Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow: Finished 2012.12.08 & a Small Fushigi*

Benjamin Hoff, editor and biographer.
Opal Whiteley, author.
The Singing Creek Where the Willows Grow: The Rediscovered Diary of Opal Whiteley. New York, Ticknor & Fields 1986. ISBN 0899194443.

   Began 2012.09.22
Finished 2012.10.14


At M's terse and cryptic recommendation I bought this book on-line. It was delivered to work and, as is her habit, when my friend BV saw it asked 'May I read that please?' She is endlessly fascinated by the books I bring to work, and has read many from my library. And since I was at the time busy reading Debt: The First 5,000 Years, I said 'Okay.'

She couldn't put it down, and proceeded to read it twice, back-to-back. It has gone to near the top of her all time favourite books list and BV has read a lot of books.

And, likewise tSCWtWG is now jostling for position in my top 50 books. Hoff's description of finding the lost book in the first place resonated with me because he has described how it is that I have found many of the books that have been most important to me in my life: a serendipity and the feeling that I can 'hear' them calling out to me to be read. And likewise, I had that feeling when I read M's recommendation, which rarely happens when I get book recommendations from people.
Hoff has created a book of strong contrasts and clashing ambivalent emotions. So strong that they make this a book hard to describe. It begins with his short biography of Whitelely, which is really more a vindication of her having been libelled and dismissed as a fraud than a biography. In doing his research Hoff came to understand that Whitelely had been willfully destroyed by a malevolent press.

Hoff's brief account left me feeling enraged by what is to me an example of a bloodlust and scapegoating by a mob of journalists that collectively decided to suspend their professional and social
responsibility in order to demonstrate that they have the power to destroy the life of someone who somehow magically embodied the magical spirit of the earth and life. The near religious zealotry of the defamation against this life-spirit reminded me of something I read in News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness, edited by American poet Robert Bly. From an 1999 English seminar I wrote about this idea:
Both William Blake and Novalis very clearly saw that a key aspect to the empiricist's "truth" was the arbitrary and hypocritical denial of the sensual part of the empirical world. That the empiricists were able to "rationally" assert this denial of life is only marginally less astounding than their being successful in doing it! This was why both Blake and Novalis stressed the sensual in their works — they knew what the empiricists were unconscious of, which is that they had arbitrary accepted Christian notions of the earth and female as vile and devoid of life. Robert Bly cites a blunt, but typical, example of the roots of that empiricism being anchored in conventional Christian mythology:
The French Priest Bossuet, writing at about the same time as Descartes, expressed in this passage one of the more prevalent Christian attitudes towards nature:

May the earth be cursed, may the earth be cursed, a thousand times be cursed because from it that heavy fog and those black vapours continually rise that ascend from the dark passions and hide heaven and its light from us and draw down the lightening of God's justice against the corruption of the human race.

[Bly continues:] This attitude was acceptable to the Church Fathers and to developing capitalism. When we deny there is consciousness in nature, we also deny consciousness to the worlds we find by going through nature (News of the Universe 9).
It is no wonder that Blake wrote "The Eternal Female groand! it was heard all over the world" or that Novalis wrote "They [the shallow men] have no idea that it is [the Numinous Night] who subtly embraces the breasts of the young girl, and turns her darkened cave into the Garden of Delight, and have no clue that you are the one ... opening the world of delight ... at the edge of the old stories..." (News of the Universe 49).

Blake's Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Novalis' Hymns to the Night are celebrations of all that the empiricists manage to deny in their sensual world, namely the sensual, the feminine, sexuality and the unconscious. That science is puritanical in its structure and actions can be linked straight back to the widespread acceptance of Newton's single vision which is firmly grounded in his Puritan beliefs.
Whiteley's diary is one of the most spiritual sensual examples of the written word I have ever come across, and I can't help but think that her voice was the voice of capital 'L' Life that an industrialized, greed-biased anti-life society found threatening and needed to crush.

And the connection to Blake is, on reflection, quite astounding beyond it coming to me as an out and out surprise. Blake extolled the spirituality of the physical, too. And in deceptively simple writing.

I have seen other reviewers who waffle on Hoff's vindication, perhaps falling back on the 'there's two sides to every story' rationale. But Hoff's attention to detail, combined with my having become more fully aware of the social malevolence of the press, has convinced me of the evil done to Whitelely, and that it was willfully done by an agenda-ed press with the desire to hurt.

However, once you dive into Whiteley childhood writing, the charm, the elegance, the detail, the love Whitelely has for nature is astounding. Life is more alive with her writing than I have ever experienced before. And even the word love, which has become overused in our age of Hallmark greeting cards and texting, may not describe the feeling so much as rapture: Whitely was enraptured by nature. If I could I would reproduce the entire text here, but will limit myself to a blind random pick. Well, I thought I'd do a couple, but I flipped to Chapter Twenty-One: Cathedral Service in the Barn; a Lamb for Opal, and a Lily for Peter Paul Reubens, and the first few pages of this chapter are likely enough to give you a good sense of the book. And, I suspect it will be either something you will love or hate.

Today was a very stormy day — more rainy than other stormy days. So we had cathedral service on the hay, in the barn.

Mathilde Plantagenet [the baby calf of the gentle Jersey cow, that came on the night of the coming of Elsie's baby] was below us in her stall, and she did moo moos while I did sing the choir-service. Plato and Pliny, the two bats, hung on the rafters in a dark corner. Lars Porsena of Clusium [a pet crow with a fondness for collecting things] perched on the back of Brave Horatius [the shepherd dog]. Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus [a most dear velvety wood-rat] sat at my feet and munched leaves while I said prayers. Lucian Horace Ovid Virgil [a toad] was on my right shoulder, and Louis II, Ie Grand Conde [a wood-mouse with likes to ride in the sleeve of my red dress], was on my left shoulder, part of the time; then he did crawl in my sleeve, to have a sleep. Solomon Grundy [a very dear baby pig] was asleep by my side in his christening robe, and a sweet picture he was in it. On my other side was his little sister, Anthonya Mundy, who has not got as much curl in her tail as has [her brother] Solomon Grundy.

Clementine, the Plymouth Rock hen, was late come to service. She came up from the stall of the gentle Jersey cow, just when I was through singing "Hosanna in excelsis." She came and perched on the back of Brave Horatius, back of Lars Porsena of Clusium. Then I said more prayers, and Brave Horatius did bark Amen. When he so did, Clementine tumbled off his back. She came over by me. I had thinks it would be nice if her pretty gray feathers were blue. I gave her a gentle pat, and then I did begin the talk service. I did use for my text, "Blessed be the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

And all of the time, the raindrops did make little joy patters on the roof. They were coming down from the sky in a quick way.

Now is the begins of the borning-time of the year. I did hurry home from school in a quick way, in the afternoon of this day. Aidan of lona [a sheep] come from Lindisfarne has said I may name the little lambs that now are coming. All day, I did have thinks about what names to call them by. There are some names I do so like to sing the spell of. Some names I do sing over and over again when I do go on explores. I could hardly wait waits until school-getting-out-time. I had remembers how Sadie McKibben [a comforter in time of trouble] says no child should grow a day old without having a name. Now some of those dear baby lambs are two and three days old, since their borning-time.

When I was come to where was Aidan of lona come from Lindisfarne, I did tell him, "Now I have come to name all your lambs!" He did have one little lamb in his arms. He did tell me as how it was it didn't belong to anyone, and it was lonesome without a mother. He said he had thinks he would give it to me to mother. I was so happy. It was very white, and very soft, and its legs was slim. And it had wants for a mother. It had likes for me to put my arms around it. I did name it first of all — I called it Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides. It had likes for the taste of my fingers when I did dip them into the pan of milk on the rock and then put them in its mouth. Its woolly tail did wiggle joy wiggles, and I did dance on my toes. I felt such a big amount of satisfaction feels, having a lamb to mother. I am getting quite a big family, now.

After I did dip my fingers in the milk for Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides, I was going goes to see about getting a brandy bottle somewhere and a nipple, so this baby lamb could have a bottle to nurse, like other babies hereabouts. When I did make a start to go, Aidan of lona come from Lindisfarne did say, "You are not going away before you name the others, are you?" Of course I was not. And he said Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides was full up of milk for today, and I could bring his bottle on the morrow.

Then I did make begins to name the other lambs. They were dear, and so dear. First one I did come to, I did name Plutarch Demosthenes. The next one I did name Marcus Aurelius. And one came close by Aidan of lona come from Lindisfarne, and I called it Epicurus Pythagorus. One did look a little more little than the others. I called him Anacreon Herodotus. One was more big than all the others. I named him Homer Archimedes Chilon, He gave his tail a wiggle, and came close to his mother. One had a more short tail, and a question-look in his eyes, I called him Sophocles Diogenes. And one more, I called Periander Pindar; and one was Solon Thales; and the last one of all that had not yet a name, I did call him Tibullus Theognis. He was a very fuzzy lamb, and he had very long legs.

The shepherd did have likes for the names I did give to his little lambs, and the names I did give to his sheep, a long time ago. And today, when he did tell me how he did have likes for their names, I did tell him how I have likes for them too, and how I have thinks to learn more about them, when I do grow up more tall. I told him how I did sing the spell of the words to the fishes that live in the singing creek where the willows grow.

After I said good-bye to all the other lambs, I did kiss Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides on the nose. I have thinks every eventime I will kiss him goodnight, because maybe he does have lonesome feels too, and maybe he does have longs for kisses, like the longs I do have for them every night-time.

Before I was come to the house we do live in, I did make a stop by the singing creek where the willows grow. I did print a message on a leaf. It was for the soul of William Shakespeare [an oak tree in the lane]. I tied it on a willow branch.

Then I did go by the cathedral, to say thank prayers for Menander Euripides Theocritus Thucydides. And I did have remembers that this was the going-away day of Reine Marie Amelie in 1866, and Queen Elizabeth, in 1603. And I did say a thank prayer for the goodness of them. It was near dark-time. There were little whispers in the woods, and shadows with velvet fingers. I did sing, "Sanctus, sanctus, sanctus, Dominus Deus."

Before I did come on to the house we live in, I did go aside to have sees of a cream lily that has its growing near unto the cathedral. I have watched the leafing of that lily, and I have watched its budding. A long time, I have had thinks about it. Today its blooming-time was come. There it was.

I went close unto it. My soul was full of thank feels. Ever since the day when Peter Paul Rubens [a very dear pet pig] did go away, I have looked for his soul in tree-tops, and all about. Now I have knows his soul does love to linger by this lily. I did kneel by it, and say a thank prayer for the blooming of this fleur Peter Paul Rubens's soul does love to linger near. If ever I go from here, I will take with me this lily plant. I did have feels that my dear Peter Paul Rubens was very near this eventime (217-21).
This is a truly amazing book. Sorry, I'll rephrase. This is a truly amazing example of how extra-ordinary the human animal can be and just how much we miss of the magic of Life in our day-to-day existence. Whiteley is an inspiration to be more aware, more compassionate, more open to the possibility of life.

Fushigi Alert
And now for a small amusement. Opal took great pleasure in her mice friends, Felix Mendelssohn, Louis II le Grande Condé, Nannerl Mozart, and the wood-rat, Thomas Chatterton Jupiter Zeus.
Well, when I began writing this review I stumbled into an amusing blog on the harmonics of mice in, of all places, CBCR2.
Step aside One Direction and Backstreet Boys: scientists have found that mice know how to sing in harmony — and they do it to impress females.
And I understand that it is most likely the most tenuous of fushigi connections, but I can't help but think of this as a tiny musical fushigi because Opal saw music in everything, even the water of the singing creek:
I [Benamin Hoff] watched the water as it hurried along. The creek must have been bigger, I thought, before the trees in the area were removed. Before crossing the field to see it, I'd asked the man who lived in the ranch house what it was called. 'Carolyn Creek, Carolina Creek — something like that,' he'd said. He'd seen the name on a map. Caroling Creek would fit it better, I thought. It sang on in a high-pitched slivery voice, like the tinkling of little bells (337).
This is a truly beautiful, inspiring, and extremely sad read. I cannot recommend it highly enough. And, I now feel compelled to re-read some William Blake, to see just how strong or weak is the connection I intuitively made actually is.

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