On Reading Crowds and Power
ClovenCloven Divided. About the title. The book Crowds and Power (Masse und Macht , translated from German) was written by Elias Canetti; it is a study of how crowd behavior (ranging from religious congregations to mob violence) relates to obedience to state rule. Canetti (1905-1994) was a Bulgarian born novelist, playwright, and non-fiction writer who wrote in German and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981. The second section of this poem, in italics, is a long quotation/translation from this book, we are incorporateincorporate United in one body. Compare part of one petition from the Book of Common Prayer: “and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son” (from The Order for the Administration of The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion)., our wounds
simple but mysterious. We have
some wherewithal to bide our time on earth.
Endurance is fantasticFantastic Imaginative or fanciful; remote from reality.; ambulances
battling at intersections, the city
intolerably en fêteen fête French for being festive, perhaps being dressed in festive attire. My reflexes
are words themselves rather than standard
flexuresflexures Acts of bending, such as bowing or kneeling of civil power. In all of this
Cassiopeia'sCassiopeia’s Cassiopeia is both a star constellation in the northern sky, and in Greek mythology an Ethiopian queen and the mother of Andromeda; a beautiful woman, but whose vanity and arrogance led to her downfall. John Milton refers to Cassiopeia in Il Penseroso: “Or that starr’d Ethiop queen that strove / To set her beauty’s praise above / The sea nymphs, and their powers offended” (lines 19-21). a blessing
as is steady OrionOrion Orion is both the easily recognized star constellation and in Greek mythology a hunter. beloved of poetsbeloved of poets A list of poems naming Orion includes: Milton’s Paradise Lost, Tennyson’s Locksley Hall, Teasdale’s “Winter Stars” , Pickthall’s “Stars” , Eliot’s “Sweeney among the Nightingales” , and Frost’s “The Star-splitter.” .
QuotidianQuotidian Daily, everyday natures ours for the time being
I do not know
how we should be absolvedAbsolved To declare someone free from blame, guilt, or responsibility; also, in Christian theology, to remit or forgive someone for a sin. or what is fate.
Fame is not fastidious about the lipsFame is not fastidious about the lips In A Treatise of Civil Power (2007), Geoffrey Hill notes: “section 2 is a paragraph from Elias Canetti’s chapter on ‘Fame’, transposed, with slight changes of wording, into strophic form.” For more on this book by Canetti, see the note about the title above.
which spread it. So long as there are mouths
to reiterate the one name it does not
matter whose they are.
The fact that to the seeker after fame
they are indistinguishable from each other
and are all counted as equal shows that this
passion has its origin in the experience
of crowd manipulation. Names collect
their own crowds. They are greedy, live their own
separate lives, hardly at all connected
with the real natures of the men who bear them.
But hear this: that which is difficult
preserves democracy; you pay respect
to the intelligence of the citizen.
Basics are not condescension. Some
tyrants make great patrons. Let us observe
this and pass on. Certain directives
parody at your own risk. Tread lightly
with personal dignity and public image.
Safeguard the image of the common manthe common man There is another version of this poem, printed in Geoffrey Hill’s book A Treatise of Civil Power (2007), with a fourth section added..
Crowds and Power About the title. The book Crowds and Power (Masse und Macht , translated from German) was written by Elias Canetti; it is a study of how crowd behavior (ranging from religious congregations to mob violence) relates to obedience to state rule. Canetti (1905-1994) was a Bulgarian born novelist, playwright, and non-fiction writer who wrote in German and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1981. The second section of this poem, in italics, is a long quotation/translation from this book
Source: Poetry (March 2007).
MORE FROM THIS ISSUE
This poem originally appeared in the March 2007 issue of Poetry magazine
Poems by Geoffrey Hill
POET’S REGION England
Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.