Gregory Corso: Doubting Thomist
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Corso is a classicist, much like Ezra Pound, another Catholic, but he is much more volatile than Pound, questioning institutions and their power rather than attempting to side with temporal powers. Corso is not making a bricolage, however, in the Poundian sense, in order to reconstitute the best of society, but he seemingly puts together disparate elements in an attempt to emphasize the difference of their various parts and causes them to explode in friction.
I had a ball with it, because to get the shape, I had to type it down on paper first, and cut it out, each line, and paste it on big construction paper. So the glue was all sticky on my fingers, and then I said the heck with it, the publisher can always line it up. Corso always mixes together things from different categories. He is not simply discussing his inability to choose. In fact, the poems are well built and solidly constructed, but they are about collisions of values, collisions of worldviews, between which the poet must scramble because his central set of values is Thomist, and yet he cannot understand evil from within this framework as he tries to argue that the entire world, even the bomb, is beneficent.
What holds them together is his notion that everything under the sun is good. Thomas posited that the world was simple, that is, composed of one part, all made by God.
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Does the universe have simplicity or complexity? Is it unified, or is it a war of all against all? Even in the images of the bombs just discussed, Corso links animal life with bombs, presumably part of the object world and not belonging to the great chain of being, or belonging only to the bottom step, but Corso makes them all lovable, as the madonna cuddles the bomb as if it were the baby Jesus.
Marriage is itself a celebration of unity.
Is unity possible? Yes, but only through magic. If Faust could marry She, then there would be enough magic in the air for unity to take place for the narrator. Somehow the narrator is worried that it will take magic for him to be unified to the world, and he doubts if he can find a mate.
All the universe married but me! In these opening lines, Corso recalls the invasions of the Norsemen at the end of the first millennium. He also makes a humorous parallel with the France of his own day: I ran to buy her a flower but a rioter needed blood for the FLN; St. Corso links this movement to the roving Norsemen of the Middle Ages and their barbarity.
The Rue St. Michel is in the very heart of the city, an area in which the Cathedral of Notre Dame is situated. Michel is also a saint in the Catholic Church. The flowers, or the faith of the church as proposed by St. Michel, was stopped by a temporal entity of the state. Wings to my eyes I sightsailed down the sad Seine and saw her mightily stand against the fish-hooks of the fishermen.
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HB 68 12 Introduction In this stanza, Corso begins to question the line between human and animal and divine. The childgirl is an angel of mercy standing against the food chain and its carnivorous aspect in favor of the divine sanctity of all living things, a leftover of the aesthetics of St. Francis and St. Thomas, who are represented in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. In this sequence, the childgirl is a Christ figure, associated with fish, which reverses the notion of Christ as a protector of fishermen in favor of a childgirl who protects the fish themselves.
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It was she the child! The harp of carp, the flute of fluke, the brass of bass the kettle of turtle the violin of marlin the tuba of barricuda hail whale! When music touches the realm of fish, there is a sanctification of fish, too, as they make music apparently to hail the whale, which would posit a utopian world in which all animals get along together instead of eating one another.
The medieval notion of the music of the spheres is a common theme in St. As Eco puts it: Gilson, again, has remarked that the characteristically symbolical outlook of the twelfth century meant that it was a century unable to observe nature accurately. Nature indeed was celebrated, but no one thought to observe it.
In the bestiaries and lapidaries of the time, the substance of the beasts and stones was reduced to their symbolical meaning; the material out of which they were composed did not matter.
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There was something 13 Introduction missing in the twelfth century, and in the symbolical mentality as a whole, which caused this absorption of concrete reality into a universe of symbols. What was lacking was any conception, however slight, that nature had a structure of itself and was intelligible in itself.
This was a conception that entered the Middle Ages only with Aristotelean metaphysics. When the medievals began to discover the ontological and formal reality of things—when they began, we might say, to scrutinize them with a living and passionate attention—the symbolical universe lost something of its substance. This triumphant finish to the poem presents a worldview in which all things are considered sacred. Thomas Aquinas. It is a strange worldview for a poet to have in our own day, but Corso, having grown up Catholic, was trying to get the viewpoint of ecology to fit with the zenith hour of the Catholic Church, found in the works and lives of St.
The difference in the worldviews that this article represents moves the poem toward a multiplicity of gods, as opposed to the one God of the Catholics, although in both poems the deity is capitalized. The Franciscan conception of the world was that all things are beautiful. When we remember that St. Catholic apologist G. Chesterton writes in his study of St. Francis that [t]he world around him [St. Francis], as has been noted, was a network of feudal and family and other forms of dependence.
The whole idea of St. Francis was that the Little Brothers should be like little fishes who could go freely in and out of that net. They could do so precisely because they were small fishes and in that sense even slippery fishes. There was nothing that the world could hold them by; for the world catches us mostly by the fringes of our garments, the futile externals of our lives. Today, now that God has disappeared, or has been challenged by scientific rationalism, beauty has waned.
We could once say that beauty was theophanic, that in its appearance was the greatness of God. Without God, how are we to explain beauty? It has no logic. No realm of reason can contain it. What is beauty in a scientific world? Can poetry still coexist with Darwin? Can the realm of the divine still coexist with the rationalism of humankind? In this poem of nostalgia for Paris and its great medieval tradition, the fish are beautiful and have high hopes, too. However, today we are told that a fish has a memory of about eight seconds.
For it to conceptualize God, or anything else, is out of the question. Eco also asks about poetry after the disappearance of God. Something else? Notre Dame was built on the site of a former Roman temple and suffered extensive damage from rioters during the French Revolution, which dethroned not only the king but also the Catholic Church as the official religion within France.
Atheism was not born on that day, but it was made into the official thought. It is something that Hugo looked backed toward as well in his Hunchback of Notre Dame. This attempt to create a new myth was never discarded by Corso even in his later poems.