In Fountain Court

Dawn on June 2, 2020. “The flickering green of leaves that keep / The light of June”

Last week, I mentioned that I would post about the poet William Blake. And here I am, following up!

I have to confess, I can’t hear William Blake’s name mentioned without thinking of one of my favorite scenes from Bull Durham. Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) shows up at the home of Crash Davis (Kevin Costner), dressed like she might be ready to attend a cotillion in some hot-weather place, and he calls her out on it. To which she replies, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. William Blake.” And then they just start shouting the name William Blake at each other, and there’s so much more going on between them than just a discussion of a 19th century English poet and artist.

My love of this scene didn’t seem to fit with the sober tone of my last post. But anyway, here are some things I learned after looking into the “fearful symmetry” from Blake’s poem “The Tyger:”

  • According to Wikipedia, William Blake spent his last days at Fountain Court in London.
  • Unless I read something wrong, Fountain Court is part of the Temple area of London. I have a vivid depiction of the Temple in my head from reading Dickens’s Great Expectations last year.
  • The poet Arthur Symons, who wrote the poem “In Fountain Court,” shared a flat in Fountain Court with W.B. Yeats.(!)

There’s a reason the mention of Blake living at Fountain Court had me dig a little deeper. It’s because I immediately recognized the title of Arthur Symons’s poem, since it’s one of my favorites. And I always think of it when June rolls around, because it just so happens to feature the month of June. (I wrote about all this 3 years ago: June in New Orleans.)

I guess all of this has given me a better idea of the setting of “In Fountain Court.” And maybe evened deepened my impression of the anticipation and hope that wend their way through the lines of the poem. In the last line — “Soon, love, come soon” — I choose to believe that real change, a true transformation, just might be possible.

 

Fearful Symmetry

Photo by Marc Ignacio on Unsplash

Last Thursday, I was compelled to open up my copy of Watchmen to find one of my favorite panels in all of comicdom. And, no, I haven’t seen the HBO series, so that wasn’t what compelled me. It just called to me from my bookshelf.

It’s the symmetry of this particular panel that stays with me. I assume it was a magical combination of the talents of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons that produced it. (Photo down at the end of this post. Warning: it depicts a significant amount of violence.)

After I found it, I started to dig deeper, and found myself down a pretty deep rabbit hole. Turns out, this panel is from Chapter 5: Fearful Symmetry. The symmetry of the use of symmetry led me to William Blake.

That term, “fearful symmetry,” is from William Blake’s poem “The Tyger.” Here’s the opening stanza:

Tyger Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;
What immortal hand or eye,
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Yes, I probably should have known the origin without having to look it up, but I’m glad I did, in any event. I found out a bunch of stuff about William Blake that I didn’t know before. And I plan to use that for next week’s post.

But this week, I’m sticking with the theme of fearful symmetry. So here are two fearfully symmetrical things that have occurred to me:

1) I watched the successful launch of the manned SpaceX Dragon capsule on television, while protests calling for justice for George Floyd and support of Black Lives Matter were occurring throughout the nation and beyond. I couldn’t help but draw comparison to the moonshot efforts of the 1960s, and the concurrent struggles of the Civil Rights movement. That’s the symmetrical part. As for the fear: has so little changed in 50 years?

2) Just about a year ago, I read “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all its Phases” by Ida B. Wells. For the symmetry here, I discovered Ida B. Wells was no stranger to epidemics. When she was 16, she tragically lost both her parents and a sibling to yellow fever. The fear is in the content of “Southern Horrors” — I am still struck by her clear-eyed account of lynchings as a barbaric means of repressing the economic progress of Black Americans. Ida B. Wells wrote this in the 1890s. Has so little changed in 130 years?

 

Ralph Waldo Emerson and ELO

Dare to live the life you have dreamed for yourself. Go forward and make your dreams come true.

My calendar is one of the talismans of my writing life. I think it began in 2012—on a weekend away in late 2011, perusing a bookstore on Florida’s Gulf Coast, I found a mini-monthly calendar with some cool inspirational quotes. This is just what I need! I thought. I hung it up on the wardrobe that sits to the left of my desk, and have spent much time (perhaps too much time) pondering the quote that hangs there, anytime I turn my attention from my screen. Little did I know that purchase would beget an annual mini-panic that strikes about mid-December. I need a new calendar!

Up to now, bookstores have been my saving grace. It’s there that I can usually find something that strikes the right note for the year ahead. But alas, bookstores came up short this year. So I dared to turn to the bookstore’s enemy, the bane of traditional publishers, Amazon. Could it provide what I sought? Indeed, an Amazon search kicked me out to Calendars.com, a vast repository of printed calendars of all shapes and sizes and inspirational intents.

I’ve been pleased with my Calendars.com purchase for 2017. It’s called “First We Dream.” January was some pink and blue clouds, a wheat field, and a quote from William Blake: “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings.” February was rocks on a seashore and Goethe: “Dream no small dreams, for they have no power to move the hearts of men.”

And March brought me Ralph Waldo Emerson and the quote that opened this post. And that got me thinking. About transcendentalism and ELO. Yes, ELO, the Electric Light Orchestra. The English rock band most closely affiliated with Jeff Lynne, that hit its heyday in the ‘70s.

But first, transcendentalism. I was first introduced to the philosophy my junior year in high school, in my American Literature class. I was immediately drawn to it—the whole idea that an innate divinity unifies all creation totally jived with how I’d been raised, and on a deeper level, it resonated with some kind of intuitive sense in my gut.

It spurred a deeper dive into Emerson’s writings, but I remember getting bogged down pretty quickly. I recall dense prose. Perhaps it’s worth taking a look with more aged eyes, but being perennially short on time, I’ll settle for the quote that headlines March 2017.

The timing is particularly apropos. I’m in the trenches of trying to make the life I’ve always dreamed for myself: being a writer who can make a living off writing. Finishing my second novel is my current highest priority in that quest. And it all feels like a pretty big dare.

So it’s nice to have Ralph Waldo Emerson up there, urging me on. It’s kind of like having an old friend show up at mile 20 of a marathon, shouting out my name and general encouragement.

And where does ELO fit into all of this? It’s pretty simple. I’ve been an ELO fan longer than I’ve been a fan of transcendentalism. All this talk about dreams—from Emerson, and the 2017 calendar writ large—has planted ELO’s “Hold On Tight” firmly in my head. The song was released in 1981, and the opening lyrics might jog the memories of those of you who remember 1981:

Hold on tight to your dream
Hold on tight to your dream
When you see your ship go sailing
When you feel your heart is breaking
Hold on tight to your dream

More inspiration to keep me going in these last few miles.