Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Imperative Voice

       ANYONE who hears the term “Grammatical Method” is not likely to think that an encounter with the Imperative Voice could be a thrilling and passionate event. But so it was with me, and I would like to tell the story of my encounter with the Imperative Voice. Some people tell of being struck by lightning, others tell of their steps to free themselves from the meshes of alcoholism, still others tell of their journeys back from the Dead. My tiny little story hardly ranks among these saga-bearers and tale-tellers. It is modest in the extreme and would hardly  hold the attention of a mouse at a fireside chat. But it was important to me, and it taught me something of the significance of the Four Persons of the Grammatical Method, which says that all our real experiences cycle through these Four Persons when they come to bear fruit.

My story begins in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where I was living in  the last millennium—1984 to be exact. I went to hear a lecture by one Georg Kϋhlewind— Dr. Cool Wind, as I sometimes called him. Dr. Cool Wind was a resident in Central Europe of some then-Communistic country who used this pseudonym to publish works of spiritual import in the tradition of Rudolf Steiner’s Anthroposophy. He was a student of language, Logos, meaning;  the Gospel of John formed the main structural meditation of his work, Becoming Aware of the Logos: The Way of St. John the Evangelist. This book was published in 1985 by Lindisfarne/Inner Traditions. Perhaps his lecture contained many of the ideas he was then working on for this book.

In any case, his talk electrified me but not in a way to be predicted. Years later I established a web journal and wrote about the experience and its surprising outcome-- a series of visionary poems called “Pictures from the Speaking Stillness.” On Thursday, June 29, 2006, I wrote:
“The journey that led to these poems began with an act of violent disagreement… Dr. Kϋhlewind gave a  very interesting talk on epistemological themes and interests. A talk well received by the attentive audience. I did not, I could not, disagree! And in truth I did not—for who can disagree with the call to make the act of thinking experiential—and for the recognition of a superconscious dimension of the mind?”  

I had no recollection in 2006  of what so bothered me at the time of his talk in 1984, but since reading some of Dr. Cool Wind’s books, I have a notion that it may have had to do with the characteristic anthroposophical disdain for the past. In any case, some time after, as I wrote in the journal:
“I commenced regular sessions of what I called ‘recreational visualizations.’.. . It was during these sessions that the Beings who later took the form in the poems first appeared. I would go into a state of waking sleep, and after each session I recorded my thoughts and experiences in a journal. The Beings who came, came as they were named. The Name and the Being corresponded. But the question that never ceased to occupy me was this: in what sense are these Beings ‘real’?”
In an entry a few days later, “What’s Not So Good about Dr. Cool Wind,” I note that
“it was clearly in opposition to the anthroposophical over-emphasis of the cognitive sphere that my first poem was launched—‘Grandmother Funda.’ I did not know at the time that the fundus was part of the womb… But if there is a ‘sensibility’ to be communicated about Grandmother Funda, it is the idea that consciousness is, well, gestational. The nurturing of experiences, feelings, memories, conversations, etc., distill ultimately to ‘ideas’ which are modes of ordering and vision… We need ‘ideas’ to light the way down, the path of winding down, to recollection of concrete experiences. Thanks to this ‘motion,’ movement – thanks to this ‘emotion’ – we can remember.”

I took strong objection to Dr. Cool Wind’s statement that “To have the world before it as an object was given naturally to humanity.” No, no and no! I wrote:
“On the contrary: we are not presented with an ‘object.’ What we are presented with is the grey lady---
                  Call her
         The grey lady of the summer,
         A sudden clearing in a swift rain
         Or wakeful remembrance in a green wood
         Whose paths wind down, always down, 
          Into the heart of past seasons . . .

 It is actually the Grey Lady who calls us:
To be a human being is to be called; there is no mere ‘natural development.’  And that moment in the composition of this poem when I changed the first line -- a bland description introducing Grandmother Funda -- to an imperative—‘Call her’marked a signal moment for me with this poem. It is imperative. It is urgent. And the urgency of the imperative is the epic tone: ‘Sing to the goddess, O Muse!’ Great things are at stake.”
I wrote those words long before I had heard the name of Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, his teachings about names or grammatical voices or the Cross of Reality. All of that lay in the future for me.  But I still remember that day when I changed “She was the gray lady of the summer…” to “Call her the grey lady of the summer…” It was some twelve years later. I was married, mother of two young boys, living not in the Berkshires but in my home town of Birmingham, Alabama. It took me about twelve years to refine the meditative experiences into poetry. So, it was about 1996. I remember being in front of the computer, making revisions. I changed a word. The poorly-lit room seemed to blaze with light. I “got” it! The eureka moment!

So, that’s my literary encounter with an imperative. “Grandmother Funda” became the first in a series of poems called “Pictures from the Speaking Stillness.” The decorations were added later.

I propose to reproduce the entire poem below as the finishing touch to “My Imperative Story.”


                              i. Who is Grandmother Funda?

            Call her
The grey lady of the summer,
A sudden clearing in a swift rain
Or wakeful remembrance in a green wood
Whose paths wind down, always down,
Into the heart of past seasons.
            You have been here so many times
You cannot even recall them,
For the words of remembrance
Entered your body long ago:
They came into your secret stillness,
Flushed from Grandmother Funda’s lap,
A covey of pictures, greetings, signatures,
That she released to you: 
                                                At first
She held them up, and you merely gazed --
While she held them between her two fingers,
To the light, so: and whispering
(As the rain, as the wind, whispers)
Remember me.
                        Thus they fell
To you: she gave them over, made them yours,
While she passed beyond into them:
                        Now it is your turn --
                        And you, lingering,
Press them into your mind, crying
“This is all I have left of her!--
            This is all I have!”
In a handkerchief wet with your tears
Crumpled in the bottom of the garden.

   ii. A Visit             

On a cool summer afternoon
I came to Grandmother Funda’s house.
She opened the door to me, I walked
Down the long hall to her drawing room.
There we drank tea, and had some cakes,
While with the chill of evening coming on
The hearth fire hissed and cracked,
Long into the afternoon and past,
Until night’s shadows rose up into our minds.
                                                She rose
To ring the butler’s bell, but changed --
Herself so strange -- to a lizard, sliver-green,
Regarding me from the couch, intent. I blinked;
Again she changed, and now a lounging youth
In heavy boots and smoking on a tar
Leered at me from the easy chair.
                                    I asked her
What she meant -- she made as if to speak --
But paused: her being formed into a dome
Curved from hearing into remembrance --
It was a chime of echoes, a ruin of footfalls,
The wrangle of deed with consequence
That she consented to listen to;
To all of this she at last agreed;
She came to herself because she heard.
                                      It was night by now,
-- And with such effort as now required,
Not hearing her across from me
But myself her means of sounding
There -- I fell asleep:
                                    While sparks
Went humming beyond my mind into the fire,
And I too dwindled like that ember
Carried by the oval flame of summer night.

   iii. Towards Versalvere                                  

Guards closed round me the last time I came.
Loudly they enfolded me, demanding: but I found
On the edge of each clutch of pages that they held
A path of signatures: “I am heading for what
Is dear to me, that I may read and understand,”
Said I, “and not just leafing through.”
And they closed behind to let me pass.

But Oh! The house was dark, the shutters torn,
And glass of shattered windows on the grass! --
The door was swinging on its hinge, the squeal
Of scraping iron: I ran and saw my aged friend
Curled upon her couch. “I had a storm,”
She said, “Or was had by one,” and smiled --
She arose from her shawls and stood before
The empty gaping windows and expelled a breath;
They were paned again by means of glowing air.
“There are words to use for all of this,” she said,
“Trying to sleep awake.”
                                                She turned around,
And raised her arms, pointing, peristrephic,
And hallowed all the earthdrow, blessing it,
And all that moved upon it by meaning of the fireglow.
“You have dead habits of perceiving,” she resumed,
And she taught me keening: mournful seeking sharpness
From the knees, kneeling:
                                    This I did according to her word,
Inspiraling the sonic shadows, keening Versalvere,
While luminous in stillness the Wordmage posed unspokenly.

And the names of the things were written into the oval
Light, and the name of the place was Versalvere.

iv. In the Garden                  

From my window I glimpsed the bergamot;
Its pungent scent, though faint, had woken me.
I saw Grandmother Funda walking in the garden;
She carried clippers and wore gardening gloves
To gather flowers for her table: wild daisies,
Black-eyed susans, blue irises
And widow’s tears. She gazed long
And thoughtfully upon her growing ones;
The air was fluid and clear, with scintillas
Of light and scrolls of dew ever spiraling
Around her: it was hers, the moving light,
The draught of liquid of a summer morning;
It was what she poured out into the garden,
In the summer morning of the freshest rain.


Clint Gardner writes on Dec. 15, 2014,  in response to the "Imperative" page:
Dear Caryl,
    Good to see the Speech Singer site expanding. Please treat this note as a contribution to it. I clicked on the menu and was delighted to find your meditation on "imperative" speech.  
    Once one grasps Rosenstock-Huessy's insight that imperative speech is the most important--and that all our actions in life relate to our hearing, or not hearing, imperatives, then the rest of his insights follow. That is, one no longer gives priority to the world "out there," an  object to be understood by logic, as Descartes made us believe with his "cogito ergo sum" (I think, therefore I am). 
    Instead, we perceive that we live in a world brought home to us by speech in its fullness. We hear ourselves addressed as thou, by our parents and others who call us into life. Their imperatives summon us to discover what we can contribute to the human enterprise.  
    As we respond to imperatives, we become conscious of our selves as I. Now subjective speech, such as poetry, takes us to our inner space. 
    From thou-I, the lonely individual proceeds to form relations with others, namely a we relationship, as in marriage--or devotion to any group enterprise. 
    Finally, we, and others, are able to see ourselves objectively, as they, he or she. This perspective is as relevant to our reality as the first three, but it is the last way of understanding any experience. 
    Thou, I, we, he or she--life conjugates us through these four forms. All four can be experienced in a given day or over decades. 
    As I spell out in my book Beyond Belief, Martin Buber had it wrong when he said "as I become I, I say thou." No, it is when we are addressed as thou, that we discover ourselves as I. 
    Rosenstock-Huessy summed up his insights on the human condition in a Latin motto: Respondeo etsi mutabor, I respond although I will be changed.  He suggested this as a corrective to Descartes cogito ergo sum. 
    Now that I've written this little meditation on the imperative, I realize that you have already quoted me, on Speech Singer, from my book, where I have a very similar summary of the four-part sequence of speech. Well, new insights, such as these, can bear repeating!  
All the best-----Clint 

I respond: My "Imperative" section concerned a very minor and literary experience of the imperative. But the fact that I remember my feeling some 25 years later,  after merely changing a  single word or two in a poem, attests to the power of the imperative that I then felt. If one only feels this power in a poem, how much greater is that power and potency in actual lived life? ERH's vision of the power of the imperative, in speech and in life, is incredibly fruitful.

I would also like to add something I just thought of, sparked by having read the first chapter of Scott Peck's People of the Lie-- a chapter that dealt with a man who suffered from a severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. Might the obsessive-compulsive state be understood as a failure of the imperative in life?--a failure of the imperative to penetrate and shape the soul?   This  puts "grammatical health" in a new light!

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