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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Blue acanthus

Acanthus leaves are those you see on Corinthian columns—or, often called “bear’s breeches,” spreading their leaves in warmer climes than the one where I now am. They came to symbolize art, beautiful and intricate as they are. Though Acanthus mollis is spineless, the wild Acanthus spinosus has thorns.

On Sunday I read Naomi Wolf’s Times article; she wrote about the debased desires and goals in many books marketed to “young adults,” books that sell in the millions. A friend wrote me recently about how difficult it has been to help in the wake of that eye-opening lady, Katrina, and to keep steady in his art--to chase the ideal in words, when it seems no longer desired. Another wrote me about what I find a very typical rejection letter these days: her manuscript has “the proportions of tragedy” and “is beautiful,” yet her old publisher and editor do not see how to make it into something they would define as “a success.”

Each era crowns art with a different set of thorns. Ours are thorns that devalue art and substitute merchandise, that prick the heart. One must be strong, so strong, when an institution values sales more than the honor of its calling—when it tells the world that magpie trash and pornographic glitter are more important than the eternal realities, a rose-colored light bulb more than a star.

What does one say to the acquaintance or friend, enduring a pang?

It is hard, very hard, but I say this: Toss your head and go on your way, rejoicing--

Illustration of William Morris’ wallpaper design of “Blue Acanthus” was originally found at


  1. You are absolutely right: 'go on your way, rejoicing.' Rejection is built in for us ekers-out of art and, really, always has been. I don't know firsthand the way you do, but I believe it is much harder to get real stuff published in this time we're living in. I can only hope that good writers follow your lead, Marly, and have courage.

  2. I have, after a week of shivers, succumbed to The Bug. Much energetic hacking and sneezing. Little Green Martians are involved.

    For some reason this has me flailing about in my writing room, skewering dust bunnies and sucking up soot sprites.

    As for "real stuff," I think you're right. And I don't know why it has ceased to bother me so much. Either I'm worn to a nub, or I've been at it too many years, or maybe I have accrued a wisp, a jot, a thread of wisdom.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.