Friday, September 23, 2005

Of Pears and Trout

All is not as it seems.

The British Columbian poet Patrick Lane spent one summer of his youth shovelling manure on a ranch outside of Horsefly, on the Cariboo Plateau, digging down, as he said, "to the clear, hard boards below." He got tired of doing another man's dirty work, quit, bummed around British Columbia, and wound up in the Rockies, working for a man hunting down wild horses, loading them onto his truck, and hauling them into town to be ground into dog food. "Quit bitchin'," said the hunter, "it's a hard week and a hard bloody life for three hundred bucks of meat." "That," wrote Pat Lane, "and the dull empty meadows and the dead eyes."

This is a piece about pears.

That's a Forelle. A trout, to put a translation to it. A tiny pear I picked up at Safeway, that usually tastes of cold storage, but sure blushes nice.

Schubert wrote about trout. Thomas Bernhard wrote a play, Force of Habit, about a circus troup that tried to put on Schubert's Trout Quintet, except that after 20 years of attempting to practice, on the eve of the performance, the results of their two decades of rehearsal sabotage bore fruit: the piece could not go on, and the attempt to do so had destroyed their skill at the only thing they could do: the circus.

Poor bastards thought that that wasn't good enough.

Wild horses aren't always what they seem to be. That includes the ones hiding behind the link above. Ain't life like that, eh..

You see, we're the circus now.

Poets think like that. Robert Graves, a poet who specialized in reinterpreting the myths of the ancient Middle East and who wrote the best book about the no-man's land (not to be trusted) of the First World War, Goodbye to All That, once wrote that a poet thinks by walking through a weedy field: burrs and weed seeds stick to his trousers, at random, and he picks them off. His disciple, Robin Skelton, mentioned after a long life in poetry that poetry does not matter. It seemed the statement of a man who had lost his way in the world, until he added, "but I don't know how else we are going to teach our children how to think."

Damned impressive battlefield, wasn't it though. Best I've ever seen.
(There are, of course, different kinds of trust.)

To be fair, explanations of how to survive nightly patrols in No-man's Land fill only the middle section of Robert Graves' book. They are framed by a blasting critique of English public school life and of the stultifying society of England after the War, which refused to acknowledge that the slaughter had even taken place, or that the soldiers who survived it were psychically scarred. "Goodbye to all that," said Graves. For him the three things were identical: public school life, the trenches in France, a closed-in society of manners. Graves moved to Mallorca in 1929. "Have nothing in your house," he said, "that is not hand-made." Almond trees bloomed in his garden.

If you haven't read your Jean Giona lately, almonds are fuzzy little peaches with way too much pit and way too little juicy flesh and too much woody heart. Not like Graves. Graves kept mistresses. He insisted that the only way to keep writing poetry was to keep falling in love.

Picture of Robert Graves Among the Lesser Poets
September 21, 2005. Cariboo Plateau. 150 Mile House.

Or maybe it was the only way to keep falling in love was to keep writing poetry?

Well, during Graves' war, millions of men walked into machine guns, victims of public outrage against the Germans burning a library in Belgium: a treasure-trove of European history. I have seen a collection like that, in the Baroque Monastery Library in Saint Gallen, Switzerland. (One of those is highly suspect.) You can pull one of the black, leather-bound volumes off of a shelf crowned with a wooden cupid impersonating one of the arts -- theology, perhaps, architecture, mathematics -- and have before you, immediately, a page from the first Bible ever printed, in 4th Century Rome. It looks like it could have been printed yesterday on an offset press in Toronto.

Do you really trust that Bible to be what it says it is? Really?

Yeah, you get a highlighter in your hand and sometimes, you just can't stop. Trying to get your thoughts straight can sometimes turn into desecration.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not. John 1:1-5.

Ah, Bible Candy there. How sweet it is.

Graves knew about that. He knew about little huts in the mountains with their big, big secrets.

If you don't, you missed a link. Time to make another trip to beautiful Saint Gallen.

Ah, that's it.

Next week: British propaganda in World War I, German attrocities, Eve picking a pear off the Tree in the Garden of Eden, monks, pear schnapps, and chair building in ancient Greece.

All here under the Big Top on the Cariboo Plateau.


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