our greatest blessings come to us by way of madness Phaedr. 244a


Archives of the Heart

book at Amazon: Collected-Poems/dp/1584200804/

From my intro to the poems, Archives of the Heart:
Words whisper, carrying more than one might know, hypostases rather than mere understanding. Words grow from roots, spawn families, travel and mingle, get lost, get found, and often marry the strangest bedfellows. Like our bodies, our ideas, and our culture, words evolve, handed down to us from a place beyond memory. As the warp and woof of language, words possess the magic to shape the immaterial into the solid things of psyche.

If language is our tool of thought, the poet is its high priestess. And when it comes to languages, Alice O. Howell is a polyglot. Her childhood took her to 37 countries on four continents, steeping her in four languages and a fine Swiss education. Her constant travel immersed her in a varied stew of experience, symbol, and mythology: the raw materials of imagination. It seems natural that her keen and innate search for meaning brought her to the work of Carl Jung.

Jung’s concept of archetype is inherent in the process of language, the hypostatic traces (hypostases meaning psychic substance, essence, or underlying reality) revealing an evolution in much the same way the body demonstrates an adherence to phylo-genetic law. Alice defines archetype as a primordial image appearing universally in myths and fairy tales corresponding to “irrepressible, unconscious, pre-existent forms” which are part of the inherited structure of the human psyche. Every word is integral, yet how straightforward, the easy way Alice has of making the complicated appear simple. She tells us psyche is the totality, conscious and unconscious, of an individual’s inner life. And so her poetry, revealing the psyche’s hidden distillations by cupful and bucket, or sometimes in small sulfur tinged whiffs of suspicion.

Jung tells us that the ground of primordial intuition that poetry springs from is wordless, imageless, dark. Rising up in the psyche, it requires (indeed, seizes) mythological imagery to take form. Reading Alice’s poems, you find a history of mythological motifs, yet they speak to her own time, her own needs, her own revelations. Instincts mediated by symbols, we see them evolving and maturing, bursting from her unconscious to her pen and onto the kitchen table late at night, taking her by surprise.

The poems are laid out for us chronologically. Her childhood, spent living in grand hotels but often left alone in the company of her burgeoning imagination, can be found in her wonderful Beejum Book. As she notes in her preface here, she was published in the Paris Herald Times when she was mere teen, impressing Thomas Mann enough that he paid her a visit offering (poet to poet) encouragement and advice.

That life was soon behind her, the war returning her family to America and its soon-to-be shattered isolation when "The Song of the Magdalen" appeared. Alice was in her early twenties, but already she is masterful and daring, so passionate and competent that I can’t help but believe her when she says:
Lo, I am the Magdalen and I was born for love.
It will always be one of my favorites. By this time, she was married, and had just begun the long and fruitful study of astrology and Jungian psychology that would take her into a life’s work of proving Astrology a useful diagnostic tool. Picture the ancients under the bright star-pierced night sky as, season after innumerable season, they planted their crops and reckoned matters of community and survival by the planets and stars. Looking up, sensing the image of their fate spread across the horizon, they mapped it with wonder and awe, the zodiac a projection of the human psyche. To study it as an archetype of the collective unconscious is to chart the hypostatic tracings of the primordial.

Alice became the mother of four beloved children, but the marriage itself was unhappy. Standing still in polar opposite from the girl of such pluck and promise, she, the woman, became trapped. These are the poems of The Oracles of Night, a place exuding, sometimes bleeding, a philosophical revelation wrought of isolation, even fear. Nights were spent alone, propped up in bed, reading. From her childhood, she had studied the great religions, that search for meaning that moved her along to a search for higher love. Here, she began to read Jung. “The poems developed before I caught up with what they were expressing,” she says, and to read them in the context of her life is telling. Mother Goddess appears first, predicting the path of the Feminine, the Sophia who would lead her to search for – to discover – the sacred hidden in the commonplace; poems that began to teach her the insight she later recognized in a hermetic treatise, that "the Dove is in the stone," an insight that developed into perhaps her greatest work. What she learned as the poems flowed out of her, dressing the God/esses in modern situations, was that they are archetypal processes that are personified over and over, ever-renewing in every culture’s mythology. To bring them into modern times as the poems do is simply to understand them, to find that they are alive and well and all around us. Jung points out:
What is of particular importance for the study of literature … is that the manifestations of the collective unconscious are compensatory to the conscious attitude, so they have the effect of bringing a one-sided, unadapted, or dangerous state of consciousness back into equilibrium.~CGJung, Psychology and Literature in Modern Man in Search of a Soul
Alice was healing her psyche, and as the process went along, she began to understand this. Continuing her study, delving deeper, she began teaching, progressing to the university level. New relationships brought new revelations, and she eventually left her husband. Lighter, darker, even a few silly love poems, we follow her as her search for meaning ripens into a search for love, the Sophia and her loving eyes her guide.

We see the influence of her Scottish roots, her love of feminine Nature expressed in the Celtic poems, as well as the influence of reading Alchemical works. By the late 1960’s and through 1970’s, we find her teaching at the Jung Foundation in New York, the C.G. Jung Institutes in Chicago and Los Angeles. Summer education trips with her students took her to Holland, Switzerland, Italy, and the British Isles. Most of all, they took her to the Hebrides, Iona and The Dove in the Stone: The sacred hidden in the commonplace.

In fall of 1980, she married Walter Andersen, the love of her life, and spent the next eighteen years with him. "Walking in Venice" expresses the bliss of this transforming union, a love that lasted until his death, and in all truth, still continues. It’s a model for joy, I think, and it touched me even though I met Alice only after his loss. With his encouragement, she went on to publish eight books in the 1970’s and 80’s.

In 1983, they moved into the house at Monterey, MA. Rosecroft is its name, a lovely place in the Berkshires. Just after they moved in, Alice awoke to a dream. Jung was shouting at her Consider the Obvious! Ever the poet and researcher, she drew once again on the hypostatic essence of word. Obvious comes from ob via, which means lying on the road, the place where the alchemists tell us the Philosopher’s Stone is lying. Alice writes that it is the hidden import of both the Stone and Jung’s final great work, The Mysterium Coniunctionis:

[…] the necessity to yoke the opposites of dualities rather than to choose one side or the other, to hold on to both of them consciously and heal the splits apparent in the world within our own individual psyches, no matter how deep or how awful the pain of it. ~ pp. 103, The Dove in the Stone

I’ve not found a better teacher for this than Alice.

The Axiom of Maria, a precept from 3rd century alchemy, tells us One becomes two, two becomes three, and out of the third comes the one as the fourth. Or as Alice puts it, Hidden in the Fourth is the One. Find it by uniting the Two in the Third. Analyst Daryl Sharp explains it thus:
One is the original state of unconscious wholeness; two signifies the conflict between opposites; three points to a potential resolution; the third is the transcendent function; and the one as the fourth is a transformed state of consciousness, relatively whole and at peace.
That journey is here, written in Alice’s poems.

With love, Deborah



Alice's papers at Smith:  http://asteria.fivecolleges.edu/findaids/sophiasmith/mnsss539.html

More about Alice: