I come to speak of daffodils not to bury bulbs of them. Here as we enter the entry to winter I thought I'd hinder the mundane with a bit of verse rapture about how hard it is to do without and how often we already have what we can't quite remember. Let's start again.
For many of us, when someone asks, “What would you bring with you to read if you were stuck on an island deserted of relief, for upwards of decades, lost as a tribeless chief?”, the answer is, “What do you mean ‘if’?
In Elizabeth Bishop’s sublime poem "Crusoe in England" every stone and stanza is a brilliant primer on the primal and the primary, what it is to be human from pram to prime to prim, and back to pram again.
Today I’m thinking of Crusoe’s confession that among the agonies of that wee island of his captivity, beyond rank loneliness and raw despair, beyond rage like a volcano-in-violence and sorrow like the cold, hardened magma the morning after, looking like the very shit of your life solidified, as unkempt as your bedroom, some parts glassy perfection and frozen, others chaos and regret, yes beyond all that, sat the anguish of a forgotten fact and nothing to consult to bring the neuronic nightmare of searching to a climaxed close, an answered ending, a fattened act in the sated sweet repose of Now I Know.
You should go read the whole poem but if you’re already too drunk or not yet drunk enough, read this chunk from the trunk:
There was one kind of berry, a dark red.
I tried it, one by one, and hours apart.
Sub-acid, and not bad, no ill effects;
and so I made home-brew. I'd drink
the awful fizzy, stinging stuff
that went straight to my head
and play my home-made flute
(I think it had the weirdest scale on earth)
and, dizzy, whoop and dance among the goats.
Home-made, home-made! But aren't we all?
I felt a deep affection for
the smallest of my island industries.
No, not exactly, since the smallest was
a miserable philosophy.
Because I didn't know enough.
Why didn't I know enough of something?
Greek drama or astronomy? The books
I'd read were full of blanks;
the poems--well, I tried
reciting to my iris-beds,
"They flash upon that inward eye,
which is the bliss..."the bliss of what?
One of the first things that I did
when I got back was look it up.
The island smelled of goat and guano.
Now what I want to say to you, dearest darling bleaders is about what she, he,
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
You know how sometimes after you’ve played a repetitive-image video game, when you close your eyes the gems or blocks or beasties continue to tumble towards the fault line in your mind’s eye? I've got a theory about that and “counting sheep.”
It is that when shepherds couldn’t sleep, but lay in the dark with their eyes closed they too had repetitive-image hallucinations, but what they were seeing over and over was alive: at the end of every day in the pasture, you count the sheep into their pen, one at a time, to be sure there is no lost one. Now if your farm has three-hundred head of sheep, the repeated leap of black-faced, white-fuzzy moving heat could get pretty well-grained into the wood of your brain.
Then come bedtime, wide awake, you find your avid ruminations about the neighbor’s ass, perhaps, oddly joined with images of lilting black feet. That’s why the sleepless were said to be lying there “counting sheep.” Anyway that’s my theory.
Will Wordsworth then perhaps stayed looking at the dancing flames of daffodils so long that long after, often, unbidden, they come to him, like a sister or a wife bringing lines of verse upon a platter that holds both tea and a template of the universe.
So, bleaders, here is our Episcopal poem (calling Bishop’s anything Episcopal is a gag I steal from the poetry criticism of the great Paul Muldoon), and here is Bishop, writing alone, drinking hard cider in Brazil, and here is Cruso, drinking berry wine on his island, and there is lonely Will Wordsworth, drinking in the daffodils, and here am I, drinking five-proof cider like Bishop, and wondering how sad it was Crusoe could remember so much but not those last lines and their crucial information. What?... that the bliss he couldn’t call to mind was solitude.
Then here are you and the question of your beverage. All I can say is I hope you’ve got what you like and you’ll have one for me.
The moral of the story is be careful what you look at, it will return to your mind’s eye, that bliss or curse of solitude. (A kid with a gargoyle face on his puss is in no threat of freezing that way, but should you look at him long enough or with some sudden meaning, cruel or kind, may freeze said face into your mind, for a lifetime of repeating.)
The moral is that sometimes it takes a village to write a poem, especially if it is a village of brill dames and one guy with a good sense of rhythm and a nice solid name. All three of them got stuck on an image of an undulating Technicolor ocean, yellower than the sun, and with all the intimate variations of the eye that dance upon the surface of blue black water. So much yellow, so many yellows, so many single soldiers, dancers, sigherers sighing ever higher, moaners moaning ever lower. A strong wind on this lawn enacts a mower, and breeze in the opposing direction blows and up goes a resurrection, a thousand hapless miracles each witnessed by apostolic ants and worms who bow in rapt attention and feel that little tingling, up from Eros, deeper than envy, love, at a glance but better, insectual transcendence.
The moral is, Crusoe, memorize something, just in case. The rest of us may follow suit or, leaning on the algorithms of risk and the Pascallian guess at what will bring more bliss, we may simply rely on each other to always be there, showing up with lovely flotsam (hold the jetsam) to entertain our otherwise lonely inner mind.
Out there among the people who might be reading this blog are people who’ve written poems or poetics that made my breath skip, and I hope to offer my skinflint wit for nothing but the feathered hope that you might have a moment on my musings in return for the gifts already given.
Crusoe at home misses the intensity of his horrible hissing little island, just as someday we may miss these hissing pinging radiators, or the chiming of someone else’s phone.
Danger and scarcity once made his knife blade gleam of shimmering importance, now faced with a bloated silverware drawer it is hard to get excited. May we all remember the wisdom of the deranged.
The moral is here we are alone together again be-calling out into the ether, hoping for better weather, or if it must rain for the lightening of some connection with another human heart, or the thunder of negation of our variegated art.
For even if the plucked limp bird you hold by its neck now once went by the name of hope and was rumored to have feathers and to never stop at all, well even then, baste and cook and hope the savory aroma will bring some heathen friends.
I've missed you and hope to be in touch more, now that the dog days are over, which, in case you missed the song, is perhaps almost maybe true. Oh hell, I am ready to call it. The dog days are over. The leopardess awakes. Has questions about all these spots. Okay, that's that. See you later poet. And don't kill yourself. I shall return to encourage you again with all my broken bricolage of love.