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The Spicileging Art

Posted 01-14-2014 at 06:01 AM by Steve Bucknell
Updated 01-14-2014 at 07:48 AM by Steve Bucknell
I wake at three in the morning feeling alert , as if listening for something. Then I start to think of Steve Marr’s question in response to critiques of his poem The Universe Impresses “How would you express the vastness and beauty of the universe making a strong impression on you?” After turning this question over for a few restless minutes I find I’m in my study, pulling out books in which I think I can find distant stars.

Words and Days ‘A Table Book of Prose and Verse’ by Bowyer Nichols (1941. OUP.) is open on my desk. It’s a book of quotations, three for each day. This is my favourite for 11/1/14:

That which is sent receive in buxomness,
The wrestling of this world asketh a fall;
Here is no home, here is but wilderness.
Forth, pilgrim, forth! forth beast, out of thy stall!
Look up on high, and thank God of all;
Waive thy lust, and let thy ghost thee lead,
And Truth shall thee deliver, it is no dread.


In his Preface to Words and Days Logan Pearsall-Smith writes of ‘the spicileging art’ of Bowyer Nichols. ‘The manual of a humanist, interested above all in the moods, the hopes, the ecstacies, loves and disillusions of this middle earth’.

I compile my own anthology of answers to Steve’s question:

The Universe

Darkness that knew no bounds was in Abyss, and Water and subtle breath intelligent; these were by Power of God in Chaos.

Hermes Trismegistus. Corpus Hermeticum.

Stars burn, grass grows, men breathe: as a man finding treasure says “Ah!”

Robinson Jeffers. The Treasure.

Follow wise Orion
Till you waste your eye-
Dazzlingly decamping
He is just as high-

Emily Dickinson. The Complete Poems.

Orion walks waist deep in the fog coming in from the ocean;
Leo crouches under the zenith.

Kenneth Rexroth .Toward an Organic Philosophy.

Orion rises,
The ghostly air is erotic again...

Peter Redgrove. The Turning Stars.

And looking up
It's there, so close
You could reach
And run your hand
Across its belly

Rebecca Elson. Observing.

You have never been in love
Until you've seen the stars
Reflect in the reservoirs

Morrissey.The First of the Gang to Die.

Yet after
he goes out, following
himself into oblivion,
the memory of him must smoke
on in this ash, waiting
for the believing people
to blow on it. So some say
were the stars born.

R.S.Thomas. Cadenza.

He is calling the register of the stars,
he knows every one by name.

Gordon Jackson. The Lincoln Psalter.

The night sky
carries stars between its teeth

like pins in the teeth of a woman
designing a habit.

Selima Hill. Stars.

Such was the living light encircling me,
leaving me so enveloped by its veil
of radiance that I could see nothing.

Dante Alighieri. Paradiso.

It comes clear finally. The Milky Way
vents its glowing hugenesses over
what’s not there. The galaxies
pour their milk away.

Jon Silkin. At Nightfall

All of a sudden
the desert sky is stars.

Woody Long. The Lady in the Moon.

The body of the universe is visible.

Plato. Timaeus.

And I bend my head,
And cup my mouth on the gash of everything I craved,
And am ravaged with joy.

William Everson. The Gash.
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  1. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar

    More words and days

    I found when I looked today that the American Libraries has digitised the 1895 edition of Words and Days, with Introduction by George Saintsbury. The only thing this doesn't include is the 1941 Preface by Logan Pearsall-Smith.

    I would recommend it as a good book for prompting thought. It gathers together some unusual quotations. The OUP book is still easily available via Amazon,and is neat and pocket-sized. I have two copies now, one I use as a diary/notebook. The digital version is well worth a look:
    Posted 01-15-2014 at 10:12 AM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
  2. Unread
    Andrew Mandelbaum's Avatar
    One who sees giant Orion, the torches of winter midnight,
    Enormously walking above the ocean in the west of heaven;
    And watches the track of this age of time at its peak of flight
    Waver like a spent rocket, wavering toward new discoveries,
    Mortal examinations of darkness, soundings of depth;
    And watches the long coast mountain vibrate from bronze to green,
    Bronze to green, year after year, and all the streams
    Dry and flooded, dry and flooded, in the racing seasons;
    And knows that exactly this and not another is the world.

    Jeffers Flight of Swans
    Posted 01-16-2014 at 05:58 PM by Andrew Mandelbaum Andrew Mandelbaum is offline
  3. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar

    Thanks Andrew

    Ah! More treasure. A tremendous walk with Orion. There seems to be a male universe and a female universe (Redgrove calls it the 'Yoniverse') though , I suppose, both are part of the same, so maybe it's a Hermaphrodite Universe.

    Rexroth I knew of, but I must read more Jeffers and Everson. I don't think the close of the Jeffers 'Swan' poem (the 'diamonds' etc.) quite lives up to this magical overture.

    Love that line:

    'Mortal examinations of darkness, soundings of depth'
    Posted 01-17-2014 at 10:29 AM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
    Updated 01-17-2014 at 10:36 AM by Steve Bucknell
  4. Unread
    Woody Long's Avatar
    Steve —

    The Lights in the Sky are Stars, the title of a science fiction novel by Frederic Brown. I don't remember anything about the novel other than the title, which has always seemed evocative to me.

    The ending of Robert Heinlein's novella, Universe. The protagonists finally reach the control room, which has a huge viewport, and realize finally that the 1000 deck otherwise windowless spaceship they inhabit is not the entire universe. (It is a generation ship. They are the descendants, over many generations, of the original crew, and have lost all cultural memory of the nature of their mission. They believe the interior of the ship to be all of reality.)

    Isaac Asimov's story, Nightfall . The inhabitants of a planet with six suns are overwhelmed (mentally) when all the suns are below the horizon, or briefly eclipsed, at the same time, and they can see the stars. They have an advanced civilization, and had predicted the event, which occurs every 2049 years, but they are unable to handle the actuality psychically.

    — Woody
    Posted 01-18-2014 at 11:40 AM by Woody Long Woody Long is offline
    Updated 01-18-2014 at 11:53 AM by Woody Long
  5. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar

    To Boldly Go

    Thanks Woody,

    Very evocative names , titles and synopses.

    You remind me of all the yellow hardback Gollancz SF I used to read from the local library. Arthur C.Clarke , The City and the Stars, Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker. Looking on my bookshelves now I can find Sydney J.Van Scyoc (What a name!) Starsilk, Fay Sampson Star Dancer and Stars of Albion edited by Robert Holdstock And Christopher Priest (Priest such a fine writer.) I also find David Lindsay’s A Voyage to Arcturus. I might just sign on for that Voyage.
    Posted 01-18-2014 at 01:55 PM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
  6. Unread
    R. Nemo Hill's Avatar
    .....the air is warm, the sky streams with stars; tonight they take the form of semi circles, like half necklaces of diamonds with here and there a few stones missing. What wretched poverty of language! To compare stars to diamonds!
    (Gustave Flaubert)

    There is a sense in which even the simple, untutored contemplation of the heavens can be a religious act.
    (Garth Fowden)

    The stars watched from on high, testifying with a certain forbearance,
    a certain indifferent benevolence, with that freedom born of exhaustion,
    a ten thousand fold "yes" of stars fine traced in the void—
    and this obstinate repetition of "yes" was in no way doubtful.
    (Yannis Ritsos)

    But then stars are the reasons for men bewildered words.
    (Charles Henri Ford & Parker Tyler)

    When the night is very fine and you are at the stick of your ship, you half forget yourself and bit by bit the plane begins to tilt on the left. Pretty soon, while you still imagine yourself in plumb, you see the lights of a village under your right wing. There are no villages in the desert. A fishing fleet in mid ocean, then? There are no fishing fleets in mid Sahara. What—? Of course! You smile at the way your mind has wandered and you bring the ship back to plumb again. The village slips into place. You have hooked that particular constellation back in the panoply out of which it had fallen. Village? Yes, village of stars.
    (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)

    Look up at the vault of heaven; see the strength of its foundation and the speed of its movement, and stop admiring things that are worthless.
    Posted 01-18-2014 at 03:24 PM by R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
  7. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar

    Doors Open

    I consult Archilochus to find if he has any view of the stars. He’s more concerned with wine, with seductive bodies, the sea, but he does have one strong line for me:

    What must be done is recognise a rhythm.

    Archilochus. Frag.128.

    Each quote of Nemo’s is like a door left ajar. Some doors I recognise, having tried them before, some are unfamiliar. Garth Fowden is a door I push through and find myself reading:

    For the most pure, agile and supreme part of the air is adapted to be enkindled ( i.e. is the most inflammable) so that when the Gods assent it is immediately set on fire.

    Iamblichus On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans and Assyrians.

    By magical incantation rapid rivers may be made to run back to their fountains, the sea be congealed, winds become destitute of spirit, the sun be held back in his course, the moon be forced to scatter her foam, the stars be torn from their orbits, the day be taken away and the night be detained.

    Apuleius. Metamorphoses.(The Golden Ass )

    Thinking of Woody's Lady in the Moon I find:

    Divine Selene,
    the kindly goddess
    whose hair shimmers.
    You were my first song
    and now I shall sing the fame
    of those mortals who are half-divine,
    whose works poets honour
    out of their lovely mouths,
    poets who are only servants of the Muses.

    Homeric Hymn.To Selene. XXXII.

    I love Nemo’s quote from Ritsos, which brings back a memory for me of sitting on Monemvasia reading Ritsos, hearing his voice, watching the stars rise above the great dark rock.

    from The Usual

    In time, houses collapse, the doors fade. In the garden
    a rusted stove comes apart, crumbles, falls
    like the leaves of a quince tree. In the afternoon it rains. The potholes
    in the road fill up with water. Three old street lamps
    light up beside the soccer field. The evening star
    hovers over the mountain, very high up. A blue glow
    comes out of the grocery-store doorway. The bicycles shadow
    grows longer on the wet road. With that shadow, that
    minimal light, you might accomplish something deeper inside.

    Ritsos. From Exile and Return. Trans.E.Keeley.

    Oh, and one last Greek stanza:

    Boy with the magic eyes among your ancient books
    descrying above time the stars' horoscope,
    give me, too, a glance, tell me where to find
    a flickering of light, a glimmering of hope.

    Nikos Gatsos. Evening at Colonos.
    Posted 01-19-2014 at 02:03 AM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
    Updated 01-19-2014 at 04:07 AM by Steve Bucknell (Gatsos)
  8. Unread
    I'm loving this, Steve. How could I have been ignorant of this feature at the Sphere for nearly 13 years!
    Posted 01-19-2014 at 04:13 AM by William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
  9. Unread
    R. Nemo Hill's Avatar
    This is a great use of it.

    Posted 01-19-2014 at 08:39 AM by R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
  10. Unread
    Woody Long's Avatar
    This morning, looking for the Rexroth poem mentioned above, I also found this:

    It must be very beautiful, the sunset,
    On Saturn, with the rings and all the moons.

    On What Planet
    Kenneth Rexroth

    — Woody
    Posted 01-19-2014 at 10:58 AM by Woody Long Woody Long is offline
  11. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar

    Mars and beyond

    Thanks Bill,

    It's a well-hidden corner of the universe. Have you got any stars you are following? There must be some in Shakespeare!

    Thanks Nemo,

    Your Ritsos quote reminded me of my Iconostasis poem, so I floated it in the Sphere.

    Thanks Woody,

    You are sounding more and more like a frustrated astronaut. Shouldn't you be contacting NASA about that trip to Mars? I think they will need a poet.

    Posted 01-19-2014 at 11:53 AM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
  12. Unread
    R. Nemo Hill's Avatar
    " opening has been formed for the soul of the shaman, an opening like the blowhole of a seal, and through it the soul flies up to heaven, aided by all those stars which were once human beings. And all the souls now pass up and down the souls' road, in order to keep it open for the shaman; some rush down, others fly up, and the air is filled with a rushing, whistling sound: "Pfft-pfft-pfft!" That is the stars whistling for the soul of the shaman, and the guests in the house then try to guess the human names of the stars, the names they bore while living down on earth; and when they succeed, one hears two short whistles: "Pfft-pfft!" and afterwards a faint, shrill sound that fades away into space. That is the stars' answer, and their thanks for being still remembered."

    Aua (Eskimo/Iglulik, trans, William Worster)
    Shamanic Voices: A Survey Of Visionary Narratives (ed, Joan Halifax)

    Posted 01-19-2014 at 05:55 PM by R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
  13. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar

    Pfft-pfft!........ ......... ..... .. .. ..... .
    Posted 01-21-2014 at 07:22 AM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
  14. Unread
    Woody Long's Avatar

    In Spite of Everything, the Stars - Edward Hirsch

    I stumbled on this here today.

    — Woody
    Posted 03-01-2014 at 12:39 PM by Woody Long Woody Long is offline

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