Books: grassy notes, a hint of vanilla, whatever books still are, whatever books still mean
by John MacBeath Watkins
In the dim, dark reaches of The Wasteland, a woman calls:
et cum illi pueri dicerent: "Σίβυλλα, τί θέλεις;" respondebat illa: "ἀποθανεῖν θέλω".
I myself saw the Cumaean Sibyl with my own eyes, hanging in a cruet, and when the boys asked her, "Sibyl, what do you want?", she answered, "I want to die."Most people who have read the poem don't have a public school education, by which the English mean a private school education, and don't get the joke, if something so unfunny may be regarded as a joke.
T.S. Eliot was restricting the comprehension of his poetry by including this quote. He was young, he was free, he was understood by no one better than that nascent fascist, Ezra Pound.
And yet, politics aside, this passage speaks to me. Ezra was an asshole and a fascist, we all know that. But he understood poetry better than politics. He knew, from reading The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, that Eliot was a genius.
I've thought of this because the Paul Simon lyric:
I am blinded by the lightis an earworm in my head, and I cannot be free of it until I've sent the message on to you. I blame memes, and poetry, and the inescapable now.
Of God and truth and right
And I wander in the night without direction.
Full lyrics here: http://www.lyricsfreak.com/s/simon+and+garfunkel
I have no absolution, no solution to the devolution of our culture and our devastating now. I'm a creature of the night and the everlasting rights of the corporations' copyrights.
I'm a bookseller, whatever that still means. Whatever books still are, whatever books still mean.
They smell (grassy notes, an acid note with a tang of vanilla.) They exist, independent of electronics -- corporeal objects, physical things with smell and texture and weight, quite unlike their ghostly replacements.
And they exist as ideas, as notions without the corporeal existence we see in the fossils of ancient ferns.
And still I lie in the weeds, not yet a fossil, and wait for the sediments to fall on me. And still I wait for history to bury me in sediment and and the seeds and the tangled weeds that know no tomorrow and know no yesterday and never know today..
And still I dream of tomorrow, better than a thousand yesterdays.
I think I'll go sailing, my other atavistic passion...
More on publishing in the twilight of the printed word: