Sunday, September 07, 2008

So, I'm starting to reread certain books which were important to me ten, twenty years ago. Right now, for example, I'm reading Walter Pater. His sentences used to excite me, and don't get me wrong, they still are wonderful (like this, from "The Child in the House"; "So he yielded himself to these things, to be played upon by them like a musical instrument, and began to note with deepening watchfulness, but always with some puzzled, unutterable longing in his enjoyment, the phases of the seasons and of the growing or wandering day, down even to the shadowy changes wrought on bare wall or ceiling--the light cast up from the snow, bringing out their darkest angles; the brown light in the cloud, which meant rain; that almost too austere clearness, in the protracted light of the lengthening day, before warm weather began, as if it lingered but to make a severer workday, with the school-books opened earlier and later; all the humming, the freshness, the perfume of the garden seemed to lie upon it--and coming in one afternoon on September, along the red gravel walk, to look for a basket of yellow crab-apples left in the cool, old parlour, he remembered it the more, and how the colours had struck him, because a wasp on one bitten apple stung him, and he felt the passion of sudden, severe pain." How lovely is that 'note' in the third clause! And then the context for the specific scene of the sentence, that which lies around that specific moment (of the wasp sting) is inside the sentence, is the sentence's grammatic kernel. And how all that general context, the things playing notes on (in?) him, are full of sensual contradiction, just as the notes played from him are puzzled but deepening. And it all sits on that specific moment of pain--it's almost funny (but not also), like he's mocking his seriousness with great seriousness.) but what used to feel like an admirable, if extreme, circumspection and attention (as if he had written like Cezanne painted), now feels squeezed a little too tight, not necessarily fussy but not permeable enough to a broader range of sensation than he felt comfortable writing out.

Of course, the sentences are the same as they were a decade ago, it is me getting older and my tastes changing, which is welcome; but it is also me getting older and more mundane, my ear cottoning from age and responsibility. After Pater, I intend to find some new grammar to get excited about; one of the responsibilities of aging, I think I'm just learning, is keeping my ear, through its changing, supple.

Hi Stuart,

I read Pater's Child in the House. I remember thinking I'd never read anything remotely like it. I stumbled upon this because Harold Bloom said it was a source for Wallace Stevens' "Owl in the Sarcophagus," which may or may not have been true. But it was a great thing to read whatever the reason.
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