Ever have one of those moments when you realize you are not what you claimed or thought you were? Where an illusion of yourself, either self-imagined or externally imposed, dissipates.
Well, an interesting thing happened to me on the way to the Intermodal Station. While I had thirty minutes to spend, I lost my way through the labyrinthian shelves of Downtown Books in search of a Latin dictionary. Instead, I found a used English dictionary.
Knowing that half of the English language is built on the foundation of Latin, I found a delicious word: florilegium. Culling flowers is the literal definition. But “a volume of writings” reminded me of something else. The idea of gathering literary flowers or collecting the flowers of one’s reading. Somewhere between the Middle Ages and Renaissance the practice of writing quotes and excerpts from other texts began. Later it manifested itself in European culture as commonplace books.
For years I considered myself a modernist of sorts. Writing down quotes, excerpts and notes on or from influential artists like Jackson Pollock, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Jack Kerouac, and Ezra Pound. But there I was, standing in Downtown Books searching a dictionary for English words with the Latin root word “loci.”
When did this happen? When did I begin act and resemble a classicalist? Maybe this is part of the great conversation. Connecting the dots. Reading the ancient writers. Comparing them to modern literature. Maybe this is part of gathering literary flowers. Legacy informing legacy.
I boarded the train. Found a seat. Opened a copy of Gary Snyder’s Left Out in the Rain. And gazed out the window at the setting sun.
I enjoyed your post. Reminds me of the flaneur. I would just counter that modernists were steeped in classical allusions and language—Pound, Eliot, Joyce, Yeats, Stevens, etc. So, I think your post IS very modernist, which, in my book, is a fine thing to be.
Thanks, Mcfeats. I appreciate that. And an excellent point. I remember when I first read Pound and Eliot. Stumbling over phrases in Latin and Greek, distanced me from their work initially. My thought was that these were poets for smart people. When I returned to their work later I began to realize that they were not intentionally distancing readers, but rather it was part of their repartee, their conversation. Grammar schools required classical Latin at the time. I suspect most of their readers understood the allusions without consulting a Latin/English dictionary. Casually quoting the classics is completely understandable. They quote Latin they way I might quote Modernists like Eliot (“Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”) or Pound (“No man understands a deep book until he has seen and lived at least part of its contents.”)
Too true, although I’ve never warmed up to Pound. Eliot’s ear for rhythm is what helped me work through his more difficult writing. I still think Pound was trying to outsmart everyone. His readers could not read Chinese and the density of his allusions seem unnecessary. Other times, as with Joyce, we forget that some modernist allusions were pop cultural at the time. He’s full of classical references, too, but sometimes he’s referencing some popular song or ad from daily life. I like that quirky modernist writing where lofty ideas can merge with a dirty joke.
Off topic, but I didn’t know how else to reach you in a timely way:
Yes. Thank you for the illustration attribution and web site link. A good reminder to me to feature more of my illustration work.
Enjoyed reading your “fampus powt” poem. And I look forward to reading more of your “powtry.”
Thanks, X.P. Callahan for sharing!
Reblogged this on Coffeehouse Junkie and commented:
Just listened to an audio podcast regarding florilegium. Reminded me of these notes and thought I would share the post again.