Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Rubaiyat: 2nd Edition, Quatrain XLVII

This is Quatrain XLVII, one of the new quatrains FitzGerald introduced with the publication of the second edition.  It also appears in the Fifth Edition.


Second Edition:  Quatrain XLVII

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, should lose, or know the type no more;
    The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour. 




Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XLVI

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
    The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour. 


Lines 1, 3, and 4 are identical, with the only changes occurring in the second line.  The most significant effect is that the Poet/Narrator now includes himself along with the reader, perhaps to remove any suspicion the reader may have had that the Poet felt himself to be unique.

Overall, I would not call this a very cheerful quatrain for it argues that we all will die some day.   Moreover, it dispels those fond delusions that we may have had that we are special or unique in some way, for there are millions like us who have already appeared and millions more who will follow us.  And, being compared to a bubble strongly evokes the idea of the ephemeral nature of our being. Perhaps it's time for a cup of wine.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paul Laurence Dunbar: In Summer

In Summer

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
        In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies' soft blue,
       And a belt where the rivers run. 

And now for the kiss of the wind,
      And the touch of the air's soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
      With the freedom of lakes and lands.

I envy the farmer's boy
       Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shinning green of the young blades lean
      To the breezes that cool his brow.  

He sings to the dewy morn,
       No thought of another's ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
      And the whole wide world to hear.

He sings of the joys of life,
     Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o'erfull heat, without aim or art;
     'Tis a song of the merriest.
     
O ye who toil in the town,
     And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
     Shall renew your joy of  heart.

Oh, poor were the worth of the world
         If never a song were heard,--
If the sting of grief had no relief,
        And never a heart were stirred.

So. long as the streams run down,
      And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
      And sing in the face of ill.

-- Paul Laurence Dunbar --
from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season


The last two stanzas suggest something more is going on here than a simple paean to the joys of summer labor.  Singing can do something other than just reflect one's joy at that particular moment:


Oh, poor were the worth of the world
         If never a song were heard,--
If the sting of grief had no relief,
        And never a heart were stirred.
  
So. long as the streams run down,
      And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
      And sing in the face of ill.


Music bypasses the brain and goes directly to your soul.   You can feel the best music in your bones. Martial music and marches and national anthems are far more effective in moving people than any lecture on patriotism.  The most rousing speeches and sermons are almost sung or chanted.  If you listen carefully you can hear the music underlying the words and that's what moves the listeners.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Russell Hoban: Eau de Hippogriff

Russell Hoban
Angelica Lost and Found

Warning:  Spoilers Present





 Roger délivrant Angélique (1824) by Louis-Édouard Rioult depicts the scene of Orlando Furioso where Ruggiero rescues Angelique while riding on a hippogriff. 
  


Russell Hoban has fun with the medieval romance in general and Ludovico Ariosto's poem, Orlando Furioso, in particular.  Angelica Lost and Found  takes off from a subplot of Orlando Furioso and the subject of a painting by Girolamo da Carpi which depicts a young woman, Angelica, chained naked to a cliff on a small island as a sacrifice to a sea monster.  Ruggiero, a secondary character, aboard a hippogriff, comes to rescue her. 

Volatore, the hippogriff, having once seen all of Angelica's maidenly charms then falls madly in love with her.   He somehow manages to break free of the literary world and the painting and emerges in the 21st century, where he meets Angelica Greenberg, the owner of an art gallery in (where else) San Francisco.

As is typical of the medieval romance, the young lovers (well, for convention's sake they are the young lovers)  meet early in the work, plight their everlasting love for each other (well, sort of anyway), and then are separated for the rest of the novel.   Most of the novel, therefore, consists of a series of Angelica's adventures, many of which are brought about by Volatore as he strives to be reunited with her.  Volatore is seen only in very brief chapters from this point on. 

Angelica's adventures are rather unique.  She is searched out by a number of men, all of whom have, to a greater or lesser degree, the distinct hippogriff odor.  Volatore, now trapped in between the real world and the literary world, desperately searches for Angelica by tapping into the psyche of  males in her vicinity.   Unaware of  the source of their motivation, they respond by seeking her out.  But, the chemistry is not right, and Volatore must again look for another male who would be a perfect fit for a lovesick hippogriff.  

Medieval romances have happy endings, so you can guess how this one will end.  

I would rank this an interesting and enjoyable and a not-too-heavy read. 

On the other hand, there may be something going on here that I'm missing.  One should always be careful when reading anything by Hoban.  Consequently, Angelica Lost and Found is on the "must read again" list, just to see if I take a different view the second time around.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Different

                  Different

Not to say what everyone else is saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did,
then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

-- Clere Parsons --(1908-1931)
from A Poem a Day
edited by Karen McCosker and Nicholas Albery



I had never heard of him until I encountered this poem listed in the above mentioned volume.  While at Oxford, he edited the 1928 edition of Oxford Poetry and formed a group of poets that included Stephen Spender, Lewis MacNeice and several others.

I found the poem intriguing as it seems to suggest a strange intellectual journey from trying to be different to understanding that one really wasn't. I'm going to do a search to see if I can find any more of his poems on-line. 



A late thought--arriving some time after this was posted.  Could these three stages be considered levels of development which happens to many, if not to most people?


1.  Children growing up frequently demonstrate their individuality by taking a stand that is the opposite of everything their parents and other old folks accept and believe in.

Not to say what everyone else is saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did,



 2. As they grow and mature, they begin to come up with reasons for their opposition, reasons that support their positions and which go beyond mere opposition to the status quo. 

 then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,



 3.  Then as they age and gain more experience of the world, they begin to change or modify their positions and finally find themselves as holding ideas which are common to many.  After all, there are only a limited number of positions that can be held on various issues:  completely for, partially for, partially against, completely against, and indifferent.



was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.



What do you think?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Summer Solstice

I thought I would post this, the first known poem in English about summer today, since it is the Summer Solstice, or the First Day of Summer. No doubt you have seen it before, as I have, but I enjoy it each time for its simplicity and brevity.

Cuckoo Song

Summer is y-comen in, 
  Loude sing, cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
  And spring'th the woode now--
                         Sing cuckoo!

Ewe' bleateth after lamb,
  Low'th after calfe cow;
Bullock starteth, bucke farteth.
  Merry sing cuckoo!

  Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well sing'st  thou, cuckoo:
  Ne swike thou never now!

Sing cuckoo, now!  Sing cuckoo!
Sing cuckoo!  Sing, cuckoo, now!
                          -- Anon --

swike--cease


from the Wikipedia entry;
"The song is composed in the  Wessex dialect of Middle English.  Although the composer's identity is unknown today, it may have been  W. de Wycombe.  The manuscript in which it is preserved was copied between 1261 and 1264."



Here is one from the other side of the world--China--a poem by T'ao Chien (365-427 AD).


Reading the Book of Hills and Seas

In the month of June the grass grows high
And round my cottage thick-leaved branches sway.
There is not a bird but delights in the place where it rests:
And I too--love my thatched cottage.
I have done my ploughing: 
I have sown my seed.
Again I have time to sit and read my books.
In the narrow lane there are no deep ruts:
Often my friends' carriages turn back.
In high spirits I pour out my spring wine
And pluck the lettuce growing in my garden.
A gentle rain comes stealing up from the east
And a sweet wind bears it company.
My thoughts float idly over the Story of King Chou
My eyes wander over the pictures of Hills and Seas.
At a single glance I survey the whole Universe.
He will never be happy whom such pleasures fail to please.
-- T'ai Ch'ien --
from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
Edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch

 This is a repeat for I had posted this about three years ago, but I thought it captures the sense of summer--paradoxically a time of work and also play or rest or meditation or just being.




#172  Solstice

"The summer solstice is the time of greatest light.  It is a day of enormous power.  The whole planet is turned fully to the brilliance of the sun.

This great culmination is not static or permanent.  Indeed, solstice as a time of culmination is only a barely perceptible point.  The sun appears to stand still.  Its diurnal motion seems to nearly cease.  Yesterday, it was still reaching this point; tomorrow, it will begin a new phase of its cycle.

Those who follow Tao celebrate this day to remind themselves of the cycles of existence.  They remember that all cycles have a left and a right, an up side and a down side, a zenith and a nadir.  Today, day far surpasses night, and night will gradually begin to reassert itself.  All of life is cycles.  All of life is balance."
-- Deng Ming-Dao --
from 365 Tao


While the Summer Solstice inevitably brings to mind the Winter Solstice, the time of the longest night, we shouldn't let that thought spoil our enjoyment of the present.  Good times will be followed by sad times, but those sad times are no more permanent than are the good times. The wisest know that nothing is permanent: even the mountains will eventually erode away, and then, in some far distant future, will be raised up once again.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nightfall: Lord Byron, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Silverberg


Lord Byron:                                             "Darkness"  1816, a poem
Ralph Waldo Emerson:                            "Nature"      1836, an essay  
Isaac Asimov:                                          "Nightfall"   1941, a short story
Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg:       Nightfall, a novel, 1990



LORD BYRON'S POEM: DARKNESS

Near the end of May I visited R.T.'s blog, Beyond Eastwood, which featured a poem by Lord Byron.  I'm not a great fan (or even a little fan) of Lord Byron, but I was curious to see what had interested R.T. to post this poem.  I got about 4 or 5 lines into it when I had to stop and go back to check that what I thought I was reading was really what I was reading.

In the poem the sun disappears, and chaos follows!   I couldn't help but think of Isaac Asimov's most famous short story, "Nightfall."  This, then, reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay, "Nature,"  and then the expanded version of the short story, Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. 

 Following are three works--the poem by Lord Byron, an excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Nature," and a quotation from Isaac Asimov's most famous short story, "Nightfall"-- all of which speculate about the effects of the sudden loss of the sun.

 
           "Darkness" by Lord Byron

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went -and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light;
And they did live by watchfires -and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings -the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those which dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanoes, and their mountain-torch;
A fearful hope was all the world contained;
Forests were set on fire -but hour by hour
They fell and faded -and the crackling trunks
Extinguished with a crash -and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them: some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnashed their teeth and howled; the wild birds shrieked,
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawled
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless -they were slain for food;
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again; -a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought -and that was death,
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails -men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assailed their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famished men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the drooping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress -he died.
The crowd was famished by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heaped a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage: they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects -saw, and shrieked, and died -
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless -
A lump of death -a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal; as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge -
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The Moon, their mistress, had expired before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perished! Darkness had no need
Of aid from them - She was the Universe!





To borrow from Spock: "Fascinating"

This is the Wikipedia entry about the poem:

" Darkness is a poem written by Lord Byron in July 1816. That year was known as the Year Without a Summer, because Mount Tambora had erupted in the Dutch East Indies the previous year, casting enough ash into the atmosphere to block out the sun and cause abnormal weather across much of north-east America and northern Europe. This pall of darkness inspired Byron to write his poem."

.  .  .

"1816, the year in which the poem was written, was called 'the year without summer', as strange weather and an inexplicable darkness caused record-cold temperatures across Europe, especially in Geneva. Byron claimed to have received his inspiration for the poem, saying he 'wrote it... at Geneva, when there was a celebrated dark day, on which the fowls went to roost at noon, and the candles were lighted as at midnight.'  The darkness was (unknown to those of the time) caused by the volcanic ash spewing from the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The search for a cause of the strange changes in the light of day only grew as scientists discovered sunspots on the sun so large that they could be seen with the naked eye.  A scientist in Italy even predicted that the sun would go out on 18 July, shortly before Byron's writing of "Darkness". His "prophecy" caused riots, suicides, and religious fervour all over Europe."



ISAAC ASIMOV'S SH0RT STORY:  "NIGHTFALL"

From the Wikipedia entry on "Nightfall"
"According to Asimov's autobiography, Campbell asked Asimov to write the story after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

'If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!'"
--Ralph Waldon Emerson --
from Nature

Campbell's opinion to the contrary was: "I think men would go mad."

Isaac Asimov then wrote the story, which followed Campbell's opinion most closely:

"Theremon staggered to his feet, his throat constricting him in breathlessness, all the muscles of his body writing in a tensity of terror and sheer fear beyond bearing.  He was going mad, and knew it, and somwehre deep inside a bit of sanity was screaming, struggling to fight off the helpless flood of back terror. It was very horrible to go mad and know that you were going mad--to know that in a little minute you would be here physically and yet all the real essence would be dead and drowned in the black madness.  For this was the Dark--the Dark and the Cold and the Doom.  The bright walls of the universe were shattered and their awful black fragments were falling down to crush and squeeze and obliterate him."

-- Isaac Asimov --
from "Nightfall"


As you can easily see,  Asimov's story presents Campbell's and Lord Byron's views. In Asimov's story, after the suns have been eclipsed, the astronomers go mad and off in the distance a red glow appears in the sky over the nearby city.

ISAAC ASIMOV AND ROBERT SILVERBERG'S NOVEL:  NIGHTFALL

 A later collaboration between Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg in 1990 expands the short story into a novel, with Silverberg's contribution being the first and last parts while Asimov's short story with some minor changes, becomes the middle section.  The last part  extends the story beyond the point where the short story ends and portrays the destruction of civilization after the stars emerge.  It is this extension that Bryon's poem could easily substitute for Asimov's or rather Silverberg's  depiction of the aftermath.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

William Butler Yeats: A birthday

William Butler Yeats
Born: June 13, 1865
Died:  January 28,1939

William Butler Yeats is another of those poets of whom I have heard much but sadly have read very little of his poetry.  However, of the little that I have read, the following is one of my favorites, and probably one of his most frequently anthologized.


The Lake Isle of Innisfree

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made:
Nine bean-rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

And I shall l have some peace there, for peach comes dropping slow,
Dropping from the veils of the morning to where the cricket sings;
There midnight's all a-glimmer, and noon a purple glow,
And evening full of the linnet's wings.

I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart's core.
                                               --  William Butler Yeats --



If you find this somewhat familiar, the following quotation from Yeats may help explain why:

"I had still the ambition," he wrote, "formed in Sligo in my teens, of living in imitation of Thoreau on Innisfree, a little island in Lough Gill, and when walking through Fleet Street very homesick I heard a little trickle of water and saw a fountain in a shop window which balanced a little ball upon its jet, and began to remember lake water.  From the sudden remembrance came my poem 'Innisfree,' my first lyric with anything in its rhythm of my own music."



Thoreau begins Walden Pond with the following words:

"WHEN I WROTE the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.  I lived there two years and two months. At present I am a sojourner in civilized life again."



And,  for those readers who are interested in something a long time ago in a place far, far away:

I chose a secluded place to live
Tientai says it all
gibbons howl and the stream fog is cold
a view of the peak adjoins my rush door
I cut some  thatch to roof a pine hut
I made a pool and channeled the spring
glad at last to put everything down
picking ferns I pass the years left
  -- Han-shan --                   

from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain
trans by Red Pine (Bill Porter)

Han-shan is translated in English as Cold Mountain.
Tientai: as the result of the popularity of a 4th century work, Mount Tientai became symbolic of a "remote and magical wilderness."


Han-shan is a legendary hermit poet who lived during the T'ang Dynasty, possibly in the 9th century.  Aside from several stories and brief references to him by others, little is known of him today.  He lived on Cold Mountain and took that as his name. 

Among the many themes that seem inborn in the human psyche is the desire to escape civilization and live by oneself in remote places.  It's found in an American and an Irishman of the 19th century and a hermit poet from a thousand years earlier in 9th century China.  I don't doubt that it can be found in other cultures and in other eras.                 

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Christie's novel--The Murder on the Orient Express--and the BBC Version with David Suchet

Agatha Christie:  Murder on the Orient Express, the novel
 Murder on the Orient Express,  a BBC dramatization with David Suchet
Murder on the Orient Express (1974), see earlier post

A short time ago I watched the BBC dramatization with David Suchet, after having seen the 1974 film.   I don't remember reading the novel, and perhaps that's what I should do next.

The two do differ in certain respects.  One difference between the two film versions is that Suchet's Poirot suffers through much more of a moral/ethical/professional struggle at the end than does Finney in the 1974 version, or so it struck me. 
 
I've only watched a few of the Suchet versions, and it struck me that this was the darkest interpretation of Poirot that I had seen in the past, and it actually begins at the beginning. The two incidents prior to boarding the train certainly affects him very strongly and probably plays a significant role in his decision at the end.


Unlike the 1974 version, the music and soundtrack are very traditional, the music suggesting the turning of the wheels and danger ahead.  Another difference is the length of the films.  The 1974 version was 127 minutes long while the BBC version with David Suchet is only 89 minutes in length.  What was lost in those 40 minutes?   Several of the interviews never happened as Poirot supposedly relies on his memory of the kidnapping of Daisy Armstrong.


Several Weeks Later


I just finished reading the novel, probably for the first time as all of my memories of it come from the two films.  I could find little difference between the novel and the 1974 version of it, aside, of course, for the tone of the film.  The BBC version, of course, dropped some of the interviews, probably  because of  the length of the work.

Aside from the difference in  tone and the coverage of the novel, one other difference between the two films is Poirot's reaction at the end when he deceives the police as to his solution of the crime.  After having read the novel, I must conclude that the 1974 version is actually closer to the novel than is the BBC version, in which Poirot clearly is upset at his choice.  In the novel, he merely says which version he will give to the police and lets it go at that.  Perhaps other readers can find evidence that suggests he is very upset over his decision, and if so, I would appreciate being shown this in the novel.

This seldom happens, but I prefer the earlier 1974 version to the BBC adaptation.  

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Second Edition, Quatrain XLIV

This is another in my second set of posts about a favorite work--Edward FitzGerald's version? adaptation? interpretation? of Omar Khayyam's The Rubaiyat.  I am now concentrating on those quatrains that were added for the Second Edition and am including the related quatrains from the Fifth Edition.  Since the Fifth Edition had only one hundred and one, I expect that when I have completed my posts on the Second Edition, I will also have included all of the quatrains from the Fifth Edition.


Second Edition:  Quatrain XLIV

Do you, within your little hour of Grace,
The waving Cypress in your Arms enlace,
    Before the Mother back into her arms
Fold, and dissolve you in a last embrace.


This is a rather unique quatrain in that it was introduced in the Second Edition, but then was removed when the Third Edition appeared and was not included in any subsequent edition. It appears to be just another quatrain that advocates the oft expressed philosophy of eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.

The second line poses the most significant problem: The waving Cypress in your Arms enlace.  I don't remember any previous quatrain that referred to a "Cypress," so I looked at later quatrains and found this reference in Quatrain LV:

                                            And lose your fingers in the tresses of
                                       The Cypress-slender Minister of  Wine.


According to FitzGerald's notes, this refers to Saki, "A servant whose duties include pouring of the wine."  Again, life is short, enjoy yourself before you return to Mother Earth's "last embrace."

This quatrain really does nothing more than reiterate a theme that has been brought out already in numerous quatrains and, no doubt, will appear in future ones. This may be the reason why FitzGerald decided to discard this quatrain after its only appearance in the Second Edition.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

China Mieville: Railsea

China Mieville
Railsea.

  Railsea  is certainly one of his most straightforward and least complex novels, and 
has that YA feel to it.  But, what is unusual for a Mieville work, at least for the ones I've read, is that this one cries out for a sequel.  Not that this episode doesn't conclude successfully, but it strikes me as really being the first in a series, at least a trilogy anyway.  And, somewhere down the line, I can see a prequel coming.

Mieville has created a fascinating concept--a part of the world (Earth?) is almost covered with railroad tracks, especially the soft and non-rocky areas.  It is dangerous to walk where there's dirt because underground are all sorts of carnivores--large hungry carnivores with fangs.   Towns are build on the rocky places, much like islands in the sea, the sea of railroad tracks and  soft soil.  It's some sort of a post-holocaust world.


Sham, the main character,  is a young man who works on a moletrain, which goes out hunting for the huge moles--think whales and transfer their behavior to living underground rather than underwater.  Other trains are made up of merchants, salvage parties, pirates, war trains (war ships).  .  .

The captain of the train our hero is on has a prosthetic arm which she lost to a great grey mole, and now she's obsessed with killing Mocker-Jack.  Part of the fun of this novel is picking out the scenes that echo Moby Dick, and there are several, including one nightmarish butchery scene when a huge mole is killed (See Moby Dick). 



Railsea is not unique though in paying homage to Moby Dick.  I think Bruce Sterling's almost forgotten Involution Ocean should be seen as a descendent of Moby Dick, where on the planet Nullaqua (no water), the great dustwhales plow through a sea of finely ground silica on top of which sailing ships pursue them for Flare, a highly addictive narcotic. (link to my post regarding Involution Ocean   http://tinyurl.com/omjbbym).  And this of course must bring to mind Arrakis or Dune, where the drug Spice could only be found as it was a mixture of the excretions of the sandworms and water.

If Mieville desires, he has plenty of room for prequels and sequels, as very little is presented about how the world got to be this way.  And, while this episode is successfully ended, there is no clue as to what will happen to the train or the crew for little is known about what most of the world is like. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

J. R. R. Tolkien: The Silmarillion--"Valaquenta"

J. R. R. Tolkien
The Silmarillion
"Valaquenta"   Pt. 2
Account  of the Valar and Maiar
according to the lore of the Eldar

The second part of The Silmarillion is not a story.  It is more of an encyclopedic account of the Ainur who  "entered into the World at the beginning of time"  in order to fulfill the vision they had created at the behest of  Eru or Iluvatar.  In time they became known to the Eldar as the Valar and Maiar.

A strange combination of Biblical and pagan traditions, the Valar and the Maiar are much like angels from the Bible in that they are the creations of Eru or Iluvatar.  For the most part they act like angels in that they carry out the wishes of the Creator, except of course for the greatest angel, Lucifer, and his counterpart among the Valar, Melkor.

The Valar

However, few of the Biblical angels are singled out: we have names of some of them and little is known either of their creation or their activities.  This is in stark contrast to the pagan hierarchies that include numerous gods, such as the Greek, Roman, and Norse, as well as the Egyptian, Sumerian, and other religions of that area.  There the resemblance in many cases is closer to that of a squabbling family, with a head deity--Zeus, Jupiter, Odin.   Frequently, the various gods have special attributes attached to them.  The Roman god Neptune and the Greek god Poseidon are the gods of the sea, Roman Mars and Greek Ares are the war gods, while others are gods of the underworld or rivers or the sky or the Sun. Tolkien's Valar and Maiar  resemble the various pantheons in this way:  they are named and each has assumed responsibility for some part of the planet.


Some of the most important among the Valar are the following:

Manwe:  who, in the thought of Iluvatar, is the brother of Melkor, the mightiest of the Valar, but Melkor is no longer spoken of.  Manwe is the closest to the thought of Iluvatar and in consequence is now the Lord of  Earth and all that live within.  He is the Lord of the winds, the clouds, and "all the regions of the air," from the highest to the lowest, and his favorites among the creatures on Earth (Arda) are the swift birds.  Manwe can be seen as the Sky God.

Varda: the Lady of the Stars, she dwells with Manwe.  She also is the Goddess of Light. The Elves call her Elbereth and hold her most in reverence and love. 


Ulmo:  Lord of the Waters, the equivalent of  the Greek Poseidon or the Roman Neptune.  He dwells alone and seldom appears in human guise.


Aule:   the master of all the substances of which Middle Earth is made--a master craftsman and a skilled artisan, somewhat similar to the Greek god Hephaestus. 

Yavanna, the spouse of Aule, is the Giver of Fruits -- lover of all things that grow in the earth.


Orome:  the Great Huntsman and husband of Vana who was called the Queen of Blossoming Flowers and the Ever-young,


Mandos: Judge of the Dead and the Master of Doom, the equivalent of  the Egyptian Osiris, the Judge of the Dead,  and the Norse goddess Hel who presides over a realm of the Hel, where she receives a portion of the dead.

There are others, but these are the most significant,  I think.

 Have I left out one of your favorites?


The Maiar

The Maiar are powerful beings but less so than the Valar. The Maiar are associated with individual Valar, though the exact nature of that association is obscure.  Many have at least two names, one apparently their true name and one the name they became known by in Middle Earth.  Some of the significant Maiar are the following:

Curumo aka Saruman, initially associated with Aule the Smith.

Alwendil or Sauron, also associated  with Aule the Smith.

Radagast the Brown is associated with Yavana

Mithrandir or Gandalf is also associated with Manwe and Varda

Bolrogs are Maiar who have been corrupted by Melkor

Note:  it is curious that both Saruman and Sauron are associated with Aule the Smith.  In addition, Aule created the dwarves, whereas the Elves and Men were created by Iluvatar.



The Enemy 

Melkor:  perhaps the mightiest of the Valar, brother to Manwe.  He is no longer called by this name but is referred to as Morgoth, because he turned away from the Light and choose violence and tyranny instead.  He desired Arda (Earth) for himself, and when he could not have it he descended through fire and wrath into the great burning, into Darkness. "Better to reign in hell, than serve in heaven," Milton's Lucifer/Satan declares in Paradise Lost.  Tolkien has tapped into a complex web of allusions here, especially among the various cultures and religious traditions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, far too many for this brief commentary.  (If you are curious, simple type "Lucifer"  into your search engine.)

Morgoth had many followers among the Maiar, the greatest of whom is Gorthaur the Cruel, perhaps better known as Sauron.  Little of Sauron is known in the early days because he served Morgoth, but after Morgoth's passing, Sauron came into his own.  His history then parallels that of his former ruler, and he follows the same path down into the Void. 

The Silmarillion is a work in progress.  Tolkien never finished it, and as far as I can find out, he never even completed a first draft. What we have here is Christopher Tolkien's reworking and editing of the material that Tolkien was working on when he died.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Walt Whitman: a birthday today

 from A Book of Days for the Literary Year

On this day in "1819  Walt Whitman is born in West Hills, Long Island.  Robert Louis Stevenson will find the poet  'a most surprising compound of plain grandeur, sentimental affection, and downright nonsense,' while Whitman's self-appraisal is: 'I am as bad as the worst, but thank God I am as good as the best.' "



This is one of my favorite poems by Whitman.  It is posted at the bottom of the blog page, but I doubt few ever get down that far.  I have posted it before and even suggested it be named the Official World Wide Web Poem.


A Noiseless Patient Spider 

A NOISELESS patient spider,
I mark'd where on a little promontory it stood isolated,
Mark'd how to explore the vacant vast surrounding,
It launch'd forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,
Ever unreeling them, ever tirelessly speeding them.

And you O my soul where you stand,
Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space,
Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, seeking the spheres to
connect them,
Till the bridge you will need be form'd, till the ductile anchor
hold,
Till the gossamer thread you fling catch somewhere, O my soul.

-- Walt Whitman --



 
"Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of space"  

or
 
"Surrounded, detached, in measureless oceans of cyberspace"


Is it not the WWW Poem?

Can you suggest one you think would be more appropriate?   I would love to read it. 

Robert Grudin: Which is most important: History or Interpretations of history?

III.4

From his exile at San Casciano, Machiavelli wrote a friend that he spent much time reading the works of ancient writers, adding curiously that he asked them questions which they "answered.What he probably meant was that, like Machiavelli himself, the ancients wrote subtly, that they raised questions in the reader's mind and encouraged him to seek out the answers to these questions between the lines, in the stylistic and structural implications of their work.  Good historians treat the past in general this way, asking it questions rather than contenting themselves with its overt and specific messages.  And intelligent individuals treat their memories in the same way, realizing that their past is no more finished or dead than their ability to understand it. 

-- Robert Grudin --
from Time and the Art of Living

What's most important about history is not the events nor even the overt or specific lessons learned from it.  Apparently one should go further than merely look at surface events and look into the questions raised by these surface phenomena.  This certainly argues against a literal interpretation of texts and suggests that the important issues are those questions raised by those phenomena. 

And, this last sentence seems perplexing to me, for it includes memories as well as history and could one argue that memories can be seen as one's private history?

And intelligent individuals treat their memories in the same way, realizing that their past is no more finished or dead than their ability to understand it. 


What does Grudin mean when he says that the past is no more finished or dead than their ability to understand it? Longfellow in his "A Psalm of Life" would certainly disagree here for he insisted that we should "Let the dead Past bury its dead!"

Is Grudin arguing that our past is only as dead as our ability to understand it, or even more curiously is no more finished than (our) ability to understand it?"  Does our past change as our ability to understand it changes?

If so, then what is the relationship between our past and our memories of the past? 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Four SF films

Predestination  (2014)

The Edge of Tomorrow  (2014)

Solaris  (1972)

The Zero Theorem   (2013)


Predestination
 
I watched Predestination last night. It's, of course, Heinlein's "All You Zombies" embedded within a time-traveling anti-terrorist organization which is attempting to prevent the Fizzle Bomber from blowing up a goodly part of NYC.  As far as I can remember, Robert A. Heinlein's core story was treated accurately.  I enjoyed the film, once I accepted the premise that the expanded version was necessary for making the film.   After all, who would want to watch a film solely based on RAH's short story?  The only weakness I found was in the role of "the unmarried mother."   That character just didn't come across as convincing to me.  Perhaps Sarah Snook, who played "the unmarried mother," wasn't convinced either by the character.
I watched some of the special features, and one of the comments made by a producer? director? actor? was that this was an entirely unique concept in time-travel stories.  However I can think of at least two other stories which played with the same paradox, and there probably are others.

A time-traveler goes into the future and finds a world destroyed, probably by war.  He finds the remains of a building and inside is a display case with a knife in perfect condition inside  it.  He brings the knife back to his time.  The knife is analyzed and even a small sliver is taken from it.  The material is unlike anything the scientists have seen before.  Eventually they lose interest in the knife and it is placed in a small display case near the entrance of the research institute.  The story is "As Never Was" and was written by P. Schuyer  Miller.  A similar incident is found in Ford Madox Ford's novel, Ladies Whose Bright Eyes.

I would rate the film as at least a 4 on a 5 point scale.



The Edge of Tomorrow  aka Live Die Repeat

Tom Cruise plays  the role of  a smarmy self-involved PR person in the military in the midst of an alien invasion.  It's a role perfectly suited to him.  He irritates a general and ends up busted in rank and headed for the front lines, more specifically an invasion of Europe from England, a futuristic replay of WWII's Normandy invasion, with far more disastrous results.  The humans are wiped out.  Through a rather unbelievable set of circumstances,  Cage,  Cruise's character, is time-warped back to the time when he is forcibly united with the squad that he will join in its ill-fated invasion.  Again, he is killed and so on.  Each time he presumably learns a bit more and survives a bit longer.  

The star of the show is actually the battle suit--see Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers.  The special features or bonus features focuses solely on the battle suit and on the creation of the aliens.  What we see of Cruise involves the heroic struggles he makes in learning to manipulate the suit.  Nothing was mentioned about anything else in the film: plot, setting, characterization. It was all suit, suit, suit.  

The reason is simple: there really isn't much in the way of plot, setting, characterization.  If the action scenes were removed, only about 2-3 minutes would remain of the total running time of 113 minutes.
If you want action, this is your film.

I'd give it 3.5/5.0 for the action scenes which were technically highly effective and kept one from thinking about the implausibility of the plot, what there was of it.




Solaris
The film is based on Stanislaw Lem's novel of the same name and is directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
It has his signature film elements--long and loving takes on nature and humans doing nothing or sleeping.  I would also be more likely to recognize  Donatas Banionis' (he plays the major character Kris Kelvin) profile than his face, as the camera spent some time focused on his ear (right one, I think)

It's my fault, probably,  that I didn't get Tarkovsky's message:  for example: the commentary regarding Kris, the psychologist, who supposedly functions solely by reason and with no emotions or feelings,  tells us that he has no love for nature.  Not knowing this, I thought the first few minutes of the film which portrays him wandering through the grounds where he lives suggested that he was enjoying his wanderings.  Later, when I found out he was leaving the planet, I thought he was soaking up memories of nature for the future when he would be surrounded by metal and plastic in the space ship and on the station around Solaris.  But, no, according to the commentary,  this part shows he is detached from nature, and that he does have only some minimal feelings is demonstrated when he washes his hands in the small lake.


Once aboard the space station in orbit around Solaris, he encounters the same sort of visitations that affect the other crew members.  His dead wife suddenly appears to him in a physical form and not just as an image or vision.  He now begins to understand the problems faced by the other researchers on the station.  Are these visitations an attempt by the inhabitants of the planet, or even the planet itself, to study the strange visitors in orbit or an attempt to communicate with them or both?  Or are the humans suffering from hallucinations which have little to do with the planet? The viewers are left to decide this for themselves.  The ending?-- well, the film just sort of stopped.  Perhaps someone reading this can leave a comment that will help me understand it. 


It's been long since I read Solaris, so I can't do any reasonable commentary on the faithfulness of the film to the novel, but I do remember being confused by the film in much the same way I was confused by the novel, which probably is as it should be.  How alien can a being or race be, if one is not confused or bewildered by at least some aspects?

Rating:  ??  This was my second viewing, and I suppose I will try again sometime down the road.




The Zero Theorem
Dir.  Terry Gilliam
   
In Henry James' short work, "The Beast in the Jungle," John Marcher has the strange fixation that something unusual, either good or bad, is going to happen to him.  So, he avoids getting too close to people and does not propose to a woman who would certainly accept him because he fears to subject others, including a wife, to his fate, whatever it may be.  At the end of the story he wonders if the marvelous thing that was supposed to happen to him had already happened, and he failed to recognize it when it did.

Qohen Leth, in a similar fashion, has isolated himself while he awaits a phone call.  Many years ago, he received a phone call from a stranger who asked if he wanted to learn the answer to the mystery of life and existence which would then make him a supremely happy person.  Before he could answer "yes," he was disconnected.  Since then he has thought about nothing except waiting for this phone call.  He is even afraid to leave the house for fear of missing the call.  Since he isn't rich, he has to go to work, but he hurries home immediately after work in order to be there when the phone rings.  He has also been haranguing Management, unsuccessfully so far, to allow him to work at home.


He is considered a computer genius whose job is "entity crunching," and exactly what that entails is beyond me.  He finally persuades Management to allow him to work at home, and it proves the point that getting what one wants is not always a good thing.  He has been assigned to work on the Zero Theorum, a task which has defeated many others before him, and the need for secrecy is likely what prompts Management to allow him to work at home.  The Zero Theorem is a mathematical formula which, when proven, will support the theory that the universe is meaningless.  The universe is an accident that will not happen again for there's no reason for it to happen again. Ironically, his home is a burned out cathedral. 


Aside from the plot, the costumes, setting, and special effects are part of the charm of the film.  The film was shot in Bucharest, Rumania, and Gilliam takes full advantage of the varied architecture of the city.   It supposedly takes place in London, but this is clearly not the London of today.

I found the costumes to be bizarre:  one of the scenes is a costume party, but I couldn't see much difference between what they were wearing at the party and the clothing worn by people on the street.  This effect was brought about by using clothing styles from the '40s, '50s, and '60s, but not made of the expected fabrics of cotton, wool, or silk or even polyester.  Instead (and this was forced to some extent by the film's low budget), the costumes were made from shower curtains and other items made of a shiny plastic material.  The exception was the main character, who work black and other dark colors, which clearly set him aside from the rest of the cast.


The story is the conflict that develops when he becomes distracted by a young woman which interferes with his devotion to his job and his constant preoccupation with The Phone Call.   She offers him a way out, an escape, but he can't let go of solving the problem of the Zero Theorem and of waiting for the phone to ring.  (One hint:  the film does not end when you might think it does.)


It's an interesting story with an intelligent plot and some serious questions that have been around since humans started wondering about when and where and how and why.  It's also a feast for the eyes with the bright colors, with a tinge of the steampunk universe hovering about.  
Rating:  4/5


Friday, May 22, 2015

Loren Eiseley: "The Sandburs Say No"

Life is persistent and patient.  I think Life is the source of the saying, "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."  Loren Eiseley's poem is an example of this.


The Sandburs Say No

Along the edge of the airfield between the jet blasts
from ascending bombers,
low life, the tougher
seeds from the far Cretaceous, surreptitiously test the concrete,
with the old mindlessness
sow crevices and and wait.

The blue devil's darning needles
dance their mating ecstasy across the bombing targets--
nature's archaic first streamlining,
still magnificent in a small way but useless,
the guns ships deadlier, more purposeful, but

the sandburs say no, the sandburs
are older, the sandburs
toughen the seed containers, the life bombs,
against thermite, napalm, tear gas.  The sandburs
like spendthrift governments pack the little brown
                                            bullets and send them
 out on each wind.

Each season they test the concrete and the bomber's targets.
The explosions are soundless but the stone fractures.      
The sandburs say no with the life bombs,
the sandburs say no.


I like the juxtaposition Eiseley chooses here:  the destructive power of the bomber's weaponry and the life affirming actions of the sandburs.  Although the sandburs' life bombs are at first destructive, the fracturing of the concrete, this destruction then makes life possible as it frees the soil for various plants and animals and insects and provides nutrients and a habitat for other creatures.  It's a duel between the destructive thermite and napalm bombs and the sandburs' life bombs.





A bit of trivia here:

"Field sandbur (grassbur) is a summer annual grassy weed that can be found in home lawns, sports fields, parks and along roadsides. This weed is especially adapted to dry, sandy soils but can be found growing in other types of soils as well. The big problem with this weed is the sharp, spiny burs that are part of the inflorescence. These burs can be painful and are difficult to remove from clothing material. Field sandburs (grassburs) generally start germinating in late spring and will continue to germinate until late summer or early fall months. This weed will continue to grow until the first hard frost or freeze occurs in the fall."
James A. McAfee, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Extension Turfgrass Specialist
Dallas, Texas



"In their 2005 book A Dazzle of Dragonflies, Forrest Mitchell and James Lasswell explain that the dragonfly-epithet “devil’s darning needle” has its origins in the Europe of the Middle Ages. The long and slender shape of the insect’s body, combined with the superstitious belief that it, like the fly—consort of Beelzebub—was in league with the darkest of forces, produced a myth durable enough to make the journey with the colonists to the United States. Today in Iowa, the authors write, “devil’s darning needles sew together the fingers or toes of a person who falls asleep…in Kansas, they may sew up the mouths of scolding women, saucy children…and profane men.”

Monday, May 18, 2015

Favorite Mystery Series--Books

This is the growing list--both in the sense that authors are occasionally added to it and that many of the authors are still providing us with more adventures of their detectives. I have attempted to list them according to the following pattern:

Author
Mystery category
Name of featured detective
Usual location for the series
Time of the novel
Prequel, if any
First novel in the series



Ingrid Black (husband and wife collab)
Former Law-enforcement Officer
Saxon, ex-FBI profiler
Dublin, Ireland 
Contemporary
First novel in the series:  The Dead  (2003)
May move this to a different list as there hasn't been a new novel since 2008


Giles Blunt
Police Procedural
Detective John Cardinal
Algonquin Bay, fictional town near Toronto, Canada
Contemporary
First novel in the  series: Forty Words for Sorrow  (2000)


Karin Fossum,
Police Procedural
Inspector Konrad Sejer
Elvestad, Norway
Contemporary
First novel in the series:  In the Darkness aka Eva's Eye (1995)


Michael Gregorio (wife and husband collab)
Judicial Detective
Magistrate Hanno Stiffeniis
Konigsberg, Prussia
Historical mystery set in Prussia during the Napoleonic wars in 1804.
First Book in Series   Critique of Criminal Reason  (2006)
They may have ended the series as there hasn't been a new one since 2010.


Eliot Pattison
Former Law-enforcement Officer
Shan Tao Yun,
Tibet: Former police officer in Beijing, China, whose duty was to investigate corruption in the party and ends up in a work camp in Tibet for being too diligent in his duties.
Contemporary
First novel in the series: The Skull Mantra (1999)


Peter Robinson
Police Procedural
Chief Inspector Alan Banks
Yorkshire, England
Contemporary
First novel in series: Gallows View  (1987)



C. J. Sansom
Judicial detective
Matthew Shardlake,  lawyer
London, England
Historical mystery, 16th century,  during the reign of King Henry VIII,
First novel in the series:  Dissolution   (2003)



Steven Saylor
Private Professional
Gordianus the Finder
Rome
Historical mystery,  1st century BC
Prequel:  The Seven Wonders.
Second Prequel:  Raiders of the Nile
First novel in the series:  Roman Blood  (1991)



Charles Todd (mother and son collab)
Police Procedural
Inspector Ian Rutledge
London, England and countryside
Historical mystery, just after WWI
Prequel:  A Fine Summer's Day, set in 1914. 
First novel in the series:  A Test of Wills, (1996)


Fred Vargas
Police Procedural
Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg
Paris, France
Contemporary
First novel in the series:  The Chalk Circle Man  (1991)



The following is the sad list--those favorite series that have ended, usually because of the author's death but sometimes because of the author's decision to end the series.


Agatha Christie
Talented amateur
Miss Jane Marple
St. Mary Mead,  England
Contemporary when written in 1930
First novel in the series:  The Murder at the Vicarage  (1930)


Colin Dexter
Police Procedural
Inspector Morse
Oxford, England
Contemporary
First novel in the series: Last Bus to Woodstock  (1975)
Colin Dexter ended the series


Batya Gur
Police procedural
Inspector Michael Ohayon,
Jerusalem, Israel
Contemporary
First novel in the series:  The Saturday Morning Murder: a psychoanalytic case  (1992)


P. D. James
Police Procedural
Commander Adam Dalgliesh
London, England
Contemporary
First novel in the series:  Cover Her Face  (1962)


Bernard Knight
Technical professionals
Sir John de Wolfe (coroner)
County of Devon, England
Historical mystery, 1196 AD
First novel in the series:  The Sanctuary Seeker  (19980
Bernard Knight ended the series and now has two other series


Ellis Peters
Talented Amateur
Brother Cadfael  (a Benedictine monk)
Shrewsbury Abbey, Shrewsbury,  Shropshire, England
Historical mystery set in mid 12th century
Prequel:  A Rare Benedictine
First novel in the series:  A Morbid Taste for Bones  (1977)


Dorothy Sayers
Talented Amateur
Lord Peter Wimsey
London, England
Contemporary when written
First novel in the series: Whose Body   (1923)


Arthur Upfield
Police procedural
Inspector Napoleon (Bony) Bonaparte
Australia, various fictional locations
Contemporary when written
First novel in the series:  The Barrakee Mystery (1928)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

The Man from Earth and "The Gnarly Man"

I just read L. Sprague de Camp's short story, "The Gnarly Man."  It's included in The Best of L. Sprague de Camp.

The Gnarly Man is a Neanderthal, about 50,000 years old.  He says he was "normal" until struck by lightning.  After that he never aged.  He was working in a carnival as the Cave Man in the side show when an anthropologist discovered him.  At one point in the story, he is being questioned in a room surrounded by a number of anthropologists and historians.  This, of course, is the setting of Bixby's The Man from Earth. 

Like Bixby's John Oldman, he says that he moves on every ten or fifteen years because he doesn't age and eventually people begin to wonder about his secret, much as one of Oldman's friends, early in the film,  commented about his secret of avoiding aging.  Both the Gnarly Man and Oldman prefer to keep a low profile.  Like Oldman, he really can't help the historians that much, as the centuries tend to blur after a while.  One of Oldman's friends asked him what happened on this day hundreds of years ago, and Oldman responded by asking what he had for breakfast several days ago, or some such similar question.


Was Jerome Bixby influenced by de Camp's short story?  I don't know, but if  Bixby was, then he certainly expanded it far beyond de Camp's  tale.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Baltasar Gracian: go with the crowd?

No. 133

 "Better a fool with the crowd, than a sage by yourself;  the politicians say, that if all men are fools, no one of them can be counted such; wherefore the wise man who stands apart, must be a fool;  it is important therefore to go with the current:  the greatest knowledge at times, to know nothing, or to affect to know nothing; we have to live with others, and the stupid make up the majority; to live alone one must have within himself, either much of God, or much of the beast: I am strongly urged to turn this aphorism about and say: better wise with the rest of the wise, than a fool by yourself: still some find distinction in making  fools of themselves."


 

"Better a fool with the crowd, than a sage by yourself;  the politicians say, that if all men are fools, no one of them can be counted such; wherefore the wise man who stands apart, must be a fool;  it is important therefore to go with the current:  the greatest knowledge at times, to know nothing, or to affect to know nothing;"

Numerous politicians in a particular party today frequently begin their speeches by saying "While I'm no expert" or some such statement, and then go on to discuss a particular scientific issue and express opinions about something they have said that they know little about.  I have yet to see anyone point out the contradiction here.   But, to be fair, their opinions do demonstrate their ignorance, or supposed ignorance.  It is clear that Gracian's observations still hold true today.

These politicians, according to Gracian, then go on to say that   "we have to live with others, and the stupid make up the majority; to live alone one must have within himself, either much of God, or much of the beast:"

Of course these politicians never come out and say this publicly for they must flatter their followers into believing that they are the intelligent ones, for they are not blinded by study, knowledge, and research on a particular issue.  And, of course, it is hard to say whether these politicians are as ignorant as they seem to be or are pretending such ignorance or imbecility in some cases, as Gracian suggests, to maintain the support of their followers.  



Within the past few days, we have seen a governor show his support of a conspiracy theory that claims that the US Army plans to take over his state.  ISIS troops are stationed just outside El Paso, and when they invade, the US Army will use this as an excuse to take over the state.  Wal-Mart stores that were closed specifically for that purpose will be used to hold political prisoners.  To prevent this, the governor has now called out the State Guard to protect the citizens of this state from this invasion.  He has now gained the support of at least one of his party's presidential hopefuls.  Several others, no doubt, are waiting to see the results of the governor's actions.  If there is considerable support shown, they will join the chorus of fools.  If the overall reaction is ridicule and laughter, they will remain silent or even join in with criticism.

The question, of course, is whether the governor really is a fool who believes this or lacks the courage to stand up and say this is stupid and thereby possibly lose those whom he might consider to be his strongest supporters.   

Those of you who know this governor well can better answer the question than I can.

At the end Gracian here interjects his own opinion: "I am strongly urged to turn this aphorism about and say: better wise with the rest of the wise, than a fool by yourself: still some find distinction in making  fools of themselves."

Overall, I think Gracian presents strong evidence in support of the theory that human nature really hasn't changed that much over the centuries.  The issues may change, but a fool is still a fool and to gain the support of fools, one must act accordingly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition--Quatrain XLIII

This is another in my second set of posts about a favorite work--Edward FitzGerald's version? adaptation? interpretation? of Omar Khayyam's The Rubaiyat.  In the first set, I focused on the First Edition and included corresponding quatrains from the Second and Fifth Editions.  However, the First Edition had only seventy-five quatrains while the Second had one hundred and ten, so, I'm now concentrating on those that were added for the Second Edition and including the related quatrains from the Fifth Edition.  Since the Fifth Edition had only one hundred and one, I expect that when I have completed my posts on the Second Edition, I will also have included all of the quatrains from the Fifth Edition. 


Second Edition:  Quatrain XLIII

As then the Tulip for her wonted sup
Of Heavenly Vintage lifts her chalice up,
    Do you, twin offspring of the soil, till Heav'n
To Earth invert you like an empty Cup.



Fifth Edition:  Quatrain  XL
 
As then the Tulip for her morning sup
Of Heav'nly Vintage from the soil looks up,
    Do you devoutly do the like, till Heav'n
To Earth invert you--like an empty Cup.


FitzGerald makes only one change in the first line, and that is to substitute "morning" for "wonted."
"Wonted" means usual or normal, so the change makes it more specific, moving from usual to a particular time of day--the morning.  I'm not sure why he made the change, but perhaps he felt that "wonted" may be confusing and more readers would easily understand "morning."

FitzGerald has replaced "lifts her chalice up" with "from the soil looks up" in the Fifth Edition.  He changes the poetic "chalice" with the more prosaic "soil" as she catches the "Heav'nly Vintage, which is either rain or perhaps the morning dew as suggested in the Fifth Quatrain version.  

In the third line of the Second Edition, we are reminded that we and the Tulip come from soil, as it is related in Genesis, but that reference to soil is moved to the second line in the Fifth Edition and seems to refer now more specifically to the Tulip.  In addition, the Second Edition includes a very strong pairing of  us and the Tulip, "twin offspring of the soil."  By calling us "twin offspring," FitzGerald puts us in the same family, which goes beyond mere resemblance in behavior.  This strong pairing, however, disappears in the Fifth Edition as it now tells us to do the same with no suggestion of the relationship brought out in the Second Edition.

The fourth line is the same for both, aside from the dashes inserted in the Fifth Edition.   I think the dashes act as a pause, forcing us to now think about that empty cup.  The inverted and empty cup is a foreshadowing of themes brought out in later quatrains, especially those that introduce the Potter and also the last quatrain.  The inverted cup is symbolic of death and burial.

The quatrain is one more example of the Poet's philosophy of enjoying what is given us for death awaits us all.  The nature of that "Heavenly Vintage" is ambiguous enough to satisfy most readers: it could be water, it could be wine, and it could even be Grace from above. 


Saturday, April 25, 2015

Eric Hoffer: product of dissatisfaction

No. 17

There is perhaps no better way of measuring the natural endowment of a soul than by its ability to transmute dissatisfaction into a creative impulse.  The genuine artist is as much a dissatisfied person as the revolutionary, yet how diametrically opposed are the products each distills from his dissatisfaction.

--  Eric Hoffer --
from The Passionate State of Mind


While I can see how dissatisfaction can move a revolutionary to act, I'm not sure how dissatisfaction can move an artist to create.

Do you think Hoffer is neutral here--showing no preference for either the products of a genuine artist or that of a revolutionary?

Does "creative impulse" refer only to the product of a genuine artist or to the products of both the artist and the revolutionary?


I lean towards the position that Hoffer prefers the products of the genuine artist, but I have nothing to support that "lean."  Perhaps it's my own rather distrustful attitude towards revolutionaries and the results of their actions:  that revolutionaries seldom produce real change--that only the names of the rulers are changed and little else.