And so, it seems I was wrong. In my review of the first volume of Henry Gould’s long, and as it turns out, ongoing epic Ravenna Diagram I wrote that ‘[u]nlike the Cantos or Maximus, and like ‘A’, this is not an open-ended epic’, but the sense of resolution I found in that book was actually a transitory condition, and now Gould has produced another book-long episode. What’s more, as we will see, it’s not over yet.
Formally, Gould continues with his fluid ABBA quatrain, mainly in units of 14 verses, with seven and 14-verse variations. The same rich variation of metre and syntax allows for a surprisingly rich range of musical variation in this superficially restricted form, as it did in the first volume, so I will refrain from looking at that aspect of Gould’s achievement here.
Again, the individual poems in this volume are dated, and the book covers the period from late August 2016 to mid-November the following year, which results in it having something of the nature of a seasonal poem. It certainly opens with images of the season:
Autumn already in the air. The lace
net lifts slightly in the window
breeze. Down the road
a train thunders steadily across
the iron bridge.
As well as temporal, this placing is spatial. We are in Minneapolis, looking back to Providence, a reversal of the geographic axis of the first book.
New characters appear, or move more to the fore: JFK, MLK, Abe Lincoln, the Narragansett creator divinity Cautantowwit, Melville’s Queequeg (whose casket is a type of Dante’s ‘little boat’) and the figure of the Hobo Henry, a type of American Odysseus/Theseus who follows Ariadne’s thread, trailing after knowledge. Ariadne’s tread weaves into Gould’s balance of Apollonian and Dionysian forces throughout the two volumes, with Theseus, founder of a City on a Hill, representing the former, but remembering that Ariadne ended up marrying Dionysus in the end. Central to this is the idea that the original thread enabled the overthrow of a tyrant, and Gould increasingly rejects the Dionysian Pound because of his support of tyranny.
Pound says so, the mystical
Apologist of Tyranny; she’ll
sow you Uncle Ez’s grapes – see
how they make great yappy whine!
(& his chinoise Confusion
still bakes a mean Rune
Cake.) He not the Way, sez Hen.
And yet, whenever Gould’s Semi-Secular Comedy hovers on the brink of the paradisiacal, it’s mediated through the Poundian image of the child in her basilica. And Pound, too, built his vision of the ideal political order on much the same aspects of American history and jurisprudence that Gould draws on.
Speaking of tyranny, the timespan of the book covers the period of the 2016 election and 2017 inauguration of Trump, which gives rise to one very rare moment of anger:
one footloose soul, one rambler
who would be gone from jail
before the frozen hail
of Hitler-Stalin-Xi-Putin (& gambler
Kim Jong-un) congeals into one
mammoth concrete hulk
of tearful despot-sulk –
one massive Man of Unknown
Snowjobs – Don the Golden Duck-
&-Coverling, the Beast
who gives offense the most
& smears the human face with muck.
Against the figure of Trump, Gould sets JFK and MLK, symbols of the new political promise of his young youth that has petered out in Mar-a-Lago, and, especially, the first Republican president, Lincoln, whose integrity is the measure of his party’s descent into Antenora in the Ninth Circle of Dante’s hell.
And hell is, in a sense, the Minotaur’s labyrinth, with Ariadne’s thread blending with Apollinaire’s one-stringed instrument:
An infinitely tiny bronze
french horn accompanies
trompette marine – Willie’s
gauzy smoke-signal de Paris
a reference to the French poet’s monostich from Alcools that repeats regularly through the book:
Et l’unique cordeau des trompettes marines
And the single string of marine trumpets] (my translation)
Apollonian music from a single string that imitates the distinctly Dionysian tuba.
The burden of Gould’s song remains that the law, correctly understood, produces justice and that justice, tempered by love, is the real basis of providence (Providence), and that the achievement of this desirable state requires balance, the reintegration of Dionysian frenzy with Apollonian reason:
That legend of Thanksgiving Day
(tables for everyone,
Pilgrim & Indian)
echoes via dream-song roundelay –
Henry, Hobo – Hart, John Berryman –
Dante, at Ravenn –
Black Elk, Martin…
reeling in Psyche-Restoration;
bright Rhodos-Imogen of Liberty
harbored in moss-green
robes of copper sheen;
the rippling well of Lincoln penny
radiating hopeful trust (humility).
An arc out of river water
sparkles like dancing laughter –
morning dew splashing basilica (for free).
So that: yet again we reach a conclusion of sorts, with so much left out of this review that I could write a book: the importance of the early-flowering, virginal almond; Maximus the Confessor writing in his cage, imprisoned for defying what he considered to be an unjust law; The Tempest and Prospero’s cell; the relevance of Piers Plowman to all of this; Queequeg’s casket and the possibility of homecoming; Cautantowwit and the Native American culture of the area now known as Rhode Island.
And Cautantowwit, the Raven lord, brings us back full circle to Dante in Ravenna contemplating his creator god, as Gould collapses the world to a unifying vision:
For we are one. A multitude,
Ancient of Days bent
each into the mirror’s flood,
together – riverflow of heart-
veins from the earth
welling to fiery hearth –
lenticular sunset, plangent cloud-art.
So spinning from primordial rose
the golden maize of Chartres
guides you to its Artist…
Daedalus, not Minotaur; Grace
Ravlin, not some puppet-master
in the Kremlin. Shadow
of Mona Lisa grin… you
rise before the fall (Easter).
And Cautantowwit points us forward, to Ravenna Diagram III perhaps, a volume already taking form on Gould’s blog:
The Geneva Drive is in Ravenna.
Its clock ticks in a circle…
twin circles… minuscule
mosaic tesserae resolve into Divina
Paradiso. So Jesus-Orpheus the shepherd
free of that ceremony –
Flee, Morning Star, into thy molten Word!
So Raven-Cautantowwit mounts up
like chunk of cave-shade
out of Narragansett glade.
History will halt here (full-stop).
Gould’s exposition of love continues; the only thing I can say is that if you’re interested in the possibilities of poetry you really should read it.