Philosophy of Clothes


How inspiring to read this week’s re-purposing of Carlyle’s language and to witness his “flesh-garment of language” worn by new imaginations. No “show-cloaks,” no specious constructions here! Our “Cento Resartus” will begin with Patricia Smith’s beautifully made stanza:

With what shall this Philosophy of Clothes
clothe its naked Truth—rough woolen cloak
of the countryside or silken mantle—
obscuring yet exposing its muscle, its os?

Smith’s commanding question seems an apt beginning for a dialogue between the tangible and invisible, the outward and inward selves.  “Clothes” and “os,” felicitously linked by rhyme, form a rich contradiction to carry us forward.

In second place, we have this intriguing stanza tailored by Paul Michelsen:

Tissue glories in its Lawrences
forsaking gold-mines of finance and slaughter
Clothed with Beauty and with Curses
safe-moored in some still obscurity

In these lines, Carlyle seems to wear the passions of Romanticism’s  William Blake; as well as those of the great 20th-century proponent of the body, D. H. Lawrence. In the phrase, “forsaking gold-mines of finance and slaughter,” we are reminded that Carlyle named economics “The Dismal Science.”

Honorable mention goes to Jan Nielsen’s sexy and spiritual entry:

Yet all was tight and right there: hot and black
in minute incessant fluctuation
to get in motion, and seemed crank and slack
“the very Spirit of Love embodied”

Cento-making re-tailors language wholesale, fashioning thought in a way consonant with Carlyle’s desire that society transcend itself in new lexicons, fresh expressions of the soul.

Next week’s challenge is to fashion a second stanza to shape our poetic garment. Again using phrases from Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus, stitch four lines of approximate iambic pentameter, rhymed or unrhymed. Remember to submit your efforts no later than midnight, Eastern Time, on Saturday, September 19.

Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.

Angela Ball is a professor of English at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is the author of five poetry collections, including, most recently, Night Clerk at the Hotel of Both Worlds.


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