Friday, July 08, 2016

Here in the immortal empire of the grasses


You can now read an online supplement to the journal Reliquiae which includes some archival material provided by myself and flowerville.  I've listed out the full contents below.  Here I thought I would highlight just one selection (as I have done with previous editions of the journal), but rather than pick one of my own I have chosen one of flowerville's: 'Letter XXX' by Étienne Pivert de Senancour.  It is from his Rousseauesque epistolary novel Oberman (begun in 1801, published in 1804, revised in 1833) and begins with the melancholy hero, on seeing a jonquil in bloom, apprehending for a moment 'all the happiness destined for man'.  According to the Danish critic Georg Brandes (quoted in Wikipedia) Senancour's book has been 'understood only by the highly gifted, sensitive temperaments, usually strangers to success.'  Here is another extract, from Letter II, in which Oberman first heads into the mountains.
I was under the pines of Jorat; the evening was fine, the woods silent, and the air still; the western sky was hazy, but cloudless. Everything seemed settled, light-filled, motionless, and when I happened to lift my eyes after keeping them long fixed on the moss beneath me, I experienced a wonderful illusion which my pensive mood prolonged. The steep slope which fell away to the water's edge was hidden from me by the knoll on which I sat, and the surface of the lake seemed inclined at a high angle, as though its opposite shore were lifted into the air. The Alps of Savoy were partly veiled by clouds indistinguishable from themselves and of the same tint. The sunset light, and the dim air in the depths of the Valais, lifted these mountains and cut them off from the earth by making their bases invisible ; and their huge formless bulk, neutral-tinted, sombre and touched with snow, light filled and yet partly invisible, seemed to me nothing but a mass of storm-clouds suspended in the air; and the only solid earth was that which held me up over empty space, alone, in immensity.
That moment was worthy of the first day of a new life; I shall have few like it. ...


Senancour's novel was influential.  I have referred here in passing before to one of the songs in Liszt's Années de pèlerinage cycle; the video clip embedded above is another, Vallée d'Obermann in E minor.  In England the book was important for Matthew Arnold, who wrote an essay on Senancour and two poems about Obermann (the hero's name had an extra 'n' added after Senancour's first edition). In 'Stanzas in Memory of the Author of Obermann' Arnold writes of feeling the mountain air blowing through Senancour's pages.  However, audible beneath the sounds of a lone torrent, wind in the pines and cowbells in the high pastures, he can hear a 'ground tone / of human agony'.  In 'Obermann Once More' Arnold returns to the Alps after many years, finding 'all unchanged / the turf, the pines, the sky', and recalls his youthful reading of Obermann.  As night falls the figure of Obermann appears to him, dressed as a shepherd and holding a mountain-flower, with a pensive gaze that seems to rest on his soul.  Obermann says that the times he lived through left him no choice but to live in solitude in the mountains.  But now,
"Despair not thou as I despair'd,
Nor be cold gloom thy prison!
Forward the gracious hours have fared,
And see! the sun is risen!



Reliquiae Supplement contents

New work:

  • Alyson Hallett: A ritual of release and remembrance at the Church of the Storms, Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall.
  • Maximillian Hartley: Moments sink into millennia on the ruins of black sands.
  • Mark Leech: The archaeological remnant, ‘two eyes under the sheet, trenched and ditched’.
  • Christopher Page: Pooled words, petitions, auguries, air and earth.
  • Richie McCaffery: On movement, transience and a hill’s ‘show of solidity’.
  • Sally Ann McIntyre: Boulder clay, erosion, evergreen flowers, wind moves words, memory sings.
  • John Morgan: Of Puerto del Suspiro del Moro – Pass of the Moor’s Sigh – in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Spain.
  • Jennifer Spector: Natural chaos, soil drumlins, the carry of clouds, glyphic sediment.


  • Archive work:

    A fragment on the soul of nature by Henri Frédéric Amiel; a descriptive passage on a ‘paradise of fish’ in Florida by William Bartram; a series of poetic excerpts from A Swedish Calendar by Alexander Malachias Berger; a poem for the ‘silent and dark and trackless swells’ of the north, by Charlotte Brontë; on trees, and ‘uniting the life of Earth and Sky’ by Edward Carpenter; the story of the Oriole by Florence Holbrook; Hyperion’s Song of Fate by Friedrich Hölderlin; a fragment on nature and solitude by Horace; excerpts from a treatise on nature, from the earthly sphere to the starry vault, by Alexander von Humboldt; a poem from the revelatory collection, Moosewood Sandhills, by Tim Lilburn; one of five gnomic, poetic Cantations for Endangered Species by Gerry Loose; on noticing the unnoticed by Amy Lowell; an evocation of moorland by night from Charlotte Mew; a contemplation on nature and perception by Alice Meynell; a Meskwaki myth documented by Truman Michelson; a Manx folktale from Sophia Morrison; an extract on wind-storms in a Californian winter by John Muir; a fragment from a depiction of the fabled Henry of Ofterdingen by Novalis; a poetic reflection on ‘the immortal empire of the grasses’ by Marjorie Pickthall; an inuit creation myth documented by Knud Rasmussen; a reflection on the radiance of flowers by Grace Little Rhys; a fragment on the sound of Scottish streams by John Ruskin; a letter, ‘lost in the abyss of darkness’ by Étienne Pivert de Senancour; an elegy for the badger, ‘that most ancient Briton of English beasts’ by Edward Thomas; poetic fragments from the forthcoming Epidote Press monograph on Hans Jürgen von der Wense; on cascades, cataracts and the currents of thought by Mary Wollstonecraft; an extract from The Waves by Virginia Woolf.

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