Posts Tagged ‘Herman Melville’

Stirring of the Muses on a Friday Night

July 18, 2014
Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

Historic Flatiron Building in Fort Worth, Texas

I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Aaron Copland plays “Appalachian Spring” as I sit up late on a Friday night, with a desire to think, to write, to be.  The day started beautifully at 6:00 a.m., with no school to go and teach.  I love the three-day weekends of summer school.  I sat in my living room and watched through the open blinds the dawn breaking across my backyard while I re-read chapter two of Thoreau’s Walden,“Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”  I love his salute to Aurora and the beautiful meditations about the dawn being the heroic age–that all intelligences awake with the dawn.  The chapter marked a delicious start to the day.  Following Thoreau, I then turned to Proust and to Melville, reading for well over an hour before rising to enter the kitchen and make breakfast.  Following breakfast I worked a long time in the watercolor studio, mostly finishing up abandoned work that had piled up the past couple of months.

To begin this delicious night in my darkened studio, Marcel Proust delivered beautiful images in Swann’s Way.  The young narrator is smitten by the sight of a girl with a fair complexion and azure eyes.  The mere sight of her overpowers his eyes at the same time the hawthorns are flooding his senses.  He cannot separate the beauty of the two.  How many of us still recall those first instances of romantic love and how we lost all bearings?  What a marvelous gift it would be to set such a profound experience down in prose as Proust managed to do.

In Moby Dick, after 120 pages, Captain Ahab finally emerged into view, and what a powerful force his presence exerted on his surrounding environment.  Like the solid bronze of Cellini’s Perseus, he towers above his ship and crew, the mere sight of him with no accompanying speech evoking a sense of genuine awe from the narrator.  His aggressive gesture toward second mate Stubb rattled the otherwise stalwart officer, leaving the bemused fellow wondering what it was exactly that evoked such a fear from him.

With sadness, I resumed reading a biography of Jack Kerouac by Tom Clark.  I read the book several years ago, then lent it out and never got it back.  So now I’m reading a newly purchased copy, re-highlighting, etc., and of course, am very surprised at how much of the content I have already forgotten from the first reading.  The details of Kerouac’s migratory life always leave me with the same kind of disturbed thoughts that I get from reading about Hemingway: these men had such a passion for disciplined writing that always drives me to find another gear to crank out work, no matter how tired or discouraged I may become in my own life and work.  They truly induce me to work even harder in my research, thinking and writing.  But the misery of both these men brings me to such overwhelming sadness.  I’m glad I never mixed alcohol with my life’s work—I am not able to identify with that problem on a gut-level.  But the despondency, the self-doubt, the second-guessing—that kind of a hell I have known all-too-well, and don’t like to visit or re-visit.  And it hurts deeply every time I read these details in their life’s work.

This afternoon, I was deeply moved, listening to a trio of thirty-minute lectures from The Teaching Company.  I have been so fortunate to receive a number of these lecture sets, first in VHS and later in DVD, from a number of dear friends and occasionally from one of those “can’t miss” sales that the company offers.  One lecture was from Daren Staloff (“Hegel—History and Historicism”), and the other two from Daniel N. Robinson (“The Idea of Freedom” and “Human History as the Unfolding of the Ideal: The Hegelians”).  The lectures prompted me to draw out a volume placed in my hands earlier this year by our remarkable school librarian, Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.  Anyone familiar with this volume is no doubt grinning already, but I am actually getting enough from the text to stay with it.  Hegel’s mind was Faustian in the way he incorporated and excerpted virtually everything he studied throughout his lengthy life, and then fashioned all that knowledge into a comprehensive system.  His mind reminds me very much of that of Paul Tillich, with that interdisciplinary drive, and of course I have always wanted to be that way.  So, tonight I also spent some more time working over Hegel’s text and recording observations in my journal.

Last night I took out my Latin grammars and workbooks and resumed a project I started in 2003, but abandoned on three subsequent occasions.  Eleven years later, I still cannot read Latin, but love and respect the language and am now finding myself devoting some summer evenings to working on my vocabulary and grammar exercises, and pulling out occasional texts from one of my Loeb Classical Library volumes as well as my Biblia Sacra Vulgata.  Tonight marks my second consecutive night working in the Latin text.  I had always hoped I could work this language as I do the ancient Greek, but alas, I took many semesters of Greek and it stayed with me fortunately.  Latin was never available in the schools I attended.  I love the line from Byron’s Beppo:

I love the language, that soft bastard Latin,

Which melts like kisses from a female mouth.

All of tonight has been given to reading, note-taking and writing.  I did manage today to finish a number of watercolor projects that had been abandoned over the past months.  Above, I have posted my finished product of the historic flatiron building on the south side of downtown Fort Worth, Texas.  I don’t know why I had laid it aside for so long, but now I’m glad it’s finished and has been delivered to the Weiler House Fine Art Gallery.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Logic in the Shadows with Democritus Looking On

July 13, 2014
Studying Logic in the Shadows

Studying Logic in the Shadows

If we shadows have offended,

Think but this, and all is mended,

That you have but slumb’red here

While these visions did appear.

And this weak and idle theme,

No more yielding but a dream,

Gentles, do not reprehend.

If you pardon, we will mend.

William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream

A retrospective look over my four-and-a-half day summer semester break is yielding up a satisfied sentiment for me as this summer afternoon stretches into the quiet midsummer evening.  Five thirty-gallon heavy-duty garbage bags are cinched and waiting at my curb for their morning pick up.  They are the refuse yielded up from two previously neglected rooms that I cleaned thoroughly over the holiday and then refurnished with heart-felt delight.  Fifteen new files of weekly lesson plans are also tucked into my external hard drive for an online Logic class this fall at the university which I will conduct for the first time.  I endured plenty of hours of sweat throughout the days in a darkened study, learning these structures well enough to manipulate into lesson plans.  My sculpture bust of Democritus looked at me out from under my study lamp with a look of bemusement, probably wondering if I could pull it off.  My acoustic guitar has been emitting melodies I have not heard in a long, long time.  Sometimes I cannot believe my own fingers are coaxing these sounds from the strings.  This too floods my heart with eudaimonia.  Melville’s Moby Dick and Hawthorne’s “Rappaccini’s Daughter” have transplanted my heart to tender nineteenth-century American affections I have not felt in awhile.  And they paved the way for me to re-open my studies of British literary romanticism in preparation for the second summer term that opens early in the morning.  And what would a holiday be without painting?  A student of mine from decades past, now an artist himself, cared enough to mail photos to me of my grandmother’s house that he found in his portfolio, left over from high school days.  And so with gratitude I begin another watercolor of one of my most cherished memories, this time with an excellent model to follow.  Thank you, Ian!  

Commencement on a New Watercolor

Commencement on a New Watercolor

This vacation has been a precious gift for which I cannot offer enough praise.  I’m satisfied with what I was able to accomplish, and still get some needed rest.  I’m ready for tomorrow.  Hopefully, the students will be able to sense a renewed teacher when I enter their arena.

Thanks always for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

Coming Back Home

July 12, 2014
My Restored Study

My Restored Study

Wherever I sat, there I might live, and the landscape radiated from me accordingly. . . . The morning wind forever blows, the poem of creation is uninterrupted, but few are the ears that hear it.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Last night I finally finished the clearing out and refurbishing of the study that I abandoned about three years ago.  It took a long time to get rid of all the debris that had been stacked and piled into this second bedroom-turned-warehouse.  This Saturday morning, rising at 6:00, I gladly took possession of this space once again, and sat in the stillness reading, while the sounds of Handel’s “Messiah” wafted down the hallway from my distant bedroom.  The dawn was breaking, the light peeking through the windows was beautiful, and I was once again in my element.  In this chamber for over a decade, I saw many beautiful ideas and art forms come to life, and cranked out many pages of manuscript.  It is time for these things to happen once again in this environment.

At the time of this writing, I have finished yet another huge installment to my fall semester Logic course, have written extensively in my journal, read another portion of Moby Dick (finally finishing that New Bedford chapel sermon), did some translating from the Hebrew Bible and Septuagint (Psalm 1) and now turn my attention to clearning out the third bedroom that has accumulated debris over the past couple of years.  By the time I return to school Monday, I intend to be living in every room of this house, instead of just the front end.  It’s a good feeling.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Sometimes the Days are Filled with Gods

July 10, 2014
Collage built around Melville Woodcut Print

Collage built around Melville Woodcut Print

If ever I lay me on a bed of sloth in peace,

That instant let for me existence cease!

If ever with lying flattery you can rule me

So that contented with myself I stay,

If with enjoyment you can fool me,

Be that for me the final day!

Goethe, Faust

Being unsure of the source of energy, I am nevertheless abundantly appreciative for this opportunity to complete a long and fruitful day tidying rooms in my house and laboring long hours over logic lesson plans for the online course this fall.  I have nearly half of my fall semester laid out, and still have three good working days ahead of me before having to return to the second semester of summer school.  This feels good, real good.  I found myself looking over a text from Goethe that I read over ten years ago that somehow has stayed with me.

The quiet lull of the evening has yielded delicious moments in the comfy chair, reading further into Moby Dick and feeling stirred by some of his religious themes.  The chapel sermon in New Bedford compelled me to lay aside the volume and do some reading from the New Testament, both from its Greek and Latin Vulgate texts.  But before I get to that, please allow me to try and express why this day of unbridled energy feels so darned good right now, even at this late hour.  A passage from Moby Dick describing the aged chaplain, Father Mapple, went straight to my core:

At the time I now write of, Father Mapple was in the hardy winter of a healthy old age; that sort of old age which seems merging into a second flowering youth, for among all the fissures of his wrinkles, there shone certain mild gleams of a newly developing bloom–the spring verdure peeping forth even beneath February’s snow.

I don’t wish to dwell on this, but I’ll at least publish this sentiment–turning sixty earlier this year bothered me.  I didn’t feel such regrets at forty or fifty, but for some reason sixty hurt.  And since that day I have been more faithful to sleep, diet, and exercise issues, but just could not seem to find any energy.  The ebbtide of life has bothered me, to put it very succinctly.  But these past three days have been different, with some measure of “newly developing bloom” and I am ebulliently grateful for that difference.  I feel more energy, more purpose, and more fulfilment in what I do, and am profoundly happy to feel that way, hoping the feeling continues.  For now, I will accept that Gift.  My soul feels the exultant cry from Melville’s text: 

Beat on, beat on, thou noble ship, and bear a hardy helm; for lo! the sun is breaking through; the clouds are rolling off–serenest azure is at hand.

For years I have been fascinated with the Prologue to The Gospel of St. John in the New Testament.  The opening verse, “In the beginning was the word” has always made me linger, taking seriously the sentiment expressed by Goethe in Faust:

‘Tis written: In the beginning was the Thought!

Consider well that line, the first you see,

That your pen may not write too hastily!

Is it then Thought that works, creative, hour by hour?

Thus should it stand: In the beginning was the Power!

Yet even while I write this word, I falter,

For something warns me, this too I shall alter.

The Spirit’s helping me!  I see now what I need

And write assured: In the beginning was the Deed!

Years ago, I was taught that the ancient Hebrews did not separate “word” from “act”, particularly in the writings of their Torah.  With that in mind, I enjoy Goethe’s meditation, connecting those two words intimately, and I have tried to apply that idea to my own personal day-to-day life of late–the word is power, because it is also act.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

 

 

 

Call Me Ishmael

July 9, 2014
Pencil Portrait of Herman Melville

Pencil Portrait of Herman Melville

But these are all landsmen; of weeks pent up in lath and plaster–tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.  How then is this?  Are the green fields gone?  What do they here?

Herman Melville, Moby Dick

I sailed out of summer school this morning at 8:37, free until the new term begins in 4 1/2 days.  I was one of those “clinched to desks” in recent weeks, at least during the first part of each working day.  I knew from my waking moment that today would be special.  As breakfast was cooking, I reached for my copy of Moby Dick which I began reading numerous times over the past twenty years, convinced that this summer would be different.  We’ll see.  The opening pages are captivating to me–I love Melville’s way of turning sentences.  Even before sitting down to eat, I “saw” that vast ocean as a metaphor of my unbridled freedom until Monday, and began making plans of injecting Quality into this break.

As I sit over my morning coffee (I brewed it, but didn’t have time to drink it during final exams, grading, etc.) and resume my reading of Melville, I’ll reflect with a spirit of gratitude on the gift that this day has already brought.  Maybe I’ll even make some new artwork this afternoon (the Melville drawing is from 1990)–we’ll see!

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.