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Friday, March 02, 2012

The Open Secret Society of the Poets

As James Thomson is best known as the author of the poem, "The City of Dreadful Night," he surprises me with his essay, "Open Secret Societies," with its praise for heroes, poets, and saints. The last quarter of his life must have been terribly depressive, as he was insomniac and increasingly isolated by alcoholism and melancholy. But he was youthful when the essay was written, and evidently he and life together had yet to make him the most despairing of the Victorians.

The Floating Press, Ltd. ebook edition
Here he is on the Society of Poets, and his romance of transfiguring words is a long way from the poetry and poets who have trooped in after Modernism:

There is the Open Secret Society of the Poets. These are they who feel that the universe is one mighty harmony of beauty and joy; and who are continually listening to the rhythms and cadences of the eternal music whose orchestra comprises all things from the shells to the stars; all beings from the worm to man, all sounds from the voice of the little bird to the voice of the great ocean; and who are able partially to reproduce these rhythms and cadences in the language of men. In all these imitative songs of theirs is a latent undertone, in which the whole infinite harmony of the whole lies furled; and the fine ears catch this undertone, and convey it to the soul, wherein the furled music unfurls to its primordial infinity, expanding with rapturous pulses and agitating with awful thunders this soul which has been skull-bound, so that it is dissolved and borne away beyond consciousness, and becomes as a living wave in a shoreless ocean. If, however these their poems be read silently in books, instead of being heard chanted by the human voice, then for the eye which has vision an underlight stirs, and quickens among the letters which grow translucent and throb with light; and this mysterious splendour entering by the eyes into the soul fills it with spheric illumination, and like the mysterious music swells to infinity, consuming with quick fire all the bonds and dungeon-walls of the soul, dazing it out of consciousness and dissolving it in a shoreless ocean of light.         
        --James Thomson (1834-82), aka Bysshe Vanolis, aka James Thomson (B. V.)


  1. I can always count on you for new artistic discoveries that are actually old, forgotten ones. Thanks.

  2. C'est moi, the vampire of books! Cheerfully unearthing the dead.

  3. As long as you aren't munching on a leg.

  4. Eep! Being books, I suppose it would have to be the brain. Zombies!


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.