Wednesday, 31 December 2008
Tuesday, 30 December 2008
Monday, 29 December 2008
Sunday, 28 December 2008
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
Fen is the key, here: or more specifically, the Fens, Cromwell's birthplace. Wordsworth is inflecting his 1802 contemporary world via Commonwealth England, such that each illuminate the other. Coeval with Milton's sublimity is Cromwell's political occlusion, violence and selfishness ('we are selfish men'). Wordsworth begs Milton to raise us up; Cromwell, famously, knew that 'no one rises so high as he who knows not whither he is going.'
And where is this poem going? It follows a very curious and roundabout trajectory, almost as if denying the implied Milton stream-line straight to the sea it purports to valorize; as if formally mimicking the Cromwellian stagnant fen watersit purports to deprecate. The motion is something like: Milton, I wish you were alive right now. England in 1802 has stagnated. The church, the army and the world of literature ('altar, sword, and pen,) not to mention the domestic arrangements of the better-off ('Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower') have lost their 'ancient English' happiness.
OK. But isn't that a weird quartet? Church, Army, Literary world and Stately Homes. The third term is justified, I suppose, by the fact of Wordsworth and Milton both being poets; but the fourth is not by Wordsworth himself being fairly well-to-do. More, neither the 'Church' nor the New Model Army of Milton (and Cromwell) is hardly in either case the 'ancient English' iteration.
The octet concludes with the confession of selfishness, and the request that Milton give us the altitude of 'manners, virtue, freedom, power': another very odd quartet, a set of values that seems to go out of its way not to map onto the previous set of conceptual locations. But perhaps that mismatch is the point; a subtle dislocation. Because the sestet that follows has nothing to do with the octet, replacing a call for direct action with a rather diffuse peroration to Milton's starriness. 'Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart' articulates muddle: it is unfortunately ambiguous between 'you, Milton, dwelt apart from humanity' ... in which case why call on him, as the octet does, to engage and improve humanity? ... and 'your soul dwelt apart from you, Milton' which would imply schizophrenia. 'Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea' is more interesting, implying as it seems to that Milton lies beyond (a sort of Lacanian Real) the tortuous, fen-blocked river-line of poetry; as a wished for direction. But the last triplet, linked with a wholly illogical 'so', rams a completely other Milton, tramping 'life's common way' and happily stooping to 'the lowliest duties.' It doesn't match the lofty and removed Milton of earlier. Plus, calling a man so eikonoklasteically associated with the regicide 'majestic' just looks clumsy, even crass.
The complex and suggestively dislocated awkwardness here can be mistaken, if you screw up your eyes and don't look too closely, for a simpler, more banal poem: 'Milton was lofty but did not lack the common touch; his poetry, and his model, should inspire the compacent stagnation of contemporary England'. But I don't think that's what's going on in this sonnet. A better way of reading its tangles is to see it as a specific riff upon a specific sonnet of Miltonic starry-uplifting praise:
Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud,
Not of war only, but detractions rude,
Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
To peace and truth thy glorious way has ploughed
And on the neck of crowned fortune proud
Has reared God’s trophies, and his work pursued,
While Darwen stream with blood of Scots imbrued,
And Dunbar field resounds thy praises loud,
And Worcester’s laureate wreath. Yet much remains
To conquer still; peace hath her victories
No less renowned than war: new foes arise,
Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains:
Help us to save free conscience from the paw
Of hireling wolves whose gospel is their maw.
This is a poem that forces through obstacles (Cromwell ploughing resistless through clouds and detractions); a poem whose stream flows uninterruptedly on, although soaked red with Scottish blood. A poem that knows that the end of war is no reason to stop making war. In the face of such sublimely brutal directness, with its slipstream of human blood and misery, which poet in all conscience would not want to artculate a more circumspect, checked-and-balanced fenny poem?
Saturday, 27 December 2008
Friday, 26 December 2008
Thursday, 25 December 2008
'I saw the new moon late yestreen
Wi' the auld moon in her arm;
And if we gang to sea, master,
I fear we'll come to harm.'
This is what Coleridge quotes at the beginning of 'Dejection, an Ode':
Late, late yestreen I saw the new Moon
With the old Moon in her arms;
And I fear, I fear my Master dear!
We shall have a deadly storm.
That's Coleridge, I think, quoting from memory and 'improving' upon the original; for although there are various versions of the original poem there aren't any, I think, quite a leaden as this. But the question is: were Fairport quoting some alternate original version, or did they just make it up?
But 'the new moon in the old moon's arms': Wikipedia has an entry on the phrase that takes us to the earthshine. It doesn't make sense, though: a new moon is (to quote the Great Infallible again) 'when the Moon is not visible to the naked eye.' To speak of seeing a new moon would be like speaking of seeing an invisible man. But why 'in her hair'? In what sense? Possible meanings: the old English for a February moon is 'wolf moon'. 'Hair' (as the OED points out) is used astronomically of the rays of the sun, of comets' tails etc ('yet shall the aged sun shed forth his hair', Marlowe and Nashe's Dido, 1594). This latter makes more sense to me: moonshine, in the sense of lunar crepuscular rays, are a function of atmospheric interference in observation, and more likely to happen when the air is disturbed, as before a storm. The same cannot be said of earthlight.
Wednesday, 24 December 2008
Witt: Do you ever feel lonely?Of course it is otherness that provokes loneliness: it is the presence of other people (for example, people who don't know us or care about us) or the thought of other people -- these are what make us feel lonely. Loneliness is dissolved equally well by being surrounded by people who care about us; or by a perfection of solitude.
Welsh: Only around people.
Tuesday, 23 December 2008
Oliver Cromwell's signature, of course. It's an interesting thing. I don't know enough about paleography to say whether his habit of writing his lower-case 'e's as epsilons (more time consuming, but perhaps more classical) was widespread; but that line through his terminal two 'l's is a regular-enough feature of 17th century handwriting. That, nevertheless, does give his name something of the look of 'Cromwitt'. Since a 'crom' (or 'cromb') is an old English word for 'hook', or 'crook' (or sometimes 'talon') that means he's signing his name with a classic Villain's monkier: Oliver Crookwit'. It's almost Dickensian.
Monday, 22 December 2008
Sunday, 21 December 2008
According to Wikipedia 'Hölderlin suffered great loneliness, and often spent his time playing the piano, drawing, reading, writing, and enjoyed travelling when he had the chance ... [he] was plagued by money worries, having to accept a small allowance from his mother.' If ever a person were justified in booming 'get a job, idiot' across the gulf of time ... having to accept the allowance? Did she put a fucking gun in his ear?
Saturday, 20 December 2008
This isn't quite right, and I don't think it's only pedantry to point it out. We don't (as fish do over the seabed) fly. Trees aren't (as seaweed is) massed clots of fluid pennants and ribbons, or olivegreen bubblewrap trailing flexibly in the air. Better to say 'under the sky we are the starfish and the trees are the coral'. Better in several ways.
Friday, 19 December 2008
Perhaps to be a consolation, but
It is the opposite of consolation.
In fact it means a sort of pollution;
It means contamination of my grief
By the density of others' suffering.
The brute truth of emotional pain
Is the same truth of the physical:
Its eclipse of everything but itself,
Itself, and the person it's grounded in.
Only the well can properly empathise.
Only the dead are free from selfishness.
Thursday, 18 December 2008
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
It can be hard to shake the sense that the (from certain perspectives) heresy of Mormonism is precisely the heresy of Babel: the notion that man and God are of equal stature. This makes it hard to follow the logic of the shift from sentence to sentence in this Bloomian passage:
Nowhere is Joseph’s genius so American as when he declares that God organized us and our world but did not create either, since we are as early and as original as he is. Emerson shrewdly anticipated David Brion Davis in finding Mormonism to be the last expression of Puritanism.The superficial similarities (the strict daily rules, the centrality of lived faith and so on) are surely not so striking as the differences: that Puritanism is posited upon the gulf between God and man, the lighting of a flame of righteousness in the heart of men to signal the divine; whereas in Mormonism there is no gulf: man and God turn out to be the same thing. Puritanism a faith of soul besieged by body; Mormonism a faith founded upon an understanding of the immanent sacredness of the human form.
Monday, 15 December 2008
Plenty of ways of living when your heart has heated:
Dig out some shadows, sit under the sealing trees;
Ice on your chest. Keep the sun’s touch off.
In the early months of the year, in times when the dawn is,
The exhalation of the fields rises as breath in the chill
Or steam in the sauna, water shocked by one hot stone.
Sunday, 14 December 2008
Saturday, 13 December 2008
From Nabokov's story ‘Wingbeat’: ‘With a glint of her skis Isabel disappeared behind the bend of a snowbank, and when Kern, ashamed, of his awkward movements, overtook her in a soft hollow amid silver-frosted boughs, she wiggled her fingers in the air, stamped her skis and was off again. Kern stood for a time among the violet shadows, and suddenly felt a whiff of the familiar terror of silence. The lacework branches in the enamel-like air had the chill of a terrifying fairy tale.’
Fairy tales delight her; their chill, their ingenuity, the way they are always burgeoning with swift violence.
Friday, 12 December 2008
His bootlace tongue;
The way he throws his legs
That stationary trot
As the starved sand
Made insane by the sun
Bites the soles of his feet.
All that tongue work, and nothing to say
Lizard? All that supple dancing
And no mate to impress?
You and I, lizard. You and I.
Thursday, 11 December 2008
But perhaps it is worth taking him at his word.
Psychosis is a kind of mental clutter; and psychotic beliefs a way of sorting or arranging the mess so as to make it less distressing, to give the impression of an assertion of self-control. Modernist architecture, the obsessive-compulsive erasure of ornament, the severity of neoclassical and later architectural lines, is, similarly, a mode of sorting or arranging the collective psychosis of an increasingly gnarly, tumorous and psychotic society.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Tuesday, 9 December 2008
So, the opening 'yesterday' falls away, at its end; but then recalling his former happiness ('all my troubles seemed so far away') the melody rises, to fall back down ('now they look as though they're here to stay'): down ('oh I') on the snag of his own misery but, a qualified rise ('believe') followed by a new inflection of the title subject: not the actuality of yesterday, but his belief in yesterday: the rising melody-line on the second yesterday inverts and contrasts the actuality of misery with the hopefulness entailed by belief.
Monday, 8 December 2008
It does trouble me, actually, how sensible Saint-Just was: he did nothing by half-measures, but followed the logic of his principles to their blood-stained end. 'One does not make revolutions by halves,' he famously said. It is clearly a dangerous political and ethical policy, given the deathly places it leads, but there's a part of me that thinks: yes. If you're going to do a thing, then do it properly. This, I would say, is the residue of my Protestantism (the culture in which I was raised). Indeed, it approaches one sort of a definition of Protestantism, that it reacts against the human accomodations of Catholicism by saying: if you're going to have a relationship with God then do it properly. The problem is that this doesn't fit very well with how people actually are in the world. It's a very serious problem.
Sunday, 7 December 2008
I could write an entire Fear and Trembling style book about this image (a painting from c.1500, apparently). This is the baptism of the legendary first king of France, Clovis I, who reined from the last decades of the 5th century until his death in 511. He converted to Christianity in the starting point for the tradition of Catholic France ruled by a Catholic monarch. This image, in other words, is a mythic point of origin. The king embraces Christianity, and sets the nation on its Catholic road: except that he embraces Christianity inside an already completed medieval Christian Cathedral. According to the logic of the image, the structures of Catholicism are already there, prefabricated; the tree already fully grown and waiting only to have the acorn symbolically and ritualistically embedded at its root. This inversion is enormously eloquent of the logic of the incarnation itself: the world made by God, this fantastically ornate structure, that is nevertheless void, waiting for the entrance of Christ thousands (no, billions) of years later: the owner-occupier and architect turning up to make his house on the spot on which his house is already completely built.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Friday, 5 December 2008
Thursday, 4 December 2008
Wednesday, 3 December 2008
Superman, Superman and Superman!
Thinketh, he dwelleth i' the cold o' the moon!
His heart is his weak spot, the organ
upon which kryptonite has most purchase.
Superman's blood is packed with corpuscles
each blood cell is superpowerful:
undying blood, flowing faster than a train
propelled by a heartbeat pulsar-quick.
Now he sits in the lunar quiet. No need for air:
his lungs work and superwork, but not
to transfer oxygen to the superbloodstream.
His red-blood-cells aren't haemoglobin-red.
They're red as Martian weed is red, as red giants are.
His blood red-shifts as it flies streaming past us
(he has taken a kryptoknife and cut into his arm)
a snaking line of red, shallow-curled in an S.
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Monday, 1 December 2008
Sunday, 30 November 2008
Saturday, 29 November 2008
Friday, 28 November 2008
I listen to money singing. It's like looking down
From long French windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.
It Is Intensely Sad would be a pretty good title for a study of Larkin's verse.
But wait a minute Phil: you don't actually mean 'it is intensely sad'. You mean 'I am intensely sad.' That's really not the same thing, you know, Phil. That's really not that same thing at all. Don't you see the difference? The street, the church, the whole provincial town is doing just fine, thank you, and has no responsibility for you mournfulness, standing at the French windows there. Ah, but that's you and your poetry in a nutshell, Phil, isn't it.
Thursday, 27 November 2008
Wednesday, 26 November 2008
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Monday, 24 November 2008
That said there are, as it happens, certain words that do seem to suggest plural plurals: one agendum; several agenda; the filing cabinet was full of many different agendas. But couldn't this be rolled out across the whole language?
Sunday, 23 November 2008
Saturday, 22 November 2008
Did I say US Presidents? I meant professional wrestlers. My mistake.
Friday, 21 November 2008
So. My consciousness revolts from the notion, I think because it seems to me to heroize the pathological (misery, I mean): 'yes, I sit in my room feeling bitterly sorry for myself instead of engaging with the world: my selfindulgence is the mirror-image of my nobleness. The more depressed I become, the nobler I reveal myself to be.' But I suppose, Cromwell notwithstanding, Carlyle is applying, logically enough, a Christian conceptual template: Christ's nobility was made perfect precisely in suffering and death; the last shall be first; only through sorrow is victory possible. How else does God reveal himself to the world except through sorrow? How could that not mean that sorrow and suffering are the purest embodiness of the divine?
There's a false step there, I think, and it's an important one. It is a mistake nevertheless to think that Christ's suffering was the medium for the revelation of his nobility. The incarnation, if it comes to that, was not about sorrow; but it was about ignobility (a carpenter's son, not a prince; hanging out with lowlives and prostitutes, not fine folk; washing people's feet and exploring the abjection of physical existence). Suffering is the mirror of our ignobility, of course; and in that is the divine.
Thursday, 20 November 2008
Wednesday, 19 November 2008
ductores Danaum … montis equum diuina Palladis arte/aedificant, sectaque intexunt abiete costas ['The Danaan chiefs … build by Pallas’ divine art a horse of mountainous bulk, and interweave its ribs with planks of fir (abies: ‘the silver fir’)']. [Aeneid, 2:16]
But wait a minute:
... praecipue cum iam hic trabibus contextus acernis/staret equus ... ['… when yonder horse now stood framed of maple-beams (acernus) …'] [2:112]
And here again:
...roboribus textis caeloque educere iussit ... ['… this mass of interlaced oak timbers (robor) so huge …'] [2:186]
And once more:
inclusos utero Danaos et pinea furtim/laxat claustra Sinon ... ['Sinon … stealthily sets free from the barriers of pine [pineus] the Danaans shut within the womb…'] [2:258]
Of line 112, there, T E Page [The Aeneid of Vergil ed. Page (London 1902; 2 vols) 1:216-7] says: ‘In 16 Virgil talks of “planks of pine”, here of “beams of maple”, and 186 of ‘woven oak-timbers.” Sigdwick calls this “a natural poetic variation”: as a matter of fact it is a curious illustration of Virgil’s art. He prefers the particular to the general and therefore prefers to name some particular tree rather than to speak simply of wood.’
Preferring the particular to the general is all very well and good; but it's not too much to request he prefer the same particular. (Page goes on: ‘[he] is consequently led to this artificial and unnatural method of giving three different names to the same wood. The difficulty he labours under in endeavouring to lend a poetical character to his description of the horse is also shown by his using the same metaphor (intexunt, contextus, textis [‘woven’]) in all three passages.’) Also it seems to me that there's no warrant for assuming, as Page does here, that 'fir' is the same thing as 'pine'.
What we have, then, is a horse made of: silver fir [abies]; maple [acernus]; oak [robor] and pine [pineus]. Perhaps, Page's dismissal notwithstanding, Vergil's repeated use of the idiom of weaving means he wants us to think of the horse as actually made of four different types of wood, all platted together? That's not outside the kingdom of possibility, I think; although it strains credulity (for if that was what Vergil meant, then wouldn't he say something along those lines? 'Woven severally of many timbers', or something?)
Silver Fir was well-known to the Romans. It is common in northern Europe and grows as far south as southern Italy and as far easy as the Carpathians; though not in Asia Minor: so it doesn’t seem likely the Trojans would have supplies handy outside Troy to fashion their horse. (Wikipedia also says: ‘Silver Fir is the species first used as a Christman tree.’) Most of the 125 species of Maple are native to Asia, and some to Asia Minor, so that’s a more plausible wood: though it would be difficult to ‘weave’, being a particularly hard hard wood (Wikipedia: ‘it is the wood of choice for bowling pins, bowling alley lanes, pool cue shafts… [and] is also used for the production of wooden baseball bats, though less often than ash or hickory due to the tendency of maple bats to shatter when broken.’). Oak grows widely in northern Europe and north America (I can’t find out whether it grows in Asia Minor) and makes good ships and furniture. It’s an important symbolic tree: the tree of Thor, the thunder god, in Norse Mythology; and the sacred tree of Zeus in Greek (the oracle of Dodona in prehistory consisted solely of a holy oak.) Pine provides ‘timber that is denser, more resinous, and therefore more durable than spruce (Picea). Pine wood is widely used in high-value carpentry items such as furniture, window frames, paneling and floors.’
What can we make of this? Of course, perhaps it is simply carelessness on Vergil’s part. But let’s, for the fun of it, imagine otherwise: imagine that there’s a significance here. Beyond straining to fit these terms into improbable dactyllic hexameters:
Sic: Abies acernus [duri] robor[is] pineus
— u u — u u — u u — u u — —
(But shouldn’t the ‘e’ in ‘acernus’ be long, because it comes before two consonants? Or does ‘rn’ not ‘make’ position?) … as I say, beyond such pointlessness, what of the trees themselves? For trees are symbolic of supernatural forces. The fir, for example, stands for ‘Science or Knowledge’ (to quote Graves’s White Goddess: I have no intention of trying to justify the authority of this source): ‘a form of the Greek Elate (‘fir tree’); Elatos (‘fir-man’) was an early Achaean King of Cyllene … [the fir] may thus be equated with Osiris, or Adonis, or Dionysis, who was born from a fir and mothered by the horned Moon-goddess’ .
Oak is Zeus’s tree, of course; the largest in the forest. Of pine-trees, Graves quoted Câd Goddeu, ‘The Battle of the Trees’: ‘The pine tree in the court/Strong in battle,/By me greatly exalted/In the presence of kings’: Ares’ tree, in other words. Maple is harder to pin down, although the Latin name is derived from ‘acer’, meaning ‘sharp’ (because of the shape of the Maple’s leaves, perhaps) but also meaning ‘bitter, harsh, poisonous’. In other words, Vergil constellates his constructed horse, at Troy, as a trinity of Achaean gods: Zeus, Ares and Dionysis—signifying that the horse will bring dominion over Troy via war and frenzy—together with the bitterness the horse bodes for all Trojans.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
Monday, 17 November 2008
The Golden Bow Down: a Study in Abasement and Religion.
The Golden Bow: Ships Too Dense to Float.
The Golden Baa-aa-ow: Sacrificial Sheep in Ancient Magic and Religion
The Golden Beau: Beauty and Wealth.
Sunday, 16 November 2008
Saturday, 15 November 2008
Friday, 14 November 2008
Thursday, 13 November 2008
It is of course attractive to think that English makes its first mark upon recorded and written language with the keel of a boat. But surely it's just as likely that this is not English. Perhaps, for instance, its the mark of some confusion: perhaps the Latin 'culeus' (or 'culleus') mangled through English-Roman interaction. This could either be a genuine misprision, for culeus means 'a ship without rigging' ('what's that culeus there?' 'what-d'ye-say? ciulis?'); or perhaps it is the result of some kind of joke, because Lewis and Short tell us the word also culeus means 'the scrotum ' I like this better, because it would mean the first recorded English word is 'bollocks'. And that's more authentically English than the keels of boats.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Beethovian kettledrums rumble. The applause first,
Then the main show, in that order.
The pond's surface strains in a million places
To reach up and shake hands with the precipiation.
Cannons charging and discharging. Orderly
Disorderly. More 1815 than 6, actually.
Crinkled wires blankly incandescing
Rhizomes rooting clouds to sky. Traffic:
The wind the policeman and you the tramp.
Life inside that Jovian red roundabout.
Night storms day. Water storms land.
Napoleon storms Vienna. Beethoven's scowl.
Happy peasants are waiting in the wings.
They're there because the wings keep them dry.
Monday, 10 November 2008
—But do we breathe sky? Air, yes ... but sky?
—What else is there to breathe ... at the top of a skyscraper?
Sunday, 9 November 2008
Saturday, 8 November 2008
Friday, 7 November 2008
any more than breadth or depth.
Time takes length, breadth, depth
and moves all three, xyz, in a wholly
unprecedented direction. Like
a small brown hill being vectored upwards
by the movement of grass growing
every blade synchronised and pushing,
and turf-flowers in-amongst shifting
everything from thingness to beauty.
Thursday, 6 November 2008
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
The opposite has its place in aesthetic theory ('make your art a work of life'); but the other two corners are surprisingly removed, ideologically speaking: from the radical gay 'lart pour l'art' of 'make your art a work of art' and the born-again-Christian 'make your life a work of life'. I do not understand why these last two have the ideological codings they do; or more specifically, since the other three are all, to one extent or another, conservative positions, why l'art pour l'art doesn't just fall into line over on the Far Right and leave other creators to create without particular references to the vivid or artificial.
'Vivid'; 'artificial'. The two words at the bottom of the New Right-Wing! poster
Monday, 3 November 2008
The jaw-bell rings. Down the short slide, and boom.
Splattering oily-fluid red in a moose-horn-shape
Across the canvas
Though hardly a blank canvas. Hardly a blank.
Hardly conscious at all.
Hard to point at the ceiling when your fingers are
Globed in leather.
Hard to do all the fiddly buckle-and-tongue tightening
Of this jewelled belt
When your hands are all spheres-and-thumbs.
Hard's the word.
Sunday, 2 November 2008
"I said it in Hebrew — I said it in Dutch —
I said it in German and Greek:
But I wholly forgot (and it vexes me much)
That English is what you speak!"
Singh glosses: "Left alone in his splendidly impenetrable semiolinguistic Fortress of Solitude, the Baker is now free to concentrate his intellectual powers upon himself. Toying with the building-blocks of language and meaning, he will arrive at some sort of Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything in It … eventually … "
The word it in Hebrew, Dutch, German and Greek respectively is: hu het es auto. If we shift to Latin, the language of learning most obviously missing from this list (the barrus in the conclavum), we get Hu. Het. es auto; which is to say Humanorum hetaeria es auto: 'you are yourself the brotherhood of all men.' Wise Bakerly words, clearly referential of the crew of which he is a part, as are we all.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Friday, 31 October 2008
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Wednesday, 29 October 2008
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors--
No--yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever--or else swoon to death.
I'm not sure I'd previously clocked how puzzling this poem is: it is saying 'I want to be like that bright star' and then immediately qualifying with 'not in the sense of being in the sky and watching the world below' but in the rather specific sense of being upon his fair love's ripening breast. In what sense is any star like that? Obviously the main focus here is on the 'steadfast' nature of the star: but isn't it a lovely touch that the poet cannot even be steadfast about the consistent spelling of the word steadfast? ('steadfast' in line 1, 'stedfast' in line 9). To start out by saying: 'I wish I were like that enormously distant cold star up there, which is to say I wish I were warm and close to my lover's bosom' just looks contradictory.
I'm drawn to the rather banal interpretation that, whatever the implication of the opening lines, Keats has in mind a star-shaped necklace round Fanny B.'s neck and resting on her decolletage; or else (to become more fanciful still) that the poem is actually addressed to Fanny B.'s star-shaped nipple. That breast is properly galactic, of course; the Latin for nipple (papilla) is related to the word for butterfly (papilio), that lover's insect, softly fluttering like the woman's breast. Or then again, 'Stella' is the conventional pseudonym by which the masculine poet addresses his female lover. The poem then becomes: I wish I were like that star ... no not that star, the one in the hermitage of the sky ... but that star, that papilla that cleaves so closely to the object of my affections ...'
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
Monday, 27 October 2008
Dolls, this is the end.
Tsunamis of fire engulf the stage, that's it for us.
Most of the audience already off to the bus.
Of course this is a trilogy, but as
plays II and III
are lost, looks like the rest of your
evening is free. [Exeunt omnes in flames]
Sunday, 26 October 2008
Saturday, 25 October 2008
A young curate of a parish in West Cork
Was told his mother was seriously ill
And he must come home to Boherbue
(In fact she was dead already; they had meant
To soften the blow). He drove recklessly
Through mid-Kerry and crashed to his death
In the beautiful valley of Glenflesk.
This was because he fantasised in vain
About touching her fingers one last time.
Beautifully handled, this: the use of plain language and the plain measure of blank verse, the vocabulary titivated by the expressive use of Irish place names; the way the syllabic count contracts (11, 10, 9; and then again 11, 10, 9) until the punctus is reached at 'death', whereafter the lines are all regularly decasyllabic. It is properly touching poetry. More, its the kind of dramatic irony (as in Greene's Heart of the Matter) that is both surprisingly resonant and surprisingly rare in contemporary literature. Why should this be? I've been thinking about it, and I wonder if my first reaction -- that it is too sentimental for modern tastes (although 'sensibility' is not a criterion of aesthetic dispraise, in my book) -- hasn't got it the wrong way about. What I mean is I wonder now whether the definition of sentimentality isn't, as it is often taken to be, grounded in affective response; whether sentimentality isn't more radically the iteration of a certain sort of dramatic irony.
Thursday, 23 October 2008
There's something very appealing about this, although it also (of course) panders to a pretty deep rooted prejudice most people share: we all like to think of ourselves as shore-dwellers; we all feel that tingle in our souls as we walk along the beach. But the modern equivalent of forests are called 'cities', and that's where we -- most of us -- mostly feel at home.
Wednesday, 22 October 2008
Tuesday, 21 October 2008
What has this text to do with before and after, with revision, with going on. Going on is the point where it stops
Monday, 20 October 2008
Sunday, 19 October 2008
Saturday, 18 October 2008
Friday, 17 October 2008
Diced, seared, stewed in chillies
With stock, tomatoes, red peppers (of course these must be red)
Let the griffin meat be gamey; cook on a high heat
Let time and intensity soften the fibres of the meat.
Thursday, 16 October 2008
Wednesday, 15 October 2008
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
Monday, 13 October 2008
Sunday, 12 October 2008
But surely a fish is the entity least well-placed to experience an oceanic feeling? If the ocean is your entire idiom, then the oceanic feeling is simply the feeling, and as a feeling parses the ordinary in a way incompatible with the transcendent apprehension Freud is yearning for. For a fish, the equivalent would surely be 'the atmospheric feeling' ...
Saturday, 11 October 2008
a sheet immeasurably slowly shaken
and interference pattern of light and silver.
Then it stopped snowing, and the layer was
landscape dry as a lonely heart,
crisp like an aired and ironed sheet,
with only one person's shadow upon it like a
stain of ink seeping through cotton.
Friday, 10 October 2008
Thursday, 9 October 2008
Wednesday, 8 October 2008
A sound like cats a-wailing, as etymologists say?
A clattering? A wet tarpaulin of expressive misery?
The mistake is in thinking that pain finds voice
In onompatopoeia, or rhyme, or association.
Pain has no association but itself; it dissolves all rhymes.
It is the solitary and single thing, and when we voice it
The last thing we resemble is an incommoded cat.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
Monday, 6 October 2008
On four newt-legs, and toothed at the fat end:
Mud layered and dried thick, and cracked
In regular tyreform along the flexing back.
Crocodile is snake set hard in bakelite
Pucked and stretched in use and scorched by light.
Crocosnake, crocoslug, crocopile,
A mad cluster of gnomons on the long sundial.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
It makes me think, though: I can't recall reading about any character from Old English, or Middle English literature who sneezes. I can't remember any sneezes from the Renaissance, but assume there are some (there must be a cold-afflicted miser in some Jonsonian or Middletonian comedy). Who is the first figure in English literature to sneeze, I wonder?
Saturday, 4 October 2008
Friday, 3 October 2008
Thursday, 2 October 2008
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
1: Socrates is a man.
2. All men are mortal.
3. Therefore ...
What's wrong is the movement from 2 to 3. It is not a question of deducing that Socrates is, or is not, mortal. You don't care whether Socrates is mortal. It's a question of: woah! Wait up. All men are mortal? You shit me, perhaps? I'm going to die? The problem, in other words, is that the syllogism requires that you consider, carefully, each step; and if you do that, there's really no way to get past step 2.
Monday, 29 September 2008
And now, even though it is dark, we know it is pulsing its body, the tidal tail moving up, and then down. I have heard this action makes the world swim in its endlessly circling path, like a fish in a bowl in the night.
Sunday, 28 September 2008
Saturday, 27 September 2008
Friday, 26 September 2008
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
Monday, 22 September 2008
Sunday, 21 September 2008
William H Propp ['Water', in Metzger and Coogan (eds) The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OUP 1993), 792] points out that Syria-Palestine historically relied and relies upon ground- and rain-water for fertility: 'its people venerated storm gods, among them Yahweh, often accompanied by the tempest [Exod 14:21, 15:8-10 and many other examples] ... Water is God's gift par excellence ... which he may withold in punishment.'
This is a sense of water that is predicated primarily upon fresh water: which is to say, water is fresh and only in a secondary consideration brine. But the vast majority of water in the world is salt, with fresh as a minor variation. Noah's flood was presumably salt: a gift of god? A gift that went on giving. The gift that overwhelms and kills.
Saturday, 20 September 2008
Friday, 19 September 2008
Thursday, 18 September 2008
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Tuesday, 16 September 2008
Monday, 15 September 2008
A frame of adamant, a soul of fire,
No dangers fright him, and no labors tire.
...without thinking of The Terminator. I challenge you to do otherwise.
Sunday, 14 September 2008
Saturday, 13 September 2008
Friday, 12 September 2008
In Political Theology: Four Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty. (translated by George Schwab: Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1985), Schmitt gave voice to his dislike of liberalism: "the essence of liberalism is negotiation, a cautious half measure, in the hope that the definitive dispute, the decisive bloody battle, can be transformed into a parliamentary debate and permit the decision to be suspended forever in an everlasting discussion." It seems egregious to point it out, but there's a misunderstanding here. The half-measure is actually the valorising the purging, decisive violence of interpersonal conflict (very fascist, that): a half-measure because it exists halfway in myth ... a 'natural seeming' myth, the popularity of which informs (say) most Hollywood cinema: that violence directed against the Other solves problems. But liberalism is also predicated upon a decisive act of purging violence: the violent restraint of self, a trickier battle and a more important victory, but necessary to mediate civilisation and its discontents. Internalised, of course, but its a child who thinks that the external action is more important, because more visible, than the internal one.
Also: "all significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are secularized theological concepts ..." Surely not. 'All significant concepts of the modern theory of the state are aggrandised familial concepts' would be closer to the mark.
Thursday, 11 September 2008
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
The Greeks styled their Gods as capricious, unpredictable, quick to anger because after all: that's how the universe we live in is. A Tsunami kills tens of thousands, and then next day the sun comes out. JHWH is a little like that, in the Torah. The problems come when we wish to restyle this unpredicatble, indifferent being as all-loving, all-wise and so forth: is a contract signed with an irrational agent ever legally binding?
Tuesday, 9 September 2008
Monday, 8 September 2008
Sunday, 7 September 2008
Saturday, 6 September 2008
Friday, 5 September 2008
Thursday, 4 September 2008
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Birds with their arms longer than their bodies, like gibbons.
Birds with their their 2D arms; their leaf shaped arms
Moles that swim through loam.
Horse with castanets for feet.
The rorshach-coloured cow.
Cicadas with their sewing-machine chatter.
Pigs that snore though awake.
The delta-wing butterfly.
Monday, 1 September 2008
Sunday, 31 August 2008
Is the ur-fascist leader an 18th invention? Frederick of Prussia may not count, not because he wasn’t warlike or autocratic, but because he was not able practically speaking to involve the whole world in his ambitions. On that criterion we have one nineteenth-century example (Napoleon), and two twentieth-century ones (Hitler, Stalin). This is a disturbing progression, assuming that its not too small a sample from which to extrapolate … which is to say, we’ll be looking at three twenty-first century dictators capable of shaking the world. This may be possible nevertheless, since the other progression here is of a technological advancement. For Napoleon to shake the world required him to assemble a machine of destruction as old as the pharaohs—his Grand Armée, a million men. By the twentieth-century Hitler and Stalin had much more efficiently destructive technologies of mass destruction at their disposal, which (although they also assembled enormous armies) enabled them to magnify the per-capita destructive power. By the twenty-first century we are soon arriving at a situation where technologies of mass-destruction are so powerful, and so concentrated, that a world-shaking dictator may be able to achieve Napoleonic destructiveness with an army no larger than an C18th-century minor state.
Saturday, 30 August 2008
Friday, 29 August 2008
Contrails, some thin unbroken white lines against the blue like lines on a graph; some fuzzed along their entire length like uncarded wool.
Raybans give the sun a mane of geometrically triangular flares.
At sunset the sky becomes the colour of rosé wine: fresh and liquid.
Thursday, 28 August 2008
Wednesday, 27 August 2008
Is soil 'fat'? Is the rotund, hippy Earth fat? Of course, of course.
Tuesday, 26 August 2008
Monday, 25 August 2008
Sunday, 24 August 2008
Saturday, 23 August 2008
Friday, 22 August 2008
Thursday, 21 August 2008
The English name "Egypt" came via the Latin word Aegyptus derived from the ancient Greek word Aígyptos (Αίγυπτος). The adjective aigýpti, aigýptios was borrowed into Coptic as gyptios, kyptios, and from there into Arabic as qubṭī, back formed into qubṭ, whence English Copt ... Strabo provided a folk etymology according to which Aígyptos (Αίγυπτος ) had evolved as a compound from Aegaeon uptiōs (Aἰγαίου ὑπτίως), meaning "below the Aegean".
The idea of this dust and dry land is named because it is in some sense under the sea is nice; but I'm struck that nobody has ever essayed the alternative spelling, and etymology, Oegypt: Oίγυπτος from Oίγυς [L&S: 'woe, misery, distress, hardship, suffering'] the land of hardship, the place of suffering.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
Monday, 18 August 2008
Sunday, 17 August 2008
Saturday, 16 August 2008
Friday, 15 August 2008
Thursday, 14 August 2008
..............................Set you down this;
And say besides, that in Aleppo once,
Where a malignant and a turban'd Turk
Beat a Venetian and traduced the state,
I took by the throat the circumcised dog,
And smote him, thus. [V.v.]
It's part of a matrix of oriental references in the speech (the base Judean who threw away a pearl; Arabian trees dropping myrrh. But Aleppo stands out, not for its specific historical referent (although a Venetian did visit the city in 1555, and recorded what he saw), but simply because it follows a similar verbal logic, as word, to Othello's own name: the vocalic opening, the labial, the central 'e', the doubled consonant, and the terminal 'o'. It is a piece of wordplay that reflects upon the speaker.
Wednesday, 13 August 2008
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
In the night a flock of Fantoums had entered the forest
Staffs in their clutches, claws sharp as scythes.
At first Uif crept, and strove to be stealthy,
But then, through the green-growth, she glimpsed the monsters:
Fear filled her, terror took her and trampled judgement,
Sudden, hare-like, she struck—ran straight like a runnel,
And the hooting and savage Fantoums got her scent
Turned their goggle-eyes all at once where she was gone
And unloosed their long limbs to come loping after.
There were three of them, throating like hounds, holloping
Through the trees, bounding over bush and bole.
In an lockjaw of terror she trod the ground,
Fast as her feet could, and the boy bouncing at her back;
Once she fell on a lime limb but leapt fast to her feet
She knew that the Fantoums were afraid of the forest's-end
That if she could get shot of the trees she'd survive
Only get free to the fields where the barley bristled,
And beyond to the houses, home of the Brights
Where braves would bear blades to repel the repulsive:
Axes for tree-tumbling, knives for unlocking pig’s-leather
Ungumming their guts, getting blood for black-pudding
And slicing up the carcass for choice succulent cuts.
So she ran, and her baby bawled upon her back
But the Fantoums were not far, breathing behind her;,
She snatched a glimpse over her shoulder: they were there
Eyes like two toadstools on the flats of their faces
Brown and spark-centred; mouths like sinks in their skulls
Rimmed about with raking teeth, sharp as scissors,
One was almost upon her, when she half-turned and hefted
Her small-sword to tear its sheer skin, to sever a claw
Or otherwise warn the ogre away. But it slinked like a snake
The sword swung without biting, and it boomed,
Never lessening the lope of its immensely long limbs,
The creature clutched at her arm with its clasping claws.
She dodged, best as she could, with the baby dragging her back,
A dead weight upon her, wailing and back-dragging.
She leapt to the left, over a rotted roll of fallen tree,
And ran on rapidly, fast as her feet could fly.
The beast was behind her; she could hear it, and smell its stink,
And then it had its claws in her—or not her, but her burden,
The claws in her son, her Leman, her lovely one,
But the loathsome thing had latched on the lad
And Uif was yanked backward, her feet flying up
And down she fell, breath bashed from her body,
On her spine-base, screaming, arms out; the ape was on her.
But it had hold of her boy—no grip on her body,
And so, in a panic she strained to stand and push on,
She broke the knot that was tied at her breastbone,
Cut the cloth there that was carrying her child
And, weeping with heart’s-woe, she leapt away
And sprinted through spring-coloured growth
Leaving her love, her fine boy, Leman,
Behind in the undergrowth for Fantoums to feast on,
And so she escaped, her tears tumbling from her,
Out of the edge of the woodland and into the wide space
Where crops were cultivated, and barleycorn grew.
Monday, 11 August 2008
Sunday, 10 August 2008
What the official meets test is not really athletic ability, or not only (and not primarily) that: rather they test the ability of any given athlete to peform on a day and in an environment specified by authority. Originally this was to ensure the legality of the timekeeping and so on; but presumably we will soon reach a day when timekeeping technology is accurate enough, ubiquitous enough and can be made secure enough to measure all athletes all the time. Sprinters have run 100m faster than 9.72 seconds; they just haven't done it in official environments. But, speaking personally, if somebody runs 100m in 8.99 seconds I don't care whether it happens in an official meet or in an unofficial practice session ... I'd just like to know about it.
Saturday, 9 August 2008
Friday, 8 August 2008
Thursday, 7 August 2008
The stained hearts of Sweet William.
The very unprim primrose, small but voluptuously formed, petals lavishly akimbo.
The ox-eye daisy, with its yellow-pupil and its cream coloured iris: Coats' disease of the day.
Wednesday, 6 August 2008
Monday, 4 August 2008
Sunday, 3 August 2008
I wonder what that's like. Like, Earth, maybe?
Saturday, 2 August 2008
Or the custard-coloured hair
Or dust-coloured skin, and lips
Marked with innumerable vertical lines
Like rungs: he sits not quite forlorn
It focuses our eye on the shroud
That scarfs his head to keep the sun off;
The balanced golden serpent coiled
In golden segments like a crown.
He wears his dagger like the thorn
In his side refashioned as gold.
His finger is pointed languidly down.
There is nowhere else to go.
Friday, 1 August 2008
Thursday, 31 July 2008
Wednesday, 30 July 2008
But wait: "unlike Pluto or Eris, Makemake shows little evidence of nitrogen ice on its surface, suggesting that its supply of nitrogen has somehow been depleted over the age of the Solar System." This is evidence of life, surely! Like several Kuiper belt objects, Makemake has a transient atmosphere: heated and subliming, giving the indigienous life time to lock down its nitrogen, then cooling and freezing, preserving them in stasis.