Friday, July 13, 2012

A few more thoughts on yesterday's post

As I wrote I remembered a phase from a poem of Robert Lowell: "Our monotonous sublime."

That's it. A three-word phrase. I don't remember the poem, or the context. Only the phrase, lodged somewhere in the tangled neurons of my brain.

Our monotonous sublime.

That phase seems to encapsulate so much of what I am doing here, why I spend this hour every morning at my keyboard, stringing a few hundred words together, taking a few inchoate thoughts and buffing them up, tweaking a shine. I'm not tweeting. I'm not even blogging. I'm trying to keep myself awake. Awake to the sublime.

The monotony of the commonplace. The tedium of the everyday. The humdrum ordinary. How easy it is to forget that that the ordinary is extraordinary, the commonplace is uncommon. How easy to fall asleep to sublimity.

Consider that phrase from Lowell that I pulled up from memory. No big deal, you say; I carry around a lifetime of memories. Every minute of every day I am evoking memories. As I write I am drawing upon remembered words, syntax, spelling. I remember who and where I am, and a good part of the 75 years of getting here. I don't stop to think about it. Drawing upon my store of memories is about as monotonous an activity as you can get.

And yet, and yet. That phrase from Lowell was somehow stored as a trace of neurons, electrochemical connections. For decades. Retrievable. No one yet knows how. Oh, how I wish I knew where and how the phrase was stored. By what sublime mechanism.

And now I'm remembering something else, a line from the scholar of medieval Ireland John Carey that I quoted in Climbing Brandon. Carey is describing what we can learn from early Irish Christian writers, such as Augustinus Hibernicus: "Existence itself, them, is the ultimate miracle; had our eyes not grown so dull, they would be dazzled with ineffable wonder wherever we turned our gaze."