A bit of old man excogitation and cat consideration

Natasha 2The cat was up early this morning. She jumped up on the bed at a few minutes past 4 AM, apparently cold or lonely rather than hungry. When I got up a few minutes later, she stayed there. She soon came out and wandered around but did not beg for food. Now she’s off in some corner asleep again, having accomplished her purpose of getting me up.

She may feel satisfaction at arousing me, but she has no right. I had looked at the clock at 4:02 and was of two minds about getting up. A moment comes when I know it’s useless to try to go back to sleep. I have to make a choice. Get up, take an Ambien, and sleep until 6, or get up at 4:03. Almost always the latter wins out.

My guess is the cat almost never wakes me up. Rather, if she is prowling at 4 AM, unable to sleep herself—a bizarre realization for a cat, I should think—and hears my breathing change from sleeping to waking, she comes instantly to let me know it’s time. She doesn’t want to be the only one awake, so she’s determined to see that I don’t go back to sleep.

However, once I’m up, the coffee is brewing, and I’ve booted up the computer, she has accomplished her mission and goes back to sleep, comfortably nestled in some warm corner, waiting until her inner clock wakes her at 5:30 to tell me it’s breakfast time.

Convention and personal habit demand that I quote Christopher Smart. No cat lover in the known universe would forgive me if I didn’t.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his Way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer. . . .
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
  — (Christopher Smart, Jubilate Agno (“Rejoice in the Lamb”) 1759—1763.

Smart was in the House of Bedlam, institution for the insane, at the time he wrote Rejoice in the Lamb. When I wrote about Christopher

The House of Bedlam

The House of Bedlam

Smart not too long ago, I realized if I had never read the entire poem Jubilate Agno, I had forgotten how Jeoffry fits into it. So I looked it up. (I say that because I don’t want to leave the impression that I knew the following from being a scholar of English poetry, which I am not.)

The cat section of the enormously long poem is the most easily comprehended. The total is hundreds of lines of word play and allusions to Biblical and mythical and historical events and entities that none of us knows enough to understand.

The section of the poem immediately preceding the “my cat Jeoffry section is the “Bull” section, a long list of lines about the “Bull” which are obscure and baffling.  Clement Hawes explains that Smart’s word play is

Possibly punning on Greek boule, meaning “will,” because God’s will is the first manifestation of creation. . . and almost certainly alluding as well to the bull as one of the four cherubim of Ezekiel’s vision, Smart assigns to the word “bull” a great importance:

For Bull in the first place is of the word of Almighty God.
For he is a creature of infinite magnitude in the height.
For there are many words under Bull.
For
Bul is under it (1).

(Bul is the eighth month of the Old Hebrew calendar, from Hebrew būl, of Canaanite origin.)

Since I looked it up the first time, I’ve been thinking of buying Hawes’s book, but it’s $49 from B&N, and there’s no ebook. The sections I’m quoting are from the excerpts found on Google books.

I’ve been excogitating (1) Smart’s poem off and on since I wrote of it before and reading what I have of Hawes’s book. Here’s the paragraph I copied then and have excogitated since:

The complexity of Smart’s rhetoric at this point depends on the extraordinary extent to which he identifies himself with the words of his own text. What he calls his “existimation,” borrowing from Latin existimatio and combining “existence” and “estimation,” means a self, an “I,” considered entirely as an object of discourse: something viewed, judged, estimated, esteemed. . . . Smart thus becomes, at the moment of his writing, what he imagines he will have been to his readers in the future. . . (2).

Who is a Michel Foucault?

Who is a Michel Foucault?

That, I will be arrogant enough to say, I understand. We know Smart because of his writing. Michel Foucault, in 1969, wrote his famous essay, What is an author? He says, the “author” (I’m not an “author, but I try to be a “writer”—there is a vast difference) has disappeared from her writing, that

Our culture has metamorphosed this idea of narrative, or writing, as something designed to ward off death. . . . it is now a voluntary effacement . . . The work, which once had the duty of providing immortality, now possesses . . . to be its author’s murderer . . .[the writer] cancels out the signs of his particular individuality. . . . (4).

We tell writing students to keep the first person out of their writing. But I write about the cat and me in the morning. I tell you what I’m thinking about, and I upload myself all over the internet. So, by the post-modern or whoever Foucault represents, I am not an author. OK. I’m just a writer. Really, not even that. I keep a journal and put it here in my blog (and on Facebook), and I live in cyberspace.

Not really. I am, at least to myself, an existimation—like but not as interesting as Smart.
__________
(1) ex·cog·i·tate verb. “To study intently and carefully in order to grasp or comprehend fully.” 1520–30; <Latin excōgitātus  past participle of excōgitāre.  to devise, invent, think out.” Dictionary.com.
(2) Hawes, Clement. Mania and Literary Style: The Rhetoric of Enthusiasm from the Ranters to Christopher Smart. Cambridge University Press (1996), 172.
(3) Hawes, 174.
(4) Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” 1969.

“kindness. . . profligate in its expenditure” A (probably incomprehensible) poetry lesson from the irrepressible professor

I will consider my cat Chachi. Do you know what his tail held up and hooked means?

I will consider my cat Chachi. Do you know what his tail held up and hooked means?

Two moderately long poems and an 18-minute musical work (I’ll be amazed if anyone wades through all of this).  However, taken together, they say something about the life of my mind and “spirit” today that I can’t say myself, so I offer them for your consideration in whole, in part, or a bit at a time.

On August 13 my posting here was read by way more people (way more) than any other posting I’ve made on this blog.

. . . Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled. . .  

–– From “Be Kind,” by Michael Blumenthal (printed in full below the picture of Christopher Smart)

 Michael Blumenthal’s poem once showed up on my “timeline” on Facebook, and I’ve sent it to friends on important occasions. Let me get all ooey-gooey and sentimental. It’s one of my favorite poems because it reminds me to be grateful.

And to try to be kind. It will not drain my limited resources to be kind.
And then, because I was trying this morning to be grateful for so many things, the beginning of a list:

For friends I don’t know
For friends I do know
For my family
For my small ability to make music
For my even smaller ability to get outside my self-absorption and love someone else
(and for the people who have taught me to stop worrying about “the meaning of life”
because that’s probably the meaning of life)
For the gift—it’s nothing I thought up myself
—of the decision to love a couple of people unreservedly
For the pipe organ in my living room
For the choir of Calvary Lutheran Church, Richland Hills, TX
For enough intellectual curiosity to find new poetry to read every day
For enough intellectual ability to have a modicum of understanding of that poetry
For my cats who make it nearly impossible for me to live in a “normal” home
For Dr. Steven Thornton’s magic arthroscopy
And for so much more I can’t begin to say

Rejoice!

Rejoice!

After I remembered Michael Blumenthal’s poem and decided to write about my gratitude, I thought of my favorite poem about gratitude (isn’t it amazing how the mind makes connections among memories), that is, “Wild Gratitude,” by Edward Hirsch (printed in full below).

Hirsch’s image of the cat comes from the “I will consider my cat Jeoffry” section of Christopher Smart’s poem “Jubilate Agno” (Rejoice in the Lamb). Obviously it’s impossible for me to think about Smart’s cat Jeoffry without having in mind “Rejoice in the Lamb” by Benjamin Britten which I once had the great joy to accompany, which is one of the moments of my life for which I have “Wild Gratitude” (see recording endnotes).

There. From your reading my blog two days ago to the organ accompaniment to “For I will consider my cat Jeoffry.” How’s that for a meandering of the mind?

Insane or TLEptic?

Insane or TLEptic?

[A sidebar: I have often thought Christopher Smart was not insane, but merely had Temporal Lobe Epilepsy–his hypergraphia, his incomprehensible religious fervor, and his babbling about the strange images in his imagination, and his inability to concentrate on details such as money are presentations of TLE.]

“Be Kind,” by Michael Blumenthal         

 Not merely because Henry James said
there were but four rules of life—
be kind be kind be kind be kind—but
because it’s good for the soul, and,
what’s more, for others, it may be
that kindness is our best audition
for a worthier world, and, despite
the vagueness  and uncertainty of
its recompense, a bird may yet  wander
into a bush before our very houses,
gratitude may not manifest itself in deeds
entirely equal to our own, still there’s
weather arriving from every direction,
the feasts of famine and feasts of plenty
may yet prove to be one,  so why not
allow the little sacrificial squinches and
squigulas to prevail? Why not inundate
the particular world with minute particulars?
Dust’s certainly all our fate, so why not
make it the happiest possible dust,
a detritus of blessedness? Surely
the hedgehog, furling and unfurling
into its spiked little ball, knows something
that, with gentle touch and unthreatening
tone, can inure to our benefit, surely the wicked
witches of our childhood have died and,
from where they are buried, a great kindness
has eclipsed their misdeeds. Yes, of course,
in the end so much comes down to privilege
and its various penumbras, but too much
of our unruly animus has already been
wasted on reprisals, too much of the
unblessed air is filled with smoke from
undignified fires. Oh friends, take
whatever kindness you can find
and be profligate in its expenditure:
It will not drain your limited resources,
I assure you, it will not leave you vulnerable
and unfurled, with only your sweet little claws
to defend yourselves, and your wet little noses,
and your eyes to the ground, and your little feet.

“Wild Gratitude,”  by Edward Hirsch

Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey,
And put my fingers into her clean cat’s mouth,
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens,
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air,
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight,
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher Smart,
Who wanted to kneel down and pray without ceasing
In every one of the splintered London streets,

And was locked away in the madhouse at St. Luke’s
With his sad religious mania, and his wild gratitude,
And his grave prayers for the other lunatics,
And his great love for his speckled cat, Jeoffry.
All day today—August 13, 1983—I remembered how
Christopher Smart blessed this same day in August, 1759,
For its calm bravery and ordinary good conscience.

This was the day that he blessed the Postmaster General
“And all conveyancers of letters” for their warm humanity,
And the gardeners for their private benevolence
And intricate knowledge of the language of flowers,
And the milkmen for their universal human kindness.
This morning I understood that he loved to hear—
As I have heard—the soft clink of milk bottles
On the rickety stairs in the early morning,

And how terrible it must have seemed
When even this small pleasure was denied him.
But it wasn’t until tonight when I knelt down
And slipped my hand into Zooey’s waggling mouth
That I remembered how he’d called Jeoffry “the servant
Of the Living God duly and daily serving Him,”
And for the first time understood what it meant.
Because it wasn’t until I saw my own cat

Whine and roll over on her fluffy back
That I realized how gratefully he had watched
Jeoffry fetch and carry his wooden cork
Across the grass in the wet garden, patiently
Jumping over a high stick, calmly sharpening
His claws on the woodpile, rubbing his nose
Against the nose of another cat, stretching, or
Slowly stalking his traditional enemy, the mouse,
A rodent, “a creature of great personal valour,”
And then dallying so much that his enemy escaped.

And only then did I understand
It is Jeoffry—and every creature like him—
Who can teach us how to praise—purring
In their own language,
Wreathing themselves in the living fire.

An introduction to Christopher Smart’s poem with the entire text of the “I will consider my cat Jeoffry” section.
http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/poem/2009/10/in_nomine_patris_et_felis.html

THE BEST RECORDING of Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb” I’ve found online is
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VsZP-IH8XbM

The entire text is here (I guess it’s impossible for choirs these days to sing so you can understand all of the words).
http://www.its.caltech.edu/~tan/Britten/britlamb.html