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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 9: August 2021
Tanka Prose: 227 words
282 words
By Charles D. Tarlton

Two Reflections From
The Sublime and the Beautiful *



No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear. For fear being an apprehension of pain or death, it operates in a manner that resembles actual pain. Whatever therefore is terrible, with regard to sight, is sublime too, whether this cause of terror be endued with greatness of dimensions or not; for it is impossible to look on anything as trifling, or contemptible, that may be dangerous.

—Edmund Burke*

I am always aware, however vaguely, that my wants and actions could at any moment provoke the anger of society, the one-eyed monster guarding the door. Society is large and formless; I am small and precisely boundaried. I can do it no harm, but I can easily annoy it; it sits quietly most of the time, but the very idea of it angry terrifies me. I do my best not to arouse its interest or its ire. What am I afraid of? I don’t exactly know, and that very uncertainty only makes things worse.

in a darkened
orchard’s midnight shadows
a sandstorm
of stars sifting down
though a flannel of branches

I caught my breath
in the smoke of escaping
the sky in silver whorls
twisting, turning

my mouth open
hung in a swelling trance
my eyes glazed
I was reaching for words
to wrap the wordless in



I know several who admire and love painting, and yet who regard the objects of their admiration in that art with coolness enough in comparison of that warmth with which they are animated by affecting pieces of poetry or rhetoric. Among the common sort of people, I never could perceive that painting had much influence on their passions. It is true that the best sorts of painting, as well as the best sorts of poetry, are not much understood in that sphere. But it is most certain that their passions are very strongly roused by a fanatic preacher, or by the ballads of Chevy Chase, or the Children in the Wood, and by other little popular poems and tales that are current in that rank of life.

—Edmund Burke*

My aunt Willa Lee had a framed print of the Sacred Heart on her living room wall with Jesus parting his robe to reveal a red, fiery, glowing, and bleeding heart. His eyes followed you around the room wherever you went. We all knew that Jesus was just one dimension of the Trinity, width to his Father’s length and the Holy Ghost’s depth, that he was half-Man and half-God in some incomprehensibly transcendent way, half-knowable, half-madness. The likeness on the wall always looked commercial, maybe even torn from some Catholic magazine, but my aunt bowed her head imperceptibly each time she vacuumed back and forth in front of the picture.

your appurtenance
of rank and readable books
plus foppery
gave you precedence
choosing the higher arts

a critic stood
in front of an Agnes Martin
in yellow etched
and words failed him! Color
was trumps on the muted wall



*Publisher’s Notes:

1. The Sublime and the Beautiful is a series of tanka-prose reflections by Charles D. Tarlton on selected passages (two of which are quoted above in italics) from A Philosophical Inquiry Into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, With an Introductory Discourse Concerning Taste (1757, second edition with additions) by Edmund Burke (1729–1797).

The complete text of Burke’s Inquiry may be found within this Project Gutenberg Ebook: The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, Vol. I. (of 12).

2. For another selection from Tarlton’s series of reflections, see [Ask the Wind] here in MacQ-9.

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