John field notes 12a: A second stone, and the overlapping ripples

Six random observations about this Holy Week incident:

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Gentiles. They approached Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we should like to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew, and the two of them went to tell Jesus. Jesus replied: ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. In very truth I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains that and nothing more; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest. Whoever loves himself is lost, but he who hates himself in this world will be kept safe for eternal life. If anyone is to serve me, he must follow me; where I am, there will my servant be. Whoever serves me will be honoured by the Father. (John 12:20 – 26, REB)

1. This elaborate description of how some Gentiles were introduced to Jesus (assuming they were!) reflects the outer and inner circles surrounding Jesus in John chapter 2. The circles aren’t impenetrable, and they don’t seem to circumscribe different levels of understanding and relationship to the same extent as they do in chapter 2. But they seem to connect the time just before Jesus’ crucifixion (John 12) with the beginning of his ministry (John 2). Circles as echoes: it’s as if another stone has been thrown into the pond, and the ripples overlap.

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This is more than fame

[Photo of Dixon]During his three years in a poor but beautiful part of Wales where he would learn the Welsh language as perhaps the single thing he had time to enjoy outside of his theological studies he was assigned to undertake as part of his training to become a Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins began writing poetry again. He had burnt all of his poetry seven years earlier when he had joined the Jesuits.

Hopkins’s rector at St. Beuno’s in Wales, Father Jones, who had a better feel for Hopkins’s true gifting than any of his superiors to date – Jesuit superiors as well as his superiors at Oxford, where he had converted to Catholicism around age twenty – saw how moved Hopkins had become reading in The Times about the foundering of the North German steamer Deutschland off the English coast and suggested that someone at the theologate write an ode celebrating the lives of the five Catholic nuns who drowned in the disaster.  Hopkins volunteered.  The papers were still adding to the public’s knowledge of what happened when Hopkins began writing his ode.

Hopkins sent The Wreck of the Deutschland to The Month, a Jesuit magazine, which took a few months to reject it.  During The Month’s consideration, the pump primed by the Deutschland, Hopkins had written a few sonnets and a curtal sonnet, including three of his most famous poems: “God’s Grandeur,” “Pied Beauty,” and “The Windhover,” the last of which Hopkins always considered his finest poem.  These sonnets contained his sprung rhythm, which was his new system of meter that counted only the stressed syllables in a given line, and the cyngnedd – consonantal chiming – that he had picked up from the Welsh.  He took no steps to publish any of these sonnets.

For the first couple of years after becoming a priest at the end of his stay in Wales, Hopkins was sent to various assignments for short periods, and he rarely had the time or the inclination to write poetry.  Before leaving Wales, though, he had sent some of his work, including the Deutschland, to his good friend Robert Bridges, a doctor who, in his old age, would become England’s poet laureate.

Bridges hated the Deutschland and offered Hopkins little encouragement about it or about another ode about another shipwreck, The Loss of the Eurydice, which Hopkins had written in ways that incorporated some of the criticism that Bridges had offered about the Deutschland.  Still, Bridges was a poetic lifeline for Hopkins: he was an old Oxford friend and a good poet, and the two of them enjoyed their correspondence particularly about English verse, past and present. And Hopkins, for his part, was never less than candid with Bridges about the merits and faults of the latter’s poetry.  Bridges, a more conventional poet, was busy getting published.

Discouraged about his poems’ receptions, Hopkins, then thirty-three years old, remembered an obscure Anglican priest, Richard Watson Dixon (photographed above), a master at the Highgate School while Hopkins was attending it before he matriculated to Oxford.  Dixon had left a book of his own poems with one of the other masters when he left Highgate, and the title caught Hopkins’s eye.  And then, in 1878, about thirteen years after the fact, Hopkins decided to write him.

After introducing himself to Dixon, Hopkins told him how he had taken the book with him to Oxford and became “so fond of it that I made it, so far as that could be, a part of my own mind.”  He also had found another book by Dixon, and treasured that, too.  When Hopkins became a Jesuit, “I knew I could have no books of my own and was unlikely to meet with your works in the libraries I should have access to, [so] I copied out St. Paul, St. John, Love’s Consolation, and others from both volumes and keep them by me.”

“How many beautiful works ‘have been almost unknown and then have gained fame at last,’ he surmises, though no doubt ‘many more must have been lost sight of altogether.’”  Paul Mariani quotes Hopkins in his 2008 biography Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life (202), which I’m about halfway through reading. Mariani continues:

“You cannot but know that I must be deeply moved,” Dixon responded.  “Nay shaken to the very centre, by such a letter as that which you have sent me: for which I thank you from my inmost heart. . . . I can in truth hardly realize that what I have written, which has been generally, almost universally, neglected, should have been so much valued and treasured.  This is more than fame: and I may truly say that when I read your Letter, and whenever I take it out of my pocket to look at it, I feel that I prefer to have been so known & prized by one, than to have had the ordinary appreciation of many.”

A lively correspondence blossomed, benefiting both men.  Six letters into the correspondence, Hopkins forwarded Dixon his two odes at Dixon’s request. Mariani writes,“A week later, a stunned Dixon replies, having read Hopkins’s poems with more ‘delight, astonishment, & admiration’ than he can easily say. ‘They are among the most extraordinary I ever read & amazingly original,’ he gasps, and they must – must – be published” (220).

According to Wikipedia:

Canon Dixon’s first two volumes of verse, Christ’s Company and Historical Odes, were published in 1861 and 1863 respectively; but it was not until 1883 that he attracted conspicuous notice with Mano, an historical poem in terza rima, which was enthusiastically praised by Mr. [Algernon Charles] Swinburne.  This success he followed up by three privately printed volumes, Odes and Eclogues (1884), Lyrical Poems (1886), and The Story of Eudocia (1888).

Dixon’s poems were during the last fifteen years of his life recognized as scholarly and refined exercises, touched with both dignity and a certain severe beauty, but he never attained any general popularity as a poet, the appeal of his poetry being directly to the scholar.

To me, this is the enterprise we enjoy as bloggers and microbloggers.  Not fame, but a knowing: to be someone for another to write for, and in turn to have someone to write for.  I feel so much gratitude for you, my readers, and particularly (naturally) for the one whom, at any given point in my writing, “I have been so known & prized by.”

An update: This morning, while reading the novelist and poet Mary Elizabeth Coleridge’s preface to The Last Poems of Richard Watson Dixon, which volume was published in 1905, I discovered a reference to Hopkins.  In her preface, Coleridge listed a number of well-known poets who had praised the unsung Dixon: Swinburne, Rossetti, and Morris among them.  Then this:

There was one who gave more than praise.  A young Oxford student of brilliantly original power loved the poems of Richard Watson Dixon with such devotion that, when he entered the ranks of the Jesuits and was forbidden to take any books with him, he copied out almost all those in his possession.  Such minds as these do not labor in vain; others trust in them, follow their lead.

The world was still pregnant with Hopkins’s fame almost twenty years after his death, and Coleridge did not bother to name him in her preface.  She apparently had had access to Dixon’s papers, though, since she seems to have had access to the letter from Hopkins that had meant so much to Dixon.  I wonder if she read Hopkins’s odes that he had sent to Dixon or if her assessment of Hopkins as possessed of “brilliantly original power” was simply borrowed from Dixon.

But I love how her “more than praise” echoes Dixon’s “more than fame.”  Hopkins’s dedication to Dixon’s poetry was more than praise, and his letter thanking Dixon was more than fame.

The editor of The Last Poems of Richard Watson Dixon was Robert Bridges, who later started his late friend Hopkins down the road to fame by editing The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, published in 1918 by Oxford University Press.  It would take twelve years for that 750-copy, first edition of Hopkins’s poems to sell out.

I wonder how Bridges viewed Coleridge’s reference to his old friend in her preface.

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Kandinsky & the Fourth

The fireworks on the Fourth reminded me of Kandinsky’s Point and Line to Plane. He returns there to something like the synesthesia of his earlier opus, On the Spiritual in Art, in his discussion of independent straight lines:

Moreover, independent straight lines can, on a given surface, pass either through a common center or on either side of it [see above]. . . . Acentral, independent straight lines are the first to possess a particular capacity that enables a certain parallel to be drawn between them and the “chromatic” colors, and distinguishes them from black and white. In particular, yellow and blue carry in themselves various tensions — the tensions of advance and retreat.

. . . Independent straight lines, especially of the acentral variety . . . are less bound up with the surface and seem on occasion to pierce it. These lines are at the furthest remove from the point that  burrows into the suface, since they in particular have abandoned the element of repose [present in horizontal and vertical lines].

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Modern bestsellers: a lack of 18th-century leisure and 19th-century boredom

Before I started teaching, I never thought that a high school English teacher is, or should be, a reading teacher. But literary criticism really is reading instruction, and we English teachers distill literary criticism into decoctions for our students to drink with challenging texts. That’s why I’m so thankful for the New Critics, despite my qualms: Cleanth Brooks and Red Warren tried out and refined their theories in their college classrooms. Looking back on it, I think some of my best English professors saw themselves as something like remedial reading teachers.

Roland Barthes’s small, rewarding book The Pleasure of the Text, which I’m slowly working through, points out, I think, the chief reason reading must be taught, even in AP-level English courses and in college:

Now paradoxically (so strong is the belief that one need merely go fast in order not to be bored), this second, applied reading (in the real sense of the word “application”) is the one suited to the modern text, the limit-text. Read slowly, read all of a novel by Zola, and the book will drop from your hands; read fast, in snatches, some modern text, and it becomes opaque, inaccessible to your pleasure: you want something to happen and nothing does, for what happens to the language does not happen in the discourse: what “happens,” what “goes away” . . . occurs in the volume of the languages, in the uttering, not in the sequence of utterances: not to devour, to gobble, but to graze, to browse scrupulously, to rediscover — in order to read today’s writers — the leisure of bygone readings: to be aristocratic readers. [Pages 12 – 13, emphasis original]

Have Barthes’s “aristocratic readers” died off with Fielding’s and Sterne’s readers? The comparison between the best of modern fiction with (what I take to be) eighteenth-century novels suggests that reading instructors may find help from the Age of Enlightenment.

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Marginal

On Linked aphorisms: Barthes, the cootie catcher, and a way of tweeting. Susan Sontag: “. . .Barthes invariably performs in a affable register. There are no rude or prophetic claims, no pleadings with the reader, and no efforts not to be understood. This is seduction as play, never violation. All of Barthes’s work is an exploration of the histrionic or ludic; in many ingenious modes, a plea for savor, for a festive (rather than dogmatic or credulous) relation to ideas.”

Barthes’s strategy of linked aphorisms is part of his “exploration of the histrionic or ludic.”

Barthes’s world feels like a circus, under the big top and at sunrise, too, when the trapeze artist, assigned a month into the season to pick up the park because the clown during a card game told the men that he had seen her lying on the grass and listening to the dawn chorus, pokes the cups with her stick. Barthes’s circus is the poet Robert Lax‘s circus, a world of vocation and honest living.

Zuzu’s photos: my leap from Facebook

Okay, I reinstated my Facebook account again. Did you miss me? You did not. I was gone for a month, but only Facebook itself wrote me, sending me your profile pictures and telling me that you were having a wonderful life without me.

During that month, “Where’s Peter?” was supposed to have been the subject of everyone’s updates. Facebook, that electronic version of Bedford Falls, was supposed to be collecting money – well, collecting something – to try to prove to me after I had leapt from the bridge that even I could get a social-media life.

But I’m not back because of your pathetic sympathy. Instead, I discovered that when I quit Facebook in May, Facebook pulled from my friends’ and family members’ albums all my photos that I had edited, posted and so sedulously tagged. My daughter Bethany complained that half her account’s pics were suddenly gone.  Then I saw that Victoria’s masthead went from that flattering shot of me and my Froot Loops box when you’d hover over “Married to Peter Stephens” to only (and I swear it was in a lighter and smaller font) “married.” As if Victoria didn’t want to acknowledge me, didn’t want to be seen with me or my cereal box.

Or maybe it was as if I had never been born.

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