Words and Philosophy of Virginia Woolf

Virginia Woolf (1) … discussing Dalloway and the nature of VW’s writing …

Mrs Dalloway (MD) … To The LighthouseThe Waves … her mature novels …

… all about sensitive people living from one privileged moment to the next, passing through intervening periods of depression and doubt

Mrs Dalloway (MD) … from metonymy to metaphor … a multi-layered metaphoric stream of consciousness with a certain poetic lyrical flow … a new approach in writing by VW

And then thought Clarissa Dalloway, what a morning – fresh as if issued to children on a beach. What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seen to her when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning, like the flap of the wave, the kiss of the wave … (page 3 MD)

Lark and plunge … Life and death … to build up or to close in … these are the two contending forces in MD … Clarissa is touched by both as she moves through her activities in arranging a party on a glorious June day … her parallel opposite is Septimus Smith who disturbs her joie de vie.

Individuality and universality in irreconcilable opposition … each person seeks to be connected to the whole from which that person is alienated by individual existence

… different people in different places at the same time … layered together in an underlying communion … reflected in the individual’s actions in ways unknown … exploring the extent and influence of such impressions made on the individual consciousness …

did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her (page 9 MD)

somehow in the streets of London, on the ebb and flow of things, here, there, she survived, Peter survived, lived in each other, she being part, of the trees at home, … part of the people she had never met; being laid out like a mist between the people she knew best (pages 9-10 MD)

nothing exists outside us except a state of mind (page 62 MD)

the narrator is a consciousness born by the consciousness created from the characters in the novel … yet somehow apart … seeing all, knowing all perspectives … in the present as the present unfolds … including the present of the past remembered by the characters … the virtual present of the readers’ experience

unity, reconciliation, communion well up spontaneously from within the characterisation

the narrator is unknown but sensed by the characters … does the narrator have life outside the life of the characters and if this is the case then what is the nature of such individuality? … the vital questions.

VW’s great discovery (2) … ‘tunnelling process’ … to dig our beautiful caves behind her characters … humanity, humour, depth … the caves connect

VW philosophy … miraculous joy of the moment rises out of the commonplace, not from some transcendental source …

How moments like these are buds on the tree of life (MD page 31)

Foolishly, she had set them opposite each other. That could be remedied tomorrow. If it were fine, they should go for a picnic. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed right. Just now (but this can not last, she thought, dissociating herself from the moment while they were all talking about boots) just now she had reached security; she hovered like a hawk suspended; like a flag floating in an element of joy which filled every nerve of her body fully and sweetly, not noisily, solemnly rather, for it arose, she thought, looking at them all eating there, from husband and children and friends; all of this rising in this profound stillness (she was helping William Bankes to one very small piece more and peered into the depths of the earthenware pot) seemed now for no special reason to stay there like smoke, like a fume rising upwards, holding them safe together. Nothing need be said, nothing could be said. There it was all around them. It partook, she felt, carefully helping Mr Bankes to an especially tender piece, of eternity; as she had already felt about something different once before that afternoon; there is a coherence in things, a stability; something she meant, is immune from change, and shines out (she glanced at the window with its ripple of reflected lights) in the face of the flowing, the fleeting, the spectral, like a ruby; so that again tonight she had the feeling she had had once today already, of peace, of rest. Of such moments, she thought, the thing is made that remains forever after. This would remain.

(To The Lighthouse … pages 113-114)

References …

Mrs Dalloway and To The Lighthouse … contemporary critical essays … Edited by Su Read. (New Casebooks – Macmillan)

Footnotes …

1 … Virginia Woolf 1882 – 1941

Father Sir Leslie Stephen …educated by her father’s magnificent library … member of ‘The Bloomsbury Group’ … lived in the cultured world of the London intelligensia… bisexual … relationship with poet Vita Sackville-West … worked with husband Leonard to found the Hogarth Press … depressive – suicided

2 … Leonard Woolf – A Writer’s Diary: Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolfe London 1953 pp 59-60

Virginia Woolf Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virginia_Woolf

Forgetfulness: Billy Collins


The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Billy Collins

I did have some very meaningful comments on this poem … I think I know where I put them … you will just have to wait … that slow realisation so beautifully articulated above as I search the mind … I think I know where they are, no not there Ok … maybe after breakfast …

Westminster Bridge and Wordsworth

William Wordsworth (1770-1850) was born in Cockermouth in the Lake District in England, an area known for its exceptional beauty and Wordsworth will always be remembered for his association with the countryside but he also had a great appreciation of the city as in his well-known sonnet …

Composed upon Westminster Bridge
September 3, 1802

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty;
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

William Wordsworth

Words can colour objects in different lights. It is up to the mind to be so influenced.

There was a shadow on the bridge last week. Here is some sunlight to bring back the majesty of Westminster Bridge and precinct to full glory. Feast your mind on the beauty of these words.

A link to more detail on this poem 

The Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot

The Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot is a favourite Christmas poems. It is what I might call a factual poetic view of what the journey would have been like. At the same time giving latent links to events described in the bible. And of course giving the full implication of the birth of Christ.

Here is a link to this poem and more discussion


Two ‘Voices’ – Cavafy

‘Voices’ – Cavafy and editing

The Greek poet Constantine Cavafy was a perfectionist, obsessively refining every single line of his poetry. He did not like his early work and changed his early poems by making them free of adjectives. He rewrote the poem ‘Sweet Voices’ with a poem simply titled ‘Voices’. It is interesting to compare the two versions … see below …

Sweet Voices (1894)

Those voices are the sweeter which have fallen
forever silent, mournfully
resounding only in the heart that sorrows.

In dreams the melancholic voices come,
timorous and humble,
and bring before our feeble memory

the precious dead, whom the cold cold earth
conceals; for whom the mirthful
daybreak never shines, nor springtimes blossom.

Melodious voices sigh; and in the soul
our life’s first poetry
sounds — like music, in the night, that’s far away.
(translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Voices (1904)

Imagined voices, and beloved, too,
of those who died, or of those who are
lost unto us like the dead.

Sometimes in our dreams they speak to us;
sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them.

And with their sound for a moment there return
sounds from the first poetry of our life—
like music, in the night, far off, that fades away.
(translated by Daniel Mendelsohn)

Constantine Cavafy (29 April 1863 – April 29, 1933)

I prefer the adjective-free version. The reader is left to create his or her own adjectives – there is no need to define the voices as sweet, melodious, or melancholic… the reader perhaps remembering specific voices of those that have been dear to them, whether died or lost … ‘sometimes in its thought the mind will hear them’ … no more needs to be said … this one line is sufficient.

A poem is a perpetual Lazarus … dead meat … only coming alive when it is read … and when a poem does come alive the poem is not merely the words on the page but an extension involving the reader … the poem is a unique combination of both poet and reader. In the above the reader component is all important.

A link to Cavafy on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constantine_P._Cavafy

IPSI Festival Canberra – Poetry and Place – Simon Armitage

The International Poetry Studies Institute (IPSI) is part of the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research in the Arts and Design Faculty of Canberra University.

Last week (6-16 Sept 2016) IPSI was host to a Festival entitled ‘Poetry on the Move’. And poetry is certainly on the move in Canberra in an upward direction. There were quite a variety of sessions including launches, readings, workshops and lectures.

There were two international poets in residence for the Festival – Simon Armitage from the UK and Tusiata Avia a Samoan-New Zealand poet.

For this post I will concentrate on the keynote lecture given by Simon Armitage (Professor of Poetry at Sheffield University, and last year appointed Professor of Poetry at Oxford – a part-time position.)

His topic was Poetry and Place. The first-up poem he chose to demonstrate the link was the Ted Hughes poem – ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’.

Full Moon and Little Frieda

A cool small evening shrunk to a dog bark and the clank of a bucket –
And you listening.
A spider’s web, tense for the dew’s touch.
A pail lifted, still and brimming – mirror
To tempt a first star to a tremor.

Cows are going home in the lane there, looping the hedges with their warm
wreaths of breath –
A dark river of blood, many boulders,
Balancing unspilled milk.
‘Moon!’ you cry suddenly, ‘Moon! Moon!’

The moon has stepped back like an artist gazing amazed at a work
That points at him amazed.

Ted Hughes

I was interested in the key word that SA chose in relation to ‘place’. It was the word ‘there’ in that long first line in the second stanza.

There’ telescopes the mind to a distinct familiar place – familiar to the poet Ted Hughes. TH wrote this poem at ‘Court Green’, Devon. If you are familiar with the English countryside and the narrow lanes and if you have experienced waiting for a long line of cows to wind their way to a place of milking you can readily visualise a specific place akin to that described.

If a poet knows a place intimately then description is authentic and, as in this poem, if personal detail is involved more attention is likely in the construction. That instance in the yard involving TH and Frieda is caught as a lasting memory of a valued moment between a father and the toddler daughter. Apparently Sylvia Plath had a liking for this text as she had kept the manuscript and it was in her flat at the time of her death.

I have discussed this poem in more detail in a previous post, which includes comments from Andrew Motion … http://richard-outoftheblue.blogspot.com.au/2011/09/full-moon-and-little-frieda-ted-hughes.html

A link to Canberra University and IPSI … https://www.canberra.edu.au/research/faculty-research-centres/cccr/ipsi

A link to Simon Armitage’s ‘Poetry and Place’ lecture will appear on the IPSI journal website … http://www.axonjournal.com.au/

It’s All in a Name – FB Poetry

On the Oz Election

Oh no! – only three weeks to go!

and our current guy
he’s sort of turning out …
not what we had all hoped
in fact he’ s turning out
a lot of electoral, how shall
I put it – electoral B**L

and that other guy
he doesn’t quite make it too
doesn’t quite fit the bill
how shall I put it
doesn’t quite measure
up to what’s required
doubt he’ll make the distance

… so OMG, OMG
what are we all going to do!
OMG – brilliant!
that’s who I’ll vote for!

Richard Scutter

It’s all in ‘a name’ – and a name by any other means is still ‘a name’. But poetry is always about putting a different interpretation on words – metaphorically speaking … and of course some people, bless their little souls, just can’t help playing with words – I guess it follows from their childhood days – and of course those who delight in Ogden Nash.

And here is some context – we all know worldwide that a certain Mr Trump is trying to make it big time. But few readers, outside Oz that is, know that there is a General Election to take place in Australia well before Mr Trump gets a chance to play his scary hand. And the two contenders are – the current PM one by the name of Malcolm Turnbull, the other the opposition leader, by the name of Bill Shorten.

The above was written for my FB audience hence the OMG reference – but isn’t it nice to know that G is recognised so much worldwide on Facebook … you just can’t get away from G he seems to poke his nose in all over the place LOL … funny that when some think he does’t exist! – (I know what you’re thinking – don’t say it … don’t think it … and follow everyone else … come up with something new … LOL).