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.

The other books are also available from the author William Seaton. Write seaton@frontiernet.net.

A categorized index of all work that has appeared on this site is available by looking under the current month in the Blog Archive section and selecting Index.

This site is listed in BlogCatalog and
Literature Blogs
Literature blog

Saturday, April 1, 2017


The index now features hypertext connections. Simply click on any title below to read it.

Though this listing serves, I think, a clear purpose, not every posting falls easily into the categories. One essay might equally be placed under literary theory or medieval texts while another might fit under memoir, politics, or travel. Translations with comment might be either criticism or translation. Poke around a bit.

The categories are:

1. speculative, familiar, performance pieces, and other essays

2. literary theory

3. Greek texts (and a couple of Latin)

4. medieval texts

5. other criticism
A. 16th-19th century
B. 20th century to the present
C. Asian texts
D. songs
E. Notes on Recent Reading
F. Rereading the Classics
G. Every Reader's Poets

6. translation

7. poetry

8. politics

9. memoirs

10. travel

1. Speculative, familiar, performance pieces, and other essays
Agnostic Credo and Vita (October 2015)
Axiology and Subjectivity (October 2014)
Annual Report (August 2014)
Beards (December 2013)
Biking (November 2009)
Biking as a Spiritual Discipline (April 2017)
Cookbooks (April 2014)
Dead Reckoning (February 2011)
Deer (December 2012)
Documents of the first Surreal Cabaret (March 2012)
Documents of the second Surreal Cabaret (June 2012)
Documents of the third Surreal Cabaret (October 2013)
Documents of the fourth Surreal Cabaret (July 2014)
Documents of the fifth Surreal Cabaret (February 2015)
Drugs and Religion (June 2016)
Dust: a meditative riff (November 2009)
Food for the Gods (December 2011)
Hippie (April 2011)
Immortality (July 2012)
Iowa Communards (December 2011)
A Library’s Commonplaces and Curiosities (May 2011)
The Mannerly Hedonist (February 2013)
Notes and Inserts (June 2016)
Polka (November 2012)
On Pronunciation and Pedantry (September 2015)
In Praise of Bias (November 2014)
Still Biking (November 2012)
A Structural View of Certain Oracles (August 2015)
Supermarkets (October 2010)
Taking Off (November 2009)
Worn Tools (June 2013)

2. Literary theory
Afloat on the Ocean of Words (April 2016)
Allusion (March 2015)
Art and the Marketplace (April 2010)
The Familiar Note in Poetry (January 2017)
The Formation of a Christian Rhetoric (April 2011)
How and Why to Signify (July 2011)
Idea of Comedy (January 2012)
The Inconsequential Bayonets of Art: Militant Rhetoric and the Avant-Garde (May 2010)
Lament for the Loss of the Avant-Garde (March 2010)
Millenarian Rhetoric and the Avant-Garde (August 2010)
On the Proper Ends of Literary Study [James Seaton] (July 2014)
Placing the Popular in the Structure of Literature (October 2010)
The Pleasures of the Familiar in Literature (June 2016)
Poetry Amid the Fierce Chaos of the World (December 2009)
Prof. Wellek, Prof. Leavis, and Prof. de Man (December 2015)
The Question of Literary Value (August 2014)
Riddles and Poetry (March 2015)
The Signifying Monkey Talks Literature (April 2010)
Some Notes Toward a Theory of the Avant-Garde (October 2013)
Sontag's "Against Interpretation" (September 2016)
Sweet Treason: Translating Lyric Poetry (November 2009)
Thoughts on Mythology (March 2013)
Transformation of Convention (August 2013)
What is Poetry? (February 2012)
Winged Words: Notes on the Oral Performance of Poetry (May 2010)

3. Greek texts (and two Latin)
Aphrodite’s Bed: Love in the Homeric Hymn (August 2010)
The Birth of Erato: Lyric, Vision, and the Spread of Writing (January 2010)
Dionysos and the Pirates (February 2012)
Gorgias (February 2010)
Hermes and the Art of Poetry (March 2013)
Longinus' Sublime (May 2012)
Notes on Pan (June 2014)
Oedipus and the Meaning of Polysemy (July 2011)
Poetry's Long Memory [Horace] (July 2016)
Professors Kick the Willy Bobo [on Athenaeus] (December 2009)
The Role of Rhetoric in Theocritus (February 2011)
The Role of Wine in Nonnus' Dionysiaca (February 2016)
Sappho’s Holy Tortoise Shell: Eros and Poetry in Ancient Greece (December 2009)
Seneca the Elder (March 2010)
A Skeptic's Faith [Sextus Empiricus] (January 2015)
Two Passages from Marcus Aurelius (June 2011)
The Web of Myth in the Hymn to Heracles (June 2012)

4. Medieval texts
The Aesthete of Desire: Lancelot and Courtly Love (July 2012)
The Aesthetics of Ambiguity in a Medieval Lyric (December 2012)
Aesthetic Principles of the Middle English Romance (July 2010)
Appropriation of Biblical Narrative in Patience (February 2013)
Bernart and the Music of Ideas (September 2016)
The Buddha in Europe: the Apologue of the Man and the Unicorn in Barlaam and Ioasaph (January 2011)
Chaucer’s Version of the Golden Age (June 2011)
A Conventional Ending in a Middle English Romance (September 2011)
Courtly Love in Romance of the Rose (August 2012)
Distant Rhyme in Two Medieval English Lyrics (August 2011)
The Early English Carol (June 2010)
Geoffrey of Vinsauf (April 2010)
Figures of Love in Lydgate's Temple of Glas (January 2014)
Functions of Alliteration in Thirteenth Century Lyrics (February 2011)
Hypermetric Lines in Beowulf (January 2011)
An Introduction to the Troubadours (January 2010)
Mechthild von Magdeburg (July 2010)
A New Look at Jaufré: Amor de Lonh as Criticism (December 2010)
Odin and Poetry (December 2015)
Openings in the Middle English Romance (July 2010)
The Pearl-Poet’s Use of Link-Rhymes (November 2011)
Phonetics and Semantics in the Last Line of Beowulf (March 2011)
Piers Plowman and the Man in the Moon (October 2011)
The Prima Etade of Literary Ambition [Petrarch] (March 2011
Transformation of Convention in Early Minnesang (April 2011)
Two Early Ballad Tales of Robin Hood (October 2014)
William IX (September 2010)
Who is Piers Ploughman? (June 2013)

5. Other criticism

A. 16th-19th century
Ambivalence in Thomson's The Castle of Indolence (March 2012)
Big Bill Otter's Sprees and Frolics (November 2013)
A Decadent's Dilemmas [Dowson] (March 2015)
Does Crabbe Look Forward or Back? (February 2016)
Dolce's Aretino (September 2015)
The Double Plot of Salem Chapel (December 2016)
Gascoigne's "Notes of Instruction" (September 2013)
Godwin's Theatre of Calamity (September 2015)
Herrick the Divine (August 2014)
Keats' "Thing of Beauty" (November 2016)
Marius the Epicurean as a Modern (April 2015)
Moby Dick and the Density of the Aesthetic Text (January 2016)
"Monk" Lewis, Mr. Coleridge, and Popular Taste (July 2015)
A Note on Dryden and "Dramatick Poesy" (September 2012)
A Note on Radcliffe's The Italian (October 2012)
Pierce Penniless (May 2013)
The Play of Convention in Shakespeare's Sonnet 153 (April 2017)
The Problem with Swinburne (June 2015)
Rimbaud's Use of Montage (October 2016)
Shelley”s “Ode to the West Wind” as Structuralist Charm (May 2011)
Sir Thomas North's The Moral Philosophy of Doni (September 2013)
The Skeptico-Semiotico-Mystic: Carlyle's Sartor Resartus (June 2015)

Skepticism and Poetry in Keats' "The Eve of St. Agnes" (February 2015)
The Texture of Traherne’s Religious Thought (October 2010)
Thematic Continuity and Development in the Poetry of Christopher Smart: the Jubilate Agno and the Minor Poems (November 2010)
Travelers [Marco Polo, Twain, Robert Byron](April 2012)
Trollope's Appeal (December 2012)
Two Notes on Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance (July 2014)
The Use of Nostalgia in Eliot's Scenes of Clerical Life (August 2015)

B. 20th century to the present
Another Look at The Seven Lively Arts (June 2013)
Apologia for a Fondness for Pound (November 2012)
Are Uncle Tom's Children Bound by History? (April 2014)
Banjo (March 2017)
A Brief History of Negritude (February 2017)
Comics (February 2010)
Conrad's Shadow-Line (June 2014)
The Critical Palimpsest: Black African Literature through White American Eyes (January 2010)
Dada in America (April 2012)
Eisenstein's Strike and the Problem of Realism (April 2013)
Epiphanies in Dubliners (May 2016)
False Translations (August 2016)
The Fetish of the Primitive in Twentieth Century Art (April 2015)
A Few Films (November 2016)
A Few Proletarian Writers (March 2012)
Flash Reviews of Thirty African Novels (November 2011)
Flyin’ with the Muses: Kirpal Gordon’s Eros in Sanskrit (May 2011)
Hell's House (November 2013)
Kerouac’s Weakness and Strength (January 2011)
Kurt Seligmann's Moderate Surrealism (November 2016)
Kurt Seligmann's Riddlesome Symbols (March 2017)
The Last Poets (March 2016)
The Legacy of the Beats (March 2014)
The Lyricism of the Ugly: Celine's Mort à Crédit (December 2014)
The Man with the Golden Arm and a Friend with Six Seeds (January 2014)
Onitsha Market Literature (February 2015)
Pig and Possum Teach Poetry (May 2014)
A Poem by Theodore Roethke (September 2011)
The Power of Picasso's Sculpture (November 2015)
Saki's Novels (April 2015)
Sartre's "Black Orpheus (February 2017)
Some Poetry Reviews (December 2012)
Sound Poetry and Edith Sitwell's Facade (July 2013)
Two Graffiti (May 2011)
A Very Funny Fellow [Lev] (May 2012)

C. Asian texts
Friendship and Romance in Ming Stories (February 2014)
Han Shan (December 2010)
Journey to the North (December 2013)
Liezi (October 2012)
Lu Xun (October 2010)
Monkey Rides Again (January 2013)
Notes on Liu Xie (August 2011)
Tang Stories (April 2016)
Theme and Tone In Kokoro (September 2016)
A Tibetan Novel (March 2017)
The Trials of Lady Ochikubo (April 2014)

D. songs
"Down the Dirt Road Blues" [Charley Patton] (October 2011)
Fishing Blues [Henry Thomas] (October 2015)
Foggy Dew as Symbol (July 2012)
The Imagery of Hokum Blues Songs (July 2015)
"Lady Maisry" (November 2013)
"Moon Goin' Down" [Charley Patton] (May 2013)
The Paraklausithyron Blues (May 2016)
"The Red Rooster" [Willie Dixon] (March 2014)
Robert Johnson and the Devil (September 2012)
Skip James' Blues Imagery (May 2015)
“Spoonful” and the Accretion of Meaning (December 2012)
"The Three Ravens" (August 2013)
Trinidadian Smut (April 2016)
Truckin' (November 2014)
“Walkin’ Blues” [Son House] (December 2011)

E. Notes on Recent Reading
Notes on Recent Reading [Melville, Greene, and Whalen] (September 2011)
Notes on Recent Reading 2 [Crane, The Crowning of Louis, Thornlyre] (October 2011)
Notes on Recent Reading 3 [Kipling, San Francisco Mime Troupe, Lynn’s Tao-te-ching] (November 2011)
Notes on Recent Reading 4 [Sarah Scott, de La Fayette, Wharton] (January 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 5 [The Deeds of God in Rddhipur, Burney, Cooper] (January 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 6 [Jewett, Addison, Crabbe] (February 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 7 [Nabokov, Austen, Grettis Saga] (April 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 8 [Bakhtin, Lewis, Brown] (May 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 9 [Plutarch, Tacitus, Williams](June 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 10 [Voltaire, France, Dryden](July 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 11 [Wright, Kerouac & Burroughs, Gilbert] (August 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 12 [Huxley, Norris, Dōgen](September 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 13 [Mirabai, Wood, Trocchi] (November 2012)
Notes on Recent Reading 14 [Algren, Hauptmann, Rolle] (January 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 15 [Hemingway, Orwell, Gaskell]{February 2013}
Notes on Recent Reading 16 [Howells, Ford, Mann] (April 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 17 [McCarthy, Chang, Snorri](July 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 18 [Radcliffe, Stendhal, Erasmus](October 2013)
Notes on Recent Reading 19 [Powers, Zhang Ji, Vietnamese folk song] (February 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 20 [Rowe, Stevenson, Issa] (May 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 21 [Fussell, Mahfouz, Watts] (August 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 22 [Waugh, Belloc, Okakura] (October 2014)
Notes on Recent Reading 23 [Naipaul, Dinesen, Spillane] (January 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 24 [Fielding; Izumo , Shōraku, and Senryū; Plath] (June 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 25 [Baskervill, Gissing, Capote] (July 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 26 [Tuchman, Premchand, Cocteau] (November 2015)
Notes on Recent Reading 27 [Forster, Sackville-West, Capote] (January 2016)
Notes on Recent Reading 28 [Verne, Waley, Hurston] (March 2016)
Notes on Recent Reading 29 [Achebe, Jewett, Villiers de l'Isle-Adam] (October 2016)
Notes on Recent Reading 30 [Bradford, Scott, Marquand] (April 2017)

F. Rereading the Classics
Rereading the Classics [Burton] (November 2011)
Rereading the Classics [Gogol] (August 2012)
Rereading the Classics [Goldsmith] (December 2016)
Rereading the Classics [Kleist] (February 2012)
Rereading the Classics [Montaigne] (December 2013)
Rereading the Classics [Rabelais] (December 2011)

G. Every Reader's Poets
Every Reader's Herrick (December 2015)
Every Reader's Hopkins (May 2016)
Every Reader's Milton (January 2017)
Every Reader's Pope (May 2015)
Every Reader's Shelley (November 2014)
Every Reader's Skelton (March 2016)
Every Reader's Wyatt (December 2014)
Every Reader's Yeats (January 2015)

6. Translation
Alkaios' Happy Hour (January 2017)
Becher's "Someone Stands Up" (October 2012)
Christian and Dedicatory Epigrams from the Greek Anthology (March 2010)
Emmy Hennings (February 2010)
Emmy Hennings Poems (More from Die Letzte Freude) (November 2010)
Four Poems from the German of Richard Huelsenbeck (January 2010)
Four Quatrains by Wang Wei (January 2013)
Hans Arp (April 2010)
The Homeric Hymn to Dionysos (February 2012)
Horace I.21 (July 2016)
Hugo Ball (July 2010)
Hymn to Aphrodite (August 2010)
Hymn to Heracles the Lion-Hearted (June 2012)
Hymn to the Night [Novalis](March 2012)
Hymn to the Night II [Novalis] (July 2012)
Hymn to Pan (May 2014)
Leonidas of Tarentum (May 2010)
A Mixed Bag of German Translations (August 2014)
Rimbaud's "The Lice-Pickers" (March 2014)
Seven Poems from Léon-Gontran Damas (February 2017)
Some Anonymous Middle High German Lyrics (August 2011)
Three Horatian Odes (November 2012)
Translations of William IX (September 2010)
Wordsworth Speaks German (July 2011)
Yet Two More Versions of Wang Wei (June 2011)

7. Poetry
African poems (August 2010)
How to Be a Poet (June 2010)
The Liturgies of the Lama Swine Toil (September 2012)
Mexican poems (September 2010)
Poems from New Mexico (July 2010)
Poems from Turkey (June 2010)
Produce poems (May 2010)
The Soap Opera of the Pair Who Forgot Themselves, but only Temporarily (August 2012)
Some Sonnets (April 2010)
Three Poems from Peru (August 2011)
Two Lyrics on Death from Central America (January 2012)

8. Politics
Black Lives Matter (August 2016)
Economic Democracy (July 2013)
The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Port Huron Statement (June 2012)
Hard Rain Still Fallin’ (September 2010)
How to Get Serious about Fighting Crime (January 2010)
Local Politics (May 2015)
In Memory of a Generation's People's Heroes (October 2015)
Occupy Wall Street (November 2011)
The Role of Higher Education (November 2010)
The Socialist Martin Luther King (February 2016)
The Triumph and Tragedy of Revolution (December 2016)
Two Exemplary Anecdotes from the Sixties Student Movement (September 2013)
Utopia (November 2015)
Voluntary Poverty (October 2011)
Why I am a Socialist (March 2010)

9. Memoirs
Baby Boomer Reads the Beats (April 2012)
A Brief Literary Life (September 2012)
A Garland of Greek Professors (December 2010)
A Glimpse of Robert Bly (August 2012)
Grandparents (December 2009)
High School (August 2014)
Hip Poets of Seventies San Francisco (January 2011)
How I Was Hired to Teach in Nigeria (May 2011)
IWW (April 2011)
March in Cicero (December 2009)
A Memorable Roomer (June 2014)
My Most Politically Active Year (February 2011)
Nova Academy (March 2011)
Pestering Allen [Ginsberg] (March 2012)
Poetry on the Loose (September 2011)
A Scholar's Debut (October 2012)
Sherman Paul (August 2016)
Suburbanite in the City (November 2010)
Tim West (March 2013)
VISTA Trains Me (June 2011)

10. Travel
Arrival in Nigeria (August 2015)
Acadiana [Lafayette, Louisiana] (May 2010)
An Armenian Family in Bordeaux (December 2014)
Carnival [Portugal] (May 2012)
Cookie Man [Morocco] (October 2011)
Creel (October 2010)
Dame Fortuna in Portugal (May 2012)
Dinner with Mrs. Pea [Thailand] (April 2013)
Election Day in Chichicastenango (January 2012)
An Evening in Urubamba (July 2011)
Festival in Ogwa [Nigeria](January 2011)
On the Ganges' Shore (August 2013)
The Guru of Guinness (July 2016)
Haarlem (July 2010)
Hitchhiking in Algeria (September 2010)
Hitchhiking in France (January 2014)
Hungarian Food (December 2010)
Introduction to Tourist Snapshots (June 2010)
Jemaa el Fna (December 2010)
Knee-deep in History [Vietnam, Cambodia] (February 2014)
Najibe’s Stories (September 2011)
Nigerian Names and Vehicle Slogans (March 2011)
A Palm Wine Shack [Nigeria] (December 2011)
Portraits from a Floating World: Anonymous (October 2016)
Portraits from a Floating World: Najibe and Sandro (February 2010)
Portraits from a Floating World: Gahlia and Jack (June 2010)
Portraits from a Floating World: Leslie Spector and Pa’ahssyzy (August 2010)
A Problem on the Border [Algeria] (June 2011)
A Reading in Kathmandu (November 2009)
Sacred Space as Sideshow [Prague] (February 2010)
St. Joseph’s Day at the Laguna Pueblo (April 2011)
A Stroll around Lake Bled (May 2013)
Strong Stuff [Marrakech] (October 2012)
Tetouan (November 2010)
The Theory of Souvenirs (April 2012)
A Trip to India (January 2016)
Two Parades [India and Peru] (August 2011)
The Valley of Beautiful Women [Eger, Hungary] (March 2010)
Vignettes of Sunny Nigeria (March 2011)
A Waterfall near Marrakech (February 2011)

The Play of Convention in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 153

Sonnet 153 (1609 Quarto version)

CVpid laid by his brand and fell a ſleepe,
A maide of Dyans this aduantage found,
And his loue-kindling fire did quickly ſteepe
In a could vallie-fountaine of that ground:
Which borrowd from this holie fire of loue,
A dateleſſe liuely heat ſtill to indure,
And grew a ſeething bath which yet men proue,
Againſt ſtrang malladies a ſoueraigne cure:
But at my miſtres eie loues brand new fired ,
The boy for triall needes would touch my breſt,
I ſick withal the helpe of bath deſired,
And thether hied a ſad diſtemperd gueſt.
But found no cure,the bath for my helpe lies,
Where Cupid got new fire; my miſtres eye.

For the last two hundred years the reading of poetry has been progressively impoverished by the Romantic denigration of convention. Today poetry tends to be prosaic and colloquial and few readers apart from academics have the competence to appreciate the intertextuality of earlier works. The fact is that convention, far from stultifying and reducing expression, allows more semiotic density. Far from simply reproducing models, the skilled writer, while sometimes using convention as shorthand for content previously expressed, more frequently reverses expectations, twists them, enlarges or constructs them, alters their tone, or, in a myriad other ways, builds upon what had been already written to construct something entirely new. The use of convention enables the author to reach higher levels of subtlety in thematics and, at the same time, to increase the formal pleasures of structural variation. Such structural play can only be called academic only if the same is said of The Well-Tempered Clavier.

The Cupid sonnets that conclude Shakespeare’s collection are a case in point. Often written off as conventional, routine, perhaps not even from the master’s hand, “outliers” at any rate, they betray upon close examination an almost musical play of ideas and contraries superimposed over the melody of the words.

One may take as a starting point the Greek Anthology lyric (IX, 627) attributed to Marianus Scholasticus. [1] This is the text of Paton’s accurate if uninspired translation.

Here under the plane trees tired Love lay softly sleeping, having entrusted his torch to the Nymphs. Said the Nymphs among themselves, “Why not do it at once? Would that together with this we could put out the fire in men’s hearts.” But it was the torch that set fire to the water, and henceforth the Love-Nymphs pour forth here hot water for men to bathe in.

Surely this piece itself is a spun sugar confection for those who thought they had heard all possible changes rung on similar elements. Ignoring the considerable prior history of its meter, words, and figures, what does the poem suggest? Surely the first implication is the persistence of desire; Eros’ torch cannot be doused. Secondarily, the aetiological implication of the origin of warm bathing associates love with an ameliorating factor, something that makes life more civilized, more livable. And why were the nymphs hostile to love prior to their becoming “love-Nymphs” (“nymphs of Eros”)? What is expressed in mythological terms as their association with Artemis appears as well in philological data in the word nymph’s links with words indicating “veiled,” and thus (in contradistinction to Muslim practice) young and marriageable. In psychological terms one might associate this resistance to love with the woman’s selectivity and cautious reserve, as opposed to the men’s fire in the heart. [2] Similar notions conceived by men include the troubadour’s lady’s “daunger” or the animals of Thurber’s “Courtship Through the Ages.”

These far from original principles provide the conventional thematics for these final two sonnets which have struck many readers as superfluous or intrusive. The fact is, though, that they could plead sufficient formal precedent as well: the pattern of concluding a sonnet sequence with irregularities, often a few Anacreontic or fescinnine pieces and then a longer poem was set in Spenser’s Amoretti and Epithalamion, Samuel Daniel’s Delia, Lodge’s Sonnets to Phillis, and other collections.

Yet each of the poem’s terms Shakespeare has adapted either from the Anthology or from a later use of the story is markedly altered in Sonnet 153. Rather than repeating clichés, the poet is enriching, enlarging, criticizing, or overturning them in a captivating rapid-fire lyric that plays with reader expectations until the concluding couplet when, as at the end of the tragedies, all returns to normal once again.

While in the epigram Eros intentionally hands off his torch to a nymph for safe-keeping, the sonnet has her taking it without his knowledge. This departure is reinforced later when the sonnet describes what can only be the origin of his love in the circumstance of the nymph first relighting the torch, then, as a test, touching his breast, rendering him instantly but arbitrarily love-sick. [3] Having fallen victim to Eros through chance, he can gain no respite in an ordinary bath but only with the favorable looks of his beloved. Though helplessness before love’s onslaught is an ancient topos, it is here more evident in the more modern poem.

More significant is the sonnet’s drift to double entendre. Though the associations are only latent in the Greek poem, [4] the reader who has noted considerable risqué play in the earlier sonnets will not overlook the correspondence of torch and “vallie-fountaine” with genitals. Indeed, attempting to douse the hot phallus in the moisture not only fails to put out the fire, it heats the water into a “seething bath” due to the “holie fire of love.” [4] The brand is relighted at the eye of the beloved though it had never seemed to be put out, and the lover’s heart is set aflame anew, paradoxically to seek solace or cure only in that same mistress’ eye. “Eye” itself was used to suggest the female sex as in Benedick’s lines from Much Ado About Nothing: “I will live in thy heart, die in thy lap, and be/ buried in thy eyes.” [5]. Whereas the Greek epigram had perhaps slightly ruefully described the ineradicable power of desire, the English sonnet introduces the whole complex of self-consciousness about sexuality with its euphemistic concealment causing sniggering foregrounding.

Shakespeare has, in fact, deployed not only the terms of inherited Classical myth, but has added parallel but quite different obscene and courtly love conventions, thus thickening the plot considerably. By doing so he has not vitiated but has enriched his meaning; he has not lost but rather has gained precision and individuality. The fact that at least three basic sets of language, metaphor, affect are inextricably interlaced in Sonnet 153, while formally a tour de force, a dazzling finale for the volume, results not in confusion or interference. Instead the reader infers a love experience in which each set of expectations bears partial truth. At a given moment one or another may be dominant, while at other times all three may weave routes about each other in a precise and beautiful dance of words.

Used adeptly, convention serves as a means of increasing the semiotic density of a passage. Shakespeare chose to use one of the most convention-bound forms, the sequence of love sonnets, to express the complexities of his persona’s experience of love, and, at the culmination of his magnificent and subtle sequence, he simultaneously evokes a variety of erotic paradigms through allusions to a host of earlier poems. It is through such devices as rhetorical figures such as allusion that literature is uniquely capable of expressing such tensions, contradictions, and out-and-out paradoxes.

1. The Anthology is, of course, a very late collection, and Marianus one of the latest of its authors. His poem was based on a lengthy previous tradition we cannot here engage. The role of convention in the Anthology itself is suggested by the fact that this poem appears in a series of lyrics using the image of bathing. For other prior uses of the theme see James Hutton’s "Analogues of Shakespeare's Sonnets 153-154: Contributions to the History of a Theme" (Modern Philology, XXXVIII [May 1941], 385-403).

2. The fire of love is a universal trope of great antiquity. Among its forms are the medieval mystical Incendia Amoris and Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire.”

3. Compare the love potion in Tristan and Iseult.

4. These associations do have Classical antecedents. See, for instance Martial, Epigrammaton 3.93.27, in which a torch represents a penis and the female genitals are explicitly named.

5. Compare A Midsummer Night’s Dream “But I might see Cupid’s fiery shaft/ Quenched in the chaste beams of the watery moon.” (II, i) To some readers the bath refers to treatments for syphilis, implying recognition of darker aspects of love-making.

6. V, ii.

Notes on Recent Reading 30 [Bradford, Scott, Marquand]

On Plymouth Plantation (Bradford)

Though the USA has since been shaped by the practice of slavery, industrialization, and immigration, one continues to look to Bradford for an account of an American essence, and he delivers. The middle class origin of the first settlers is quite explicit, and Bradford documents the persecution they encountered as Dissenters in England as well as their difficulties in the Netherlands before they took the daring leap across the ocean. On the scene during the beginning of the colony he names in his title, he details (often in self-justification) the settlers’ contractual obligations to investors and their protection of their own interests, including once boarding a ship that had come to trade without permission, a raid that resulted in death. The collectivist will read with sorrow of the colony’s beginning in communalism only to fall back after a few years to private ownership of land. Here, too, one can read a contemporary account of Roger Williams’ break – Bradford calls him a devout and righteous man, but woefully misguided. He has no such sympathy for Thomas Morton, whose followers erected the famous maypole at Merrymount about which Hawthorne wrote. Morton himself had said that he found the natives (or, as he said, “Infidels”) “most full of humanity, and more friendly than the other [i.e. the Christian Englishmen]. “ One can imagine an entire alternative America. Though the economic plays a large role in his values, Bradford was sincere in his religious beliefs and, in fact, as he wrote toward the end of his life, he lamented the falling off in fervor that had occurred since the rough early days. The book has a consistent value that accumulates from the mass of detail Bradford records. His prejudices and self-interest only enrich the account further.

The Talisman (Scott)

To read Scott with pleasure one must understand the value of convention. The reader whose gorge rises at phrases like “trusty steed” and “valiant knight” will put the book down after a single page. To me these predictable patterns approach the depth of myth. There are reasons that the popular is popular but it is only rarely that a purveyor of best-sellers will be as talented as Scott. The historian of orientalism will find the tale slim pickings. Saladin and his court exactly mirror their European opponents in civilization and in heart. In fact the antagonists could be anywhere at any time. Far from diminishing the story’s cultural nationalism, this strengthens it with the assumption that all people must share the same values. The story reassures its audience of their culture in a way largely dependent on pure abstract structure that (as is generally true of taboo). The rules could be of any sort. What matters is who practices them. For the reader who shares with Scott an admiration of love and honor the story retains its power.

Point of No Return (Marquand)

Having read The Late George Apley as a teenager (when I believe Marquand’s literary standing was higher), I was curious to read this when I came upon it in a Salvation Army store. Point of No Return is (like the earlier novel) intently concerned with class. Marquand’s own family, though possessing the finest of American pedigrees, had fallen on relatively hard times, and he attended Harvard as a scholarship student in an era when that school was even more thoroughly than today the all-but-exclusive reserve of the ruling class. Perhaps one reason for Marquand’s decline is that the Eastern WASP establishment is no longer clearly in control.

However that may be, this book is concerned with the relation between what it calls the upper-upper class and the upper middle class which characterizes the hero, Charley Gray. I was pleased at least that Marquand did not make his hero a sensitive and rebellious player, but rather that far more common type, a striver seeking to rise a rung or two on the socio-economic ladder. My own background in a family occupying a lower stratum in a very affluent suburb fed at times my interest, but, for better or worse, I rejected money and consumerism very early while Charley feels only a slight ambivalence. In the end, when he thinks he has hit a reverse in his career, he feels suddenly liberated, only to fall back into line when he finds he had been mistaken. The American idolatry of status and money certainly persists, though much in this 1949 novel is dated. The bankers here spend their time not trying to generate profit from hedge funds and minute price fluctuations, but instead coddling wealthy and aged clients. They also wear “boiled shirts,” though surely these were almost obsolete, worn only by the most conservative of businessmen.

Apart from jumbling the chronology, the narrative is straightforward. The characters are well-drawn but shallow. Perhaps Marquand would have contributed as much to American literature if he had continued to produce genre books like his popular Mr. Moto mystery series.

Biking as a Spiritual Discipline

I am still biking twenty-five miles a day, taking me about ninety minutes, not counting time spent applying sun screen, and I continue to hope the routine may ward off the Reaper for a while, and allow me along the way to eat rich dinners without assuming an altogether unseemly form. It is rather a lavish expenditure of hours and energy, though, and consumes, I figure, little short of ten per cent of my waking life, an alarming cost for one with little taste for athletics. Wishing to justify the practice on other than physical grounds, I have lately been contemplating the mental and spiritual rewards of this exercise. I like to think that without this more ethereal reinforcement, I may not have been able to keep riding so long.

Many thoughtful people have found running, jogging, or riding to be a useful time to contemplate concepts, or the order of words in either prose or verse. Scientists and engineers as well as poets find that inspiration may arise in such paradoxical moments when the mind is in one way totally engaged and yet in another altogether unharnessed. The mind can benefit from its removal from the concerns of everyday life. This benefit is functional and incidental and resembles the opportunity afforded by long distance driving, knitting, and similar occupations.

Yet it is true as well that any such repetitive physical action is, as the Zen abbots knew, a form of meditation and may assist the mind in its approach toward enlightenment. The mandala is of less importance than the focus itself in Tibetan sand painting. Surely the monks could be making images of Donald Duck.

Even without intention routine tends to empty the mind. I recall when I would be driving my old commute and would suddenly return to immediate conscious awareness after a space of mental wandering without ever losing total prudential driving alertness in one part of my cranium.

The liberating effect is purely dependent on repetition. There is good reason that devotees repeat formulae and the Sioux chanted their divine scat songs for hours. Surely the field work songs of the old South sustained cotton pickers through long days, and for all one knows, the minds of the home weavers of ore-industrial days may have soared in the most imaginative flights of fancy. The brilliant work and field songs of the old South formed the rich subsoil in which the blues grew. I have always thought the worst job would be on a production line, yet perhaps those laborers, too, could relax into an all-too-familiar routine and feel their minds float free. All conscious recourses to icons, mandalas, St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises and all the rest are refinements of the technology of managing human consciousness which, however varied the imagery and assumptions, depend on a fundamentally similar method.

Those who achieve high levels of athletic performance must certainly be practicing a form of meditation, at the very least a single-minded focus on the task at hand which paradoxically may be experienced as an escape from the physical which under these circumstances continues without conscious attention. Concentration on the physical can vault consciousness beyond muscles and rushing blood. The push of ego can lead to ego’s disappearance.