Last of summer, 1966, packed and ready to depart for a fellowship in Ireland, listening to Schubert. Lots of pills and whiskey around of course. All those details are immediate and of the moment, the kind of thing so often finding its way into these Dream Song poems, mostly written quickly and very much of a contained, particular moment. It makes me think that a daily blog like this may be the most appropriate response imaginable to The Dream Songs because blog posts are also each of a moment—first drafts, all of them, but (hopefully!) building a coherent response through a sustained engagement even through the flux of mood and tone that any individual swings through day to day. Sometimes moved, sometimes admiring, occasionally awe-struck, other times frustrated or exasperated, or even pissed off. Comes and goes. Each day’s post a spontaneous swatting at whatever the poem tosses up for that day. A creative/critical game of poetic Whack-A-Mole. I know of a few friends who are reading regularly, although I can tell from the stats provided on the blog site that there is someone in Portugal dropping by pretty often now (eu realmente espero que você encontre o meu projeto interessante e instrutivo!) and also from the Netherlands (ik hoop echt dat je mijn project ook). I love that!
Anyway, DS 256 begins all banal enough and harmless, though to begin with images of pills and liquor has this kind of bitter humor where B. is really shaking his head at himself. So not so harmless, maybe. The pills I can maybe understand, but there’s butt or two of good whiskey to be found in Ireland, from what I hear. You don’t need to pack the stuff along! But there was no rest for the man that morning, and Shubert’s damn scratchy concert on the phonograph is enervating more than anything. Mr. Bones’s conscience, actually the Eternal Voice of Hovering Death, as we know, makes this kind of snide remark about restlessness and the afterlife: “The Lord will bring us to a nation / where everybody only rest.” There’s travel to a new country, and there’s, you know, travel to a new country. That’s one take on heaven right there, where everybody only rest, lounging about naked and fat in the clouds, choir and harp-strumming and all that insipid business. Next time you stop for 10 seconds in an art museum, in front of one of those massive old paintings from like, say, the 1580s, canvases usually ten or twelve feet tall, uncomprehending that such a thing ever even came to exist, with the little angels with their little gold harps and horns floating around the contorted main subjects like sparkling little angel-shaped Mylar helium balloons, it helps to remember the squalid desperation, the syphilitic starvation and sweat-stinking, spoiled-cabbage desolation of the typical European life at that time, the loose black teeth and blood-letting, the smell of stale fish on the fingers of your barber, the grunting constipation over the deep and distant foaming surface of a fetid latrine, the tedium and fear, the atrocious public executions, the horseshit and reeking orifices, everyone’s ears and nostrils stuffed with hair, the tyrannical church-guilt, the pain and bloated food poisoning, gout and cholera and plague. In that context, insipid, lounging little fat angels don’t seem so ridiculous any more. In fact, that would seem kind of lovely, in contrast.
But no, that’s a boring thought to Henry, and who can blame him? There’s nothing left to that but God, for Chrissake, Henry says. BORING. The real meaningful lines from this poem, the keepers? “long experience of His works / has not taught me his love. / His love must be a very strange thing indeed, / considering its products.” He and his angels may be dull, clean-perfumed, and shiny-oiled up there in cloud-soft heaven, but He made this world down here too, didn’t He? And it’s pretty awfully messed up. Sometimes, all you want to do is rest away from it. Rest is not boredom. Angel-soft heaven is boredom. Rest is the peace of setting aside the suffering. Without peace, pain and boredom and no-rest become hard to separate. B. is admitting that he can’t even tell the difference anymore. If there is a dense, cold fog in Ireland, that will be a blessing.