This post might be a little indulgent. "What is Miltonic Allusion, Part 1" may have been sufficient to explain what Miltonic allusion is. But just in case you wanted to hear more about it, here is some stuff from Bloom on how Milton's figure of the leaves continues in Coleridge, Shelley, Whitman, Beckett and Stevens. Again, my thesis is that each poet interprets the images that he inherits in the same way Tarantino interprets his favorite movies in Kill Bill. What follows is mostly poetry, and quotes by Harold Bloom. I don't have much to say about these passages today, but I will be keeping them in mind as I look at Kill Bill. I want them up here because I may need to return to them later.
WALLACE STEVENS' DOMINATION OF BLACK (1916)
At night, by the fire,
The colors of the bushes
And of the fallen leaves,
Turned in the room,
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind
Yes: but the color of the heavy hemlocks
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
The colors of their tails
Were like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind,
In the twilight wind.
They swept over the room,
Just as they flew from the boughs of the hemlocks
Down to the ground.
I heard them cry – the peacocks.
Was it a cry against the twilight
Or against the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind
Turning as the flames
Turned in the fire,
Turning as the tails of the peacocks
Turned in the loud fire,
Loud as the hemlocks
Full of the cry of the peacocks?
Or was it the cry of the hemlocks?
Out of the window,
I saw how the planets gathered
Like the leaves themselves
Turning in the wind.
I saw how the night came,
Came striding like the color of the heavy hemlocks.
I felt afraid.
And I remembered the cry of the peacocks.
Bloom says that the leaves in the poem must be understood in the context of the image of the leaves in romantic poetry: Coleridge, Shelley, and Whitman.
FROM COLERIDGE’S CHRISTABEL
There is not wind enough to twirl
The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
That dances as often as dance it can,
Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky.
Bloom says "This, to Ruskin, was the fallacy of imputing consciousness to the object world. Coleridge truly inaugurated the grand Pathetic Fallacy of the fiction of the leaves. ”
Coleridge’s 1817 volume of poetry was called Sibylline Leaves, a reference to the legend of the Cumean Sibyl who wrote prophecies on leaves which she placed at the mouth of her cave. If no one came to collect them they were scattered by the wind and never read. She offered nine volumes of such prophecies to the emperor of Rome but he refused to pay her outrageous price; she burned three volumes and then three more at which point his curiosity was piqued, and he bought the last three books.
FROM SHELLEY’S ODE TO THE WEST WIND
O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn’s being,
Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,
Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red
Thou on whose stream, mid the steep sky’s commotion,
Loose clouds like earth’s decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean
If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
I would ne’er have striven
As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
Like withered leaves to quicken to a new birth!
And, by the incarnation of this verse,
Scatter, as from an unextinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
Be through my lips to unawakened earth
The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?
[Bloom says that in the Milton passage quoted last time, the fallen angels “must awake and arise, or be forever fallen. Shelley, lest he fall into Satan’s predicament, does not call to the leaves, nor does he allow them to cry aloud. He calls only to the wind, like the Hebrew prophet before him. Shelley’s fiction of the leaves abandons Milton’s revision of the major Western poetic sources and origins, by forsaking Isaiah’s image of the host of heaven falling down as the leaf falls off from the vine."
I have never been super clear on how calling to the leaves like Satan calls to his troops (compared by Milton to leaves) would cause Shelley to "fall into Satan's predicament," but you get the idea: Shelley inaugurates a shift in the use of this image. Is "falling into Satan's predicament" demanding success, demanding rising, from things that are forever fallen, like the leaves in Homer?
Bloom says Shelley’s “leaves are double, adding to the Miltonic composite the image of the leaves of a book. Shelley’s words, his dead thoughts, belong to both the book of nature and the book of a new revelation.
WALT WHITMAN’S LEAVES OF GRASS
Bloom: “Whitman is more interested in the figuration of the grass," from Peter 1:24: “For all flesh is grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass. The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away.”
[Bloom: “But since the ‘of’ in the title means both ‘consisting of’ and ‘concerning,’ Whitman intends a more conceptual interplay also. Leaves fall annually, but the grass in Palestine has an even shorter life. Anyone who has watched a Jerusalem spring will remember how quickly and cruelly the Judean hills turn brown again after their brief green. Leaves of grass are thus also leaves of the transitory flesh, and almost come to leaves of mortality. If all flesh is grass, nevertheless leaves are both pages and, after Shelley, words that quicken to a new birth. Whitman’s title transumes both the Bible and Romantic tradition so as to suggest an intricate personal balance of immortality and mortality."
Bloom quotes John Hollander, who suggests that with so much poetic baggage it is as if Stevens is saying, in Domination of Black, “even as the leaves turn color and die; and the Sybil’s scattered leaves are reconstituted metaphorically in all our own writings, even as men fall like leaves and become mulch for new generations, even as the leaves of the book of life turn, so does the very image of the leaves present itself for revision."
FROM WALLACE STEVENS’ AN ORDINARY EVENING IN NEW HAVEN
The mobile and the immobile flickering
In the area between is and was are leaves,
Leaves burnished in autumnal burnished trees
And leaves in whirlings in the gutters, whirlings
Around and away, resembling the presence of thought,
Resembling the presences of thoughts, as if,
In the end, in the whole psychology of the self,
The town, the weather, in a casual litter,
Together, said words of the world are the life of the world.
Bloom says “The trope of leaves as words of the world is available to Stevens because Shelley has purged it of its Miltonic associations. This seems to me part of the story only.” The idea that a strong writer an "purge" an image of its earlier associations seems very important.
SAMUEL BECKETT’S WAITING FOR GODOT
Bloom: “Perhaps, though, it was most of the story for Beckett, whom I invoke here as the dead end of the trope of the leaves. In act II of Waiting for Godot Estragon and Vladimir engage in a lyrical dialogue concerning ‘all the dead voices.’ Vladimir suggests that the dead voices make a noise like wings, like sand, like feathers, like ashes, but each time Estragon replies “Like leaves.” That is a darker vision than Stevens’ in An Ordinary Evening in New Haven, but no darker than Wallace Steven’s The Course of a Particular."
FROM STEVENS’ THE ROCK (1951)
The fiction of the leaves is the icon
Of the poem, the figuration of blessedness
And the icon is the man
Bloom says “The man is Walt Whitman.” I feel like this is more dramatic than accurate.
FROM STEVENS’S THE COURSE OF A PARTICULAR (1951)
Today the leaves cry, hanging on branches swept by wind,
Yet the nothingness of winter becomes a little less.
It is still full of the cry of icy shades and shapen snow.
The leaves cry … One holds off and merely hears the cry.
It is a busy cry, concerning someone else.
And though one says that one is part of everything,
There is a conflict, there is a resistance involved;
And being part is an exertion that declines:
One feels the life of that which gives life as it is.
The leaves cry. It is not a cry of divine attention,
Nor the smoke-drift of puffed-out heroes, nor human cry.
It is the cry of the leaves that do not transcend themselves,
In the absence of fantasia, without meaning more
Than they are in the final finding of the ear, in the thing
Itself, until, at last, the cry concerns no one at all.
Bloom: “Shelley’s leaves do not cry out. In Leaves of Grass also, leaves never cry aloud. Stevens leaves contrast bitterly with Shelley’s withered leaves that will quicken to a new birth and Whitman’s crucial mixed trope, leaves of grass."
Bloom concludes: “Today the leaves cry, which implies that they do not cry everyday, and they may not cry tomorrow. They are particular leaves, hanging on branches swept by wind, and Stevens cannot or will not tell us whether his hearing of the cry renders the nothingness of winter a little less or whether that little less comes merely by and in cycle. His “yet” is interpretive, and begins the depreciation of the cry of the leaves which is the apparent plot of the poem. I do not think that this plot can be trusted by any aware reader who understands the fury in the words, the antithetical fury that turns away from and against Shelley and Whitman, which here means against anteriority itself. Truly we have here what Hollander termed allusion and elusion inextricably mixed. The fiction of the leaves has become the only available image of voice, the last remnant of the human in a landscape of loss, of the possibility of mere force without meaning. Stevens makes the gesture of seeming to accept such force, but his poem belies him throughout. The cry of the leaves is no pathetic fallacy, because the poet is hearing voices, is at last hearing a misery in the sound of the wind, is at last becoming what Ruskin himself said a poet must be, a man to whom things speak."
See ya next time. Next time is a little bit about poetry and a short look at the very first thing in Kill Bill.