To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ian Hamilton Finlay: Detached Sentences on Exile, Gardening and Pebbles

[The following is from Ian Hamilton Finlay Selections, edited by Alec Finlay and scheduled for 2011 publication in the Poets for the Millennium series, University of California Press. Best known as a founding figure of twentieth-century concrete poetry, Finlay (1925-2006) emerges here as that and something more than that.]


In Tityrus’ view, his two acres are those from which all the rest of the world is in exile.

Who is not an exile when, in the evening, he hears the wind in the trees?

Much that is good began with an exile.

What an exile it must be to be closed in a battle tank!

Whatever reflection may suggest, the idea of exile is instantly congenial.

Death is the extremest exile.

Diogenes exiled Greece from his tub.

A garden, being less a place than a world, is a proper work for an exile.

There is no exile, as there are no circles, without an idea of a centre and a circumference.

Pythagoras believed his friend to be exiled in a dog.

“I wept and wailed when I saw the unfamiliar land.” – Empedokles.

Illness is a sort of exile from the every-day.

To be rehabilitated into Eden would be an exile for us.

Our true home may be found in exile.

Summer is no less an exile from spring, than autumn from summer, and spring from winter.

Tall pine trees are the great oaks of exile.

Despotism exiles the people.

Wet days show up holidays as self-imposed exiles.

Illness and exile restore our horizons to us.

Vulgar people have no notion of the world as an exile.

Everyone feels he might bear an exile. But to be a refugee…

In growing old, we stay into exile.

When the swallows gather, and twitter on the wires, our staying seems an exile.

On winter water, and in the autumn clouds, we see Apollo in his exiles.

Pine-cones and crab-apples are the chief fruits of exile.

Exiled lives are half-way to statues.

It seems the soul is so constituted, that Here is its exile, There is its home.


Installing is the hard toil of garden making, placing is its pleasure.

Superior gardens are composed of Glooms and Solitudes and not of plants and trees.

A liberal’s compost heap is his castle.

Solitude in gardens is an aspect of scale.

Certain gardens are described as retreats when they are really attacks.

Ecology is Nature-Philosophy secularised.

Gardening activity is of five kinds, namely, sowing, planting, fixing, placing, maintaining. In so far as gardening is an Art, all these may be taken under the one head, composing.

Better than truth to materials is truth to intelligence.

The inscription seems out of place in the modern garden. It jars on our secularism by suggesting the hierarchies of the word.

Brown made water and lawns (&c.) Palladian elements, as much as Lord Burlington did, his columns and porticos.

Brown made water appear as Water, and lawn as Lawn.

The gardens of Kent and Brown were mistakenly referred to the Chinese aesthetic, just as today’s thoughtful gardens are considered to be Japanese. ‘Japanese garden’ has come to signify no more than ‘art garden’. The contemporary ‘sculpture park’ is not – and is not considered to be – an art garden, but an art gallery out-of-doors. It is a parody of the classical garden native to the West.

The main division of gardens is into art gardens and botanical gardens. Compared to this division all the others – ‘The Garden as Music’, ‘The Garden as a Poem’ - & etc. – are superficial.

A bench, in our modern gardens, is a thing to be sat upon; in Shenstone’s Leasowes it was a thing to be read.

As public sex was embarrassing to the Victorians, public classicism is to us.

Composition is a forgotten Art.

Artificial gardens – as Lamb describes them – now strike us as not at all artificial, since they have been made ‘natural’ by time.


A PEBBLE is a crumb of the Ancient Geology.

The place of THE PEBBLE in modern aesthetics is that of Natural Man in the philosophy of J-J Rousseau.

Modern refinement has made THE PEBBLE almost a relative of the Fairies.

PEBBLES are most prized by those whose temperament discovers a dangerous possibility of controversy in simple apples and pears.

A PEBBLE is a form of perfect vacuity, as a wild-flower is of modesty.

Children pile up PEBBLES as pin-less hand-grenades.

It is no compliment to PEBBLES to say, as a modern poet has said of stones, that we can discover no ruined ones.

PEBBLES are, it may be, reformed, but they have a long and warlike history.

The modern PEBBLE is prized as a sculpture, as it were, of a PEBBLE.

Kettle's Yard, in Cambridge, England, is the Louvre of the PEBBLE.

To inscribe words on PEBBLES would be a desecration if thought knew no hierarchies.

Making PEBBLES skip is an obvious resort of misanthropy. (This with apologies to Hazlitt.)

The Victory of David proved the advantage, not of the smaller size of the missile, but of the superior range. The boulder of Goliath would have been the right retort to the PEBBLE of David.

Beside a true work of sculpture, the PEBBLE has the advantage (to the modern mind), that it is no sort of Test.

The wide appreciation of PEBBLES is a remote consequence of Protestantism.

A shore of PEBBLES is a very picture of Democracy; every PEBBLE on it is 'interesting'.

The PEBBLE never had so much dignity as when it was employed as an alpha by the old Pythagoreans.

The PEBBLE is an infant compared to the net-cork.

The PEBBLE is foolishly admired as being hand-made by the Ocean.

Too much has been made of the untutored PEBBLE.


Ed Baker said...


how come you ain't tell me about this
Finlay afore?
Don't know which Sentence to Eat first!


as for Pebbles..

you know who else "knows" about .... pebbles?

he walked alng the shore
picking up
collecting pebbles...
Edmond Jabes...
(sorry I cant put that little accent-mark over the "e")

"a founding figure of twentieth-century concrete poetry, ..."

now on my way to amazon gotta "check" this Ian Finlay 'out'

Gardening! Pebbles! Exile!!!!

Stone Girl
in her garden

Ed Baker said...

just cruised The Net..

seems like "they've" made Finlay's work
an huge tourist attraction!

and via amazon for anythingof his in print
you gotta get a third income-producing job to afford!

Amazon's gone CRAZY! with their prices for REAL BOOKS!

what I am seeing/sensing re: his works..

unlike what I was doing (before I dropped out) didn't I/my 'stuff' didn't much get off of the page 8 1/2 x 11 and infrequently 11 x 14

he (his work) early on say when 1970?


get out there not only beyond his .... well ...

his materials'-limitations
but into The 3-d-ness of

seems like "found"


the two books published of his "out there"

under $95.00 plus shipping I just bought...

both done in early 70's
one for $15 and one for $6.99


there ought to be a BETTER term for concrete poetry" than the label
Concrete Poetry

next thing you'll see in a course at University:

Concrete Poetry and How to Write One 325
T Th 7:15 am - 10:43 pm

(this course fulfills the English 233 requirement for an advanced degree in Creative Writing!

this coming book (edited by his son?) looks to be

best-thing-Finlay out there

when it is

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