Epigraphs to A Second Life

Since I have reached this point in the history, it is necessary for me to record a story which bears a very close resemblance to mythology, a story which did not indeed seem to me at all trustworthy, although it was constantly being published by countless persons who maintained that they had done the thing with their own hands and had heard the words with their own ears, and yet it cannot be altogether passed over, lest, in writing an account of the island of Brittia, I gain a lasting reputation for ignorance of what takes place there. They say, then, that the souls of men who die are always conveyed to this place.

Procopius of Caesarea, History of the Wars, VIII; from Procopius with an English Translation by H. B. Dewing, Volume V (History Of The Wars, Books VII [Continued] And VIII ( William Heinemann Ltd & Harvard University Press, 1928), p 267 < https://archive.org/details/procopiuswitheng05procuoft >


The Long Bar at the Café Surf was full of fractured sunlight and bright air. Sand blew across the floor from the open door; the staff were sleepy and vague. Someone’s toddler crawled about between the cane tables wearing only a T-shirt bearing the legend SURF NOIR. Meanings – all incongruous – splashed off this like drops of water, as the dead metaphors trapped inside the live one collided and reverberated endlessly and elastically, taking up new positions relative to one another. SURF NOIR, which is a whole new existence; which is a ‘world’ implied in two words, dispelled in an instant; which is foam on the appalling multitextual sea we drift on. ‘Which is probably,’ Aschemann noted, ‘the name of an aftershave.’

M John Harrison, Nova Swing (Victor Gollancz, 2006), pp27-8


There are those who serve God with their human intellect, and others whose gaze is fixed on Nothing. . . . He who is granted this supreme experience loses the reality of his intellect, but when he returns from such contemplation to the intellect, he finds it full of divine and inflowing splendor.

Levi Isaac of Berdichev, quoted in Gershom Scholem, Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (Schocken Books, 1961), p 5


Poetry is what poetry is, and what poetry is has everything to do with the packaging of the imaginary libratory subject. It has to do with other soft-eyed dreams—that clouds mean, that representations are, that language matters, that at any moment there can be a pivot-point at which a terrible beauty may be born. Beauty, it could be noted, being the beast that is absolutely indifferent to the corpse before it. And that these things are as true as anything else. Or, more precisely, as tragically true as everything else.

Vanessa Place, “I is not a subject: Part 5 of 5” on Harriet: a poetry blog at < http://www.poetryfoundation.org/harriet/2013/05/i-is-not-a-subject-part-5-of-5  >


O you heavenly Charmers,
What things you make of us! For what we lacke
We laugh, for what we have, are sorry: still
Are children in some kind. Let us be thankefull
For that which is, and with you leave dispute
That are above our question. Let’s goe off,
And beare us like the time. [Florish. Exeunt.]

William Shakespeare and John Fletcher, The Two Noble Kinsmen (V, 4, 131-137) on Project Gutenberg at < http://www.gutenberg.org/cache/epub/1542/pg1542.html >


Surveying the condition of modern poetry . . . Francis Jeffrey contends, “Modern poetry is substantially derivative and, as geologists say of our present earth, of secondary formation – made up of the debris of a former world.” Elsewhere, Jeffrey coins the term “after-poets” to designate those compelled to fashion their verses from the “debris” of the poetic tradition yet who also go in “dread of imitation.” The principal legacy of the after-poet and his dreadful imitations is, of course, the inescapable modernity of poetic kitsch.

Daniel Tiffany, In the Poisonous Candy Factory (Capsule Editions, 2013), p 66; quotations from Francis Jeffrey, “The State of Modern Poetry”, originally published in the Edinburgh Review 48 (September 1828), reprinted in edited Peter F Morgan, Jeffrey’s Criticism: A Selection (Scottish Academic Press, 1983), p 96 & Jeffrey, review of Walter Scott’s Lady of the Lake, originally published in the Edinburgh Review 16 (September 1810), reprinted in Jeffrey’s Criticism), p 70.


Possibly the particular interpretation of poetry I was drawn towards involved the need to multiply the perceiving self, to no longer be one thing in one place I had been led to think I was, however variegated and contradictory the place was. But I have come to think that the equanimity which distinguished that early episode, depending on a sense of an entire, intact and expansive culture, is still there, if you can reach it, and still a creative incentive. Innovative too, if you need that. It would be a matter of inhabiting, in the work, what you actually do inhabit.

Peter Riley, “Whenceforth”, in Geraldine Monk (editor), Cusp: Recollections of Poetry in Transition (Shearsman Books, 2012), p 31

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