The seed of disorder

“I am the seed of disorder.” –Paul Eluard

From an essay by Ezra Pound (published in The Exile):
“The principle of good is enunciated by Confucius. It consists in establishing order within oneself. This order or harmony spreads by a sort of contagion without specific effort.”

As Lewis Hyde, who excerpts the above passage in The Gift notes, Pound offers an implicit paradox here that he apparently could neither acknowledge nor accept. If “good” is order, how can it spread by “a sort of contagion”—surely a chaotic method of disseminating something supposedly well-structured?

Hmm. I turn now to Wallace Stevens—or rather, to Helen Vendler on Wallace Stevens—to examine further this “idea of order.” Vendler’s interpretation of the order in Stevens’ “The Idea of Order at Key West” includes several approaches. There is order as in organization: the singer in Stevens’ poem creates and hence organizes her physical world. There is order as in command: she orders her world into being by singing, by language. Then there is order as magnitude: “The two Wordsworthian orders of mind and world…exquisitely fitted and yet subtly uneasy with each other,” notes Vendler. The tension Hyde finds and explicates in Pound’s Cantos also exists in Vendler’s examination of Stevens.

Eluard, a poet completely different in style, sensibility, and background from Pound and Stevens, identifies in his poem the workings of that tension, the DNA carrier, the seed of disorder which, it can be plausibly speculated, might well spread its own form of harmony without specific effort, traveling as seeds do through a myriad of dispersal mechanisms such as wind, burrs, digestion and expulsion, burial by mammals, flotation, and the like. (As a gardener, I am constantly amazed at these marvelous mechanisms.)

Well-fitted but uneasy together, disorder through its contagion moves harmony and order to grounds on which what inheres in the seed can survive, even thrive, as it organizes itself into maturity. The seed “follows orders” nature has imposed through genetics. Mind and world, order and self, establish themselves as “good.”

Without that seed of disorder, all is stasis. No art, nor mind nor world, can be produced unless the rebellious seed slips from stem, twig, womb, sac, or lamellae to sing its own idea of order into the world.

For some fabulous photographs of lamellae, see:

Hive Mind on FlickR

Poetry Break.

I took a break from difficult reading to read Eluard’s “Last Love Poems” as translated by Marilyn Kallet. Alas that I am mono-lingual and cannot read poetry in any language other than English. I have to take the translator’s word for it (literally and figuratively) that the beauty in the lines can be nearly portrayed in English. The struggle translators must have to go through to transform such a studied thing of language as a poem is into a different tongue amazes me. Inevitably there is some loss of connotation, wordplay, music, rhythm, cultural freight; the careful reader understands that there may be lacunae of some kind, and a mono-lingual reader recognizes that she will not be able to track down where those subtle gaps occur. A good translation, however, manages to maintain the beauty.

“Beauty”—now, there’s a moving target. Quine devotes a few pages to the discussion of the concept in his “intermittently philosophical dictionary.” He writes: “The aesthetic pole is the focus of belle lettres, music, art for art’s sake. But it is a matter of emphasis, not boundaries. Scientists in pursuing truth also seek beauty of an austere kind in the elegance of a theory, and happily some of them seek literary grace in their expository writing.” Quine ends his brief entry on Beauty by suggesting that truth and beauty are not a binary system, that we need not see them as poles apart; yet he does not quite agree with Keats’ conflation of the two. We need ethics and rhetoric in addition to truth and beauty, says the philosopher.

Peter de Bolla, writing two decades or so later, inclines toward a less binary way of looking at beauty and truth when he writes that, since the art of music is  an “articulation of the temporal,” there is a “philosophical argument music makes about relationships between time and being.”  And that argument results in beauty, when it is a well-composed argument, I suppose.

Suddenly the welcome earth
Was a rose of luck
Visible with fair mirrors
Where everything sang to open rose

(“Seasons,” Paul Eluard, tr. Marilyn Kallet)

de Bolla asks: What does the poem know? This poem knows music, and beauty “in the gentle desert of the street” and “beneath life overpowering and good.”


ann e. michael, waterfall, poetry