September 06, 2006

Two Prophetic Poems, & two ideas

The Poet for J.K.

His genius is sired of misery or magic;
he dwells between disaster & the dream.
He might have been sedate; but only tragic
ecstasy is musical to him.
In every chaos he will wish a cure;
in life, a higher mystery of sorrow;
in death, the last existence that is pure.
Curoisity betrays him to tomorrow.
Necromantic passion, final terror
is his bequest: The wound was all he had
to multiply. Balancing the rope of error,
he shall fall to doom. He shall be mad,
sadly, deceived, he shall live, and he shall die
a master of all mummery.

-Allen Ginsberg

This poem was published in the September 4th issue of The New Yorker. Because of the title, I invite the blogosphere to read it not as a poem written in 1949 to Kerouac, but as a prophecy to J.K. Rowling. Indeed, there are certain undeniable "coincidences;" as Hermione pointed out, now that we know some real prophecies do exist. The poem alludes directly to Harry's "hero complex", a sort of artistic necessity for "tragic ecstacy" instead of a "sedate" life. And, of course, his attraction to situations that lead to death and sorrow - the Rowling books conclude that one is fated only because one chooses to be fated. Dumbledore has always preached trust, love, and friendship; and we await Book Seven to know if we can believe in that morality. Harry, like Hamlet, is trapped between two revenge tools: love/friendship or individualism/violence. He begins life an orphan with only a scar - "The wound was all he had to multiply" could mean opting for the bad timing of Hamlet, resulting in his own untimely end. He is "the boy who lived", but Ginsberg tells us what to expect: "He shall be mad, sadly, deceived, he shall live, and he shall die a master of all mummery." And even Rowling has been setting us up for a tragic ending (she recently said in an interview: "I can completely understand, however, the mentality of an author who thinks: 'Well, I'm going to kill them off because that means there can be no non-author-written sequels … so it will end with me, and after I'm dead and gone they won't be able to bring back the character.'") However, like Christ & Kerouac, she is a master at setting up great surprises. What does it mean to "die a master of all mummery"?

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On the first floor of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, there is a 1951 oil on canvas by Robert Rauschenberg called "White Painting (Three Panel)". It is a triptych of evenly spaced, pure white paint on large white fabric. Yesterday, looking for my lost friends, I waited in the room with this painting for several minutes, & was entertained by the various reactions. Two artsy teenage girls acted like it was the most inspiring thing they had ever seen, but walked away after barely looking at it. Then, an elderly British couple enterd the room. She rolled her eyes & pointed at it sarcastically. He droned "ohh dear..." laconically, hilariously. I'm not suggesting that there is a proper response to this painting. But the "ohh dear" is interesting, as the painting is fifty-five years old, & should hardly be a cause of concern. Rauschenberg, of course, had a long, varied career, brimming with talent & creativity; so the painting can not be accused of being a fraud by a hack. He invited, in the notes, the viewer to look at his own shadows. The advantage of Cage's 4'33", a composition of silence, is that it mandates a duration. All manner of auxilary noises fill up the empty space (especially in New York, where both Cage & Rauschenberg worked.) What is it about empty canvasses that so offend audiences, especially when the emptiness they perceive can never exist?

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Prophecy for an antepenultimate doom.

My friend, take heed lest any one deceive all,
There shall be wars & rumors of corruption,
But these are not the ultimate destruction,
Nor are these evils unredeemable.

When all from Earth are obliterated & erased,
There shall be none to speak of it or hear it,
And no responsibility & none to bear it,
The legacies of ants will be effaced.

Woe to them who go down to Brazil for help!
You better free your mind instead, you should
Learn the famines of the land where your ancestors stood,
And you should listen to the yelps of every bitch's whelp.

So go & set a watchman for the fallout,
And design a better Industrial Revolution,
Go study the natural cycles for a solution,
And leave the praying to the more devout.

2 comments:

sarah said...

what's with the beatles line in your prophetic poem?

James Welsch said...

Hmmm, Sarah. While I was working on that poem, my computer was playing music on random, & the slow version of "Revolution" from the White Album came up. It occured to me that John & I were saying similar things: if you want to do something, do it right. Is that copywrite infringement?