Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sometimes it seems that I don’t view the world in the same fashion as everyone else. I keep seeing omens and portents where other people just see stuff. I feel like a peculiar sort of one-man audience, where all the people in the world are unwitting magicians, constantly performing astounding acts of magic that only I can see. In Spanish there is a word, duende, that means ‘enchanting or magical’. I live in a duende world, at least when I can.

In an afterword to Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov describes something similar:

For me a work of fiction exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm.

Those other states of being are what I’m talking about. I like those states of being. I frankly prefer them to the literal, dreary old mundane world. Here is more on the duende world, from T. S. Eliot’s Preludes:

I am moved by fancies that are curled

Around these images, and cling:

The notion of some infinitely gentle

Infinitely suffering thing.

Wipe your hand across your mouth, and laugh;

The worlds revolve like ancient women

Gathering fuel in vacant lots.

I’ve liked this ever since I first read it in college. This poem speaks to something primordial within me. It feels almost like a religious description of the perception of the magic in the world. In passing, I note that this is why there is no room in my life for someone with the soul of a clerk, not that there have been many applicants these days.

All of this leads up to the following poem by Lewis Carroll, from Sylvie and Bruno. I have always viewed this as being my own personal biography. I present it in its entirety; I hope you enjoy it.

The Mad Gardener's Song



He thought he saw an Elephant,

That practised on a fife:

He looked again, and found it was

A letter from his wife.

'At length I realise,' he said,

The bitterness of Life!'


He thought he saw a Buffalo

Upon the chimney-piece:

He looked again, and found it was

His Sister's Husband's Niece.

'Unless you leave this house,' he said,

'I'll send for the Police!'


He thought he saw a Rattlesnake

That questioned him in Greek:

He looked again, and found it was

The Middle of Next Week.

'The one thing I regret,' he said,

'Is that it cannot speak!'


He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk

Descending from the bus:

He looked again, and found it was

A Hippopotamus.

'If this should stay to dine,' he said,

'There won't be much for us!'


He thought he saw a Kangaroo

That worked a coffee-mill:

He looked again, and found it was

A Vegetable-Pill.

'Were I to swallow this,' he said,

'I should be very ill!'


He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four

That stood beside his bed:

He looked again, and found it was

A Bear without a Head.

'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing!

It's waiting to be fed!'


He thought he saw an Albatross

That fluttered round the lamp:

He looked again, and found it was

A Penny-Postage Stamp.

'You'd best be getting home,' he said:

'The nights are very damp!'


He thought he saw a Garden-Door

That opened with a key:

He looked again, and found it was

A Double Rule of Three:

'And all its mystery,' he said,

'Is clear as day to me!'


He thought he saw an Argument

That proved he was the Pope:

He looked again, and found it was

A Bar of Mottled Soap.

'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,

'Extinguishes all hope!'



This mordant poem is, to me, evocative of the other magical worlds that I occasionally inhabit. And I often bitterly resent being forced to live in the real world, where the elephant is really a letter from my wife. Call me the Mad Gardener.

- Hulles

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