gall and gumption

Saturday, December 25, 2010

The Insomnia Sonnet

WEARY with toil, I haste me to my bed
The dear repose for limbs with travel tired;
But then begins a journey in my head
To work my mind, when body’s work’s expir’d:
For then my thoughts—from far where I abide— 5
Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee,
And keep my drooping eyelids open wide,
Looking on darkness which the blind do see:
Save that my soul’s imaginary sight
Presents thy shadow to my sightless view, 10
Which, like a jewel hung in ghastly night,
Makes black night beauteous and her old face new.
Lo! thus, by day my limbs, by night my mind,
For thee, and for myself no quiet find.

I tried white noise. That works for people? I could get that just from the furnace in my apartment. Or my neighbor warming up his diesel truck in the mornings. I don't get it. No, I tell you what, don't explain how it works, it will bore me.

I did fall promptly to sleep over the first two stanzas of Edward Young's Night Thoughts. So that's promising. It was madly popular in the mid 18th century. I want to know why, and maybe too why nobody reads them now.

I don't have much trouble falling asleep, to tell the truth. I have trouble staying asleep. I wake up at any time between 4 and 6, and then what do you do with those little odds and ends of time? I wish I were one of those people who wakes up before daybreak and brews a cup of organic chai and looks out the window at the neat slumbering flowerbeds and thinks organized thoughts about important things like policy. Or who perhaps spends the time--time that I spend trying to capture that extra hour of sleep that I feel the universe owes me-- composing neat, sparklingly original and timely handwritten Thank You notes. Or poems about their bird feeder.

This is not my favorite insomnia sonnet, though it sure opens well! I love it all the way up to line 6. Then I wonder why this sort of irony reflecting back irony at irony already seems slightly fusty and it hadn't even been around so long. It's like the last 8 lines just keep running back and forth in the same place. That sort of thing is at any rate much more bearable in the sonnets than it is in the plays. In the plays Shakespeare just runs amok. Small but highly select reader John W. called them "pun runs" when we used to teach. The whole sonnet for me is justified by that pair of lines "For then my thoughts--from far where I abide/Intend a zealous pilgrimage to thee..."

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Your Awesome Southern Soul Lyric of the Day

...I need a man to quench my desires
And put a big old chestnut on my open fire.

"I Need a Lover for Christmas"--Sheba Potts-Wright.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Losing It

I haven't had a book to be really excited about for some time. I've got things sort of scattered about the house that I'm reading, and I dip into them as I feel equal to the attention they require. About a week ago I was reading Andrew Marvell, happily, in bed. I've got a Terry Pratchett novel for those moments when I have no concentration. I'm reading Leopoldo Alas' La Regenta in Spanish, which is slow going but satisfying. I'm about 3/4 way through the first of the two volumes. I started dipping into Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws. And today I started rereading Faulkner's The Hamlet. And I just got a book on Grenadian history. So when I say I'm reading I'm sort of hopping among them and while they've all been good none of them have really spoken to whatever it is my mind is working on. I think that's why there are so many of them.

This is bad enough, but it would be worse if I were not writing every day.

But at last I did find something to read that was exactly what I needed. It was Fairfield Porter's art criticism, Art in Its Own Terms, which I had read years ago. But you see, if you read something years ago and you come back to it again, one of two things will happen.

1. You will wonder at your having liked such shallow, showy triviality.

2. You will find it better than you remembered it.

If (2) happens you are onto a good book--unless of course your taste is completely corrupted.

The reason I wanted the Fairfield Porter book was that I thought it might be nice to send to one of my small select readers. But I needed to make sure it was still good after all those years. It was better. So much better that I would read maybe a couple paragraphs or a page and then I'd get so excited I'd have to put it down.

And now I've lost it. The book I mean. Lost it downtown on Sunday. Can you think of any reason why I should not simply order another copy? Can I just do that? It seems such a simple solution.