The Swirl and Ache: a Ramble

Hieronymous Bosch; center panel of the Garden of Earthly Delights

It's difficult sometimes--catching yourself amidst the swirl of bodies, persons, minds, lives--and asking whether you have any stability, whether those so many drops of life have stability. Life flashes and sparks and engulfs and "reality" has a greater quiddity when one can no longer speak of "real." Julio Cortazar says beautiful things about this:

Reason is good only to mummify reality in moments of calm or analyze its future storms, never to resolve a crisis of the moment.


He found out (first off) to his surprise and (later) with irony, that an awful lot of people would set themselves up comfortably with a supposed unity of person which was nothing but a linguistic unity and a premature sclerosis of character.

La Maga provides a sort of foil to this reasoning mummy; she is described as using words which are

wrapped up in what she understands which has no name, sparks and emanations which crackle in the air between two bodies or which can fill a room or a line of poetry with gold dust.

I don't know what that means, but it's a question that persistently lingers--and is especially current when things in my quotidien life have lately taken on their own frenetic quality. Goings-on that never before (or at least lately) have had the force to carry me with them.

But even amidst the swirl of social engagements and slightly mind-numbing work, I have latched on to a few remarkable things. I have found myself, for the first time since middle school, playing a song on repeat. I listen to it over and over, I'm listening to it now. It makes me want to sing soulfully and cry a little and believe in mythology and meaning and beauty. It's Samson by Regina Spektor.

I have also discovered T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets--don't ask me why I was allowed to achieve a BA in English Literature without reading this, all I know is that this poetry has left me memorizing, reciting aloud, and feeling overwhelmed by echoes of many questions and pursuits that occupied my mind for the last two years:

Time present and time past

are both perhaps present in Time future

It makes me yearn for that feeling when you are so immersed in words, in that electric fabric woven out of a text, and finally in the meaning that emerges when the words recede and the ideas loom and trouble and make all engaged minds in a room quiver with almost-understanding and a craving to just turn some magical key and be let into the secret chamber.

I read these verses, or the prose of Cortazar, or the lengthy melodic passages in Proust and the incredible rush of feeling recalls another verse--from a poem I read during my first Tutorial in grad school.

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

It's Robert Frost's poem To Earthward and I remember seizing onto that first quoted line, the one that is my title, and knowing exactly what was meant. It's the same feeling as Cortazar's gold dust; the momentary falling-into-place of the myriad of colored plastic films in a kaleidoscope; a prophecy has rung true, a great mystery revealed. But even in the moment of this sort of revelation, there's a "The King is dead; Long live the King" sort of closed-off perpetuity. The moment has expanded into a true, infinite span of "present" and at the very same moment closed itself off into a dusty occurence.

I (and maybe "we") try so hard to create a dichotomy: the strict analysis of parts, the dissection of a Vermeer into footnotes on the camera obscura, pigment, and biographical clippings vs. The idealization of Surrealist muse-ladies, Delphic Oracles, and all those initiates of the "true" intuitive language of cosmic happenings.

And then we realize, once again, one polarity is nothing but a dot on a made-up spectrum without the other polarity and the cascade of instances in between.