Friday, January 10, 2014

"Earth, Ocean, Air (nice red wines)!"

Warm red wines for cold days. For --

autumn's hollow sighs in the sere wood,
And winter robing with pure snow and crowns of starry ice 
the grey grass and bare boughs ....

You will note in these photographs the bottles are empty. The wines were very delicious, all of them. You will note also that, in the photos, the bottles sort of lean. I take care to pose them atop a solid desk and I hold the camera steady. Possibly the house is on a slant.

2012 Jacob's Creek red blend

 2010 Truchard cabernet sauvignon. Wow. Just, wow.

2011 Los Vascos Grande Reserve cabernet sauvignon

 2008 Terrunyo carmenere, Block 27

I agree with Hugh Johnson's idea that the best way to talk about wine is through stories, rather than through the groping about for yet more market-basket metaphors (yes, wine tends to taste like ripe fruit).

Or, why not poetry? The few lines about the weather, above, are from Shelley's Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude.  I assume high school English literature textbooks still include Percy Bysshe ("bish") Shelley's  very short Ozymandias; if they do, I assume this is the only brush with him most of us ever have. That is too bad, because if you turn to your Kindle and download free, out-of-copyright stuff published a hundred years ago, you will find enjoyable things. Really. Things like The Complete Poetical Works of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Oxford Edition (3 vols.), ed. Thomas Hutchinson, M.A..(1914), with Mrs. Shelley's own two Prefaces to her editions of Shelley's poems, 1824 and 1839, affixed.

The Complete Works presents us not only with the three lovely lines above, but also prose and poetry from both husband and wife that turn out to be, and I mean bang out of the gate, unintentionally hilarious. This is startling -- intriguing -- and makes us feel like idol-smashers; somehow Ozymandias, struggled through for perhaps two days in adolescence, didn't prepare one to laugh at the great Shelley. He in his songs, and Mrs. Shelley -- that is, Mary Wollestonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein -- in her Prefaces, each soar beyond (unintentional) self-parody to heights of humorlessness and pomposity which now shout "adolescence" more loudly than anything else.

They loved Nature, you see, especially he did, and mankind. They hated evil and injustice. "His life was spent in contemplation of Nature, in arduous study, or in acts of kindness and affection." Elegant scholar, profound metaphysician, etc. Unrivalled in the justness and extent of his observations, etc. Could interpret without a fault each appearance in the sky, etc. Felt a joy "more wild" at any news of mankind's liberty anywhere in the world, than he ever felt for any thing he might have wanted for himself merely. Etc. "Those who have never experienced the workings of passion on general and unselfish subjects cannot understand this," Mrs. Shelley says. His faults only proved he was not absolutely divine.

When Alastor begins and Shelley's Complete Works are underway, he lays it on even thicker. He invokes Nature's help and blessing on his song. "Earth, Ocean, Air, beloved brotherhood!" That's where we find the sere woods and crowns of starry ice, above. Then he plunges firmly, all teenager-like, straight to death:
There was a Poet whose untimely tomb
No human hands with pious reverence reared,
But the charmed eddies of autumnal winds
Built o'er his mouldering bones a pyramid
Of mouldering leaves in the waste wilderness: -- 
A lovely youth, -- no mourning maiden decked
With weeping flowers, or votive cypress wreath,
The lone couch of his everlasting sleep: --
Gentle, and brave, and generous, -- no lorn bard
Breathed o'er his dark fate one melodious sigh:
He lived, he died, he sung in solitude 
 Strangers have wept to hear his passionate notes, 
"And virgins, as unknown he passed, have pined And wasted for fond love of his wild eyes," etc. etc. The changing cohorts of hip young people who have been doing parody on Saturday Night Live for forty years could not make this up. Does that mean we and our age are too coarse to appreciate the Shelleys? Or does it mean the two of them were in some ways beyond belief?

It may help to remember that with Shelley we are in the midst of the Romantic movement. One recalls vaguely being taught that it was given to excess. "Earth, Ocean!" etc. Though one might also vaguely recall teachers clarifying little when they drew the requisite examples from gardening -- how the clipped topiary gave way to the secluded romantic grotto (aha). And to be fair, we must acknowledge that by 1839 the poet's widow was looking back seventeen years and grieving the love of her life, drowned in Italy at the age of 29. Of course by then he was a perfect being. Her account of waiting for news of him, beachside that awful week, is simple and ominous. Foul weather, "savage" isolated villages; "strange horror." "He died." "The ungrateful world did not feel his loss, and the gap it made seemed to close as quickly over his memory as the murderous sea above his living frame." To be further just, we should notice that by the time she sat down to write Prefaces she could admit the fact of her husband's, shall we say, eternal youth. "Time was not given him ... it must be remembered that there is the stamp of such inexperience on all he wrote."

Oddly enough, and to our good fortune, the effect of all this is to make both Shelley and Mrs. Shelley more human. Years after they were only an assignment and, as with all poetry, one had to hunt for the subject and the verb among the folderol, -- the pair's grim, luxuriant nobility and painstaking self-adoration have such a familiar relish that we do laugh, and move forward into poetry as pleasure. We skim it, letting the subject and verb fall where they may, looking for pretty words and word-pictures, which is not the least use of poetry. Especially it's not the least use of the phantasmagorically fecund prose-poetry-jungle-gardens of nineteenth-century English. Editor Hutchinson, 1914, knows something of this. He takes care to explain why he corrected bad spelling and quaint usages, "for [they] can only serve to distract the reader's attention, and mar his enjoyment of the verse." Enjoyment of the verse does not carry any connotations of "absorption in Shelley's moral divinity."

We ought to be fair about one final, small item. No one can come to the Shelleys completely ready to do homage anyway, who has first met them through Paul Johnson's short study Intellectuals. In the chapter "Shelley: the Heartlessness of Ideas" we meet the man who left a trail of human wreckage behind him, mostly his women and children, because that Romantic noble phrenzy for all Mankind trumped other people's lives. 
So let us just skim Percy Bysshe for enjoyment. Maybe he'll write some more about winter. This is from The Daemon of the World, which is the poet's own Queen Mab "rehandled." I've taken the liberty of underlining the main subjects and verbs. 

The habitable earth is full of bliss;
Those wastes of frozen billows that were hurled 
By everlasting snow-storms round the poles, 
Where matter dared not vegetate nor live, 
But ceaseless frost round the vast solitude 
Bound its broad zone of stillness, are unloosed;

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