Thursday, February 07, 2013

Nothing new under the sun

The internet has given us instant access to a world of words. Whether that is an advantage or otherwise is open to question. I love the fact that I can look up a quotation that I can only half remember but I'm also put firmly in my place when I think I have an original idea and then discover lots of people have written about it already. Poets seem to have the advantage: as great observers of the minutiae of life, at least one of them will have covered whatever you are thinking about.

The theme for our writing group yesterday was faces and our inspiration came from Walt Whitman's poem of the same name:

Faces


SAUNTERING the pavement, or riding the country by-road--lo! such
faces!
Faces of friendship, precision, caution, suavity, ideality;
The spiritual, prescient face--the always welcome, common, benevolent
face,
The face of the singing of music--the grand faces of natural lawyers
and judges, broad at the back-top;
The faces of hunters and fishers, bulged at the brows--the shaved
blanch'd faces of orthodox citizens;
The pure, extravagant, yearning, questioning artist's face;
The ugly face of some beautiful Soul, the handsome detested or
despised face;
The sacred faces of infants, the illuminated face of the mother of
many children;
The face of an amour, the face of veneration;
The face as of a dream, the face of an immobile rock; 10
The face withdrawn of its good and bad, a castrated face;
A wild hawk, his wings clipp'd by the clipper;
A stallion that yielded at last to the thongs and knife of the
gelder.

Sauntering the pavement, thus, or crossing the ceaseless ferry,
faces, and faces, and faces:
I see them, and complain not, and am content with all.


Do you suppose I could be content with all, if I thought them their
own finale?

This now is too lamentable a face for a man;
Some abject louse, asking leave to be--cringing for it;
Some milk-nosed maggot, blessing what lets it wrig to its hole.

This face is a dog's snout, sniffing for garbage; 20
Snakes nest in that mouth--I hear the sibilant threat.

This face is a haze more chill than the arctic sea;
Its sleepy and wobbling icebergs crunch as they go.

This is a face of bitter herbs--this an emetic--they need no label;
And more of the drug-shelf, laudanum, caoutchouc, or hog's-lard.

This face is an epilepsy, its wordless tongue gives out the unearthly
cry,
Its veins down the neck distended, its eyes roll till they show
nothing but their whites,
Its teeth grit, the palms of the hands are cut by the turn'd-in
nails,
The man falls struggling and foaming to the ground while he
speculates well.

This face is bitten by vermin and worms, 30
And this is some murderer's knife, with a half-pull'd scabbard.

This face owes to the sexton his dismalest fee;
An unceasing death-bell tolls there.


Those then are really men--the bosses and tufts of the great round
globe!

Features of my equals, would you trick me with your creas'd and
cadaverous march?
Well, you cannot trick me.

I see your rounded, never-erased flow;
I see neath the rims of your haggard and mean disguises.

Splay and twist as you like--poke with the tangling fores of fishes
or rats;
You'll be unmuzzled, you certainly will. 40

I saw the face of the most smear'd and slobbering idiot they had at
the asylum;
And I knew for my consolation what they knew not;
I knew of the agents that emptied and broke my brother,
The same wait to clear the rubbish from the fallen tenement;
And I shall look again in a score or two of ages,
And I shall meet the real landlord, perfect and unharm'd, every inch
as good as myself.


The Lord advances, and yet advances;
Always the shadow in front--always the reach'd hand bringing up the
laggards.

Out of this face emerge banners and horses--O superb! I see what is
coming;
I see the high pioneer-caps--I see the staves of runners clearing the
way, 50
I hear victorious drums.

This face is a life-boat;
This is the face commanding and bearded, it asks no odds of the rest;
This face is flavor'd fruit, ready for eating;
This face of a healthy honest boy is the programme of all good.

These faces bear testimony, slumbering or awake;
They show their descent from the Master himself.

Off the word I have spoken, I except not one--red, white, black, are
all deific;
In each house is the ovum--it comes forth after a thousand years.

Spots or cracks at the windows do not disturb me; 60
Tall and sufficient stand behind, and make signs to me;
I read the promise, and patiently wait.

This is a full-grown lily's face,
She speaks to the limber-hipp'd man near the garden pickets,
Come here, she blushingly cries--Come nigh to me, limber-hipp'd man,
Stand at my side till I lean as high as I can upon you,
Fill me with albescent honey, bend down to me,
Rub to me with your chafing beard, rub to my breast and shoulders.


The old face of the mother of many children!
Whist! I am fully content. 70

Lull'd and late is the smoke of the First-day morning,
It hangs low over the rows of trees by the fences,
It hangs thin by the sassafras, the wild-cherry, and the cat-brier
under them.

I saw the rich ladies in full dress at the soiree,
I heard what the singers were singing so long,
Heard who sprang in crimson youth from the white froth and the water-
blue,

Behold a woman!
She looks out from her quaker cap--her face is clearer and more
beautiful than the sky.

She sits in an arm-chair, under the shaded porch of the farmhouse,
The sun just shines on her old white head. 80

Her ample gown is of cream-hued linen,
Her grandsons raised the flax, and her granddaughters spun it with
the distaff and the wheel.

The melodious character of the earth,
The finish beyond which philosophy cannot go, and does not wish to
go,
The justified mother of men.


2 comments:

  1. Hi Maureen, I'm glad you got a little snow to look at. I wish I could read what your writing group wrote about Whitman's Faces poem. I enjoyed reading it and his word pictures are piercingly real, often too real! I know I'd have to read it many more times to know the things you probably knew from reading it! Or I must wake up a little bit more!

    I like your new template very much!

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  2. Poets, eh, M? They have a lot to answer for! But I'm glad you enjoyed the session; you all rose wonderfully to the writing challenges you received and I'm very proud of you all.

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