READING IN A TIME OF PLAGUE (R18)


It is suggested that one result of Lockdown is that people are reading books. Wow! They haven’t been doing that? In the last three months I’ve had my habitual average read for the last 60 years – 15 quite demanding books. I have been described as a ‘chain reader’.

Having completed my third or fourth immersion in Henry Green’s entire body of work, I decided to read randomly starting with The Ebony Tower, remarkable shortish stories by John Fowles, which I’d first read many years ago. Then a book I should have read in my teens apparently – The Lost Domain by Alain Fournier – but only came across when I was not far off 60; anyway, the feeling of a far off perfect place of the mind still works for me as it seemed to do for JBPriestley. Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s The Leopard works in a similar way. Then two books not read before that I just plucked off my shelves – an amazing book of short sketches by George Egerton, Keynotes & Discords, from one of whose pages I derived a Found Poem of which this is the beginning:-

the most futile

of all our dreams
pursuit of a shadow
legacy of a forgotten existence
bequeathed as a curse
to lure us from peace to despair

happiness! the nearest approach
to it is the absolute negation of self
– to think work & live for others
round each day
as if one is to close one’s eyes
at night for the last time

so few realise
that the world belongs to them –
everything written said sung
or lived has been lived for us

no monarch powerful enough
to hold a monopoly of sunshine
of the varying beauty of seasons
of moonlight on rippling water
of the stain on leaves at fall-time
of dappling shadows in the woods
of the laughter of little children

‘George Egerton’ is the pen-name of Mary Clavelita Dunne (1859-1945). The Found Poem expresses her central belief which extends to a splendid highly committed dedication to the cause of women.

Taking my eyes three shelves down from there, a book I didn’t recognise at all, untouched I suppose since I bought it in the mid-nineties, The Age of Wire and String by Ben Marcus, reading which constituted a complete shift to another way of being, taking bits of things we might recognise and re-working them so that they seem ‘out of this world’ completely – just enough to keep you on track as reader but all put together in a very disorientating kind of way. For example:-

Page 127 of

THE
AGE OF
WIRE AND
STRING

by Ben marcus

Automobile, Watchdog

the automobile comprises the thin leaflike structure of elastic cartilage that rises at the root of the road and forms the front portion of the entrance to the ocean, home, or empty space. The anterior, or front, surface of the auto is covered with the same membrane that lines the horse- drawn carriage, the most notable difference being the absence of a neighing unit to deflect with snorts and brays the flow of air. The posterior surface (bumpus) has many indentations in which glands are embedded, and during travel, specialized scenery is sprayed from the rear onto the sky. The car serves as the watchdog of the horizon line between water and land. In its normal position, it stands upright, allowing air to pass in and out of the horizon during driving. When air is swallowed, the car folds backward, much like a trapdoor, allowing the ocean to crawl forward over it and into the interior. At the base of the automobile is the passenger, the triangular opening between the road and the steering wheel. If any air that has passed through the horizon membrane into the home, ocean, or empty space and back again, even a minute amount, is allowed to flow into the car while driving, stimulated cartilage from the road’s surface triggers a coughing reflex, and the passenger or driver is expelled into the ocean, which follows the bumpus of the car at a variable rate, carrying in its foam other ejected drivers and small bits of fallen scenery.

After this I thought I’d read The Story of My Heart for the umpteenth time since 1953 to make notes about how exactly Richard Jefferies influenced the who & what I am now – alternative reality – the one I’ve inhabited through thick & thin these last nearly seventy years. More or less a bare list of quotations.

• Realising that spirit, recognising my own inner consciousness, the psyche, so clearly, I cannot understand time. It is eternity now. I am in the midst of it. It is about me in the sunshine; I am in it, as the butterfly floats in the light-laden air. Nothing has to come; it is now. Now is eternity; now is the immortal life. Here this moment, by this tumulus, on earth, now; I exist in it. The years, the centuries, the cycles are absolutely nothing; it is only a moment since this tumulus was raised; in a thousand years more it will still be only a moment. To the soul there is no past and no future; all is and will be ever, in now. For artificial purposes time is mutually agreed on, but there is really no such thing. (page 43 Longmans edition 1907)

• There may be time for the clock, the clock may make time for itself; there is none for me. (p44)

• …my soul [psyche] has never been dipped in time… an artificial arrangement… (p44)

• NOW IS ETERNITY

• Give me soul-life… [bearing in mind that there is] ‘something beyond ‘soul’… (p61)

• Centuries of thought have failed to reconcile and fit the mind to the universe which is designless and purposeless and without idea… (p69)

• …something higher than the soul, more perfect than deity… (p73)

• I know full well that one lifetime, however long, cannot fill my heart… (p88)

• There will not be any sum or outcome or result of this senseless labour and movement… no more sum or result than accumulated from the motion of a revolving cowl on a housetop. (p99)

• …the mind must be cleared of the conceit that, because we live today we are wiser than ages gone… Begin wholly afresh. (p105)

• Once impress on the mind that it has already all, that advance is impossible because there is nothing further and it is chained like a horse to an iron pin in the ground. (p107)

by the sea

aware of the sun overhead
I feel there is nothing
between me & space –
the verge of a gulf…
a tangent from my feet
goes straight unchecked
into the unknown;
the edge of an abyss
as if the earth were cut away
in a sheer fall
of eight thousand miles
to the sky beneath
thence a hollow to the stars
mysterious nameless hollow –
I am the mystery itself
equal to the entire cosmos

no thought I have ever had
has satisfied my soul

(found on p117)

• The surroundings, the clothes, the dwelling, social status, the circumstances are to me utterly indifferent. Let the floor of the room be bare, let the furniture be a plank table, the bed a mere pallet… a cave would be enough… Let me be myself, my self fully. The pageantry of wealth, the senseless precedence of place – words fail me to express my utter contempt for such pleasure or such ambitions… (p126)

• I want to be always in company with the sun and sea and earth. These and the stars by night are my natural companions. (p127)

• Put aside the plan-circle of ideas and it will at once be evident that there is no inherent or ‘must’… no inherent necessity for a first cause… (p140)

• Nothing is straight, but all things curved, crooked and unequal. (p143)

• There is an immense range of thought quite unknown to us yet. (p143)

• In human affairs everything happens by chance – in defiance of human ideas and without any direction of an intelligence. (p145)

• Nothing has been accumulated for our benefit in ages past. All the labour and the toil of so many millions continued through such vistas of time, down to those millions who at this hour are rushing to & fro in London, has accumulated nothing for us. Nothing for our good. (p159)

• Erase the past from the mind – stand face to face with the real now – and work out all anew. (p168)

• Worse and as injurious are those persons incessantly declaring, teaching, and impressing on all that to work is man’s highest condition. This falsehood is the interested superstition of an age infatuated with money. (p175)

• It is the well-to-do who are the criminal classes. (p177)

• Our earth produces not only a sufficiency and a superabundance, but in one year pours a cronucopia of good things forth, enough to fill us for many years in succession. The only reason we do not enjoy it is the want of rational organisation. (p178)

• …a tenth, nay, a hundredth part of the labour & slavery now gone through will be sufficient… but [so-called] idleness gives time for thought [and the criminal classes would not want people to do that…]

• I hope succeeding generations will be able to be idle. I hope that nine-tenths of their time will be leisure time; that they may enjoy their days, and the earth, and the beauty of this beautiful world; that they may rest by the sea and dream; that they may dance and sing and eat and drink. (p179)

All of this is a bare outline of the what & who I am. It has been thus for as good as ever.

Then I scooted through The Picture of Kebes, the Theban, a Socratic Dialogue in a beautiful little book with uncut pages, made by ESSEX HOUSE PRESS, CHIPPING CAMPDEN, GLOUCESTERSHIRE, FEB MDCCCVI [1906] which had been lying around on a little bookcase for many years. An account of how to achieve ‘true culture’.

2 thoughts on “READING IN A TIME OF PLAGUE (R18)

  1. Such a beautiful construct this glob manages to be, like a well designed poem reminding all who care how the finer things on this planet are here, now, eternal without names. I wish to go to the sea and listen for Neruda’s bells, that heavenly music illuminated in dreams.

    Thank you Colin for this transcendental Glob.

    Liked by 1 person

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