- There are three states of being. Not knowing, action and completion.
- Accept that everything is a draft. It helps to get it done.
- There is no editing stage.
- Pretending you know what you’re doing is almost the same as knowing what you are doing, so just accept that you know what you’re doing even if you don’t and do it.
- Banish procrastination. If you wait more than a week to get an idea done, abandon it.
- The point of being done is not to finish but to get other things done.
- Once you’re done you can throw it away.
- Laugh at perfection. It’s boring and keeps you from being done.
- People without dirty hands are wrong. Doing something makes you right.
- Failure counts as done. So do mistakes.
- Destruction is a variant of done.
- If you have an idea and publish it on the internet, that counts as a ghost of done.
- Done is the engine of more.
[The exact source of this article is unknown, although it was probably the Lexington Echo, possibly in the early eighties. The author is not known. I took the pictures of the site around 1990 or so. The house was up for sale for around 300K. It was tempting.]
The old Whitehead Home Place in Oglethorpe County between Carlton and Lexington resembles many farm houses built in 1880 but, inside, its storied walls bear witness to the unusually straight-laced rules of conduct so strictly enforced by the builder and his wife in rearing their family.
Cena and George Whitehead designed the box-like staircase on each side of the entrance hall. One strictly for girls – the other strictly for boys, and to ensure that never the twain should meet upstairs, a solid wall was constructed to completely separate the bedrooms of the two daughters and their visitors from those of the four sons and their spend-the-night friends.
Even though the daughters were under strict supervision at all times, their bedroom walls must have had ears attuned to lovers’ names whispered to sisters and friends who crossed their hearts not to tell because many house parties and pillow talks later, there were talks of weddings. Daisy chose Carl Stevens, son of Joseph, a neighboring farmer and Ettie married Walter Martin, a native of Florida.
Of the sons, Theodric never married; Herbert Calvin married Elma Thornton of Elbert County; George Wiley, Jr., chose Minnie Meadows of Madison County for his wife; and Walter Everett [the author’s father-in-law] married Luna May Stevens of Sandy Cross, daughter of Augustus Stevens. Walter furnished the material for this story while rummaging through his attic of memories.
George Wiley Whitehead was born in 1829 and Cena Ann Mathews [daughter of Raleigh H. Mathews) in 1845. The awkward young man first saw Cena in the little one-room log schoolhouse they both attended for a short time. Though he was sixteen years her senior, George said right then that he was going to marry that pretty little girl when she grew up. George fought in the Civil War and his return, with a bullet still in his head, was due to one of the miracles of the war: wounded and left for dead on a battlefield in Virginia, Private George regained consciousness to find a Yankee officer standing over him. He gave the Masonic sign which the officer returned. The Blue Coat carried his wounded Masonic brother to his own camp where he was given medical attention and, as soon as George was able to travel, he was exchanged for a Yankee prisoner.
On a cold, bleak January 30, 1866, Cena married George knowing that he would never be strong. Through the struggles and strength – sapping days of the reconstruction era, besides giving birth to seven children – one of which died in infancy – she took much of the responsibility of rearing and helping to support the family. A large woman, possessing a dominant personality, Cena was strong in body and mind. Her manner was stern to the point of austerity: there was no foolishness about her. She made rules for her children to abide by and they abided. She dealt with everyone in open frankness, and was an ever-present help in time of trouble.
Walter was twelve years old when the home place was built and very proud of the fact that he could help his father haul the hand-dressed 8” X 6” log sills and the bark-peeled logs 8” in diameter used for sleepers.
In keeping with the custom of the 19th century, the kitchen was built away from the house with an open fireplace spacious enough to hold sticks of cordwood and a large wash pot on winter wash days. A big cooking pot swung over the hot wood coals each day and on New Year’s Day it held hog jowl and dried black-eyed peas, to ensure good luck for the family all year.
Cena chose a dirt floor for her kitchen,
Because,” she said, “I won’t have to use the back-bending scrub brush.
(This brush was made of corn shucks fastened to a substantial hickory limb.)
Work was a dominant theme in this home. Everybody had a job and working hours were from sunup to sundown, nevertheless, boys would be boys as one incident proves.
One of George’s chores was to drive the cows up from the pasture at night while Walter fed the mules. One cold, blustery winter day, Walter finished feeding early, slipped into the house and covered himself with a sheet – and climbed a tree in the pasture near a log over a creek which George would have to cross, and waited. When George was well on the log, Walter jumped out at him in ghostly apparel. The fading light of early evening gave the exact illusion Walter desired. George took one look, slid off the log into the water with the smoothness of a water moccasin, while Walter rolled in unconscionable laughter on the ground. The joke wasn’t funny, and Walter’s laughter turned to tears later, when in the kitchen with mother, George stood with icicles hanging from the seat of his pants while Walter’s were being burned up.
“One job we hated,” Walter said, “was sweeping yards everyday with dogwood brooms. Daisy and George would sweep a while and fight a while – just to break the monotony, I guess.”
Cena made her own candles until the advent of the oil lamp. When George bought one of these new contraptions, she wouldn’t let him bring it in the house until he had tried it out for several nights on a stump in the yard. The lamp became a necessity to the children during their scattered months of schooling in a one-room log schoolhouse nearby with its hard, backless benches where teaching encouraged soreness rather than learning.
The Whitehead parents used situations, as they arose, to illustrate never-to-be-forgotten lessons of life. This was one of Walter’s favorites:
I went with my father to slop the pigs every day and we had to push our way through as they crowded around our feet. One day father emptied the contents of his bucket in the trough and walked free of hindrance back to the gate where we both watched the hungry animals ‘act like pigs!’” Finally, my father interrupted their slurping noise, ‘Son,’ he said, ‘you thought those pigs were following me because they like me, didn’t you? You see it was the slop I had that they were after. Always remember, some people are like that, they follow you as long as you have something they want.’
Though they were few and far between, life had its lighter moments for the Whitehead clan. On one such occasion, Walter and Ettie decided to play church, one of the few things with which they were familiar outside of home. They induced Tish, a little black girl who lived on the place, to join Ettie in making up the congregation while Walter preached. He gave his sermon all he had and Tish dutifully shouted to her heart’s content, but Ettie remained immovable. Finally, Walter tired of his sister’s complacency and entreated,
Ettie, why don’t you shout?” The prim little girl, sitting calmly with hands folded on her gingham – aproned lap, answered softly, “I’m just waiting for the Spirit to move me.
Walter bought the home after his mother and father passed away. He felt the need of “This Old House,” and resolved that it would live much longer. He took “time to fix the shingles, time to fix the floor” – he added chimneys and fireplaces in upstairs bedrooms which had been ignorant of heat during his boyhood. Walter never forgot how his fingers grew numb on cold mornings while he was trying to cover his chilled body with warm, homespun clothes made by his mother’s industrious hands.
Mr. and Mrs. Charlie Graham lived there until a few years ago. Charlie had been reared on an adjoining farm, and he gave the home place the same care he would have given any old, well-loved acquaintance.
In 1930, Walter enlarged the old and built new barns at the home place. Around them he kept haystacks, standing tall like sentinels, guarding against an invasion of scarcity and want such as had once stalked this beloved and hallowed ground.
On one of these barns, Walter placed a highly – polished, granite cornerstone engraved with the name of his father and mother. His father’s name appears also on an Oglethorpe County Courthouse plaque, as a member of the Board of Commissioners and County Surveyor when the courthouse was built in 1887.
The old landmark stands today half way between Carlton and Lexington, removed from the paved highway by a roller-coaster dirt road which boasts the longest covered bridge in Georgia.
A victim of the rural population’s steady trek to towns and cities, leaving the countryside almost as desolate as did Sherman’s march through Georgia, he house is untenanted now. It sits like an old-fashioned, aging mother who has lost her brood but still bravely faces each new sunrise with only reminiscences of busy yesteryears, to meet empty todays.
The wide front porch which once reached out to welcome children and visitors into a lap – not of luxury but of hospitality – appears sad and lonely.
Walter passed away in 1951, leaving the home place to his son, Walter Joe Whitehead of Carlton, whose intention is to honor his father’s oft-repeated and last request, “Son, don’t ever sell the home place.”
Cocteau is really concerned not just with glory, but with the peculiar glory of the poet, with the manner in which the poet cannibalizes his own past.
Ultimately the kind of meaning that music and painting possesses is one of dynamic relationships of elements.
Robert Shoals – Quite frequently those trained in literature were least able to appreciate film because they anticipated that profundity must perforce be verbal. They could not acknowledge that it was possible for film to be at once banal verbally and profound visually.
Film adumbrates the conceptual. Literature adumbrates the concrete.
Literature starts with a general idea, then you must provide the concrete detail…. On the other hand, if I convey this in film, I begin with a concrete detail. Immediately you know what the man looks like…, but you must deduce, from physical detail, what the meaning of the man’s appearance is. That is, you start with concrete detail and move toward meaning, connotation, poetry. And in literature you start with the conception, the conceptual, and move toward the concrete.
Robert Lowery – The fascinating thing is that film is capable of turning anything into poetic statement.
I had supposed myself somehow disembodied, not real in the way other people were, an observer but not an actor, not a doer. And suddenly I realized that the world was full of people who didn’t know they were real, whose lives didn’t conform to the glamorous expectations generated by culture, by television, by film, by literature, or by magazines. And that it was my duty in life to validate them, to take pictures of them, to show them their reality, to redeem that aspect of their lives that was otherwise lost, to bring them into being.
Every instant the entire universe is going over the spillway.
In film … there is a kind of symbolic triumph over time.
Much avant-garde film is pre-occupied simply with analysis of surface reality.
Film also, by anchoring itself in physical reality, captures a kind of irrelevant detail, almost by chance …. I feel that the random, in terms of concrete detail at least, is more inescapably present and more convincingly realistic [than in other art forms].
Two Types of Modern Avant-Garde Film
[“Meshes of the Afternoon”] is subjective …. The unreliable narrator filters everything through her own sensibility and though we think we are getting the truth … how can we be sure? [“Meshes” is] certainly the expression of a neurotic sensibility …. This sensibility is pre-occupied with … personal liberation, sexual and emotional submission to the man with whom she’s having the affair. Nothing literally happens, the dramatic action of the entire film consists merely of this woman’s coming to the apartment … and sitting down in the chair. That’s all that literally happens in the film, but that’s not all that happens on the screen. Deren creates a new reality … playing very deftly with Freudian suggestion.
In the apparent suicide that occurs at the end of the film the symbolic gesture is altogether ambiguous; we don’t know if it’s an act of suicide, and act of eroticism (by symbolic imagery), or a gesture of liberation. Deren at this point turn her facile Freudianism brilliantly to advantage. It might be a crude language, but she’s found a way to manipulate it to make it wonderfully expressive. The knife … connotes both violence and sexuality in a way that perfectly conveys the heroine’s presumed confusion about her own life and emotional complications (regarding her relationship with Shasha Hammid, the co-director of the film).
We can’t be sure whether the act is … is suicide in neurotic despair at the violation of self she feels imposed by the world of a man with whom she is having the affair, or whether it represents the ending of a relationship that entrammels her (and hence a mode of liberation) or the act of sex, which, since Elizabethan times … has been represented as a metaphysical death (le petite morte), however desired and feared. All three of these possibilities overlap and become a single … complex and subtle statement.
There is no strident feminism in the film…. Ultimately, Maya Deren is more interested in herself as a person than as a woman. If anything, this film seems to question the compatability of the two. And yet the message of the film is clearly that conventional roles constitute a violation of self…. But, and this is the catch, and the profundity of he film’s statement: efforts to affirm the self often destroy it in the process, becomes a mode of self-mutilation. Perhaps the film would be described best as a classic statement of the romantic dilemma, the tension between the self and the mask that can lead to the destruction of both. What we are dealing with is to some extent the myth of Narcissus and hence the use of mirrors throughout the film (psychological mask and romantic reflection) as a kind of leit motif. What [Deren is] analyzing is the complexity of the male / female relationship, compounded out of love and hate, submission and violence, a relationship at once desired and despised, with which one cannot extricate oneself without destroying some part of one’s self – that’s the catch-22 of “Meshes of the Afternoon.”
‘[‘Meshes’] culminates in a double ending in which it would seem that the imagined achieved, for her, that it became reality.” But note that it’s not. She’s not dead, simply because we still see through her sensibility that which she imagines. And because there’s a second and third part to the trilogy – “At Land” and “Ritual in Transfigured Time.”
There are five verses in The Gospel According to John that are known as the Paraclete or Advocate verses:
John 14:15 – 17 – If you love me you will obey my commands; and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another to be your Advocate, who will be with you forever – the Spirit of truth. The world cannot receive him, because the world neither sees nor knows him; but you know him, because he dwells with you and is (or, shall be) in you.
John 14:25 – 26 – I have told you all this while I am still here with you; but your Advocate, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send you in my name, will teach you everything, and will call to mind all that I have told you.
John 15:26 – 27 – But when your Advocate has come, whom I will send you from the Father – the Spirit of truth that issues from the father – he will bear witness to me. And you also are my witnesses, because you have been with me from the first.
John 16:5 – 11 – None of you asks me, “Where are you going?” Yet you are plunged into grief because of what I have told you. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is for your good that I am leaving you. If I do not go, your Advocate will not come, whereas if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will confute the world, and show you where wrong and right and judgement lie. He will convict them of wrong, by their refusal to believe in me; he will convince them that right is on my side, by showing that I go to the Father when I pass from your sight; and he will convince them of divine judgement, by showing that the Prince of this world stands condemned.
John 16:12 – 15 – There is still much that I could say to you, but the burden would be too great for you now. However, when he comes who is the Spirit of truth, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own authority, but will tell only what he hears; and he will make known to you the things that are coming. He will glorify me, for everything that he makes known to you he will draw from what is mine. All that the Father has is mine, and that is why I said, ‘Everything that he makes known to you he will draw from what is mine.’
All five Paraclete or Advocate verses are put on the lips of Jesus by the author of The Gospel According to John.
The exact nature of the Holy Spirit as described in the Gospel of John is amorphous. The Holy Spirit is not forthrightly described in absolute terms, but comes across as a solution to a well-designed puzzle. There is no defining explanation of what the Holy Spirit is. The scholarly criticism focused on the nature of the Holy Spirit is varied, being focused on different aspects of the Holy Spirit. Biblical scholars battle with each other attempting to explain what the author of John was attempting to accomplish. Some of the scholars are searching for a definitive, exacting portrayal of the Holy Spirit, which, of course, is not possible. It is by nature a spiritual and amorphous task. The Holy Spirit is an ingenious theological creation on the part of the author of John and and yields to broad theological interpretation. None of the scholars are wrong, some are just grasping at specific theories that attempt to pin down the author to specifics. Others are quite successful with their general interpretations of purpose. However, all of the critical material can be combined to create a generalized depiction of the Johanine Holy Spirit.
The word “spirit” has its origin in the nature of wind. Often within the Bible, “wind” and “spirit” are used interchangeably. This can be used as a powerful literary device, as in Genesis 1:1 – 2:
In the beginning of creation, when God made heaven and earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters.
The New English Bible provides a footnote regarding the phrase, “and a mighty wind that swept.” Besides its obvious meaning, it can also mean, “and the spirit of God hovering.” This “mighty wind” and “spirit of God” are analogous. This is a powerful image. One can sense the image of the wind hovering over the “abyss” of the earth and easily relate it to the spirit of God. The spirit of God is both a simple and complex concept that is often mysterious, impalpable concept. Wind is also a simple, yet complex concept while at times mysterious and impalpable. C. H. Dodd expands this concept of wind and spirit to humanity:
The impression of movement and force which the mind derives from contemplating the effects of wind seems early to have suggested that life and movement in the world are due to the presence of some element analogous to the breath-soul in man.1
In the Gospel of John, “Holy Spirit” conveys the concept of a continued relationship between Jesus and his followers. It is, at times, referred to as “intercessor,” “Advocate,” and most often as “Paraclete.” I will use the term, “Paraclete.”
Most of the information we have about the Paraclete, and, in turn, the Holy Spirit comes from the five Paraclete verses. Scholars devote themselves to constructing a picture of the Paraclete through these five verses. As an aid in discussion and an introduction to Paraclete scholarship, I will present leading arguments and conceptions of the Paraclete. Afterwards, I will attempt to combine this scholarship into a summary concept of the Paraclete based on the original writings of the author of the Gospel of John. My attempt is to arrive at some common ground between the views (if only abstractly).
As a starting point:
Hermann Sasse argued that the Paraclete was a human personality, one filled with the Spirit, a prophet who would proclaim Christ and creatively continue his revelation – just what the author of the Fourth Gospel did. In that case, the evangelist himself would be the Paraclete, even though the final version of the book identifies the Paraclete with the Spirit.2
This scholarly concept is simply, a person filled with the Spirit.
Hans Windisch promotes the idea of a double Paraclete, one in heaven and one on earth:
The role of the Paraclete as a “double” becomes evident directly from John, not only from the expression about the ‘other Paraclete’ in 14:16, but also from the comparison with the intercessory function of Jesus in heaven in 16:26 as well ad from 1 John 2:1 (Jesus is the Paraclete of the Church with the Father). According to John (the Gospel and the first epistle), the Church has two intercessors, one in heaven and one on earth – the one, the friend at court who stays at the court and intercedes there for his protege, and the other, the friend from court who is sent by the court and appears in the world as mediator, admonitor, teacher, and ambassador.3
The following quotes consider the Paraclete in more general terms and are, I believe, stronger because of that – much less is read into the original texts. Raymond Brown asserts that Jesus was the first Paraclete and the Holy Spirit was the second Paraclete. Through parallel comparisons of what John says about Jesus and what Brown believes is the second Paraclete, he elaborates:
Jesus is the truth (14:16), as the Paraclete is the Spirit of truth. He is the Holy One of God (6:69), as the Paraclete is the Holy Spirit (accepting the reading in 14:26). Hence the Holy Spirit in John, as in the New Testament generally, is the Spirit of Jesus; it rested on him as he began his ministry (1:32) and he breathed it forth at its close (20:22 and perhaps 19:30)
[Brown’s conclusion is] …as ‘another Paraclete’ the Paraclete is, as it were, another Jesus … and the Paraclete is the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent.4
George Johnston responds:
As paraclete, the spirit is the representative of Jesus and it should not therefore be considered ‘another Jesus’ or ‘ the presence of Jesus when Jesus is absent.’ Rather, this concept directs attention to the evidence in the life of the apostolic church of wisdom, vitality, virtue, and graces that Christians could explain only as the sign of divine power and God’s very presence.
Within the churches the influence and the gifts of the spirit-paraclete were mediated to certain persons who fulfilled precisely those functions that are ascribed in the Farewell Discourses to the spirit itself. They are therefore to be identified as the agents of the divine spirit. John the evangelist must be regarded as one such agent, and it would not be improper to honor him with the title of ‘paraclete of the Christians’ 5
Finally, C. K. Barrett provides a summary:
The Spirit’s work is to bear witness to Christ, to make operative what Christ had already effected. The Spirit is thus the eschatological continuum in which the work of Christ, initiated in his ministry and awaiting its termination at his return, is wrought out. … How, we may ask, does the Spirit in fact convince the world of sin, righteousness, and judgement? The answer is, primarily through the witness which the Church bears to Christ, its preaching and sacraments.6
In my mind, Barrett’s helps to bring all the discussion of the Paraclete together into a strong argument about the contemporary thinking when the gospels were written. The Spirit is directly related to the Church’s witness to Christ. Put another way, the Church is the Spirit incarnate. It is a “remembering of Jesus.” The Christ of the Johanine Jesus is the crux of the Church. This “remembrance” is what nourishes the Church. Johnston rebukes strongly Brown’s thinking that “the Paraclete is the presence of Jesus while Jesus is absent.” In his attempt to de-mythologize the Holy Spirit by giving it an early Christian explanation of the divine source of “wisdom, vitality, and graces,” he contradicts himself. The very existence of the Church had its generation in Jesus’s death (John 12:24). It is symbolically represented in Jesus’s exhaltation and giving of the Spirit to the disciples. In John’s view, there would have been no wisdom, vitality and grace if there had been no death. Bluntly, Christ and therefore, Christianity did not exist prior to Jesus’s death. The death exalted the things Jesus shared with the disciples to the point of creating the Church – Jesus and his teachings are “resurrected” as Christ and Christianity when he dies. Jesus is elevated to the role of the Paraclete, the Advocate at his death. The Paraclete or Advocate is the Holy Spirit and John felt this Spirit was the wisdom, vitality and grace of the Church, which is Christ manifest. Since the death and exaltation was the basis for the Church, so long as the Church exists, so does the essence of Jesus, which is Christ. This is what the author of the Gospel of John is attempting to communicate in his conception of the Holy Spirit. Jesus, in the flesh, is not present, but the mysterious, impalpable presence of Jesus is felt through the Church’s remembrance of, or witness to, him.
The Paraclete’s purpose is to
call to mind all that I have told you. (John 14:26)
The Spirit will “bear witness” to Jesus (John 15:26). This “presence through remembering” is the dynamo and Holy Spirit of the Church. In fact, it is it’s defining attribute. It is the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of truth
I am the truth. (John 14:6)
and therefore, to the Church, the Holy Spirit.
Johnston does do some service, however, in the he concedes to Hermann Sasse that John could very well be labeled a “paraclete of the Christians.” As suggested earlier, the Church and the Holy Spirit are almost inseparable because the Church is made up of Christians possessing the Holy Spirit (John 7:39 and John 20:22). The supporters of the Church (such as the author of The Gospel of John) perform the tasks associated with the Paraclete. It is reasonable to assume the the author of The Gospel of John considered himself to be filled with the Spirit. His conception of the Christian was a person filled with the Spirit. The Church as a whole embodies the Paraclete idea (Barrett), but the author of The Gospel of John, being a leading force in the Church at this time, and by speaking “… on his own authority … only what he hears” (John 16:13), also personifies the Paraclete idea.
Raymond Brown and Han Windisch both emphasize the “double” existence of Paracletes. Windisch supports the idea of “two intercessors, one in heaven and one on earth.” Brown believes that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus. There’s some commonality here. The intercessor in heaven can be seen as Jesus united with God and the intercessor on earth can be seen as the Spirit of Jesus or the Spirit of truth within the Church. The interpretation by Brown, taken along with Barrett’s continuum, represents what I believe to be the idea closest to the conception of the Johanine author. Brown’s argument is substantiated by two verses in the Gospel of John. In John 14:6 Jesus says, “I am the truth ….” In the Paraclete verse John 15:26. the Paraclete is referred to as the “Spirit of truth which issues from the Father.” The unity of Christ and the Father (My Father and I are one. (John 10:30)) clearly supports Windisch’s view – Jesus united with God as the heavenly Paraclete, the Holy Spirit as the earthly Paraclete (the Spirit of Jesus) left behind.
There is also evidence in John which presents the Holy Spirit as being the Spirit of Jesus within the Church. The author of The Gospel According to John gradually builds on this theme until Jesus’s exhaltation, when Jesus is made to pass the Holy Spirit onto the disciples. The author begins with eucharistic imagery, the “bread of life” and “living waters.”
John 12:23 – The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. In truth, in very truth I tell you, a grain of wheat remains a solitary grain unless it falls into the ground and dies; but if it dies, it bears a rich harvest.
Jesus must die in order to give up his Spirit.
John 16:7 – If I do not go, your Advocate will not come….
In order to have eternal life this Holy Spirit must be received. The author uses the eating of bread that represents Jesus’s flesh to depict the Christian reception of the Holy Spirit. The image of eating Jesus’s flesh represents both the death during the Passion and the reception of the Spirit through eating. As bread is eaten for nourishment, so is the Holy Spirit received for eternal life; Jesus’s flesh is consumed. The symbol of “living water” is used in similar fashion.
John 7:38 – ‘Streams of water shall flow out from within him.’ He was speaking of the Spirit which believers in him would receive later; for the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Jesus must die before the Spirit can be given, before the “living water” can be consumed.
What is the nature of the Paraclete? It is best understood as the unification of the followers of Jesus (the Church). As Jesus is unified with God and the believers unified with the Spirit, all believers are unified through Jesus’s commandment:
John 13:34 – 35 – I give you a new commandment: love one another; as I have loved you, so you are to love one another, then I know that you are my disciples.
The Paraclete is to “confute the world, and show where wrong and right and Judgement lie” (John 16:8). In John the “world” represents the world of Satan. A division separates the disciples and the world.
John 14:17 – The world cannot receive him, because the world neither sees not knows him; but you know him, because he dwells with you and is (or shall be) in you.
When Jesus is exalted the Church is formed. He tells the disciples,
John 20:22 – 23 – Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive any man’s sins, they stand forgiven; if you pronounce them unforgiven, unforgiven they remain.
John is blending his image of the Paraclete with the Church as set apart from the world. The Church, as the Paraclete, will judge the world.
In the Synoptics, Jesus’s message is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthews 22:39, Luke 10:27). Within John, this is an abstraction. The “love one another” is depicted only within the context of the disciples, the Church. This commandment is the strongest unifying aspect of the Church. The Church is set against Satan’s world. The world is always set against the disciples. This is a manifestation of the contrast between the light and the dark.
Thus the Paraclete and Holy Spirit are closely related. The Paraclete is the Church and its continuing witness to Christ. The Paraclete derives its power to “confute the world” through the Christian receipt of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’s sending of the Paraclete is seen as the gift of the Spirit to the disciples at Jesus’s exaltation. Barrett’s “eschatological continuum” paints a very clear picture. George Johnston sums up the author of John:
[Jesus] … as the God-man is spirit and the source of spiritual life. No one in John’s era could see Jesus the Son of God with the eye of the flesh; but they would see the embodiment in the Church of his disciples.7
The author of John theologically immortalized Jesus as Christ. Indeed, Jesus became the exalted Christ in the Fourth Gospel.
1Dodd, C.H., The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel (London: Cambridge University Press, 1953), p.213.
2Reuman, John, Introduction to The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel by Hans Windisch (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. xi.
3Windisch, Hans, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968), p. 20.
4Johnston, George, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel (London: Cambridge University Press, 1970), p. 94.
5Johnston, p. 126.
6Barrett, C.K., The Gospel According to St. John (London: S.P.C.K., 1965), pp. 76-77.
7Johnston, p. 127.
C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John. London: S.P.C.K., 1965.
C.H. Dodd, The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. London: Cambridge University Press, 1953.
George Johnston, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel. London: Cambridge University Press, 1970.
Hans Windisch, The Spirit-Paraclete in the Fourth Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1968.
W.H. Auden gives us a personal insight into his own religious beliefs the impact of Christianity in his poem, “In Praise of Limestone.” The poem is a successful blending of geological imagery depicting the varying nature of man. There are two extreme natures represented by two distinct landscapes. There is the socialized protection of the limestone landscape where the “best and worst” inhabitants escape to. This is juxtaposed with the granite waste lands. Auden’s point of view in the poem is clear – he concedes in the end that the limestone landscape best represents
Or the life to come.1
Auden begins his poem by coalescing humanity under the description of “the inconstant ones.”2 This first line stresses human fallibility, suggesting the fall from grace in the Garden of Eden. The terrain of the limestone landscape is a place that all people have known. It is the place that we, as humans,
Are constantly homesick for.3
Being cast from a utopian existence, such as Eden or childhood, one constantly longs for that which is lost.
There are three parallel themes in this poem. These three themes embody a loss of innocence or a constant maturing. The themes are the expulsion paradise or an Eden-like existence, the loss of innocence through maturity, and the naivete of Christian religious concepts. All three of these themes are experienced by all people in some manner. The limestone landscape is that which was lost and is now longed for – paradise, childhood, or faith in Christianity. The poem focuses mainly on the later theme, but the other two themes are inherent in this main theme.
The limestone landscape is described in utopian terms:
…Mark these rounded slopes
With their surface fragrance of thyme and, beneath,
A secret system of caves and conduits; hear the springs
That spurt out everywhere with a chuckle,
Each filling a private pool for its fish and carving
Its own little ravine whose cliffs entertain
The butterfly and the lizard;4
The limestone landscape is longed for by humans and represent paradise lost. This limestone Eden is described in another work by Auden:
Limestone uplands like the Pennines plus a small region of igneous rocks with at least one extinct volcano. A precipitous and indented sea-coast.5
These images correspond closely with the images of “In Praise of Limestone:” “granite wastes,” “oceanic whisper,” and “blazing crater.”
The Eden-like limestone landscape is a
Of short distances and definite places6
These images are completely palpable and offer a calming security. It is a totally enclosed world – no one can see past its limits.
After the descriptions of paradise, Auden begins the second theme. The loss of innocence parallels the expulsion from Eden and echoes the relationship between mother and son. The poem begins to expand in its metaphorical themes. The landscape is like a mother – it is a protective landscape. Geoffrey Millard believes the limestone landscape represents the womb and that the granite wastes represent a created, lost womb.7 Although this is true, its seems a simple way of describing the Mother / son relationship. The formal term, “Mother” does not stand for a mother, but the essence of motherhood. It has a deeper meaning, especially in the latter part of the poem. The limestone landscape, the Mother, and son begin to form the structure of the third theme – complete faith in Christianity:
What could be more like Mother or a fitter background
For her son, the flirtatious male who lounges
Against a rock in the sunlight, never doubting
That for all his faults he is loved; whose works are but
Extensions of his power to charm?8
The meaning is clear. The limestone landscape represents Christian thought and faith. The Mother / son relationship is also a God / man relationship. The verses here are brimming with Christian doctrine. The rock upon which the son lounges echoes Peter, the rock upon which the Christian Church was built. The verse reveals the boy’s dependence on Christianity.
That for all his faults his is loved.9
directly represents the Christian concept of “forgiveness of sins.” No matter what a person does they are forgiven by God and still loved. As Mother loves and loves her son, the limestone landscape (through Christian doctrine) loves and protects its inhabitants. The rest of this section is filled with Biblical images: “hill-top temple,” “appearing waters,” and “vineyards.”
After laying the foundation for a Christian interpretation in the beginning of the poem, Auden proceeds to describe the community that lives in the limestone landscape. The limestone community represents the Christian community. This is an allegorical poem with concrete meaning in the real world. In lines 21 through 43, Auden describes the nature of Christianity in its purest, most naive sense. The Christianity of which he writes is the kind that a person experiences when they are totally immersed in Christian dogma. Auden’s tone is condescension.
The boys who climb upon the rocks know
…each other too well to think
There are any important secrets.10
Here Auden begins to draw a picture of the experienced world of the steadfast Christian; it is exactly like the geography of the limestone landscape. The interior world of the Church is seen as a group of people bound together socially and religiously, thus forming a way to ignore the reality of the world. The Church is an isolation from the disruption caused by worldly proceedings. The Church is the utopian landscape of the poem. Within the social structure of the Church people come to know each other closely and, seemingly, completely. Thus there is a security formed through this belonging and total knowledge of each other.
The limestone inhabitant’s (the thorough Christian’s) relationship with God is a one-sided, humanistic one. Moral and ethical thought evade these people, and God is perceived in their own image. God is dealt with as if he were another person to be reasoned with on one’s own terms. God is seen as a person responding to “clever lines”11 and offers of a “good lay.”12 The inhabitants are
…accustomed to a stone that responds.12
This represents the idolatrous or mythological representations of God.
At this point Auden interjects a strange image – that of the volcano. In his “dream of eden”13 description, a dormant volcano was mentioned. People
…have never had to veil their faces in awe
Of a crater whose blazing fury could not be fixed.14
A dormant volcano represents the potential for an awakening and wrathful God.
The devout Christians that inhabit the limestone landscape are ignorant of the world outside their Christian conceptions. Every day they see only their own Christian selves. They can conceive of nothing that is like the real world – the poverty, disease and blight of other human existence. The devout and dogmatic Christians are, in short, a naive, isolated and highly protected people.
The poem is divided into two equal halves at line 43. The emphasis shifts to people who have left the limestone landscape, the confines of Christian dogma. Auden himself is a member of this group. To the “best and worst”15 who “sought / Immoderate soils,”16 life in the limestone landscape is like a “mad camp.”17 Auden is explaining why he left the dogmatic Christianity of the limestone landscape behind. The granite wastes (knowledge) called to him.
How permanent is death.18
echoes twentieth-century existentialist thought (Kierkegaard). In view of modern thought such as existentialism, “Saints-to-be” 19 have their dreams crushed. They slip “away sighing.”20 Christian thought can be dissolved within the bounds of existentialist thinking. (However, the same water that dissolves the limestone also provides protective sinkholes for the fish of the landscape. “Dissolving” thus has both positive and negative connotations.)
If naivete, isolation and protective existence exemplify the limestone landscape, what comprises the granite wastes of knowledge? The plains provide “room for armies to drill,”21 nature is altered, slaves exist and death without hope awaits. Wars are fought.
Intendant Caesars rose and
Left, slamming the door.22
This is the modern, rational world of man. Here in the granite wastes man causes his own destruction through his desire for belonging through power and his search for purpose through meaning. In contrast, both the needs of belonging and purpose are met. To Auden, it is apparent that problems also exist in the granites wastes of knowledge.
The “oceanic whisper”23 also calls to some. The people who answer this call are the ones assimilated most into the granite wastes of knowledge. Answering the call are the people who deny completely the limestone landscape of faith. There can be no such thing as God or “faultless love” or a “life to come” for these people. They exist within their own “solitude.”24
Auden admits that “all those voices were right.”25 He has a positive attitude toward the voices of knowledge. (After all, Auden did himself leave the limestone landscape.) He does not accept the granite wastes completely, however. This place of knowledge is not all that people make it out to be. The peace that the granite wastes offers is simply through a vision of the world. It offers no concrete point of reference, no God. It “asks and promises nothing.”26 Man simply tries to rebuild through knowledge that which he lost when he left the limestone landscape – faith. (Childhood is seen as a Eden-like existence. Man desires to return to the protected life of the child.) The peace that is offered is simply an explanation of the real world – the world that evades the religious.) Knowledge, then, is reduced to a mythology. It is a “tunnel” that connects the “dilapidated province” to the “big busy world.”27
Auden cannot totally disclaim knowledge either. He defines his place in the world as Poet and his purpose as Art. This lies between the two extremes of complete knowledge and complete faith. The Poet tries to reproduce reality in Art – to call “The sun the sun, his mind Puzzle.”28 The marble statues of the limestone landscape make Auden uneasy in that they
His antimythological myth.29
Auden’s poetry is an “antimythological myth” because it rejects the mythology of complete knowledge and complete faith, but in doing so, creates another mythology or representation of reality. The marble statues make Auden uneasy because they represent a possible truth – a non-myth: God. This would cause his own myths to crumble.
On the other side of the spectrum lies the Poet’s feelings toward knowledge. The purveyors of complete knowledge are simply “scientists” who rebuke the Poet’s
…concern for Nature’s
Auden expresses his fear of death and his desire for faith in the face of that fear. He has these fears in common with every other person – these fears are the “Common Prayer.”31 The Common Prayer represents everyman’s fear of death:
Not to lose time, not to get caught,
Not to be left behind, not, please! to resemble
The beasts who repeat themselves, or a thing like water
Or stone whose conduct can be predicted, these
Are our Common Prayer, whose great comfort is music
Which can be made anywhere, is invisible,
And does not smell.32
These prayers are music declaring hope. They resonate with everyone.
Auden goes on to write of his attitudes toward the purpose of knowledge and faith. The purpose of knowledge is to make us aware that death is inevitable and faith is an expression of hope.
In so far as we have to look forward
To death as a fact, no doubt we are right: But if
Sins can be forgiven, if bodies rise from the dead,
These modifications of matter into
Innocent athletes and gesticulating fountains,
Made solely for pleasure, make a further point: …33
Auden now comes to the purpose of his poem. “In Praise of Limestone” is just what the title suggests. The praise comes in the form of a concession. After carefully structuring the metaphorical extremes of the limestone landscape and the granite wastes, between which Auden stands as Poet, Auden concedes that only the limestone landscape lends itself to a possible revelation of Truth. In addition, he praises naive Christians for what they embody.
The blessed will not care what angle they are regarded from,
Having nothing to hide. Dear, I know nothing of
Either, but when I try to imagine a faultless love
Or the life to come, what I hear is the murmur
Of underground streams, what I see is a limestone landscape.34
“In Praise of Limestone” strikingly parallels the struggles between Gnostic and Christian world views of the first century. This conflict can be seen most clearly in the Gospel of John, where the author tries to unite knowledge in Jesus – the Word become Flesh. W.H. Auden successfully recreates that conflict for modern man in his poem, “In Praise of Limestone.”
1“In Praise of Limestone,” lines 91-92.
I give my life
To the Law of God above the Law of Man.
Those who do not do the same
How should they know what I do?1
In T.S. Eliot’s later poetry and “Murder in the Cathedral” there is a tendency for the poet to focus on the human condition, especially as it relates to Christianity. This discussion will begin with the themes of life, death and Christianity in “Murder in the Cathedral” and then the later poems of “Ash Wednesday,” “Burnt Norton” and the “Ariel Poems. Other, more cynical works, such as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Gerontion,” “The Waste Land” and the satires will also be addressed, but with less emphasis on these themes.
“Murder in the Cathedral” is a play about the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Becket. Becket returns from France to England after seven years of exile and is confronted by four Tempters. The temptations take the form of alternatives from which Becket is obligated to choose. In confronting Becket, the First Tempter tells Becket to recover his favors with King Henry to restore the situation that existed before Becket’s disloyalty. The Second Tempter tells Becket to regain the Office of Chancellor and use its power for his own glory. Becket is asked by the Third Tempter to join forces with the barons to overthrow the King for the benefit of both the Church and the barons. The Fourth Tempter is the most important because he tells us,
“I am only here, Thomas, to tell you what you know.2
The Fourth Tempter tells the reader what is going on in Becket’s mind. His advice to Becket is to
Fare forward to the end.3
Becket listens to this Tempter because it is his own thoughts that confront him. The Tempter tells him,
But think, Thomas, think of glory after death.4
Becket’s reaction is negative,
I well know that these temptations
Mean present vanity and future torment.5
The last temptation is the greatest treason:
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.6
Becket decides that he must not let the possibility of receiving glory after his martyrdom affect his receiving that martyrdom. He must “no longer act or suffer”7 but lose “his will in the Will of God.”8 Destiny will take its course. This echoes the Chorus of Women at the beginning of the play:
Destiny waits in the hand of God, shaping the still unshapen…9
Becket, faced with the temptation and his own certain death, does the only thing he can do. He awaits destiny, the Will of God, his certain death, neither acting or suffering. It is a death with no thoughts of glory, for that would mean damnation. In his acceptance of death, Becket is free. It is his submission to the Will of God that sets him free.
A major theme begins when the Fourth Tempter tells Becket:
You hold the skein: wind, Thomas, wind
The thread of eternal life and death…”10
This theme is developed into a kind of paradox through which Becket defines his destiny – his martyrdom. Becket links the Christmas / Birth and Passion / Death together to express the full meaning of martyrdom. Eliot implies a great deal with the term “martyrdom,” most likely his own view of Christianity, when he has Becket say:
A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the Will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom.11
Martyrdom becomes a metaphor for Christianity in the play, or how a Christian should respond to God. Mr. Eliot is defining Christianity.
This martyrdom / Christianity, death / birth, Passion / Christmas theme is consistent in Eliot’s poetry after “The Wasteland.” It is stressed in the Ariel poems. In “Journey of the Magi,” the Magi looks upon Jesus’ birth, questioning the significance. Was it Birth, only? The Magi had seen birth and death before but had “thought them different.”12 When he sees the birth of Jesus, he is also aware of Jesus’ Death and that brings forth his awareness of his own death. His own “martyrdom” is made in his awareness of his death. When the Magi goes back to his kingdom, his life has changed – he is
…no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.13
The “old dispensation” echoes “Murder in the Cathedral.” The “old dispensation,” this “alien people” are the people Becket preaches about in the “Interlude” of “Murder in the Cathedral.” This “alien people” is the world which “cannot understand.”14
In “A Song for Simeon” this death / birth imagery is again prevalent:
Now at this birth season of decease,
Let the Infant, the still unspeaking and unspoken Word,
Grant Israel’s consolation
To one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.15
Simeon is a very important embodiment of this death / birth imagery since he is the one who
…would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.16
Thus at one and the same time Simeon dies when he sees Jesus and lives through his acceptance of Jesus. He asks Jesus to “Grant me my peace.”17 “Peace” echoes in “Murder in the Cathedral” when Becket comments,
[Jesus] gave to His disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.”18
Again the “old dispensation” of the world is echoed. Simeon gains peace through his martyrdom. In the Bible Simeon refers to Jesus as his Master. “A Song for Simeon reads,
Let thy servant depart,
having seen thy salvation.19
This is from “Animula:”
The heavy burden of the growing soul
Perplexes and offends more, day by day;
The pain of living and the drug of dreams
Curl up the small soul in the window seat
Behind the “Encyclopaedia Brittanica.”
Fearing the warm reality, the offered good,…20
The innocent child is perched perilously close to the corrupt history of the world, the “Encyclopaedia Brittanica (“…the world that is wholly foul.”21)
Eliot ends “Animula,”
Pray for us now and at the hour of our birth.22
The actual form of this prayer is
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
and can be found in this form in “Ash Wednesday.”23 The prayer of death is turned into the prayer of birth. Birth becomes something to fear. Eliot emphasizes the increasing influence of the world upon the child in “Animula.” The child is slowly, but surely, being thrust into the history and reality of man. The world will adversely affect the child.
Between birth and death is life – it is the unreal realm of time, the
Between un-being and being24
found in “Burnt Norton.” Life in the later poetry of Eliot is much like the stagnated existence of J. Alfred Prufrock. Life is
Wavering between the profit and the loss
In this brief transit where the dreams cross
The dreamcrossed twilight between birth and dying
This is the time of tension between dying and birth…25
Life is defined by time. Time is a human invention used to avoid the “still point” – the awareness of the moment. Consciousness is avoided through time. Eliot tries to do away with the concept of time in “Burnt Norton.” Endings precede beginnings. Contradictions exist side-by-side. Life becomes “a world of speculation.”26 Eliot sees man as trapped on earth in time:
In the small circle of pain within the skull
You still shall tramp and tread one endless round
Of thought, to justify your action to yourselves,
Weaving a fiction which unravels as you weave,
Pacing forever in the hell of make-believe
Which never is belief: this is your fate on earth….27
Eliot sees life flowing through man’s mind through time. But time produces unreality.
To be conscious is not to be in time….28
Escape time, the wheel that constantly turns around and around, continuously returning to the same place, and you escape unreality.
To escape time, you must escape the turning wheel to the “still point.” The still point is not-time. It is a moment of consciousness that cannot be defined temporally.
I can only say, there we have been; but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.29
Eliot’s image of the still-point is directly related to Christianity. Eliot’s image for time is the wheel. At the axle of this wheel is the still point – a point which is still and does not move through space. An analogy can be drawn between this still point and Christianity. Time is measured BC and AD – in relationship to Jesus Christ. The still point of time is Jesus’ birth. However, Eliot refers to the cross of Jesus’ Passion as the “axle-tree.30” Eliot combines the Birth / Christmas and Death / Passion together into the still point. Out of this Birth and Death comes Jesus’ martyrdom – and the beginning of Christianity. Eliot’s still point is Christianity.
Human kind cannot bear very much reality.31
Time is an avoidance of reality. Only by reaching for the still point can a person become conscious.
The fool, fixed in his folly, may think
He can turn the wheel on which he turns.32
Man cannot avoid the present by looking into the past or future, for the past and future are inventions of man – the concept of time. The wheel is turning and constantly repeating, but the still point is stable.
Man is trapped in time:
Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time,
Wind in and out of unwholesome lungs
Time before and time after.
Eructation of unhealthy souls
Into the faded air, the torpid
Driven on the wind that sweeps the gloomy hills of London
Hampstead and Clerkenwell, Campden and Putney,
Highgate, Primrose and Ludgate. Not here
Not here the darkness, in this twittering world.33
Near the end of Murder in the Cathedral the knights rationalize their reasons for killing the archbishop. The Second Knight says that they were totally disinterested in the murder, that they had nothing to gain by it. The Third Knight says that the state killed him, that everyone in the audience is partly responsible for his death. And the Fourth Knight maintains that the archbishop committed “Suicide while of Unsound Mind.” Eliot is using irony by having the Knights explain away the murder absurdly – they are “alien people” who “cannot understand.” This is their lives, full of dreams, untruths and absurd rationalizations. Becket’s comments to his Priest’s would fit the Knights just as well:
You argue by results, as this world does,
To settle if an act be good or bad.34
Eliot also describes Hell in “Murder in the Cathedral:”
The white flat face of Death, God’s silent servant,
And behind the face of Death the Judgement
And behind the Judgement, the Void, more horrid than active shapes of hell;
Emptiness, absence, separation from God;
The horror of the effortless journey, to the empty land
Which is no land, only emptiness, absence, the Void,
Where those who were men can no longer turn the mind
To distraction, delusion, escape into dream, pretense,
Where the soul is no longer deceived, for there are no objects, no tones,
No colours, no forms to distract, to divert the soul
From seeing itself, foully united forever, nothing with nothing,
Not what we call death, but what beyond death is not death,
We fear, we fear.35
“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” perhaps depicts Eliot and his cynicism towards life without Christ. It is a depressingly dreary existence – one that would have been of more worth had it been the life of a crab crawling along the ocean floor. Time past is present as history in “Gerontion.” The “cunning passages” of history deceive man. History is nothing more that a record of man’s corruptions, his multitudinous falls and sins. Only the past is corrupt in “Gerontion.” In “Burnt Norton” all time, because it inhibits consciousness of the still point, is corrupt. Eliot’s dismay at the “True Church” from “The Hippopotamus” still exists in his later poetry. The “True Church” is the “old dispensation” of Eliot’s later verse. Even though Eliot is a Christian in his later poetry, he is by no means an ordinary Christian. He still separates himself from the “True Church” – his beliefs are unadulturated.
With “The Waste Land” comes what can be said to be Eliot’s martyrdom – his death, his total disgust for time and life. With “Ash Wednesday” Eliot is born again; he
Upon which to rejoice.”36
Jean Cocteau’s dramatic canon is characterized by an obsessive attention towards the myth and the role of the poet. Even in the plays and films where these themes are not explicit, such as “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Eternal Return,” implicitly they are there. Perhaps the most widely known work by Cocteau is his film, “Blood of a Poet.” This is Cocteau’s first film work, its main focus being the relationship of the poet to his art, to his life and to his death. Indeed, it is Cocteau’s statement of his “poetic self.” In this way it is a kind of introduction, a prologue to his entire canon. It is also a lesson in how Cocteau uses myth. Our examination of the film will highlight some of the recurring themes in Cocteau’s work.
There are five sections to “Blood of a Poet:”
- Prologue – “Every poem is a coat of arms. It must be deciphered.”¹ The protagonist enters, a doorknob is tried and a chimney begins its collapse.
- First Episode: “The wounded hand, or the scars of the poet.”² The protagonist is revealed to represent Cocteau, symbolized by the five pointed star. Important aspects of this scene include the costumes and the wound, with its narcissistic eroticism.
- Second Episode – “Do the walls have ears?”³ The wound is transferred to the sculpture which brings it to life. The poet enters into the world of the mirror, in which he peers into the four rooms. He is then prompted to commit suicide. With the resuscitation of life the poet struggles down the hotel corridor through the mirror and back into the studio. The episode ends with the poet demolishing the statue. Important aspects of this episode include the transference of the wound, the descent into the mirror, the four rooms and the destruction of the statue.
- Third Episode – “The snowball fight.”4 A simple and realistic scene. School children are participating in a snowball fight. One of the children is killed by a blow from one of the snowballs. Important aspects of this scene include the snow-statue of the poet (the snow is comparable to marble), the attitude of the children towards the statue of the poet and their destruction of it and the murder of the child.
- The Fourth Episode – “The profanation of the host.”5 The murdered child is met by his guardian angel. A card game is played between the poet and the statue with an audience looking on. The scene ends with the suicide of the poet. Important aspects of this episode include the audience reactions, the ace-of-hearts, costuming, the interaction between the poet and the statue and the suicide.
- The Metaphorical Climax – With the suicide of the poet, the statue leaves. The resulting deluge of symbols becomes a statement of Cocteau’s “poetic self.” Important aspects of this scene include the bull, the disjointed map of Europe, the globe, the busts of Diderot, the lyre and the statue in its reclining fragmented form.
- Completion of the chimney collapse.
In the prologue to ‘The Blood of a Poet,” we see the masked protagonist, his arms draped by a cloth, holding a plaster hand. A door is then shown, someone on the opposite side attempting to open it. A struggle to “open up” or “get inside” is thus suggested by the image. Afterwards, the film formally begins. Even with it’s “sickening slowness,”6 the body of “The Blood of a Poet” is an instantaneous event, taking place between the initial destruction of a chimney and its imminent collapse. Thus the films occurs on two levels – during the actual realistic duration of the film or during the instant the chimney collapses. Cocteau wishes to reveal the impressions of the timeless relationships of the poet’s psyche. The dichotomy which is drawn between the two worlds is described by Cocteau in his notes to “Orpheus:”
…time is a purely human notion and, in fact, does not exist at all.7
We leave the world of reality and plunge into the world of the poet. The timeless aspect of the world we enter means that everything we see is co-existent, showing the interweaving relationships of the poet’s mind.
The first episode, entitled “The scars of the poet,” reveals Cocteau to be the identity of the protagonist (the actor wears the star of Cocteau). The poet, in Louis XV wig, draws a picture (in Cocteau’s own style) in which the mouth animates itself. The animation of the art work startles the poet and he finds it necessary to “quieten” the drawing. Possibly the art work reveals more than the poet intended or makes him aware of a painful memory. This is strengthened by two other references in Cocteau’s work, one from Cegestius in “The Testament of Orpheus:”
One doesn’t always revive what one likes.8
The other reference comes from Cocteau. On “The Blood of a Poet” Cocteau says,
Exegesis, which is a Muse, is still examining it, and the psychoanalyst is discovering what the shadow part of me unknowingly expressed long ago.9
The pain of revelation through art, through the dredging up of past pain, is the wound that the poet must bear. Note that the wound is a mouth and is located on the hand, two tools of the poet.
After the wound is transferred to the poet’s hand, the man dressed in Louis XV garb visits him. On seeing the wounded hand (which bears the essence of the poet’s sensibility, his attitudes toward conventions) the visitor is shocked and retreats. The meaning is clear. The artist, especially Cocteau, plays a unique role in society. The artist’s role causes him to reject some old and some new conventions, while accepting others. While Cocteau is “…very much a nineteenth century romantic…,”10 the visitor is nonetheless repulsed by what he sees. (Indeed, a Romantic audience would be at a loss viewing “Blood of a Poet.”) While accepting some of the conventions of the Romantic period, Cocteau must nonetheless reject most of their attitudes and conventions. The poet thus casts off his own Louis XV wig (expressing the artistic need for originality). This iconoclastic role of the poet works in reverse, also. By accepting some Romantic traditions, Cocteau is rejecting modern artistic attitudes. Thus the themes of iconoclasm and timelessness are repeated in the timeless persona of the poet, accepting neither old or new.
If I can’t please everybody / I might as well not please nobody at all.*
When the poet washes his hand, the mouth / wound gasps for air. The poet complies with its gasps by putting his hand out the window. The mouth / wound responds by caressing the poet and providing sexual stimulation (purgative relief). The interaction between the mouth / wound and the poet can be compared to the poet and his reflection in a mirror. Indeed, the whole scene is grounded in the myth of Narcissus, the god who fell in love with himself.
[Seeing] his own image in the water…[Narcissus] brought his lips near to take a kiss…. Because the image was not to be had, all he could do was stare, constantly admire the reflected image…. He cherished the flame that consumed him, so that by degrees he lost his colour, his vigor, and the beauty…. He pined away and died; and when his shade passed the Stygian river, it leaned over the boat to catch a look of itself in the waters.11
For Cocteau, the mirror represents the entrance into the Realms of Death and Mind. The superficial qualities of mirrors are expressed by Heurtebise in “Orpheus,”
“Beside, spend your life looking at yourself in a mirror, and you’ll see Death at work like a swarm of bees storing up honey in a hive of glass.12
Cocteau himself has made the assertion that mirrors
…show us growing older and bring us closer to death.13
Orpheus enters into the Realm of Death through a mirror. On the other hand, the mirror acts as an entrance into the poet’s mind. In “Blood of a Poet” the poet enters into the mirror and proceeds to peer into four rooms. These rooms each represent an important aspect of Cocteau’s psyche. These two Realms of Death and Mind are equivalent.** This is an old concept, Socratic in origin (to live within the Mind being the ultimate good). This combination of Mind and Death is the source of Cocteau’s obsession, both with the poetic role and the desire to possess the inner world of the mind.
The second episode being after the poet transfers the mouth to the statue. Entitled “Do the walls have ears?” it begins with the statue speaking,
Do you think it’s that simple to get rid of a wound, to close the mouth of a wound?14
The poet has created his art in this scene and the manner in which he does it suggests the myth of Pygmalion.
[Pygmalion] was a sculptor, and had made with wonderful skill a statue of ivory, so beautiful that no living woman came anywhere near…. Pygmalion admired his own work, and at last fell in love with the counterfeit creation…. He caressed it, and give it presents such as young girls love…. He laid her on a couch…and called her his wife….15
Venus later instilled life into the sculpture for Pygmalion. Pygmalion’s falling in love with the statue parallels Narcissus’s falling in love with his own reflection. This enhances the art-as-mirror theme. After the statue speaks, the poet gropes along the now windowless walls and comes to a mirror which has replaced the door. He tells the statue, “Open it for me,”16 to which the statue replies,
There is only one way left. You must go into the mirror and walk through.17
Again the theme of “trying to open the door” is repeated. Entering into the mirror is equivalent to the poet entering deeper into the mind. The poet enters into a deeper level of poetic reality. (This distinction between the two levels is apparent in the soundtrack. When the poet enters into the mirror, the music changes. When the poet exits, the mirror, the previous music picks up where it left off, once again indicating the timeless nature of these worlds.)
The four doors through which the artist peers each contain an aspect of Cocteau’s psyche. The first door shows the repeated execution of an Hispanic figure and the repeated destruction of a statue of the Virgin Mary. The execution suggests the political execution of Emperor Maximillian.18 However, the repetitive destruction of these two icons suggests the separation of the poet from political and religious affairs. The constant repetition perhaps suggests the nature of art itself, ritualizing the mundane. Individual art works remain constant through time, repeating the same aesthetic qualities each time the art is experienced. The best examples of repetitive art are drama, music and film. The second door shows the shadows of an opium smoker preparing his opium and smoking it. What occurs behind this door refers to Cocteau’s own experimentation with the drug. The third door with its “Flying Lessons” focuses on the relationship between the teacher and pupil in the learning process. Cocteau looks upon this relationship with distaste. The child does not wish to participate in the lesson but is forced to do so by the beating which the teacher administers. This positive attitude towards childhood was an aspect of the avant-garde movement prior to and during the time of Cocteau:
…these traits grew out of the cult of childhood established by the romantics. Wordsworth and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Blake and Nerval reasserted the virtue and happiness of childhood as something inevitably stifled by education and society….After romanticism, and starting long before Freud, a mood developed which re-examined a child’s candor our most basic values: beauty, morality, reason, learning, religion, law.19
Cocteau’s reverent attitude toward childhood is repeated later in the film in “The Snowball Fight” episode in which the pupils are burdened with the weight of their school books. Cocteau’s attitude towards youth and adolescence are further expounded upon in the “Infernal Machine” and “Bacchus.”
Behind the fourth door is the hermaphrodite and alludes to Cocteau’s sexual ambivalence. (Cocteau was gay.) Along with this sexual ambivalence the scene also expresses the confusions that exist between art and reality, the fragmentation between art and the artist. The parts which make up the hermaphrodite are human, sculpted and drawn. Female breasts are drawn on a slate, while real, masculine legs and sculpted arms adorn the body. A masked face peers through the slate to form the head of the female trunk. The figure suggests the “art as a mirror of the artist” theme as well as the obvious sexual manifestation. The artist is revealing himself to his public, and the artist’s sensibility is exposed. Male and female garments are strewn about the couch. A sign appears which reads, “Danger of Death.”
After peering past the threshold of the final door, the artist is given a gun and prompted to commit suicide. The suicide is fake and the artist quickly revives. The suicide once again alludes to Cocteau’s obsession with death – the actual death of the poet comes later. Cocteau sees death as an entrance into the world of the poet within the Realm of the Mind. After the suicide the poet rushes back down the hotel corridor and is ejected back into the studio through the mirror. Entering the studio the poet goes to the statue and destroys it. We hear as narration,
By breaking statues one risks turning into one oneself.20
The film cuts to an exterior shot of a statue of the poet. The masochistic destruction of the statue once again echoes the theme of iconoclasm.
“Episode Three – The Snowball Fight” begins with the children throwing snowballs at the statue and each other. In “Two Screenplays” Cocteau describes the children in the scene,
Their moleskin satchels full of books weigh them down, deform them, giving them an almost crippled air.21
Again the theme of childhood happiness destroyed by education is stressed. The children take the snow from the statue and use it to destroy the statue of the poet. Cocteau describes the snow as having the qualities of marble. This childhood disregard for the important things of the “grown-up” world (education, iconography, poetry) suggests a parallel to the poet’s own iconoclasm.
The students bombard the statue and destroy it. One of them jumps up onto the pedestal and grabs the head.22
Iconoclasm now develops into a dominant theme. This theme began with the collapse of the chimney, perhaps suggesting a pervasive presence of destruction. However, the temporal halting of this destruction indicates an even more powerful and overarching iconoclasm – the destruction of the human notion of time – a truly filmic destruction of this dimension.*** This iconoclasm, the disrespect of the poet towards existing convention, is constantly repeated throughout the film. It is present in the suppression of the drawing, in the execution of the Hispanic political figure, in the shattering of the statue of the Virgin Mary and in the “Flying Lessons” sequence. It is present in the poet’s suicide, in the destruction of the talking statue and in the destruction of the statue of the poet. It will also be present in the upcoming torn map of Europe. All of this iconoclastic activity leads to a fragmentary assimilation of images in the end, in a fashion very similar to the depiction of the hermaphrodite. The art work becomes a pastiche of poet, art, reality and death as it takes on its own existence. This attitude represents the nature of the poet, his need to destroy and re-create. This ultimate creation, this pastiche, cannot fully manifest itself until the poet himself is destroyed – until the poet dies.
The murder of the child is based on an event from Cocteau’s childhood,
A story from my childhood still haunts me…. A young boy wounded by a snowball. In “Les Enfants Terribles” the child does not die…. The bleeding child, in reality, had a nose-bleed and bled very little…. I didn’t want to film a realistic scene, but the distorted memory of the scene….23
When the child is murdered, a poem is recited which reveals Cocteau’s childhood reaction to the incident. The poem expresses a loss of innocence,
That blow of marble was a snowball,
And it shattered his heart,
And it shattered the conqueror’s tunic,
Shattered the black conqueror whom nothing protects.
He stood there, stunned
In the watch-tower of loneliness,
Naked legs under the mistletoe, the golden berries, the holly,
Shattered like a classroom backboard.
This is often how these blows
Leave school, making blood flow,
These hard snowball blows
That a fleeting beauty gives to the heart.24
The “Fourth Episode: The Profanation of the Host” involves a card game between the statue and the poet, an elucidation of an earlier encounter between the two in the first episode. This interaction once again echoes the mirror scenes. As before, the artwork, like a mirror, reveals the essence of the poet and, in turn, his death. The statue in the scene stares at the poet. During these interactions between the statue, the poet and the dead child, the audience is noticeably bored. During the card game the poet takes the ace-of-hearts from the child and uses it. The child’s guardian angel comes forward, a black and shiny being, and “absorbs” the child. Before the angel leaves she removes the ace-of-hearts from the artist’s hand. The statue speaks,
If you don’t have the ace-of-hearts my dear, you’re a lost man.25
Cocteau elucidates on the scene,
…when he plays the card game with his Glory, with his Destiny, he cheats by drawing from his childhood instead of from within himself.26
The statue then bears down on the poet,
She fixes her eyes on him. He turns away, no longer able to stand her gaze…. The poet, under the gaze of the motionless woman, puts his hand in his pocket. He brings out a revolver, puts it to his right temple and shoots.27
Thus the poet dies. Under the pressure of his own created image, his confrontation with death, he relinquishes his life. This is the real death of the poet. At the sight of his death the audience applauds,
Poets, in order to live must often die, and shed not only the red blood of their hearts, but the white blood of their soul, that flows and leaves traces which can be followed. That is the price of applause. Poets must give their all in order to obtain the slightest approval…. The poet’s work detests and devours him. There isn’t room for both the poet and his work. The work profits from the poet. Only after his death can the poet profit from the work. And anyway, the public prefer dead poets and they are right. A poet who isn’t dead is an anachronism.28
Death frees both the poet and his work. The poet is allowed to live in the poetic realm of the mind and his art is allowed to achieve its own separate existence. Death validates poetic work. The poet martyrs himself for his art.
After the death of the poet, the artwork begins is own existence. The statue gets up from the card table and leaves. She wears the cape that once belonged to the Louis XV friend. She exits through the previously locked golden door. As the statue comes through the doors, she passes two busts of Diderot, a French encyclopedist, representing the acceptance of the artist into the intelligentsia. A bull comes into view with a “torn, dismembered map of Europe”29 pasted to its side with cow dung. Representing the “age of anxiety,” and the decadence and factionalism of the modern world. The bull’s horns are transformed into a lyre, the classical instrument which accompanied songs and recitations – the words of poets. The final scene brings together many of the symbols used previously, the hermaphroditic mingling of the statue and the human aspects of the artist, the lyre and the globe. The death of the artist has released his art to its own existence. The art is therefore a pastiche of all the thoughts and activities of the poet while he was alive.
With the final visual and metaphorical definition of the poet complete, “reality” re-enters with the completion of the chimney collapse. “The Blood of a Poet” has happened in an instant, a statement about the pain of the creative experience and the blood that must be shed in order to become an artist.
* Quote by Bob Dylan, a modern poet much in the style of the Romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud.
** Possibly the best literal translation of this concept is in “Murder in the Cathedral” by T. S. Eliot,
The white flat face of Death, God’s silent servant,
And behind the face of Death the Judgement
And behind the Judgement the Void, more horrid than active shapes of hell;
Emptiness, absence, separation from God;
The horror of the effortless journey, to the empty land
Which is no land, only emptiness, absence, the Void,
Where those who were men can no longer turn the mind
To distraction, delusion, escape into dream, pretense,
Where the soul is no longer deceived, for there are no objects, no tones,
No colours, no forms to distract, to divert the soul
From seeing itself, foully united forever, nothing with nothing,
Not what we call death, but what beyond death is not death,
We fear, we fear.
*** This opening sequence is comparable to the opening sequence of “An Andalusian Dog,” in which Luis Bunuel slices open the eyeball. Bunuel wishes to destroy our old manner of seeing and replace it with a new one, the manner of seeing represented in the film.
1Jean Cocteau, “Two Screenplays: ‘The Blood of the Poet’ and ‘The Testament of Orpheus,'” translated by Carol Martin-Sperry (Baltimore: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 8.
2“Two Screenplays,” p. 9.
3“Two Screenplays,” p. 18.
4“Two Screenplays,” p. 39.
5“Two Screenplays,” p. 46.
6“Two Screenplays,”, p. 4.
7Jean Cocteau, “Three Screenplays: ‘L’eternal Retour,’ ‘Orphee,’ ‘La Belle et la Bete,'” translated by Carol Martin-Sperry (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1972), p. 191.
8“Two Screenplays,” p. 95.
9“Two Screenplays,” p. 73.
10“Two Screenplays,” frontispiece.
11Thomas Bulfinch, “The Age of Fable” (New York: Heritage Press, 1942), pp. 101-102.
12Jean Cocteau, “‘The Infernal Machine’ and Other Plays, various translators (New York: New Directions, 1967), p. 128.
13“Three Screenplays,” p. 191.
14“Two Screenplays,” p. 18
15“The Age of Fable,” p. 64.
16“Two Screenplays,” p. 18.
17“Two Screenplays,” p. 18.
18Lincoln F. Johnson, “Film: Space, Time, Light and Sound” (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974), p. 275.
19Roger Shattuck, “The Banquet Years (New York: Vintage Books, 1968), p. 31.
20“Two Screenplays,” pp. 36, 39.
21“Two Screenplays,” p. 39.
22“Two Screenplays,” p. 40.
23“Two Screenplays,” p. 66.
24“Two Screenplays,” pp. 45 – 46.
25“Two Screenplays,” p. 52.
26“Two Screenplays,” p. 65.
27“Two Screenplays,” p. 52.
28“Two Screenplays,” pp. 66 – 67.
29“Two Screenplays,” p. 56.