Blog in Review: Thanks for reading! Highlights from June-August 2017

I started this summer with a resolution to write for the blog daily. I thought if I wrote a lot the audience would explode and I could do what every blogger wishes to do. — You know, become a complete corporate sellout. —

That failed miserably. You’d think I should be able to crank out an entry or two a day. But I’ve got to identify the puzzles a given text presents, and that alone takes quite a few rereads and some distance from the text. Honestly, the more time put into this, the better.

Bonus: I also failed at writing “blog in review” entries, trying too much to tie my thinking together thematically, not realizing that “hey, it takes years to connect the dots correctly.”

All the same, I wrote consistently, and my goal to write daily morphed into a larger concern for craft. I don’t know if it’s showing up in the writing, but I’m stopping myself after nearly paragraph I read from other authors, asking how it works or doesn’t work. I’ve started a personal journal again, this time for the express purpose of observing and documenting. I imagine I need a lot more refinement, though, and progress in writing will be uneven for the next few months.

Thank you all for reading and commenting and liking and sharing. It’s fun to have an audience, and it’s even better to have such a patient, appreciative audience. A few highlights from things I wrote:


  1. Dear Ashok
    I read your commentary on Heaney’s poem starting with the words “Shifting brilliancies” with interest, since that poem has always had a great meaning for me, and indeed I intend that it should be read at my funeral.

    I wonder whether I might comment? Of course everyone will read what they will into a poem. I see it as other than what you describe.

    To me, this is maybe Heaney’s most profound coming-to-terms with a conflict that has troubled him ever since his Catholic upbringing in Northern Ireland: his notion of death and the traditional belief of his upbringing.

    The keys to that interpretation lie in the two phrases “particular judgement” and “commanded journey”. The former, of course, refers directly to the Catholic view of the divine judgement of the individual immediately after death; the latter, as you will know, refers to God’s command to Abraham (Genesis 12:1 – “Go forth from your land”, etc), and the commentary by Eltan Fishbane in “The Sabbath Soul: Mystical Reflections on the Transformative Power of Holy Time” is relevant here: “We now see with a spiritual sight, with a mode of perception lifted beyond the bounds of earthly experience, into the magical realm of an enlightened mind” (p5). A key point here is that it’s mystical and hence unknowable – to quote Wittgenstein’s final proposition (concerning the mystical) in his Tractatus: “That which we cannot put into words we must confine to silence”.

    I see this poem as concerning the view of death arrived at by Heaney at the time of writing the poem. To me, the deserted cottage, which we’re surrounded by here where I live in Connemara, is symbolic of corporeal death, the living being nonetheless containing the means of perceiving the “soul-free cloud-life roam…”. The beggar in silhouette is the departing soul, perhaps unwilling to depart, but facing the “particular judgement” and the “commanded journey” – and of course Heaney’s perception is that the particular judgement “is not particular at all”: there is no divine judgement and, importantly, all that we have is life – this life (“and it is not particular at all/Just old truth dawning: there is no next-time-round”).

    I believe that in this poem Heaney is not attempting in any way to suggest what actually does happen after death (though he implies what he believes does NOT happen). Yet he views death as a liberation: “Unroofed scope. Knowledge-freshening wind”. Maybe that final line refers also to the liberation he has found in arriving at this perception of what death might mean.

    So…the act of dying. Heaney rejecting a central tenet of Roman Catholic belief (one shared by other faiths, of course). A beautiful expression of his coming-to-terms with death. An acceptance of the sacred, but without an acceptance of the fundamental beliefs in which he was raised.

    As a further throwaway, the poem is also a wonderful example of a device so often employed by Heaney: the ‘co-placement’ of subject and object (“A gazing out from far away”, for example). If anything, Heaney may over-use that device throughout his poetry; but it’s an effective one, which I suppose is why it intrigued him so much. I sense that Heaney viewed that co-placement of subject and object also as a kind of mystical seeing of reality.

    That’s what it speaks to me, anyway, Ashok. Maybe you disagree fundamentally with me in that. I would be interested in your response if you have the time.

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