November 23rd, 2008


Some poetry ... don't worry, not mine ...

Just in case folks "were playing along at home", seeing when I was going to get around to reviewing my back-log of books (evident in my LibraryThing collection), yes, I am jumping around a bit. I've been "meaning to" get more of these cranked out, but have sort of hit a wall, so figured I'd "cherry pick" ones that I figure I'd be able to do quickly. Carl Sandburg's Chicago Poems is one of these, so here it is!

Now, for those of you not paying attention, I'm from Chicago, so the whole "Carl Sandburg thing" is part of my basic wiring, and it was interesting to finally get around to reading these. The first appearance of this collection was in 1916, and the Dover edition is a re-issue of that, with a bit of added biographical material. Needless to say, reading through these descriptive poems from back then is very much like flipping through a volume of old news photography ... showing a city that has long disappeared.

While I was reading this, I was dropping in little bits of paper where I saw things that I thought I should highlight here. As if often the case, going back to the bits of paper, I'm never quite sure what they (indicating a 2-page spread) specifically were indicating (I hate marking up my books, so never write in them). Here are a few quotes, though:
She could see the smoke of the engines get lost down where the streaks of steel flashed in the sun and when the newspapers came in on the morning mail she knew there was a big Chicago far off, where all the trains ran.
          - from "Mamie"

Piled against the sly-line taking shapes like the hand of the wind wanted,
          - from "Dunes"

          From the Shore

          A lone gray bird,
          Dim-dipping, far-flying,
          Alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults
          Of night and the sea
          And the stars and storms.

          Out over the darkness it wavers and hovers,
          Out into the gloom it swings and batters,
          Out into the pit of a great black world,
          Where fogs are at battle, sky-driven, sea-blown,
          Love of mist and rapture of flight,
          Glories of chance and hazards of death
          On its eager and palpitant wings.

          Out into the deep of the great dark world,
          Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
          Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
          On the tides that plunge and rear and crumble.

And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides, and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of night -- and all broken, humble ruins of nations.
          - from "Masses"
And, of course, the classic:
HOG Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
          - from "Chicago"
The contrasts between the city of Sandburg and the modern Chicago are fascinating ... much the same, but so much different (when was the last coal delivery you had?). Frankly, much of the poetry did not move me, but was more a window through time to an era long gone, but still looking out onto the same streets I walk.

Chicago Poems, being a Dover Thrift Edition (with a cover price of all of $2.00) may be a bit hard to find (without ordering) through your local brick&mortar vendors, but it's certainly one of those things to keep in mind when your Amazon order is a buck or so shy of the magic $25 free-shipping zone!

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Ah, Mr. Crowley ...

On its surface, Aleister Crowley's The Book Of Lies could easily be thought one of his lesser books. It certainly has less text than most ... following a format where on the verso there is a poem, invocation, obscure statement, or bit of brief philosophizing (typically around 12 lines), and on the recto there is a commentary on the preceding page, sometimes as brief as a single sentence, sometimes a dense extrusion of arcane symbolism.

Reading through this, one also gets the sense that Crowley was working on this in a mode somewhat along the lines of a diary, as there is much coming and going, especially of LAYLAH, Crowley's magickal partner, 77, Lady Babalon, over whom The Great Beast moons like a schoolboy at times. Of course, while it is not inconceivable that Crowley might have allowed himself to become overbearingly smitten with the young lady, and even to write about it ... the thought that his pining for her in her absences may have more to do with the Sufi classics of "the beloved".

This volume, also, has a rather key place within the Crowley mythos ... as is discussed within the Foreword:
... One of these chapters bothered me. I could not write it. I invoked Dionysus with particular fervour, but still without success. I went off in desperation to 'change my luck', by doing something entirely contrary to my inclinations. In the midst of my disgust, the spirit came over me, and I scribbled the chapter down by the light of a farthing dip. When I read it over, I was as discontented as before, but I stuck it into the book in a sort of anger at myself as a deliberate act of spite towards my readers.

"Shortly after publication, the O.H.O. (Outer Head of the O.T.O.) came to me. (At that time I did not realise that there was anything in the O.T.O. beyond a convenient compendium of the more important truths of Free Masonry.) He said that since I was acquainted with the supreme secret of the Order, I must be allowed the IX° and obligated in regard to it. I protested that I knew no such secret. He said `But you have printed it in the plainest language'. I said that I could not have done so because I did not know it. He went to the book-shelves; taking out a copy of THE BOOK OF LIES, he pointed to a passage in the despised chapter. It instantly flashed upon me. The entire symbolism not only of Free Masonry but of many other traditions blazed upon my spiritual vision. From that moment the O.T.O. assumed its proper importance in my mind. I understood that I held in my hands the key to the future progress of humanity...."
Now, I do wish that I had the "spiritual vision" to suss out the chapter so indicated (out of the 90-some in the book), but I've never immersed myself into Thelema to the extent where this would be obvious to me, and nobody who might be privy to such information has pointed it out. Suffice it to say, however, that the suspicion that this is a particularly dense bit of "feints and misdirections" enclosing some rather key mystical truths gains credence over the equally plausible theory that Crowley was having quite a go at his followers, as one might suggest from reading chapter 68:

                              KEΦAΛΗ ΞΗ


At four o'clock there is hardly anybody in Rumpel-
I have my choice of place and service; the babble of
    the apes will begin soon enough.
"Pioneers, O Pioneers!"
Sat no Elijah under the Juniper-tree, and wept?
Was not Mohammed forsaken in Mecca, and Jesus
    in Gethsemane?

These prophets were sad at heart; but the chocolate
    at Rumpelmayer's is great, and the Mousse Noix
    is like Nepthys for perfection.
Also there are little meringues with cream and
    chestnut-pulp, very velvety seductions.
Sail I not toward LAYLAH within seven days?
Be not sad at heart, O prophet; the babble of the
    apes will presently begin.
Nay, rejoice exceedingly; for after all the babble of
    the apes the Silence of the Night.
... to which, the commentary ran:
                            COMMENTARY (ΞΗ)

    Manna was a heavenly cake which, in the legend, fed
the Children of Israel in the Wilderness.
    The author laments the failure of his mission to
mankind, but comforts himself with the following
    (1) He enjoys the advantages of solitude. (2) Previous
    prophets encountered similar difficulties in con-
    vincing their hearers. (3) Their food was not equal to
    that obtainable at Rumpelmayer's. (4) In a few days
    I am going to rejoin Laylah. (5) My mission will
    succeed soon enough. (6) Death will remove the
    nuisance of success.
As the saying goes: You mileage may vary! If you enjoy puzzles, or, perhaps, Mr. Crowley's writing in general, then you might very well find The Book Of Lies quite appealing. If, however, your tastes run towards "straightforward exposition", this might not be the book for you. One way or the other, you're in luck, as this (as is the case with most of Crowley's writings) is available free on-line over on (HERE, specifically).

Now, I've not gotten to the point of "buying into" on-screen reading (although I love having a source for cut-and-paste rather than extensive-re-type quotes!), so obtaining the book is always a factor in my data flow. This is, of course, in print (most of Crowley's works stay that way), so you should be able to get it from your neighborhood bookmonger if you so chose, but Amazon has it at about 1/3rd off the coverprice, which makes it cheaper (once you get to free shipping, of course) than picking up a used copy! I wouldn't tell you not to ...

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