George Berkeley in Paradise

Let's review where we are, if possible.  We're in the midst of the 3rd chapter of Stubborn Grew, titled Once in Paradise.  Our dear Ant-Hero, Henry, has met his ghostly friend and guide-to-be, Bluejay, in the garden behind Shakespeare's Head (building, mental space).  The sublimity - the weirdness - the psycho-cultural pressure of this encounter, seems to have led Henry to take a defensive step back in timespace.

We are in another garden of sorts, a seaside paradise aptly named Paradise (outside Newport).  The place is a magnet for historical, intellectual, artistic visitations - Berkeley, LaFarge, Henry James - & in the background, William Blackstone, Roger Williams.

Common denominator here is vision, imagination.  From Blackstone & Williams on, we have exiles & dreamers, seekers.

One thing I was attempting here was to mount an indirect defense of poetry.  Something about the spiritual mana invested in the creative word, the inherent capacity to re-shape and re-orient our general attitude or comprehension of life, of what is.

I'm laying conceptual groundwork, in these Paradise passages, for the legendary flights of Bluejay still to come.  I'm also compiling a record, a testimony, of the special quality of Rhode Island as a place.

So we focus on Berkeley, for the moment.  His idealism; his curious proposal to found a University for native peoples on the island of Bermuda; his being marooned in Newport for two years, waiting for the British Crown to fund his project (which never happened).

I believe Berkeley also wrote a famous poem while hanging around in Newport.  "Westward the course of empire takes its way..."


Decollected six hundred abreast in London theater 
distracted young charm-schooled Berkeley from a soul 
full of food and task lighting.  Infinitely corruptible 
metropole, spendthrift of saving grace, more prouder

than prodigal – unespy'd, listening, he thought, he saw. 
South Sea Bubble.  Falling oars.  Vice and villainy 
have by degrees grown reputable among us;
our infidels have passed for fine gentlemen, and

our venal traitors for men of sense. . . we have made a jest 
of public spirit, and cancelled all respect for whatever 
our laws and religion repute sacred. . . The answer 
was – Bermuda.  Draw firm line round island birdnest –

go for broke to King Uncle George!  Go for the rich gold
and begin again, sagely, in an English boat, at the beginning: 
12 learned men, 12 months a year. . .1200 Native Indians 
convertible – bonded Bermudian, freemen – sold!

Set sail!  Doubtful doubloons nailed (promissory) to the mast,
jovial Berkeley (famillionaire) embarked the watery maze 
for American Bottomland.  Irish – purpled with blurred glaze 
across the waters.  O visionary, Theoretical heart – last

best Empire west of the rocks of Paradise!  His toss 
thrown down – his line – anchored in eloquence –
truly a sheep's gamble – or shepherd's prescience! 
His line, out of Dublin, nailed to the cross-

tree – golden, eloquent, equatorial. . . line built on sand. 
X marks the spot.  Ideal location for that invisible 
educational vortex in one New World  (a terrible
duty is born).  Dreaming.  In RI.  In Rhode Island.


Aloft there on shale shelf, in cave mouth, 
Berkeley's eyes drifted out to sea.
A pair of dicey gypsy barks
gambling on the shepherding waves.

You have your materialist peasants 
nattering pedantically along with your 
libertine idle blank-eyed statuettes O 
London – and this jovial pleasant

noncholeric collared Irish bookish Dean 
waves the Vico key in your face.  And waits. 
Waits for your double crosscheck, mates –
your doubloon that never comes – keening,

why have you forsaken me?  In RI?  Heaven's 
not some dull neuteronian mechanical.
It's providential – and recreational!
A dream, again! – again! – Bermudian!

Whitehall, Berkeley's home in Paradise (Newport)

Berkeley's Seat, a short walk from Whitehall

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