Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve Greetings


Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

And days of auld lang syne, my dear,
And days of auld lang syne.
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

We twa hae run aboot the braes
And pu'd the gowans fine.
We've wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin' auld lang syne.

Sin' auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin' auld lang syne,
We've wandered mony a weary foot,
Sin' auld ang syne.

We twa hae sported i' the burn,
From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

Sin' auld lang syne, my dear,
Sin' auld lang syne.
But seas between us braid hae roared
Sin' auld lang syne.

And ther's a hand, my trusty friend,
And gie's a hand o' thine;
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll tak' a cup o' kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

The best for all of you the coming year.

Some great films viewed in 2010

This is not a list of the best films of 2010. In fact, many appeared long ago, and one is even a silent film. This is simply a list of the most enjoyable or interesting or intriguing films that I watched during 2010, some of which I have posted comments about during the year.

They are in alphabetical order. To rank them would be a waste of time as tomorrow my ranking would be different. And, if I made up the list tomorrow, it probably would be different in some respects.

A Walk in the Sun

Blade Runner: Theatrical Cut

District 9

Fantasia (Original)

Fata Morgana

Glass: A Portrait of Philip Glass in Twelve Parts

Ken Burns: Jazz

Jesse Stone: No Remorse and Thin Ice

Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (Yukio Mishima)

Natural City

The Book of Eli

The Haunting

The Man from Earth

Youth without Youth

Let me know if you have watched any of these and what you thought of them.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Something to think about

The native vision, the gift of seeing truly,
with wonder and delight into the natural world,
is informed by a certain attitude of reverence and
respect. It is a matter of extrasensory as well as
sensory perception. In addition to the eye, it
involves the intelligence, the instinct, and the
imagination. It is the perception not only of
objects and forms but also of essences and ideals.

N. Scott Momaday

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Some Great Reads from 2010

It seems to be traditional that summing up the year takes place now. So, here's a list of what I thought were memorable reads for 2010. This is not a list of the best books or whatever--just a list of books that I most fondly remember reading, some of which I have posted comments about during the year. They're in alphabetical order by author, so there's no attempt to rank them. The chances are that the ranking would be different tomorrow, and possibly even the list might be slightly different.

Greg Benford: The Furious Gulf and the rest of the "Galactic Center Series"

Walter van Tilburg Clark: The Ox-Bow Incident

Ivy Compton-Burnett: The House and Its Head

Joseph Conrad: Nostromo

Loren Eiseley: Another Kind of Autumn (poetry) & The Immense Journey

Michael Gregorio: Critique of Criminal Reason & Days of Atonement

Shirley Jackson: The Haunting of Hill House

Bernard Knight: The Tinner's Corpse

Ursula LeGuin: The Left Hand of Darkness

N. Scott Momaday: The Way to Rainy Mountain

Eliot Pattison: Prayer of the Dragon

Albert Sanchez Pinol: Cold Skin

Barbara Pym: Excellent Women

Kim Stanley Robinson: Vinland the Dream

Michael Shea: Nifft the Lean

Charles Todd: The Red Door

Jessie L. Weston: Quest of the Holy Grail & From Ritual to Romance

If you decide to read some of these, please let me know what you think of them.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Winter Solstice: 2010

Night People Rejoice: this is your time!
Day People Rejoice: your time is coming, beginning tomorrow!

This is the shortest day of the year, or from a different perspective, it will be tonight, the longest night of the year. It is also the first day of winter, or so say the powers-that-be, at least for this part of the planet. Other parts, other powers-that-be, other rulings.

Buddha on the hill . . .
From your holy nose indeed
Hangs an icicle
-- Issa --
From The Little Treasury of Haiku
Nobody has ever accused Issa of being overly reverent.

Going snow-viewing
One by one the walkers vanish . . .
Whitely falling veils
-- Katsuri --
From LTH

Snow in the Suburbs

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute;
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again,
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.

A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a nether twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.
-- Thomas Hardy --

Wind and Window Flower

Lovers, forget your love,
And list to the love of these,
She a window flower,
And he a winter breeze.

When the frosty window veil
Was melted down at noon,
And the caged yellow bird
Hung over her in tune,

He marked her through the pane,
He could not help but mark,
And only passed her by
To come again at dark.

He was a winter wind,
Concerned with ice and snow,
Dead weeds and unmated birds,
And little of love could know.

But he sighed upon the sill,
He gave the sash a shake,
As witness all within
Who lay that night awake.

Perchance he half prevailed
To win her for the flight
From the firelit looking-glass
And warm stove-window light.

But the flower leaned aside
And thought of naught to say
And morning found the breeze
A hundred miles away.
-- Robert Frost --

No. 1316

Winter is good -- his Hoar Delights
Italic flavor yield --
To Intellects inebriate
With Summer, or the World --

Generic as a Quarry
And hearty -- as a Rose --
Invited with Asperity
But welcome when he goes.
-- Emily Dickinson --
from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

In the wintry moon
Gales raging down the river
Hone the rock-edges
-- Chora --
From LTH

My very bone-ends
Made contact with the icy quilts
Of deep December
-- Buson --
From LTH

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Rubiayat: Quatrain XXXV

Quatrain XXXV is a difficult one for me. I don't know quite what to make of it. He seems to be suggesting that the Vessel, the earthen bowl of the previous quatrain, was once alive, and perhaps human. It does relate back to Quatrain XXXIV, and the theme of the earthen or clay pot or cup or bowl is carried forward to Quatrains XXXVI and XXXVII.

First Edition: Quatrain XXXV

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And merry-make; and the cold Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXIX

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And drink; and that impassive Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXVI

I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And drink; and Ah! the passive Lip I kiss'd
How many Kisses might it take -- and give!

As you can see, the only changes that occur are in the third line, for the first, second, and fourth are identical. "(M)erry-make" in the first edition now becomes the more prosaic "drink" in the second and fifth editions. The Lip in the first edition is cold, and then becomes impassive in the second, and then passive in the fifth. The "Ah!" in the fifth edition seems to be added solely to keep the number of syllables at ten.

It's an interesting progression that Lip undergoes: from cold to impassive to passive. A "cold" kiss suggests perhaps death or lack of feeling. It strikes me as being unfavorable, but at least there's a hint of a response. An "impassive" kiss clearly indicates a lack of feeling or an unemotional response or possibly even one incapable of feeling, a physical action with no warmth behind it, while a "passive" kiss conveys the idea of receptivity but with neither a positive or a negative response here.

The "fugitive Articulation" posed a problem until I found that one meaning of fugitive is "difficult to comprehend or retain, elusive." This would relate back to the previous quatrain where it stated the Vessel "murmur'd," which suggests that it could have been hard to understand.

The Koran in at least four places states the Allah created man from dust or clay, which leads me to think that the earthen Vessel might have been human at one time--one that engaged in merry-making or at least drinking. I prefer the first version: merry-making seems more enjoyable or cheerful than just drinking.

The last line--"How many Kisses might it take -- and give!"-- is a problem, especially if one considers the changes that Lip has undergone. In the fifth edition, it's a passive lip, which suggests that it might take many kisses, but it doesn't give any. Perhaps it's a movement from the poetic to the realistic in that one can "kiss" a drinking vessel, but that vessel can't give any kisses in return.

As I stated at the beginning, this quatrain is a puzzle.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Loren Eiseley--the immense journey

Loren Eiseley's The Immense Journey contains a number of essays, the first of which, "The Slit," ends with a brief statement that includes an explanation of what he has attempted to do in this book and of what the reader should expect. It also includes hints of what he believes, something of his personal philosophy.

"Through how many dimensions and how many media will life have to pass? Down how many roads among the stars must man propel himself in search of the final secret? The journey is difficult, immense, at times impossible, yet that will not deter some of us from attempting it. We cannot know all that has happened in the past, or the reason for all of these events, any more than we can with surety discern what lies ahead. We have joined the caravan, you might say, at a certain point; we will travel as far as we can, but we cannot in one lifetime see all that we would like to see or learn all that we hunger to know.

The reader who would pursue such a journey with me is warned that the essays in this book have not been brought together as a guide but are offered rather as a somewhat unconventional record of the prowlings of one mind which has sought to explore, to understand, and to enjoy the miracles of this world, both in and out of science. It is, without doubt, an inconsistent record in many ways, compounded of fear and hope, for it has grown out of the seasonal jottings of a man preoccupied with time. It involves, I see now as I come to put it together, the four ancient elements of the Greeks: mud and the fire within it we call life, vast waters, and something -- space, air, the intangible substance of hope which at the least proves unanalyzable by science, yet out of which the human dream is made.

Forward and backward I have gone, and for me it has been an immense journey. Those who accompany me need not look for science in the usual sense, though I have done all in my power to avoid errors in fact. I have given the record of what one man thought as he pursued research and pressed his hands against the confining walls of scientific method in his time. It is not, I must confess at the outset, an account of discovery so much as a confession of ignorance and of the final illumination that sometimes comes to a man when he is no longer careful of his pride. In the last three chapters of the book I have tried to put down such miracles as can be evoked from common earth. But men see differently. I can at best report only from my own wilderness. The important thing is that each man possess such a wilderness and that he consider what marvels are to be observed there.

Finally, I do not pretend to have set down, in Baconian terms, a true, or even a consistent model of the universe. I can only say that here is a bit of my personal universe, the universe traversed in a long and uncompleted journey. If my record, like those of the sixteenth-century voyagers, is confused by strange beasts or monstrous thoughts or sights of abortive men, these are no more than my eyes saw or my mind conceived. On the world island we are all castaways, so that what is seen by one may often be dark or crosscurrent to an other."

Loren Eiseley
from The Immense Journey

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jane Austen: Dec. 16, 1775--July 18, 1817

Jane Austen's propensity for making strong statements and then subtly taking them away or quietly qualifying them is one characteristic that I really enjoy in her writing. Take, for example, the opening lines of Pride and Prejudice, probably one of the most famous openings in English literature.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.

That's strong clear statement--universally acknowledged--something that everybody agrees with. Austen doesn't equivocate here. And the truth that's universally acknowledged--he must be in want of a wife. There's no question here either--he must be. There's no doubt here.

Then comes the second paragraph:

However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rughtful property of some one or other of their daughters.

This universal truth doesn't seem to be that universal since the feelings of such a man are really little known. So, this universal truth seems to be limited to the families in the neighbourhood.
However, the following conversation between Mr. and Mrs Bennet suggests that perhaps this truth isn't universally acknowledged by all members of the families.

Mrs. Bennet says, response to a question from Mr. Bennet, "Oh! Single, my dear, to be sure! A single man of large fortune, four or five thousand a year. What a fine thing for our girls!"

"How so? how can it affect them?"

"My dear Mr. Bennet," replied his wife, "how can you be so tiresome! You must know that I am thinking of his marrying one of them."

"Is that his design in settling here?"

"Design! nonsense, how can you talk so! But it is very likely that he may fall in love with one of them, and therefore you must visit him as soon as he comes."

While Mr. Bennet is obviously teasing his wife, it also seems clear that he doesn't share in the universality of Mrs. Bennet's truth. Perhaps, after reading the opening paragraphs, one might say that this universally acknowledged truth resides mostly in the mothers of the unmarried young ladies in the neighbourhood, while the fathers play along solely to get some peace in the house, especially with a wife such as Mrs. Bennet. The fathers, no doubt, also consider the financial outlay associated with wedding ceremonies and tell themselves that after the wedding, the husbands will now be responsible for future expenses as they live happily ever after.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Something to think about

No. 10
Fortune and Fame: the one as fleeting as the other is lasting. The first for this life, the second for the next: the one against envy, the other against oblivion: good fortune is desired and may perhaps be wheedled, but fame must be won; the wish for fame is born of quality; Fama was and is the sister of the giants and she follows only the extraordinary, either the prodigies, or the monsters, that men acclaim, or hate.

Baltasar Gracian
The Art of Worldly Wisdom
trans. by Martin Fischer

Is this true? Is Fortune fleeting and Fame lasting? Given a choice I wonder how many would chose fortune over fame or fame over fortune. I know which my creditors would choose for me.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Paul Lawrence Dunbar: "Differences," a poem

Paul Lawrence Dunbar: 1872--1906


My neighbor lives on the hill,
And I in the valley dwell,
My neighbor must look down upon me,
Must I look up?--ah, well,
My neighbor lives on the hill,
And I in the valley dwell.

My neighbor reads, and prays,
And I -- I laugh, God wot,
And sing like a bird when the grass is green
In my small garden plot;
But ah, he reads and prays,
And I -- I laugh, God wot.

His face is a book of woe,
And mine is a song of glee;
A slave he is to the great "They say,"
But I -- I am bold and free;
No wonder he smacks of woe,
And I have the tang of glee.

My neighbor thinks me a fool,
"The same to yourself," says I;
"Why take your books and take your prayers,
Give me the open sky;"
My neighbor thinks me a fool,
"The same to yourself," says I.

-- Paul Lawrence Dunbar --

If I must be a fool, then I know which type of fool I'd rather be.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Emily Dickinson: Dec. 10, 1830--May 15, 1886

I find Emily Dickinson's poetry to be fascinating, illusive, and allusive. Some of her poems just confuse and bewilder me while others are crystal clear, or so I believe. Some are very short and remind me of haiku, a favorite type of poetry of mine. Perhaps this is one reason I enjoy her poetry.

New feet within my garden go --
New fingers stir the sod --
A Troubadour upon the Elm
Betrays the solitude

New children play upon the green --
New Weary sleep below --
And still the pensive Spring returns --
And still the punctual snow!
-- ED --

Amidst all the changes, some good and some sad, the seasons still return. Shushiki's haiku suggests a similar view:

Dead my fine old hopes
And dry my dreaming but still . . .
Iris, blue each spring
-- Shushiki --
Little Treasury of Haiku

Or perhaps the power of some objects to bring faraway places to mind, even perhaps those one has visited only in one's imagination:

Many cross the Rhine
In this cup of mine.
Sip old Frankfort air
From my brown Cigar.
-- ED --

Perhaps something can only truly be appreciated after it's lost:

Water, is taught by thirst.
Land -- by the Oceans passed.
Transport -- by throe --
Peace -- by its battles told --
Love, by Memorial Mold --
Birds, by the Snow.
-- ED --

Her bare, spare language perfectly reflects in this poem the experience of pain--there is nothing but pain alone--nothing fancy or flowery or fine:

Pain -- has a Element of Blank --
It cannot recollect
When it begun -- or if there were
A time when it was not --

It has no Future -- but itself --
Its Infinite contain
Its Past -- enlightened to perceive
New Periods -- of Pain.
-- ED --

Or perhaps one offhand, careless comment could have consequences far beyond that which the speaker intended:

A Man may make a Remark --
In itself -- a quiet thing
That may furnish the Fuse unto a Spark
In dormant nature -- lain --

Let us deport -- with skill --
Let us discourse -- with care --
Powder exists in Charcoal --
Before it exists in Fire.
-- ED --

Sometimes I wonder if Emily Dickinson is a member of a that infinitesimally small group of true American mystics, for there appears to be an intense personal relationship between the narrator poet and the subject of her poetry, be it nature, another person, or the deity.

All of Dickinson's poems come from
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Combination Plate 17

Combination Plate 17

Some books and some films and some thoughts about them--

1. The Purple Plain, a film set in Burma during WWII

2. Michael Connelly: The Narrows, a thriller that brings together several of Connelly's characters from previous novels--Harry Bosch, Rachel Walling, The Poet

3. The Book of Eli, an SF film, post-holocaust

4. Anthony Trollope: Doctor Thorne

5. Eric Frank Russell: Wasp, an SF novel

6. Fantasia, the original Disney animated classic film

Warning: I will discuss significant plot elements and endings in some cases.


The Purple Plain (1954)

This is a WWII film set in Burma. Bill Forrester (Gregory Peck), a Canadian fighter pilot, risks his life and those of his crew when he takes unnecessary risks in combat. What appears to be driving him is the loss of his bride on their wedding night during a bombing raid on London. One of his fellow officers insists on telling Forrester that his problem is that he has nothing to live for back home, as he himself does--his wife and children. That's what keeps him going. It isn't clear if the obnoxious officer is aware of Forrester's personal tragedy. Forrester is forced by the unit's medical officer to socialize and eventually meets an attractive young Burmese woman at a party.

The obnoxious officer is transferred and Forrester is to fly him to his new station. During the flight, Forrester is forced to make a landing in rough terrain. Forrester and the obnoxious officer escape with minor bruises and scrapes, while the co-pilot suffers a broken leg.

The officer wishes to remain with the plane and wait for rescue. Forrester insists there won't be any search for them and their only hope for survival is to walk out, hoping to find a river and the inevitable village.

The rest of the film is predictable. The ironic twist is that the obnoxious officer who kept saying that he had something to live for is the one to give up in the end. The question is whether Forrester was able to go on even though he had nothing to live for, which would prove the other officer wrong, doubly wrong since the officer presumably did have something to live for and still gave up hope, or did the potential relationship with the Burmese woman give him that "something to live for.''

Overall Reaction: definitely not a large scale epic but a rather quiet film with more of an emphasis on a somewhat superficial focus on character rather than on action in combat.

What does the film have going for it? Gregory Peck! As expected, he gives a competent, convincing performance.


Michael Connelly
The Narrows
Mystery Type: Paid professional
Setting: West Coast, contemporary

This is sort of a sequel to Connelly's Blood Work, in which Terry McCaleb, an FBI profiler, tracks down the killer of the woman whose heart he had received as a transplant. It is set less than a year later. Disgraced FBI agent Rachel Walling, exiled to Rapid City, Iowa, gets an order to come to the Mohave Desert. The Poet, an ex-FBI profiler turned serial killer, is back. He's killed again and left a message: "Hello Rachel."

Harry Bosch, no longer with the LAPD, is contacted by McCaleb's widow. McCaleb died a short time after the events of Blood Work. She's not satisfied that his death was the result of an heart attack and wants Bosch to look into it.

Eventually the two supposedly separate investigations collide and conflict arises. Bosch and Walling find that they are on one side and the FBI on the other. The plot is a bit convoluted, as those who have read any of Connelly's other works can testify. As usual, things aren't what they seem to be, most of the time anyway. The fun is deciding which are what they seem to be and which aren't.

Connelly also has some fun with shifting levels of reality. In the novel, Blood Work, Terry McCaleb has a friend, Buddy Lockridge. During his investigation into McCaleb's death in the second novel, Bosch meets up with Lockridge. Lockridge is very unhappy and spends a considerable amount of time complaining about what happened to him in the film version. In Blood Work the film, Clint Eastwood plays the role of Terry McCaleb, and Buddy Lockridge suddenly becomes a villain who's only pretending to be McCaleb's friend in order to keep an eye on McCaleb's investigation. So, we have a fictional character complaining about his treatment in a real world film.

Overall Reaction: good, fast-paced complex thriller. Recommended.


The Book of Eli, a film

This is a post-holocaust film set some 30 years after the war. It has the same feel and some of the same elements as A Boy and His Dog (1975) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, along with numerous other films. A lone traveler encounters a small community set in a wasteland, in which the inhabitants struggle to survive, partially by cannibalizing the ruins of pre-war cities and towns. The Boss of the town maintains control with a group of thugs. If the town survives and prospers, a century or so in the future, the Boss's heirs will be the nobility and the thugs will be either a military or a police force. Bards will sing of the ruling prince's noble ancestors.

This film, though, is a bit different. One can call it a quest film for the Boss has a goal. Carnegie (Gary Oldman) believes it's his destiny to reunite all of the area under him and that he can do it quickly and almost painlessly if he has the Book. For in the Book are the ways to say things that will convince people to follow him.

Eli (Denzel Washington), the lone traveler, also has a quest. A Voice has told him he must take to the West Coast the Book that he will be shown. There he will find people who can make copies of the book and share its wisdom with others. In this way, people can begin to rebuild and avoid the mistakes of the past. The Voice promises him that he will be protected as long as he follows the Path (a touch of Taoism there?).

Carnegie learns of Eli's book and decides that's the one he's looking for. He gives Eli a choice-- give it up voluntarily or involuntarily. This provides the major conflict in the film.

As can be expected, the film is action-oriented as Eli, with sword and pistol, routinely disposes of groups of five or more attackers. While the message of the Book is peace, the film focuses mostly on the other path.

Overall Reaction: action film primarily. Washington makes Eli a different sort of post-holocaust hero. Eli is almost comes across as a simple soul or perhaps Holy Fool in that he says what he means and expects others to accept what he has to say. Washington does a decent job in the part but I kept wishing that Morgan Freeman had been cast for the part.


Anthony Trollope
Doctor Thorne

Doctor Thorne is the third of the six novels in Trollope's Barsetshire series. I've read a number of his other works, and this one is a bit unusual. In most of Trollope's novels, there is a central problem: who is to get a particular position? who is the owner of the Eustace diamonds? how does one get elected to Parliament? what happens when a highly competent man is made prime minister but is no true politician? The main plots do not always end satisfactorily for those involved.

In addition to the main problem are one or more subplots, one of which invariably involves the young lovers. The course of true love does not run smoothly for Trollope's lovers, or at least not for the first 600 or 700 pages. Trollope manages to throw every obstacle he can think of in the path of the young lovers; feuding families, status or class differences, or as in this novel, financial concerns. Frank Gresham, the young heir, must "marry money," or the family estate will go bankrupt.

Regardless of the way the main plot turns out, Trollope always manages to bring the young lovers together in the last chapter or two. The only real question, therefore, is the way in which he manages to accomplish this.

The Greshams are deeply in debt to the Scatcherds. It's the classic contrast: the Greshams have status but no money, while the Scatcherds have money but no status. If Frank Gresham doesn't marry money soon, the Greshams will lose everything, for the Scatcherds are beginning to lose patience and are preparing to call in the loans.

The predictable happy ending for the young lovers is what makes this novel different, for if the young lovers do marry, then all will be well. Since Trollope's young lovers have always won out in the end, or at least they have in the ten or more novels I've read, then there is no question that Frank will "marry money" and in addition will wed his true love, Mary Thorne, the niece of Doctor Thorne. But, the main obstacle, aside from her somewhat suspect heritage, is that she is penniless. There is no way that marrying Mary will save the Gresham estate. Or, at least no way that anyone knows of, except for Doctor Thorne. Thus, the Gresham's are absolutely opposed to any marriage between Frank and Mary.

What Doctor Thorne knows and what nobody else knows is simply this. He knows the full story of Mary's parentage. Her mother, now living in Canada, is a Scatcherd. Old Scatcherd, about to die of alcoholism, has made his will and named his son, Young Scatcherd, his heir. If the son dies before he marries and has a child, the new heir will be the oldest child of Mary's mother, who is Mary. Young Scatcherd is also an alcoholic, but he lacks the physical stamina of his father. Doctor Thorne has warned him that he must change his ways or he will never reach his twenty-fifth year.

The characters are well-drawn and interesting. Frank's mother is the classic "mother from hell." One knows exactly what her reaction will be once she learns that Mary, whose possible marriage to Frank she was so violently opposed to, will not only inherit a sizable fortune, but also will be the Gresham family chief creditor.

Doctor Thorne is an extremely honest individual. Unfortunately, he also speaks his mind. He considers his fellow physicians to be quacks, and he says so. This makes him an outcast among the local medical fraternity. In fact, one of the main targets of Trollope's satirical pen in this novel is the medical profession.

Overall Reaction: although this lacks the drama of Trollope's other novels--the ending is known a short way into the story-- it still is an enjoyable read.


Eric Frank Russell

Although first published in 1957, Wasp is even more appropriate today than it was then. It is not because of any scientific advances but simply human psychology.

Earth is at war with the Sirian Combine. It's been going on a long time, and the Terrans decide it's time for a different tactic. Agent James Mowry lived at one time, before the war, on a Sirian Combine planet and speaks the language flawlessly. He is surgically altered to resemble the native population on Jaimec, after being trained "in the arts of espionage, subversion, and propaganda." They sent him there alone to work behind the lines and do what he could to disrupt the manufacturing and shipment of war materials, to tie down troops that should be on the front lines, and to increase or create as much disaffection and dissatisfaction among the civilian population as possible.

My copy has an introduction by Jack Chalker, an Sf novelist, that was written in 1986. Chalker writes: "Wasp has a certain timeliness that transcends the ordinary SF adventure. We can not believe that one man could have such an impact; yet watching, step by step, we see not purple aliens but our own culture being rattled in the just the fashion the Sirians are here. We know that it will work. Today, when one terrorist act can panic an entire country and when whole armies are tied up chasing down a few hundred guerrillas, Wasp holds even more urgent message for us, particularly as Russell gives a blueprint for how one man may confound a nation--but so rooted are his successes in human nature and modern culture, he provides no clue as to how to deal with it. And that, perhaps, is this book's disturbing, serious message.

This book is great fun, but its underlying principles are, alas, timeless."

Chalker wrote this in 1986, yet when I read "when one terrorist act can panic an entire country" how can I not think of 9/11 and what that has done to our freedoms?

Overall Reaction: One of Russell's best novels and certainly one that is the most prophetic of his many stories, unfortunately.


Fantasia, an animated film by Disney

I think Fantasia is the best film Disney has ever made. It is a sheer joy to watch and listen to. The film is a celebration of color and sound and motion. I don't think I've ever seen anything that can match it, even with today's far more sophisticated computer graphics. The program ranges from Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" (probably best known for its appearance in The Phantom of the Opera) which uses color and motion to illustrate the music to "Rites of Spring" in which the Disney animators provide the story of the evolution of the Earth and its life forms beginning with a single-celled animal and ending with the passing of the dinosaurs.

Probably the most famous part is the "Sorcerer's Apprentice" featuring Mickey Mouse who casts a spell on a broom and forgets how to stop it. My favorite though is Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony (probably because of the music), which is set on Olympus and features flying horses, cupids, fauns, centaurs, various gods, Bacchus, and satyrs and a storm. And, who can forget those silly hippos, and knock-kneed ostriches, and slithery crocs (or gators?) in "The Nutcracker Suite."

Overall Reaction: now that it's been remastered and available, I'll be scheduling it for viewing at least once a year.

The Malevolent Willows--once again, but briefly

Yesterday, I discovered the following haiku, by Basho of course. It has a Buddhist flavoring, but why the willow?

Yield to the willow
All the loathing, all the desire
Of your heart.
-- Basho --

Does this fit in with my original post on The Malevolent Willows?

the haiku is from Silent Flowers
trans. Nanae Ito

Friday, December 3, 2010

Joseph Conrad: December 3, 1857--August 3,1924

Joseph Conrad is a remarkable writer; his short stories and novels range from tales of the sea, to tales of spies and espionage, to a massive novel about South American politics. And always, the focus is on character--who are the people in these stories and what are they like? How does their character almost drive them into these situations and what do these situations bring out about them--the best in them? or the worst in them? or sometimes both?

excerpts from the first chapter of Heart of Darkness:

"The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.

. . . . .

Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other's yarns--and even convictions. The Lawyer--the best of old fellows--had, because of his many years and many virtue, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol.

. . . . .

The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marshes was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.

. . . . .

The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear along the shore. The Chapman lighthouse, a three-legged thing erect on a mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway--a great stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.

'And this also,' said Marlow suddenly, 'has been one of the dark places of the earth.'

He was the only one of us who still 'followed the sea.' The worst that could be said of him was that he did not represent his class. He was a seaman, but he was a wanderer too, while most seamen lead, if one may so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home order, and their home is always with them--the ship, and so is their country--the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny. For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent, and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine."

. . . . .

'I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago--the other day . . . Light came out of this river since--you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker--may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine--what d'ye call 'em--trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north . . . the very end of the earth . . . and going up this river with stores, or orders or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages--precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, . . . cold, fog , tempests, disease, exile , and death --death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here. . .' "

Conrad's point is that the reactions of the Romans nineteen hundred years ago when they first came to England parallel those of the English and Europeans who now go to Africa. It's the perfect prologue to his tale of his river journey into the heart of darkness, at the center of which was a cultured and civilized European.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Basho: 1644-Nov. 28, 1694

In Memoriam

This is not Basho's "official" Death Song, but it was "[d]ictated to approximately 60 disciples surrounding his deathbed." (a)

Fallen sick on a trip
Dreams run wildly
Through my head.
-- Basho --
trans. Dallas Finn

Ill on a journey
All about the deep fields
Fly my broken dreams
-- Basho --
trans. Edward G. Seidensticker

Ill on a journey
dreams in a withered field
wander around
-- Basho --
trans. Jane Reichhold

ill on a journey:
my dreams roam around
over withered fields
-- Basho --
trans. David Landis Barnhill

Wandering, dreaming
in fever dreaming that dreams
wander forever.
-- Basho --
trans. Harry Behn

Sick on my journey,
only my dreams will wander
these desolate moors
-- Basho --
trans. Sam Hamill

Fever-felled half-way,
My dreams arose to march again . . .
Into a hollow land
-- Basho --
trans. Peter Beilenson

Homages to Basho

Basho departed
And since then
The year has never ended.
-- Buson --
trans. Alex Kerr

In a old pond a frog ages while leaves fall
-- Buson --
trans. Thomas Rimer

At dear Basho's grave
Pale thin transients
We pause . . .
Spring mist, sad pupil
-- Joso --
trans. Harold G. Henderson (?)

Since dear Basho died
What poem-maker
Dares to write
"Year-end revelling"?
-- Buson --
trans. Henry G. Henderson?

Bamboo hat, straw coat--
the very essence of Basho--
falling winter rain
-- Buson --
trans. Sam Hamill

On the Anniversary of the Death of Basho

Winter rain on moss
soundlessly recalls those
happy bygone days
-- Buson --
trans. Sam Hamill



The Classic Tradition of Haiku: An Anthology

edited by Faubion Bowers

Basho: The Complete Haiku
Editor and trans. Jane Reichhold

Basho's Haiku: Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
Editor and trans. David Landis Barnhill

More Cricket Songs
trans. Harry Behn

trans. Harold G. Henderson (?)

The Sound of Water
trans. Sam Hamill

A Little Treasury of Haiku
trans. Peter Beilenson

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Joseph Wood Krutch: Nov. 25, 1893--May 22, 1970

The following is taken from the "Preface" to Joseph Wood Krutch's The Great Chain of Life. The "Preface" is written by Edward Abbey and includes his appreciation of Krutch and also part of an interview with him. (A side note: Abbey had sat next to Julian Huxley at a dinner and had spent an evening with George Gaylord Simpson and his wife at their home.)

EA: In the voice of Mr Krutch, I found the clearest definition in contemporary literature of what many of us have felt, emotionally, intellectually, instinctively, to be the central meaning of the word "civilization."

Civilization, we felt, if it means anything, and if it is ever to exist at all, must mean a form of human society in which the primary values are openness, diversity, tolerance, personal liberty, reason.

EA: "Have you any favorite books or favorite authors on the subject of the desert? on nature in general?" (I can't believe I said that. But, it's on the tape).

JWK: "From the standpoint of factual information I suppose Edmund Jaeger is as good as any on the Southwest. On the general subject of man's relation to the natural world I prefer the biologists who take what I call an out-of-doors attitude as opposed to the laboratory outlook. For example, Loren Eiseley, a beautiful writer, and the American naturalist Marston Bates."

EA: "How about George Gaylord Simpson? Julian Huxley?"

. . . . .

JWK: "Huxley and Simpson," Mr. Krutch responded, "come more under the heading of formal science than of nature writing, but they're both the best in their fields."

This was interesting. I had asked Dr. Simpson if he would like to meet Mr. Krutch. He said no. When I asked Mr. Krutch if he would like to meet Dr. Simpson, Mr. Krutch said yes. Is this one of the key differences between the formal scientist and a mere literary type--the wider tolerance and greater curiosity on the part of the latter?

EA: I said, "Isn't Simpson's approach to biology a great deal more mechanistic than yours?"

JWK: "Yes, but nevertheless he doesn't go the whole way. I'd much rather read him than a full mechanist. And Julian Huxley makes what I think is a responsible concession to my point of view, in that he allows at least some role to the idea of purpose in the evolutionary process."

EA: "Have you a name for your style of humanism?"

JWK: "I've come around, I think, to a form of philosophical monism, so I suppose you could call me a monistic-humanist. Or a humanistic monist. The terms don't mean much in themselves but they do mean that I am still not convinced that the universe is merely a machine, in the limited sense of that word. That is, I don't think it means anything to speak of 'materialism,' for example, because the potentialities of matter have just recently begun to be realized. When matter can be transformed into energy, we don't really know what the true nature of matter is."

EA: "Or mind? Consciousness?"

JWK: "That too. So that if one says that 'vitalism' is dead, as a theory in biology, he'd better add that 'mechanism' is also dead. It seems to me that the world is all one thing, not two. Mind and matter are not opposites but aspects of something underlying both. Matter becomes less and less material while mind is clearly one of the inherent potentialities of matter. But a lot of orthodox biologists are still unwilling to recognize this. They continue to think in nineteenth-century terms, assuming an absolute discontinuity between matter and consciousness, so that they're unable to explain how the latter can emerge from the former."

The following comes from the Krutch's "Prologue" to The Great Chain of Life and explains the purpose of this work.

This book makes no pretense at being a treatise. I am not a trained scientist; only what is sometimes contemptuously called a "nature lover." I have drawn from books written by learned experts and also upon my observation of living creatures other than man in whom I have long delighted and with whom I have perhaps more sympathy than some of those who remain austerely scientific. If I express opinions on subjects which some will maintain a mere nature lover has no right to discuss, it is because, having read much and observed a good deal, I am sometimes forced to the conclusion that the whole truth is not always represented in certain of the orthodox attitudes. The intuitions of a lover are not always to be trusted, but neither are those of the loveless. If I have also sometimes given way to that irritation which the layman often feels in the presence of the expert, I hope it will not be assumed I have forgot an essential fact, namely that I owe to the experts the technical information I appropriate.

In selecting examples of animal behavior for presentation in what is first of all a descriptive book, I have found myself usually choosing those which suggest a thesis that I hope will gradually emerge. Certain questions have been nearly always at the back if not in the foreground of my mind: To what extent is the animal that is doing any one of the thousands of remarkable things animals do aware of what he is doing? Doe he always do best what seems to be consciously purposeful? And-- since the answer to this second question is no--then what is the function of consciousness and why did it perfect itself in a world where, so we have been told, nothing persists except in so far as it has survival value?

We shall begin with the simplest creatures we know anything about and with the fact that they are not really simple at all. We shall then pass to others "higher" in the scale but from certain points of view hardly more remarkable. And we shall raise questions as we go along. If we end with some that are very fundamental perhaps some readers will agree they are at least legitimate questions.

Some of Joseph Wood Krutch's books about the Southwest:

The Desert Year

The Voice of the Desert

Grand Canyon

His books of social commentary:

If You Don't Mind My Saying So

And Even If You Do (
the obvious followup to the previous work)

The Modern Temper

And about this book: The Great Chain of Life? Edward Abbey has this to say:

In this book, The Great Chain of Life, first published in 1957, Krutch explores in detail many of the themes barely mentioned in my depthless interview. He begins with protozoa and ends with the human-- and the song of a cardinal outside his window, finding in the latter the suggestion that perhaps joy, not the struggle for survival alone, is the essence of life, both its origin and its quest. . . .In his unwavering insistence, to the very end of his life, on the primacy of freedom, purpose, will, play, and joy, and on the kinship of the human with all forms of life, Krutch defended those values which form the elan vital of human history.

Joseph Wood Krutch was a humanist, perhaps one of the last of that endangered species. He believed in and he practiced the life of reason. He never submitted to any of the fads, or ideologies, or fanaticisms of the twentieth century.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Day Proclamation

According to an April 1, 1864, letter from John Nicolay, one of President Lincoln's secretaries, this document was written by Secretary of State William Seward, and the original was in his handwriting. On October 3, 1863, fellow Cabinet member Gideon Welles recorded in his diary that he complimented Seward on his work. A year later the manuscript was sold to benefit Union troops.

By the President of the United States of America.

A Proclamation.

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consiousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom. No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the City of Washington, this Third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the Independence of the Unites States the Eighty-eighth.

By the President: Abraham Lincoln

William H. Seward,
Secretary of State

Friday, November 19, 2010

Something to think about

For all we know, the wholly harmonious individual might be without the impulse to push on, and without the compulsion to strive for perfection in any department of life. There is always a chance that the perfect society might be a stagnant society.

Eric Hoffer
from The Passionate State of Mind

Given that this would be possible: Is this bad--to be without the impulse to push on and not strive for perfection? Why?

In addition, perfection is generally conceded to be impossible to attain, so those who strive for perfection are always dissatisfied.

Again, if possible: would a perfect society be a stagnant society? Is this a bad situation? Why?

Hoffer seems to be going against the current here, for there are thousands, if not millions, of people out there with their preconceived ideas about how to achieve the perfect society. Are all these people wrong, not so much as in what their ideas are, but simply in so far as they are attempting to create the perfect society?

Would you want to live in the perfect society--whatever that may be?

Or, do you think we already live in a perfect society?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Malevolent Willows

I'm not exactly one of the speediest readers around, and I suspect the reason is that I'm easily distracted. I would be reading a story or a poem or an essay, and the author would write some thing that would remind me of another story that I had read or perhaps something that had happened to me. Several minutes later I would return to whatever I was reading and move along until the next distraction. To be honest, that really doesn't disturb me for I find that one of the joys of reading.

Recently I was reading Death in Willow Pattern, one of W. J. Burley's mysteries featuring the eminent scholar, criminologist, and amateur detective, Dr. Henry Pym. I had moved on to these after having read most of Burley's "Superintendent Wycliffe" stories. I started reading the Wycliffe novels after having noticed the title of the first novel in the series: Wycliffe and the Three-Toed Pussy."

Speaking of being distracted . . . To return to my theme, the title of this novel refers to a willow. In the story is a stanza from a poem by William Thackeray, "The Willow-Tree." It occurs twice in the novel: once as the epigraph and once again after a mention of a particular willow tree.

"Know ye the willow-tree
Whose grey leaves quiver,
Whispering gloomily
To yon pale river?
Lady, at eventide
Wander not near it:
They say the branches hide
A sad lost spirit!"

W. M. Thackeray
from "The Willow-Tree"

The story behind the poem is of a young woman who sat under a willow-tree by a river and waited all night for her lover who never appeared. In the morning the willow-tree was there, but the young woman was never seen again.

Death in Willow Pattern is concerned with several missing and possibly murdered young women. And, there is an old, a very old and large willow tree on the estate of the landowner who has received poison pen letters accusing him of the same crimes that his ancestor centuries ago had committed. Several of the inhabitants of the estate express their dislike of the tree--saying that it is depressing. Others dismiss this as being influenced by the poem by Thackeray, and also by stories about those who had worked in the mine in the vicinity. The tree was haunted by their souls. Later, to reinforce this ominous air about the tree, there is a reference to the "vague spectral outline of the great willow."

This reminded me of one of my favorite short stories, "The Willows," by Algernon Blackwood. For those interested, I posted an entry about this story on Oct. 31, 2009 (Halloween Night, of course). Two men are on a boating trip down the Danube River and elect to stay the night on an island filled with willows. The narrator is disturbed, uneasy as it gets dark.

"But my emotion, so far as I could understand it, seemed to attach itself more particularly to the willow bushes, to those acres and acres of willows, crowding, so thickly growing there, swarming everywhere the eye could reach, pressing upon the river as though to suffocate it, standing in dense array mile after mile beneath the sky, watching waiting, listening. And, apart quite from the elements, the willows connected themselves subtly with my malaise, attacking the mind insidiously somehow by reason of their vast numbers, and contriving in some way or other to represent to the imagination a new and mighty power, a power moreover, not altogether friendly to us."

And, later the narrator tells us:

"With this general hush of the wind--though it still indulged in occasional brief gusts--the river seemed to me to grow blacker, the willows to stand more densely together. The latter, too, kept up a sort of independent movement of their own, rustling among themselves when no wind stirred, and shaking oddly from the roots upwards. When common objects in this way become charged with the suggestion of horror, they stimulate the imagination far more than things of unusual appearance; and these bushes, crowding huddled about us, assumed for me in the darkness a bizarre grotesquerie of appearance that lent to them somehow the aspect of purposeful and living creatures. Their very ordinariness, I felt, masked what was malignant and hostile to us."

Blackwood's tale has the suggestion of the willows being imbued with a malignant spirit. The thought of a malignant willow brought another work to mind--J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. In the first volume, "The Fellowship of the Ring," the four hobbits have a dangerous encounter with Old Man Willow and have to be rescued by Tom Bombadil.

"Suddenly Frodo himself felt sleep overwhelming him. His head swam. There now seemed hardly a sound in the air. The flies had stopped buzzing. Only a gentle noise on the edge of hearing, a soft fluttering as of a song half whispered, seem to stir in the boughs above. He lifted his heavy eyes and saw leaning over him a huge willow-tree, old and hoary. Enormous it looked, its sprawling branches going up like reaching arms with many long-fingered hands, its knotted and twisted trunk gaping in wide fissures that creaked faintly as the boughs moved. The leaves fluttering against the bright sky dazzled him, and he toppled over, lying where he fell upon the grass."

Each of the stories features a willow that is infused with a malignant spirit of some sort, or at least is perceived as threatening in some way. I wonder why the willow is singled out in this way. I can't think of any stories that focus on dangerous pines or oaks or maples. There probably are some, but I can't think of any now.

I'm not referring to a forest, but to a type of tree that's been selected to house evil forces in some way. Dangerous forests have probably played a role in stories for thousands of years. Several Greek myths tell of the dangers encountered by travelers or hunters in the forest. Many of King Arthur's knights had adventures there, and Hawthorne set several of his stories in the deep woods. And, of course, Tolkien himself had three forests that were more or less dangerous to the unwise, unwary, and unwelcome traveler.

Why willows? What is it about them that lends itself to playing this role in various stories?

Are there other types of trees that play similar roles to that played by the willows in the stories I've mentioned above?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Something to think about


"One of the great lessons of Zen is to take total responsibility for your own life. Unfortunately, many of us have been conditioned to believe, feel, and act as though the world owes us something. We complain that, as George Bernard Shaw put it, 'the world will not devote itself' to making us happy. Zen says, 'Why waste time and energy with regrets and whining? We have the gift of life and the opportunities of this moment.'

I once asked a Zen master for his philosophy of life. In reply, he said simply, 'I do not regret having been born.' For me, it was a moment of illumination. When we truly celebrate and do not regret our birth, we embrace the whole of our lives."

-- Laurence G. Boldt --
from Zen Soup

Of course, if we take responsibility for our lives, then we can't blame our parents, the government, society, the police, or some other group. We must take responsibility for our sins and failures as well as for our virtues and successes. I see many who attempt to shift responsibility for the evil they have done or for their failures on to their parents or society or anyone in the vicinity, but I've never heard anyone refuse responsibility for the good they have done or for their successes and shift the credit to their parents or society.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Alfred, Lord Tennyson: "Ulysses" (excerpts)

This is for those of us upon whom at times the years seem to settle down too heavily and discourage us from trying something new and perhaps arduous. These are some excerpts from Tennyson's "Ulysses."

It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.
I cannot rest from travel; I will drink
Life to the lees. . .

. . . . . . .

How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
At tho' to breathe were life! Life piled upon life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
An this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

. . . . . .

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail;
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me,
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads--you and I are old;
Old age hath yet his honour and his toil.
Death closes all; but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks;
The long day wanes; the slow moon climbs; the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down;
It maybe we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)
from "Ulysses"

I hope some will find these excerpts sufficiently interesting to seek out the complete poem at

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain XXXIV

This quatrain has puzzled me, mainly because of the phrase "secret Well of Life" which appears in the first and second editions. However, it disappears by the fifth edition. Perhaps FitzGerald has learned that it puzzles other readers also.

First Edition: Quatrain XXXIV

Then to this earthen Bowl did I adjourn
My Lip the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

Second Edition: Quatrain XXXVIII

Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the secret Well of Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live,
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

Fifth Edition: Quatrain XXXV

Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd--"While you live
Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

The basic elements are the same in all three: (1) a bowl or urn (2) from which he expects to learn a secret, about life it appears, and (3) the secret--drink, for he "never shall return.' This, of course, is neither secret nor new. The poet has already expressed this several times in different ways in previous quatrains: "The Flower that once has blown forever dies" is just one example.

Several changes have occurred over the five editions. The earthen bowl of the first edition becomes the earthen Urn in the second and fifth editions. "Earthen" suggests dirt or clay, especially since it is pottery. In Genesis we are told that God made Adam out of clay-- and in the Christian funeral service we hear "dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return." That the Bowl or Urn speaks to him, lip to lip, hints, that possibly this clay bowl had once been part of a human being. The bowl or urn image appears again in the two following quatrains and again alludes to this possibility.

The "secret Well of Life" in the first two editions becomes "the Secret of my Life" by the fifth edition. According to my dictionary, a "well" could also be "a source to be drawn upon, as a well of information." That could refer to the "Well of Life," for he, therefore, would be trying to learn the secret source of life. However, in the fifth edition, he seems to have given up on learning the secret source of life and hopes only to learn the secret of his own life. Regardless of whether he seeks the source of life in general or just the secret of his own life, he gets the same answer--"While you live/Drink!--for once dead you never shall return."

The poet has now tried sages and saints, the heavens, and now the earth, but never gets the answer he wants; it's either a blind understanding, if any understanding at all, or eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow comes death, and no return.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Loren Eiseley: "Another Kind of Autumn," a poem

I was surprised when I discovered that Loren Eiseley was a poet, as well as an essayist. However, the style of his prose writings should have told me. Here is one, an autumn poem.

Another Kind of Autumn

The petrified branch with the harsh look whose mineralized
splinters are needle sharp
was living a hundred million years ago,
bent to invisible wind, put out leaves on the mountain.
the mountain is gone and this fragment
lies on my desk imperishable and waits for me in turn
to be gone.
Living once it has taken to minerals for survival.
This hand that writes
stiffens, but has no such powers, no crystalline absorption
to hold a pen through eons while slow thought gutters
from lichen-green boulders and fallen pinnacles.
Ink will congeal and perish, the pen rust into its elements,
the thought here, the realization of time, perish
with the dissolving brain. It appears the universe
likes the seams of the coal, the lost leaf imprinted in shale,
the insect in amber, but thought it gives to the wind
like the season's leaf fall. Where is the wind that shaped
this branch?
It perhaps still moves in the air, but the branch has fallen.
Its unfamiliar leaves are now part of my body
and I let the pen drop with my hand, thinking
this is another kind of autumn to be expected.
Leaves and thought are scarcely returnable. The wind
loses them
or one remains in the shale like an unread hieroglyph
once meaningful in clay.
-- Loren Eiseley --
the title poem from Another Kind of Autumn

We too often think that our intellectual powers and consciousness make us creation's finest achievement, but, even if true, it's a short-lived reign at best. I doubt that even our most magnificent architectural structures or our most imposing intellectual compositions will last as long as that petrified branch.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, 30th Anniversary

Russell Hoban is one of my favorite authors, and Riddley Walker, his post holocaust novel, is one of my favorite works. I've read it several times and will read it again. This is the 30th anniversary of its creation.

Part of its attraction is the story and part comes from his language. It's based on the idea that after the catastrophe, no one is quite sure now what happened, England would revert to being, once again, an oral culture. Only a few would be able to read and write. During the following five hundred years, the language, without the benefit of English teachers, would change. The novel is Hoban's guess as to what English might look like five centuries after the catastrophe.

This is not a book for readers who like transparency in their reading material; one must work a bit to figure out what is written. Reading it aloud helps.

Opening lines for Chapter One. It's a first person narrative and Riddley is speaking:

"On my naming day when I come 12 I gone front spear and kilt a wyld boar he parbly ben the las wyld pig on the Bundel Downs any how there hadnt ben none for a long time befor him nor I aint looking to see none agen. He dint make the groun shake nor nothing like that when he come on to my spear he weren't all that big plus he lookit poorily. He done the reqwyrt he ternt and stood and clattert his teef and make his rush and there we wer then. Him on 1 end of the spear kicking his life out and me on the other end watching him dy. I said, 'Your tern now my tern later. . ."

Opening lines for Chapter Two: Riddley introduces himself:

"Walker is my name and I am the same. Riddley Walker. Walking my riddels where ever theyve took me and walking them now on this paper the same."


Walker is my name
and I am the same.
Riddley Walker.
Walking my riddels
where ever theyve took me
and walking them now
on this paper the same.

Since England is now an oral society, poetry has become extremely important for rhyme and meter aid the memory. Here's a working song, one used to coordinate the efforts of a work crew:

Gone ter morrer here to day
Pick it up and walk a way
Dont you know greaf and woe
Pick it up its time to go
Greaf and woe dont you know
Pick it up its time to go

London Town is drownt this day
Hear me say walk a way
Sling your bundel tern and go
Parments in the mud you know
Greaf and woe dont you know
Pick it up its time to go

Traveling shows provide entertainment, and they also convey what might be the history of these people. One of these entertainments is called "The Eusa Story." It's long, so I'll only give the first two paragraphs. In the book, they are in given in paragraph form, but I find them easier to read if I see them in a rough verse form:

"1. When Mr Clevver wuz Big Man uv Inland
they had evere thing clevver.
Thay had boats in the ayr &
picters on the win &
evere thing lyk that.
Eusa wuz a noing man vere qwik
he cud tern his han to enne thing.
He wuz werkin for Mr Clevver
wen thayr cum enemes aul roun
& maykin Warr. Eusa sed to Mr Clevver,
Now wewl nead masheans uv Warr.
Wewl nead boats that go on the water &
boats that go in the ayr &
wewl nead Berstin Fyr.

2. Mr Clevver sed tu Eusa,
Thayr ar tu menne agenst us this tym
we mus du betteren that.
We keap fytin aul thees Warrs
wy doan we jus du 1 Big 1.
Eusa sed, Wayr du I fyn that No.?
Wayr du I fyn that 1 Big 1? Mr Clevver sed,
Yu mus fyn the Littl Shynin Man
the Addom he runs in the wud."

As you may guessed, the quotations are giving my spell checker fits.

There is now an expanded edition, published by Indiana University Press, that includes an Afterword, Notes, and Glossary.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Quotation

Nature attains perfection, but man never does. There is a perfect ant, a perfect bee, but man is perpetually unfinished. He is both an unfinished animal and an unfinished man. It is this incurable unfinishedness which sets man apart from other living things. For, in the attempt to finish himself, man becomes a creator. Moreover, the incurable unfinishedness keeps man perpetually immature, perpetually capable of learning and growing.

Eric Hoffer
from Reflection on the Human Condition

Interesting thought--but I wonder if nature does attain perfection. Does he mean that ants and bees are perfect or have stopped changing and have achieved the maximum development possible for them?

Are we incurably unfinished and therefore perpetually immature?

I wonder how this makes us creators, or some of us anyway.

What would happen if we did finally achieve the finished state, whatever that may be?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Natural City: an SF film from Korea

A Korean SF film--

That was what intrigued me most about this film when I first read about it. I don't think I have ever watched a Korean film before, and I'm positive that I haven't seen an SF film from Korea. I didn't bother reading the rest of the description and simply placed it in my Netflix queue.

When Natural City arrived, I again didn't bother reading the brief paragraph about it and loaded it into my DVD player. It was a bit confusing at first; part of the problem was adjusting to simultaneously reading the subtitles and following the action . However, some of the opening scenes began to make sense after I had watched a bit more of the film. It was then that I started to notice some rather familiar themes, which surprised me. If I had read the brief description, I would not have been as surprised as I was.

The setting is the future, 2080 to be exact, just after a devastating war. The action takes place in a futuristic city, set side by side with the ruins of a city destroyed in the war. We first encounter Cyon, a young woman who lives in the ruins along with numerous other outcasts who either can't live in the city or have fled it. She lives by her wits--a thief at times, a prostitute at times, and a fortune teller most of the time.

We also encounter the lovers, one of whom is a member of the MPs, which apparently stands for Military Police. The woman, Rea, is a dancer, a cyborg created to be a superb dancer, far superior to anything humans can do. Cyborgs are created humans, who resemble "born" humans so closely that one can't tell the difference.

Warning: I discuss a number of significant plot elements and issues. However, I do not reveal the ending.

The first action scene provided some wake-up clues: a group of cyborgs led by a combat cyborg attacks the medical center and have to be driven off by the MPs, led by an officer called Noma. A member of his unit is his closest friend, "R," who happens to be the MP who is in love with the cyborg dancer. The cyborgs, while in control of the medical center, do a complete scan of the DNA records for the human citizens of the area.

The humans are not certain as to why the cyborgs wanted this information, for it didn't seem to have anything to do with what they knew about Cyper, the combat cyborg who is the leader of the cyborg group. Cyper's actions have always been connected with the cyborgs' termination date. While the cyborgs are physically superior to the humans, they are cursed with the knowledge that they have been created with a limited life span. Cyper's past actions had concentrated on finding ways to extend his termination date.

R's cyborg lover carries a small device, about the size of a cell phone, around with her that she occasionally places against her skin. She then hears a voice that tells her that she has only three days, __ hours, __ minutes, and 15 seconds left--14 seconds--13 seconds--12 seconds . . . before her termination date.

Cyborgs indistinguishable from humans? Cyborgs physically superior to humans? Cyborgs with a termination date? A combat cyborg struggling to find a way to cancel or somehow get around this termination date?

And talking billboards soaring high above pedestrians in the city streets extolling the beauties of a vacation on a paradisaical planet?

And several scenes that take place in a noodle shop in a mall, but in the background one can see the crowds pass by?

Blade Runner?

Imagine Rick Deckard split into two characters: Noma (no man?), an officer focused solely on his job; and R (strange name--he's the only one with just a letter for a name--R--Rick?) who is in love with a cyborg and finds that it interferes with his job with the MPs. Ironically, he and Cyper, the combat cyborg, have the same problem--the cyborg termination date. The conflict between Noma and R regarding R's lack of focus on his job caused by his distress over Rea's coming termination could be seen as coming from Deckard's own ambivalence regarding his job of terminating replicants and his affection for Rachel, a replicant. Rachel and Rea--the cyborg love interest in the two films.

A solution has been found--neuronal transfer. A classic mad scientist has created a way of transferring the consciousness of one being to another. In this way, the cyborgs, or anyone else I gather, could have immortality by just transferring their consciousness to a younger and healthier human.

There is a catch though--the two involved in the transfer must have similar DNA. This is where the young woman in the opening scenes, Cyon, becomes important. She alone has DNA similar to the cyborgs. Once this is discovered, then both Cyper and R search for Cyon. R's dream is to transfer Rea's consciousness into the body of Cyon and then escape to the paradisaical vacation planet.

Three battle scenes split the film into thirds--one at the beginning, one roughly in the middle, and one at the end, naturally. The humans, physically outclassed by the cyborgs, rely on firepower. The cyborgs focus on attacking the humans with superior martial arts techniques. Unfortunately for the humans, the cyborgs can be stopped only by a direct hit to the head, which is almost impossible given the cyborgs' superior agility and strength. The battle scenes are quite impressive.

The only problems I have with the film are the subtitles, of course, and some plot problems. But, it is possible that the plot problems are the result of being distracted by the subtitles. For example, at one point in the film, I thought that Cyon had been captured by the cyborgs, but in the next scene she is free, back in the ruins where she lives. Another viewing might resolve this problem.

I want to be sure that all understand that I do not see Natural City as a remake of Blade Runner. Byung-chun Min, who is both director and screenwriter, has taken a number of elements from Blade Runner and constructed a different film with them.

Overall Reaction: A very interesting, intriguing, and entertaining homage to Blade Runner. Recommended for those interested in SF films, especially foreign SF films, for Blade Runner aficionados curious about a different interpretation of some common themes, and for those looking for something unique.