Dante Lucked Out
By David Lehman
T. S. Eliot held that Dante was lucky
to live in the Middle Ages
because life then was more logically organized
and society more coherent. The rest of us however
can't be as sure that if we'd had the fortune
to walk along the Arno and look at the pretty girls
walking with their mothers in the fourteenth century,
then we, too, would have composed La Vita Nuova
and the Divine Comedy. It is on the contrary
far more likely that we, transported
to medieval Florence, would have died miserably
in a skirmish between the Guelphs and the Ghibelines
without the benefit of anesthesia
or would have been beaten, taunted,
cheated, and cursed as usurers
two centuries before the charging of interest
became an accepted part of Calvinist creed
and other reasons needed to be produced
to justify the persecution of the Jews.
From Poet's Choice by Robert Pinsky in The Washington Post Book World. "Lehman is candid as well as ironic -- sometimes, both at once. He generates a maniacal, irreverent, fast-thinking range of references to movies, poems, history," states the critic. "Lehman's writing is 'literary' in a way that shows how literature, along with the other arts, is not a meadow for ruminative academic grazing, but a field of energy...Lehman can turn from a deadpan, reasonable soul's misgivings about T.S. Eliot's pronouncements to a reflection on history that cuts deeper than mere mockery." Pinsky discusses the use of the first person plural in the poem above, saying that the poem transitions from "an unexamined, complacent and generalized use of the pronoun 'we' ('if we'd had the fortune/ to walk along the Arno') to something more specific and real. The point is not merely to deride Eliot's comfortable upper-class viewpoint...the word 'anesthesia' serves as a hinge to the last six lines, which sweep ahead to consider a lack of moral feeling, or an imaginative numbness. Real nastiness and historical savageries bubble under the surface of the nostalgia."
I still miss Edward Hirsch writing this column but Pinsky has published some wonderful analyses the past few weeks. There are fewer poems and more examinations of the poems, which I appreciate because it's a lot easier to find good poems than good discussions of poetry targeted neither at academics nor at other poets.
We retrieved our children today from their grandparents at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo, a family-owned, professionally-run zoo in the Appalachian foothills. It was not as cool as one might wish even in the mountains, but the park is shaded and has lots of water so it was bearable. Though we have driven by it many, many times passing through Thurmont on US 15, we have never visited it before, and we were quite impressed; it's an old-style zoo, with animals in traditional cages instead of out in more natural enclosures, but one could get a lot closer to them than, say, to the lions in the Baltimore Zoo which are often not visible to visitors. There is a baby sun bear and lion cubs, a pregnant jaguar and a number of baby gray armed macaques -- a species that can only be seen outside Indonesia in this zoo.
When we came home we discovered that our cable had gone out, and it did not return until after 7 p.m., giving me an insane evening trying to get articles written instead of unpacking the kids (who were desperate to reacquaint themselves with the GameCube after three days away, anyway). So I spent a working Saturday night and fiddled with the more than 100 photos I took today, which you will probably be seeing for some time. *g* Tonight, animals for people on LJ...
A mandrill for
Lion cubs for
A jaguar for
To my regret I did not get a clear photo of the skink for