Friday, July 13, 2007

The Senecan Ramble

Ron Penner headshot by Ron Penner

Let us, for a moment, seriously consider the Senecan ramble; it flourished for a period in English literature, especially in essays, so it must have much to recommend itself. I have guessed -- merely guessed -- that some may not write because they feel that they ought to write about only one subject at a time with internal consistency throughout. I would hope to be among the last to denigrate this, but why should not a Senecan ramble -- a series of loosely connected insights and/or observations with no central theme be equally valued if the quality of thought therein were of equal value with more tightly organized writing? As one would go for a walk in the country and comment upon what one saw with no predetermined plan in mind, so one could gather together the treasured insights of a month into a ramble for the edification of us all. And as this is about the Senecan ramble, I intend herein to ramble. (One will notice little connection between the first paragraph and the second.)

One poem that I have always remembered and ever shall is "The Soul and Body of John Brown" by Muriel Rukeyser, subtitled, "Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision!" from the book of Joel. The poem, in a most profound way, attempts to recapture to experience of a nation in the summer of 1940, still dazed by the Depression and bewilderingly trying to face a future of awesome responsibilities and global effort, of massive deaths and sufferings. The poem, which I highly recommend, is a highly complex interweaving of strands and a magnificent ramble! I will quote one stanza which, in its own way, sums up the entire poem and which I have always regarded as one of the most evocative and memorable in all of the English literature encountered in a lifetime.

"White landscapes emphasize his nakedness
reflected in countries of naked who shiver and stare at fires,
their backs to the face that unrolls new worlds around them.
--They go down the valleys. They shamble in the streets.
Blind to the sun-storming image echoed in their eyes.
--They dread the surface of their victim life,
lying helpless and savage in shade parks,
asking the towers only what beggars dare:
food, fire, water, and air."

We need not shamble, but we can ramble.


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