Spring and Modernity // 5.16.18

The death of history occurred, and I guess it is silly to suss out just when that was exactly, let us say near early modernity. Whether it prompted modernity or was instead killed by it, I also cannot say. This is just the introductory paragraph, after all, and I am struggling toward my idea.

James Joyce and Ezra Pound both took it upon themselves to rewrite for the world ("make it new"), Homer's Odyssey, Joyce with Ulysses, Pound in the Cantos. Faced with tradition's end, these two, like Dutch boys with their fingers plugging the levee, held the line and died there, Joyce perhaps optimistic about the efficacy of his effort, Pound not at all, for he knew another, larger levee had broken long before, the town was flooded, and there would be no one to come find his corpse or celebrate his sacrifice.

William Carlos Williams (actually something of a Dutch boy) and Louis Zukofsky, neither of them native English speakers (perhaps meaningful) (add to that group also Gertrude Stein), rather than die on the hill of lost tradition, aping Homer on the way, became Homers in their own rights (or perhaps rather Catalluses, or one of each, or someones else), and finding themselves in a world with no history, declared it not a world recently dead, but a world newly born.

And a new world needs poetry.

Spring, on any planet where there are springs, will always lend herself to mythology as the eternal recurring rebirth of the world. Williams and Zukofsky recognized her as such and so took heart, seeing themselves residing in the first spring, rejoiced of a world to write in, and so in return mythologized her once again.

Williams, in his strange introduction to Spring and All, wrote "It is spring. That is to say, it is approaching THE BEGINNING." and later, "Suddenly it is at an end. THE WORLD IS NEW." In spring, the world is becoming new, becoming, not quite new yet.

———"They enter the new world naked,
———cold, uncertain of all
———save that they enter. All about them
———the cold, familiar wind."

A stanza from the titular poem of Spring and All. Zukofsky also, the first stanza of And Without:

———And without
———Spring it is spring why
———Is it death here grass somewhere
———As dead as lonely walks
———As living has less thought that is
———The spring.

Spring both new and not. Pound wrote in forlorn hope, that winter would ever end, that the daylight might somehow (magically?) quit retreating and return again. Williams hoped instead that spring would be accomplished, that the world indeed might be made new, for he had reason to believe it might, he saw it all around.

E. E. Cummings (and to be honest, I can't say with confidence what ever he was doing) wrote: "Spring is like a perhaps hand / (Which comes carefully / out of Nowhere)". His optimism more cautious than Williams, less queasy than Zukofsky.

I know it was largely for practical reasons that each year Zukofsky worked on his long poem "A" in the summers, but also perhaps he wrote then because at last, there was a new world to write in.