Thursday, December 07, 2006
Bob Archambeau, of the Samizdat Blog, has joined our pleasure party.
(Bob! You may actually get me to join the Midwest MLA if you're going to talk there with any regularity, especially on poetry in Chicago. I'd love to meet some time if you're in the city; give me a holler at DePaul when you next head into town. I'll buy the drinks if you'll give me a badass picture next time. Rumor has it I look like Edward Norton, Patrick Dempsey, or an aging, Yiddishe Fabio.)
I like Bob's observation that "something like Language Poetry isn't necessarily "difficult" to its primary readership: other language poets and the profs who swarm around them"; that's one of the reasons I don't love the term "difficult," although I'm not sure what adjective to put in to pinch-run for it. ("Vexing"? As in Mrs. Bennett's "you take delight in vexing me!" No, probably not. But isn't it pretty to think so?) I'm equally fond of his skepticism, which shows itself in tone as much as substance: "The otherness of unabsorbable language becomes a kind of homology for the otherness of the Other, and our recognition of it somehow makes us, you know, better." Well said, that! Well said.
On the other hand, I do want to correct him on two small points:
First, I don't actually take an "it's all good, to hell with the hierarchies" position. Rather, I take the self-debunking, self-deflating position that "my aesthetic hierarchies cut no mustard, morally speaking." I'll go to the matresses to defend them, but I won't kid myself that they make me a better person. I'm sorry, folks, but doing justice, loving mercy, and walking humbly with the Deity Formerly Known as El-Shaddai count for me in the moral category; the preferences you show for one kind of art or another generally don't, except in extreme cases. (No, I don't really believe that in my gut, but I don't trust my gut on this. My gut sense is that people like me in their tastes are better than people who are radically different from me, but I know too many fine, fine people--people who are better than I am, by any reasonable standard, who don't like poetry at all.)
Do we really mean, perhaps, that certain kinds of literature invite the exercise of certain moral qualities or habits of character, as though we were acting towards something or in a context that really mattered, morally speaking? They allow or invite us to cultivate patience, curiosity, a taste for ambiguity, all the values of what used to be called a "liberal" education? They beseech us, in the bowels of Christ, to think it possible we may be mistaken? (To quote the butcher Cromwell, whose cannon, Joyce reminds me, were embellished with the slogan "God Is Love.") Mark, Josh, is that what you're getting at, finally?
Second, I completely agree with Bob's wish for "some actual data." I didn't actually "call for a discussion invoking "Barthes, Adorno, Freud, Lacan, even Aristotle"; at least I don't think I did. (Trust me: I'd never call for anything involving Lacan, and my gut says that anyone who would is morally inferior to me. Thank you, gut--that will be all.) That list came from a plea for some new names, new points of reference, and preferably some female ones. I second the call for data, but stand by the wish for women's voices to enter this discussion.
Any debate over pleasure that only involves men is going to be, well, slightly skewed, and will probably miss something. Gut sense be damned; twenty years of marriage tells me that. So: who's up next?
With a title like that, how could I resist? It's by the contemporary Irish poet Rita Ann Higgins, and goes like this:
The Did-You-Come-Yets of the Western World
When he says to you:
You look so beautiful
you smell so nice --
how I've missed you --
and did you come yet?
It means nothing,
and he is smaller
than a mouse's fart.
Don't listen to him ...
Go to Annaghdown Pier
with your father's rod.
Don't necessarily hold out
for the biggest one;
oftentimes the biggest ones
are the smallest in the end.
Bring them all home,
but not together.
One by one is the trick;
avoid red herrings and scandal.
Maybe you could take two
on the shortest day of the year.
Time is the cheater here
not you, so don't worry.
Many will bite the usual bait;
they will talk their slippery way
through fine clothes
and expensive perfume,
fishing up your independence.
These are the did-you-come-yets of the western world,
the feather and fin rufflers.
Pity for them they have no wisdom.
Others will bite at any bait.
Maggot, suspender, or dead worm.
Throw them to the sharks.
In time one will crawl
out from under thigh-land.
Although drowning he will say,
"Woman I am terrified, why is this house shaking?"
And you'll know he's the one.
Anyone with a counter-example? I'm open to persuasion. Am I morally better than someone who likes snuff films? Yes. But am I morally better than someone who likes horror films? War movies? Holiday kitch?
Now, what I meant to get to was Mark's wish list. Sayeth the Preacher:
I think we need a more nuanced, more “thick” description of the experience & the pleasures of anti-absorptive texts than just a foregrounding of language or “speed bumps” in the way of immersion. Those things indeed happen, but a great deal else – varying widely from text to text – happens as well. Josh gestures towards this – & I image he’s doing a lot more than gesturing in his dissertation – but before we can talk intelligently about anti-absorptional writings as being somehow more valuable than something else, we need some sort of encyclopedic tracing of the pleasures of bafflement, allusion both external and internal, dictional shifts, fragmentation, indeterminacy, polysemy, and so forth. (This has probably been written, but hey, I’ve been in a cave writing a biography for last 7 years.)Has there been such work done? I don't know of it, although I, too, have been "loopless" for a while. If you read this, please tell me, or Mark, where to look! Or, if you'd like to contribute to such an encyclopedic enterprise (you Mark, you Josh, you reading, whoever you are), let me know: we could start a new, collaborative blog of commentary on, what, a single text, teasing out its pleasures, and then move on to another, and another, and another. Let's use this medium, make this happen, and see what develops, shall we?
Back to Mark:
There are fundamental differences between mass market immersive fiction and “difficult” poetry. Yes, we can bring to bear on the former some of the tools useful for the latter, and to interesting effect. But that’s a matter I think of more general literary-critical methodology, rather than things specifically crafted for the sort of poetry Josh is talking about. There are skill sets and there are skill sets, & some of them overlap, & some of them don’t. I may read a romance novel thru the lens of Northrop Frye & Patricia Parker on the classic romance, thru Mulveyan notions of the gaze, & thru various post-Freudian theorizations of the “other” – all ways of resisting “immersion” – but how do those skill sets help me with Susan Howe’s “Bibliography of the King’s Book”?You're more or less right about this--and, by the way, thanks for the tips (Parker, Mulvey, etc.)! My point, though, was not that the skill sets are identitical, but that they are overlapping and commensurate: both involve active, "creative" reading practices that pursue pleasure not into the book (getting "lost in a good book" by identifying with characters, plot, the dream-world, etc.) but out of the book, by making connections and analogies, searching for patterns, treating the text as a puzzle, and so on. Some of those practices may be at play when I read any text, albeit unconsciously; certain kinds of texts reward them, although they don't require them; others require them in order for us to find any pleasure at all in the reading process. Yes?
I don’t think the pleasure Josh & I (& you too, EMS) take in an anti-absorptive poem really bears much resemblance, aside from the fact that it’s work rewarded – which applies just as well to a crossword puzzle, building a sukkah, or washing the car – to what undergrads in an intro to poetry class feel in working thru the “‘immersive’ first person lyric.”The first part of this may be true (the lack of resemblance), but I'd object to the idea that every sort of work is the same as every other. A crossword puzzle makes certain demands on me that washing the car does not, and vice-versa. (There's a physical pleasure in the warmth of the day, the stretch of muscles, the shine of the car, with the latter, but none of the mental challenge that the puzzle provides.) Building a sukkah offers a little of both, plus the superadded cultural pleasure of affirming or enacting a Jewish identity: a pleasure sukkah-building shares with reading Norman Finkelstein's Track and teaching my children Jewish jokes, although the mental activities involved are quite different).
Some of the same elements are there (pleasure in the sound of language, pleasure in “decoding” what seems initially unclear, etc.), but there are other faculties being drawn upon, other muscles exercised.Which are what? Not being snarky there: seriously, I'd love a list, with examples! Mark, Josh, anyone? It's time to get down to cases, methinks.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
Eric is absolutely correct when he says, "Don't think that reading immersive fiction is 'passive'; it only feels that way because the skills it takes come so easily to you, have been so naturalized, that you no longer notice you're deploying them!" But doesn't that suggest an argument based on education: that the anti-absorptive requires the development of a new skill set, one that develops one's critical capacity because it at least potentially resists being so "naturalized"?Yes, I guess that's right. There are a whole lot of skill sets to be learned, and "anti-absorptive" work certainly requires a mess of them. Part of the pleasure in reading such work, then, is the pleasure of using certain skills, perhaps even more so the pleasure of having to stretch a bit, so that one is conscious of using one's skills, which is in fact a pleasure. (Think of the "difficult" work as something like the city in a wonderful song by Jules Holland from the early 1980s, maybe even late '70s: "I love this city like a mischievous cat / 'cause it troubles me enough to make me feel alive.") On the other hand, doesn't this suggest that the pleasure that Josh or Mark takes in an anti-absorptive poem isn't all that different from the pleasure one of my undergraduates takes in, well, just about any poem, even what seems to us an "immersive" free-verse first-person lyric? (It's always remarkable to me how "hard" such work can be as the basic skill sets for reading poetry are being acquired.)
And wouldn't that be a change in the world, if more people were capable of registering the Other in others and the Other in themselves through cultivating texts that resist "naturalization"? The opposite of the impulse to repeat, "That's just the way it is"? (Cue Bruce Hornsby.)I guess. But why do you think that texts that "resist 'naturalization'" do that job particularly well? As my e-colleague Laura Vivanco points out in her comment at Teach Me Tonight, those of us who write seriously about popular romance fiction read those texts in an "anti-absorptive" way, although they hardly demand it. Aren't we now really talking about certain sorts of reading skills, rather than (or as much as) about certain sorts of texts? That is to say, can't we just excise the bit about texts from your comment, so that it reads "wouldn't that be a change in the world, if more people were capable of registering the Other in others and the Other in themselves"? Well, yeah--but now we're pretty far from talking about pleasure and poetics, no?
Or am I missing something? Maybe I am. Writes Josh:
It's certainly changed my world. It feels like an ethical opportunity if not an ethical imperative: a chance to enlarge and develop one's moral senses.I'd like to stand this one on its head, Josh. It seems to me that you're not talking about the ethics of a particular pleasure at this point, but rather the pleasure of acting and thinking ethically. Through essays and other para-poetic work, "anti-absorptive" poets have framed their verse as an ethical / political project. The sensory and aesthetic pleasures it offers, and the intellectual pleasures (of "figuring things out," or simply "figuring") thus have added to them a new, third pleasure: that of doing justly, or developing one's moral sense.
That is, indeed, a powerful pleasure. Think how strongly you and Mark and others want to hold on to it as part of your experience of reading and enjoying anti-absorptive work. But I don't think that only such work allows for such pleasures, even in contemporary poetry, or that those who don't respond to such work with that kind of pleasure are therefore less ethically ept or expansive. I just don't see any evidence for that other, larger claim.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Late Night Torta
I won't take you
as a lover
unless you eat with me
at my favorite taqueria.
I have to see you
crunch into jalapenos,
smell vinegary comino seeds,
sink teeth into carrot wheels
tasting like fire.
I want to see your nostrils
flare before biting
into a torta. Inhaling
sultry garlic seeped with
tomato inside the meat.
A dark layer of frijoles
cushoning crisp, thin-cut lettuce.
White crema, sassy and rich.
Your lips will redden
from the salsa. Faint sweat
will bead above your moustache.
I will watch the tattoos on your arms
swim above your ungiving muscles
in the bright pink and green lights.
The Virgen on the cash register table
will smile behind
her dark Indian eyes. She has
an angel to lift her
with his wide-flighted wings.
As you will lift me later
with your tongue.
I've often returned to an essay on Sidney by Mary Ellen Lamb: "Apologizing for Pleasure in Sidney's Apology for Poetry," which turns out to be available on line now, here.
To Sir Phillip Sidney, Lamb writes, "delight must be justified by instruction, by the way pleasure moves us to virtue," and more specifically to manly virtue. Like many in the English Renaissance, Sidney fears that poetry's appeal to pleasure tout court renders it (as an art), and its readers, and most of all its makers either effeminate or infantile, and possibly both. The roots of this anxiety lie, for Lamb, in the child‑rearing and educational practices ofI wonder whether there are comparable moments of initiation, anxious or otherwise, to be teased out of the partisans of modern and postmodern difficulty. Just a thought.
's cultural moment. Writing at a time when the indulgent, breechless care of upper class boys by female nurses ended when they were 7 to 10 years old, at which point they were abruptly thrust into a world of pants, Latin, self‑control, virility, and thrashings, Sidney links the "simple, sensual pleasures of early childhood" with the "dangerously effeminizing power" of "vernacular fictions or nursery rhymes" (Lamb 501). Such oral, mother‑tongue poetics leave us, write Sidney , "lulled asleep in shady idleness" (123): a state of either child‑like or post‑coital softness that stands opposed, in either case, to the guarded and active stance of "manly accomplishment." Sidney 's Apology for Poetry thus marks, the critic concludes, a crucial turning point in "the history of the bourgeois subject": a point at which "anxiety became installed in the very experience of pleasure" for the privileged literate male (515), and where the focus of that anxiety was first located, alas, in the art of poetry. Sidney
The question, that is, is why ought I to prefer "anti-absorptive" texts to "immersive" ones? It's in the "ought" that the rub resides, no? for the question of why do I prefer such texts to other sorts of texts ends up boiling down to either a question of biographical taste (Adorno's dreaded "culinary" approach to art) (eg I like late modernist poetry because I have a disposition, nurtured on bales of densely detailed Richard Scarry books and crossword puzzles and so forth, towards the complex and open-ended), or to a Bourdieuesquely-mapped position within the field of production, consumption, & distinction (which, if you're deeply committed to poetry, is a pretty depressing perspective from which to view matters).Since I rather like both of these approaches--the culinary and the cultural-positioning--I'm a bit puzzled here. What's exactly wrong with them? Isn't the problem simply that neither lets you take pride in liking one thing more than another? They're humbling; they don't let you feel smug or self-approving in your scorn for NASCAR and McRib sandwiches. (I write this as Talking Heads sing "Psycho Killer" on the iPod--back in 1977, I knew how superior I was for liking punk rock, rather than, I don't know, Fleetwood Mac or Bob Seger. But dude, I'm 40-something now; how on earth could I take such distinctions as seriously as I did when I was 14 or 15?)
Mark goes on:
The deus ex machina here is to invoke a political or (which often boils down to the same thing) moral argument: that anti-absorptive work is somehow better for you, or that it somehow works to change the world (not immediately, not directly, not vulgar-Marxistly) by altering the way you or your readers conceive the world.In my bones, I believe that these arguments are more or less wrong. I have yet to see a shred of evidence. Show me the money, Mark, Josh, or anyone. Point me to any example of an anti-absorptive work changing the world. (For the better? I assume you mean for the better.) I can think of absorptive works that might have done so. ("Yo Soy Joaquin / I am Joaquin," by Rudolfo "Corky" Gonzalez comes to mind, but it's probably vulgar-Marxist. The romantic erotica published by Kensington Brava comes to mind--the editor of the series is guest blogging today over here, quite delightfully, but it's probably not what Mark or Josh has in mind, either.)
In my bones I believe that these arguments are more or less right, tho I have yet to see them stated in a way that I find more than temporarily convincing.
I want to believe wholeheartedly, but I'm still skeptical. And it does ultimately come around to the issue of pleasure: what I want is a convincing account of the pleasure of what's difficult – perhaps analogous to the pleasure I take in a 100-proof habañero sauce on top of a plate of black beans & rice, a pleasure that involves two minutes of searing pain & buckets of sweat – an account that won't (disregard that last analogy) fall back upon the culinary, try to convince me that reading My Life is like a good bout of S/M, or preach to me about the virtues of asceticism like the aged Scottish Covenanter penguin in Happy Feet.Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief!
Mark, it's time that you and I wrote the book on this. I'll bring the flogger, you bring the hot sauce; we'll have us a party. Tell me when you're up for it--there's no one as ready as we are.
(P.S. I'm posting on this topic today over at Teach Me Tonight also, in the hope that some of the folks who read that blog will offer suggestions. Barthes, Adorno, Freud, Lacan, even Aristotle (whose distinction between sensory pleasure and eudaimonia is probably relevant): have you noticed that the critical discourse on this subject is pervasively by men? Something wrong with that, gentlemen. Let's rectify the situation, pronto.
Saturday, December 02, 2006
Josh starts by musing on the difference between pleasures offered by fiction and poetry: or, more specifically, the pleasures he finds (takes?) in certain kinds of fiction and certain kinds of poetry. As someone who spends a lot of time working with fiction these days, I take his observations awfully seriously, but I can't bring myself to agree with all of them.
World-immersion is for me the most primordial pleasure of reading fiction—I think of the "vivid, continuous dream" that John Gardner called for—and it's a pleasure diametrically opposed to the Barthesian bliss of language: an imagistic dream virtually requires the disappearance of the language, sheer transparency.Is this true for me in reading fiction? Yes and no: the fiction I read most, which is genre fiction, offers me "world-immersion," but I don't know that I'm ever entirely unaware of the language as such. I know, feel, taste an author's style at all times, even when lost in a book; I'd know a paragraph of Andre Norton from a paragraph of Asimov, and either from Ellison (Harlan or Ralph) in an instant, which suggests to me that this "disappearance of the language" is a critical fiction, at least for me. The same, by the way, is true for romance fiction: I know, reading Pam Rosenthal, that I'm not reading Eloisa James, although I'm not sure (yet) whether I know Eloisa James from Julia Quinn by sentence-to-sentence features of style rather than the differences found in larger units: the paragraph, the chapter, the plot device.
Back to Josh, on that pleasure of the "imagistic dream":
But it's also a distinctly bodily pleasure, if only in the negative sense: one morning, groggy from my own dreams, I picked up Empire Falls and immediately fell into the story, my eyes moving rapidly back and forth as though I were still in REM sleep, ignoring my system's cries for the usual morning dose of coffee. If dreams are, as many believe, a means of absorbing stimuli so as to keep you from waking up, then reading immersive fiction works similarly on me, so that I forget to eat or go to the bathroom or even to move my limbs. That's why such fiction is the best tonic for flying on airplanes: for several years I flew without discomfort by reading and rereading the Aubrey-Maturin novels. When I do notice the language in a book like Russo's, it's generally an infelicity, a speed bump: an ambiguous pronoun, a clumsy simile, which I'm sure the author would revise if he could so as to go back into the dream.Now, I don't pretend to know anything about dreams, let alone to believe anything about them. I'll leave that to the scientists of sleep, who may or may not know anything these days either. (I heard something on the radio recently about dreams as test-patterns, in a sense: the brain checking to see whether all systems were ready to return to active duty. Interesting, but probably irrelevant.) What strikes me here is Josh's final point, about noticing language, because I've hit a few of those speed bumps recently. To his list, I'd add typos: to wit, a wonderful faux pas in Eloisa James's Pleasure for Pleasure, which I hit yesterday afternoon. Speaking of a horse, the narrator remarks that the animal had "won her heart." Clearly, from context, this was meant to say the horse had "won her heat" (in the race), but the power of context is such that the proofreader missed it. ("Won her heart" makes such perfect sense as a phrase in a romance novel, who would spot it?)
Such anti-absorptive moments, to use Charles Bernstein's terms, can be annoying, as they are in student papers, but they can also be charming, as in that case, adding a little extra soupcon of
pleasure all their own. One wants to call them "accidentals," as in music, somehow.
Back to Josh, who's about to draw some distinctions:
All this is antithetical to the pleasures I seek from poetry, or from fiction that foregrounds the language through the beauty or ugliness of its sentences. Most readers (on airplanes or elsewhere) are after the infantilizing dream-state, and yet I can't blame others or myself for wanting to be nurtured by certain reading experiences rather than pricked into greater consciousness. A healthy diet, so to speak, probably requires both.Excuse me? Josh? Where did that "infantilizing" bit come from? I know you're borrowing "dream-state" from your earlier comparison, but what makes dreams infantile? What makes being lost in a book "nurturing"? There's a strange anxiety at work here--and dude, I don't know you well enough to get into that bit about being "pricked." No...that's a cheap shot... but I am struck by how rapidly Josh falls into a set of worries at least as old as Sir Philip Sidney's "Apology for Poetry," in which Sir P objects to the notion that poesy leaves us "lulled to sleep in shady idleness."
To Josh, then, certain pleasures are infantalizing because they nurture us, while others goad us into consciousness. By extension, those in the second set are not nurturing, but what? Provocative? Abusive? Strenuous? Challenging? (But sometimes to nurture you have to challenge, no?) In any case, they are what spur us into adulthood, evidently: into the world of breeches and thrashings and consciousness.
Josh, of course, is smart enough to hear his own rhetoric:
But isn't the moral content that creeps into my language here interesting? Immersive fiction as trans-fats, innovative writing as leafy greens.Well, they do say that we learn to appreciate bitter tastes later than sweet ones. Immersive fiction is a chocolate milk-shake; innovative writing is Campari? But let's push that a little, sir: we love sweets and fats because we've evolved to crave them. Is part of the moral resistance here the shame of our own biological inclination--older, deeper than our conscious selves--to love narrative? Is the "infantalizing" part of it the way it reminds us of our childhood itch for someone to tell me a story?
I am loath to become a scold, urging children to read Language poetry because it's good for you. Is the pleasure of anti-absorptive writing simply the masochistic pleasure of self-denial, of anorexia? Is it a "higher" pleasure because further from the pleasures of the flesh? And yet the anti-absorptive is closer to the body of language than immersive fiction is: we savor the materiality of phonemes and syntax and sentences, provoked into the kind of apperception that requires us to look up from the book now and then and figure. One type of reading is active and closer to writing; the other is passive and demands our submission—there's a masochism for you.Block those psycho-sexual metaphors, Josh! They're getting in your way. Don't confuse self-denial (asceticism) with anorexia (a disease); they're no more similar than tipsiness is to alcoholism. Don't think that reading immersive fiction is "passive"; it only feels that way because the skills it takes come so easily to you, have been so naturalized, that you no longer notice you're deploying them! (If you think I'm wrong, try reading an immersive novel in a foreign language, or watch a barely literate reader struggle through one.) While you're at it, stop mixing up passivity with submission (readers can top from the bottom and bottom from the top as well as anyone), and don't lump either of them together with masochism. (Do you really think it's masochistic to lie back and let yourself be pleased by a text?)
It's ever so tempting, ever since Freud, to reduce all pleasures to the sexual, if only in our metaphors. I suspect we need to resist that temptation in order to draw the sort of precise, useful distinctions Josh (and I) are looking for. Any other vocabularies out there for us to draw on?
Friday, December 01, 2006
Winter is icummen in,
Lhude sing Goddamm.
Raineth drop and staineth slop,
And how the wind doth ramm!
Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us,
An ague hath my ham.
Freezeth river, turneth liver,
Damn you, sing: Goddamm.
Goddamm, Goddamm, 'tis why I am, Goddamm,
So 'gainst the winter's balm.
Sing goddamm, damm, sing Goddamm.
Sing goddamm, sing goddamm, DAMM.
If you'd like to sing along, check out Richard Thompson's setting of "Sumer Is I-Cumin In" here. (At least I think it's there. Let me know if it isn't.)
Off to shovel out the car--
Announced by all the trumpets of the sky,
Arrives the snow, and, driving o'er the fields,
Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air
Hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven,
And veils the farmhouse at the garden's end.
The sled and traveler stopped, the courier's feet
Delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit
Around the radiant fireplace, enclosed
In a tumultuous privacy of storm.
Come see the northwind's masonry.
Out of an unseen quarry evermore
Furnished with tile, the fierce artificer
Curves his white bastions with projected roof
Round every windward stake, or tree, or door.
Speeding, the myriad-handed, his wild work
So fanciful, so savage, nought cares he
For number or proportion. Mockingly,
On coop or kennel he hangs Parian wreaths;
A swan-like form invests the hidden thorn;
Fills up the farmer's lane from wall to wall,
Maugre the farmer's sighs; and at the gate,
A tapering turret overtops the work.
And when his hours are numbered, and the world
Is all his own, retiring, as he were not,
Leaves, when the sun appears, astonished Art
To mimic in slow structures, stone by stone,
Built in an age, the mad wind's night-work,
The frolic architecture of the snow.
--R. W. Emerson
Though winter is represented in the almanac as an old man, facing the wind and sleet, and drawing his cloak about him, we rather think of him as a merry wood-chopper, and warm-blooded youth, as blithe as summer. The unexplored grandeur of the storm keeps up the spirits of the traveller. It does not trifle with us, but has a sweet earnestness. In winter we lead a more inward life. Our hearts are warm and cheery, like cottages under drifts, whose windows and doors are half concealed, but from whose chimneys the smoke cheerfully ascends. The imprisoning drifts increase the sense of comfort which the house affords, and in the coldest days we are content to sit over the hearth and see the sky through the chimney top, enjoying the quiet and serene life that may be had in a warm corner by the chimney side, or feeling our pulse by listening to the low of cattle in the street, or the sound of the flail in distant barns all the long afternoon. No doubt a skillful physician could determine our health by observing how these simple and natural sounds affected us. We enjoy now, not an oriental, but a boreal leisure, around warm stoves and fire-places, and watch the shadow of motes in the sunbeams.Thoreau, "A Winter Walk."
Sometimes our fate grows too homely and familiarly serious ever to be cured. Consider how for three months the human destiny is wrapped in furs. The good Hebrew revelation takes no cognizance of all this cheerful snow. Is there no religion for the temperate and frigid zones? We know of no scripture which records the pure benignity of the gods on a New England winter night. Their praises have never been sung, only their wrath deprecated. The best scripture, after all, records but a meagre faith. Its saints live reserved and austere. Let a brave devout man spend the year in the woods of Maine or Labrador, and see if the Hebrew scriptures speak adequately of his condition and experience, from the setting in of winter to the breaking up of the ice.
Now commences the long winter evening around the farmer’s hearth, when the thoughts of the indwellers travel far abroad, and men are by nature and necessity charitable and liberal to all creatures. Now is the happy resistance to cold, when the farmer reaps his reward, and thinks of his preparedness for winter, and through the glittering panes, sees with equanimity “the mansion of the northern bear,” for now the storm is over,
“The full ethereal round,
Infinite worlds disclosing to the view,
Shines out intensely keen; and all one cope
Of starry glitter glows from pole to pole.”