Monday, September 22, 2014

Robert Frost: "Misgiving"

An Autumn Poem----


All crying, 'We will go with you, O Wind !'
The foliage follow him, leaf and stem;
But a sleep oppresses them as they go,
And they end by bidding him stay with them. 

Since ever they flung abroad in spring
The leaves had promised themselves this flight,
Who now would  fain seek sheltering wall,
Or thicket, or hollow place for the night.

And now they answer his summoning blast
With an ever vaguer and vaguer stir,
Or at utmost a little reluctant whirl
That drops them no further than where they were.

I only hope that when I am free
As they are free to go in quest
Of the knowledge beyond the bounds of life
It may not seem better to me to rest. 

-- Robert Frost --

The usual debate is whether there is life after death.  Is the soul or some sort of life force immortal and does it survive the death of the body?  Frost, being Frost, doesn't see it that way in this poem, naturally.  In the last stanza, Frost's usual place for mischief, he posits it a different way.  He fears that he may follow the lead of leaf and branch and flower and take his final rest instead of attempting to go beyond what knowledge we have gained from life and finding out if there is something more.

A very disturbing thought.  We spend much of our lives wondering about, speculating about, arguing about, even killing others who disagree about the possibility of life after death and then be too tired to find out when we have the opportunity.   Typical Frost--always off on his own somewhere.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Judex: a film

Judex, a French language film
Black-and-white, English subtitles
Directed by Georges Franju

The public library in Tucson publishes around the first of the month a list of acquisitions made during the previous month.  I always check it to see if anything interesting has come in.  In this way, I find  some intriguing books and films, many of which I had never heard of. This is how I found Judex.   Although it came out in 1963, it was in black-and-white.  It is also a French language film, with subtitles in English.

The description sounded intriguing. A corrupt banker is kidnapped by a shadowy crime fighter, Judex, played by the American magician, Channing Pollock.  The plot gets more complicated as a group of thieves led by the scheming Diana Monti attempts to benefit from the situation by getting their hands on some of the banker's files that have information about rich and powerful people and using the information for blackmail.  Diana had worked her way into the household by gaining a position as a maid and then getting the banker, a widower, to fall in love with her. 

A short way into the film, I began to think that this film resembles a serial and also a film that might have been produced much earlier, perhaps the 20s or before.  It was in black-and-white, and scene-changes were denoted by several seconds of darkness.  In addition,  text messages providing narrative information were provided during some of the scene changes.  Other elements were some vaguely SF or futuristic technology such as a closed circuit TV picture that resembles others I had seen in early serials and rock doors that slide open smoothly accompanied by a distinct hum, obviously the motor.  Some drugs with unusual properties were also used by various individuals in the film.

After viewing the film, I read the information booklet that came with it.  The film was produced in 1963 and directed by Georges Franju.  Franju's Judex, according to the booklet, is his homage to Louis Feuillade, who in 1916 had produced a five-and-a-half-hour, 12 episode serial by the same name.  Franju cut a considerable amount of the film that dealt with the backstory explaining Judex's motivation for attacking the banker.

Judex, when he is the crime fighter (he also had a secret identity, naturally), is dressed in black with a hat and cape that reminds me of Zorro (no sword though).  He is assisted by four or five men who also dress in black clothing and wear black masks.  Diana Monti, who leads the group of three or four thieves,  wears a tight, black outfit, reminiscent  of numerous catwoman outfits that have appeared over the years, and has a stiletto. strapped to her thigh.    

While there really are no cliffhangers, forcing one to wait for the next episode, the influence of the serial format appears clearly as every one of the major characters--the banker, Diana Monti (the chief villainess) , Judex,  Jacqueline (the banker's beautiful young daughter), and at least one of the thieves--is captured and either knocked out or drugged into insensibility at least once during the film and then manages to escape.  In fact, the banker's daughter spends much of her time unconscious and being carried about by the thieves, who plan to force her to reveal where her father's papers are hidden, or by Judex and his crew when they rescue her.

And, you mustn't miss the battle to the death on the rooftops between the attractive Diana Monti in her tight, black catwoman outfit and Daisy, an attractive circus performer, in her tight. white trapeze outfit.   

 Lots of fun.  I wonder if the original 12 episode serial is available somewhere.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Simon Ortiz: Hawk


clear through
the background
which is sky
and mountain ledge,
--Old Chuska Mountain,
my friend, shelter--
His immense knowledge
of wind,
his perception
of circling slow wind,
his edge of wing
on air trail

straightens then suddenly
directly above us,
the pines.

This man, he knows
what he is doing.

-- Simon Ortiz --
from Woven Stone

What would it be like to fly like this hawk?

I remember standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and watching birds fly, first maybe ten feet off the ground where I was standing and then, beyond the edge where I couldn't go.  What would that be like, to have the ground maybe ten feet below and then suddenly drop away to hundreds of feet below?  What would that be like?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kenko: an anecdote, with a point?

No. 45

Kin'yo, an officer of the second rank, had a brother called the High Priest Ryogaku, an extremely bad-tempered man.  Next to his monastery grew a large nettle-tree which occasioned the nickname people gave him, the Nettle-tree High Priest.  'That name is outrageous,' said the high-priest, and cut down the tree.  The stump still being left, people referred to him now as the Stump High Priest.  More furious than ever, Ryogaku had the stump dug up and thrown away, but this left a big ditch.  People now called him the Ditch High Priest."

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness

Perhaps he should have just left well enough alone.  Frankly, I think I would have much more preferred being called the Nettle-tree High Priest than the Ditch High Priest.   Some people take longer to learn than others, while some never learn.  

Fujiwara no Kin'jo (died 1301)  was a poet.
Ryogaku Sojo (died about 1305)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lu Hsun/ Lu Xun: A Madman's Diary

Lu Hsun or Lu Xun (his stories and poems appear under both names) is a new name to me.  I just happened to run across him while browsing the shelves of a used bookstore (can't count the number of times this has happened).  The title of the book is Selected Stories of Lu Hsun.  It was while I was searching for information about him and other works by him that I discovered that his works show up under two names.

"A Madman's Diary" is just what it purports to be, for the most part, anyway.  However, there are some disquieting elements to it that appeared only after I had finished the story.  It is the journal kept by a man who was suffering from a persecution complex and was convinced that all around him were cannibals, just waiting for the chance to sink their teeth into him.  At one point he even catches a dog eying him strangely.

The journal depicts his slow disintegration, from the early stages when he wonders about the strange look the dog casts his way and his suspicion that his neighbors had a inexplicable grudge against him to when he was convinced that all, including his older brother, were just waiting for a chance to eat him.

What makes me wonder though is the frame to the story.  The first chapter of the story is a first person narrative in which the anonymous narrator tells us that one of two brothers that he had been friend with was ill.   He had to be in the neighborhood, so he stopped by to see him.  At the house, he was met by the older brother who said that "my brother recovered some time ago and has gone elsewhere to take up an official post."  He then laughed and showed him the younger brother's diary in which he said he could see the nature of the younger brother's illness.  The older brother then gave him the diary, saying there could be no harm in giving it to him since he was a friend.

This sounds strange to me.  If I had become mentally disturbed in this way and had kept a diary, I should want to keep it with me when I recovered, or perhaps destroyed it if I found it too disturbing to be reminded of what had happened.  I doubt if I would give it to my brother.  Secondly, if my brother had been ill, recovered, and left his diary with me, I would never have given it to someone else, regardless of how good a friend that person might be.

The third point that bothers me is the present status of the younger brother.   According to the older brother, whom the younger brother was convinced he was a cannibal, "he recovered some time ago and has gone elsewhere to take up an official post."  Why was the older brother so vague about where his younger brother was and what that official post was?   

I've been accused in the past of over-reading, and this, possibly, could be another example.  But, I see no reason why the older brother couldn't have simply said what city his brother was now living in.  It is this point and the relinquishment of the diary that makes me wonder what really happened to the younger brother.

I've also toyed with the idea that there is a political message behind the story and the cannibalism is a mask to avoid getting afoul of government censors.  His reference to cannibalism could be symbolic of his insistence on being independent and not just part of a faceless community.  After all, cannibalism is the most extreme form of being absorbed by the community.   Unfortunately, I know too little of the political situation in China when this story was written in 1918.

In any case, I find the story intriguing and shall definitely go on to the others in the collection and perhaps, go looking for more by him.

September 4, 2014:  Late comment.  I should read intros and informational flyleaves more often--might learn something.  

From the flyleaf of Selected Stories of Lu Hsun:

"A Madman's Diary" was Lu Hsun's  " 'declaration of war' against China's feudal society, and the first short story in the history of modern Chinese literature."

Monday, September 1, 2014

N. Scott Momaday: The Bear

Words are names.  To write a poem is to practice a naming ceremony.

              These figures moving in my rhyme,
              Who are they?  Death, and Death's dog, time.     

And to confer a name is to confer being.  We perceive existence by means of words and names.  To this or that vague, potential thing, I will give a name, and it will exist thereafter, and its existence will be clearly perceived.  The name enables me to see it.  I can call it by its name, and I can see it for what it is.

-- N. Scott Momaday --

The Bear

    What ruse of vision,
escarping the wall of leaves,
    rending incision
into countless surfaces,

    would cull and color
his somnolence, whose old age
    has outworn valor,
all but the fact of courage?

    Seen, he does not come,
move, but seems forever there,
    dimensionless, dumb,
in the windless noon's hot glare.

    More scarred than others
these years since the trap maimed him,
    pain slants his withers,
drawing up the crooked limb.

    Then he is gone, whole,
without urgency, from sight,
    as buzzards control,
imperceptibly, their flight.

The quotation and poem are from
-- N. Scott Momaday --
In the Presence of the Sun:  Stories and  Poems

About the Author:
"N. Scott Momaday is a poet, novelist, painter, playwright, and storyteller.  He resides in the American Southwest, and he is Regents Professor of the Humanities at the University of Arizona (in Tucson).  Among his numerous awards are the Academy of American Poets Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the Premio Letterario Internazionale 'Mondello.'  He is a member of the Kiowa Gourd Dance Society and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He walks long distances, and he rides an Appaloosa mare named 'Ma'am.'  At his best he cooks.  He is justly famous for a recipe named 'The Washita Crossing Soup,' the ingredients of which are, in his words, 'simple, sacred, and secret.'   He is a bear."

Taken from the back cover:
In the Presence of the Sun:  Stories and Poems is a collection of poems, stories (obviously), paintings,  and illustrations by N. Scott Momaday.  They represent thirty years of work, from 1961 to 1991.  "Momaday's voice is ancestral and contemporary, profoundly American and genuinely universal.  Here, at his best, is a truly distinguished poet, storyteller, and artist.