Jeremy Prynne lectures on Maximus IV, V, VI

[Part 2]


Wow, thats a failed epic. I mean, thats finished. The obscure lyric you can get a kind of touch to the spinal column from. There is a thrill you can get from a certain kind of dense suggestive cheesecake kind of lyric language. But the obscure epic, oh, — and there are obscure epics, I mean, well, obscure small epics anyway. The obscure large ones, I mean, just perish. There is an amazingly delicate review that the great English classical scholar Porson did of one of Robert Southeys epics, and he must have written, oh, about two dozen, I guess. And he offered the remark that the latest confection of Mr. Southey will be read and cherished long after Homer and Milton are forgotten, and not until then. And no doubt there are others, lurking in that great hinterland. Or there are those which are freighted down with information! There are those which are so obscurely ingested into their own origins that even now the intention of the non-lyric performance is clear, but the intention of what lies beyond that is absolutely open to argument. Chapman is the case in point. The nobility of Chapmans idea that it was not easily to be understood, that the obscurity was part of the process, that there was a kind of grandeur in the smoke and clouds of the far reaches of the learned imagination, oh, its a great idea, and if only, if only we could really follow it. I mean, we have the glimmers, we have the lurking glimmers of what its like, and then there comes the point when it could be one thing or it could be the other thing: and we carry the fork in our minds and we go on, and then we come to another point where it could be one or another thing, and we carry the fork in our minds. And finally we just yearn for a spoon. I mean, the situation is that desperate.



o, it must be clear. It must be simple. And the second Maximus, what it gives us is something so simple as homecoming. Oh, weve heard that before. So we have. The other great poem of homecoming — there are two great poems of homecoming across the sea: the other, of course, is the wandering of Odysseus. What struck me last night, as I was re-reading the whole of Maximus right through just to see what it felt like, was how extraordinary it is that Pound should conduct his homecoming epic right the other way round, so that the moment of that particular resonant vibrant curved voyage of coming home should appear right at the start of the Cantos. That furry moment when the, you remember, when the row-locks become vine tendrils, oh, the pathos, the sheer affection of that moment carries great swathes of meaning right forward into that great poem. That poem is, in that sense, therefore, not opened up in those arcs at all, but continuously interlocked with itself, going out, coming in, going out, coming in, going out and coming in, all the way across. That poem therefore could be indefinitely extended. Olsons poem could not be indefinitely extended. They tell me there is a great mass of further material. But I know for myself that the primary structure of this poem is already complete. And complete in two major movements: the going out, the asking the great questions, the making of the great statements: and the coming back, the coming back across the sea, the coming back through the ocean, coming back to the shore, and then the shore fades into a condition of land, and the condition of land approximates to the condition of the planet. And you see the condition of the planet doesnt then have to be some horrid little bit of the galactic village. Oh, no, I mean, thats the other thing we could get wrong, you see. And thats what these Newtonian people, who run the whole universe according to celestial mechanics, would tell us: that were just one little bit, that all we are is just, you know, like, — you hypothesize the total mass of the universe and then you fix a notional fraction for what we got. I mean, the rest of it, you know, think of the mining out there. Thats an entirely different notion, which we fortunately have no truck with. Thats the limit, that would be the limit. You see, when if one read those great Lucy poems of Wordsworths as lyric

Rolled round in earths diurnal course,

With rocks, and stones, and trees.

If we took that as a lyric, then it would always be partial, it would always be incomplete. There would always be that pathos of something more. Those rocks, those stones, those trees, however, participate in the whole, Each of those little fragments that lie on those large pages in the second batch of Maximus participate in the whole; each of those little phrases has within it the curvature of the whole of the spatial condition.

And now let all the ships come in

pity and love the Return the Flower

the Gift and the Alligator catches

— and the mind go forth to the end of the world

That condition right round to home is one of the things which that earlier part:

this veracity

there, the waters the several of them the roads

here, a blackberry blossom

fulfills itself in, by taking itself to that completeness. So, that curvature is present continuously in what we hear. It becomes the singular condition, so that everything we take is literal, and not an instance of something else, we escape the metaphor. We participate in the condition of being. And the condition of being is thankfully beyond the condition of meaning. Oh yes, the whole language has that vibrancy, that steady vibrancy of the singular curvature which is equivalent to what was anciently called nobility.

Thats what they meant, thats what the ancients meant when they talked about the noble. They meant that it was single. They meant that it participated in the whole. They meant that it communed with the music of the spheres. Thats what they meant by the noble. It is the nineteenth century psychologists, of course, that tell us it means something to do with the class structure. Oh, yes, thats something which, I guess, you have the old world to thank, and perhaps one or two little off-shoots of Boston.



t is the singular, then, that makes it possible to consider the question of love as a complete part of the cosmos, and as love for the planet, as love for the whole. You see, if you talk about a love poem, huh, theres got to be someone there. But if you talk about the love epic, then the someone who is there is so large and so extended that it can really be the larger condition of love beyond the condition of the person. Thats something which Pound realized when he came to Cavalcanti: he realized that that Cavalcanti poem really had some understanding of the condition of love which could be extended through the language into the absolute curvature of the way a persons mind was open to what he heard and to what he saw and to what he felt. And indeed that particular notion of having ones nerves set open is referred to affectionately by Olson in his poem as he passes through the poem, a nod to Pound to show that he knows that thats going on. Otherwise this poem could be a poem of love only insofar as particular instances of affection offered themselves out of his own past, out of his own experience, out of the people he knew. Wed be back in that particular localism of my story.

There are no hierarchies, no infinite, no such many as mass, there are only eyes in all heads,

to be looked out of

Keats has the phrase which burns out of his letters about how completely now, how more and more he is convinced of the holiness of the hearts affection. He had difficulty with the condition of that which was not lyric. How he yearned for it. You can see him struggling in Hyperion to get out of that particular sense of lyric entrapment. That the thing would burn fusingly to a centre, would glut itself in a moment of intense preoccupation, and burn out: how much he wanted to get beyond that, how much he absolutely geared his whole condition to be able to give and take and feel the whole love for the condition as something larger than that, as something that could be sustained, and something that could be lifted out of that local other then by the gesture of that metaphoric extension. He knew that the hearts affections were holy. And so its clear Olson did, so its clear that was the condition of mind for him: that affection, that love occupy the universe, because the curvature of the further side of the ultimate ocean — you go from land to shore, shore to sea, sea to ocean, ocean to Okeanos, Okeanos to the Great Void — and the curvature of that is love.

Now, this might seem to be another piece of the Olsonian obscurity. But its absolutely the great tradition, right the way back, oh, as for as one can begin: Empedocles, Bruno. The curvature of the universe is love. I mean, you can know that; I mean, you can feel it; I mean, its just unmistakable. Some people can get it just like that from the night sky; for other people, I suppose, it takes a little longer. There are great moments in Blakes poems where he knows that too. There is that extraordinary poem where he decides to re-work Milton and to arrange for the demonic possession of himself by Milton. And there are extraordinary congestions of personality which result from that unlikely genetic interchange. But there are moments in that poem of Blakes, Milton, which are the absolute presence of love. Because, well, I mean, you take an orthodox Puritan theology, and you ride that out until it burns away, and then you ride beyond that on the visionary presence of the ancient prophets, and you reach it. It is a two-stage rocket. And you get there. And where you get is the curvature of the universe. And thats what Blake in that early poem, not being able to reach in one thrust, had two shots at, and comes right out to it, and oh the flowers, and oh the astral bodies. There is a most fantastic spread across the rim of the horizon. And the condition of affection, oh its unmistakable. If I had all my books around me, I would read it to you. And if I had all my books round me, I wouldnt be here. So isnt that great.

Finally, what this takes us right round to is that it is simple. Simple in a technical sense: thats to say, the universe is simple. Any part of the universe is complex. In fact, there are only two things in the universe which are simple, and one of them is the universe taken as a whole; and the other is its language, because its language is its capacity for love. And the capacity of the universe for love is that for which man was born. Oh yes, I am an absolute predestinarian in that sense. I believe utterly in that it is mans destiny to bring love to the universe, I mean, to fulfill the universes potential for love. Its great, you know; in France — they keep things alive longer there — the word for magnet is aimant (lover). I just flipped when I heard that. Always, I mean, in all the ancient cosmologies, the planets were moved by love, or carried round. The First Mover was certainly love. Its a very curious thing that all our notions of how the sequences and linkages of one to one, and part to whole, are determined, derive from the celestial mechanics for a particular era — thats to say, not from the early celestial mechanics, and not from all sorts of alternatives, but from that particular Newtonian mathematics. It would be very interesting to think what kind of a system we would have if we derived our sense of what constituted a cause and what constituted a direction from patterns other than the mechanics of celestial motion considered in the eighteenth century sense. Like, for example, the passage of animals. Theres something very close to the condition of the celestial universe up to about 1590 in the movement of animals. Thats what you have to try and see. If we get ourselves to that condition of the universe, any animal will do, like birds, any of the omen animals, of course, we have some literary sense of, but like fish in the pond, those planetary movements. I mean, think of the extraordinary unlikelihood of what such a thing like Stonehenge or Avebury were built to predict. They never thought they would work. Oh, never. I mean, they were chance shots. Like, sooner or later it must come round again, and it must come round again because it was wanted: and if it was wanted, it would come. There is this immense controversy now about how they knew over those immense periods of time that there were cyclic repetitions in the movement of heavenly bodies. They didnt know. They just wanted it. Thats how it happened.

And the Olson poem also wants it. And if you read it, and if you hear it, then you also want it. Then you can also have the particular condition of transpiring through the noble arc, from the land to the shore, from the shore to the sea, from the sea to the ocean, from the ocean to the void, from the void to the horizonal curve, which is love. You have the condition. You turn it round. You bring it all back in. You come right down, and you are home.


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