Prufrock's Dilemma

“Therefore, since we have to do our business/In spite of things, why not make it in spite of everything?”

John Ashbery turned 90 on July 28, 2017. However belated, it’s an occasion to celebrate. Just Walking Around on the internet, I ran across this quotation:

I don’t quite understand about understanding poetry. I experience poems with pleasure: whether I understand them or not I’m not quite sure. I don’t want to read something I already know or which is going to slide down easily: there has to be some crunch, a certain amount of resilience.—John Ashbery

Tracing the quotation’s ultimate source proved elusive, but then, as they say, it’s the journey, not the destination, that counts. Along the way, I came across this, by Grace Paley:

. . . which led me to this:

When I was younger I spent a lot of time waiting around to be inspired, but now I don’t believe in inspiration very much. I don’t have much spare time and I’ve taught myself to use whatever there is and to write without worrying whether this happens to be a privileged moment or not. There are, after all, very few. I have a line in one of my poems which goes: “Since we have to do our business in spite of things, why not make it in spite of everything?’”—John Ashbery

. . . which, in turn, led to this:

One day we thought of painted furniture, of how
It just slightly changes everything in the room
And in the yard outside, and how, if we were going
To be able to write the history of our time, starting with today,
It would be necessary to model all these unimportant details
So as to be able to include them; otherwise the narrative
Would have that flat, sandpapered look the sky gets
Out in the middle west toward the end of summer,
The look of wanting to back out before the argument
Has been resolved, and at the same time to save appearances
So that tomorrow will be pure. Therefore, since we have to do our business
In spite of things, why not make it in spite of everything?

—from John Ashbery’s Pyrography

All the while, I listened to this:

Listening List

Johann Sebastian Bach, French Suite No. 6 in E Major BWV 817, performed by Sviatoslav Richter (here and here)

French Suite No. 6 in E Major is perhaps the most brilliantly entertaining and tuneful of all the French Suites. Even the opening Allemande is high-spirited, with a contrapuntal line in the left hand that chases and complements the melody in the right hand. It is followed by a whirlwind triple-meter Courante and a triple-meter Sarabande—a grave and lovely dance whose melody is ornamented with expressive trills that accent the second beat of each measure.

Bach chose four galanterien dances for French Suite No. 6. The first is an elegant French Gavotte that emphasizes long-short rhythmic patterns. This is followed by a charming triple-beat Polonaise (one of the first examples of this famed Polish dance to be featured in an instrumental piece) and a simple Menuet. This is followed by a Bourrée, in which Bach makes the most of the syncopated rhythms characteristic of this French dance. Also highly rhythmic is the closing Gigue, which contains a merry duel of counterpoint between the left and right hands that is reminiscent of the opening Allemande. [citation]

– Allemande
– Courante
– Sarabande
– Gavotte

– Polonaise
– Bourrée
– Menuet
– Gigue

Bonus Track (starting at 15:45)


Credits: The sources for the quotations may be found at the links in the text. The photographs of Innisfree Garden at the beginning and end of July are mine. The source for the image of John Ashbery receiving the 2011 National Humanities Medal is here, at approximately 16:17.