June 1, 2012

We are not brothers. We are not friends.
How can we be anything while Lucifer is with us?
He is elusive now as ever, sure,
his cosmic mind…it seems wholesome.
But the coherencies that form his intellect
are neither part of his mind nor part of his brain.
—O, Phoebus heightened!
Our companion. We live in your vapors.
How it unfolds, this grand catechism,
how it sears the sky with its questions.

But wait, a pirouette of steam is nothing like
thought is to poetry. This cannot be
a baptism of old dreams: for where
is your name, friend? How can you be a name?


8 Responses to “Pirouette”

  1. fivereflections Says:

    sitting on the sidelines – enjoying the comments, as they unfold.

  2. Anna Mark Says:

    Just a quick comment to say that I have also read, “Shake Hands with the Devil,” and am proud to have Romeo Dallaire, as a fellow Canadian ; ) I’ve seen him speak and I shook his hand. This doesn’t relate at all directly to your poem, but when I met Romeo I was struck immediately by his delicate, quiet nature. Reading his book probably changed my life and meeting him even more so. Romeo, one involved in war, in unspeakably courageous and frightening situations, was a man I imagined would be rough, gruff, muscular, manly, etc., but he is none of those things. He is soft spoken and his demeanor is rather like a feather before a gun. Perhaps this is why he was able to accomplish so much for peace in Rwanda, why he was able to shake hands with the devil and live, not get shot in the back as he turned and walked away. Thanks for reminding me of him. The movie didn’t do the book justice, nor the man.

  3. extrasimile Says:

    So Thomas, Paradise Lost and Faust in one breath? Actually, the Lucifer I had in mind was from Walt Whitman from a poem that has come to be called ‘The Sleepers’, which is worth putting in here.

    Now Lucifer was not dead . . . . or if he was I am his sorrowful terrible heir;
    I have been wronged . . . . I am oppressed . . . I hate him that oppresses me,
    I will either destroy him, or he shall release me.
    Damn him! How he does defile me,
    How he informs against my brother and sister and takes pay for their blood,
    How he laughs when I look down the bend after the steamboat that carries away my woman.
    Now the vast bulk that is the whale’s bulk . . . . it seems mine,
    Warily, sportsman! Though I lie so sleepy and sluggish, my tap is death.
    The line—or if he was I am his sorrowful terrible heir—has to qualify as a benchmark in human civilization. To imagine and describe God and Satin, good and evil, the children of the light and the children of the darkness, that is a job indeed—especially in a secular age. Whitman’s poem does, of course, fit right in with Paradise Lost, not to mention The Book of Job, Dante’s Comedy, all those books coming out of the Faust story—my little ‘Pirouette’ had better watch its step, the giants will crush it with a single blow.
    The ‘we’ I use here does not refer to John, Anna, you or me. I’m not even sure I’d want to put it my mouth, per se. More like an implied narrator. Still, if is a general statement of truth, one would have to concede the local reference, wouldn’t one? Bah and phooey. The issue really is to be found in the ‘naming issue’. Sometimes we call someone ‘friend’ because we have forgotten his name. To address someone as ‘friend’, and be a friend to someone are remarkably different activities.
    Real philosophers have dealt with this issue of naming more profoundly than I will ever do. See for example, Saul Kripke’s Naming and Necessity. Very heavy stuff indeed.
    If ‘Pirouette’ is attempting anything, it is just the movement that the word ‘pirouette’ suggests. John rightly points to the signifigance of the ‘turn’ in a sonnet. Insofar as this is a sonnet—or an extension thereof—I got to playing around with its turning in on itself. The last four lines, I’d like to think, ‘turn’ (or pirouette) back to the poem itself. For where is your name, friend?
    Thomas, the most alarming question you raise is whether this poem is cynical about humanity. I very much hope it is not. And if I can coax you into saying more on the subject, I will be happy to think it through with you. Cynicism is one of the great evils in the world. (I do refer to the modern usage of the term. We’ll leave Diogenes out of this for the time being.)
    And finally: Do I think thought is central to poetry? Yes, brother, you know I do.

  4. extrasimile Says:

    Anna—Please do feel free express your thoughts, insights, feelings, criticisms, opinions, etc. They are always quite thoughtful, insightful, full of feelings…well, I won’t go on here. You get the idea. And, by the way, at Extrasimile, we are all scholars.
    So, a tension between something pure and impure? Humm. Lucifer, I would suppose, would qualify for something pure, just as God would. One of my favorite quotes is by Romeo Dalliare—who was in charge if the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda: “I know there is a God because in Rwanda I shook hands with the devil. I have seen him, I have smelled him and I have touched him. I know the devil exists and therefore I know there is a God.”
    O, Romeo, Romeo, would that all ‘therefores’ signaled a valid inference. ..but, I rather think his perception is quite right: evil does exist. That you can conclude that God (or the Good) exists from its presence is another issue. (And one we will not address here.) So, is this poem about the tension between good and evil, God and Satan, or the pure and the impure? Is it about the tension created in the naming process between what is known and what is in existence? Is it an expression of a kind of nihilism, and as such subject to the criticisms that one can make concerning nihilism—e. g. if nothing is true, how can this be true? Thomas raises the question of cynicism; nihilism and cynicism are rather close relatives. I will continue below… but thank you, Anna.

  5. Thomas Davis Says:

    What this reminds me of, Jim, is the story of how the Romantics viewed Satan in Paradise Lost. Milton, of course, saw Satan as the arch-enemy, the seducer of Christians everywhere, but his portrait of the arch-fiend was so powerful that the Romantics were transfixed and decided that the poem was really more about Satan than God.
    I take the we is the universal we in the beginning of the poem. I certainly hope it is not you and I, nor you and Anna, or you and John, Jim. The sense that I get is that we (all of us) are not brothers, not friends.
    How can we be anything while Lucifer is with us?
    After all, the old enchanter is as elusive now as ever.
    his cosmic mind…it seems wholesome.
    But the coherencies that form his intellect
    are neither part of his mind nor part of his brain.
    But are part of the light,
    O, Phoebus heightened!
    Our companion….
    We live in the vapors of this light, which is partially from Satan,
    How it unfolds, this grand catechism,
    how it sears the sky with its questions.
    Then the crux, the climax of the poem, the transcendence to use Tom D’Evelyn’s formulation:
    But wait, a pirouette of steam is nothing like
    thought is to poetry…
    What do I make of this Jim?
    The pirouette of steam in the end is just steam dancing, a will-o-the-wisp that entrances us, but in the end is just air…this seems to be the stuff of Satan. But the pirouette of steam is nothing like thought is to poetry. This seems to hint that thought is central to poetry. But
    …This (the chimera of steam, of Satan?) cannot be
    a baptism of old dreams.
    A powerful formulation in powerful language.
    ….for where
    is your name, friend? How can you be a name?
    The friend is Satan? Does Satan have a name, or is he as coy as he is in the fourth act of Faust? We are neither brother nor friends, so Satan must be the friend.
    Anna Mark senses “a futile dance of steam and air and humanity combined.”
    Jim is “watching you pirouette before us with thoughts and verse.”
    I see a broad, somewhat cynical, comment on all humankind as you pirouette and pirouette into steam that vanishes into the air!

  6. Anna Mark Says:

    I highly enjoy your poems and the comments, but truthfully, I am not a scholar like either of you. Nevertheless, I’d like to give my “sense” of the poem as I read it before reading the above comments. I sensed a tension between something pure and something adulterated, or impure. A fight to find essence or truth and how that sometimes feels like such a futile dance of steam and air and humanity combined. And we are left always with questions, more questions, yet also deeper in and closer…this was my sense of the poem. If it is about naming, that notion of names being echoes of something’s essence…well…I love that theme and that place.

  7. extrasimile Says:

    Watching thoughts pirouette, John, is just about right. The narrator here continues to be distant and undefined, clearly not someone to identify with. Disembodied. Now consider Emerson: The Poet is the namer, or Language-maker, naming things sometimes after their appearance, sometimes after their essence… That naming is where language connects with the world is an appealing idea—and one with a long pedigree—and that this function is the work of the poet…my, wouldn’t that be grand!…but it is not quite right, is it? [Pirouette] In fact, it may be so wrong a conception of language so as to qualify as the devil’s tongue, Lucifer Language. [Pirouette] And if so, how can we be anything when Lucifer is with us? [Pirouette] Why do we call a chair a ‘chair’—it surely doesn’t have anything to do with its essence. [Pirouette] If I change my name to ‘Plato’ it won’t make me an ancient Greek philosopher. In fact ‘Plato’ didn’t make Plato Plato either—except in name. [Pirouette]A baptism is a purifying process. It is also a naming process. It is something of a rebirth. [Pirouette] A baptism is a process that assigns names to objects—insofar as we are objects—and does give me a kind of being, named being. We do make a big deal of knowing someone’s name. [Pirouette] Naming might be language’s revenge it’s vehicle. Naming might be a kind of self-conscious poem. [Pirouette] Thus ‘Pirouette’ pirouettes.
    Let’s just do one more [Pirouette]. In ballet the dancer has to keep her eyes on a fixed spot to prevent dizziness. That spotting may be the difference from just spinning.

  8. John Stevens Says:

    This one is quite opaque, Jim. Well, what does it suggest so far? You’ve given us Lucifer/Satan, and Phoebus/Apollo, light (especially morning light) and the sky. There are vapours (the evaporating dew?), and a pirouette of steam, and baptism (implying water). And a catechism.
    That’s lot for a small poem, but then this is essentially a sonnet: small, densely packed, with a turn and a close.
    Basically I’m left watching you pirouette before us with thoughts and verse. You make an enchanting sight, Jim!

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