Orphic Sayings 2 and 3
Wednesday, May 12, 2021
3:50 a.m. I don’t know if I will be able to sustain enthusiasm for this project. Now that we have begun to translate old into new, it seems to me we made our point, and others can do for themselves if they care to. What do you think?
Let’s continue, at least for a while. Your impulse to try this wasn’t yours alone, and wasn’t out of the blue.
Okay. Well, we disposed of the only saying that consists of subsections.
[Believe, youth, that your heart is an oracle; trust her instinctive auguries, obey her divine leadings; nor listen too fondly to the uncertain echoes of your head. The heart is the prophet of your soul, and ever fulfils her prophecies; reason is her historian; but for the prophecy the history would not be. Great is the heart: cherish her; she is big with the future, she forebodes renovations. Let the flame of enthusiasm fire alway your bosom. Enthusiasm is the glory and hope of the world. It is the life of sanctity and genius; it has wrought all miracles since the beginning of time.]
Bear in mind, you can never tell (any more than Alcott could, or any author can, ever) who is going to come to what words, out of what intellectual and emotional background, or with what needs and potentials. This saying, which doesn’t sound very revolutionary to you, will read very differently to one who has been taught to trust reason above all things. (In this, we use “reason” as it is commonly used today, not as Reason was used by philosophers and Transcendentalists.) But even where Alcott’s general drift is familiar ground to you, a careful reading will find surprises.
Yes, I saw that. “Reason is her historian.”
Nothing wrong with putting out sentences that a reader must chew on, to make sense of them. That was Thoreau’s forte, of course, and Hemingway’s in a different manner of speaking. The fault in Alcott is not that he is often cryptic, but that he hedges his truly cryptic (truly rewarding) sayings with a style that puts off the reader from making the effort.
That’s a good way to put it. Just as you have to read Hemingway in a certain way, or Thoreau, so we would be able to read Alcott, if he would only set out his puzzles in a plain frame.
You might say some more about how to read these writers.
I learned it first, reading Thoreau, in 1970. He would have put together two sentences that – when read consecutively – appeared to have nothing to do with each other. I would have to stop and work it out. I would not have done that work if his prose style was not so plain, so straightforward, as to assure me that any obscurity was on my end, not his. Similarly, with Hemingway, I learned that if what I read didn’t seem to make sense, it was because he had deliberately left out something, and the work I had to do to figure out an obscure meaning was always worthwhile in the end.
So, you see, we will not gallop through Alcott’s sayings as we did perforce with the first one. There is treasure there, concealed, innate, unspoken, or, say, hinted at. The slower we go, the more it will appear.
As opposed to the Pennsylvania Dutch saying, “The hurrier I go, the behinder I get.” Okay. So –
“The uncertain echoes of your head.” Isn’t that a good way to describe your habit (anyone’s) of trusting disconnected thought over intuition?
So what does he mean, “The heart is the prophet of your soul, and ever fulfils her prophecies”?
Well, having sat with your question for only a moment, you know. Tell us.
I guess he is saying, intuition knows where we want to go – where life wants us to go – and will bring us there safely if we will follow it.
So, again, “reason is her historian”?
Not sure. Is it as simple as the way we tack on reasons – logic – after the fact, to persuade ourselves we are doing things for perfectly logical reasons?
You tell us. Is it?
Seems like we’re switching roles, here. I guess, if it doesn’t mean that, I can’t imagine what it does mean.
You see the benefit of giving Alcott his moment? He is not merely phrasing platitudes in orotund language. He is doing just what Jung said often happens.
Yes, I guess I had a sense of that, even while being too impatient to read him slowly enough. Jung said the unconscious often comes out in pompous, inflated language. Not that Alcott’s language is pompous – and certainly he was not a pompous man – but that he is speaking more from the unconscious than from the conscious mind.
And that – plus his inadequate formal schooling – is why he is so hard to take seriously, until you do take him seriously enough to really listen.
Was it Emerson? Somebody called Alcott a “tedious archangel.” That sounds too barbed for Emerson, but it gets that quality.
So you can spend your attention being irritated at the “tedious” or you can rejoice in a message from an archangel. Your choice.
That sort of puts me in my place, and I admit, it is warranted. I guess I will show him more respect.
It is a common problem, you realize. Anyone different enough to bring real gifts is going to be different enough to inspire reverence, or snickering. You have to be prepared to second-guess your automatic reaction to someone’s surface eccentricities. Thoreau certainly had them! The transcendentalists in general were as conspicuous for their peculiar individual eccentricities as they were for the depth of their insight. Some observers could see only the things to snicker at; others saw the pure gold often being spun from straw.
So now re-read the saying, and ask whatever you need to ask.
I don’t have any questions. This time, it seems clear to me as it must have seemed clear to him. That’s remarkable.
[Hope deifies man; it is the apotheosis of the soul; the prophecy and fulfilment of her destinies. The nobler her aspirations, the sublimer her conceptions of the Godhead. As the man, so his God: God is his idea of excellence; the complement of his own being.]
“God was created in the image of man,” as somebody said. I had occasion to quote that just recently.
Notice how he moves seamlessly from “hope” to “God.” Like any good Transcendentalist – but really, like anyone who feels into the subject – he sees that what people call God is something both internal and external, something that is the 3D being and yet also transcends it. This lifts him in one smooth transition above the superstition of those who make their idea of God into an idol, and those whose idol is No-God.
He is also saying, the higher you aim to be, the higher you get to live.
You see the problem? Your own language, usually so clear, clots up as it tries to express something not usually spoken.
I do see that. Let me try again. As we aim higher in our creation of ourselves – in our choosing what we want to be – so our prospects expand, and our abilities, and the world we live in.
You could say “You create your own reality,” and get a sense of it, but Alcott was saying it two generations and more before Seth arrived on the scene.
And enough for the moment. Are you still tempted to abandon the investigation?
Very funny. All right, our thanks for all this, as usual. See you next time.
Frank DeMarco, author
Papa’s Trial: Hemingway in the Afterlife, a novel