(1): Shotgun vs. Lafcadio Hearn


Rossetti, says Dr. Hearn, was a man of the middle ages. He was born, out of his time, in the Victorian era, and hated the science and philosophy of his day. Sounds like my kind of poet. Oddly enough, in the good doctor’s book on the Pre-Raphaelites, he brow-beats his students with modernist critiques of poor Rosetti’s poems. I’m superstitious enough to feel uneasy attacking a dead man, but after stumbling through Hearn’s criticism, I couldn’t help firing up the computer on behalf of Rossetti. To the pen!

I know little about art but I discovered the Pre-Raphaelites from reading the great social critic John Ruskin. That lead me directly to Rossetti, their founder. I wanted to know more and while browsing a library sale a few years ago, I stumbled over Dr. Hearn’s book. It was old. The lectures were given in the 1900’s and the compilation first published in the 20’s. That usually means a book is trustworthy. After reading a few dozen pages though, I had to stop and look up the author to see if he was jewish. His commentary was that bad.

Well, Hearn isn’t jewish – he’s half Greek, half Irish, educated in France, dumped penniless in post-war Cincinnati, moved to Japan, married a Jap-woman, became a Buddhist, and started calling himself “Koizumi Yakumo”. If that’s not a proto-libtard, I don’t know what is. While his life story has admirable chapters, I can’t get around how he transculturated himself and ended his bloodline. Can a man capable of that tell the world what Rossetti – a man of the middle ages – meant in his poems?

I’m just a nobody from a small town in North Carolina but I’m convinced I get closer to Rossetti’s meaning than Hearn does. I’ll give an example but to set up my point, I ask you all to remember a few months back when I posted about playing the lottery. I prayed and prayed to win it. And why not? It’s easy money and quick power. Maybe it’s because I’m Southern, but I snapped out of that vice fairly quickly. I realized finding a good woman (these days) is almost like winning the lottery and much better for the soul. Some of us, after all, don’t want to run off to the Orient and snag an Asian. Yes, we’ve got a legacy of hard and honest living in Dixie. The hard-earned moral of the southern story is that wealth easily gained isn’t easily appreciated. This has been especially on my mind of late, as I struggle with my own poverty.

Now consider Rossetti’s “The Honeysuckle”:

I PLUCKED a honeysuckle where
The hedge on high is quick with thorn,
And climbing for the prize, was torn,
And fouled my feet in quag-water;
And by the thorns and by the wind
The blossom that I took was thinn’d,
And yet I found it sweet and fair.

Thence to a richer growth I came,
Where, nursed in mellow intercourse,
The honeysuckles sprang by scores,
Not harried like my single stem,
All virgin lamps of scent and dew.
So from my hand that first I threw,
Yet plucked not any more of them.

I read this and immediately thought I had found a kindred spirit. Here’s Rossetti telling the Victorian world, though with decidedly less drawl, what we Southerners have learned to tell through tragedy.[1]

But then along comes Dr. Hearn who suggests, rather, this poem is a testimony to the foolhardy impetuousness of humanity. The poet obviously was a nobleman who, being temporarily devoid of means, had to ingratiate himself among the low-class rabble to win the affection of a young lady who might not live up to noble standards in looks or social graces, but was good enough for the present. Then, later in life, when the poet establishes himself and climbs back into noble society, he suddenly finds himself surrounded by all kinds of beautiful women, causing him to promptly drop his old flame. Unfortunately, because he’s never satisfied (or maybe he’s simply tired of women), he plucketh not any more of them.

…and the editor of the book heralds this man as the greatest critic of the 19th century.

[1] I want to make something absolutely clear: When I say we Southerners have had to learn that “wealth easily gained isn’t easily appreciated”, do not, for the love of Jeff Davis, think I mean we easily gained wealth by taking advantage of the poor negros. Or that we had to learn a righteous moral lesson at the hands of our Yankee betters. If that’s what you got from my statement, I invite you to promptly get the hell out…

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