the metaphysics of the contemporary lyric: Clarkson’s “Love Cow”

Love Cow

by Geraldine Clarkson

Oh cow of love you have me pinned
to your evergreen felt

and are in at my ear with fermenting
oaths and actual importuning

and imprecations. I rebut you
with a tough raft of arguments, derived

from magazines under the sofa
at my Aunt Libbie’s house

I have a disease, your rump is small,
your rich cream disgusts me

and others which are more
sophisticated, from the Bible and books of

philosophy. You give me a soft brown
stare. How I wobble now before you, cow

of love, humongous, like a free-range
sack of boulders swaying

delightfully, your cordial spine
rippling, your celtic skeleton

offering promise. To eat you
would be divine, surely,

your emerald milk fast-forwarding
to your stomachs, pressed over and over

by clenching muscles. Why is it you cows get
such bad press? I wonder, half-beguiled.

Sometimes I see you, fenced,
defending young (‘let go of your dog

if cows surround you’, the notice
on the farm-gate says)    

or at the abattoir, steaming hot
and hung prosaically on hooks.                                           

Or on the plate with no relief
except for some mocking green

salad – staked out, defenceless.
They say your flesh can stay

unsullied in the gut
for six months or more –

bowels fill with longing
for sloping fields, a faraway sea.

This poem, first published by The Poetry Society before the publication of her now celebrated MONICA’S OVERCOAT OF FLESH, fulfills the promise of that volume. The oblivion to which metaphysics have fallen in modern times makes it ripe for my use. Her fans should be interested in why we should think of her art, so resolutely affirmative about the ways our bodies add dimensions to our sense of self. The Love Cow speaks intimately to the poet, who initially closes her ears with the arguments of others. The image —pinned to evergreen felt— might be cleared up by the poet, but the ambiguity “you have me pinned” creates an “other” structurally irreducible to reduction: so “meta”? And the dialogic form sustains that and reminds one of earlier metaphysicals like Donne and Herbert. The balance of the poem argues in several voices with the imposing immanence, indeed the fleshy quality underlies the metaphysical universality. (The double Immanence/Transcendence is fundamental to our metaphysical understanding of Romanticism, but as I hope to show, a good lyric handles it with finesse: here it’s part of Clarkson’s characteristic charitas.) As we will see in this column, Romantic Hegelian metaphysics has been transformed by more recent philosophers such as Bergson, Merleau-Ponty and William Desmond to open the meta to the centrality of the Flesh, to use a contemporary Upper Case. The confidence of the metaphysical presentation of the “Love Cow” should leave no doubt that in the hands of Clarkson the metaphysical mode is decidedly contemporary. It’s a glorious poem.

LYRIC FREEDOM Transtromer “Allegro” [text in daily revision]

I play Hayden after a black day/ and feel a simple warmth in my hands. //

The keys are willing. Soft hammers strike./

The resonance green, lively, calm.//

The music says freedom exists/and someone doesn’t pay the emperor tax.//

The first three couplets establish the situation: they describe a believable situation. This realism is typical of lyric openings. But the realism goes beyond empiricism. The “simple warmth in his hands” could go without explanation. But the next couplet enters the world of the instrument. Then the world of the music. Call it “personification” and this imaginative world connects with the music being played. Haydn. Green. Lively. Calm. The next couplet, as if anticipating objection because things just don’t happen that way—personification is a ruse— goes further: “The music says …” This way of putting things is considered illiterate by common sense skepticism.

Why “freedom”? The ethos of lyric is freedom. And so the poem begins to replace the common ethos of self-expression with the reconfigured ethos of lyric. Freedom from limiting notions of “aesthetic” happening. (Aesthetics is undergoing transformation from Romantic subjectivism to ontological phenomenological centrality.) Personification. Attribution of verbal meaning to music. Both these freedoms release the poet from restrictions dependent on the modern idea of self. This lyric freedom confronts the (rational) self as the source of meaning. Lyric is polyvocal. But as we shall see the mind/voices of the poem, informed by the lyric ethos, has a dialectical turn, self-critical, opening beyond the imagined world of the poem.


LYRIC OPENINGS Geraldine Clarkson

I open Monica’s Overcoat of Flesh (Nine Arches Press 2020) because I’m bored, and itching to write about how lyric affects the malaise of boredom. Clarkson’s poetry has an over plus of musical meaning and I like that.

Boredom afflicts people who read books in ways only books can help. We say take a walk, get some fresh air. Listen to the news. Call a friend. Go online. But nothing helps.

But when I read “ she’s started swearing, her mind like a sewer,” the last phrase of Clarkson’s “Inis Ni,” I connect to something outside myself but obviously part of myself now. Maybe my black mood needed this “objective correlative,” to borrow Eliot’s phrase. (And another phrase that has become a closed door.)

Such openings in the process of thinking through a poem involve us with the world of contingency, the world which may well not have happened. This is, in a sense, the human world; we like to say other worlds, like mathematics, are necessary. The sleep of finitude, boredom, is asleep in the necessary. Lyric openings wake us to the contingency and we feel suddenly alive and connected.

So anyway I reread the poem and I’m feeling better.

It’s something about the specific music of this poem, the melody of swearing and sewer, the dissonance of reference and sw-sew. Then I notice the double meaning of sewer. And another dimension opens up: I don’t sew but I love textiles as handiwork. I connect it with making poems, and swearing while doing so because it’s demanding work.

The poem is then an opening for me. I was closed now I’m open.

LYRIC ENDS and BEGINNINGS 12.12.20 (Penelope Shuttle)

I’ve taken a break to recharge and what hit me is the resilience of the concept of witness in the life of modern poetry. For example: Three of the authors that hold their own while reflecting the chaos of the modern — Denise Levertov, Milosz, and Geoffrey Hill — invite conversations about contemporary witnessing. Less well-known poets like Geraldine Clarkson and Penelope Shuttle bear witness too. Witness has little to do with Twitter likes, though it does seem to suggest something about the irreducibly human, the excess of what it is poets bear witness to.

This is from Shuttle’s Poetry Salzburg pamphlet FATHER LEAR (2020).

Beautifully done

said the dying Stanley Spencer to a nurse giving him an injection / in the small hours and I think the hours themselves / prefer the night when the dead clip us in passing with their stiff eyes // they are escaping this woe-filled earth without a second thought for any of us / not even the bee-in-their-bonnet florists who wove their wreaths / This is why I think less good of the dead than you might suppose // (except for Stanley)

The poem witnesses by fulfilling what we’ve come to expect of a lyric— a grounded opening, literal and competent, an exploration of the verbal equivocities of the occasion, a development of the conversation from multiple cultural points of view, then the confrontation of the poet and reader in the space carved out by the poem. It is a lively space despite the occasion. Stanley Spencer is very much a part of it.

As for ends and beginnings, the linear, temporal nature of lyric, often ignored by contemporary poets, yields to the paradox of form as something that survives the lyric’s performance in time. The surplus is there. “Survives” serves the relief of ending and the sur of both survive and surplus point to the wisdom of that parenthesis in closing.

PRACTICING LYRIC Geraldine Clarkson “She has the words—“

from MONICA’s OVERCOAT OF FLESH (Nine Arches Press 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE Music as form that is forming and formless, as intimate and yet as more than itself, as universal speaking to all, even those who resist. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal (2016), 91.

Geraldine Clarkson’s first book, as opposed to chapbook, has a breadth and depth that challenge the reader. It is a challenge posed by the more challenging approaches to what has been routinely called spiritual or religious experience. (See now Marin Dubois, Gerard Manly Hopkins and the Poetry of Religious Experience (Cambridge, 2017.) Put it this way, nobody is quite sure what James meant by “experience.” Not to mention “religious.”

To what experience of words does Clarkson’s She had the words refer? The opening of the poem provides a rich sense of this. We get a snapshot of this sense of the word “words” in the title— like when you find your self saying “I have the words, I know what I mean, but …” THAT experience of words.

It’s an experience of words assumed by, say, The Four Quartets, so it’s not peculiar to Clarkson. That said, her way of imagining the subconscious life of words seems distinctly her own, which is important because readers of lyrics expect that. The narrative here has many “values” in the sense assumed by the wine taster’s palate. These words experience the seasons, shrink back from summer/fall’s liminal (that sill or threshold) abundance to winter’s groggy, skeletal shroud. They experience fits of resistance to oblivion, waving ambiguously but vigorously (take the word order, to what realm of experience does it belong?).

So from the acknowledgment of the tenuous claims on sense exerted by words to the rather brilliant image of their quite proper self-love in most keep their sugar/for themselves (not only to but for themselves), we face the abyss. It’s just possible for the poet to rest in the chaos of the words themselves. Some poets do. That is a way of defining the ultimately senseless poetic that seems to credential numberless poets today.

But Clarkson follows the lyric narrative by imagining a new life for words, that we call the metaxu. This space disavows the certainties of deterministic concepts and, on the other hand, the narcissistic life provided by the poet’s self-determined autonomy. The last five lines of the poem are predicated by “unless.” That is, on condition that someone / else may be counted on. Not the public, not the tradition, not the poet’s self….

Now the poem invokes the metaxu. The imaginative space of creation as invoked by the word order. If Clarkson were W. H. Auden we might know what she means by order, to wit, something out of the chummy catholic tradition. The metaxu has no index to such Meaning. Whatever order means in this poem’s between flows from the unconscious life, threatened by disasters underground that force them to the surface (her reframing of Plato’s cave?) to the promise of this singular word order. That is, to the metaxical openness to what is other to thought thinking itself. To the finite singular other as imagined by the poet in this poem as the voice of if not of the poet herself then of her poem. To this intimate universal referred to in the FIELD OF REFERENCE as “music.”

So in light of She has the words what she has is belief in the music of the words she has.

Rock on, Geraldine!

PRACTICING LYRIC Geraldine Clarkson “caress”

your touch/more darkly styled/than your kiss/twists/my insides/like table linen/in the red handed grip/of Irish washerwomen

from Monica’s Overcoat of Flesh (Nine Arches Press 2020)

FIELD OF REFERENCE Determinate beings have an overdeterminate singularity that speaks of the marvel of the “that it is at all” of their being. WILLIAM DESMOND THE INTIMATE UNIVERSAL 165

This very small poem carries an electric shock far beyond its look on the page. How so?

Clarkson has crafted a flow of connections out of human consciousness: the flow looks and feels spontaneous. She wasn’t thinking of metaphysics when she wrote the poem. Still: The flow is from the determinate — “your kiss” — about which there is no doubt; to the indeterminate —“more darkly styled than”; through the self-determinate (“my insides”). It ends in the metaxu.

These categories belong to philosophy, namely that of William Desmond, a contemporary Irish philosopher (see FIELD OF REFERENCE). The agon between philosophy and poetry is as old as Plato and as new as post-modernism. It adds relish and a profound originality to one’s enjoyment of lyric.

The ending of caress enters a fourth dimension of being: the finite singular other. Here it is introduced as a simile— once again, the quick finesse of the poet assures the reader’s receiving the shock of immediacy. There is literally no way to anticipate the particulars of the simile. The visual and tactile impact is sudden and wrenching. Desmond has a word for this mode of being, the overdeterminate. He takes the prefix “over” from philosophical and mystical traditions. It refers to the incalculable, the giveness, the singularity of the finite other. One might almost say its infinity. The phrase “red handed grip” comes out of the blue (and red)but fulfills the job and then some: to express the “that it is at all.”

Such exegesis is the pastime of the lover of lyric. It eventually brings the lyric within one’s practice of living. (Close reading has roots in what Pierre Hadot presents in his life work as spiritual exercise.) Reading lyric mindfully restores one’s awareness of having a home for oneself in the metaxu, the between where one’s finite nature opens toward an awareness of thinking the other than thought. The last piece of a lyric is often an image of of the “that it is at all.”

The elaborated nature of the final image has a polyvocal spread. Consider, it seems to say in its lavish particularity, the behavior of linen in water. Absorbent. Resilient. As bodies wracked by Eros. As tablecloths in the red hands of washerwomen. The speaker glancingly reveals a bit about herself, perhaps. The simile fills the moment to overfilling. This is the sign of metaxu: the between space a space of passionate encounter as of the original lovers Lack and Plenty in Plato’s myth in the Symposium.

Because the lyric reconnects our minds to orders of being that get lost in chaotic times, the lyric is enjoying new popularity. Where there is smoke there’s fire. Great lyrics— from Sappho to Horace down to Baudelaire and Celan — are rare, but they are trustworthy. They repay ardent attention with an overwhelming gift of understanding oneself.

LYRIC REFLECTIONS Geraldine Clarkson “His Wife in the Corner”

from MONICA’S OVERCOAT OF FLESH (Nine Arches Press 2020)

Lyric deserves more critical attention. It is clearly the genre of the moment.

On reflection, a great lyric embodies the experience of threshold, or attention to transitions within an aesthetic (open) whole of poetry. Minor as it presents itself, His Wife in the Corner presents multiple thresholds that comprise the poem’s dynamic. Thresholds include aspects of the poem’s voice— present, past, self and other; temporal frame (then, now, and a narrative past —that vodka bottle); and attitudes or aspects, distinguishable here in terms of the points of view of the poet as prismatic for man, woman, and (inner?) child. Not to mention the fang-dang urgent message.

The concept of threshold helps us with the old idol unity. There’s a heterogeneity to lyric that defeats the expectation, nay hope, of perfectly expressive communication. But the plurivocity of lyric also defeats the cop-out of nihilism. The self or suchness of the poem, however complex, selves, to paraphrase Hopkins, and that movement, as articulated by the thresholds, is a matter not of determinate knowledge of, say, certain modes of self-consciousness, but of finesse, even of desire.

Some readers will detect in the complexity of His Wife in the Corner a blank from which to settle the scores between the parties. For example, confronting the most obvious option, in what sense is this a “feminist” poem? Indeed, ask that question of the whole book. Or try this: does this poem, this book, assume an authorial point of view inseparable from Christianity?

One final point: The concept of Threshold, indebted to the ultimate notion of plurivocal wholeness, seems to keep the given poem open to the reader’s own “selving.” However we frame it, Clarkson’s poem recapitulates the art of lyric as practicable in light of post-Romantic developments. I like to think of it this way: in light of contemporary debates, the lyric has a dog in the fight with nihilism, boredom, anti-intellectualism, and other popular diversions. For the critical reader, it’s an exciting thing to see. We seem to be in a revival of lyric. Lyric may be the genre par excellence of reflection on limits of our ability to express ourselves satisfactorily.

LYRIC PERFORMANCES Geraldine Clarkson “You taught me a new way of singing”

the words thick in my throat— like birds caroling, cat calls, badger / jazz, and all manner of tunes squirreled away / for the future. The lessons burned in my gullet / until in my tum I had taught them to others—/ and the two, three, four, seven of us/ were singing together and jamming—/ thrumming and humming, stipple-/ tonguing in clots and gobs of sound–/ dribbling and sliding, colliding in chords / and climbing, seven-handed, a knotted / bat’s-cradled tree-house skirling with hymns—/ us busking in Basque, arabesque —/ you bosky, you buzzing, you clopping in time.

from Monica’s Overcoat of Flesh (Nine Arches Press 2020)

FIELD Of REFERENCE For autonomy can take a rhapsodic form, as in Nietzsche, as well as a rational form, as in Kant. The moderating power of genuine friendship, its qualitative “evening,” proves important once again. It rescues freedom from both rationalistic calculation and the anonymous universal. The friend is a singular human, and the friendship of excellence can also keep us from the baser equivocities of some rhapsodic forms. Why? Because it is bound to a personal name. The personal name of friendship gives anchor or ballast to the rhapsodic energies of joy. There are no anonymous orgies of friendship. WILLIAM DESMOND THE INTIMATE UNIVERSAL (Columbia University Press 2016)

Geraldine Clarkson’s first book MONICA’S OVERCOAT OF FLESH is receiving rave reviews. There are many things to praise here: a searing compassion, a many-colored technique, a complex but confident music comparable to Celtic song. Above all is the choral nature of the praise: this book is a happening.

To go deeper into this phenomenon I’ve chosen one of the shorter poems, a sort of ars poetica. Readers of this blog will recognize some of the structural themes, starting with the second person pronoun, but also the increasingly charged interplay of verbal equivocity and conceptual dialectic.

So, who’s this you? It’s instantly followed by me—my throat. But not before some playful equivocity: the reader may do a double take at “thick in my throat.” Not “stick in my throat”? Well, yes, that too.

The verbal thickness of the style requires successive performances: at first, second, third… glance there is no way to master this text conceptually. As a proper lyric it pushes off the terra firma of the opening: I mean it says that singing lessons from many species “burned in my gullet”— the past tense and an autobiographical hook offers a narrative before from which to launch the future (of) song.

Not pausing that sentence becomes the flow to the end. It is a flow of others. Others conceived as specific non-verbal, non-rational expressions of individual voices. The ache in the throat releases two, three, four, seven of us… Then an extraordinary chaos of voices imitating the selving (via Hopkins notably and Joyce and…) of voices.

It is no blur. It is loud perhaps but not pointless. Clarkson’s vision of this new way of singing draws on the oldest “forms” or purposes of selving sounds: praise. Say: Poetic sound is originally and terminally liturgical. Its “end” is not the pure concept or the individual self refolded into an original unity. It is the sound of the finite, singular, intimate other. As in a riff on Augustine’s identity crisis in Confessions. Intimate because more “inner” than any conceptual outer. But also higher than any one you.

Clarkson “shows” what she means but can’t say in so many words (a move crucial to lyric concluding): busking in Basque, arabesque invokes the hooked cross of the Basque “lauburu” or four-headed cross, which is immediately compared with/to another cultural pattern, the arabesque. This epiphany of form suddenly took me back to my youth in the big den chair in Bakersfield exploring word origins in my foxed Partridge and dazzled and numbed by Celtic interlace as a universal voicing of me.

AND FINALLY: the lyric “you” behind the all-performing mask. Who? Bosky, buzzing, clopping— that’s who. See the FIELD OF REFERENCE for a philosophical gloss. This “you” is more intimate than any name, in friendship with mortal others it makes music out of potentially riotous energies of selving. Lyric unity is irreducibly plural, harmonious. Clarkson’s ars poetica is all about friendship.

LYRIC PERFORMANCES Andrew Wynn Owen “Sand Grains”

Almost not anything at all, this particle // Of disconnected shell, /yet squirreling and shot / Through with a chutzpah fit for Frank Lloyd Wright.// Sheer angled mell, // A plankton’s cot, / It chuckles mischief, challenging the light. //A mineature motel, / Where some deceptive plot // Might stumble, after rambling on an article

Of lace, to solve its long-pursued conundrum. // Eureka. Awe. A crux / Hounded between the trees // For donkey’s years, corroborated. Truly, / Eternal flux / (Whatever wheeze // We try to pull), although it seem unruly, / Yields reverence redux. / As everybody sees // Sooner or later, nothing here is humdrum.

from New Poetries 7: an anthology edited by Michael Schmidt (Carcanet 2020)

NB Double // signifies a flush left return. Sorry. The poem is beautifully self-conscious in the respect of line action as in all others. Buy the book and see.

FIELD OF REFERENCE Such a practice of philosophy asks a porosity of mindful thought to what exceeds complete determination in terms of finite immanence alone. It is a participant in this middle, does not overreach it from the outside, and if it is, as it were, lifted up from within, it too is always defined by passages in the between. WILLIAM DESMOND The Intimate Universal (Columbia University Press 2016), 167.

Desmond’s phrase ”lifted up from within” suggests the dynamic of Owen’s poetry. The armchair physicist contemplating the quantum paradigm will feel the pull of this dynamic, as will the lover of lyric saturated with English poems from Thomas Traherne to Auden to now. Owen is excessively charged with the givens and gifts of a tradition too easily categorized as mystical. (The reconsideration of the mystical after William James and the experiential hypothesis is one of the more massive eruptions/disruptions of the post-post symbolic era.)

Reconfiguring Blake’s grain of sand might be considered the daydream of a fictive country parson but following Owen’s syntax draws on intellectual and emotional competences rooted in the performative practice of lyric.

Shaping the lines — an aspect not well served by my format — is a mindfulness in excess of Marianne Moore’s laconic style. Swerving in its references from obscure etymologies — mell as in honey— to narrative exempla on the scale of Frank Lloyd Wright— Owen’s oceanic flux of verbal energy follows what we refer to as the lyric chiasm, the inside/ outside vortex that grounds the poem in the honesty of “whatever wheeze / we try to pull.”

Owen’s voice includes the outside skepticism of the inside wonder. Teetering on the edge of inanity is one of his specialties and lifts his poems up from within while acknowledging the frailty of the flesh of the chiasm.

The poem’s essential lyric argument opens at last on not the self-serving wholistic self but on the syntax of “sooner or later, nothing here.” The otherness of the finite other beyond thinking is well within sight. Owen is among the few poet’s today who know how to reach that pitch without self-conscious (and self-defeating) irony. We recall perhaps with a mixture of chagrin and gratitude how, in the words of the author’s preface, “wrong it would be to forget how to be loving.”

In a word, at our best, we are all “passages in the between” as envisioned here.

LYRIC PERFORMANCE Horace “To the Poet Tibullus”

Albius, honest reader of my poems, / What shall I say you are doing, out there in the country? / At work on a poem to outdo Cassius? / Taking a calm salubrious walk in the woods, / And thinking thoughts that are worthy of yourself? // You never were a body without a soul./ The gods gave you good looks and they gave you money, / And gave you the art of being pleased with their gifts. / What more could a governess want for the sweet child she raises, / Than that he should know and that he be able to say / What’s honest and right, and that he should act upon it, / And that he be granted favor and fame and good health, / And the money to live an agreeable kind of life? // Between hope and discouragement, fears, and angers, and such, / Treat every new day as the last you’re going to have, / Then welcome the next as unexpectedly granted. / / When you want a good laugh, you’ll find me here, in the pink, / A pig from Epicurus’s sty, fat, sleek, well cared for.

from The Epistles of Horace translated by David Ferry (FSG 2001)

FIELD OF REFERENCE The incognito generosity shows a surplus of affirmative “to be” as good that is always at work, though it be driven out of the foreground of our picture of things. WILLIAM DESMOND, The Intimate Universal (Columbia University Press, 2016)

NB: in all my writing about lyric I owe so much to my Berkeley teacher W. R. Johnson and his indispensable book The Idea of Lyric: Lyric Modes in Ancient and Modern Poetry (California, 1982)

The voice in lyric is a problematic thing and gets a lot of attention on this blog. Modern lyric since Baudelaire has featured the alienated, ironic, voice. Which means in practice that the first person and second person pronouns lack a foundation in the Common sense world of the reader. So coming upon the “epistles” or literary letters of Horace (65-27 BCE) can be a shock to the system and inoculate the reader from any challenge to it. We instantly file it under irrelevant.

A quick google check will discover that Horace has always been considered thanks to his Odes a master of lyric. We may learn that after publishing his monumental three-volume book of Odes, he turned to a new form of short poem. They drew on philosophical traditions of conversation. Looking at one closely reveals lyric form as we discuss it at Lyric Investigations.

Indeed, my dear reader (!) will recognize many of the essential moves of lyric. The opening scene defers in some key way to the world shared by poet and reader. Then the loosening of our hold on that world as our language loosens into its equivocal status. As that move deepens our sense of our own fragility along with the poet’s and her language, a dance of dialectics takes over: if not this, how about that. The pieces are sharply defined and determinate and open to challenge. As a eddying flow of language it sweeps through, by us. In this section the lyric expands its references to more abstract but no less relevant material that tends to replace the poet’s voice with a more universal but no less intimate voice.

This lyric narrative shapes Horace’s letter to Tibullus, one of the young or “new” poets of his times. He speaks with the authority of the author of the Odes, which were not particularly popular though they had the imprimatur of the emperor Augustus and his minister of culture, who was Horace’s dear friend. He is avuncular and a little awkward in his new persona of the real Horace up close and personal.

After a catalogue of possible images of his addressee, slightly edged at the end with a suggestion of Narcissism, Horace cuts to the chase. Self-knowledge depends on one’s circumstances, and Tibullus had the good fortune not shared by Horace, whose struggles to achieve independence were dependent on the powers-that-be. The passage is both general in a textbook-way and, in its rhythms and warm tone personal. Horace rejoices with Tibullus in his good fortune. As the passage ripens, what moves front and center is Tibullus’s freedom. It was his good fortune to be able to say “what’s honest and right” and moreover that he was free to act on it. He had been granted “favor” AND money and could do whatever he pleased.

The image of Tibullus’s freedom Is obviously ideal, but no less real for that, at least in this letter. We get a glimpse here of the ancient practice of philosophy as spiritual exercise, in this case giving voice to the school of Epicurus. To us it goes down easily (according to our modern Epicurian ideals we believe in the universality of the pursuit of happiness. To Horace and Tibullus it probably had more of the smell of the academic exercise in the gardens of philosophy, and some of the fun was in how Horace could turn that into poetry.

But we are not done, or the lyric narrator hasn’t completed his moves until he can broaden the view beyond the dialectical to the intimate universal. Horace, or the poem, shifts the scene to the “between” or metaxu. Life is lived between the extremes of life and death. This between is porous to one’s individual universality, not the academic universals of the textbooks. The temperature of the language has now risen to lyric intensity. Whatever we receive in the future is excess. Unmerited. A gift of eternity’s beloved Time. Though a gift it shouldn’t be taken for granted. We live in contradiction. Now that’s poetry.

The last lines fulfill the lyric’s endowment of freedom in Horace’s self-image. As finite particular being beyond the scope of thought thinking thinking (Aristotle’s unforgettable phrase), Horace achieves an image of his own true self, grateful for his endowments, which include his gentle if not genteel sense of irony.

So the lyric narrative comes to a definitive end in Horace’s new poetry. As master of lyric, the status he achieved in the Odes, Horace performs lyric in a new non-lyric genre, which is the perfect move for his commitment to personal freedom. In Desmond’s 21st-century philosophical language, lyric is among other things the expression of the “to be” of incarnate free being.