Happy Birthday, Thornton Wilder

Three things about Thornton Wilder:

1.
Peter Hunt (once Executive and Artistic Director of the Williamstown Theatre Festival) relates a story about Thornton Wilder and Nikos Psacharopoulos (founder of Williamstown).

Peter Hunt: Directing is sometimes doing nothing, sometimes dowin more than you ever thought you could do, every case is different. But what you just said about there being a way of doing Chekhov at Williamstown — that struck me, because I am Nikos’ offspring. I mean he was my teacher at Yale, my mentor at Williamstown, it all rubbed off. Now obviously I do certain things my own way, but still I’m an extension of that. So, what is that? Part of it is caring and having a commitment to all the elements of the theatre — a lot of directors don’t know how to incorporate a set, how to run a tech rehearsal, don’t have a visual sense. At the same time caring about the rehearsal environment so that there is an emotional sense in the room that’s correct for the play you’re doing. I mean, are you having fun doing a comedy? When do you break tension with a joke, when do you allow it to become very serious? He knew how to play all that. Those are lessons I learned just watching him work. Also honesty. When you hit your head on a wall, back up and go another direction. Don’t be afraid to say you’re wrong.

My favorite example of that is the Our Town story. Thornton Wilder, as I said, was playing the Stage Manager. For some reason he and I struck up a friendship, and one day we were standing and talking … and Nikos burst out of the rehearsal room and came up to Thornton and said, “The scene isn’t working.” And Thornton said: “What? The scene isn’t working?” Nikos said, “Yeah, George and Emily, they’re on the ladder, doing the homework scene.” And Thornton said, “What’s wrong with it?” And Nikos said, “It doesn’t work.” And Thornton said, “What are you talking about, it’s a Pulitzer-Prize winning play, it works!” And Nikos said, “It’s not working. They’re up there, I’m playing all the values, they’re in love, he’s in love with her, they want to get married — but it’s not working.” Thornton’s jaw drops to the floor and he says, “My lord, what are you doing? It’s very simple! He’s stupid and she’s smart, and if he doesn’t get the algebra questions for tomorrow’s homework, he’s going to flunk. THAT’S IT!” And Nikos said, “But Thornton, it’s a love scene!” And Thornton said, “That’s for the audience to decide.” And Nikos said, “Got it!” And he rips open the door to the rehearsal room and yells, “Everything we worked on is off! You’re dumb, you’re smart! Play it!” And people were grabbing their handkerchiefs and sobbing during the scene. But the beauty of this story was just — Nikos’ willingness to completely drop it. There was no ego. I mean, this was a man who had a considerable ego, but an ego strong enough to put the work and not himself first.

“But Thornton, it’s a love scene!”
“That’s for the audience to decide.”

2.
A humorous anecdote from Tennessee Williams about the New Haven opening of Streetcar:

“Streetcar” opened in New Haven in early November of 1947, and nobody seemed to know what the notices were or to be greatly concerned. After the New Haven opening night we were invited to the quarters of Mr. Thornton Wilder, who was in residence there. It was like having a papal audience. We all sat about this academic gentleman while he put the play down as if delivering a papal bull. He said that it was based upon a fatally mistaken premise. No female who had ever been a lady (he was referring to Stella) could possibly marry a vulgarian such as Stanley.

We sat there and listened to him politely. I thought, privately, This character has never had a good lay.

3.
Thornton Wilder’s annotations in his copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake.

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Two Icons

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One icon being watched over by another.

From “I Hired a Contract Killer” (1990), directed by Aki Kaurismäki

I also love this looping-together (almost accidentally) of the two guys – because of the image-similarity in two iconic albums, clearly a deliberate choice on the part of The Clash:

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Isaac Hayes’ Cadillac

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It circles in its own room at the STAX Museum in Memphis (something you should definitely check out if you go to Memphis). The interior has white fur details. It is one of the most outrageous things I’ve ever seen in my life.

Greased lightnin’, that’s a real pussy wagon!

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The Books: Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, ‘Joyce in Bloom’, by Christopher Hitchens

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On the essays shelf:

Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays

Hitchens’ article, “Joyce in Bloom,” appeared in the June, 2004 issue of Vanity Fair. June, of course, is Bloomsday Month, an event I celebrate every year on my site (and out in the real world, too). 2004 was the centennial of Bloomsday.

To put the Bloomsday story as succinctly as I can: James Joyce met his future wife Nora Barnacle (her name is symbolic on many levels, a fact Joyce – the word-lover – thrilled to immediately) on the streets of Dublin in early June, 1904. A chance encounter which ended up changing the entire face of 20th century literature. The two clearly set up a “date” to go walking together. Joyce sat in the park waiting for her. Nora stood him up. On June 15, 1904, he sent her a note:

I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me — if you have not forgotten me!

James A. Joyce 15 June 1904

Clearly, Nora responded. They met up on June 16, 1904, the day that is now known as Bloomsday. James Joyce set the entirety of his novel Ulysses on June 16, 1904, just one tiny indication of how momentous the meeting was for him. It was a tribute to the woman who had helped release him from the chains that bound him, chains of culture and repression and isolation. Four months later, the two ran away together to the “continent”, without getting married, leaving a wake of scandal behind them. The two would not get married officially until 1930, but that was a technicality. They had two children. They lived together. Except for a couple of months of separation (where they spent most of their time writing dirty letters to each other, masturbating in separate countries while reading the letters, the early 20th century version of phone sex), James Joyce and Nora Barnacle were never apart.

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Hitchens’ “way in” to this story is typically Hitchens-esque, as well as reflecting the underlying energy of much of Joyce’s work: it’s irreverent (Joyce was the ultimate in irreverent; ironic, considering how REVERENTLY his work is treated!), dirty-minded (Joyce had a filthy mind), and funny (Ulysses is hilarious). Everyone knows the story of Bloomsday. The entirety of Richard Linklater’s 1995 film Before Sunrise takes place on June 16, a clear nod to the one-day structure of Ulysses, and the momentous date, June 16, that had such resonance for Joyce. It is a day when connections are made, when love is possible, when men and women actually have a chance to get together. Joyce had assumed he would be alone forever, having unsatisfying sex with prostitutes. Nora showed up. She ushered him into the world of intimacy and belonging.

All of this is quite romantic but the truth is dirtier, as it usually is with Joyce: On June 16, 1904, James Joyce and Nora Barnacle took a walk around Dublin. You didn’t “date” in those days, and you certainly didn’t “date” in priest-ridden Catholic Ireland. Typically, there would be a formal courtship period, with parents sitting in as chaperones. So there wasn’t anywhere for James and Nora to go. Nowhere to hang out. So they walked. And on that walk, they probably talked, but maybe they didn’t. All we know is that at some point during that walk, Nora gave him a handjob. They both reference it in their later letters. So beautiful wild Nora, an uneducated woman from Galway, working as a waitress in a hotel, encountered the nearly-blind blue-eyed Irishman, an intellectual, struggling against the imprisonment of his culture (church/country/family), and she somehow understood that, understood him. And the way she handled it, was (sorry) to handle him. She put her hands down his pants, and remember, they’re out in public, hiding in an alley or something, and jerked him off.

Joyce fell in love. He saw it as an act of great generosity. The fact that they were never apart for the next almost-40 years shows the power of sex, kiddos, shows sex as redemptive, healing, and connecting. You work it out.

So Hitchens focuses on the handjob, basically. If I recall correctly he wrote a whole article about masturbation, although I’m not sure where I read it. So much of the focus on Ulysses is literary, and of course it is a great work of literature. It still stands alone. You still need to DEAL with it in order to write in its shadow. (Listen to current-day Irish authors speak. They are so conscious of Joyce that it’s almost like they have to forcibly kill him off in order to have the courage to write at all). But Hitchens?

He can’t get past Nora jerking Joyce off, and he doesn’t want to. As Hitchens writes:

“A century later, the literary world will celebrate the hundredth “Bloomsday,” in honor of the very first time the great James Joyce received a handjob from a woman who was not a prostitute.”

Hysterical. True.

I also did not know (or if I did know, I had forgotten) that Joyce requested that the first edition of Ulysses be a very particular shade of blue, the color of the Greek sea over which Odysseus sailed, trying to find his way home, and back to Helen, back to belonging.

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Love, Poverty, and War: Journeys and Essays, ‘Joyce in Bloom‘, by Christopher Hitchens

Many fine writers have sought to handle this delicate yet simple subject. One thinks of Mark Twain’s “Some Thoughts on the Science of Onanism,” or of Martin Amis, who did a good deal of hard and valuable reflection about handjobs in Money, and naturally of Philip Roth’s Portnoy (“I am the Raskolnikov of jerking off!”) But, all too often, the subject matter here is the horrible, unassuming, solitary version, sometimes adopted for reasons of economy (“Overheads are generally low,” as Amis’s John Self ruefully reflects) as well as for reasons of, well, solitude. Though it may be possible to take pride in one’s work in this department, also. Joyce certainly did. When a stranger in a cafe in Zurich seized him by the mitt and exclaimed, “May I kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses?” Joyce responded, “No – it did lots of other things too.” But the greatest effusion ever unleashed by a single, properly managed, and expertly administered (and how often can you say that?) female-to-male handjob is beyond doubt the 735-page mastur-piece that was first published by Shakespeare and Company in Paris, in just 1,000 numbered editions, in February of 1922 – since which date, our concept of the novel has revolutionized itself.

I shall be returning to self-abuse as a theme (trust me), but I want to give just a slight indication of the influence the book has had. I knew that George Orwell, in his second novel, A Clergyman’s Daughter, published in 1935, had borrowed from Joyce for his nighttime scene in Trafalgar Square, where Deafie and Charlie and Snouter and Mr. Tallboys and The Kike and Mrs. Bendigo and the rest of the bums and losers keep up a barrage of song snatches, fractured prayers, curses, and crackpot reminiscences. But only on my most recent reading of Ulysses did I discover, in the middle of the long and intricate mock-Shakespeare scene at the National Library, the line “Go to! You spent most of it in Georgina Johnson’s bed, clergyman’s daughter.” So now I think Orwell quarried his title from there, too.

Then take the vast, continuing controversy over the bigotry of T.S. Eliot. In a notorious lecture entitled “After Strange Gods,” delivered at the University of Virginia in 1933, Eliot had said that the presence of “too many free-thinking Jews” was “undesirable” in a well-ordered society. Seeking to define what was meant by a traditional community, he proposed that we call it “the same people, living in the same place.” And this deceptively simple formulation is taken word for word from Leopold Bloom, who offers it in Barney Kiernan’s pub when challenged, and then challenged again, by a violently anti-Jewish Irish nationalist. Nobody knows why Eliot chose to quote Bloom, without attribution, in a public address designed to attack Jewish influence. All we know is that he admired Joyce extravagantly, and that a novel mined by Orwell and Eliot within a year or so of each other, when Ulysses was still a banned book, is a considerable literary force.

In some intuitive manner, Joyce seems to have had the premonition that the Jewish question would be crucial to the twentieth century. (He was to die in 1941 while fleeing the German advance in Europe.) When not with Nora, or when not writing her frenziedly masturbatory letters, far, far fiercer than the mild incitements that Bloom sends to and receives from his mystery lady, he sought out Jewish girls (perhaps to be certain that they were not Catholics). One of Bloom’s first actions is to stop at a pork butcher’s and, in this improbable setting, to pick up a Zionist leaflet from an organization based in Berlin. Joyce admired the Jews because, like the Greeks, they lived in a diaspora and because, like Odysseus, they were wanderers. Furthermore, the Jews and Greeks proved that it was possible to worship higher goals without surrendering to the especial horror of Holy Mother Church – Joyce’s lifelong enemy. He unceasingly blamed the priesthood for, among other things, the betrayal and abandonment of Charles Stewart Parnell, the heroic Protestant nationalist leader who was taken in adultery.

Indeed, largely because of that church, Joyce himself was forced to live in exile from Ireland most of his life, and much of Ulysses is an attempt to reconstruct, from memory, the sight and sound and feel of his beloved Dublin. “Nostalgia” means literally a yearning for home, and Joyce pined for the banks and bridges of the River Liffey as Odysseus had for Ithaca. Furthermore – and like Homer himself – he suffered from blindness. Those with poor vision are often compensated with extra sensation in other faculties, and Joyce’s language pays minute attention to the sound and smell of everything, from food to horses to women. He loved strong color for the same reason, and insisted that the first edition of Ulysses be bound in a very specific shade of blue – the color of the Greek sea on which Odysseus had first sailed to recapture Helen, and then sailed again to escape from Troy. (Ask yourself, by the way, what part of Helen it was that Odysseus had failed to win. Her hand …)

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What Up

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My fashion sense basically has not changed.

Busy time for me. Writing all day long is challenging, and strangely cool when you’re getting paid for it. One must remember to get up and move about. Take breaks. Writing is sedentary. Balance, man, work for balance. You know, exercising (KEY), sleeping, ad doing things merely because they are fun. Come on, Sheila, you can go out and have fun and have it not be about anything other than fun, I know you can! I have weekly jobs that are ongoing. I have one huge project that will be done in a couple of weeks. And then there are longer-term things, you know: What I Want to Accomplish in 2014 kind of things. I’m managing. My whiteboard is saving my ass. I can keep track of it all. I am grateful to all the help I have right now, the doctors keeping me on track, my family. The weather is beautiful. Balance is not easy for someone like me. I was serious as a little girl and I’m serious now. But I’m learning.

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“There fell upon the ear the most terrible noise that human beings ever listened to – the cries of hundreds of people struggling in the icy cold water, crying for help with a cry we knew could not be answered.”

– Ruth, “Titanic” survivor

On the night of April 14, 1912, 100 years ago, the RMS Titanic of the White Star Line hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic and sank, killing 1,517 people, due to not enough lifeboats for all the passengers (and numerous other perfect-storm conditions).

For me, it is not so much the sinking of the ship that is the horrifying thing to contemplate (although that is definitely awful). It is the aftermath (described so vividly in the title of this post by “Ruth”), with 1,500 people thrashing about in that freezing water, miles and miles from anywhere, with lifeboats full (or half-full) of people bobbing nearby, listening to the sounds of the death throes.

Thomas Hardy wrote a poem about Titanic called “The Convergence of the Twain”. The title alone brings a chill of dread.

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The Titanic

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The iceberg

The Convergence of the Twain
by Thomas Hardy

I
In a solitude of the sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

II
Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rhythmic tidal lyres.

III
Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls-grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

IV
Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

V
Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: “What does this vaingloriousness down here?”…

VI
Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

VII
Prepared a sinister mate
For her – so gaily great -
A Shape of Ice, for the time far and dissociate.

VIII
And as the smart ship grew
In stature, grace, and hue,
In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

IX
Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate welding of their later history,

X
Or sign that they were bent
by paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

XI
Till the Spinner of the Years
Said “Now!” And each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

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And The Self-Styled Siren outdoes herself with a post on The Titanic, in three movies.

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Supernatural: Season 1, Episode 15: “The Benders”

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Directed by Peter Ellis
Written by John Shiban

When we first met Dean Winchester in the pilot, he was cocky, brash, and bossy. Other shadings came in pretty quick, once Ackles settled into the role, once they moved to Vancouver, once the show was picked up, and on and on. The character had a pretty steep curve, if you compare what we see in Episode 3 to what we saw in the pilot. Sam’s transformation was not quite as radical (his transformation would come later). Sometimes it’s hard to remember how these characters presented themselves to us in Season 1, because so much has happened since then. We’re 9 seasons in now. But part of the fun of doing Season 1 re-caps, all as Season 9 is unfolding, is to “go back” and remember what it was like to see it all for the first time, what it was like to be in the dark about these guys, watching other elements/shadings appear. The show had great flexibility, and it utilized it early on. The backstory was sketched in just enough to be properly ambiguous, so that we could re-visit it, and learn more about it. Even the teaser to the pilot, which seemed so explicit in “what happened”, was later up-ended and turned inside out, as we slowly figured out what was REALLY going on in that nursery. But for me, the fun of these re-caps is to try to forget that I know what’s coming. Not always easy. But certainly worthwhile, because it is then that you can really see how well the writers and the creative team and the actors set up all the themes and motifs – EARLY – themes/motifs which are still paying dividends in Season 9. I mean, hell, we got a flashback episode in Season 9 about Dean’s teenage years, and you would think we had already learned everything we needed to learn, but nope. There are still some intriguing blanks.

But erasing everything we eventually learn, and erasing how we have settled in with this guy by now, Episode 15 of Season 1, “Benders,” is a revelation.

Continue reading

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“What Was It, Spence?”

Gillian Anderson reads a letter Katharine Hepburn wrote to Spencer Tracy 18 years after his death. The letter is pretty famous, I’ve read it before, but it came to life for me in a different way, falling into Anderson’s beautiful reading of it, its openness, the slight imitation she’s doing (very slight), and the simple way she reads. Extraordinary.

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Hateship Loveship (2014)

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Based on an Alice Munro short story, Hateship Loveship features a quiet and fascinating and unnerving performance from Kristen Wiig. I can’t say enough good things about it.

My review is now up at Roger Ebert.

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Happy Birthday, Christopher Smart

“I do not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief pray with Kit Smart as anyone else. Another charge was that he did not love clean linen, and I have no passion for it.” — Dr. Johnson

Christopher Smart, born on this day in 1722, spent over 10 years of his life locked up in mental institutions (although “institution” is a kind term for what such establishments were back then). He seemed to suffer from some sort of religious ecstasy (although “suffering” may not be the right word at all). He was overcome by the love of God. It made him tremble with happiness. To quote my Dad, “I see no problem.”

Smart was born in Kent, and after his father’s death when he was 11, he was taken under the wing of the Vane family (his father had been a steward at their home). They made sure he went to college, Pembroke. He became friends with Alexander Pope, through his translations and poems, and also somehow became acquainted with Dr. Johnson. He had problems right off the bat with drinking and money, being irresponsible with both. He was arrested in 1747 for not paying his debts. He needed to make a living. He moved to London. He worked as an editor. He got married. In 1756 he was sent to an insane asylum and he stayed locked up until 1763. His wife left him during his incarceration, but in general he had not alienated his friends, not completely, and everyone stood by him, trying to help him out, financially or otherwise (he had two children by this point). While he was in the asylum, he wrote The Song to David. It was published the year of his release. His intense religious poetry came in the couple of years following.

He’s a weird case. He died in 1771. His life was chaotic, to some degree, but his confinement was almost a blessing in that it cut down on all distractions and allowed him the space to praise God as much as he wanted to. It was also a blessing because he could write without the pressure of having to make a living by it, which had always been hard for him. I am hesitant of making a blessing out of madness merely because some good art came out of it. Anyone who has experienced madness to any degree will know that nobody in their right mind would ever choose it. However: as Dr. Johnson’s quote that opens this post suggests: Smart’s madness seemed to be quite benign. He was in love with God. He wanted to praise God from the moment he woke up until he went to sleep. He would fall to his knees in the middle of public squares, praising God. Well, I’ve seen such people all over New York. Perhaps a bit annoying if you are trying to walk down that sidewalk, but other than that, what’s the harm?

Michael Schmidt wrote in Lives of the Poets about how all this might have impacted Smart’s poetry:

Smart’s originality is the product not of a candid, puzzled, anxious personality like William Cowper’s, nor the lucid, nostalgic and humane sensibility of a Goldsmith. It’s the product of a distinctly poetic imagination, using that term in a classical sense. Smart seldom composes verse: he is a poet rare in any age, most rare in the eighteenth century, a spiritual enthusiast and a consummate verbal artist. He might resemble Blake, only he has greater formal tact, a better ear, a better (that is, a less didactic) nature. His poems exist to celebrate God, not to cajole, instruct and persuade us.

In his most famous poem, the one most often quoted today, Christopher Smart sat and watched his cat Jeoffry stretching and playing in the sun, and became overwhelmed by God’s nearness and presence, obvious to him in every ripple of muscle in the cat’s body. The poem that resulted from his awe-struck observations is one of my favorites of all time: “Jubilate Agno, Fragment B [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]“.

Robert Graves wrote:

Christopher Smart wrote A Song to David in a lunatic asylum, and when his collected poems were published in 1791, it was omitted as ‘not acceptable to the reader’. This poem is formally addressed to David – Smart knew that he was no madder than King David had been, and a tradition survives that he scrabbled the verses with a key on the wall of his cell.

Christopher Smart’s influence was quite local during his own time, but he has easily crossed the centuries following his death, and new generations of readers continue to discover his wonderful work. Allen Ginsberg spoke of him as a huge influence. You can see why. Read that poem about the cat Geoffrey and you can almost feel Christopher Smart “rapping” about the cat, riffing, going from one thing to another … a la the Beats of the 40s and 50s, with complete confidence in what Ginsberg, centuries later, would call “first thought best thought”.

His lines don’t look like other people’s lines. At least not in the 18th century. His lines look like the lines from poets in the mid 20th century. That’s how transcendent this guy was. Pleasing only himself, hoping to please God. He often begins all lines with the same word, giving the verse an incantatory feel. In the wrong hands, it could be dreadful stuff. Look at some of the lesser Beats, or some of the poetry-slammers today. Riffing is not always good, and no: first thought is not always best thought. But something else is going on with Christopher Smart. It is almost incomprehensible that he wrote like this in the 1700s. His lines are long and conversational, they look like the lines of “Howl”. Ginsberg clearly was imitating what Smart’s lines looked like. Smart’s poems, with all their exaltation, are the definition of personal.

Michael Schmidt, in Lives of the Poets, writes:

However [Song to David] was written, they remain a wonder and a mystery, begotten of the Bible, of broad and deep learning, and of some catalyst that made a confusion that poet resolved, against chaos as it were, to put in some sort of order.

For the word of God is a sword on my side – no matter what other weapon a stick or a straw.
For I have adventured myself in the name of the Lord, and he hath marked me for his own.
For I bless God the Postmaster general & all conveyancers of letters under his care especially Allen & Shelvock.
For my grounds in New Canaan shall infinitely compensate for the flats & maynes of Staindrop Moore.
For the praise of God can give to a mute faith the notes of a nightingale.

Is it nonsense? Yes. Is it nonsense? No.

Donald Davie writes:

It is not impossible that when Smart is judged over the whole range of his various productions – conventional in form as well as unconventional, light and even ribald as well as devotional, urbane or tender as well as sublime – he will be thought of as the greatest English poet between Pope and Wordsworth.

Northrop Frye wrote:

“Pope’s ‘Messiah’ is not musical, but Smart’s ‘Song to David’, with its pounding thematic words and the fortissimo explosion of its coda, is a musical tour de force.”

Schmidt addresses the whole madness issue in his section on Smart:

We readily assume that he wrote in madness, that what he wrote, in its forms and themes, partakes of his derangement. Or we divide the work into sane and “insane” and judge the parts by distinct criteria. But his madness can be seen not so much as a disorder as alternative order, his religious vision not as eccentric but as direct, comprehensive. To say an artist is “mad” is to say very little. What matters is what he makes of language. Smart makes passionate poetry…

He is not an imitator even in his translations, which hold the original in a form and language that make no concessions. He feels and conveys the force of the poetry he admires. His intution is attuned to a broad tradition, not caught in the rut of convention. Marcus Walsh calls Smart’s mature style “mannered, religiose and self-conscious” – and each becomes a positive critical term, for together they produce a “homogenous” style that “unifies” – the crucial word – “a number of divergent influences”. It is the paradoxical combination of influences, biblical and classical, and the disruptions his imagination registers, that make him outstanding and eccentric. Learning and accidents of biography delver him from the bondage of Augustan convention into the sometimes anarchic, vertiginous freedom of Jubliate Agno and the originality of the Song to David. He has few heirs.

Goosebumps.

And about his “cat poem”:

First of all, check out this gorgeous post.

Second of all: Living as I do with a furry purry beast, Christopher Smart’s lines often come to mind when I watch her behavior. Certain things she will do will remind me of this or that line of his long poem, and it makes me laugh. I think of that 18th-century kitty cat named Jeoffry, and I love that the same crap was going on back then as now.

Examples, using some of Smart’s lines:

For she can creep
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For every family had one cat at least in the bag.

For she is tenacious of her point.

For every house is incomplete without her and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.

For she purrs in thankfulness, when God tells her she’s a good Cat

For she is the tribe of the Tiger

For she can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
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For she counteracts the powers of darkness by her electrical skin and glaring eyes.
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And here is the long-awaited Cat Poem. It still has the power to move me, despite how many times I have read it.

For I Will Consider My Cat Jeoffry

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 he rolls upon prank to work it in.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he looks upon his forepaws to see if they are clean.
For secondly he kicks up behind to clear away there.
For thirdly he works it upon stretch with the forepaws extended.
For fourthly he sharpens his paws by wood.
For fifthly he washes himself.
For sixthly he rolls upon wash.
For seventhly he fleas himself, that he may not be interrupted upon the beat.
For eighthly he rubs himself against a post.
For ninthly he looks up for his instructions.
For tenthly he goes in quest of food.
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
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 powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life.
For in his morning orisons he loves the sun and the sun loves him.
For he is of the tribe of Tiger.
For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.
For he has the subtlety and hissing of a serpent, which in goodness he suppresses.
For he will not do destruction, if he is well-fed, neither will he spit without provocation.
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.
For the Lord commanded Moses concerning the cats at the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt.
For every family had one cat at least in the bag.
For the English Cats are the best in Europe.
For he is the cleanest in the use of his forepaws of any quadruped.
For the dexterity of his defence is an instance of the love of God to him exceedingly.
For he is the quickest to his mark of any creature.
For he is tenacious of his point.
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion.
For he is of the Lord’s poor and so indeed is he called by benevolence perpetually–Poor Jeoffry! poor Jeoffry! the rat has bit thy throat.
For I bless the name of the Lord Jesus that Jeoffry is better.
For the divine spirit comes about his body to sustain it in complete cat.
For his tongue is exceeding pure so that it has in purity what it wants in music.
For he is docile and can learn certain things.
For he can set up with gravity which is patience upon approbation.
For he can fetch and carry, which is patience in employment.
For he can jump over a stick which is patience upon proof positive.
For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command.
For he can jump from an eminence into his master’s bosom.
For he can catch the cork and toss it again.
For he is hated by the hypocrite and miser.
For the former is afraid of detection.
For the latter refuses the charge.
For he camels his back to bear the first notion of business.
For he is good to think on, if a man would express himself neatly.
For he made a great figure in Egypt for his signal services.
For he killed the Ichneumon-rat very pernicious by land.
For his ears are so acute that they sting again.
For from this proceeds the passing quickness of his attention.
For by stroking of him I have found out electricity.
For I perceived God’s light about him both wax and fire.
For the Electrical fire is the spiritual substance, which God sends from heaven to sustain the bodies both of man and beast.
For God has blessed him in the variety of his movements.
For, tho he cannot fly, he is an excellent clamberer.
For his motions upon the face of the earth are more than any other quadruped.
For he can tread to all the measures upon the music.
For he can swim for life.
For he can creep.

God bless you, Christopher Smart, and happy birthday.

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