October 13th, 1970
My dear Norine,
I have been doing some writing while I've been here, and a good deal of reading. I ran across an old portrait of you in an ancient book, an 1801 London anthology of poetry called Elegant Extracts, which I know will in itself please your sense of ego. It's a portion of a poem by Otway here titled, "Description of a Hag":
In a close lane, as I pursu'd my journey,
I spied a wither'd hag, with age grown double,
Picking dry sticks, and mumbling to herself;
Her eyes with scalding rheum were gall'd and red,
Cold palsy shook her head, her hand seem'd wither'd, And on her crooked shoulders had she wrapp'd
The tatter'd remanants of an old strip'd hanging,
Which serv'd to keep her carcase from the cold:
So there was nothing of apiece about her.
I pause here to point out that last line might also read, equally appropriately, "So there was nothing of a piece about her."
Her lower weeds were all o're coarsely patch'd
With different colour'd rags, black, red, white, yellow,
How well I recall your taste in dress!
And seem'd to speak variety of wretchedness.
Ten years' worth. You were never a wife, and over the years you grew colder, till you were chill as stone in a sepulchre. But I stray. In leafing further through the Extracts I ran across a Ben Jonson transcript of one of your conversations with friends and relatives (I had no idea you were that old, dear, though I know you fibbed a little when we first dated):
1 Witch. I have been all day looking after
A raven feeding upon a quarter;
And, soone as she turn'd her back to the south,
I snatch'd this morsel out of her mouth.
2 Witch. I have beene gathering wolves hairs,
The mad dogges foame, and adders eares;
The spurging of a deadman's eyes:
And all since the evening starre did rise.
3 Witch. I last night lay all alone
O' the ground, to heare the mandrake grone;
And pluckt him up, though he grew full low:
And, as I had done, the cocke did crowe.
Unfortunately, Jonson hasn't identified the speakers, but this last one above has many familiar overtones.
4 Witch. And I h'been chusing out this scull;
From charnell-houses that were full:
From private grots and publick pits:
And frighted a sexton out of his wits.
5 Witch. Under a cradle I did creepe
By day, and, when the childe was a-sleepe
At night, I suck'd the breath; and rose,
And pluck'd the nodding nurse by the nose.
6 Witch. I had a dagger; what did I with that?
Killed an infant to have his fat:
A piper it got, at a church-ale:
I bade him again blow wind in the taile.
7 Witch. A murderer, yonder, was hung in chaines;
The sunne and the wind had shrunk his veines:
I bit off a ninew; I clipp'd his hair;
I brought off his ragges, that dan'd I' the ayre.
8 Witch. The scritch-owles egges, and the feathers blacke,
The bloud of the frogge, and the bone in his backe,
I have been getting, and made of his skin
A purset, to keep sir Cranion in.
9 Witch. And I ha' been plucking (plants among)
Hemlock, henbane, adders-tongue,
Night-shade, moon-wort, libbards bane;
And twice by the goddes was like to be tane.
10 Witch. I from the jaws of a gardiner's bitch
Did snatch these bones, and then leap'd the ditch:
Yet went back to the house againe,
Kill'd the blacke cat, and here is the braine.
11 Witch. I went to the toade, breeds under the wall,
I charmed him out, and he came at my call;
I scratch'd out the eyes of the owle before;
I tore the batts wings: what would you have more?
Dame. Yes: I have broughte, to help your vows,
Horned poppie, cypress boughes,
A fig-tree wild, that grows on tombes,
And juice that from the larch-tree comes,
The basiliskes bloud, and the vipers skin;
And now our orgies let's begin.
All my love to Melanie,
Wednesday, 14th. Today I mailed the letter and made love to Cara. We made love again and again, till our bodies ached. After I came back from the post office and Rafe had gone, I simply took her clothes off and we made love everywhere, naked all day — on the rug before the hearth, on the beds and couches, Wesley Catch watching our strange activity languidly; standing before mirrors. I took her in any position that came to hand: on her belly, knees-and-hands, squatting or on a side.
We did not eat till late evening, and then we gorged ourselves on canned goods, fruit, leftovers — anything that took no time: a glorious day. I am healed. Cara has wept and many times cried out. And when all was spent, we lay on the rug, made rose by firelight, and we opened another of Wesley Court's letters:
"Lowell March 28 1860
"I received your letter this morning, & as it happens to be Wednesday night & I am at liberty I thought I would answer. I am going to tell you all the news. I smashed my hand very bad yesterday between two bbls of flour.
"This is some news
"I went down on the Merrimack corporation to see the Harris Girls & Miss Palmer — had a nice time you better believe.
"This is two news
"The wind blew so like the old harry that the girls had to keep there draws legs close down, to keep the dirt out of their shoes
"This is three news
"I am up in Wilder & Shunts counting room, waiting for robbins my room mate to go up on the Merrimack St. to see the Fashions
"This is four news
"It is not pleasant here no night, has been raining some just enough to lay the dust
"This is five news
"There is to be a lecture at Huntington Hall to night by a blind man — the subject is What a blind man saw in England but I shant go
"You did not say any thing about the girls. I guess you dont have much to do with them, If I was there I would make them step lively Ile bet
"This is Seven news
"I got a letter from Kate when I got yours, she wrote about the same news as you
"This is eight news
"It is geting late I must stop this is enough news for you
"Good by Charles write soon"
Cara will sleep in my bed tonight.
Thursday, 15th. Cara has spent the day resting. I've been with Manoah Bodman part of the day, and part I have spent in tramping the riverbanks and the woods. The fall colors are at their zenith now. For a while this morning I sat on one of the firs that reach out over the river and watched the tide moving swiftly between the clay banks. The almost constant motion of the river keeps the water dark with silt, but if one holds a steady eye on a single spot, sometimes there will be movement in the depths — a long shape slipping silently against the current and disappearing in the eddies.
The odors of Maine in the Autumn are filled with an overwhelming nostalgia, but when I examine the source of the feeling, I can find no memories on which to base it. As far back as I can recall, the same sensations have been evoked by each New England Fall, and my pursuit of cause recedes as into mirrors reflecting mirrors, till I come to nothing more than blood's memory moving through arteries as the tide moves beneath my feet. It is like the yellow harvest moon over a sea of clouds, a moon that swells to bursting and then turns to a sickle scything among fields of stars.
By exactly what means Bodman came to believe that he was the victim of unholy deceptions he does not relate, but
Suffice it to say, that in the course of events, I was convinced, and effectually convinced, that these were all the delusions of Satan. And that, although, mankind never could have convinced me, the Lord alone, made a short work of it! — In this, there were no supernatural voices, or communications, from God.
As soon as I was convinced, I instantly concluded to stand on the defensive; and under God, to defy all the powers of darkness.
A dreadful conflict ensued. Soon, however, I began to experience refreshing views, as I thought, from the heavenly world.
Bodman now discovered how paltry his previous experiences had been
when compared with the real thing:
The heavens seemed almost to open to my view. These things appeared wholly spiritual, and of the same nature of what I received in early life, before I fell under my late delusions, but very different from them. — The views I now had seemed to resemble those which St. Stephen had. But my dreadful conflict soon began. — I was quickly assaulted by the powers of darkness, and every thing which their horrid minds could invent, was suggested or conveyed to my mind.
As long as I could hold, in my own view, my innocence, I could stand against them: but they heap'd such a load of these wicked expressions upon me, that I sunk under them. The impressions were so strong and violent that they made me to realize them in some measure, and to consider them as my own.
The colossal struggle between Bodman and the infernal hosts went on and on, waxing and waning, for a considerable period, the visionary rejecting, with varying degrees of success, the Devil's accusation that he had committed "the unpardonable sin." Eventually, at one point Bodman
...went home to my father's house in company with my brother.... My brother then observed to me, that I had not committed the unpardonable sin: but that it was the work of Satan, in trying to make me believe it, or drive me to it. Likewise my brother observed; that he did not believe that God made any such communications to us, as I had represented — This gave me great relief; my brother still accompanied me to my father's house, and in the evening prayed with the family; and when requesting of God, that he would give his holy angels charge concerning us that night, Satan, by his cruel suggestion to me, made answer: All but you, I'll take care of you.
Either the next morning, or shortly thereafter, Bodman had another great encounter with the Angel of Darkness while he was sitting at home in a chair:
It threw me into a nervous kind of convulsions, which I knew was wholly effected by Satan. — The people in the neighborhood were gathered, expecting that I was about to make my exit, or lose my reason, or some terrible occurrence was about to take place. The shakings that I had were successive and very violent. Satan would say, or suggest to me, that he would shake me into hell the next time. I had my reason so well, that I was sensible that it was the power of Satan that affected me. I believe he caused me to articulate words that I had no kind of agency in. These words, however, I suppose were not sinful, but only frightful. The minister and physician of the parish were both sent for. When it was asked if I was willing to hear the minister pray, I answered, I have no objection, but it will do no good, as I am going right down to endless destruction. He prayed with me, however, and my mind became more calm.
The physician bled me. And Satan's power ceased for a time. And here I would observe, according to my best recollection, that in all those violent agitations and convulsions of body, there was no pain attending them.