I have had my fifteenth birthday. Understanding then all things and hearing all things, remember these two. It is the summer before my departure for Choate. And consider these to be the All, placing nothing in ambiguity, neither of those above nor of those below. These are the last moments of childhood. Nor of those divine, nor of those changeable, nor of those in secrecy. What do I do all summer, too old to play baseball, to young to work? For two are all things: That Generate and The Maker; that the one be separated from the other is impossible. My friends are all sixteen. For neither is it possible for the Maker to be apart from the Generate, nor the Generate apart from the Maker. My mother is forty-seven – forty-eight in September. For both of them are the very same. My father is forty-eight – forty-nine in August. Wherefore it cannot be that the one be separated from the other, as neither self from itself.
In a last-ditch effort to make of me a classicist, I read Cicero with a Latin tutor. My two years of high school Latin are not sufficient preparation for third-year prep school study. So, after a week or two the decision is made to begin French instead. Not until my first year of graduate school will I again concern myself with Latin, when, again in the summer, but this time on my own, I will take a refresher course, then sit alone for eight hours a day reading Vergil. I will pass the Harvard reading test (over passages of Caesar, Cicero, Vergil and Horace), but not before two more courses, one in Vergil (Books I, II, IV, VI and the shield passage), one in Petronius, which I won’t reread till I teach it in conjunction with Fellini’s film. And then in translation.
The fall begins with my trip East to Choate. For if the Maker is nothing else beside that making, only, simple, incomposite, it is of necessity that He make this same for Himself. Other boys from the Midwest arrive by train. I arrive in the family car. Since generation is the making by the Maker, and every the generate, it is impossible to be generate by itself. My parents take a motel room and linger. Generate must be generated by another. I still recall a mild embarrassment at being kissed good-bye by my father in public. Without Him making, the generated neither is generated, nor is.
My first encounter at Choate, in Logan Monroe, is with my roommate, an “old boy” named Charlie Macdonald. When I arrive, he is not around. Later in the day I return to find him lying asleep on his back in bed. Instead of waiting to introduce myself, I walk past the bed and snap my fingers over his head to wake him up.
We have two other suite mates, Phil Croasdale and Bill – someone later killed in a rooming house gas explosion. This arrangement does not, however, last long, for under Charlie’s influence I get in a fight with Croasdale, as I try to bar him from using the bathroom off our room. Tangling with him, I ignominiously call to Charlie for help.
For the remainder of the year Charlie and I are banished to a room across the hall, where I put up pictures of basketball players – for which I am ridiculed (Charlie has a picture of Elizabeth Taylor). Mickey Caulkins rooms down the hall. His roommate, Dave someone, also from Grosse Pointe, also dies young.
Besides indeed to the same limner it is allowed both to make Heaven, and Gods, and earth, and sea, and men, and all the brutes, and the inanimate, and the trees; but to the God it is impossible to make all these? “Maddy Morrison,” my nametag reads. Sheer vulnerability. O the much silliness and ignorance, this about the God! Though not over my head in academic matters, in other respects things are very open and dangerous. For such sort suffer the most dreadful of all things. Luckily I don’t see this at the time. For affirming that they both reverence and praise the God, by not ascribing to him the making of all things they neither know the God, and in addition to the not knowing, also in the greatest degree they are impious towards Him. Gradually I work my way into the society of the intelligent: Peter Montague, Dave Forney, J. Parsons, Mason Morfit. My friends are at the top of the class scholastically, run the newspaper, the literary magazine.
The schedule is full, designed to occupy every minute of time from seven in the morning till eleven at night. Because athletics are organized into weight classes, I find I can do pretty well at football. I play junior varsity basketball and baseball. The release from home life is salutary, but the lack of contact with girls is stultifying (I correspond with Joanne Sweet). We dream of fucking townies, go off to horrendously awkward tea dances at girls’ schools with the glee club.
The faculty consists of eccentrics, dotards, perverts and other subnormals, with a moderate intersprinkling of decent, conscientious teachers. It is a marvel that any education takes place. But the system, designed primarily to ensure admission to Ivy League schools, works well. If one accommodates oneself to the disciplinary regimen as I do things move smoothly. By the fall of my senior year I will be welcomed by Yale.
Upstairs from us in Logan Monroe is an alcoholic English master named Julep (the inevitable nickname: Mint, or Minty). One night, early in the Fall Term, I raise my head, in nightmare, above the steel bedstead and bring it crashing down. When I put my hand to my forehead, it is wet. I stumble out of bed and appear on the second floor, knocking at Mr. Julep’s door for help. He is alarmed, but the cut is superficial.
Mickey Caulkins’ room shares a wall with the house-master’s living room, through which, as he and Dave study, they listen to the breakup of a marriage.
In the sitting room of the house I spend an entire Sunday afternoon trying to make my way through the Times’s News of the Week in Review.
Late in the fall, I’m invited to visit Fairfield with Peter Montague, my initiation into Eastern domestic life. Peter’s father owns a plant in Georgia, Printed Fabrics. I’m the Midwesterner, but I gain acceptance.
For the God has one only Passion. Down the hall from Charlie and me lives Johnny Hill. And that the Good, but the Good is neither proud nor impotent, nor the rest. It is 1955. Johnny has the first Elvis hit, “Blue Suede Shoes.” For this is The God, The Good, with Whom is every power of making all things. Johnny comes from Florida, has sideburns, a leather jacket, mystery. Everything that is generated hath been generated by the God. His father brings him nudie magazines. That is, by the Good and Him able to make all things. Next year he will room with Charlie Macdonald, I with J. Parsons.
Hermes: I perceive a certain unfeigned spectacle generated in me; from the mercy of God I have also gone forth from myself into an immortal body, and I am now not what formerly, but have become generated in Mind.
I return from Choate in the spring and, on my sixteenth birthday, begin work as an office boy at Monaghan, Hart and Crawmer. The summer is spent in an alternation of days at the law firm and evenings at debutante parties. I am good at the first, not so good at the second. So good at the first that the Monaghans plan for me to join the law firm. I flirt with the secretaries, breathe the bright morning light of downtown Detroit, enjoy the routine of the business day. At the parties I hang out, drink expensive scotch, rarely dance with the girls. But the parties are a pleasure too.
Life at home is meaningless: the sterile cleanliness of the house, the regularity of church attendance, the discipline of success. My home is a place I would never bring friends, much less girlfriends.
And so into the fall. The luxuriously late beginning of the prep school term lets me remain in Grosse Pointe after high school has started. I take the train – overnight – from Detroit to New York, drinking gin and ginger ale with other Choaties, arriving hung over, sleepless. Then, the school train to Wallingford, the line-up to march through the streets of the town, up the hill to school – all the little Choaties dressed in their blazers and ties. And why did the townies detest us?
Then the first meal – the thrill of being back, Seymour St. John pronouncing a pious grace. Chairs pulled back, seats taken, the battle renewed. Who can twit the master’s wife in public but still go undetected by the master?
Senior year in Atwater House, the masters are Choppy Fowler, a nice man, Mr. Seiler, a recent M.I.T. graduate, and a six-foot-four sadomasochist creep, a chemistry teacher. I hang out a lot in Charlie Macdonald and Johnny Hill’s room, with pictures of James Dean on the walls. I also hang out at the school paper, where I’m a sports writer.
At Thanksgiving the Montagues invite me to travel with them to Charlottesville, where Peter will go to school the next year. By Christmas, having first been rejected by Princeton, I have been accepted by Yale. I have engineered this by snowing the interviewer. Unlike Princeton, Yale did not see my fall term average, which had dipped into the seventies.
The people at Choate are not now as interesting to me as they seemed at the time. The masters had personalities but were not real people. My fellows, with exceptions noted, were a largely superficial lot. I did not have real friendships, even with close acquaintances. As for the rest – the panoply of daily existence – for the most part, it was merely an extension of country club life, with inversions: the chic of seedy classrooms, the drab undercurrent of chapel, dining hall, study hall. No wonder a narrow, cynical spirit emerged.
Tat: What then is true, O Trismegistus?
Hermes: That not perturbed, O Child! that not limited, the colourless, the formless, the invariable, the naked, the luminous, the comprehensible in itself, the unalterable, the good, the incorporeal.
Intimidation and snobbery: two of the principle lessons of prep school. Both inhered in the system: masters over sixth formers, the latter over the rest. A sadistic master’s whim was thus passed on through his lackeys. Snobbery arose as a defensive social bonding, the best people as subject to its rule as the worst.
My cliques included the tough guys – Johnny Hill, Charlie Macdonald, and the intellectuals – Dave Forney (#1 in the class), J. Parsons (#2), Peter Montague. Johnny Hill cultivated an aura of violence and sexuality – the motorcycle-beatnik syndrome. The height of daring: to cut out from school, be picked up by hoods, taken to Middletown; then to return with made-up tales of girls and street fights, the girls in cashmere sweaters with no bras, the fights involving bicycle chains. Together, Johnny, Charlie and I listened to Alan Freed (rock ’n’ roll), as we flipped through Johnny’s magazines. With the intellectuals – the two groups intermingled – the talk was clean, wittier, more professional. These were the future leaders of aerospace, liberal philanthropy, publishing. Their homes were Fairfield, Connecticut; Rye, New York; Princeton, New Jersey.
Tat: Father! I behold the Universe and myself in the Mind. I see now my position as an outsider, too naive to recognize myself as such, and therefore genuine. Hence acceptance into the group. But hence also the seeds of an alienation, something which would make me resist absorption into the grand success machine – Yale fraternities, secret societies, law school, social clubs. And so the middle course.
Hermes: This is the Regeneration, O Child!
One of the great adventures during my stay at Choate was our illicit weekend – Dave Forney’s and mine – at Wesleyan. Having first procured invitations to stay in New York, Dave and I cautiously, surreptitiously left school by the northeasterly route. Soon we were off bounds, hitchhiking to Middletown. Once on campus, we found our official host’s house – referred by Dave Peoples. Then went directly in search of the parties – it was a big fraternity weekend. Before long we were drunk on beer. By midnight we had placed ourselves in the hands of a fraternity brother, who graciously found us beds in a dormitory.
Next day spent recovering, till Dave Peoples’ arrival, accompanied by Johnny Hill. Then, a magical moment: invitation to sherry at the house of an old professor, a friend of Dave’s father, also a professor. Let all Nature of World receive the hearing of this hymn! The house, huge and shadowed, cool and hospitable. Be opened, O Earth! And on into the dusk, having now retired to the garden, sherry glasses in hand. Let every vehicle of rain be opened to me. Fireflies glimmered, the calm, polite academic ambiance a gift of the gods. The trees wave ye not! I am about to hymn the Lord of the creation, and the Universe and the One. Happiness such as I had never known before. Open ye Heavens, and Winds be still!
Hermes: The Mind, O Tat! is of the very essence of The God; if indeed there is any essence of God, and of what quality this may be He alone hath accurately known. Freshman year at Yale: the land of Ulro. “As freshmen first we came to Yale, fol-de-rol-de-rol-rol-rol . . .” The Mind then is not cut off from the Essentiality of The Godhead but united, just as the light of the Sun. Grim New Haven, its sooty streets, heavy trucks rumbling down them all hours of day and night. From my cubicle in Bingham I look out onto the Green, through the leaded panes of a nouveau Gothic window, the Green covered with dirty snow. But this the Mind in men is indeed God. From a nearby department store issue the strains of electronic Christmas carols. Wherefore also some of men are Gods, and their humanity is nigh to the Deity.
Football weekend: Hale Conklin gets me a date with an old girlfriend from Waterbury. The four of us together to the first home game. I am not very enthusiastic about this – resent the difficulty of buying tickets, the struggle through traffic to reach the Bowl. Once settled in, the guys in front of us make a pass at my date. I have no feeling for the girl, who’s along for the ride. We all end up back at Bingham, I retiring to my room as she flirts with Yalies – her big chance – at a party across the entry.
Slogging through rain, snow, muck to the dining hall at Commons, a vast, sepulchral barn: bad food, noise, socially awkward situations. Study a drudgery, dozing in library armchairs: my eyes will not move across the pages of economics text, American history, French grammar, Plato, Shakespeare play.
Hermes: All men are subject to fate and to generation and to change. Hale Conklin and I play a prank on Stanley Stillman. For these are the beginning and the end of Fate. Stanley has stayed up late typing an art history paper, has destroyed his first draft, leaving the finished copy on his desk. By pre-arrangement with Hale, I contrive to get Stanley out of the dorm (together we go to an Elm Street eatery for a mid-night burger). All men indeed suffer things fated. In our absence Hale types the first few lines of each page on Stanley’s machine, imitating his layout exactly. But those with reason of whom we have said the Mind is Guide, suffer not in like manner with the others. Having finished, he then sets fire to the mock manuscript; as the flames mount to the top of the page, just as they reach the typing, he stomps out the fire. But having departed from Vice, they suffer not evil. The resulting document he leaves on Stanley’s desk, having secreted the original manuscript.
Together S. and I return. As we enter the room, I look idly over Stanley’s desk. Pointing to the manuscript I ask, what is this? Stanley in shock: “My God! My paper!” “How did this happen?” Pause. “Maddy, how did this happen?” I shrug and – to avoid Stanley’s gaze – walk on into my room. Pause. “Jesus Christ, my paper!” Pause. Sound of Stanley dropping onto the couch. “Oh, no!” Long pause. Finally: “It must have been Conklin!”
At which, out comes Hale from his room, sleepy-eyed, in pajamas. “For Christ sake, Stillman, what’s all the racket about?”
Hermes: The Reason then is the image of the Mind, Mind of the God; the Body indeed of the Idea, the Idea of the Soul. Images of freshman year:
– I have skipped breakfast, it is deathly cold, I am on my way to class. I stop at a moveable hot dog stand and buy a dog, slopping on relish and mustard. I stand eating it, gazing at the Egyptian pylons of the nineteenth-century New Haven cemetery wall.
– I sit on the couch of our living room in Bingham, arguing with Hale: the relative importance to the national economy of steel vs. copper. We arrive at an irresolvable stalemate.
– I pause by the dormitory window to watch as a New England blizzard fills the Old Campus with twenty-five inches of snow, It will be weeks before it melts. On the table sits The New York Times with news of the Russian Sputnik.
– It is early in the fall. Stanley has invited me to Fairfield before the term begins. We lounge about in the glamorous opulence of his father’s house. The second Mrs. Stillman, a Latin herself, has two gorgeous Spanish-speaking maids.
– It is spring. I have made friends with John Badham, who lives in the suite next door – along with Tom Johnson and two young geniuses from Scarsdale. John and I go to movies together – Antonioni, Bergman, new French films. Afterwards, pizza at a genuine Italian pizzeria, followed by the walk back under elms shimmering under the streetlight.
Intellectual development at Yale: Freshman Year, Hermes: How then. O Child! in The God, in the Images of the Universe, in the plenitude of the Life, can there be dead things? In many respects the faculty resembles the Choate School staff. Comments on papers are contentious, superficial, defensive, the topics of the exercises unimaginative. For deadness is corruption, and the corruption destruction. Class discussion is ruled by an overly intellectual spirit. There is also a chilling lack of encouragement, both in the classroom attitude of instructors and in their written comments. How then can any part of the incorruptible be corrupted or anything of the God be destroyed? This is the Academy.
No wonder freshman year is a deadening experience. A survey of philosophy, though benignly conducted by Brand Blanshard, never broaches the question of wisdom. The sure knowledge one instead takes away is the sense that cleverness insures success. High grades go to the student who, while remaining equable, can rival the instructor in wit and bluff his way through on matters of substance. Earnest inquiry, doubt, imagination go unrewarded. As for history, it is taught smugly by an insecure instructor, who falls back on his easy superiority with regard to factual detail. Economics: taught by a supercilious man with better things to do. And so on.
By the end of the year I’m staggering. I have done an immense amount of work, have been shamed by mediocre grades; but, I have persisted in my own high opinion of myself. This tempering, this development of self-reliance, is important. Yale deserves some credit for that.
At the end of freshman year I return to Detroit for the summer – my last at the law firm, my last at debutante parties, my last at the Boat Club. Sophomore year initiates a new seriousness. Mind: Hear, O Child! how The God and the Universe have made themselves. To begin with I’ve broken with my prep school past – especially its cynicism. I room with John Badham in a suite of four, with two serious students from Chicago. I am, if anything, more deracinated than I’d been freshman year. But now I begin to focus on my courses.
God, The Eternity, the World, the Time, the Generation. I’m profoundly involved in a history of major English poets: Chaucer, Spenser and Milton; Pope and Wordsworth. The God makes Eternity. I struggle to do well.
The Eternity, the World. But I somehow lack the sophistication to get consistent A’s on my papers. The World, the Time. Nonetheless I begin to absorb this traditional material. But the Time, the Generation. I also struggle with French, having there to do a survey, from Racine to the present – the first term with Victor Brombert, the second with Jacques Guicharnaud. But of the God is as it were Essence, The Good, The Beautiful, The Happiness, The Wisdom; of the Eternity the Identity; of the World the Order; of the Time the Change. Most exciting of my courses, however, is an art history survey – not so much what is said as what is seen. But of the Generation, The Life and the Death. Here again my academic success is only moderate, incommensurate with the impact the course has on me. My critical writing gradually gains sophistication, though I rely principally on formal analysis – this in part the result of the demand for so much work (I will write 1000 pages of critical prose in my four years at Yale).
Mind: Behold also those subject Seven Worlds arranged in eternal order and in different course fulfilling the Eternity, and all things full of light, but fire no where, for the friendship and the combination of things opposite with those dissimilar became Light, shining forth through the energy of the God, Generator of all Good, and Prince of all order and guide of the Seven Worlds.
For all the stimulation provided by my other courses, the survey of major English poets is the crucial intellectual experience of sophomore year. Including poetic imitations, I write seventeen papers for this small Trumbull College seminar: three on Chaucer, two on Spenser; one entitled “Spenser, Donne, and the Epithalamic Convention”; another on Donne; four on Milton; parodies of Spenser and Pope; a paper on the latter’s Dunciad, two on The Prelude, one on Eliot’s Waste Land. From all this I gained, I think, a sense of the subtlety of the masters’ voices: the amiability of Chaucer. A Moon, the precursor of all these. The grace of Spenser. Organ of the Nature, changing the Matter below. Milton’s grandeur. I am swept away by Wordsworth. Earth in the midst of the Universe, established as support of this beautiful World, nourisher and nurse of those upon the Earth. How fortunate to be an English speaker.
Marianne B. I don’t know how I met her, where she came from, what has happened since. But she was my first true love – at least my first after Joanne Sweet.
She lives with her parents in a small apartment by the Detroit River – a rather seedy middle-class environment; her world, that of the heavy-drinking, profane Detroit Yacht Club. Hermes: Who then is He? Mind: Who may it be other than The One God? At sixteen Marianne is a femme fatale – heavily made-up, dressed like a nightclub entertainer. Languorous and womanly, she’s been drinking since fourteen – with parental permission. She is also known to make out and like it. For to whom can it belong to make animated animals but to the God only?
After a summer of marathon necking at the Boat Club, in cars, in her parent’s apartment, I invite her to Yale for a weekend. One then is God. The family debates; finally agrees. Most ridiculous then if having acknowledged the World to be One and the Sun One and the Moon One and the Divinity One, but the God Himself to be as multiple as you wish. The weekend proves to be an extravagant affair. I pick up Marianne in New York City. From the train we go to an outrageously expensive restaurant, then to “Westside Story,” and on to New Haven. Saturday: parties, afternoon and evening. Late that night I’m invited up to her hotel room, but I decline – wisely, no doubt. Sunday afternoon we neck past the departure time of her train. Frantic call to Mickey Caulkins: may I borrow his car? No, but he will drive us to NYC, where M. is put on a later train. I phone her parents to apologize.
Next day I send a cutout of her name, inscribed with Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet.
Now the major incident of sophomore year. I return to the suite with John Badham to find an inspection slip: our room is dirty. It’s the second time this has happened. John and I are not responsible. It is Dave Sherman and Don Richards, who live in a perpetual mess. When they have returned, and in front of David Carr, I accuse them, saying it is the Jews who have gotten us the slip. At this an altercation breaks out. Don Richards must be restrained by John Badham from physically attacking me. David Carr, taking note of it all, is highly disapproving.
I remain unrepentant. Instead, I move out – ridiculously try to find some place in the basement to sleep. Finally succumb to reality. I may even apologize to Don Richards. At any rate we reach an accommodation.
Have I learned my lesson? Mind: And understand thus of thyself, and command the Soul of thine to proceed to India, and quieter than thy command it will be there; command it to proceed to the Ocean, and there again it will quickly be, not as if having passed on from place to place, but as if being there. Command it also to fly up to the Heaven, and it will not be in want of wings; nor will anything be hindrance to it, neither the fire of the Sun, nor the atmosphere, nor the revolution, nor the bodies of the other stars, but, piercing through all, it will fly up even to the last body.
Junior Year, John Badham rooms with Bob Rickner, I take a single, on a floor with Bob Kimball, Paul Ray and Tony Rand. At the end of the hall, in a double, are Kim Dietrich and Dave Rawls, both from Detroit. My only social life this year will be singing in the Russian Chorus – a rather jejune, mixed group of intense, intellectual students, led by a fiery exile, himself a perpetual student. With no women around, no access to girl’s schools, I remain a virgin, sublimating my energies into study, into the cultivation of the prickly personality I become.
Tat: For not as if a ray of the Sun, being fiery, does it dazzle and make the eyes close, is thus the spectacle of The Good. On the contrary, it shines forth and augments the light of the eye to so much as he who is able can receive the influx of the intellectual splendor.
I begin by decorating my room, a gothic garret high above the busiest intersection at Yale. I paint the room a Dostoevskian yellow and furnish it in black: black bed and bedspread, black circle chair; wine-colored Oriental rug; wine-colored cloth backdrop for Degas’ “Absinthe Drinker.” For the mantelpiece, the pièce de résistance: a gold-framed triptych, Bosch’s “Garden of Earthly Delights.”
I am ready to work, and work I do: ten hours a day, six or seven days a week. I develop no lasting friendships, have no pleasure, instead produce an enormous volume of academic work. And, I begin writing poetry: grotesque imitations of metaphysical poets.
I am nineteen years old.
Hermes: The mental state moves the material movement in this manner: since the world is a sphere, that is a head; but above head there is nothing material; just as neither is there anything mental beneath the feet, but all material.
It is the year I hit my academic stride. Though I probably manage no better than a B average, my average in English courses is A-. In the fall I study early eighteenth-century English literature, Milton, English history, music history. I take a seminar in the early Renaissance (Castiglione, More, Machiavelli, with many lesser figures, mostly English). I spend inordinate amounts of time, closeted in my room, reading, writing papers.
For eighteenth-century literature alone I write twelve papers, on assigned topics such as “Alexander Pope’s ‘Windsor Forest,’ lines 13-20,” “The Partridge-Bickerstaff Papers: The Merit of Swift’s Style,” “John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera.” Alexander Witherspoon assigns four longer papers on Milton, my magnum opus a line-by-line explication of “Lycidas.” “The study of Milton,” he says, “is itself a liberal education.” Seventy students take his class, he devoting half an hour to each in conference every time the papers are returned.
And so on. Music history papers on motets, madrigals, Guillaume de Machaut, Guillaume Dufay, Bach. Formal criticism rules the day, though my papers for English history are more substantial: “The State of English Feudalism in 1215,” “Humanism and Sixteenth-Century Theology,” etc. A rather dull seminar in the Renaissance requires six 1500-word papers, on topics from Skelton to Spenser.
The big social event of the year is John Taylor’s wedding. I arrive at the Bleeckers’ by train, am met by John. At the house Anne embraces me, radiant. Tat: How then is the human soul punished, O Father? I have no trouble with rich Long Island society. John’s college cronies, whom I’d met freshman year at the Yale-Princeton game, are also there. Bob Reed, the best man, knows Gilbert and Sullivan by heart, entertains us by singing lyrics. Even Frank Stella makes an appearance, refuses to enter the church. Everyone gets unbelievably drunk but the morning after behaves as though nothing had happened. Ivy League panache – Scott Fitzgerald’s coattails.
My mother, friend of John’s mother, is also in attendance. At the reception Mary Bell exhorts me to dance with her. In the hallway, after the wedding, I embarrass John by embracing him. He has been my father surrogate through college. I return with Jill Galston, on her way to visit John Walsh, a classmate I have recently met.
What is it about these years that makes them so devoid of emotion? The regimen of Yale, the great initiation, may have something to do with it. At any rate, my joys are all private, impersonal, esthetic: encounters with objects (the Henry Moore woman, the lovely Maillol, who sit in the sculpture garden behind Yale’s museum). A harpsichord concert by Ralph Kirkpatrick. Later in the year I discover Robert Lowell, Philip Larkin – fascinated by their moodiness. Hermes: And what is a greater punishment of a human Soul, O Child! than the impiety? and what sort of fire has so great a flame as this impiety? and what kind of devouring wild beast thus maltreats the body as much, as this impiety the very Soul?
Hermes: For Soul apart from the Mind can neither say anything nor do anything. For, oftentimes the Mind hath departed out of the Soul; and in that hour the Soul neither discerns nor hears, but is like an irrational animal.
Yale represents my Western education, all the more compact because oblique. Its curriculum implies the Classics, Bible, Greek empirical method, all the while pretending to a modern, enlightened eclecticism. Here I’ve been perhaps too hard on myself, for I had no way to escape these terms; nor, by virtue of my pigheadedness – my strength and weakness, no way to succeed within them. Yet I did reasonably well, on both counts: dealing with the system but retaining my freedom. The sacrifice: happiness.
The second half of the year picks up where the first left off: from Haydn to Bartok; England, 1603-the Present; Johnson, Fielding, Richardson, Sterne; eight papers on Chaucer; a seminar in lyric poetry.
Here as before I’m constantly upbraided for my attitude toward authority. Only now do I see my recalcitrance as healthy, for, without the capacity to formulate alternatives to what I was offered, I nonetheless had the cunning to resist absorption by it. The system, with its inherent conflicts, may be said to have fostered integrity. But only by rebellion against the system itself could I maintain individuality.
Hermes: Yesterday, O Asclepius! I delivered the perfect Discourse; but now I consider necessary, consequential to that, to go also through the discourse respecting Sense. For sense and understanding indeed have differences, because that is material, but this is essential; and yet to me both are united, and not to be separated among men by Reason.
B.G.M. and the Yale Russian Chorus. I return home after Junior Year only to be summoned back to New Haven – a great reprieve, since, having moved with my parents to Chicago, I have no prospects for a summer job. The YRC has received a large grant from a wealthy Texan. It will enable us to tour Russia. Before departure we gather at Yale for five weeks of Russian.
I take a job at the Gibbs physics lab, measuring pi meson experiments, fixing the coordinates of particle traces on IBM cards. My shift runs from 11 pm till 3 in the morning. On the shift before me is B.G.M., a New Haven girl. She is lovely, loving, kind. With Stuart Nightingale and his girlfriend we go out together – to a musical. I am lost in emotion. On the way back home I put my arm around her, kiss her at the door. Within a week I seduce her, taking her first to a restaurant for steak, then returning to the home of an ancient Yalie, where I have a second job taking care of the house. He away for the weekend, B.G.M. and I make love in his bed, she reluctant. Next day, panic. She is fertile, we have used no contraceptive. Two weeks later: no period. I fly to Russia. For a month, no word. Return to find that she has been put through an ordeal of examination by her parents. But has finally bled.
The trip to Russia essentially convivial, not the propaganda function it is officially billed as. We arrive at Frankfurt, my first taste of Germany – sharpness of morning air, Wurst and Brötchen am Bahnhof. Then Austria, in four rented VW buses, the glamorous landscapes gliding past. Late at night, from Uzhgorod, the border crossing. Mat’ Rossiya.
For the five weeks of language study I have lived with nine other members of the chorus, in a single apartment. Thus the summer has been an initiation into a certain kind of social life. But I remain aloof. Hermes: Piety is the knowledge of God, which he who recogniseth, becoming full of all good things possesses the divine thoughts, and not like the many. On the trip through Russia the social unit dwindles to the half dozen members of one’s bus. I spend hours in conversation with a gentle eccentric, Jimmy Sloan, who photographs the passing scene (a private documentary), discusses any topic, and drinks all day. Each morning we stop to lay in a dozen bottles of beer. Until, that is, the leadership shames Jimmy into going on the wagon. To which he responds by riding all day long with his coat thrown over his head. And because of this, those being in knowledge, neither please the many, nor the many them; they seem to be mad, and occasion laughter, being hated and despised, and perhaps also murdered.
The tour itself is not of great interest, now, to me, though I do retain certain vivid memories: the dank, open, atheistical spaces of Moscow; the cool nihilistic elegance of Leningrad; the vastness of the landscape from Odessa to Kiev to Kharkov; the brilliant sunlit pathos of Riga; and – returning – the richness of the Polish landscape and cities, among the latter Cracow especially.
My senior year an unpleasant year. I have broken with the Yale Russian Chorus, continue to see (use) B.G.M., suddenly lose interest in my course work. Martin Price’s seminar in fiction, which I suffer through all year, epitomizes mean-minded academe: immense reading assignments in European fiction, absurdly demanding topics (a paper on Jane Austen’s Emma, Julien Sorrel and Flaubert’s Emma), vindictively low grades. If one is broadly ambitious in discussing literature, he is inattentive to detail; if he scrutinizes detail, he has missed the larger moral issues, the poetry of the subject, the critical question. Here my choice of courses may in part have been at fault. In addition to the fiction seminar: a yearlong lecture course in Shakespeare (never a favorite subject of mine); a course in the English Romantics; a course in Spenser (for which twelve substantial papers in a single term). Only music and art history save my year: a delightful course from Beekman Cannon – Debussey to Stravinsky (I do, among others, a long intricate paper on Berg, Webern and Schönberg). Courses in High Renaissance and Venetian painting, with major papers on Raphael’s madonnas and the work of Giovanni Bellini.
Somehow, though, this year was stultifying. That none of the Entities persist, but mankind erroneously call them changes, destructions, deaths. Apparently I don’t know how to live. Life, at least, a very dreary thing.
But Yale, too, a very dreary thing – and not alone on account of my personality defects. Tat: This animal, then, does not perish? Hermes: Speak well, O Child! The issue is a larger one: Western man’s concept of education, his concept of the world, the individual. Understand what God is, what the World. Understand what an immortal animal, what a dissoluble. Greek and Christian thought have combined to produce a scientific culture, one in which the humanities, no less than physics, have become procedures, procedures for the enforcement of an orthodoxy: not the study of wisdom but the accumulation of knowledge. Understand that the World indeed is from the God, and in the God, but the Man from the world, and in the world.
True education would be a different matter: an exploration of the nature and limits of the Self; a process whereby the world’s existence, or non-existence, is gradually realized; a growing understanding of its firmness and fickleness; a study of its larger force in relation to the smaller energies. But the beginning and comprehension of all things is in the God. This education would not be conducted philosophically; no method would be taught, much less rules of reason. Instead, in the hands of a master, the pupil, through mere conversation and the imitation of his attitude, would absorb the master’s wisdom. The texts would be the holy texts – precisely those dropped from, or ignored in, the curriculum: Hesiod and the Bible; the Gita and the Dhammapada; Analects and Lao Tzu; I Ching and Tarot deck. These would even take precedence over Homer.
Though I do badly my senior year at Yale, I nonetheless win a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and Harvard accepts me for graduate school. At my parent’s expense I spend the summer in Cambridge, supposedly studying Latin for my language exam, in fact getting laid. (I do plod through several books of Vergil, having first reviewed Latin grammar; I audit a course in the Symbolistes, a graduate seminar in Raphael.)
Hermes: First, however, it is necessary that thou shouldest tear off the garment which thou bearest. Cambridge is the great escape from New Haven: brisk, lively, a livable place. The web of ignorance, support of wickedness, bond of corruption. With my girlfriend, a Smith freshman also at Harvard for summer school, I cruise Cambridge and Boston: the North End, the banks of the Charles, South Boston, Harvard Square. The dark enclosure, the living death. Yet, to tell the truth, I’m strangely inhibited, am still out of touch with reality. The sentient corpse, the tomb carried about with thee. Wet behind the ears, I am cowed by my girlfriend’s brother and his literati friends. The domestic robber, him hating through the things he loves, and grudging through the things he hates. But I have survived, I am alive, I will triumph.
Harvard is complicated: warm and attractive; cold and impersonal. The summer passes quickly. The romance is over. I still have the good sense to give up girls who become attached. Doom awaits me.
On my twenty-first birthday my father arrives to pay a visit, to take me to dinner and preside over my first legal drink (accordingly I decline the offer). Back at my boarding house, having bought me a couple of pots and pans, he sneaks a cigarette behind my back in the john.
And so into the fall. Earlier, in the spring (before the end of the term), I had come up from New Haven, staying with Mason Morfit as I scour Cambridge for a room. I find one – in the house of a too-friendly man, who allows me to move in before he makes a pass. In the middle of the night I flee, sleeping on a bench in the Cambridge police station; wake up early to walk about town, waiting for the morning paper with its listing of rooms available. At 6 am I see a sight I never see again – the bridges of the river crowded with birds, diving, killing, feasting on fish. Hermes: For we may dare to say, O Asclepius! that the Essence of The God, if indeed He have Essence, is the Beautiful, but the Beautiful is also Good. Squawk, splash, spear.
I find a room, in a boarding house, the owner, a butcher, having listened to my woes and helped me move my things. My new housemates include: a gossipy Korean graduate student studying Russian; a tall pimply mathematician, who follows all the major league baseball games, sitting in the kitchen with his radio; a Japanese graduate student in Chemistry, the walls of whose room, when he departs, must be washed of a two-year accumulation of smoke; and a crazy old man, who verbally abuses himself in front of the bathroom mirror, the voice audible throughout the house. Later, the Korean told me, he committed suicide.
From here, at summer’s end, I move into 45½ Mt. Auburn Street, to live with Dave Forney (now a student at M.I.T.) and two third-year Harvard Law School students. I paint my room – ceiling grey, walls white, floor black, am ready for my first day of classes at Harvard.
This year a boon: only four courses (instead of the five at Yale). Following traditional advice I sign up for Anglo-Saxon; then add Walter Jackson Bate’s course in the history of criticism, Alfred Harbage’s Elizabethan Drama, Douglas Bush’s Tennyson, Browning and Arnold. Hermes: The sun is the greatest god, to whom all the heavenly gods yield as if to a king and dynast. And this the so vast, the greater than earth and sea, submits, having above itself stars revolving smaller than itself.
Come mid-fall the atmosphere of the Yard sparkles: hard red brick facades, blue sky, fluffy clouds. A terrible independence, everyone at Harvard aloof, special, difficult. Girlless, virtually friendless, I am alone again. I cook my own meals or go out for sandwiches. I study. I determine to do well. Like my junior year at Yale, this is to be a successful one, academically (I end up with 6 A’s and a B). By the end of the year I also have an A.M., am on my way to a Ph.D.
Then, one evening, looking out the kitchen window, I see an undergraduate, in a room in Adams House, undressing his girlfriend. Horny already, this is too much. Soon I have asked S.I., a girl in my Anglo-Saxon class, out to a movie. She is not very attractive – but somehow I’m attracted to her – la belle laideur, etc. I like her nervous manner, her modesty; overlook the neurotic element. Here the great fall, the slide into the great stupidity of my life. I fall in love.
Through the spring I continue to see S.I. This is the end of my twenty-first year (decisive things occur at the end of seven-year periods). But my principal concern is schoolwork. I learn Anglo-Saxon, reading the elegies in the fall, Beowulf in the spring. Then, as review for the final exam, I reread the whole poem. It is stylistically magnificent, but, as an epic, not in the class with Homer, Vergil, Milton.
Bate’s course, the work for which I do during five days of the Reading Period, gives me an historical frame, a sense of the dynamics of intellectual history. Now, I doubt this model; but, in my development, it was essential. Tennyson, Browning and Arnold I read with moderate enthusiasm, the poetry smothered by the scholarship and common sense of Douglas Bush. His peculiar excellence I come to find odious – encyclopedic knowledge in the service of nothing, a prideful professional modesty. Harbage, an engaging guide, is full of blustery, ivory tower morality. I learn to prefer Perry Miller, his self-destructive love affair with America, his trenchant nihilism. In the midst of all the rodomontade my most subtly influential course turns out to be Vergil, taught in the mode of daffy professoriality by Eric Havelock. I reread books I, II, IV, VI; again I study his Latin. Hermes: This Bear which turned about itself, carrying round it the whole World order: who is He having fabricated that organism? Who is He having cast bounds about the Sea? Who He having stablished the Earth? Even today I find myself saying, half-consciously, Vergil’s the greatest poet who ever lived.
Hermes: I wish it were possible for thee becoming winged to fly up into the air, and being lifted up in the midst between the Earth and Heaven to behold the solidity of the Earth and the fluidity of the Sea. I am off to Stuttgart for the summer, flying from Boston. The flowings of rivers, the looseness of the air. My mother has driven me to the airport with questions about my plans for marriage. The vehemence of fire. Why don’t I marry an accomplished woman, et cetera? The course of stars, the very swift circling of heaven around these. I stop in London for a week in Mrs. Crane’s apartment; then overnight in Paris, and on to Germany.
The month of “Ferienkurs” at the Technische Hochschule pleasant, French students dominating the international group. (On the fourteenth of July, in the dining hall of a small German hotel where we are guests of the village mayor, français and françaises alike suddenly arise to bellow forth the Marsellaise. In Stuttgart I live in a room “bei Früh,” a typical upper-middle-class family. I wander about the city alone, absorbing, absorbing.
During the second half of the summer, having hitchhiked to Berlin, I secrete myself in a room at the Freie Universität to prepare for my German exam. I devour four bad novels by Heinrich Böll, Hesse’s sugary Narziß und Goldmund, a biography of Mary Stuart by Stefan Zweig. On weekends, I travel to East Berlin, visit the Dahlem museum, marvel at Berlin’s gaping expanse and plenitude.
Despite my industry I am directionless, an easy mark for marriage.
Hermes: If thou wouldst behold the Creator also through the things mortal, those upon the earth and those in depth, consider, O Child! the man fabricated in the belly, examine accurately the art of the fabricator, learn who it is fabricating this beautiful and divine image of The Man. I return from Berlin by way of Amsterdam, where I spend three or four days. Who is He having circumscribed the eyes, who He having perforated the nostrils and ears, who He having opened the mouth. Hitchhiking, I enter the city with a farmer who speaks no English. Obligingly, in his farm truck, he delivers me to the youth hostel. Who He having stretched out and bound together the nerves. That afternoon, on the streets, I meet a German girl, who mistakes me for a Dutchman. Together we have a beer. Who He having formed in channels the veins, who He having hardened the bones, who He having cast the skin about the flesh. Later that night, having said good-bye to her, I cruise about, looking for – and avoiding – prostitutes. Who He having separated the fingers and the limbs, who He having widened a basis for the feet, who He having opened the pores. Alongside the wharves, on back streets, they sit, sumptuously propped in enormous windows, gorgeous in their siren silks and make-up. Who He having extended the spleen, who He having formed the heart pyramid-wise, who He having put together the sides. Finally, I enter a room with one – only to be ripped off without ever consummating the act. Who He having widened the liver, who He having hollowed out the lung, who He having made the stomach capacious. Next day I return to the Reichsmuseum for a last look at Vermeer, for a last look at Rembrandt’s incomparable “Night Watch.” Who He having fashioned the most honorable parts for being evident, but having concealed the base. Then back on the plane, to New York, to parents, to Harvard, to S.I.
This is the fateful year, the year whose central events engagement, marriage – I postpone writing about. Hermes: Behold how many arts of one material! How many works in one circumscription, and all exceedingly beautiful and all measured, yet all in difference.
I conclude my formal education, in this my twenty-second year. I have had my initiation into scholarly work in a seminar of Herschel Baker’s (it is entitled “Religion and Humanism,” however little concerned with either topic). I write an industrious paper – professionally undistinguished – on Sir Thomas More. The seminar – along with Douglas Bush’s rejection of my application for his seminar the following term – must make clear to me that I’m not cut out for scholarship. During the fall term I also study Romantic poetry again, finding in myself no greater enthusiasm for the subject than before; Petronius’ Satyricon (I am a mediocre Latinist); and eighteenth-century poetry, badly taught by Reuben Brower.
In the spring I decide to take courses that I might like instead. William Alfred’s seminar in the Exeter Book; a seminar in Hawthorne from a pleasant but undistinguished visiting professor; Robert Lowell’s course in American poetry.
Who made all these things? What mother, what father? If not alone the invisible God, having by the will of Himself created all things? With the Poet of the Age, having little work to impress him; being blond, WASP , and bourgeois (it is 1963); being relatively sane, I am awkward.
And the marriage. In November I rush into a premature engagement, my parents protesting the length of the period from its announcement to the wedding (June). In New York I take S. to meet them. As she sits in the living room, my mother hustles me off into the bedroom for inquisition. Have you been sleeping with her? Yes, I say. Then that poor child must be wearing a pessary! Together, S. and I flee the apartment, walking in the cold back uptown from Sutton Place South. The following day, under the pretext of driving to pick up my father, I am trapped in the car, where my parents reveal their plan: to force S. and me into counseling with a minister. These are crazy people. Back at their apartment, I bolt: set out on foot, catch a cab – to the airport, arrive back in Boston, spending the night at a hotel to avoid their pursuit. But pursue they do. My mother on an earlier visit having already fallen down in Harvard Yard to protest the marriage, my father now arrives to dissuade me. He makes no progress. Hermes: And a statue indeed or an image apart from a sculptor or painter, no one says can become to be; and hath this creation become to be, apart from a creator?
At last the wedding takes place – but only after my parents have refused, for a month, to give the bride’s family an invitation list. Robert Kirkpatrick is best man; John Walsh, Mason Morfit, S.’s brother-in-law, the ushers; her sister, the matron of honor; my sister and others, bridesmaids. S.’s mother attends dressed in red, wearing a large black hat. O this much blindness! O this much impiety! O this much ignorance!
The first summer of marriage is spent in Cambridge. But if you compel me to speak something more bold, it is His Essence to be pregnant of all things, and to make. By design we remain childless for the next six years, the marriage in the meantime a mechanism. And since apart from the Maker it is impossible that anything be generated, so it is impossible that He ever be not, unless ever making all things in Heaven, in earth, in depth, in every part of the Universe, in that being and in that not being. We occupy an apartment on the third floor of 24 Mt. Auburn St., where I have lived the year before. Its four rooms are crowded in by sloping walls and dormered windows, the heat of summer oppressive.
S. works for the Financial Aid Office of Harvard University, has trouble with her co-worker/superior, though does O.K. with her snobbish bosses. For there is nothing in the universal world which is not Him. I work at a summer job as counselor in a Dorchester day camp, on the ridge between Irish and encroaching blacks. He is both the Entities and those nonentities; for the Entities He hath manifested, but those nonentities He hath in Himself.
The marriage, in retrospect, has little in it. S. cooks, washes the dishes. We fuck. We work. On weekends we have little to do. We fend off an invitation from her parents – S. accepting, then rejecting – all in the aftermath of the ghastly wedding. Evenings I sit, exhausted from work, Shakespeare open in my lap. My notion is a dissertation on Shakespeare and Melville – not my fault, instead a reflection of the culture that I’ve absorbed. I read four plays and give up.
By fall we have moved to a cheaper, basement apartment on Wendell Street, north of Harvard Square, alongside the Holiday Inn. Our apartment house – the Oliver Wendell – is a residence for old ladies, single dames, graduate students. I paint the living room white, the bedroom blue. The rent is $80 a month, my paycheck as graduate assistant, $95.
When, O Father! shall I hymn thee? for neither thine hour nor time is it possible to ascertain concerning what also shall I hymn? Social life consists of entertainment by couples. We cook for the Kohlers, Kirkpatricks and, later, the Allans. We sit around and talk by fours or sixes, over drink and extravagant food (traveling first to the North End by subway for lobsters at 79 cents a pound). Only rarely do we go to a party; to a movie once every fortnight. Otherwise we do nothing of interest. Is it surprising that two years of this will generate an impulse to escape to Europe?
The whole year is spent preparing for my general examination. I am teaching but also take a seminar in Melville from Perry Miller. Is it possible to ascertain concerning what things Thou hast made, or concerning those Thou hast not made? The seminar meets the first week of the term; then we adjourn for a month to prepare papers.
When we reconvene I am one of the first to perform. Concerning those Thou hast made manifest, or concerning those Thou hast concealed? Drunk, arrogant, out of control, Miller explodes over my innocuous critical survey. Slumps onto the table. A week later is dead – of advanced pancreatitis, but in the meantime has apologized.
At twenty-two I am signed on as a section man for Frohock’s Hum. 7 (Comedy: Western Man’s Increasing Inability to Imagine Himself a Hero). Hermes (to Tat): The Creator, not with hands but by Word, made the whole World, so that conceive of Him thuswise, as of the present and everbeing, and having made all things, and One and Only and by His own Will having created the Entities. We begin the fall with Cervantes, Part I, finish the fall with Part II. For this is the body of Him; not touchable, nor visible, nor measurable, nor separable, nor like to any other body. I flail, struggle, barely keep my head above water: Aristophanes, Erasmus’ Praise of Folly, Henry IV, Parts I & II, funny Boccaccio, delicious Lazarillo de Tormes.
In the spring we barge on with novels: Charterhouse of Parma, Huckleberry Finn; Ilf and Petrov, Joyce Carey; Byron. Frohock parcels out lectures to the “section men” (a female graduate assistant is still called a “section man”). My lectures on Mark Twain, from Emerson’s podium in Harvard Hall, a great success. I read funny passages; everyone laughs. A hundred and fifty students in the audience, S. there too, eating her lunch-hour sandwich, Frohock graciously taking notes. In the wake of my glory, relations with my class visibly improve.
I enjoy teaching. For He is neither fire, nor water, nor air, nor Spirit; but all are from Him. Especially pretty girls. (I am hopelessly in love with Kim W., Heather S.) For being good He willed to dedicate this to Himself alone, and to adorn the earth. Only much later do I realize how these attachments reflect the unsatisfactory character of my marriage.
Cambridge, 1964. We live without a car. Accordingly, I get to know the sidewalks of Cambridge, am on familiar terms with every piece of mortar in town. Hermes (to Tat): As ornament of the Divine body, He sent down The Man, immortal animal, mortal animal. I exist in a suspended state of enlightened alienation. The Man indeed excelled the animals and the world because of the speech and of the Mind. I have no status, at least none respectable: graduate student, teaching fellow, waif on the fringe of society.
More seriously, I have no point of view, no commitment, no confidence. No scholar, I have no faith in my prospective career as writer. I strain over a Dürer print of Saint Jerome, writing a poem in imitation of Randall Jarrell. Later, in imitation of Lowell, I write a rather good one entitled “Thomas Shepard and the River Charles.” It is a product, though, of Cambridge culture, of which I am no part, and for which I have but little respect.
With no other grist, I gnaw at physical Cambridge, as later I will gnaw at the bones of Paris. I am absorbing something, but what? For the Man became spectator of the works of The God, and wondered, and acknowledged the Maker. I cultivate my eccentric enthusiasms, unable to articulate their importance in the sterile soil of guilt-prone, history-bound New England, where the glamour of reality is a faintly malodorous subject. The seat of this sterility: Harvard itself, epitomized for me by the forechamber to Widener’s reading room – its insipid Sargents, its grey marble, its stagnant breath.
Hermes (to Tat): Having filled a great Cup, of this He sent down giving a herald, and commanded him to proclaim to the hearts of men these things; Baptize thyself who is able into this the Cup, who is believing that thou shalt return to Him who hath sent down the Cup, who is recognizing for what thou wast generated. The summer is spent in final preparation for my general exam – coming up in October. Every morning I read a certain number of pages in A Literary History of England (“The Middle Ages,” “The Renaissance,” “The Restoration and Eighteenth Century,” “The Nineteenth Century and After”); every afternoon, sitting in the sun behind the apartment building, a certain number of pages in Literary History of the United States (“The Colonies,” “The Republic,” “The Democracy,” etc.), In addition, I read perhaps fifteen books, mostly in American literature, for that’s to be my specialty. As many, then, as understood the proclamation and were baptized with The Mind, these partook of the knowledge and became perfect men, having received The Mind. But as many as failed of the proclamation, they having obtained the Speech, but not the Mind, are ignorant for what they were generated and by Whom.
My pent-up artistic impulse I release by drawing, painting: garage and pear tree behind the apartment; Margaret More Roper, our tortoiseshell cat; a building at Radcliffe, several blocks away. I begin a major canvas (3’ x 2’): cat, sitting in windowsill above bookcase, atop which a bowl of oranges.
Both sets of parents descend upon us, S. and I weathering the visits.
Fall Term preoccupied with teaching (a new Humanities course), last minute cramming for orals. Tat: I, too, wish to be baptized, O Father! In connection with the latter I must write an explication, for which I choose a passage from Moby Dick, “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Hermes: Unless, first, thou shalt hate the body. O Child! thou canst not love thyself; but having loved thyself thou shalt have Mind, and having the Mind thou shalt obtain also the science.
Hum. 1 another great books course, poetry and drama (Fall Term), novels (Spring Term). We begin with the Odyssey. By way of preparation, I read the Iliad – rather uncomprehendingly. The course is organized as a series of lectures by specialists. Cedric Whitman begins with a series of brilliant lectures, is followed by John Finley, another great Homerist, whose lectures on Aeschylus and Sophocles are nevertheless rather disappointing. Frohock on Rabelais, Harry Levin on Shakespeare, and so on.
My own capacity as a teacher severely hampered by ignorance of the texts (Yale again has served me poorly). And yet, except for Whitman, the elders’ performances leave much to be desired: John Bullitt rehashing Tolstoi, Cervantes; Levin witticizing Shakespeare and Dickens; Bate delivering Keats in a somber, pompous batter. All for the ears of eager, spirited Harvard and Radcliffe freshmen.
Hermes: It is impossible, O Child! to be about both – about things mortal, namely, and things divine. Now comes the major trauma of my twenties: the oral exam for the Ph.D. For of entities there being two, body and bodiless, in which the mortal and the Divine are understood, the choice of one or the other left to him who wisheth to choose. In my senior year at Yale, having devoted little time to preparation, I score badly on a comprehensive exam. At Harvard, due in part to the laxity of the program, I don’t develop as fully comprehensive a sense of the field as I should. For it is not possible that both concur. My first year I again do badly on qualifying exams. But with whomsoever the selection is left, the one being diminished hath manifested the energy of the other. Teaching helps some, but not much.
Then . . . whoosh, thump. I am suddenly confronted with mean-spirited Kenneth Lynn, a slickly professional cad, who had himself been failed on his examination, by Perry Miller. I enter the room (there is no written examination, all instead decided viva voce), knowing that four of the five Americanists preceding me have been failed by Lynn. Only recently have I made the decision to major in American lit. My courses include: nothing in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries; only Miller’s eccentric course in American Romanticism; a mediocre seminar in Hawthorne; a non-course in Melville; and Lowell’s idiosyncratic view of selected American poets. But, as we shall see, I’m pretty tough when the chips are down.
Hermes: Thou seest, O Child! how many bodies we must pass through, and how many choirs of demons, and continuity and courses of stars, that we may hasten to the One and only God. Luckily the cards are not entirely stacked against me. Herschel Baker, who has earlier discouraged me in my career, appears (self-sent? God-sent?) as a last-minute substitution for the churlish, ignorant John Bullitt (had Baker not appeared, I surely would have failed). David Kalstone serves as the third questioner. For the Good is insurpassable, interminable, and endless.
Lynn begins with an hour of unbelievably trivial questions (What was Hepzibah reading in The House of Seven Gables? What is the title of the whaling book that Melville took his information from?). My failure to answer draws from him theatrically disappointed looks. At every opportunity he averts the discussion from major authors, asking no substantive questions about Edwards, Franklin, Cooper, Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, James, Adams, Faulkner, Hemingway, or the Modernist poets.
When the open questioning commences, I fare much better. In itself the Good is without beginning; but to us seeming to have as beginning the knowledge, it becomes then not a beginning but to us affords the beginning of that which should be known. Finally, David Kalstone asks if I can respond to a question he had asked me to prepare for (Why did Matthew Arnold stop writing poetry?). “I failed to look that up,” I respond facetiously. Lynn lights up. “But just before the exam I asked Douglas Bush.” Pause. “He said he didn’t know.” Baker laughs. Kalstone smiles. Lynn is in the bag.
I haven’t said much about my real influences during these years. Hermes: Let us lay hold of the beginning and we shall make way with quickness through everything. At Yale, perhaps in my junior year, I first encounter Pound. For it is altogether perverse the abandoning things accustomed and present, to revert to those ancient and pristine. I take no course in modern poetry, no course in American lit., no course in fact in anything modern or American (why should I, considering the academic attitude toward things modern?). For the things appearing delight, but those appearing not cause difficulty in believing. I absorb Pound’s bombast and arrogance – I read the letters, Make It New, The ABC of Reading – but also his originality. Then I begin reading contemporary verse, British and American. (I read no contemporary fiction, either then or now.)
My first year at Harvard I become engrossed in Yvor Winter’s criticism, writing a long, comprehensive paper about it. But then, in the mash and mush of courses, the crisis of preparation for generals, I abandon interest in letters. The development of my taste in music and the visual arts also stunted by this state of affairs.
Musically, I become attached to Bach in my sophomore year. As reported earlier, my last year at Yale I study the great modern masters, having spent my junior year in a survey of music history. At Harvard I buy Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, hear the quartets performed one summer.
It is also at Yale – though independently, in the museum – that I encounter Kline, Rothko, Pollock, as well as Modernist masters. On a trip to New York with John Moore I see the MOMA show of ten new painters – Stella among them (I had seen his work in John Taylor’s room at Princeton, freshman year). The sculpture of Moore and Maillol at Yale reinforces a predilection for figurative work. But it is architecture that moves me most in these years: the great Corbusier Wohnung outside Berlin, Mies’s rich astringencies – the Seagram Building, the Lakeshore Apartments, on whose twenty-fifth floor my parents settle, after leaving Detroit. These, along with Van Eyck, Vermeer, the mysterious German expressionists at the Busch-Reisinger, serve to cleanse me of all the Italian rhetoric.
FOR IN HIS HAND ARE BOTH WE AND OUR WORDS: ALL WISDOM ALSO, AND KNOWLEDGE OF WORKMANSHIP. HE HATH GIVEN ME CERTAIN KNOWLEDGE OF THE THINGS THAT ARE, NAMELY, TO KNOW HOW THE WORLD WAS MADE, AND THE OPERATION OF THE ELEMENTS. FOR WISDOM, WHICH IS THE WORKER OF ALL THINGS, TAUGHT ME, FOR IN HER IS AN UNDERSTANDING SPIRIT, HOLY, ONE ONLY, MANIFOLD, SUBTILE, LIVELY, CLEAR, UNDEFILED, PLAIN, NOT SUBJECT TO HURT, LOVING THE THING THAT IS GOOD, QUICK, WHICH CANNOT BE LETTED, READY TO DO GOOD: KIND TO MAN, STEDFAST, SURE, FREE FROM CARE, HAVING ALL POWER, OVERSEEING ALL THINGS, GOING THROUGH ALL UNDERSTANDING, PURE AND MOST SUBTILE SPIRIT. Subjected to four years of Harvard, then, I turn away to Europe.
FOR WISDOM IS MORE MOVING THAN ANY MOTION: SHE PASSETH AND GOETH THROUGH ALL THINGS BY REASON OF HER PURENESS. FOR SHE IS THE BREATH OF THE POWER OF GOD, AND A PURE INFLUENCE FLOWING FROM THE ALMIGHTY GLORY: THEREFORE CAN NO DEFILED THING FALL UNTO HER. FOR SHE IS THE BRIGHTNESS OF THE EVERLASTING LIGHT, THE UNSPOTTED MIRROR OF THE POWER OF GOD, THE IMAGE OF HIS GOODNESS. AND BEING BUT ONE, SHE CAN DO ALL THINGS: AND REMAINING IN HERSELF, SHE MAKETH ALL THINGS NEW: IN ALL AGES ENTERING INTO HOLY SOULS, SHE MAKETH THEM FRIENDS OF GOD, AND PROPHETS. FOR GOD LOVETH NONE BUT HIM THAT DWELLETH WITH WISDOM. FOR SHE IS MORE BEAUTIFUL THAN THE SUN, AND ABOVE ALL THE ORDER OF STARS: BEING COMPARED WITH THE LIGHT SHE IS FOUND BEFORE IT. Having acquired much knowledge of things not altogether worth knowing, I have yet to find any wisdom.
Glory of all things, the God and Divinity and Nature Divine. Europe! We arrive, grace à l’Université de Maryland, in Heidelberg – for a week of orientation. Germany is grand, deep, mysterious: Heidelberg in clouds, dark green foliage, the crisp accent of the language. The beginning of the entities, the God, Mind, Nature, Matter, being Wisdom for the manifestation of everything. Our VW bus, ordered stateside, is ready: cream and dark green, capacious, ready for travel. The beginning is the Divinity, and Nature, and Energy, and Necessity, and End and Renovation.
My first teaching assignment: Spangdahlem, an Air Force base on the site of a hilltop Roman castrum, half an hour from Trier (the birthplace of Marx, once a Roman city of 600,000 inhabitants, now a town of 30,000). In a day we drive to Wittlich, where we camp in our brand new bus, sleeping on a board atop boxes of books. Next day, exhilaration of uncertainty, as, determined not to stay at the BOQ, I set out to find a room. Picking up a hitchhiker, deciphering his dialect, I am led to the house of a friend of a cousin. By mid-afternoon we are settled “bei Kohl,” a middle-aged war widow, her two sons and boarder.
Once installed, enrolled at the base in German, S. has a neurotic fit, does not want to stay in Germany. What am I to do? She can’t stand the strangeness, the isolation.
Phillipsheim, a town of 200 inhabitants (“dessen 198 wahlen CDU”), perched halfway up a hill in Edenic circumstances. On the walls of the small railway tavern: US Air Force reconnaissance photos of the town, offered as a gesture of friendship. There, one evening, having mentioned a vacation in France, I am taken aside by a drunk, belligerent townsman, who demands to know how I can have anything to do with the French.
Early one morning, the rumble, whine, grind of an American convoy – trucks, jeeps, enormous tanks, scraping corners of buildings as they maneuver uphill through the town. Another morning, half-awakened by school kids, standing outside our window as they wait on the school bus. “USA,” they read our license plate, “Untererdische Staaten von Amerika.”
I am buried under a twelve-hour course load: Freshman English for 40-year-old illiterate sergeants, 18-year-old pimply dependants: an eight-week term. But, before we know it, we’re on the road again, the second term to be split between Darmstadt and Frankfurt (Rhein-Main AFB). After prejudice-filled interviews with Darmstadt landlords, a snowy night spent in an Army base parking lot, we finally find a place in Sachsenhausen (see “West and East”). And the backbreaking labor resumes (Introduction to Literature). Though this time it is punctuated by weekend walks through Frankfurt, visits to her Zoo, her elegant bookstores (editions of Goethe, Rilke). I devour Werther, begin Dichtung und Wahrheit, all the while absorbing the melancholy landscape, the sensuous apartment; traffic, people, cobblestones.
On the road, returning late at night from class in Darmstadt, someone blinds me with a laser beam. And all things being orderless and indiscriminate, the light were separated upwards, the heavy made a foundation under a moist arena, the whole being divided apart by fire, suspended up to be carried onward by Spirit.
From the winter murkiness of Frankfurt to the City of Light, with an interlude to visit the Walshes in Leiden. There, a tour of the city, flattery from John, an ear to receive the torrent of pent-up observations. Then, through the late-afternoon lowlands and on to Paris, arriving in the place du Palais-Bourbon at midnight. I take in the bags, turn my back on the fancy apartment, set off on foot. The Seine, swollen from flooding, is rampant: yellow in the moonlight.
Each God by his proper power set forward that ordained to him, and these became beasts, quadrupeds, reptiles, aquatic and wingèd creatures, and every fruitful seed, grass and green herb of every flower, having the seed of the reproduction in themselves.
Again I work too hard – as I must: the Iliad, the Attic drama, Vergil, Dante. Break. Then eight more weeks: Shakespeare, Molière; Swift, Voltaire; Goethe, Dostoevsky. Eight hours of papers, preparation, then the battle through traffic to St. Germain, to Garches for three hours of classes. On weekends I lie abed, too weak to move.
I record nothing, write nothing, but the atmosphere of Paris fills my lungs. And I feast on Chartres, the Louvre, Le Monde.
The Heaven appeared in Seven Circles, the Gods in their stellar forms, being visible with all their signs, and the constellations were severally enumerated, with the Gods in them, the circumference wrapped around with the air borne onward in a circular course by Divine Spirit.
At term’s end, back to Heidelberg – for graduation, Chief Justice Warren delivering the graduation address, his theme: World Law. There we renew acquaintance with Marvin Watts, his beautiful Japanese bride. Then back to Paris: to the Comédie Française – tickets 1 franc 50 (60 cents). For a month I read nothing but plays – Racine, Molière, Marivaux, Ionesco, sit among birdlike French School children through impeccable matinees. Then, to Brittany, where Marianne Bleuzen, S.’s parents’ New York cook, has lent us her retirement home for the summer. A stop in Le Mans for the gorgeous, austere cathedral. Onward through the lush landscape, through provincial Rennes, Rostrenen, tiny Rouduallec, to the warm greeting of Marianne’s niece, Mme Solliec. Received by the whole Bleuzen family, cordially but aloofly too, we drive and drive and drive about the countryside, I inking our routes into the map.
Convalescent, I write a crown of sonnets to Paris, using picture postcard views of the monuments.
Summer done, we pass through Paris and on to the Rhineland-Pfalz, to begin our second year in Europe. My first assignment: Ramstein Air Base, near Kaiserslautern (“K-town,” in military parlance). This is God’s country, ravaged by history, innocent only in our present. On weekends American soldiers and German employees stand on the sidelines as pro-style Air Force football teams duke it out, black cheerleaders chanting. Give me a R; “R!” Give me an A; “A!” Give me an M; “M!” Give me an S; “S!” Give me a T; “T!” Give me an E; “E!” Give me an I; “I!” Give me an N; “N!” What does it spell? “Ram-stine!” What does it spell? “Ram-stine!” What does it spell? “RAM-STINE!” My students are American flyboys. They lounge about in class, still dressed in their electric-orange flight-suits.
Hermes: If, then, it be Divine, it is essential; but if it be God, it becomes superessential. S. and I again live in a German home, “bei Müller,” the family in a state of depression. Otherwise intelligible thus. Frau Müller has her hysterectomy during our stay, her bed, after the operation in the primitive Krankenhaus, “ganz verblütet.” For intelligible is the first God to us, not to Himself, for, the intelligible falls under the understander by sense. Herr Müller has a condition in his arm that prevents his working, or provides him with an excuse not to. The God then is not intelligible to Himself; for not being something else than that understood is He understood by Himself. During the course of our stay, he and his son build a garage (by housing their car they can save insurance). After we move in, the rent goes up. I let this pass.
With courses already prepared, this year is easier. Still, two nights a week, classes over, S. and I accompany a fellow-teacher and his wife, hippy-academics, to the local Bierstube, where we all drink ourselves silly.
After eight weeks in Ramstein, another move, the assignment split between Frankfurt and Wiesbaden. Late fall in Germany, the outskirts of Frankfurt, a crowded Brecht-like Stube; from the warm interior out into the drizzly night. A camping place: no, a gypsy camp, open fires beside the road. When we finally find the campground we’re awakened by police searching for criminal transients. But to us he is something else, and because of this intelligible to us.
Unable to find a place to live “on the economy,” we settle at last for the military hotel at Wiesbaden. But if the place is intelligible, it is not therefore God but place. Wiesbaden spacious, cultured, a Kurort. But if also God it is so, not as being place, but as capacious energy. Between grading papers I walk the surrounding, fog-bound, suburban streets: immense sequestered houses, fenced and hedged, polished brass plaques indicating a doctor’s, a lawyer’s residence. Everything moved not in the thing moved, but in the stable; that moving it therefore is stable. At the center of town the baths, active still, but with the air of an older time, centuries, millennia past.
Our stay is intermittently enlivened by the antic presence of a temporary Maryland instructor, called up from Rome, where he lives as an expatriate bum. In pork pie hat and Boston accent, he deals on the black market, friends arriving from Paris, Milan, Berlin, to spend a furtive night. Brilliant, neurotic, he imitates the speeches of American presidents, drinks heavily, sponges off us, falls ill. Meanwhile, S. continues with German, occupies herself with shopping, museums, reading.
Hermes: All motion then is moved in stability and by stability. Greece! We put in our request, and get it – Crete instead of Athens, but that’s all right. The motion therefore of the World, and of every material animal, is not generated by things without the World, but by those within. Exhausted from grading papers, I set off, leaving Heidelberg in late afternoon, the skies darkening with winter. At Berchtesgaden we stop for the night, at a palatial Army hotel, built as a resort by Hitler. Next morning, on through brilliant Switzerland, where, after dark, snow beginning to fall, a lonely gas station attendant puts on chains for the last, hair-raising, icy mile – straight up. Paradise behind us, we plummet into the purgatory of modern Yugoslavia: Belgrade, Split, Ljubljana, dusky, greasy, smoke-filled hotel dining rooms. By now a cold has taken hold. For body does not move a thing with soul, not even the entire body, if it be without soul. At Salonika I collapse with a wicked virus, five days in bed, nothing but rooftops visible from my window, my only food each day a luscious yellow-orange tomato-filled omelet, cooked by a maid.
On the sixth day we set out for Athens, down the coastal road: Larisa, Lamia (Achilles’ home), hecatombs burning on a rocky beach the first time we glimpse the sea. The road narrows, finally gives out, turning into sheep trail, village, chickens, pigs. And so, dusk falling, on into Athens; in English, French, we grope for directions to the Air Force hotel. Next day, Piraeus and the ferry to Crete. Iraklion, the savage countryside, a winding road to Amnisos, ancient port of Knossos, now site of American spy base. Wind, ether, rocks; oleander, wild sage, diamond sea. No other lodging available, we settle in at the BOQ, a view of Dia before us.
Hermes: Is not the air a body?
Asclepius: A body it is.
Hermes: And does not this body fill all things, permeate all beings? The Progress of Spring through Crete – a thing to behold. Up over the mountain, through wild flowers, into a tiny village, a mile or two distant, where no one has ever seen a foreigner. At the café, a table, ouzo. Or, farther inland, by car: restaurant at mid-afternoon, concrete slab tucked in crag. A salad, parakalo: 11-year-old brown-skinned girl disappears; sound of kitchen screen-door opening, slamming shut; open again, shut; sun-warm tomatoes in local olive oil. Before long, two terms are over.
Then back to the mainland: Athens, Attica (Sounion, Rafina); Delphi sparkling, the plain of Itea, we camp by the sea. Making our way into town – Venus above the harbor, we encounter a peasant, laden with two kegs of freshly made retsina. I offer to carry one. Escorted into a dark taverna, together in silence we drink a glass, warm from the keg.
Argos severe, the route to Olympia primitive. I lie beside the road to rest. Half-dozing, awake to find myself in the midst of a sheep-flock, bells clinking. Et ego in Arcadia. At Olympia the campsite a farmer’s field, chickens climbing in and out of the front seat of the bus, pecking, clucking.
On past Patras to Igoumenitsa where, searching for the indicated camping place, we follow a dirt road, the sky already dark. The road narrows; a hut in view; I descend and approach. A lantern appears. In Greek a woman receives us, insists that we enter, wood fire burning on hearth, dirt floor. Two shy teenage daughters seated at table. Fish, wine, crust divided, we showing the girls pictures from Parisian fashion magazines, by the light of a single candle.
Thence to Brindisi, Naples; and on to Rome, where Susie Smyly shows us about. Lyon, Vézélay, and back to Paris. We summer in Brittany.
From a restaurant window at Rhein-Main the early autumnal sunset glow colors the Autobahn traffic.
We arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, in southern New Jersey, expecting to be picked up by S.’s parents – who don’t show up. Instead we call my mother, who makes capital of coming to pick us up. Meanwhile, S. throws a fit in the airport. “I indeed am Poemandres,” he says, “Mind of the Supreme Power. I know what thou wishest; I am everywhere with thee.” I drive back, the immense, air-conditioned American car eerily quiet after Volkswagen bus, gigantic American trucks barreling along either side on the multi-laned New Jersey Pike. It is August. New York is hot and humid. And I: “I wish to leave the Entities, and to understand the nature of them, and to know the God.”
Before long we are back in Cambridge apartment hunting. Mowbray and Sally Allan have given us theirs to stay in while we look, “This,” I said, “I wish to hear.” We walk the street that divides Cambridge from Somerville, papers, garbage, trash strewn about, the heat – even at 6:00 pm – stifling. And he says to me again: “Have in thy mind whatsoever thing thou wouldest learn, and I will teach thee.” After the classic stones of Europe, America is brick red. Conoco station, Cadillac, vulgar billboard. Danger in the air. The apartment that we can afford sits on the top floor of a slum-lord triple-decker, the neighborhood Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican. I crowbar open the storeroom I’d built in the basement of Wendell Street, wrestle our belongings across town, with a friend move an abandoned refrigerator up three flights.
An English Department Tutor now, I prepare Yeats for Harvard and Radcliffe undergraduates.
Having read Wallace Stevens for the past year, once settled down I write a hundred-page essay on aspects of his rhetoric and prosody. This Harry Levin misconstrues as a finished dissertation, suggests I “go back and do some outlining.” In a matter of weeks I submit a 56-page outline. Surprised at its originality, he asks where did I get my ideas. I refer him to the ten-page bibliography.
And he says to me: “Didst thou see in the Mind the Archetypical form, that existing before the indefinite beginning?” (This Poemandres.) “These Elements of the Nature, whence constituted are they?” To which I: “From the will of God, which, taking the Word, and beholding the beautiful World, hath formed an imitation, making the World by means of the elements of Itself, and the progenies of souls.”
Meanwhile I meet with tutees, for hours, individually, in pairs. Cambridge has changed in our absence. Men have grown long hair, taken to wearing sideburns, granny glasses. “Revolution” is in the air. In detail The New York Times reports on events at Columbia. By Spring the raised red fist festoons Harvard.
As the year ends I am set to begin writing. But first – partly out of nostalgia to speak French – we make a vacation trip to Canada, up through New York State into the chill, spare bareness of Quebec province. Life is thin – for us, as well as for the Canooks. Once back, I finish out the summer with my first two chapters: “A Morphology of Lyric Poetry” and “Examples of Poetic Form in Wallace Stevens.”
S., this time around, has taken a job with the Adams Papers. (Only in retrospect does one realize how truly peculiar an enterprise that was: two gifted scholars annihilating their own lives in the service of an extravagant, narcissistic, redundant project.)
The Kirkpatricks gone, our friends are the Allans, the Kohlers, the . . . But the list dwindles off into mere acquaintances. Both sets of parents visit us in the slums, the companionship and the meal hardly worth the interruption of work and forbearance required. In the neighborhood I gain acceptance – “the Pafessa,” I’m affectionately called. The marriage – itself a peculiar institution, enforced by the cultural milieu – has little left in it. This, however, we can’t see. But the Mind, the God, being masculine-feminine, originating Life and Light, begets by Word another Mind Creator, Who being God of the Fire and Spirit, creates some Seven Administrators, encompassing in circles the sensible world; their administration is called Fate. By the end of the school year S. will be pregnant.
My dissertation proceeds apace, a relentlessly anti-psychological piece of criticism – not, as I once refer to it, a “poetic theory” (though it implies one), but, in Harry Levin’s accurate, deprecating phrase, an “analysis of lyric genres.” I do, if obliquely and unconsciously, deal with a central issue: the inadequacy of the ideal. And He having all dominion over the mortal living things of the world, and over the irrational, looked obliquely through the Harmony, breaking through the might of the circles, and showed to the downward borne Nature the beautiful form of the God, which Nature having beheld, having in itself insatiate beauty and all the energy of the Seven Administrators, and the form of The God, smiled for love, as it were having beheld the image of the very beautiful form of the Man in the water and the shadow on the earth.
More interesting than I, myself, this year is the Somerville life about me. In the adjacent triple-decker, lives “Bwobsie,” an Irish ruffian, with his Eye-talian wife, their two urchins running about the unfurnished apartment naked. Together, in the evenings, Bwobsie and I stand about the porch with the other husbands, talk running to stories about the size of girl’s tits. Together we also plant tomatoes. Several days after which Bwobsie returns with a five-gallon bucket of “hoss-shit.” This he proceeds to dump in a barrel, into which he inserts the garden hose. With bucketful after bucketful we flood the tomato patch. Come September, the harvest in, we have grown over 400 tomatoes, “sauce” enough for the whole neighborhood.
On the second floor, beneath us, lives Gloria, thirtyish, a cocktail waitress, vaguely allied to the underworld (Bwobsie’s brother-in-law is a “jailbird,” “hot cars” line the streets on weekends). One day, as I sit in the back room perusing Stevens, the laundry line, which extends from house to fence, begins to creak, Gloria’s wash emerging: black bra, black panties; black bra, black panties; black bra, black panties; and so on, a pair for each day of the week. Later in the year, pacing about over Chapter IV, I hear a distressed mewling in the hallway (the downstairs entrance doorless, kids often sit on the steps). “Hector,” cries the plaintive voice, “take it out! Hector, Hector, please take it out.” Too petrified to do anything, I decide to ignore it. A door shuts; the voice ceases. Next day, on my way to get the Times, I pass Gloria’s door, ajar, her black and white tomcat exiting. “That’s a good boy, Hector, go on out,” she says.
And thus the residue hastens upward through the Harmony. It is Fall 1968. And give up to the first zone the energy of increase and decrease, to the second, the machination of evils and the fraud de-energized. Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy dead. And to the third the concupiscent deception de-energized. The Conventions are over.
I sit in a dingy room on Cambridge Street, in an old house owned by Harvard: a table, four chairs, a color photo of Chartres (mine). Here come my tutees to see me, for Troilus and Criseyde, for Troilus and Cressida, for The Man with the Blue Guitar, The Auroras of Autumn. And to the fourth, the pride of domineering, without satisfaction. Once more I look out the window – on Harvard, on Cambridge, on my academic life. Downstairs Mowbray is teaching Swift, Shakespeare, Joyce. And to the fifth, the unholy boldness, the rashness of audacity; and to the sixth, the evil covetings after wealth, de-energized; to the seventh, insidious falsehood.
At Christmastime we half-willingly visit both sets of parents; neither set particularly cares about its offspring. The dissertation progresses. I apply for jobs – 87 letters of application.
I write my last chapter in haste – and it shows it. But I inscribe within myself the beneficence of Poemandres, and fulfilled with the things which I wished, exceedingly rejoice. In the process I get past Stevens. For the sleep of the body is the sobriety of the soul. In the course of the dissertation I have come to terms with Harvard and made a friend in Henry Wells. The closing of the eyes, true vision. Tutorials over, dissertation done, for a moment I relax. My silence pregnant with the good, the utterance of speech productions of good things. I have found a job – or several. Instead of Cleveland State or a one-year appointment at the University of Puerto Rico, instead of Connecticut or Middlebury College (the former firm, the latter pursuable), I choose The University of Oklahoma. This happened to me receiving from my Mind, that is the Poemandres, the word of the supreme authority.
And so we set out: New York City (where our book-and-record-laden Volkswagen bus is stolen off the streets); Richmond, visiting my father’s, Mt. Ulla, my mother’s, relatives. Whence becoming God-inspired, I arrive at the truth. Then free, in our new, green, ’69 Volkswagen bug: Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma!