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Saturday, November 13, 2010

First Impressions of MANA ABODA, by T.E. Hulme

Once again, here is the text, as taken from Pound's publication of the "complete" (though incomplete, as it's missing "Image," but he meant it as a joke--go figure) poetical works of his friend, Thomas Ernest Hulme, with all the same line breaks and spacings, despite the obviousness of their being subject to the space and font of the printing of the book that contains them:


     Beauty is the marking-time, the stationary 
vibration, the feigned ecstasy of an arrested im-
pulse unable to reach its natural end.

MANA ABODA, whose bent form
     The sky in arch├ęd circle is,
     Seems ever for an unknown grief
          to mourn.
Yet on a day I heard her cry :
" I weary of the roses and the singing
Josephs all, not tall enough to try."

Surprisingly, this poem is actually really direct, its keys contained in two places, "Mana aboda," of course, whatever that means, and "Josephs."  While the later is incredibly unspecific, the prior is so specific as to be practically without referent.  If you google either, you get a crap load of Josephs, duh, and practically nothing for Mana Aboda, except references to this particular poem.  I've checked all the sources I have in my little personal library (limited, I know), but I really thought the internet would be sufficient.  I think that it actually was, despite my initial discouragement.

What I found, without tearing apart the two words, "mana" and "aboda," and assuming initially that Hulme is sticking with "real" words (though isn't any word spoken as a sign representing an object or idea--in other words, syllables uttered or written with intent to communicate--a word?), or already-existing words, was frustrating.  There's a pretty deep book of analysis and discussion of Hulme's works entitled, T.E. Hulme and the Question of Modernism that claims, without justification or explanation (and maybe I'm stupid for just not getting it or already having known it), that Mana Aboda is a goddess.  Already this opens up a pretty sweet interpretation, or the beginnings of one, of the poem, but how the heck did he get Goddess just from context?

I think I figured it out.  Get this:

Here is a list of definitions and/or translations of the two syllables "mana" in about a billion languages (funny that English doesn't have its own specific usage, but only borrowed, with the possible exception of Moses' experience, but even that fits in a roundabout sort of way all the other meanings; and, yes, I know, all you roll-playing, fantasy-fiction geeks are wondering, what about magic-and-spell-points kinda mana? -- well, keep reading!):

Mana: [mass noun] (in Polynesian, Melanesian, and Maori belief) an impersonal supernatural power which can be transmitted or inherited; power, authority; the power of the elemental forces of nature embodied in an object or person; moral authority; The Chinese characters as used by the Japanese; meaning (Turkish); to inherit, heirloom (Tagalog); to encourage or urge (Swedish); fault, defect, or shortcoming (Serbo-Croatian);  the place where people go after dying in Finnish mythology (Finnish). 

So what if you mash all of this together and ascribe the ever-so-typical-for-Romance-languages-A-for-the-feminine at the end, and, well, it seems pretty goddess-like to me.  Now place the whole thing, "Mana Aboda" in context of the poem with its reference to the sky, and what's another word for the sky but the heavens, and who lives in heaven?  And what's another word for home?  Abode.  Add that A again at the end, and all wrapped up into one attribution we have a sky goddess.  Her name?  Mana Aboda, which, by this invented interpretation (for an invented word/name), means the Home of Power or of All Elemental Forces, or the Home of Meaning.  Pretty cool.  Finally, I think it's fair to assume that the errant authors/editors of the aforementioned helpmeet may have come at their conclusion in the same way, as they happen to mention Nut, Egyptian goddess of the sky.

So what about all the Josephs?  Context tells us this as well.  Which Joseph, for reason of being "too short," though by no fault of his own, and yet his call was pretty incredible and even intimidating (would he have taken it had he known what it was going to mean for him?), couldn't quite reach God?  (Go with me on this.  I'll see if I can get it to make sense.)  Now, this shortness is only compared to the true father--across the metaphor this is the poet who apparently cannot exist because all poets are just Josephs.  Joseph, the earthly father who wasn't really the father, of Jesus.

Now read the poem again.  Slowly.  And tell me what you think.  As is the case with all of Hulme's stuff--all 6 (and how excited am I that the number is now 6, up from 4!) --there's so much more here than even what this first coherent reading gives.  Read it again later.  And once more tomorrow.  What else is here in these O-so-few words?

Have fun!

For some of you, HERE is the true gold, link to the .pdf of some lucky person's first edition Ripostes of Ezra Pound.


  1. Let me be clear that I have absolutely no idea whatsoever what to make of this poem, but, "la boda," in Spanish is wedding. Is it possible there's some hint of that?

    Probably not. Good luck!

  2. I skipped a part of the interpretation of Mana Aboda that I meant to include. Kids. They're distracting sometimes.

    Think of this poem as a critique on poets attempting to adequately praise the beauty of God's--or the goddess's--creations.

  3. on "Josephs all:"

    I've been rereading these two poems repeatedly over the last couple days, and little bits of understanding slide in each time, though I'm not claiming that this is one of those moments. Interesting that if by "Josephs all" Hulme indeed intended Joseph, earthly father of Jesus (and he must have, considering context), is he not selling the man assigned this duty by--again, through context of the poem--a readily existant God? So is it that the great are insufficient? Was Joseph one of the greatest, or just the great? Where does he fall along the line of greatness? I wonder, as here we've recently finished Tom Hamilton's life and reflected also on that of Seymour Glass, if these two men, perhaps two of the greatest strugglers with and against the forces of life, were perhaps great enough. Both poets (albeit fictional, of course), but of a different nature. Not poets of words, which perhaps mark the genus of the Josephs, but poets of being. Is this the type of poet that does not tire Mana Aboda--beautiful goddess of the skies? These men did not sing of roses. Through their mighty struggles, they sang of--here it is, perhaps--human triumph, despite their disbelief that they might achieve it.

  4. Mana Aboda is from Indian sanskrit text and it means the unconscious (aboda) mind (mana).

  5. ^ Good to know. In all my looking into this--research of a sort--I never came across this.


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