InRI by Henry Gould
I am pasting here a short dissertation I did for my course in Literary Criticism, Professor Bill Lavender, Universtity of New Orleans, UNO, specifically on In RI by Henry Gould.
witch-hunt and clear thinking, institutionalized insanity and intellectual work, history and historical poetry through the reading of In RI by Henry Gould, or an attempt at finding the sliding deferance as set by Derrida.
In RI by Henry Gould is a long historical poem. In a full poststructural, deconstructive and postmodern context, Gould rebuilds history, the two charters of rights for
like an old wasp’s nest, afloat
between stars, black
holes - and potholes (the DOT theory
of entropy: potholes emerge spontaneously
from black holes –
only known entity so capable.(Gould 10.26.94)
There is a subtle merging of time and space levels, of personal and historical dimensions, the clear observation of facts broadened into their unquestionable dichotomy: random inclement happening as much and an ostensive dimension with the “construction of meaning rather than the fictive assertion that existence is meaningless.”
The book is divided into two parts which are subdivided into sections, specularly five in Part One and five in Part Two. The pages are not numbered and reference will be given to the dates by which the Author marks his writing. The first entry is dated 10.21.94, the last: 6.2.95. Several dual mirroring worlds are to be found within the poem and at distinct layers, from the observation of reality in the present to the observation of reality in the seventeenth century starting at the time of
The escamotage that starts the Author’s interested search among documents is given by his finding one of his probable ancestors on ancient contracts: Thomas Gould, the son of Jeremy, who rented “space on his island for the hay” to Roger Williams (9.29.94). The pleasant discovery is countered by the deposition of John Gould in favor of Mary Redington, his wife, against Sarah Wilds in 1690.
The inexplicit incipit of the possible outline of a legalized belief like witchcraft was established by the sadly famous Council of Trent convened three times between December 13, 1545 and December 4, 1563. Through a series of canons - that started with “If any one saith, …” and ended with “let him be anathema” - the Church, in a powerful iron fist, brought into existence the idea of hereticism (The canons and decrees of the sacred and oecumenical Council of Trent). Such dogmatic assertion eliminated any free interpretation of the word of God and forced and forged man’s spiritual needs within the confines of the interpretation of the Bible in order to suit the predicaments of the Christian Catholic Church. Not only Protestantism was condemned but what seems most important is the observation that on 255 members, two-thirds of the 168 bishops were Italians, as much as the knowledge that Italian and Spanish prelates were highly preponderant (Wikipedia). Almost as if after the indisputably high-ranking excellence offered in the arts thanks to Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, Giorgione, Titian, Andrea del Sarto, Correggio, Lippi, Vasari, …, after High Renaissance, Italy had to hit, bite back, take away from man and from the world as much as it had given.
Betty Parris was nine years old, her friend, Abigail Williams, eleven, and not seventeen as Arthur Miller introduced her in The Crucible to make his play more immediately credible to a theater audience. Tensions, due to political instability and frustration, danced wildly and freely with the lives of women first, and in general with the lives of men, a freedom fiction could not contemplate.
Section two of Part One ends with Halloween and Henry Gould’s wish to go to Topsfield to look for the graves of the good, through the “yellow leaves […] like small bronze masks, falling away, leaving the bare limbs. (10.31.94)”
At the beginning of section three there is a flashback into a further past. We are in 1637 and Henry Gould is rebuilding history through ancient papers, specifically “Jeremy Gould of
Mrs. H.: I desire to know wherefore I am banished?
Gov.: Say no more. The court knows wherefore and is satisfied. (The Examination of Mrs Anne Hutchinson at the Court at
For years the idea of a long poem
and the writing of short poems
cancelled each other
out, until I understood that prose
and fiction are a blessing in disguise,
allowing the epic
to become at last what it always dreamed
of becoming: a minor genre. And
one of the effects
of chaos is a kind of nonlinear
causation; catastrophes, enormous events, huge
from insignificant and marginal beginnings,
small states, imponderable, uncertain (something
"As I understand it, laws, commands, rules, and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway;" abandoned by John Cotton, under the new governorship of John Winthrop, having thus lost her old protective wing in Henry Vane, Anne Hutchinson couldn’t but flee having “challenged the strict orthodoxy of the Puritans and their male hegemony. (Rau)”
[…] 56 years after Kristallnacht.
365 years ago, Jeremy Gould
decided to remove
with Hutchinson, Coddington, Coggeshall
and the other Sectaries, to
where Mr. Williams
and the Narragansetts would welcome them. (Gould 11.9.94)
“It had a face, but no head, and the ears stood upon the shoulders and were like an ape’s; it had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard, and sharp… it had two mouths, and in each of them a piece of red flesh sticking out; it had arms and legs as other children; but, instead of toes, it had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons. – John Winthrop” (Gould 11.10.94)
[…] rejected oaths of any kind, taught
that sex was no determinant for gifts of
that women and men stood on equal ground
in church worship… imprisoned twice… refused…
recant or depart (Gould 11.10.94)
What kind of folly gripped the imagery of educated men to turn them into self-contented butchers, was it maybe something in the air? Foucault writes: “It is common knowledge that the seventeenth century created enormous houses of confinement; it is less commonly known that more than one out of every hundred inhabitants of the city of
Almost as if the leading and winning idea of the prototype of the white male was the “thing-in-itself,” term borrowed by Nietzsche from Kant in reference to language as “truth without consequences” (877). There being no truth, as extensively shown by Nietzsche, how does the rusted structure, the catacomb, the “columbarium” (Nietzsche 877) survive? Thanks to a sliding differance (Derrida), in its negative connotation, that re-proposes different but similar values, the “transcendental signified” with slightly distinct connotations that keep the same notion alive. Presence is made possible by “the very thing that it makes impossible,” differance, its quasi-transcendental quality. In this Derrida imagines that what he says “is perhaps what Nietzsche wanted to write,” i.e. “that differance in its active movement is what is comprehended in the concept of differance without exhausting it – is what not only precedes metaphysics but also extends beyond the thought of being” (142).
The Magdalene Sisters by the Scottish director Peter Mullan, could be quoted within the context. Unwanted, problematic, free-thinking, dumb, lazy, creative, intelligent, any kind of girls of any social status were incarcerated in asylums, institutions run by nuns doubled as laundries, primarily in Ireland, where “a perfect collusion of family, church and state [found the solution to a possible flaw in a rigid system mainly based on exploitation]. The laundries were founded in the mid-19th century; the last was closed only in 1996. It is said that 30,000 women passed through their doors” (Gordon). Bad girls, good girls, women, poor, gipsy, Jews, black people, victims of colonialism, of reconstruction, voices from the past, they all scream out silently for attention. Sometimes they have names, sometimes they do not, they are numbers, faceless, they built towns, cities, railroads, they gave and gave in the humility of slavery, of serfdom, treated like rogues, deprived of their human dimension. The power of life and death is conferred to evil, protected by the two ever-present institutions: State and Church and their innumerable branches.
In 1637 there was a four-way struggle
for land and power in
English and Dutch
were rivals, as were Pequots
English were divided among themselves,
[…] (Gould 10.11.94)
[…] In May, 1642, Roger Williams
Anne Hutchinson was dead.
All, save 10-yr-old Susannah, tomahawked.
“After four years of captivity she was freed,
though she expressed reluctance
to return to white civilization.” (Gould 11.11.94)
Tatobem, Pequot River, Uncas, Sassacus, Boston magistrates, Saybrook, John Oldham, Block Island, Williams again, Canonicus, General Court, murderers, John Endicott, Connecticut, 300 and 700 Pequots (most of the noncombatants) died, Mystic fort, Mason, Narragansetts – English – Pequot-Mohegans, Williams again, the Isle of Aquiday,
Warning and promise
spoken with authority
to set hearts on fire,
for century after century
in and out of the huge
of the Church. And in the fire
danced the translators,
and out of the multitude
of tongues and books and implements
and machines came Gutenberg,
and out of the iron
tattoo of the scorching word came Bibles,
and out of the Bibles came burning
and out of the preachers came
Protestants – and out of Protestants
and exile, and migrations, and holy
settlements, and binding covenants, and
And out of words, and fire, and Latin, and scribes,
and tongues, and translators, and books,
and preachers, and Protestants, and exile,
and covenants, and settlements, and
came Roger the troublemaker.
And set himself
to start a colony, a city-state,
where he could seek
with other seekers, toward
his heart’s desire. (Gould 12.15.94)
Part Two starts with the image of “
Oct 8. general Court of
[…] the said Mr. Williams shall departe out of this jurisdiccon…
[…] (the King had no right to grant lands belonging to another
sovereign people – the Natives).
[…] The Puritans never forgave him for leaving their church.
In 1639 (long after quitting
The second dated entry of the second Part of In RI: 2.2.95, runs for fourteen pages and centers on Roger Williams. A highly charismatic and emblematic figure who sharply distinguishes himself among those dissidents that left
Roger Williams landed with his wife Mary in February
[…] March 14th
victory: the charter is granted, signed
by Henry V,
Lord Wharton, Miles Corbet, Cornelius Holland,
Lord Saye and Sele, Sir Arthur Haselrig,
and the Earl of
settlements are granted full power to rule themselves
by whatever Civil government (Gould 2.4.95)
In 1651, the Charter had to be accepted again, and Williams went back to
Roger Williams, through Henry Gould’s interpretation, stands out in his powerful work as a highly conscious mediator who seeks support for his beliefs and tries to accommodate his immediate as much as his greater family within a democratically ruled system. The theological aspect of the Author of A Key into the Language of America is depicted from the side of the one who looks for the Light within the parameters of a purly speculative search dictated by education and spiritual refinement. As David Read states, “what marks Williams as unusual is […] the lack of closure [that] comes across as systematic in an intellectual sense” (96). Gould’s choice of documents to be reproduced among the lines of his poetry will witness first Cotton’s betrayal, then Winthrop’s washed up outside façade and inside corruption, the importance of land for farmers whose lives depended on agriculture through the many contracts, as Williams’ inexhaustible attempts to bring peace and a certain basic wisdom into human affairs by showing both Miantonomi’s and Canonicus’ faithfulness and innocence, their civic and ethical behavior.
I must beg leave?
for the paltry
right to live
Until He cometh
to tear down Kings
& Gorton in the stocks
all winter, &
& young Miantonomi,
joy of his father,
The reader is seized by a certain immanence while approaching the closing lines of Section Two of Part Two, thanks to Gould’s extended quotations taken from Williams’ studies of the Old Testament. Section Three opens with an overview of
mouth the Narragansett sounds
littered, pressed across alien streets,
a curious writing. TAHENAU’ATU
What price? (Gould 2.4.95)
David Read defines A Key into the Language: “A glossary, a guidebook, a controversialist tract, an anthology of poems, a defense of Native American culture, a scholarly inquiry, a personal testimony: Key into the Language is all of these things, yet each by itself is insufficient to account for the book as a whole” (111). He later continues: “Following in Schweitzer’s wake, Thomas Scanlan argues that ‘the narrative of the colony [Providence] was an allegory of the narrative of the nation,’ by which he means the narrative of the struggle for a reformed polity within England itself: Williams brilliantly and relentlessly frames his representations of Indians by allowing his readers to see the extent to which they functioned as versions of themselves and their struggles. While appearing to bring home linguistic exotica, Williams in fact tacitly forces his readers to situate issues of colonial rule in a domestic context” (112).
As soon as he received confirmation of the charter, Williams did not fly back home, he probably thought that his moral duty had not been completely fulfilled. Gould underlines:
Cotton’s tract The Keys of the
became the Bible of national church forces.
The Bloody Tenet of Persecution for Cause of Conscience appears on July 15th, here are Bruckunier’s words as reported by Gould:
[…] Magistrates or rulers were not stewards of the Lord but civil servants of the people; their duty toward religion was to protect the right of the citizen to freedom of worship not to determine whether the citizen’s religion was true or false.
These demands for a secular state Williams grounded solidly on his deep faith in the common man and the power of reason in a free people; and on page after page he drove home the revolutionary democratic doctrine that governments derived their powers solely from consent of the governed:
“From this Grant I infer… that the Soveraigne, originall, and foundation of civill power lies in the people… And if so, that a People may erect and establish what forme of Government seemes to them most meete for their civill condition. It is evident that such Governments as are by them erected and established, have no more power, nor for no longer time, then the civill power or people consenting and agreeing shall betrust them with. This is cleere not only in Reason, but in the experience of all commonweales, where the people are not deprived of their naturall freedome by the power of Tyrants.” - Brockunier, Irrepressible Democrat (Gould 2.4.95)
Enlightened words in a century of legalized madness, words needed to revolutionize history, to make single consciousnesses aware and to set the foundations of the Constitution that will be signed over a century later. Achebe and Said, Wittig and
Section four of Part Two focuses on
The last Section of Part Two starts in
The long poem ends with “Shwishcuttowwdauog Mishánnock.” And the closing date is: 2.6.95.
Henry Gould’s work has to be praised for the objectivity and seriousness of his historical search, as well as for his capacity of tuning the readers’ emotions towards the formation of a clearly cut awareness of the needs of the human being, beyond rules meant to defeat and destroy, be them institutional or religious. Portrayed is also his fragility as a man that has to be read within the lines with the preference for his son and daughter, the interest in his own genealogy, the wish to end his historical journey by accompanying his hero all the way to reach us, not only metaphysically through his writings, but in spirit through the symbols of his dream: a rose, fire, Mary and Williams in their union as a couple, and the annulment of space-time dimensions. Henry Gould’s pen so sharp in detaching falsehood from truth can reach the highest notes of lyrical poetry. In a recent E-mail, Gould commented with the following words:
In the first Part, the Gould genealogy underscores the fact that in poetry, as opposed to ‘objective’ chronicles or impersonal history, there is no obliteration of the subjective, there's no escape from personal & familial implications. In the second Part, the (to a degree) liberating ‘epic’ deeds of Williams make possible the turn toward dream & imagination of the closing sections. This is sort of represented by the focus on Milton (who imagined
Very active at a cultural level, Gould’s literary interests are difficult to trace even if Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, and Joseph Brodsky seem to be “eternal returns.”
Several years ago I decided without having been commissioned or any expectation of a return, to translate In RI into Italian. My decision was based not only on the conviction of the validity of the present text as of Henry Gould’s poetry but it represented for me a tribute to what I like to consider my first mother country, Italy being the second. The book was finally self-published in 2006 by Henry Gould and dedicated to me in its bilingual version. The same question of language is raised within the poem. By showing how fitting and timely my translation has been, Gould wrote in a recent E-mail: “How it [language] highlights contrasts - between the abuses of legal language in Boston, Salem, elsewhere - and Williams' openness toward foreign language & cultures generally (the section of Narragansett translations, for example; learning languages with Milton, etc.).”
The title “In RI” on the Italian market brings to the association with the inscription on Jesus’ cross, very few know of the existence of
[The poem] is political. About founding a "counter-state", based on rights and popular sovereignty, which themselves in turn depend upon human empathy, fairness, openness, solidarity. Thus the title “In RI” sort of telescopes two things: an abuse of judicial language, and a special place (RI). By the abuse I mean the inscription ‘IN RI’ written by the Romans over Jesus' crucifixion. They had a procedure of writing the crimes of the condemned in this way, on the very instrument of execution. ‘In RI’ stood for ‘king of the Jews’, thus accusing Jesus of rebellion vs. the Roman state (actually a sort of stand-in for Barabbas). The political foundation of that "special place" (
In unison with Jung (“On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry.” 998), at my further reading of Gould’s work I have appreciated his poetry with a renewed freshness, interest, and deep respect.
Anne Hutchinson. 5 December 2002. AnneHutchinson.com. 24 November 2007 <>
Behling, Susanne Lucretia. “Roger Williams.” Rootsweb. 1997. Ancestry.com community. 24 November 2007. < http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~sam/roger.html>
Creeley, Robert. The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley: 1945 – 1975. Berkely and
“The Council of
DeDeo, Simon. “Henry Gould: Basilique Saint Madeleine.” Blog Entry. rhubarb is susan. 30 January, 2006. 24 November, 2007.
Derrida, Jacques. Of Grammatology. Trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak.
Foucault, Michel. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason. Trans. Richard Howard.
Gardiner, Rick. “The Examination of Mrs Anne Hutchinson at the Court at
Gomes, Peter G. “Vita: Anne Hutchinson.” Harvard Magazine on the Web Nov-Dec 2002. 24 November 2007 <>
Gordon, Mary. “How
Gould, Henry. In RI. Trans. Anny Ballardini.
Gould, Henry. “Re: In RI.” E-mail to the author. 26 Nov. 2007.
Jung, Carl Gustav. “On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch.
Loewenstein, David A. “Areopagitica and the Dynamics of History. Studies in English Literature, 1500-
Miller, Arthur. Collected Plays. Viking Adult. 1981.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. “On Truth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Ed. Vincent B. Leitch.
Rau, Elizabeth. “Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643): Courage ahead of her time.” The
Roger Williams Family Association. 1997-2007. 24 November 2007.
Taylor, Richard. “A Defense of Poetry: Reflections on the Occasion of Writing by Paul H. Fry.” The Modern Language Review 93.1 (1998) : 202-3. Jstor. UNO U Lib.,
 Richard Taylor in “A Defense of Poetry: Reflections on the Occasion of Writing by Paul H. Fry” writes:
“Ostension invokes the construction of meaning rather than the fictive assertion that existence is meaningless. It is a deferral by disclosure that existence may be meaning-free. Fry is much exercised by the notion that phenomena are cultural constructions and holds that language in its predicative moment is culturally conditioned without exception of qualification. Harold Bloom, J. Hillis Miller, and Paul de Man are invoked as dangerous heretics. Literature, in Fry’s view, is an entropy supplementing the expansive, purposeful energies of life wherein the instrumentality of language is suspended, and the phonic-scriptive aspect of a text (uninterrupted sound) takes precedence. […]”