Camille Paglia very likely agrees with Woody Allen that 80% of life is showing up. Author, teacher, scholar, advice columnist, courageous defier of contemporary orthodoxies left and right, tireless propagandist for the rapist within, and so much more, Paglia doesn’t just show up, she never goes away.

As for the nature of this prodigious output, we have Sexual Personae; Sex and Violence, or Nature and Art; Sex, Art and American Culture; Sex in New York City: An Illustrated History; Madonna Megastar; Sex and the Single Professor. Can anyone find the pattern here?

Still, Paglia must weary of a single subject, and in Break, Blow, Burn she has ventured into poetry. The book is a “close reading” of 43 short poems ranging in time from Shakespeare to the present. One might think that so busy a woman as Paglia wouldn’t have time to learn anything about poetry. She doesn’t.

I am prepared to absolve her of much of the criticism of Break, Blow, Burn, which has been directed toward her selection. Supposing that Paglia thought these the greatest 43 poems in English — and she nowhere makes such a claim — her 43 would inevitably differ from yours or mine. Shakespeare, Donne, George Herbert, Dickinson, and Roethke have three poems each; Blake, Wordsworth, Yeats, Stevens, and W.C. Williams two apiece. The warhorses — “The World is Too Much with Us,” “Westminster Bridge,” “Kubla Khan,” “Ozymandias,” “Song of Myself” — are out in force, but leavened with a few excellent and lesser-known choices, like George Herbert’s “Church Monuments” and Emily Dickinson’s “Safe in their alabaster chambers.” The inclusion of Joni Mitchell’s pallid “Woodstock” has occasioned grumbling, but rock lyrics are what mostly passes for poetry nowadays, and it is by no means the worst poem in the book.

I am willing to overlook her tasteless attempts at relevance and titillation. (I remember reading a passage from Vamps and Tramps in praise of the “Dionysian” Rolling Stones and thinking, Whoa. The Stones. How cool is that?) She wants to use “Leda and the Swan” as an excuse to talk about swan penises? OK. She wants to characterize the worms in “To His Coy Mistress” as “gang rapists,” or the relationship between Hamlet’s father and Claudius as “male-on-male rape”? Fine. She wants to call Sylvia Plath “the first female rocker”? All right. You’ve opened a Paglia book and this is the price of admission.

What I cannot forgive is the violence she does to the poems themselves. Poetry achieves its effects through the relationship between sound and sense, and to elucidate them requires technical analysis. You have to read carefully and you have to know something. Zero for two, you may want to consider another line of work.

On Herbert’s “Church Monuments” she essays this remarkable passage:

The memento mori takes the form of an hourglass with the curvilinear silhouette of the human body: “That flesh is but the glasse, which holds the dust / That measures all our time; which also shall / Be crumbled into dust.” As the sands flow through the hourglass, Herbert makes us hear and feel faint, regular pulses (like a water clock) on the words “flesh,” “glasse,” “dust,” and “time.” Then, with the end of time, the hourglass wobbles and tumbles off the end of one line onto the next, where it smashes to powder.

….The poem is in fact structured like a fall — a formal cascade like Baroque fountain: Herbert ignores the stanza breaks and lets his sentences spill over the gap. The effect is refreshing, like soft rain dribbling off a roof. The poem’s playful, soothing rhythms distance its unsettling imagery of death and decay.

From the top: the body as an hourglass is a commonplace of the English Renaissance. It is not intended to be visualized; such resemblance as exists applies only to women, in the best case, and is irrelevant in this poem. The quoted lines sound nothing like a water clock (in part because water clocks don’t make noise). They derive their effect from variation: the heavy accents on “glasse,” “dust,” “time,” and “dust” again, come after six syllables, then four, then six, and finally ten. The famous last line of Greville’s elegy on Sidney produces a similar effect: “Salute the stones, that keep the limbs, that held so good a mind.”

Assuming the hourglass were involved, “smash” would be a singularly inappropriate verb for a poem about dissolution. But the antecedent of “which also shall be crumbled into dust” is “all our time,” not the hourglass. The thought of time itself dissolving gives this passage much of its concentration and power.

It would be difficult for a poet to “ignore” his own stanza breaks, but in any case Herbert published the poem without them; later editors added them to clarify the rhyme scheme. Yes, the stanzas are all enjambed, but the most violent enjambment of all, on which Paglia does not see fit to comment, comes mid-stanza, in the very passage she quotes, between “shall” and “be,” which splits a verb phrase and emphasizes the utter finality of the end of all things.

The rhythms in this passage, and throughout the poem, are as far from “refreshing” or “playful” or “soothing” as can be imagined, as any moderately sensitive reader can hear for himself. (Not that rain dribbling off a roof is too refreshing either, unless you’re thirsty.) Herbert does not try to “distance” his reader from death and decay; quite the contrary. His rhythms emphasize the grimness of his subject in the most effective possible way.

Donne’s “Holy Sonnet I,” though a fine poem, is metrically undistinguished in every respect. Of line 13:

Thy Grace may wing me to prevent his art

Paglia writes: “Rapid, darting rhythms capture the dove’s flight as it swoops in to ‘wing’ the poet’s soul to safety.” Never mind that she invents the dove: Donne is rarely rapid, and never darting, and this line is among the statelier in the history of English literature. In each of the first three feet the unaccented syllable is longer than the accented, which slows and flattens the line. The awkward juxtaposition of a dental and a glottal in the second and third feet slows it further. How much of this is accidental, Donne being Donne, is a nice question. For “darting rhythms” try his contemporaries Campion or Greene or Peele. They are all inferior to Donne as poets but incomparably superior as metrists.

W.C. Williams, a master of tiny sound effects, she simply does not understand. The miracle of “The Red Wheelbarrow” has nothing to do with the fact that the stanzas look like wheelbarrows, though I suppose they do. It is the contrast between the red of the beginning and the white of the end, and the echoing vowel sounds, long long short, in the lines “glazed with rain / water” and “beside the white / chickens”. Paglia proceeds to claim that “This Is Just to Say” resembles an icebox, crossing over from irrelevance into absurdity. The rhythms of the poem are not “halting”; the feet vary widely, and often inversely, in length and speed, which is essential in good free verse. You can hear it especially in the two lines “they were delicious / so sweet”, where the two-syllable foot is slower than the five-syllable one.

The narrator of Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death,” according to Paglia, “shares [Blake's chimney] sweep’s dangerous naivete: both are cheerful, chatty innocents who meet but never comprehend the dark forces at work in the world.” There is nothing “chatty” or “sing-song” about the first stanza; its diction is exact, and “kindly,” on which she places so much emphasis, is intended ironically. The narrator shows the same intelligence from beginning to end. It is not the “Or rather” at the beginning of the fourth stanza that provokes “the hesitation or stutter”; it is the fact that Dickinson inverts her usual hymn meter of four feet followed by three to three followed by four. The line “the dews grew quivering and chill” does not involve metonymy, which is not adequately defined as “rhetorical displacement.” Paglia’s aside about “Dickinson’s archaic, Anglo-Saxon capitalizations (which were condescendingly ‘corrected’ and removed in the first posthumous collections of her work)” is a slur on Mrs. Todd and Mrs. Bianchi, who displayed more sensibility in editing her poems than her later editor Johnson did and far more than Paglia does in explicating them. (One of Todd’s greatest sins as an editor, as Paglia fails to note, was to omit the fourth stanza of this very poem. The stanza itself is bad, but integral, and it is a close judgment whether the poem is better without it.)

Wallace Stevens bears most of the brunt of her frequent abuse of biography. Often she confuses the narrator with the poet, in the traditional freshman manner. Paglia lets drop that Stevens’ wife appears in “Sunday Morning,” from which I have been unable to discern, after several dozen readings, that the man was even married. Of Williams’ “This Is Just to Say” she remarks: “The note was evidently written overnight, while the rest of the family was asleep.” Evidently: and “My Last Duchess” was evidently written by a murdering medieval duke, A.E. Housman evidently survived countless suicides to become a famous classics scholar in middle age, and as for “Piazza Piece,” I bet you had no idea that Death writes poetry and wears dustcoats. One might excuse Paglia on the grounds that the “note” that the poem purports to be is not the same as the poem itself. Unfortunately she adopts a similar technique throughout, reproducing, for instance, a speech from Hamlet’s father’s ghost as a self-contained poem and discussing it as if it were in Shakespeare’s person.

Arriving at “Anecdote of the Jar,” Paglia takes flight:

In style, the jar more resembles an earthenware pot than a polished vase on a pedestal. It rejects the elite standards of uniqueness and perfection of the European “masterpiece.” Stevens was born and raised in Reading in Pennsylvania Dutch country, where home produce was “put up” in ceramic crocks or glass canning jars and where farmers’ markets still abound. The region borders on West Virginia, just over the Mason-Dixon Line, through which the Appalachian mountain chain drops to Kentucky and Tennessee. Hence Stevens’s Tennessee jar, with its dollops of canned or sampled nature, may also be a jug for moonshine (fiery corn whiskey), that staple of the Southern underground economy… Behind his respectable facade in Hartford, perhaps Stevens in his secluded hours of poetry thought of himself as running a secret still on his own mount of the Muses.

Obliged though I am to Paglia for the definition of “moonshine,” that’s only one kind. This passage is another. It is known, in the argot of literary criticism, as making shit up. The reader may be pardoned for having forgotten in all the hubbub that all we know about the jar is that it’s “round upon the ground,” “gray and bare,” and “tall and of a port in air.” About the “secret still” the less said the better.

Everything Paglia writes about “Anecdote of the Jar” is wrong, including “and” and “the.” “This cryptic poem is about art making,” she says. It is not. It is about Stevens’ single subject, the sterility of the human intellect, represented by the jar, and the consequent necessity of hedonism. This might have occurred to her had she spent more time reading his poetry and less fantasizing about his private life. “Without human framing nature remains ‘a slovenly wilderness,’ a primeval chaos.” No again, as lines 3 (“It [the jar] made the slovenly wilderness”) and 6 (“It [the wilderness] sprawled around, no longer wild.”) make clear. (Italics mine.) Anyone who has come upon a wild scene that looks pristine at first and then spotted a piece of trash will appreciate what Stevens means. The jar makes the mess, which is why it is “gray and bare” and “did not give of bird or bush.” These details are indeed “inscrutable and intractable” when you have the poem backwards from the get-go. It is only fair to point out that most of the Stevens specialists don’t understand it either.

Blake’s “London” she treats as a catalog of the evils of the Industrial Revolution, which makes a hash of “in every ban/ The mind-forg’d manacles I hear” and which would have outraged its author. To interpret the “marriage hearse” as the spread of venereal disease is not only contrary to the author’s intent but illogical. Syphilitic prostitutes may blight marriages with plagues, but why “the marriage hearse”? Blake is pleading, as usual, in favor of anarchy and against law and civil society in every form. This is the man who wrote “damn braces, bless relaxes.”

I will not revisit my little dust-up about “Ozymandias” here. Suffice it to say that my severest critics and I would agree that, whatever the merits of the poem, it decidedly does not “wipe out history and humanity in a godless apocalypse that prefigures modern nihilism.” Shelley was as firm a believer in human progress as anyone this side of Robert Wright. In “Ozymandias” it is the tyrants who perish. This is a good thing.

I think I’ll buy a copy of Madonna Megastar. I hear it’s a picture book.

Aaron Haspel | Posted August 20, 2005 @ 5:28 PM | Poetry

29 Responses to “Break, Blow, Burn, Suck”

  1. 1 1. Bill Kaplan

    She’s a SUNY-Binghamton graduate. I told ya they don’t teach them nuttin’ there.


  2. 2 2. Matt McIntosh

    I have little to add about Paglia other than what little I know of her work makes me find her a bore, but thank you for letting me know that she’s also incompetent. I just want to point out that the version of "Because I could not stop for death" that you link to appears to be missing the fourth stanza of which you speak, which rather confused me for a minute.


  3. 3 3. Aaron Haspel

    Matt: Thanks for reminding me about this. Todd, her first editor, omitted the fourth stanza in her version, and Martha Bianchi followed this. It should be restored, but without the dashes and punctuation, which I’ve discussed at length. I’m editing the paragraph, and changing the link, to reflect this.


  4. 4 4. Matt McIntosh

    "I believe most of what you have said is a matter of opinion, with which I neither agree nor disagree."

    Surely that’s impossible with someone as blunt as Aaron! Especially since most of his points are technical, factual, or just based on commonsense reading skills. Or do you just have no opinion at all of your own?


  5. 5 5. evilyngarnett

    I believe most of what you have said is a matter of opinion, with which I neither agree nor disagree. The feet in the WCC poem discussed do contain the long long/ short patterns you spoke of but whether they are the “miracle” of the poem is up for (endless) debate. Paglia can indeed annoy: she seeks attention, for one thing, and that’s annoying in itself.

    Additionally, her work is informed by a kind of manic populism. She desperately wants to make things like poetry, once reserved for the educated classes, available and interesting to people outside of an academic context. If she gets someone to read Wallace Stevens who otherwise would not have, in other words, she’s been successful according to the intention of the book, which is to make poetry attractive. I think it would be an excellent intro text book, and the professor could easily bring in elaborate diagrams of ancient waterclocks of his own to challenge the text’s assumption.

    (I tried to examine it thoroughly, btw, but couldn’t decide whether or not it would make a sound.)


  6. 6 6. evilyngarnett

    Certainly I do. But they are about the interpration of the technical facts, not the facts themselves. As I said, his point about the long and short vowel sounds was factually correct. Whether that was the "miracle" of the poem ( a word that is not particularly rooted in the technical or factual) is a matter of opinion. As for the jar, whether it contextualizes or corrupts the surrounding hill is also a matter of opinion. In this case I don’t really care to enter the debate and am content to leave it to those better informed on the subject than myself. I do have an opinion on Paglia’s book, which is that, flawed as it (and she) may be, and while it may deserve all the trouncing it gets by this or that irrascible genius it also deserves acknowledgement. It is important to what might be called our culture that not only those with masters degrees and the ability to academically, historically and intellectually "unpack" a poem be able to enjoy poetry. What Paglia is aiming at in her book is to make so called "high" culture as interesting and accessible as the "low" or "pop" culture which she’s always seeking, sometimes ridiculously, to elevate. I think that’s a good idea; that’s my opinion. Notice nowhere here do I use the word "elitism", I don’t believe it’s appropriate, and is, please excuse me, a concept that’s largely a matter of opinion.


  7. 7 7. Thomas

    Wow. haha. I loved reading this. Even though I don’t see poetry as being neccessarily as verbal, and nonvisual (in relation to composition on printed page), as you, it is clear that the woman has an active imagination and loves to shout from her podium. I would marry her, but it would be a rather ironic interpretation of male on male rape, I fear.


  8. 8 8. Aaron Haspel

    Evilyn has a point. Two points, actually. I agree with her that a book like Paglia’s would make a fine introductory text. So long as it isn’t Paglia’s book. Accessibility is no defense for foolishness.

    It is also true that when you discuss poetry you will eventually assert what is difficult, if not impossible, to prove. I can demonstrate that there’s no dove in Donne’s Holy Sonnet I, to a certainty; that "which also crumbles into dust" modifies "all our time" in Church Monuments, pretty persuasively; that Stevens’ jar makes the wilderness slovenly rather than organizing it, a bit less persuasively; that Donne’s line is not "rapid" or "darting," less persuasively still. Sooner or later you can reduce the poem no further and can only point, as I did in the case of The Red Wheelbarrow. You may call this "opinion" if you like, but some opinions are sound and others less so. The reader may examine the poem and decide for himself how much he really cares what shape the stanzas are.


  9. 9 9. evilyngarnett

    Aaron is right on both counts.
    I still think the water clock diagram was a bit too much, though. However if they really don’t make noise, I’m going to find one and replace my alarm clock with it.
    good morning.


  10. 10 10. joe O

    If the jar is a mess in the woods, why did Stevens put it there?


  11. 11 11. Aaron Haspel

    Joe: Because he has to, being human. Man is what he is and must "place jars," as it were. For the same reason Stevens convinced himself of the uselessness of poetry and wrote it anyway.


  12. 12 12. Alan Sullivan

    You go, girl! She deserves it…


  13. 13 13. gawain

    what great fun you are to read! i suppose i must love opinionated eloquent windbags (that would just about cover me, too). perhaps you might find mildly amusing my own maginificent production on the failures of philosophy (when you are not reading the spines of your books)
    http://heaventree.blogspot.com/2005/04/defeat-of-philosophers.html
    i’ll go back to reading the god now –
    keep it up, we havent seen you here in a while


  14. 14 14. Thomas the Lost Poet

    The picture covered in film as it
    Sits and is itself alone
    There settled dust and many things
    That speak of what was once
    For us. For anyone. Im scared
    For everyone. Were all of us
    A pantomime of glitter dust
    We scattered us for them.
    So dont talk to me silence
    No, I never say whats best
    Weve settled somewhere west of it
    In middles, and guarded all our lives
    In riddles, grounded with those were like
    And what a sight we must have been
    We tell ourselves and muster grins
    Before our insides turned us in
    And then, yes then, our simple lies
    Carried weight as water does the gentle wind
    And carried us because we just couldnt

    And life was wont to do, it did
    Move through my days with whimsy
    What once was tried, my life and I
    Was failed. And so I knew
    No gods. No signs. Im empty.
    Born and died a turning screw
    Anew, the sun, would come undone
    As outside shaded hues
    Mirrored this trek I stood before
    Darkness, in woods of blues
    And yet did I, first step, then two
    And you heard from me no more.

    Beget by waking dreams I walked my life
    The fifth of them when comes the night
    Where lurked my thoughts which strayed so far
    To all the dust and things in pictures
    Its just another proof, I think
    How we merely spoke in silence
    Frozen: the moments where meanings died.
    We filmed ourselves in memory
    And generated glues
    That tarnished all of us in turn,
    As screws, when atop us ties we bind
    And so I sat alone next to
    All of it, but by myself.
    In rooms of shaded hues, with walls
    Windowless, and full of dreams
    Where winds did blow inside my mind
    Was blue.
    I sit naked and wonder why
    Truth never bothers to come true
    In times of need. The time was nigh
    For me to sleep. At last the whys
    All gone.
    And the past did turn to grains of sand
    Reflections and whispers which I then cast
    Into the eye of Horus.
    Asleep inside towers of glass
    Looking through it as the hours
    Began seriously to pass.

    Aaron, I just smoked some Winters lol.


  15. 15 15. Bill Kaplan

    With Aaron, to live is to complain. Since this was his last written complaint, I can only surmise he has ceased living.


  16. 16 16. Matt McIntosh

    Must have. That’s the only possible explanation for the absence of those "three or four substantive posts" that he assured me he had teed up a month ago… :)


  17. 17 17. Thomas

    crap. I was gonna say the king is dead, long live the queen. But Bill beat me to it. And let me just say bill, that battery on females is wrong.


  18. 18 18. Jim Valliant

    It’s like that Woody Allen joke about the lack of evidence for the existence of God… if only God could show us a burning bush… "if He would just cough."


  19. 19 19. M. Abbott

    Aaron, unfortunately, you don’t understand poetry either. All poetry is subjective and it doesn’t matter what the author really meant by writing it. Once thrown out for public comsumption, art is interpreted in different ways. I don’t purport to agree with everything that Paglia says, but she is highly intelligent and well researched and read. Does she have an obsession with sex? Yes, she is a Freudian. Is it fair to characterize Andrew Marvell’s "worms" as "gang rapists," sure, why not? If you actually read the poem in context, you know that is his whole point in saying the line…Paglia just has the balls to actually write it on paper. Politically correctness be damned! I agree with you that poems can be about rhythmn and rhyme (and by the way so does Camille-she even says so in interviews about how her body responds physically while reading a poem out loud), poems are all about the visual. This is why poetry readings/slams are painful to sit through. To see a poem on paper and acutally see its construction, its arrangement, its text, really brings out the meanings…deconstructionists be damned! Finally, I don’t think you truly understand her whole point in doing "close readings" or what explication of text entails: it has almost nothing to do with just metrical arrangment. Paglia herself wouldn’t care if you personally disagreed with her interpretation, as long as you read poetry, which in the end, you have, and therefore she emerges the true winner over her detractors again (where is Wolf, MacKinnon, Steinem, and Faludi?).


  20. 20 20. Aaron Haspel

    Abbott is the latest in a long line of commenters over the years who try to demonstrate, simultaneously, two propositions:

    1. Poetry interpretation is subjective.
    2. My poetry interpretation is bad.

    Not only, as Matt points out, does #2 contradict #1; if #1 is true then there is no sense in posting the comment at all. What grounds could we have to disagree? I say po-ta-to, Abbott says po-tah-to, let’s call the whole thing off. I deny that Paglia displays high intelligence, deep research, or wide reading, and I gave a few reasons. But according to Abbott they would avail her naught in any case.

    Proposition #1, construed narrowly, is true. Certain statements about poetry, maybe even the most interesting statements, are difficult to prove — as I remarked in this very thread, a few posts up. There are aspects of the relation between sound and sense that, given our imperfect knowledge of neurology, remain inscrutable in practice, though not in principle.

    Narrow construction, however, will not satisfy critics of this type, and construed broadly, Proposition #1 is, I am sure, a bad faith argument. No one — at least no one who troubles to comment here — really believes it. It is a short cut for those who believe Proposition #2 (which may very well be true) but do not care to put in the work required to establish it. Being lazy myself, I sympathize. Nonetheless this site is for those who would improve their taste rather than confirm it.

    Argument clinicians should note two other points in Abbott’s remarks. At the top, the appeal to authority: “Does [Paglia] have an obsession with sex? Yes, she is a Freudian.” Are Freud’s disciples now relieved of the obligation to be intelligent? And at the bottom, the self-immunizing proposition, followed immediately by the red herring: “Paglia herself wouldn’t care if you personally disagreed with her interpretation, as long as you read poetry, which in the end, you have, and therefore she emerges the true winner over her detractors again (where is [sic] Wolf, MacKinnon, Steinem, and Faludi?).” One rarely finds these fallacies in such pure form in the wild.


  21. 21 21. Matt McIntosh

    Surely I’m not the only one who finds it hilarious that Abbott says that "all poetry is subjective" and then proceeds to defend Paglia’s (subjective?) judgements about poems. Hey, didn’t he just eat that cake?

    The author’s intent is a secondary concern in interpretation (intentional fallacy, yadda yadda) and interpreting poems is more art than science, but that doesn’t mean some interpretations don’t make more sense than others. Some of what Aaron says is quite contestable and some of it is not, but if you’re going to challenge any of it then you can’t hide behind vacuous appeals to ineffable subjectivity.


  22. 22 22. Thomas

    Poetry interpretation is subjective:

    except when held to standards of communicable commonality for purposes of reference and intellectual connection (contextual exploration).

    This is so freaking obvious it was obviously omit-TED for purposes of nailing large blocks to the head of dunces proclaiming their affliction and affirming our personal insensitivities. However, I have always like that particular sign, and am hanging about my head merrily.

    Your interpretation of poetry, and your interpretation of Paglia, are of course, two different things. 2 might be made "bad" while still affirming the proposition of 1 were the case made. However, Aaron is going to make you work for it, and as he already knows (and has declared) you are too lazy.

    As a side note: reading poetry and eating Cheetos is a nice combination. Bold and Daring.

    Cheers!


  23. 23 23. Kevin

    If I may distill your piece down to itse essence, and by distill I mean interpret based on a quick skim after several pints of Guinness and a 7-11…food item of some ilk – you’re asserting that Paglia will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.

    Fair enough, I should think.


  24. 24 24. Matt McIntosh

    And like the Marxist revolutionary prophesies of yore, it’s always just over the horizon, but never arriving…

    Speaking of which, it’s been 14 months since Part 1 of The Disconsolation of Philosophy. In a slightly shorter span of time, Einstein proved that atoms are real, came up with special relativity, and kicked off the research program of quantum mechanics. In a slightly longer span of time, Newton invented calculus, discovered the laws of motion, and formulated both a theory of optics and a general theory of gravity.

    So I guess what I’m saying is: no pressure, guys. :)


  25. 25 25. Tatyana

    …what’s more, Matt, there is always that oft-repeated lament of men at certain age: "Jesus was 33 when..; Napoleon.. ; [fill in whomever you hold as a beacon of achievement], etc".

    What’s time, really? An abstraction.


  26. 26 26. Sparky

    re: church monuments

    Granted that the hourglass metaphor is commonplace: does this mean it is ‘not to be visualized’? That Herbert is using cliches intended to skitter over the surface of our eardrums without serious attention?

    I don’t have a water clock, and I don’t know what model our dear reader owns, but the assertion that no water clocks ever allow the water falling from them to make noise seems a bit strong.

    Herbert’s metrical effect is nothing like Greville’s. Greville’s poems are unread today precisely because of their Souza-like rhythm, bereft of the fruitful tension between phrase and line we hear in Herbert.

    The antecedent of "which also shall be crumbled into dust" might be "all our time," but might also be "flesh" or "glasse." The semicolon seems to imply that Paglia is correct, but we really can’t lean too heavily on c17 punctuation, even Herbert’s. What we can do is recognize that the flesh and glasse are the tenor and vehicle of an extended metaphor, that the equivalence of flesh and dust is critical to the meaning of the poem, and that the metaphor as constructed has flesh modulating into dust, ergo the glass into dust as well. To "crumble" time is to mix a metaphor in a way that creates deep resonance as long as it is held as a connotation, but that falls apart completely if it is read as a denotative extension of the metaphor.

    While I’d agree that the poem does not "distance" us from death, I can’t argue with refreshment. Whether Paglia feels refreshed or not is not a question I can answer, but I can say that Herbert’s work strives to mediate grace, not instill anguish.

    In fact, Paglia’s reading seems fine to me; maybe despite our dear reader’s protestations to the contrary, what really gets under his skin is Paglia’s mention of sex.


  27. 27 27. Matt McIntosh

    So can I take it that God is dead?


  28. 28 28. gawain

    dear fellow godheads:

    the demise of godofthemachine has left me as broken hearted as it has left you. like you, i keep coming back to see signs of life and — nothing.

    over at http://heaventree.blogspot.com

    we try to do our best to keep up the aaron tradition of long posts on lofty subjects in uncompromising prose; we don’t do it QUITE the same (we do not have a cat with a serious overbite, for example), but there is on occasion a fair bit of lively discussion, too. perhaps we could all meet there for a change?

    see you
    Gawain


  29. 29 29. Geoff

    I hates to be the guy that lurks on a blog and only speaks up to play cliche cop, but I gots to be that guy.

    Woody Allen said that 80 percent of success is just showing up. Success. Not life.

    Geoff


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