May 28, 2014

Spring and Dylan Thomas' "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower"

I'm pretty sure I was a college freshman when I first encountered Dylan Thomas' "The Force that through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower," and I'm pretty sure I had no clue what it meant or why anyone would write such a thing or why I was in college or where Wales was or why anybody lived there instead of Ohio.

Well, here is the poem again. I think it's one of the great works about the mysteries and rhythms of all kinds of life. And death. Yin and Yang, I suppose. Libido, broadly defined, and Thanatos?

In the photos from early May, a Great Egret kept retrieving sticks for his nest. (For obvious reasons, I'm making him a hard-working male). I don't know how it could have been clearer that a natural force was driving him to go fetch and to come back, again and again. And maybe that force is larger and more complex than anyone can explain. Hence, the repetition of "I am dumb."

Dylan Thomas claims it's that same force that drives a flower through its stem (its "fuse") and propels a human through his green age, even though it's also the force that brings death to lovers and to us all. The poem is an interesting combination of elegant, romantic, musical language and thought with a realistic insistence that what lives also dies.

I especially love these lines:

And I am dumb to tell a weather’s wind
How time has ticked a heaven round the stars.

Dylan Thomas may be as romantic and effusive as e.e. cummings about nature, but maybe Thomas is more realistic and complex. Opinions?


May 26, 2014

The Great Speckled Bird . . . Is a Robin?

I'd like to think this is the bird in the gospel song:

What a beautiful thought I am thinking
Concerning a great speckled bird.
It cometh descending from heaven
On the pages of God's holy word. 

However, having seen a nightmare version of a blue jay child in its early
adolescence, my guess is that the splotchity bird in the pic is a juvenile robin growing into her or his plumage. Birders, yea or nay?  I hope this guy only needs some Clearisil rather than major surgery or a feather transplant.

May 8, 2014

Poking and Prodding: e.e. cummings’ “O sweet spontaneous” and the Nature of Nature (and; un-Schooling

At Kensington Metropark the other day, I discovered an island hubbub, a rookery full of Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons, and Cormorants. Below them Canada Geese squawked. Closer to shore, red winged blackbirds clung to reeds and half-seriously threatened me, I assume because of nearby nests. Two male geese squared off as if to fight—much hissing and honking in goose profanity, I'm sure. Later, two male redwings got into the longest physical squabble (maybe ten seconds) I’ve ever seen between two birds. At home, the wiser gold finches, doves, cardinals, and sparrows make only symbolic gestures of combat. 
My big birding day at Kensington got me thinking even more about spring and nature, and that reminded me of e.e. cummings’ poem,  “O sweet spontaneous,” in which he offers mockery and contempt for philosophy, science, and religion. Whatever those three endeavors might be, what they are not—and never will be—is spontaneous. They are considered, rehearsed, systematic invasions and perversions of nature, which is so magical and supra-rational that spring, season of rebirth and renewal, is the “rhythmic/lover” of death.

Nature is spontaneous in the sense that it simply is; it cannot be understood empirically. Philosophers and scientists are “prurient” and “naughty” voyeurs, while religionists try to knock nature around, “buffeting” it as they attempt to pull gods from its womb. Is that not a rather violent image of birthing, perhaps suggestive of abortion?

In the ongoing American hostility and debate about evolutionism vs. creationism, what might e.e. cummings say? And what might he say about religion in the schools? Would he tell us to avoid teaching philosophy, science and religion altogether?

As a poem, “O sweet spontaneous” is surely vulnerable to charges of oversimplification and sentimentality (that is, excessive or unearned emotional content).  Does it cross that line into touchy-feely, art-fart mush? Or does it try to demonstrate through simplicity its own argument that nature and the cosmos cannot be known in Academy-sanctioned curricula? 
Does the poem ask us to plop the kid in a field to witness the elk and experience snakebite? Shall we cancel science classes nationwide? What would a school run by cummings look like?

What would cummings do about climate change? Or cancer?

Would he argue that pantheism, animism, atheism and their ilk are also “prurient,” “naughty,” and “squeezing” and “buffeting”?  Do they too have “scraggy knees”? Or is it only mainstream schools of thought that are villains and morons? Kill the Presbyterian, let the hippie roam.
See how easy it is to take cummings to task? And aren’t his anti-traditional punctuation, capitalization, and diction rather juvenile, facile, disingenuous rebellions?

Or are they the most honest, urgent, cogent way to challenge authority? Maybe they demand that we experience the world as cummings does, unfettered by semicolons.
Whatever the case, when I’m having a good experience in nature, what I’m feeling feels unknowable—fwom de pwitty wittle finchee (change now to a baritone voice) to the big mean hawk that eats him (“the incomparable/couch of death”?).  What I’m experiencing might be such a vigorous firing of neurons, or such a jiggling of stardust as it wiggles with what I am, that no mere empirical Discipline can touch it.

Surely the solution is to invite politicians to write up an exam that tests a student’s life-essential knowledge at age 15. For if politicians don’t know what must be learned, who does? 

Lovers' Lane