear in his most careful cadences and with his eye on the roof of the world. But he'd better watch out. A hundred satoris don't guarantee good sense tomorrow morning.

A Garland of Greek Professors

I have altered a few details and, regrettably, the names, though the originals seem to convey wonderfully apt impressions of their bearers. In spite of what may seem a corrupt taste for oddity, I have no wish to discomfit these men should they go innocently googling themselves. I respected them all for their learning and I owe to them any modest competence of my own. The most unlikely name, though, that of Prof. Oliver, is genuine and has long been on the public record.


I studied Greek in college with the intention of reading the ancient poets, but along the way I also came to know the extraordinary world of classical scholars. Departments of Greek and Latin Classics are now out-of-the-way corners of academia, yet the surviving programs maintain rigorous standards nonetheless and a blissful conviction that historical philology is a promising route to enlightenment. Students of the history of higher education will know that, whereas Latin and Greek constituted for centuries the central core of the European curriculum, such studies are rapidly vanishing from even some first-rate universities. The textbook I used – Allen’s from 1916 – was the first American beginning Ancient Greek book for college students. The introduction bemoans the fact that, “regrettable as it may seem,” increasing numbers of students come to university without any Greek whatever.

My first Greek professor, J. R. H. Ayckbourn, was a sober man. His sole eccentricity consisted in buttoning only the lowest button of his suit jacket. Since he had an exceedingly tall and slender figure with a billiard ball head, this lent him the appearance of always falling forward, but in fact he managed to remain upright better than some colleagues.

Another professor in the University of Illinois Classics Department was Revilo Oliver, whose name is a palindrome. Despite this peculiarity, Oliver had a distinguished early career, including a dissertation on a Sanskrit text and a Guggenheim fellowship, but he then came out as what can fairly be called a Nazi. A founder of the John Birch Society (though he was later expelled, probably the only person the group ever found too reactionary), along with his scholarly work, he produced dozens of polemical books with titles like Our Jewdicial System. During my freshman year he embarrassed the university by expressing satisfaction at Kennedy’s assassination, thus obliging civil libertarians to support him in the cause of academic freedom when critics called for his dismissal.

In those days, the department at Illinois also included Prof. Scheetz whose taste for gay s/m activities led a student who frequented the same social circles to retail the following anecdote: “You know that wild thunderstorm the other night, lightning flashing, high winds, a real downpour. Right in the middle of it I ran into Prof. Scheetz, dashing down the street in his bare feet. I said, ‘Sir, whatever are you doing out on a night like this?’ He gazed back with wild enthusiasm: ‘Looking for a downed wire.’”

Prof. Seneca Biblonides of the University of X was an enormous albino, maybe 6’6” and 300 pounds, who paced about holding his Greek text an inch from his face as he taught. It was Prof. Biblonides who, when I gave him some of my Sappho translations to review, told me that he really had neither interest nor knowledge about literature. I could only contemplate the lifelong dedication to the study of Greek and Latin by one with so little curiosity about what was actually written in those languages.

Henri “Bobo” Laurent with whom I studied for years with one other scholar, went through mysterious phases in which he would gain and lose hundreds of pounds. When he was relatively thin, he would park his Harley outside and come to class in black t-shirts and jeans; when he was heavy, he invariably appeared in suit and tie. When not engaged in research -- Laurent had a book about classical influences on Jerry Siegel, the writer of Superman comics -- he liked to paint lovingly detailed pictures of Superman in full regalia.

The students, too, were a colorful crew, though with no place here, apart from what this account, I suppose, implies of at least one whimsical temperament.

Jemaa el Fna

Though the name is sometimes translated as “assembly of the dead,” Marrakech’s main square, the Jemaa el Fna, is, in fact, teeming with life. Before us passes a glass case cart with great wheel-like flatbreads, while a bearded blind beggar led by a small boy chants his appeals for alms, and a bit of a crowd gathers around a man on whose mat are displayed an egg, some herbs, and a desiccated lizard. The water-man with his leather bag and gala costume seems lost and bewildered. Two ladies’ black veils make them look like mischievous conspirators as they exchange confidences.

Even now, early in the morning, the sound of drummers pulses under a wailing pipe. From the direction of the souks comes Arab pop music playing a more festive and soaring soundtrack, but one no less melancholy in its disarming moist blues vulnerability. A madman passes laughing as his eyes look inward.
The crowd has swollen around the man with the mat.

Someone slips a snake about my neck – the specter of greed!

We meet Hassan in a café on the margin of the square and order mint tea. A grizzled old man passes before our table moving smoothly, seemingly just above the ground. Hassan hails him, tells us that he and his brothers had performed with this man in the deep south where the elder had at the time been considered a great singer. He had looked after the Hakmoun boys like a father, arranging for their rooms and seeing that they ate well. The man looks back blankly. His eyes are glazed. He remembers nothing. He holds a used pair of high Italian-style shoes he had meant to sell in the street. His chin is frosted with whiskers, his mind far off somewhere. He wears two grey-striped djellabas in the afternoon sun under a thick brown one. Finally, he seems to remember just a bit. Suddenly Hassan offers him 150 dirham for his ring. Hassan tells us it is very powerful, although the stone is lost. Having known this ring during his childhood, he has no doubt. It will bring strength of will, success, it is a treasure to acquire if only to pass it on to his son Jamel. “Such a ring,” says Hassan, “is all but unobtainable in these days.”

Monday, November 1, 2010

Emmy Hennings (more translations)

I have been working on a translation of Emmy Hennings’ little book Die Letzte Freude (The Last Joy) with a critical introduction. Here are more of the poems (I still would call them works-in-progress). Hennings used short words and simple verse forms associated with German Romanticism, but for me she avoids cloying through her pose of languorous melancholy while confronting the intolerable facts of existence.


To Franzi

I walk alone each city street,
The sun drops low and darkness comes
Softly then your songs I hum`.
Oh! I feel forlorn and beat.

In the fading red-tinged light
(how your mouth could bring such pain!)
your face so sweet and almost white,
and so heart-felt your folksong’s strain!

Eyes acquainted much with tears
that know the pain of love’s desire,
two dark, far-off, celestial spheres
burning with a low, low fire.




Hypnosis

My body aches somewhere in some far land,
for years my limbs have been as dead,
my feet both feel as though they’re made of lead,
my breast’s a void, a burned out brand.
Nothing’s wrong – I suffer painful days,
I seem to you like something banned.
I fall asleep as candles blaze
to light my way to an unknown land.
(for Siurlal)




A Dream

We lie under the sea so low
we nothing know of pain and woe.
Held we are on every side,
for water-roses ring us round.
We strive and hope and care no more.
Desire’s gone from us.
Lover, something still I seek,
one wish that I still have,
such longing to feel longing.




With Me at Home

Grandma’s up all through the night –
light shines through green glass panes –
by window’s lattice-work a sight
to see is her pale face.

The blue room’s furniture all round
may be the source of all our woe.
When someone dies, the clock, to show
its grief, strikes with the sickest sound.




The rain is beating on the glass.
A flower’s lit with red.
A cool wind wafts on past.
Am I awake or dead?

A world extends far as can be.
A clock strikes four so slow,
but time is nothing to me.
Into your arms I go. . .

(dedicated to Robert Jentzsch)

Suburbanite in the City

I grew up twenty miles west of Chicago in an haute bourgeois suburb, chosen, my parents always said, for its trees and schools. Though no enclave of old money, it was smug enough in those days to exclude non-whites and Jews. Every morning the men would gather at the train station, all wearing suits, shirts of startling whiteness and starchy collars, and brimmed hats in all seasons. No sport coats, blue shirts, or casual Fridays in the fifties. Every evening the station wagons would cluster about to receive the men back from the city the suburbanites kept at a safe arm’s length.

So to me Chicago had all the charm of the other. Simply to walk by crumbling buildings, past old men in cloth caps chewing unlit cigar ends, among people of every national origin was sufficient motive to take the slick Northwestern Railroad cars to the terminal at the west end of the Loop. (When the Aurora and Elgin ran steam engines with their grand white clouds, I was too young to travel alone.) At this time downtown Chicago had half a dozen train stations, now largely demolished or unused, but built with the pretensions of cathedrals. Later I was to visit the city for art (both classical and blues music, the Art Institute, Hyde Park’s used bookstores) and for political access (stopping by the IWW office on N. Halstead, demonstrating with Fair Play for Cuba and the Committee to Abolish HUAC), but even in the early years I found ample attractions not far from the Loop.

In the first days of our independent visits, my friends and I would sometimes play a game which now strikes me as a ritual of class gloating. We would put a penny on the landing of the stairs down to the Clark Street El (which runs partly underground as New York’s subways are partly above). We would then perch above and observe the urbanites emerging, one of whom would, before long, stoop to pick up the penny, delighting us particularly if it were, say, an old lady with many parcels who had to set them all down one at a time before withdrawing her snap purse.

When this amusement palled, we would continue north on Clark. After a few blocks we would enter the greasiest greasy spoon short order café, a hole-in-the-wall where all preparation was done in the tiny space between the wall and the counter which ran around three sides. The proprietor was so obese that he could barely negotiate behind the counter himself, yet he tended two grills even as his flesh protruded on to the counter as he passed. We were fascinated, though we never understood how he avoided frying his belly. He had an employee who shared the very limited area: a teen-age girl with most striking acne. His chili was topped by a layer of fat of some indescribable sort and contained numerous small inedible bits of equally uncertain origin. Our delight in this milieu multiplied when a guest among us became ill after eating there.

Further up Clark Street was Paul Romaine’s, an excellent used book store runner by a littérateur who had been in Paris in the twenties. He featured writers like Nelson Algren and was actually prosecuted for selling Fanny Hill. Though Cleland may strike moderns as lukewarm eroticism, Romaine’s was also a devotee of the political side of the First Amendment. He stocked the forbidden texts of this Cold War period: East German magazines, earnest Trotskyite journals, a paper from Vietnam. Coming from a town where the John Birch Society and the Christian Anti-Communist Crusade were active and simply being a Democrat was outside the pale, it was pleasantly transgressive to browse these precincts even if I never cared to read Lenin’s What is to be Done.

Later in the day we would drift back to the foot of North Clark, to the Clark Theater. I enjoyed Daniel Pinkwater’s memoir of this unique institution, but it was significant enough to me that it must be included here even at the risk of duplicating some of his accurate observations. (Pinkwater also wrote about the chicken-man of the El, whom I, too, saw for years, and the Free Jomo campaigner who continued his campaign undeterred by Jomo’s release – I still have several of this man’s baroquely elaborate handouts, painstakingly constructed in those pre-computer days.)

The Clark offered a different double feature every day, was open almost all the time, and the price was low. They did close the doors from five to six in the morning in order to toss out those who would otherwise live there and hose down the place (or whatever they did to cleans the layer of filth acquired daily). The ushers were not there to show people to their seats (at this time movie theaters still sometimes had assigned seats), but rather to manage the clientele’s sleeping, drinking, and sexual practices, sometimes a challenging job. The situation was such that the place maintained a balcony called the Little Gal-lery which was for women only.

A fine old structure built as a live performance venue and remodeled for films in 1931, it had declined to pornography by the seventies when it was mercifully demolished. During my youth it published a crude mimeographed schedule called Hark, Hark, the Voice of the Clark which listed the films, typically older Hollywood B-movies and a good number of films from around the world, each described by a bit of doggerel. (Foreign films must have been inexpensive in those days. I remember seeing all three of Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy in one long day at the Clark.) Where else might the suburbanite experience high art and city grit so perfectly blended at so low a price?

Bums, far from frightening me, seemed fascinating. I always offered alms, and often heard fragments of a life far from my own in return. At the age of sixteen, several of us decided it would be a hoot to spend the night in a rescue mission, so we headed to the city and, on South State Street, just past what may have been the city’s last true burlesque theater, we entered the Pacific Garden Mission, the spot where Billy Sunday was reborn. After an endless service, punctuated with calls to rise (the patrons of the divine no less than those of the Clark’s films, were expected to remain awake), we found another hurdle. Those looking for free accommodations were expected to submit to individual spiritual counseling. Next thing I knew, I was on my knees with a Mission staff member who read the Bible, and every time the word “thou” appeared, emphatically substituting the pseudonym I had given when explaining that we were dropouts from St. Louis, looking for work in Chicago. After this moral softening up, we learned that their facilities were full for the night, but they promised to find us room in the neighboring servicemen’s center. Though we were close to the end of the rather lengthy process of qualifying for shelter, one of our number then was overcome with guilt and came out with the truth. Exposed as faux needy, we tried to make the best of it by sleeping in the car. Naturally, the police came upon us before long, and we ended up returning to the suburbs, sleeping in the car anyway to salvage some shred of self-respect.

The black community held endless charm for the visitor from Whitelandia. I marveled at the men’s fashions in the windows of Smokey Joe’s on South State and often took the El down to 63rd Street on the South Side only to wander there for miles, looking about me with exactly the heightened attention I later felt during travels abroad. I would buy a fat Polish sausage with mumbo sauce and envy those who had a culture, erroneously thinking that we Wonder Bread WASPs had none. I bought the Chicago Defender (where Langston Hughes’ column still appeared) and read it thoroughly, once ordering from its pages the 45 rpm record of Louis Farrakhan under the name Louis X, playing “A White Man’s Heaven is a Black Man’s Hell” with a calypso beat. After a dreadful slum fire, the Defender ran a headline “Children Burned to Crisp in Apartment Fire.” The story went on to specify that four children were killed in the fire, “two of whom were burned to a crisp.” This struck me as a phrase in such exquisitely egregious taste, it seemed darkly delightful, and for several years I displayed the page on my suburban bedroom wall near snippets of poetry in a variety of languages and a painting of Lenin haranguing a crowd.

From the safe perch of my WWII surplus bunk bed twenty miles from the racial contradictions that would shortly lead to riots in the city, I was surely mocking the editors of the Defender. Yet I would like to think that my motives were somehow bound up with those that later brought me into the tumultuous September 1966 open housing march in Cicero, VISTA work with gang kids, and teaching in Africa. The same person who put pennies on the steps to the trains in a first flirtation with the city later lived in Chicago, San Francisco, and Brooklyn, often in more or less run-down neighborhoods, enjoying the environment in a way that would have been unlikely for one born there.

I recall hearing of a nonviolence training session during the Southern Movement in which those who were about to put themselves on the line watched films of racist speechmaking. The white activists instantly fell to making fun of the KKK speakers' dialect and ignorance, only to be upbraided by black SNCC workers who quite rightly warned them that these were not clowns but murderers. I would surely have been among the laughers, many of whom doubtless grew up in towns like my own, but there they were, prepared to make common cause with people with other backgrounds, and together to make history.

Had I grown up poor and oppressed, I suppose I might have made a goal of accumulating bourgeois accoutrements. If nothing else, my childhood privileges freed me from that ambition. It has been decades since I have visited Chicago, and I know a great deal has changed, but I do not doubt that it remains sufficiently dirty, deteriorated, and dangerous to relish yet.

In Defense of a Useless Higher Education

SUNY Albany just closed their Classics Department. Where is solidarity? Professorial protest? Student objections? I'm afraid that most Americans have lost sight of the unique role of higher education.


I judge universities by the strength of their Classics departments, and the list of institutions in the running is shrinking yearly as the field that dominated European high education until the twentieth century is altogether dropped by one school after another. I would argue that mine is a just evaluative method, not because of my own affection for Greek and Roman literature, but because Classics provides a test case of whether a school is pursuing the true role of higher education: the cultivation of knowledge for its own sake. The undergraduate studies to learn how to think: how to take in information, process it, and generate original ideas. On the graduate and professional levels, the very same activity continues on the level of research, the production of new knowledge.

Intellectual work is surely the definitive capability of our species, and a person thinking hard resembles a cat about to pounce. Each practices the skills perfected by the evolution of the codes of eons of DNA. The observer can scarcely doubt that the cat enjoys the hunt even if it prefers to dine on pelleted cat food, and, for humans, the value of using the brain is likewise dependent on no practical ends.

Research of various sorts is conducted in a number of contemporary institutions, most of them large corporations, but nowhere except in the university is it viable for its own sake. Experiments that might result in a lucrative and patentable discovery can always find funding; pure research has only one home. It is true but irrelevant that often discoveries by “pure” scientific researchers have proven useful. It is unlikely that the Classicist’s findings will be influential outside his professional circles, yet they possess nonetheless a share in the grand unfolding project of human knowledge that is nurtured only at universities.

The unfortunate fact is, of course, that research in higher education is less and less independent. America’s romance with capitalism and today’s budget crises have combine to lead colleges and universities to seek ever more “alliances’ with big money, tailoring their programs not to the professors’ own interests, but to the ends that will attract money. The call of these sirens is inaudible, of course, to the Classicist, whose field, rigorous though it be, is unlikely ever to draw much cash.
The modern university is increasingly a vocational school. The notion that a liberal education will prepare the student for any sort of problem-solving has faded before the unashamed advance of training for jobs. It is true that historically, universities have sometimes included courses in preparation for “the learned professions” of medicine, law, and the church (though most doctors, lawyers, and clergy prior to this century had no college training). Few people practicing these professions ever do research (professors in the fields do), but these historic exceptions have been overwhelmed by endless explicitly vocational programs of no scholarly or scientific pretensions, boasting instead graduate hiring rates and starting salaries and creating an environment completely inimical to the disinterested pursuit of knowledge. Even soi-disant friends of higher education think they can make their apologetics only by pointing to economic advantage, though by its very nature state-sponsored research properly belongs only to those intellectuals whose work would not be supported by the market. Money-making is a different game altogether.

These ideas are entirely out of step with the thinking of politicians and the populace today; indeed, they would find little acceptance even among academicians. The church controlled European higher education for many years. Then, after a brief period of secularism and at least a facade of ideals beyond the dollar, corporations have come to dominate, and learning cannot fail to be the loser. The question is simply whether we want to trust the progress of the species to those seeking to produce new knowledge or those pursuing personal wealth. Which is likely to better serve humanity?

Tetouan

Another night in a hotel without a toilet. (See Creel in November posts.)

The two made the crossing from Algeciras, Spain, just by Gibraltar, onto the African continent, landing in Spain’s remaining enclave of Ceuta. After long delays, at the Bab-Sebta border crossing – in those days, long-haired men were often turned back at the border, as were women traveling alone -- they set out on our way only to be stopped by a second contingent of customs officials who searched the bus (though their colleagues had searched it minutes before) by the roadside.

In Tetouan they were hardly down from the bus when they were approached by Aziz, one of the myriad young male hustlers so common in Morocco, claiming to be a student wishing only to practice English. He offered to get them a bed for six dirham (the dirham was then 20¢), but the proprietor asked eight. They accepted anyway, after bringing a kerosene lamp into the room and seeing a charming old pitcher and basin for washing. Though they managed to shake Aziz (who surely received a commission on their room), they were soon accosted by Mohammed, likewise eager to “practice English.” After repeating to the point of rudeness and slightly beyond that they did not want a guide and hearing his insistence that he was only “a friend,” they gave way before his stubbornness, and he did indeed proceed to take them through the town, negotiating the narrow and winding ways past bearded men on horseback and tattooed women selling on the street, though the medina with its Andalusian, Jewish, and Berber sections (a UNESCO World Heritage site). Stopping in at shops working leather, metal, and cloth, they shared a few puffs of kief with the tradesmen as they paused in greeting. Feeling powerfully affected as they had been for the most part abstinent for several months, the travelers invited Mohammed to dinner, a fitting and “friendly” recompense for his trouble, they thought.

After the grounding of a satisfying meal of legumes and lamb with round whole wheat loaves, they set out strolling again, here and there, in the end passing through a door under the house number 7, they mounted a flight of stairs to find a café full of robed figures drinking mint tea and smoking kief. Above a television set played what seemed to be mad, shifting images, moving from what a newsman to a cartoon to a musician in the course of a minute. The café was over a lane, in construction that connected buildings on either side of the street, and the window looked directly over the crowded passage, even at this late hour full of people bargaining, laughing, moving fast.

After a few contemplative hours, Mohammed made his move. He wanted his new friends to take some stuff into Europe for him, with big profits for all. When they demurred, his stubbornness reasserted itself and he became slightly vehement. When he eventually realized that they were not in fact going to be persuaded, he threw up his hands in frustration and stormed out like a madman.
It was after midnight. They had no idea where they were, but, after a few inquiries, they made our way back to the central square and found their hotel. When they emerged from their room the next morning, they encountered Mohammed again. In the brief interval between when he had left them and when they had located their lodging, he had somehow managed to forge such a relationship with the two young Scandinavian women who had taken the room next to them that he had, in fact, spent the night there.

Thematic Continuity in the Development of the Poetry of Christopher Smart

The Jubilate Agno and the Minor Poems

This is likely to be the oldest work that will appear. Nothing has been updated. I felt sympathy for Smart's heterodoxy and wanted to show that his "madness" was only an exaggeration of his original nature.

I. Introduction
II. The Theme of Nature
III. God and the Concept of Spiritual Perception
IV. Smart’s Self-Image
V. The Jubilate Agno
VI. Conclusion
Notes and Bibliography

I. Introduction

Christopher Smart has long been considered a curiosity. Tosspot and saint at once, he is most widely known as the wild-eyed madman who prompted a few generous witticisms from Dr. Johnson and who was thought to have inscribed his one great work, the Song to David, with a key on the wainscoting of his cell in Bedlam. Stead's discovery of the text of Jubilate Agno has inspired a large body of criticism and scholarship itself and has displaced, due to its curious form and content and shifting canons of literary taste, the central place in Smart’s oeuvre occupied by the Song for several centuries. To this date nearly all writing on Smart's work has been concerned with one or the other of the two. While this concentration is quite proper — the two late poems will probably always be considered Smart's best — it has led to an unfortunate neglect of the other poetry. The Seatonian poems on the attributes of God, "To the Reverend and Learned Dr. Webster," and the "Hymn to the Supreme Being," for instance, are early works which offer not only an admirable poetic line and striking imagery, but also a rich source for understanding Smart's concept of nature and his peculiar theological notions, ideas that control the Jubilate Agno, though the 1atter’s form may put off readers with its apparent opaqueness, rambling, and the issue of madness. The Jubilate with its astonishing catalogues may also mislead critics into complete submersion in a vast sea of background material.

The Jubilate Agno is beautiful, partly because, paradoxically, everything is lucid there. The conventional orthodoxy is not there eliminated, but transformed and expanded without inhibition, and the poet’s independently creative speculation is unfettered, revealing the poet's vision nakedly, if not always clearly. Although the contrast between Smart's sanity and madness as they were officially recognized in his own time is evident in his poetry as well as his life, one may find a significant measure of ideological continuity in the texts of his work throughout his career. The major change was a turn to the ritual grandeur of a prophetic style, accompanied by a correspondingly inflated self -image (the counterpart of the persecution he felt), and a more bold and detailed interpretation of nature, but even these characteristics are contained in embryo or intimated in the early poems. Smart’s idea of nature leads directly to his idea of God. In his self-image, the filter through which the reader must see his thought, one finds the thematic core of his work, the assumptions that underlie his most beautiful poetry. A study of Smart's entire body of work in these terms would be productive in restoring the balance of critical attention among his poems and in illuminating early and late, “sane” and “mad” work. This paper is a contribution in that direction.

Although I mentioned several specific poems above because they contain the greatest amount of generally useful information, they do not define this study in any meaningful way, and I have felt free to cite other poems whenever it was helpful. Proceeding along almost exclusively thematic lines in a discussion of the earlier poems, I shall come to the Jubilate Agno with sufficient data for a critical reading in the terms I have outlined. Smart was an incredibly learned man: his intimacy with the Bible (including the Apocrypha) marks nearly every page; he was familiar with the classics (doubtless strengthened during his studies at Cambridge). His religious evolution led through Pythagoras and Freemasonry to the Caballah while he was, as well, conversant with the principal theologians of his own time. His curious and manifold interests brought him to range through books of travel and natural history, the more fantastic, the better, all the while shopping for images.

I can only regret the limitations of this study, but my first concern is inevitably with the text. Other scholarship, directed at influences and sources, can investigate his wide-ranging images and point out that what the “mad” poet chose to focus on in the world. Much of his data which may strike the modern reader as bizarre and idiosyncratic had been quite sanely set down by others, and not so nobly, or expressively, at that.


II. The Theme of Nature

Smart's earliest delineation of nature uses that most conventional of eighteenth century devices, an abstract personification, complete with classical name,[1] Philomela. In “On the Omniscience of the Supreme Being,” one of the prize poems from Cambridge that are structured as poetic essays in blank verse, she is the regenerative power that advances in the spring and retreats for the coming of winter like Persephone. Smart praises her intricate and efficient workings and the beauties of the creation.

Ignoring for the moment the extended attack on man's search for knowledge and particularly on Newton that follows, this is quite acceptably orthodox, and the emphases on order and on life as energy are hardly remarkable, but this is a pair that Smart puts through many changes ending in the heretical, but which he maintains throughout his life. Order appears in the “Omniscience” poem as systems and patterns and the design of instinct as evidence for the meaningful direction which controls the harmonious interaction of natural forces. Life is generation, movement, animation, emotion, and finally, love.
Philomela here is a craft which God flies and which he inspires directly with perfect wisdom.


When Philomela, e'er the cold domain
Of cripled winter 'gins t’advance, prepares
Her annual flight, and in some poplar shade
Takes her melodious leave, who then's her pilot?
Who points her passage thro’ the pathless void
To realms from us remote, to us unknown?
Her science is the science of her God.[2]


The intimacy of this Philomela with God, her virtual identification with him, implies Smart's idea that nature is unfallen and perfect, the visible testament of God to man.

Others of his time expounded various theories to explain the flaws in the world's organization [3], but Smart felt perfect allegiance to the sentiment of his early friend and mentor, Pope, “Whatever is, is right.” Pope, however, had composed this sententia with a more restricted meaning: that the world is a perfect part of an inscrutable larger plan, and its apparent imperfections merely demonstrate its lower order of reality. Smart, on the other hand, literally believed that the world was without flaw. Smart’s persona, the exemplary poet Orpheus, declares “that all things form'd were good.” [4] God "all things form'd, and form'd them all for man," [5] Though he is fallen, man still has the rich plenitude of nature to enjoy and praise, a task he does not adequately perform. When Smart wrote “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, learn to live,” [6] he is asking man to conform with the divine pattern and complete God's harmony.

Those who most nearly fulfill this role (in pastoral convention at any rate) are the rustics.


Fav’rites of Heav'n! to whom the general doom
Is all remitted, who alone possess
Of Adam's sons fair Eden” [7]


Earthquakes and other natural disasters made skeptics of many, but for Smart even these catastrophes are the most magnificent witness in praise of the Lord. [8] In his view man cannot properly criticize, but only wonder and adore. This is the only way in which man, who has been somewhat out of step since his expulsion from Eden, can rejoin the created universe in its perfect harmony.

The perfection of nature legitimizes Smart's catalogues of animals, plants, and minerals that appear in many of his poems. [9] The tendency is encyclopedic and universal, with the whole of the vast variety of creation by its very nature singing paeans of thanksgiving.


I speak for all — for them that fly,
And for the race that swim;
For all that dwell in moist and dry,
Beasts, reptiles, flow'rs and gems to vie
When gratitude begins her hymn. [10]


Smart is not thanking God for the world's plenty; the world itself is thanking the divine for its very existence. Like many aspects of Smart's work, the leaning toward the encyclopedic appears in humorous form in his magazine work. The title-page to The Midwife is an extravagant example of the comedy of plenitude we associate with Rabelais. [11]

Smart uses several image systems to express the world's harmony. The most frequent is that of music and the dance. [12] God is an organist and the world reflects his cadence. Smart's light songs for the hay-makers and mowers, “A Morning-Piece” and “A Noon-Piece” describe all nature first waking and then reveling in music with the idealized rustics in perfect step. In contrast the effete and idle Trelooby of the fable, “The Country Squire and the Mandrake,” rides about the woods wasting his time, an avaricious and socially harmful clown who cannot tell what is going on around him. “But what is musick to the deaf?” [13]

Smart’s nature is a unity containing great variety and prodigious energy. The idea is expressed in images of a swarm or multitude or of liquefaction or water [14] which apply either to nature itself or by association to other perfect things: love, the soul, or sublime thoughts, for example. Movement is exalted then as a correct step in the dance, a turning within the swarm, or an aspect of brilliant light. This applies to the mental world and the objective world outside equally, for Smart made little distinction between the two.



III. God and the Concept of Spiritual Perception

The enlivening source that animates the swarm images is God, and God's essential characteristic is love. Ralph Cudworth, the Cambridge neo-Platonist divine, spoke in these very terms when he warned the members of the House of Commons to practice love that “we may tune the World at last to better Music,” [15] adding that truth follows love. Similarly, Smart considers Christian love a prerequisite for meaningful observation and interpretation of the world. If one is to "taste the present, recollect the past, /And strongly hope for every future joy,” [16] one must first hear preached “seraphic love.”

The vigorous Christian love Smart recommends is emphatically and specifically based in Christian transformation of Mosaic law. “To the Reverend and Learned Dr. Webster,”for instance, opens with a long and dramatic portrayal of the sweeping change wrought by the all-inclusiveness of Christ's redemptive powers. The positive joy is overwhelming, leaving man to “love, to praise, to bless, to wonder, and adore.” [17] While his fellow poet (and religious maniac) Cowper trembled at the thought of judgment and watched the carefree living with amazement, Smart never doubted his salvation and virtually refused to confront the fate of the wicked. The judgment scene at the end of "Eternity" has no mention of the damned and one looks in vain for moral commands. Of his own spiritual rebirth after a serious bout of illness, Smart says, “He pitying did a second birth bestow/A birth of joy — not like the first of tears and woe,” [18] in this way paralleling the Biblical progress.

In his translation of the psalms Smart willfully distorted the text, softening the harsh passages and systematically changing revenge to mercy and justice to love.


The righteous shall rejoice when he seeth the vengeance:
He shall wash his feet in the blood of the wicked.
(Psalms, 58:10, King James translation)

The righteous shall exult the more
As he such pow'rful mercy sees,
Such wrecks and ruins safe on shore,
Such tortur'd souls at ease. [19]


Smart described this bold revision on his title page as an attempt to translate “in the Spirit of Christianity.” “In this translation,” he went on, “all expressions, that seem contrary to Christ, are omitted, and evangelical matter put into their room.” [20] The central implication of Smart's emphasis is a substantial heresy: the thought that all men are saved, an idea that he was not yet willing to state outrightly. His rules for virtue are simple and far from moralistic. “A Contemplation of God's Works, a generous Concern for the Good of Mankind, and an unfeigned Humility, only, denominate Men wise, great, and good.” [21] The world, though he calls it a "machine” [22] (a commonplace in the age of Newton) is animated by God's love and it has meaning only in a spiritual perspective. Smart dramatizes the omnipresence of God by anthropomorphizing the creatures and forces of the natural world. In Smart's theology God himself adopts passions in order to better administer his creation.


Thou God of goodness and of glory, hear!
Thou, who to lowliest minds dost condescend,
Assuming passions to enforce thy laws.
Adopting jealousy to prove thy love. [23]


God's play-acting extends even to the oak of the "Immensity" poem, which "His lordly head uprears, and branching arms/Extends," [24] inviting the conclusion that God is in it four lines later.


Wherefore, ye objects terrible and great,
Ye thunders, earthquakes, and ye fire-fraught wombs
Of fell volcanoes, whirlwinds, hurricanes,
And boiling billows hail! in chorus join
To celebrate and magnify your Maker,
Who yet in works of a minuter mould
Is not less manifest, is not less mighty. [25]


But the various parts of the creation celebrate their maker in specific ways. The magnet, for instance, has a sympathetic love and "wooes the yielding needle,” [26] the bees are a model of organization, [27] and the bird teaches the poet his craft, not simply by his melody, but by the fact that he is praising God. [28] Man must take instruction from the brutes. [29] Nature proves God in its existence, in its patterns and designs, and in its individual events which, when invested with a human nature, illustrate religious truths. Love of the creator and the creation (the two are virtually identical in Smart) as a moving emotional force, opens the door to any genuine religious response and to the entire train of Christian virtues.

Outside of these terms, knowledge itself is irrelevant to man's condition and, in fact, really impossible in a meaningful sense. Smart's vignettes of vain fools (in many poems) include not only the sot and the money-grubber, but also the secular scholar and scientist. His prototype of the fruitless researcher is Newton who, for all his disclaimers and pious theological tracts, persists as a demon of mechanistic determinism for several eighteenth century writers. [30] Smart significantly referred to Newton as , [31] a curious term to use in denouncing a strictly scientific investigator. The word, of course, means contrary to reason, which turns the wheel full circle with the poet, the representative of inspiration, vision, and the irrational, accusing the physicist in effect with sloppy thinking.

Smart is quite serious and will document the charge, but the word carries other meanings of equally great importance. In a religious context it would refer to a negation of God's creative  both in the creation of the world and the figure of Jesus Christ and for the poet, the craftsman of the word, it has further connotative weight. Ignorant of religion and art, Newton is incompetent to judge the world around him, since he will inevitably fall into the same sort of error as those who call the energetic, driving patterns of behavior of the animals instinct, [32] while for Philomela, or perfect nature, “Her science is the science of her God," [33] since "Knowledge gave her golden key to Israel's king.” [34]

The attack on Newton may be traced through the course of Smart's career, beginning in light but pointed scoffing at a well-known figure who enjoyed at the time something of a vogue. In the magazine he edited and, in large part, wrote The Midwife, Smart has an article entitled “The Necessity for keeping one's Friend in one's Pocket, demonstrated on the Principles of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy,” [35] which is more a satire on avarice and false friendship than on Newton, but which, coming after the attack on Newton in “Omniscience,” indicates the thematic sublimation that is typical of the magazine articles. [36]

A footnote to the Hilliad, though similarly facetious, is more suggestive. “Music flows. 'Persons of most genius,’ says the Inspector, Friday Jan. 26, Number 587 ‘have in general been the fondest of music; sir Isaac Newton was remarkable for his affection for harmony; he was scarce ever missed at the beginning of any performance, but. was seldom seen at the end of it.’ And indeed of this opinion is M. Macularius; and he further adds, that if sir Isaac was still living, it is probable he would be at the beginning of the Inspector's next song at Cuper's, but that he would not be at the end of it, may be proved to a mathematical demonstration, though Hillario takes so much pleasure in beating time to them himself,..." [37] It does not seem an imposition on the text to read the note as ridicule of Newton's real disharmony, for all the smooth operations of his clockwork universe, arising from his distance from God, here represented (as with the country squire) as a dead ear to music. The obscurity of perception which prevents his simple appreciation of earthly music, casts doubt on his ability to call the celestial tune.

The real argument in this early skirmishing is centered in Smart's immanent God, who informs every corner of the world, revealing himself in patterns and emotions. If Newton perceived some rudiments of the first (neglecting the interpretation), he missed the second altogether. In what may be direct reaction to Newton's Opticks, Smart describes the phenomenon of refraction in anthropomorphic terms. “E'er yet Refraction learned her skill to paint,/And bend athwart the clouds her beauteous bow.” [38] Here refraction is an accommodation of light, God’s most glorious work, to a level meaningful to man as a witness of its maker in the rainbow. Smart's view is more accurate to his experience and more efficient in conveying human information; a scientifically described event is virtually without use except in technology.

The issue between the two is essentially epistemological: what does one really see and what does one create in sight? Smart talked about the clarity of his vision and the obscurity of others’, but, of course, his vision was highly personal, as was, one would guess, Newton's. Before continuing my discussion of their differences I must call attention to Smart's attitudes on two related themes: the subjectivity of experience and the balance between reason and imagination.

Any visionary or symbolic view of the world will be more likely to be called subjective than a self-consciously scientific position. Again with this question the reader sees the wandering ironies of the magazine work suggesting themes that reach full development in the prophetic thunder of the Jubilate Agno. In the introduction to his book of wit and epigrams An Index to Mankind he takes for his guide Pope's dictum “The proper study of Mankind is man,” [39] and states, “I call a man home to his own Heart, to make him reflect on himself, by viewing as in a mirror what he is.” He continues to an explicit declaration of principle. “If a man goes wrong, pursuing money or position, he is lost to that which is the Essence of all Reality, HIMSELF.”

Application ranges from the simple and trivial, “The Pleasure of Eating lies not in what you eat, but in yourself: Therefore Exercize makes Delicacies,” to full-blown spiritualism, sometimes to the point of magic and the occult, in Jubilate Agno, such as his solution to a problem that Berkeley also discussed, the apparently increased size of the sun and moon when they are near the horizon.

He recognized at the same time that there are a number of realities which one must reconcile before asserting a private vision as literal truth. Smart is often commended for a peculiar directness of expression gained by identifying object and analogy; that is, he saw no difference between the object as it appears to the scientific observer and the object's imaginative corollary. [40] While this is true, it does not mean that he was confused. In his fable "Reason and Imagination," he represents the view of science (reason) and imagination (poetry) and also the divine overview. He addresses Kenrick, to whom the fable is dedicated.


Thou reconcil'st with Euclid's scheme,
The tow'ring flight, the golden dream,
With thoughts at once restrain*d and free.
* * * *
Let not a fondness for the sage,
Decoy thee from a brighter page,
THE BOOK OF SEMPITERNAL BLISS,
The lore where nothing is amiss,
The truth to full perfection brought;
Beyond the sage's deepest thought:
Beyond the poet's highest flight. [41]


Both the poetic and scientific view are fallible, and even a successful mingling of the two is of little importance when compared to the certainty and urgency of the religious view. (Imagination is portrayed entirely apart from religion, indicating Smart’s conviction that his own work was derived from the infallible divine source.) In this light the metaphors and symbols of the early poetry which become concrete fact in the Jubilate may reasonably be supposed to have been literally intended from the first. [42]

Smart's epistemology grows directly from his acceptance of a symbolic, spiritual reality as final, as the most real. D.J. Greene, in an excellent essay, [43] points out the close affinity between Smart's position and Berkeley's. He notes numerous passages in Berkeley as close parallels for Smart's implicit ideas. “The red and the blue which we see are not real colors, but certain unknown motions and figures which no man ever did or ever can see.” The skepticism is not entirely acceptable, however, for all men have a strong faith in their sensory impressions. Berkeley goes on to deliver a rhapsody on beautiful and affecting sights and sounds (the most convincing) and is finally forced to conclude, “There must be some other mind in which they exist.” The axiom “esse est percipi” is not fully satisfying to him, until one posits a mind of God, in effect, restoring the material world, but as a subjective experience of the divine. Not only does reality essentially exist in an image in God's mind, but it exists also in the images in men’s minds. Impressions, then, are the final truth for man. In another passage Berkeley concludes, “I say that there are no causes, properly speaking, but spiritual, nothing active but spirit.”

Though there seems to be no evidence that Smart was familiar with Berkeley, the similarity is clear, even to the point of imagery. Though an image for the ineffable might seem to be arbitrary always, both Berkeley and Smart chose movement and energy as the most appropriate. Placing final reality for men on relativistic experiential grounds in a way out-materializes the materialist. The man who thinks the sun to be the size of a guinea and the man who sees it as the heavenly host singing “Holy, holy, holy!” are on equal ground, and so is the scientist standing with them who claims that it is enormous and 93.000,000 miles away, because each has only his impressions as evidence. If any distinctions could be drawn, the scientist would be the weaker for his dependence on abstractions like perspective and measurement, [44] and the mystic would be the stronger for his claim to direct experience of the God who controls the system. Thus Smart agreed with Berkeley that if the sun seems larger near the horizon, the most reasonable conclusion would be that it is, indeed larger.

Smart, of course, went much further than Berkeley. He anthropomorphized the sun to explain why it was larger. He read the whole book of spiritual reality and proclaimed his findings with a frightening fervor. Later 1 will demonstrate the assumption and elaboration of a theory very like Berkeley's in the Jubilate, but for the minor poetry, it illuminates the living, spiritual world that Smart already inhabited and the odd certainty of his pronouncements. The natural world and the spiritual are one, and the one is directed in every part toward God.


IV. Smart’s Self-Image

It was not just in his keen perception of spiritual reality (the images or ideas of God's mind) that Smart considered himself close to God. Image systems associated with the poet and his God are strikingly similar. The idea, based on man’s creation in the image of God, could be more traditional than heretical. Cudworth, for example, said that the good man was divinity incarnate and that Christians who lead holy lives are mystical Christs. [45] Smart's approach to a Christ-like identity came by two related routes: as a poet (a singer-creator-prophet) and as a humble and persecuted man. Each role functions in Smart’s poetry apart from identifying the voice of the poems

Smart defined his nature as a poet and a creator partially through the image of impression or stamping out as a creative process, an idea that may have been fixed in his mind by his close association with John Newbery's printing shop. Far from imitation, the impression is a forming anew; it is bringing order from chaos and an image from a blank tablet. In “Eternity” Smart speaks of God's making the world in innumerable systems "All stampt with thine uncounterfeited seal," [46]

In the introduction to his verse translation of Horace (1767) he speaks in similar terms of his own technique as a poet. "Impression, then, is a talent or gift of Almighty God, by which a Genius is empowered to throw an emphasis upon a word or sentence in such a wise that it cannot escape any reader of sheer good sense, and true critical sagacity.” [47] The traditional comparison between poet and God could be explicit only on one side for the public Smart. He was not willing to proclaim his role as prophet, much less as deity, until madness had robbed him of mental inhibitions, but he frequently spoke of God as a poet. In "Eternity" God is “GREAT POET OF THE UNIVERSE,” “Architect,” “Artificer,” etc. In "Immensity" he is Artificer divine. "His name is written on every atom of the creation which “shot to existence” only “at th’inspiring word.” [48]

Though the word forms things by defining them and giving them existence apart from chaos, song is necessary to bring life. Smart links the role of poet as singer to the idea of the entire creation, by its very existence, constituting a song of praise to God. The motif of the song bringing life appears in three different forms: as God awakening life with the divine word, as one aspect of the creation awakening the rest, or as the poet singing life into the world. In order to strengthen his self-images Smart worked in terms of earlier figures with whom he associated himself, thus lending credence to what amounted to a self-glorification by masking it in antiquity and diverting attention from his own time. For the life-giving singer the figures are David, Orpheus, and, in one poem, Purcell. These associations lent authority and legitimacy to Smart’s artistic preoccupations.


Orpheus, for so the Gentiles call'd thy name,
Israel's sweet psalmist, who alone could wake
Th’inanimate motion. [49]


At the opening of “Immensity” Smart asks only that his glory, lute, and harp be roused, [50] In the “Hop-Garden” a David-figure appears as a rustic swain. [51] The “Ode on Saint Cecilia's Day” states generally of music that it can “lifeless rocks to motion start” and make “trees dance lightly from the bower,” [52] Purcell can “sing the subject into life.” [53] The divine analogy is the music of the spheres which constantly plays to maintain motion in the universe. [54]

It has already been seen that, at the very least, Smart made himself the spokesman for man and nature in their praise of God, a role associated with some of the most important elements of the prophetic, almost messianic voice that would later preoccupy him. In the works under consideration he displays another typically prophetic trait: an enthusiastic nationalism combined with an equally enthusiastic universalism. For the Biblical prophets Israel is a chosen nation, although (for most of the prophets) there is one God for all the world. [55] He assigns homely virtues to the English, plain speech, plain clothes, hard work, in contrast to the continent and France in particular which he calls effete and dandified. [56] The dichotomy extends even to drinks. The English hop (which makes “buxom beer” [57]) shall exact homage from the French vine. [58] His caricatures of the nations enable him to work out his nationalism in terms of dedication to nature. “For simple nature hates abuse,/And plainness is the dress of Use,” [59] the tobacco-pipe tells the bag-wig. The theme of nationalism appears in other, more serious forms, as in the reference to Europe as “the seat of grace and christian excellence,” [60] but the whole system is dominated by the far more frequent (and logical) assertions of unity and brotherhood, [61] such as the opening lines of “The English Ball Log, Dutch Mastiff, and Quail.” “Are we not all of race divine,/Alike of an immortal line?” [62]

Within the context of his national group, Smart associated himself with famous warriors as an Englishman and as a servant of the Lord. [63] Besides reinforcing the vigor and militancy of his poetry, this identity with the host of Biblical soldiers supported him in what he thought to be his persecution. He did not lack for contemporary heroes, though, addressing poems to Admiral Pocock and General Draper (who had gained fame for having captured Havana and having taken Manila, respectively). Smart glorifies them as Christian heroes, a designation which may fail to convince the modern reader but which, for Smart, represented the continuity into his own time of the Biblical line of noble and active virtue. In “Goodness” he calls on Europe to assume the armor of the Lord, and in his “Epistle to John Sheratt, Esq.” Smart imagines himself an embattled ship, saved only by tactical maneuvering. [64]

The fact is that Smart often identified with embattled figures. Just as the Biblical prophets are not recognized in their own country, he thought himself unreasonably ignored or actively set upon. One is surprised to hear that when Admiral Pocock returned after his triumph, he was ignored.

And yet how silent his return
With scarce a welcome to his place –
Stupidity and unconcern,
Were settled in each voice and on each face.
As private as myself he walk'd along, ,
Unfavoured by a friend, unfollow'd by the throng. [65]

In the “Ode to General Draper" the statement of the same theme is grotesquely elaborated. Smart -devotes four long stanzas out of ten to a description of what would have happened had the hero met no public adulation. The list goes on in the most unlikely way: he would have had no statues or paintings of himself, no honorary degree, no salute with guns and fireworks, no toasts, no name in fashionable society, etc. The heroes, however, do not care, because they as Christian patriots “for the general welfare stand or fall,/And have no sense of self, and know no dread at all,” [66] These are among the more indirect indications of a theme that recurs very frequently in Smart.

One needs no clinical training to observe and describe a paranoia involving delusions of both persecution and grandeur and finally centered in the religious terms of a martyr complex. Only scattered suggestions of the theme of persecution can be found in the early poems. The subject of Smart’s “On an Eagle,” written during his Cambridge years, is clearly an image for Smart himself. This “imperial bird” has been caged “in this servile cell/ Where Discipline and Dullness dwell.” He is “so grov'ling! once so great!” “Thou type of wit and sense confin'd,/ Cramp'd by the oppressors of the mind,” “while more than mathematic gloom./Envelopes all around!” [67] The poem is in part, of course, a jeu d 'esprit, and every undergraduate can sympathize.
Again, in the poem “To The Reverend and Learned Dr. Webster,” Smart assumes that Webster's Christian virtue will attract envy and malice, but only a snail coterie of admirers. He outlines the inversion of values in modern times in which the evil are rewarded and the good ignored. The high-spirited witty pleasantry in “The Author Apologizes to a Lady for His being a Little Man” seems somewhat ominous in this light, particularly in view of the reappearance of the theme in Jubilate Agno. [68] Smart frequently depicted small animals defending themselves against great enemies. Probably also to the point is the dominance of themes of persecution in the Biblical prophets and the Psalms. [69]

This point completes my survey of the major themes of Smart's minor work. [70] They often operate as assumptions that underlie the meaning of the text rather than as outright assertions. The interrelationship of the images and themes is complex, resulting in a coherent, if eccentric, vision. The vindication of the significance of what may seem a cumbersome and unlikely progression of ideas is in their importance in Jubilate Agno.




V. The Jubilate Agno

The intricacy with which the themes of the minor poetry inform the Jubilate Agno, in certain passages, at least, may be illustrated with a single line.


Let David bless with the Bear — The beginning of victory in the Lord -- to the Lord the
perfection of excellence -- Hallelujah from the heart of God, and from the hand of
the artist inimitable, and from the echo of the heavenly harp in sweetness
magnifical and mighty. [71]


David cites his slaying of the bear to convince Saul that he is capable of facing the challenge of Goliath, evoking the Smartean image of the militant Christian warrior, here associated with David in the roles of soldier and hunter. Hunting images that represent much the same idea as the warrior images are common in Jubilate Agno, but are sometimes turned about so that Smart is the hunted beast. The hallelujah and the following clauses recall the themes of the artist as Orpheus, God as artist and music as harmony. Ambiguities: appear in the series God-nature-man: which plays the heavenly harp? Which is the artist inimitable? They are nearly equivalent, in any event, but perhaps the best reading of the line is as one of the orderly progressions of which Smart was so fond in which the first would be only God himself, the second the man as an artist and the third, the whole of nature. The echo may then be understood in terms of the image of impression; the word of God having stamped nature with its reality, it is, in a way, a repetition, or concrete echo. At any rate, the line nicely illustrates both the continuity and development of thematic material in Jubilate Agno. Many elements reappear, extended, changed, or evolved in ways that one could not expect from the earlier works alone. As well, then, as an aid to explication, the patterns which I have traced in the minor poetry defines a contrast with Jubilate Agno, partly in terms of sanity and madness, but more importantly in poetic and philosophica1 speculation.

Commentators on the manuscript of Jubilate Agno, in the five fragments detailed by Mr. Bond, is, tend to call it “a marvel” or, more simply, a remarkable document. It has been described as little more than a mere diary, a spiritual doodle-pad, with which Smart occupied himself in order to pass the dull days at the asylum. It has been established that, as he approached the end, both of his confinement and of the manuscript, he wrote a regular one line a day as a device for keeping track of the time, and it is also known that the last entry corresponds with his last day in the mad-house, following which he apparently thought no more of his work and certainly never considered publishing it. To be sure, there passages of little interest to anyone and many of the transitions are so abrupt as to indicate a total carelessness with regard to structure that casts doubt on the value of the whole as an artistic production. However it is hardly more discursive and eccentric than, say, Pound's Cantos (which this age has half-digested, at least) and the reader finds many passages that demand no apologist or special interest to evoke attention and admiration. Whatever the verdict may on the whole once it is as fully understood as possible, writers after Stead have found general agreement that it is neither a mere curiosity, nor is its primary significance either biographical or as a motherlode for the poetic inspiration of the Song to David. For the immediate purposes it is especially useful as a source for liberated thought and expression; the poet in his confinement felt greater freedom to make explicit what his earlier had only suggested.

His breakdown and incarceration may well have prevented him from producing other poems of the kind he had done before, perhaps reaching new heights, but the unfortunate conditions that led him to be locked up also made possible the composition of poem that was dramatically innovative in both form and content. All social conventions, including the conventions of literature, are more easily set aside in solitude (and all the more in a mad-house). Further Smart would naturally proceed with greater independence in a work that he thought (at least after the first fragment) would never reach eyes other than his own. This, besides the doors that were opened (though many, too, were closed) by the disjointed and associative mental frame that one might reasonably guess accompanied Smart's mental healthy crisis, allowed him to proceed without timidity or hindrance. The same factors that formed his greatest failures made possible some of his most beautiful poetry. The poem's fragments are well enough distinguished from one another to suggest, as most informative and convenient, a reading and analysis of each separately before general conclusions are possible. This method will orient the reader in the over-all structure of the poem at the same tine as it furthers my own specific aim of indicating continuity with the earlier work.

Smart wrote during his college years that “free souls, fed with divine repast” should “taste the present, [72] and Fragment A, in the terms of the metaphor, is a veritable feast. Drawing from a long list of popular books of natural history and travel, from his classical sources and particularly from the Bible, he pairs animals with scriptural characters and derives a moral or image from each in the typical line of the fragment. Building in this way, he constructs a hymn of thanksgiving, setting down concretely and in great detail the universal praise that he had earlier suggested, in which each part of the creation (in this section, each beast) plays a distinct role.
His earlier use of this idea had seemed a poetic conceit, or a momentary enthusiasm, but it was potentially possible as an article of religious faith. Whereas before natural patterns and instincts were a adduced as a proof of God, and certain animals were images for illustrating moral precepts, now he exults in the very definition of each animal as a type. He justifies his technique:


Let Mishael bless with the Stoat -- the praise of the Lord gives propriety to all things. [73]


Thus, in a way, definition itself may be seen as evidence that everything has a place in a divine design. The animal may be merely described and commended.


Let Chalcol praise with the Beetle, whose life is precious in the sight of God. [74]


Or the implication of design may be more pronounced.


Let Abiathar with a Fox praise the name of the Lord who ballances craft against strength
and skill against number. [75]


By ordering natural history in terns of praise Smart can grasp it as a meaningful expression of the divine. There are a number of ways in which the elements of the line formula may be related. The Biblical figure may be naturally associated with an animal in a story that has a moral of its own.


Let Abraham present a Ram, and worship the God of his Redemption. [76]


The association may be original with Smart but follow the Biblical association of the character or animal, [77] or the natural animal itself may inspire the line apart from scripture. For some lines there seems little or no relation at all between man, beast, and theme.


Let Shallum with the Frog bless God for the meadows of Canaan, the fleece, the milk and
the honey. [78]


Appropriately the first named in this microcosm of the creation is Noah.


Let Noah and his company approach the throne of Grace, and do homage to the Ark of
their Salvation. [79]


“Salvation obviously refers to the successful weathering of the flood, but Biblical typology regularly associates it with Christ’s redemptive powers, especially here since it seems identified with the throne of grace, hinting at the conflation of God and his creation. The idea is strengthened by the deliberate pun on the Ark as a ship and the Ark of the Covenant.

Let the Levites of the Lord take the Beavers of the brook alive into the Ark of the
Testimony. [80]

Bond follows Stead in calling the line confused, but there seems little doubt of its pointed intentionality. The object which contained God and that which contained the multiplicity of animals are identified. Except for a few habitual nods to Christ and salvation there is nothing in the fragment inconsistent with a pantheistic joy in the things of this world and this life. Though it would be wrong to suspect Smart of conscious heterodoxy, the spirit of his religion has very emphatically taken this direction.

A new image system which appears very frequently throughout the whole poem is a group centered around the ideas of movement, variety, and intricacy. This springs from the same sensibility and plays somewhat the same role as the earlier images of swarms, multitudes, and liquefaction, and both imply praise expressed in abundant vitality.


Let Ahimelech with the Locust praise God from the tyranny of numbers. [81]

Let Jeduthun rejoice with the Woodlark, who is sweet and various. [82]


Probably part of the import of the identification of the two arks is in further developing the idea of Christ’s sweeping transformation of the Old Testament. The Ark of the Testimony had been rather forbidding with only a priestly caste allowed to approach it, and violators, even those ignorant of their crime, were struck dead on the spot, but now all creatures are contained within it. The priest has been changed from an official of the sacrifice into a servant of the “Lord and Giver of Life,” [83] and, as if to emphasize the universality of God's love, he includes animals that are not in the Bible at all (such as the beavers), and he calls the tortoise, who had been condemned under the old law as unclean, “food for praise and thanksgiving.” [84] He explains these changes in a later line.


Let Ebed-Melech bless with the Mantiger, the blood of the Lord is sufficient to do away
the offence of Cain, and reinstate the creature which is amerced. [85]


Whereas earlier the thrust of the redemption theme had been toward man, now Smart turns to the natural world, perhaps reflecting something of an alienation and escape from human society. Smart blesses a prodigious number of friends in the course of the poem, but nowhere does he generally rejoice in mankind, nor does he repeat his earlier visions of their universal salvation. The tone is already more personal, and alarming pathological tendencies are beginning to appear in half-concealed form.

A significant number of the animals of this section seem related as self-images to Smart’s persecution/grandeur complex. Low, ugly, or small animals find a glory in God that they never receive from men. Insects and reptiles are prominent in an unbalance that can only be explained in this way. Likewise, themes of defensiveness and solitude are common.


Let Samuel, the Minister from a child, without ceasing praise with the Porcupine, which
is the creature of defence a stands upon his arms continually. [86]

Let Nathan with the Badger bless God for his retired fame and privacy inaccessible to
Slander. [87]


An atmosphere of high tension between bipolar oppositions supports such attitudes. The animals have natural enemies identified with the Adversary as opponents to be outwitted. The challenge is immediate whereas in Smart's earlier works the devil had been very rarely, if at all, present. Here he is tricked by a rabbit and confused by a child. [88] Many of the other verges imply or state similar relationships, and maybe half imply some power struggle, but the rest are filled with the purest benedictions and the most ingenuous pleasure.

The tone of the warrior of the Lord, the voice of David before the battle, appears in the many lists of Old Testament generals among the names, the introduction of hunters, and the undirected ferocity of lines like the following.


Let Joshua praise with the Unicorn -- the swiftness of the Lord, and the strength of the
Lord, and the spear of the Lord mighty in battle.
Let Abishai bless with the Hyaena -- the terror of the Lord, and the fierceness of his
wrath against the foes of the King and of Israel. [89]


Smart begins to think of himself as a martyr, of giving himself up as a sacrifice just as Christ himself was a sacrifice for all men.


Let Savaran bless with the Elephant, who gave his life for hi s country that he might put
on immortality. [90]


As Devlin explains (his knowledge of the Apocrypha has cleared several obscurities), Savaran "occurs ... in the deutero-canonical book of Maccabees (I, vi, 43-46) where it is related how ‘Eleazar surnamed Savaran’ slew the elephant from beneath and was entombed by its fall: ‘Eleazar also surnamed Savaran . . . put himself in jeopardy, to the end that he might deliver his people and get himself a perpetual name.’” [91]

For all practical purposes the Fragment Bl abandons Smart’s plan to produce a new liturgy. Though he may have been referring to the Jubilate Agno when he wrote, “For I pray to the Lord Jesus to translate my MAGNIFICAT into verse and represent it,” [92] the concerns of the responsive "for" verses in this section are so personal and autobiographical, so “confessional” in the modern sense, that their author could not have considered them fit for publication. The "Let" and the "For" verses are usually closely related, with one either providing an example or metaphor for the other, or conditioning each other in a variety of ways. [93]

The fragment is best read in three major divisions. The verses 1-51 are a kind of manifesto stating Smart’s prophetic stand, now fully realized; 52-156 elaborate on his position adding genealogical and personal matter as documentation to substantiate his claim to the prophetic mantle and to suggest his models in the past, and also including some autobiographical material that seems not to further the themes of the poem at all. From 157-258 (the end of the section), Smart takes off on a remarkable flight, a Smartean treatise on science in which he details a spiritual physics that challenges Newton on his own grounds.

He begins his ''here I stand" declaration with sonorous grandeur and a good deal of prophetic arrogance, echoing the words in which Savaran's self-sacrifice was described.


For I am not without authority in my jeopardy, which I derive inevitably from the glory
of the name of the Lord. [94]


A few lines later he uses the Biblical formula for describing a sacrifice to apply to himself.


For my existimation is good even amongst the slanderers and my memory shall arise a
sweet savour unto the Lord. [95]

There is no longer any doubt in Smart’s mind that he has been especially selected as “the Reviver of ADORATION amongst ENGLISH-MEN.” [96]

For I have adventured myself in the name of the Lord and he hath mark'd me for his own. [97]

The self-image as one in a line of prophets directly stemming from the Bible leads to an outrageous fantasy.

For if Pharaoh had known Joseph, he would have blessed God & me for the illumination
of the people. [98]


Summoning the strength of Biblical language he can regard himself with powerful and lyrical pathos in some of the poem’s strongest lines.


For I am come home again, but there is nobody to kill the calf or pay the muslck. [99]

For in my nature I quested for beauty, but God, God. hath sent me to the sea for pearls. [100]


For the first time he feels confident enough in his Lord that he directly indicts his persecutors. [1-1] He assigns the cause of their enmity as charitably as he can to ignorance. Here one cannot discount the possibility of rumors about his wife's fidelity, [102] a theme that will grow in Smart's mind as the poem goes on.

Again animals that are lowly and despised are found in the “let” verses, while others provide examples of subtlety, animation, or swarms. [103]

Smart formally assumes the prophetic mantle in a ritual repudiation of his earthly inheritance in favor of the complete and exclusive fatherhood of God, a decision that recalls Christ's giving up his mortal parents in the temple. He begins to perform traditional prophetic roles: cautioning his nation in its governmental policies, giving moral instruction and predicting the apocalypse. He calls England to peace, “that all the guns may be nail'd up save such as are for the rejoicing days,” [104] commends the postal service, and recommends civic improvements for London, finally declaring himself
"in behalf of LIBERTY, PROSPERITY and_NO EXCISE.” [105] A line like the following may seem a proof of madness in its comically bathetic triviality.

For I bless God for the Postmaster General & all conveyancers of letters under his care
especially Allen & Shelvock. [106]

But it seems more profitably read both as a fulfillment of the prophet's obligation to his nation and as another form of Smart's preoccupation with complex harmonious movement within a system. In the large numbers of letters moving about in an
orderly way one sees an image not unlike that of circulation of blood or sap, [107] The vision of a grand system within apparent chaos fascinated Smart and for him stood as an image of the cosmos itself. For Smart the garden was an image of simultaneous order and randomness, and he recalls the Eden-like memories of his childhood on a country estate with great nostalgia and prophesies a similar environment for the London of the future. [108] One thinks of Blake's New Jerusalem.

The earlier themes of his affinity with Christ, his prophetic and warrior-like nature, and his English nationalism are guarantors for him of his spiritual credentials. Following the example of the Biblical genealogies, he traces his line back to Christ [109] and then to Abraham. [110] In between he includes Junius Agricola, [111] the Roman governor-general of England whom he identifies with St. George, [112] considering both to be Warrior-Martyrs whose names happily have the same meaning of farmer. The association allows him to imagine himself slaying the dragon. [113] In a more puzzling association, he adds to the associative chain, identifying Agrippa with Agricola. [114] He translates his own given name to associate himself with Simon of Cyrene [115] as a direct servant of Christ and a fellow victim of undeserved suffering. He also takes an interest in his descendants beyond that of any indigent and imprisoned father. [116] He feels confidence that the next generation will carry on the work and further glorify the name of the Lord. [117] In these and other ways, Smart was modeling his acts on his reading of the Biblical prophets.

The idea of reading all nature in a divine light was unexceptionable as long as Smart noted instances of God’s design and even when he used the specific and various bestial characteristics as praise, but his spiritual physics (despite its debt to Berkleyan rhetoric) seems quite fantastic, almost magical. Cudworth had described the physics of heaven and hell and had developed extended metaphors based on the movements of the heavenly bodies, [118] but Smart takes the analogy for the literal truth and discusses not only general principles of movement and force, but also contemporary problems and current issues in the field. Earlier he had used refraction and magnetism as images, when the reader might assume he was forcefully asserting only a rhetorical truth. He now positively declares, “nothing is so real as that which is spiritual,” [119] He calls fire and air “spirits,” [120] but adds that all that exists is centered in spirit [121] and life.


For MATTER is the dust of the Earth, every atom of which is the life.
For MOTION is as the quantity of life direct, & that which hath not motion, is resistance. [122]


This sufficiently widens the definition of spirit to include everything in the creation, an inference that Smart will take pains to justify.

Since the world is, in his view, structured with such vitality in every part by an omniscient God, who had man foremost in mind, each part also has a message.


For EARTH which is an intelligence hath a voice and a propensity to speak in all her
parts. [123]


This conviction gives added strength to the series of praise by definition; simply by being itself an entity cries out the word of God.


For a man speaks HIMSELF from the crown of his head to the sole of his feet.
For a LION roars HIMSELF compleat from head to tail.
For all these things are seen in the spirit which makes the beauty of prayer. [124]


As Smart offers fanciful explanations of tides, centrifugal and centripetal force, capillary action, electricity, the suction pump, and many other phenomena, his utter disregard for conventional received ideas makes him seem wildly eccentric. Stead notes a similarity between Smart's theories and those of Derham's influential Astro Theology and Physico Theology, [125] and many others writers set forth similar claims, though in a more modest and orderly way. For Smart it was the final logical reduction of his lifelong belief in the immanency of God’s word and his tendency to anthropomorphize nature.
Smart's early conviction that all was to be adored, even earthquakes and floods, with the unique exception of man's error must have struck some of his readers as somewhat facile, but in Jubilate Agno he confronts the problem of evil again and suggests a solution that at once represents a totally different idea, though grown from his original view. [126] Smart rarely uses the devil's name, [127] preferring him the adversary instead, a name which connotes a negative principle, “For Adversity above all other is to be deserted of the grace of God.” [128] Whereas he had refused to mention the damned in his judgment scene in “Eternity,” he now explicitly doubts eternal damnation.


For there is a forlorn hope ev'n for impenitent sinners because the furnace itself must be
the crown of eternity. [129]

For HELL is without eternity from the presence of the almighty God. [130]

For the furnace itself shall come up at the last according to Abraham’s vision. [131]


In Abraham's vision in Genesis, mentioned by Smart a number of times in thoughts almost exactly like the one quoted, the furnace is a pledge from God, proof that the Jews will be redeemed and reach the Promised Land in the end. Smart applies the pledge to the damned, in a typically bold inversion substituting the wicked for God's chosen people out of his own unbounded generosity.
He deals with the problem of evil itself similarly, incorporating it into the one grand unity.


For he hath fixed the earth upon arches and pillars, and the flames of hell flow under it. [132]

For Resistance is not of GOD but he -- hath built his works upon it. [133]

For Eternity is a creature & is built upon Eternity . [134]


The world seems in these rather cryptic lines to be completely unified with evil as a part of the structure, a necessary support, part of the underpinnings of the universe, the Whole of which is operating in harmony. Smart had. written in his “Immensity” poem that God shines with perfect radiance in heaven, but he added that one should also know "that nor in Presence or in Pow'r/ Shines he less perfect here; ‘tis man’s dim eye/ That makes th’obscurity. He is the same,/ A1ike in all his Universe the same.” [135] This acceptance of evil as part of God, along with his leanings toward pantheism, and his almost blasphemous pride are all elements in his thought that the reader must assume he developed to a large extent outside his conscious mind (Smart was never one for critical self-analysis, anyway), and which he never suspected brought him to the very edge of heresy, if not further.

He made even more unorthodox statements leaping the gap from mysticism to occult magic, but never without a basis in his system. He claims that flowers have inhabitants and, in fact, that Jesus blessed them, but it is clear that he is speaking of the individual genius or unique quality of the flowers and of their lives as part of the divine word. [136]


For the flowers have their angels even the words of God’s Creation. [137]


The idea is not so far distant from the mandrake of his own fable addressing the vain I squire with righteous indignation, saying:


For the prayers of good man are therefore visible to second-sighted persons. [138]


Only after having established the spirituality of all things, corporeal or not, and the subjectivity of vision.
Smart thought of sound as particularly spiritual and of music as its greatest height. Having used music before as a symbol of the harmony of the universe and as its enlivening force, [139] he now states the bases for these images in powerfully direct terms. Within the physics section of Bl he includes a digression on music in which he describes heaven as an orchestra and God as a great harpist (like David and Orpheus). Finally, he explicitly associates music with the creative divine word.


For GOD the father Almighty plays upon the HARP of stupendous magnitude and
melody.
For innumerable Angels fly out at every touch and his tune is a work of creation. [140]


The angels of this line are, like the angels of the flowers, simply the types of the earthly objects. Smart, however, is running out of energy at this point, and he begins to almost arbitrarily assign significances. Maintaining the oracular tone that was at first consistent with his content, he mixes the profound images I have just described with the trivial, such as colloquial advice on the best strings to use for certain instruments. While such lines do serve the purpose of hammering away at the non-exclusionary nature of his concerns and his vision (in the last extremity, either tragic insanity or mystical profundity, everything is of equal importance, [141] at the same time they present a pitiable image of his mental disintegration and prefigure the carelessly random resignation of the last pages of the manuscript.

He restates the theme of Christ's transformation of the Old Testament in his familiarly sweeping terms, contrasting the absolute negation of Ecclesiastes’ stoicism as the highest pre-Christian philosophy with the complete affirmation of Christ.


For Solomon said vanity of vanities vanity of vanities all is vanity.
For Jesus says verify of verities verity of verities all is verity. [142]


Christ's statement (in the present tense) is completely unqualified, not even presented as love or mercy, but as an endorsement without reservation or exception, “All that is, is true,” and the reader can only infer, if only from the energy of the line, that, all is good as well.

The progressive disintegration in the poem's structure continues and accelerates in Fragment B2 in which lines and passages succeed one another with very little justification. Smart sets himself orderly projects in interpreting the universe and methodically carries them out, including comparatively less information for the critic as the poet's mind begins to relax into unambitious and almost meaningless occupations. He performs two exercises on the alphabet, traces modern counties to their progenitors among the Biblical tribes, assigns virtues to the planets, etc. [143] His nationalism, still present despite his universalism, has centered on the French whom he identifies with the Moabites, and he indulges in innuendo against his wife whom he identifies with both because of her Roman Catholicism. But the break-down of order not only allows a fall into randomness and pettiness but also clears the way for candid statements of several philosophical concepts on which his poetry is based, which until this point were not fully explicit.

Induction and deduction are equally relevant because God is immanent in man as well as in the world.


For the Argument A PRIORI is GOD in every man's CONSCIENCE.
For the Argument A POSTERIORI is God before every man’s eyes. [144]

For the Life of God is in the body of man and his spirit in the Soul. [145]


Repudiating Locke he comments “For an idea is the mental image of an object,” [146] and man cannot be without God because ideas such as that of the divine are innate, a part of the structure of man. In “Immensity” he had found God's signature everywhere as evidence of the great design. In Jubilate Agno he finds it literally everywhere in the form of the Hebrew letter Lamed, which Smart thinks visibly and physically present on every item of the creation as the emblem of God's idea which constitutes its being. Distinctions between things are a direct reflection of the differences in their divine ideas. [147]


For there is a model of every beast of the field in the height.
For they are all intelligences & all angels of the living God. [148]

For in the divine Idea this Eternity is compleat & the Word is a making many more. [149]


The idea that the entire universe is an idea in the mind of God is an almost perfect Berkeleyan conclusion and one that gives new force to Smart's image of stamping. The image appears twice in this section, [150] once as God's stamp and once as Smart's. His interest in uniqueness, then, grows from the idea that God's stamp defines by bringing something out of nothing, an emblem from a blank page, paralleling his own technique in writing.

I have already noted the tendency in Jubilate Agno to renew old images by considering them literal and concrete. In this fragment Smart resumes his light imagery with the original (and conventional) connotations. Here the identification of God with light is so strong that he extends it to shadows (which he says are of Satanic origin) and eclipses (the operations of the devil). Again, though, having condemned shadows, he then inverts this meaning, referring to them as a pledge from God of the time when there will be no darkness. [151] Having condemned eclipses, [152] he then says that they are totally Christ’s. [153]
In the C Fragment, he revives the image of Orpheus with the novel idea that he played by blowing upon the strings.


For this will affect every thing that is sustaind by the spirit, even every thing in nature. [154]


This recalls the image of the Aeolian harp in the previous fragment. As the harp of God played by the breath of God, its improvement presages better times, just as David’s harp suggests that “it will be better for England and all the world in a season.” [155] This close analogy hints, though not certainly, that perhaps David (or Smart, his modern counterpart) will be the instrument by which God improves the world and brings eventually the apocalypse, a messianic function that would complete the work of the first Christ.

Apart from this suggestion the fragment has little of interest or relevance. The relationship between the "let” and the “for” verses has broken down, and Smart pursues more occult recreation: another alphabet exercise, an explanation of the secret meaning of numbers, etc. He also proclaims some authentic prophesies, predictions of the future. Most are very general, describing an increased sense of holiness and God's presence among the people, or idiosyncratic -- an extended passage dealing with the horns that men once had, which they lost by sin, and which will return.
The D Fragment is much calmer. Though it has very little information (Smart was clearly using his manuscript as a device to keep track of the days by this time), its lines suggest resignation and, if respite from the fevered religious and personal outcries of the first four fragments is any indication, a return to sanity. His self-image has fallen from the heights of quasi-divinity to a modest ambition. “The Lord magnify the idea of Smart singing hymns on this day in the eyes of the whole University of Cambridge.” [156] Even his ominous, diabolical enemies were apparently trying now to obtain his release. [157] Smart was now just putting in time.


VI. Conclusion

Nearly all the wild-eyed fantasies of the Jubilate Agno grew from embryos in the minor work. The only real additions are derived from occult interpretation which itself is consistent with the spiritual and symbolic, visionary viewpoint that he established very early in his writing. His delineation of the world of spiritual reality that is a major theme of the Jubilate is a natural and direct extension of the images that fill the poems on the attributes of God. The self-image of the English prophet of song, beset by opposition, became less acceptable as it emerged while the poet struggled to cope with the problems of his life. Presented at first by hints, analogies, and indirections, it, flowered as a. sonorous voice speaking Biblical cadences until it sank at last in fatigue. The early ideas of unfallen nature, nature's god of life and growth, and man's ability to interpret the world did not vanish; they receded like the earth beneath a rising airplane. Throughout Smart’s career the reader finds images of light, music, and impression, and of the whole of nature raising praise to the Lord. Often he failed to distinguish between the imaginative and poetic on the one hand and the concrete and scientific on the other. For Smart conventional literary devices and personification became actors in a spiritual reality. His notions of God and Christ broadened until they became all-inclusive as he developed emphases toward which he had been drawn since the beginning.

He said of himself in the preface to his prose version of Horace, “The following version is the work of a man who has made poetry, perhaps too much, the business of his life. [158] But his ideas are strikingly modern in his insistence on subjectivity and in his congenial brand of pantheism; his personality, which is reflected on every page of his verse, is, for the most part charming and generous, if eccentric; and his vision is irresistibly attractive in its resounding affirmation.





1 Philomela’s story appears, for instance in the Book VI of Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

2 Christopher Smart, The Collected Poems, ed. by Norman Gallan (2 vol., London: Routledge & and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1949), I, 233. All references to Smart's poems are to this edition, the only one approaching completeness, (though it unfortunately has no line numbers), with the exception of Jubilate Agno, for which I have used Bond's edition, which is obviously preferable to Stead's for its revealing arrangement of the manuscript. Following references to Callan will use the form "Callan, vol., page no."

3 For instance, Burnett's idea that irregularities in the earth's surface provide evidence for its fall, paralleling man's. Whether expressed with such physical evidence or not, the conventional view regularly regarded nature as fallen.

4 Callan, I, 24I.

5 Callan, I, 242.

6 Callan, I. 235.

7 Callan, I, 147.

8 See also "On the Power of the Supreme Being."

9 The idea appears in "On the Goodness of the Supreme Being," Song to David, Jubilate Agno, "Hymn VI," "Hymn to the Supreme Being," and many other passages.

10 Callan, II, 797-798. See also beginning of "On the Immensity of the Supreme Being."

11 The title page announces that it contains, "all the Wit and all the Humour and all the Learning
and all the Judgement that has ever been or ever will be inserted in all the other magazines or
the magazine of magazines or the grand magazine of magazines or any other book whatsoever: so
that those who buy this book will need no other.”

12 See for instance "Ode on St. Cecilia's Day," 136.

13 Callan, I, 56.

14 It : may be .worthy of note that this image series is a Jungian symbol for the unconscious. Other examples are "A Noon-piece" (liquid rays), "On the Eternity of the Supreme Being" (swarming thoughts), "On the Power of the Supreme Being" (maze), "Ode on 3t . Cecilia's Day" (swimming orbs), "On an Eagle" (flowing stream), and "The Author Apologizes to a Lady for His being a Little Man" (pent-up spring).

15 Ralph Cudworth, Sermon to the House of Commons (New York, Facsimile Text Society, 1930).

16 Callan, I, 222.

17 Callan, I, 246.

18 Callan, I, 247.

19 Callan, II, 522.

20 Quoted in E. G. Ainsworth and Charles Noyes , "Christopher Smart: A biographical and critical study,” University of Missouri Studies XVIII, 4 (l943), 122.

21 Mrs. Mary Midnight [Christopher Smart], An Index to Mankind; or Maxims selected from the wits of all nations for the benefit of the present age and of posterity (London: J. Newbery, 1751), 16.

22 Callan, I, 237.

23 Callan, I, 244.

24 Callan, I, 229.

25 Callan, I, 238.

26 Callan, I, 238.

27 Callan, I., 235.

28 Callan, I, 227.

29 Callan, I, 235.

30 One thinks immediately of Blake. Perhaps it would be appropriate to note briefly a few of the many correspondences between the two poets: symbolic and visionary interpretation of the world, anthropomorphizing, charity and concern for the poor, prophetic arrogance, Blake's image of ”corrosion” and Smart's of “impression.” The two are quite comparable though their poetry is entirely different.

31 Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno, ed. by W. H. Bond (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1954), 113. Following references to Jubilate Agno will give the fragment name and line number, as here, B2, 650.
I quote from Jubilate Agno here because I must establish Smart's notion of the spiritual reality which is
not explicit earlier, though it operates as an implicit assumption.
Smart, incidentally, refused to use Greek accents, claiming, "For the ACCENTS are the invention of
the Moabites, who learning the GREEK tongue marked the words after their own vicious pronuntiation."
B2, 398.

32 Callan, I, 232.

33 Callan, I, 233.

34 Callan, I, 234.

35 Christopher Smart, The Midwife, III (1751), 28.

36 One finds, for instance, a humorous discussion of Bedlam and religious fervor, sympathy for those in debtor's prison, many concealed self-portraits, and lists of natural curiosities presented as amusing.

37 Callan, I, 180.

38 Callan, I. 234.

39 Index to Mankind, I , 3, 4, 66 for this quotation and the others in the paragraph.

40 Callan, I, xxx. He mentions several others who have pointed this out.

41 Callan, I, 82. Note there is no warning against devoting oneself too much to poetry.

42 If they were not, and the hostility to Newton strongly suggests that they were, the hypothesis of a spiritual reality as the final reality, would be a conclusion of Smart's later years alone, and the earlier intimations only mental preparation of the way.

43 E. J. Greene, "Smart, Berkeley, the Scientists and the Poets," JHI XIV, 3 (June, 1953) 327-352. The quotations and much of the argument of the next paragraph are derived from this essay .

44 Greene notes that Berkeley liked to call Newton and Locke mystics for their belief in substance which he thought "a vain conceit."

45 Cudworth, 34.

46 Callan, I, 224. The image reappears in Song to David. Similar images are the rustic’s footprint in the Hop-Garden (Callan, I, 159) and elsewhere.

47 Quoted by Ainsworth, 138. See also Jubilate Agno, B2, 404.

48 Callan, I, 223, 230.

49 Callan, I, 240.

50 Callan, I, 227.

51 Callan, I, 153.

52 Callan, I, 137.

53 Callan, I, 141.

54 There are several interesting and rather puzzling instances of interplay between nature and man that imply that each is influenced by the song of the other as well as by its own song. Nature imitates herself (Callan, I ,229), she mimics the poet (Callan, I, 137) and learns from him (Callan, I, 100). The idea of David forming nature and influencing the course of earthly events will appear in Jubilate Agno where the musical activity of God, nature, and poet will be very closely related.

55 For instance, in “The Tea-pot and Scrub-Brush,” “The Tobacco Pipe and Bag-Wig,” the end of the Hop-Garden, and the poems to the military heroes.

56 The hostility to France has biographical associations, as well. Smart felt an increasing suspicion of his wife's fidelity which became alternately resentment and tenderness in Jubilate Agno. He identified her with France because she was a Roman Catholic.

57 Callan, I, 144.

58 See the conclusion of the Hop-Garden.

59 Callan, I, 48.

60 Callan, I, 243.

61 Among the numerous other examples are the statements on nature's unity, the generosity of “The Horatian Canons of Friendship”, etc.

62 Callan, I, 59.

63Callan, I, 243.

64 Callan, I, 213.

65 Callan, I, 14.

66 Callan, I, 14.

67 Callan, I, 14. See also “The Fair Recluse,” and “The Power of Innocence.” These poems describe embattled women who, by their righteousness and defensive stance, suggest elements of Smart's self-image. Women were often considered, as in Clarissa, models of Christian fortitude under stress. It is probably coincidental that Smart used among his pen-names The Female Student, Nellie Pentweazle, and,
of course, Mary Midnight, whom he portrayed in his satirical entertainment, “The Old Woman's Oratory.”

68 Bond, Bl, 45.

69 David and Goliath would seem a natural theme, but it appears only once, deeply buried in a single line of Jubilate Agno.

70 I have omitted some of the humorous and occasional verse and the whole of the Song to David for reasons of space alone.

71 Bond, A, 41.

72 Callan, I, 222.

73 Bond, A, 79.

74 Bond, A, 38.

75 Bond, A, 24.

76 Bond, A, 5.

77 Bond, A, 32. The next reference is to Bond, A, 98.

78 Bond, A, 9.

79 Bond, A, 4.

80 Bond, A, 16.

81 Bond, A, 62.

82 Bond, A, 107.

83 Bond, A, 2. See also the satyr of Bond, A, 67. Likewise the satyr in the Bible (Isaiah 13:21), a sign of God’s departure, becomes in Jubilate Agno a legitimate member of God’s legion.

84

85 Bond, A, 89. This line removes Negroes from a subordinate position. Ebed-Kelech is the good Ethiopian.

86 Bond, A, 44.

87 Bond, A, 45. Other lines supporting the theme are A, 29; A, 38; A, 51; A, 54; A, 73; and elsewhere.

88 Bond, A, 22 and Bond, A, 90. For the latter Bond gives a slightly incorrect verse reference. It is in the 8th verse that the child is associated with the snake. The note should read Isaiah 11:8.

89 Bond, A, 26 and Bond, A, 35.

90 Bond A, 80.

91 Chrisopher Devlin, Poor Kit Smart, (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Press, 1927), 108. The incident was, of course, during a military campaign..

92 Bond, B1, 44.

93 For instance, Bond finds in the "let" verses of lines 46-51 an "undercurrent of bitterness" which rises to a climax against his family because of the stag (whose horns suggest cuckoldry), and symbols of stupidity and greed which I fail to find. The other animals fit well into the pattern of defensive self-images, and their enemy is no more well-defined here than elsewhere. If anything the stag and "Wittal" night reflect his suspicion of his wife.

94 Bond, B1, 1.

95 Bond, Bl, 3.

96 Bond, B2, 332.

97 Bond, Bl, 21.

98 Bond, Bl, 27. Smart came to believe in a kind of instantaneous time. See Bond, B2, 329.

99 Bond, Bl, 15.

100 Bond, Bl, 30.

101 Bond, Bl, 43; Bond, Bl, 74; and elsewhere.

102 For example, Bond, BI, 115.

103 These themes are now so pervasive that I will no longer cite lines. They end only when the "let" verses become meaningless.

104 Bond, Bl, 4.

105 Bond, 31, 107.

106 Bond B1, 22.

107 See Bond B2, 341.

108 Callan, I, l6l.

109 Bond, Bl, 73.

110 Bond, Bl, 144.

111 Bond, 31, 137.

112 Bond, 31, 54.

113 Bond, 1, 58.

114 The reference is probably not to the Biblical Agrippa, as at least one commentator (Albert Kuhn, see bibliography) claims. Bond does not identify the reference, but he later notes a similarity between Smart's numerology and the system of Henry Cornelius Agrippa (see Bond, page 125, note two). The occultist is, I think, a more likely candidate than St. Paul's judge.

115 Bond, 31, 162.

116 Bond, B1, 70 and elsewhere surely indicate nothing more than normal paternal concerns.

117 Bond, Bl, 100.

118 Cudworth, 50-56..

119 Bond, 31, 258.

120 Bond, B1, 263.

121 Bond, B1, 184.

122 Bond, Bl, 160-161.

123 Bond, B1, 234.

124 Bond, Bl, 228-230.

125 Noted by Bond, following Stead. Bond, B1, page 67, note 4.

126 K. M. Rogers and others have demonstrated a similarity between certain of Smart’s ideas and those of Caballistic literature, which he may have encountered in college or through his associations with Freemasonry. Most of their parallels are not convincing and could equally have been derived from purely Christian traditions (e.g. Caballistic writing has God creating by saying his own name), but the idea I outline in the following paragraphs (which I think has not been discussed before) is distinctively Caballistic..
127In fact he says, “Let Jonas rejoice with the Sea-Devil, who hath a good name from his Maker." Bond, B1, 199.
128 Bond, B2, 328..

129 Bond, B2, 330. Also Bond 31, 176.

130 Bond, B2, 322.

131 Bond, B1, 293.

132 Bond, B1, 158.

133 Bond, Bl, 162.

134 Bond, hBl, 170.

135Callan, 1, 227-228. Emphasis mine.
136 Bond, Bl, 105. Later the reader finds that the inhabitants can talk, and, in fact, that the flowers knew Pope. Bond, B2, 568.

137 Bond, B2, 500.

138 Bond, Bl, 240.

139 Bond, Bl, 245.

140 Bond, Bl, 246-247.

141 Analogues for this concern with triviality in the middle of the deepest religious context exist in the Oriental Taoist and Ch'an traditions.

142 Bond, B1, 287-288.
143 These passages do, of course, reveal certain other things, for instance, sources in occultism and lines similar to passages in the Song to David.

144 Bond, B2, 359-360.

145 Bond, B2, 375.

146 Bond, B2, 395.

147 This is very similar to the Platonic theory of forms.

148 Bond, B2, 678-679.

149 Bond, B2, 329

150 Bond, B2, 363 and Bond, B2, 404.

151 Bond, B2, 311.

152 Bond, B2, 313.

153 He also further concretizes this music imagery into a classification of the sounds of the heavenly organ, associating instruments with rhyme words, another analogy with the poetic process.

154 Bond, C, 56.

155 Bond, C, 58.

156 Bond, D, 148.

157 Bond, D, 159.

158 Smart, Christopher (trans,), The Works of Horace (London: J. Newbery, 1756), iii (introduction).


Works Cited
I. Smart's work
A. Editions of the poetry
Jubilate Agno, ed. W. H. Bond (Cambridge: Harvard, 1954).
The Collected Poems of Christopher Smart, ed . Norman Callan (two vol.,
London: Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., 1949).
Poems, ed . Christopher Hunter (Reading: F. Power and Co., 1791).
Rejoice in the Lamb, ed. W. H. Stead (London: J. Cape, 1939).
Selected Poems by Christopher Smart, ed. Ruthven Todd (London: Grey
Walls Press, 1947).
B. Journals and translation
The Mid-Wife.
Smart, Christopher (under the pseudonym Mrs. Mary Midnight). An Index
to Mankind. (London: J. Newbery, 1751).
Smart, Christopher. The Works of Horace. (London: J. Newbery, 1756).
The Universal Visitor and Memorialist.

II. Criticism and other sources
Abbott, C.B. “Christopher Smart's Madness,” PMLA , XLV (1930), 1014-1022.
Ainsworth, E.G. and Charles Noyes. “Christopher Smart: a biographical and
critical study,” University of Missouri Studies, XVIII (1943).
Cudworth, Ralph. A Sermon to the House of Commons. (New York: Facsimile
Text Society, 1930).
Devlin, Christopher. Poor Kit Smart. (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University
Press, 1962).
Greene, D. J. “Smart, Berkeley, the Scientists, and the Poets,” Journal of the
History of Ideas. XIV (June, 1953), 327-352.
Hunsberger, B. “Kit Smart’s Howl,” Wisconsin Studies in Contemporary
Literature, VI (Winter, 1965), 34-44.
Rogers, K. M. “The Pillars of the Lord: some sources of A Song to David,”
PQ, XL (1961), 525-534.
Shepard, Odell, and Paul Spencer. “Christopher Smart, Free and Accepted
Mason,” JSGP, LIV (1955), 664-669.
Todd, Ruthven. Tracks in the Snow (London: Grey Walls Press, 1946).