Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Editiion, Quatrain LXVI

This post actually includes an error on my part.  When I went through the First Edition and included those quatrains from the Second Edition that had appeared in that Edition, I somehow missed this one.  Consequently I will include the relevant quatrain from the First Edition as well as that from the Fifth Edition.


Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
    One thing is certain and the rest is Lies,
The Flower that once is blown for ever dies.


Oh, threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain--This Life flies;
    One thing is certain and the rest is Lies,
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.


Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the Wise 
To talk;  one thing is certain, that Life flies;
     One thing is certain, and the Rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.

The most significant differences occur between the First and Second Editions, the first two lines to be exact, while the Fifth Edition is identical to the Second.  The quatrain in the First Edition opens with an informal and chatty invitation to join the Poet "and leave the Wise To talk" whereas the tone becomes more serious in the Second Edition when it rejects religious warnings of "threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise."

One reason for the change may be that the quatrain advises readers to leave the wise to talk and listen to the poet.  Then the last two lines refers to lies, which may suggest that the poet thinks the wise are telling lies.  The wise would be theologians and philosophers, some of whom might be the poet's friends or possibly some highly regarded and influential people.  

Much of the second lines of the three editions are the same, and the third and fourth lines are identical in all three editions.

The three editions of this quatrain posits a common theme found in a number of the quatrains in which the Poet reminds us that nobody really knows what happens, if anything, after death.  Secondly, there is a clear rejection of the idea of reincarnation here:  "The Flower that once has blown for ever dies."   While some might argue that he speaks of a flower, I would say that he is generalizing to all life on this planet.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Chi Wu-ch'ien: a poet

A Boat in Spring on Jo-ya Lake

Thoughtful elation has no end:
Onward I bear it to whatever come.
And my boat and I, before the evening breeze
Passing flowers, entering the lake,
Turn at nightfall toward the western valley,
Where I watch the south star over the mountain
And a mist that rises, hovering soft,
And the low moon slanting through the trees;
And I choose to put away from me every worldly matter
And only to be an old man with a fishing pole.

-- Chi Wu-ch'ien --
from The Jade Mountain
trans. by Witter Bynner from
the texts of Kiang Kang-Hu 

I read it, thought about it awhile, and went on to the next one.  I came back and read it again and then went on to another poem.  I came back again.  There is something here, but I cannot speak it and I cannot write it.

Make of it what you will. 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Kenko: tricks the mind plays on us

No. 71

"As soon as I hear a name I feel convinced I can guess what the owner looks like, but it never happens, when I actually meet the man, that his face is as I had supposed.  I wonder if everybody shares my experience of feeling, when I hear some story about the past, that the house mentioned in the story must hare been rather like this or that house belonging to people of today, or that the persons of the story resemble people I see now.  It has happened on various occasions too that I have felt, just after someone has said something or I have see something or thought of something, that it has occurred before.  I cannot remember when it was, but I feel absolutely certain the thing has happened.  Am I the only one has such impressions?"

-- Kenko --
from Essays in Idleness
Donald Keene, trans.

I think I am more text-oriented than visually-oriented, for I really don't attach a face to a name upon hearing it.  In fact, I am more likely to do this when I hear a voice on the radio or a phone.   And, seldom do I "see" a place that I think is just like a place that I already know, except in a very general sense.  There are exceptions, of course, but they are rare.

However, I do have the the deja vu experience occasionally, which is quite common as I think that most people I know have had this happen to them one or more times.  It's quite uncanny when it does, for I can never figure out when it may have happened and in some cases, it even appears to be impossible to have occurred.  


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Fergus Hume: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

Fergus Hume
The Mystery of a Hansom Cab

This is one for those of you who enjoy old and forgotten mysteries.  Fergus Hume certainly doesn't seem to be a household name, at least in the circle I bumble around in, and as for old?  Well, this book was first published 1886--yes, that's not a typo--1--8--8--6.  As you can tell from the title, it's a mystery involving a hansom cab, shades of Sherlock Holmes. It's set in Melbourne, Australia.

This is the cabbie's testimony, the driver of the hansom cab of the title. It's late at night, and he pulls up to two men, one of whom is very drunk. The drunken man suddenly lifts his face into the light, and the other recognizes him.  Disgusted he leaves.  Struggling, the cabbie finally gets the intoxicated man into his cab when the other man returns. He gets into the cab.  The cabbie drives off, and when the sober man gets off, he tells the cabbie to take the other man home.  When the cabbie gets to the destination, he discovers the man is dead and calls the police.

Detective Gorby of the Melbourne Police is assigned the case which sets up the first part of the novel as a police procedural.  We follow Detective Gorby as he follows up the clues and finally makes an arrest.

However, we haven't even come close to the halfway point, so obviously there is more to come.  There is and it's Perry Mason, or the Australian equivalent there of,  one Duncan Calton.  He takes on the defendant's case and begins his own investigation.

He comes up with some interesting bits of information but is stymied because he lacks the resources and the authority to really chase down those clues.  But, all is not lost, for Calton is shrewd, and  he knows something about the Melbourne PD.  There are actually two top detectives on the Force and Gorby is one of them.  The other is Detective Kilsip, and they hate each other.  This is not the friendly rivalry one might expect from comrades-in-arms but pure hatred.

Calton, the lawyer, takes his information to Detective Kilsip.  Kilsip believes that Gorby did arrest the right person, but there's this information given him by Calton.  Suppose there was something to this, and he could embarrass Gorby  by proving that Gorby had arrested the wrong man, and that someone else had committed the murder.  Calton now has the aid of one of the top detectives on the force.

It's a bit creaky here and there, but overall I found it an intriguing and perplexing and enjoyable read. There's also considerable humor here, some sly and some not so. 

According to the Intro, this was Hume's first novel and it was an instant success.  However, he went on to write another 140 novels, all of which were quickly forgotten.  Several of his books are available on-line, but I'm going to try the InterLibraryLoan method first.  I'm curious to discover whether this work was an accident or whether he was unjustly ignored.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Ray Bradbury: "The Night"

Folks, spoilers follow, so if you haven't read the story and prefer to read it with no foreknowledge, you should stop here.

As I've mentioned in the past, too many times I suspect, Ray Bradbury is one of my favorite short story writers, regardless of the genre. He is probably best known for his SF and fantasy tales, but many of his stories stray far afield.  This is an example of a tale of his that doesn't fit easily into any category, except that of an excellent story that makes its point quickly and clearly.  "The Night" (perhaps "The Ravine" would be just as appropriate) is a short and simple tale, one of those that many might complain that "nothing happens."

It's a warm summer evening in a small town.  Doug is an eight-year-old boy who has just returned from getting ice cream at the local grocery.  His mother is busy ironing.  They are the only ones in the house. Father is at a lodge meeting and won't be back until around midnight.  Skipper, Doug's older brother, is out in another part of town, playing with some friends. He is late and should have been home some time ago.

Just as Doug is getting ready for bed, his mother decides to look for Skipper.  They set out along the path that Skipper will probably take on his way back.  They drop down into a ravine and about half way through, they hear Skipper and his friends laughing and giggling.  She scolds him for being late and they return home. Doug and Skipper go to bed.  Shortly afterwards, father returns from his lodge meeting.

Did anything happen?

This story is included in the collection The Stories of Ray Bradbury which the unknown editor describes as Bradbury's  best one hundred stories  (there a couple of stories missing that I would include).  Why is this story included?

Perhaps something did happen, something that only Doug experienced.  While Bradbury can do the obvious monsters and demons and horrors with the best, what I like is his grasp of what goes on inside the characters.  Many times I have recognized myself in his tales, something that doesn't happen with most writers.  Perhaps the following quotation (my apologies for its length, but Bradbury says it much better than I could)  may explain why this tale was included as one of his best one hundred.  At least, I think so.

Doug and his mother are on the path, expecting to meet Skipper on his way back.   The narrator tells us:

"You are only eight years old, you know little of death, fear, or dread.  Death is the waxen effigy in the coffin when you were six and Grandfather passed away--looking like a great fallen vulture in his casket, silent, withdrawn, no more to tell you how to be a good boy, no more to comment succinctly on politics.  Death is your little sister one morning when you awaken at the age of seven, look into her crib and see her staring up at you with a blind blue, fixed and frozen stare until the men come with a small wicker basket to take her away.  Death is when you stand by her high chair four weeks later and suddenly realize she'll never be in it again, laughing and crying, and make you jealous of her because she was born.  That is death.

But this is more than death.  This summer night wading deep in time and stars and warm eternity.  It is an essence of all the things you will ever feel or see or hear in your life again, being brought steadily home to you all at once.

Leaving the sidewalk, you walk along a trodden, pebbled, weed-fringed path to the ravine's edge.  Crickets, in loud full drumming chorus now, are shouting to quiver the dead.  You follow obediently behind brave, fine, tall Mother who is defender of all the universe.  You feel braveness because she goes before, and you hang back a trifle for a moment, and then hurry on, too.  Together, then, you approach, reach, and pause at the very edge of civilization.

The ravine.

Here and now, down there in that pit of jungled blackness is suddenly all the evil you will ever know.  Evil you will never understand.  All of the nameless things are there.  Later, when you have gown you'll be given names to label them with.  Meaningless syllables to describe the waiting nothingness.  Down there in the huddled shadow, among thick trees and trailed vines, lives the odor of decay.  Here, at this spot, civilization ceases, reason ends, and a universal evil takes over.

You realize you are alone.  You and your mother.  Her hand trembles.

Her hand trembles.

Your belief in your private world is shattered.  You feel Mother tremble.  Why?  Is she, too, doubtful?  But she is bigger, stronger, more intelligent than yourself, isn't she?  Does she, too, feel that intangible menace, that groping out of darkness, that crouching malignancy down below?  Is there, then, no strength in growing up? no solace in being an adult? no sanctuary in life? no flesh citadel strong enough to withstand the scrabbling assault of midnights?  Doubts flush you.  Ice cream lives again in your throat, stomach, spine and limbs; you are instantly cold as a wind out of December-gone.

You realize that all men are like this.  That each person is to himself one alone.  One oneness, a unit in society, but always afraid.  Like here, standing.  If you should scream now, if you should holler for help, would it matter?"

This ordinary walk in a quiet town has turned into something else.  Is this a horror story?  Or a growing up story when Doug climbs another step towards maturity and most likely doesn't realize it?

Any thoughts? 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Baltasar Gracian: Let's sit this one out

Something to think about today.

No. 138
THE SENSE TO let things settle.  Especially when the public, or the private, sea  is  most turbulent.  There come whirlwinds into human traffic, storms of passion, when it is wise to seek a safe harbor with smoother waters: many times is an evil made worse by the remedies used; here leave things to nature, or there to God: the learned physician needs just as much wisdom in order not to prescribe, as to prescribe, and often the greater art lies in doing nothing; the way to quiet the turbulence of a mob is to withdraw your hand, and let it quiet itself, to concede today, may be the best way to succeed tomorrow; it takes little to muddy a spring, nor does it clear by being stirred, but by being left alone:  there is no better remedy for turmoil, than to let it take its course, for so it comes to rest of itself. 

-- Baltasar Gracian --
from The Art of Worldly Wisdom

I think today could certainly be considered turbulent times, especially in the political world.  The major conflict seems to be centered around Donald Trump.  The country seems polarized between the pro- and  anti-Trump forces.  Is Gracian saying we should disengage ourselves from the conflict and adopt a superior view from on high, being above the conflict?

I don't think so.  It is one thing to express one's opinion quietly and thoughtfully and quite another to engage in vicious verbal attacks, whether based on facts or rumors or just plain lies.  It is almost as though there are two distinct conversations going on: one conducted by those who speak or write quietly and rationally and the other by the most passionate adherents in both camps who spend their time shouting and yelling at each other, hardly bothering to listen to anybody else but their own voices. 

It seems to me that a particularly unwise action, one that has already resulted in so far only minor violence, is the appearance of anti-Trump demonstrators at his speeches.  What purpose is served by these counter-demonstrations at the time of the event?   There are strong emotions on both sides which are bound to flare up into violence given some small and probably trivial incident.  Is this what both sides want?

Some may argue that these demonstrations are necessary to show the strength of the feelings against Donald Trump.  Is this really necessary?  That the Republican Party itself is split for and against him, it's own presumptive nominee for president, should surely tell anybody that he is a controversial individual even in his own party.  Those feelings are strong enough for some to come out and directly oppose him, while others temporize by saying there are serious issues to be resolved.  In addition, there are those who have said that they will not attend the Republican nominating convention this summer.  Is it really necessary to engage in a direct confrontation at this time?

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXV

This quatrain was added in the Second Edition but had been removed by the time the Fifth Edition was published.  Frankly, I'm puzzled by it.


If but the Vine and Love-abjuring Band
Are in the Prophet's Paradise to stand,
    Alack, I doubt the Prophet's Paradise
Were empty as the hollow of one's Hand.

The problem, for me anyway, are the verbs adjure and abjure. Adjure means to encourage or earnestly entreat others to do something, almost a command, while abjure means to forbid or to abstain from something.  I have two copies of The Rubaiyat and in one, the verb is adjure for Quatrains LXIV  and LXV and in the other, it is abjure. The logic of Quatrain LXIV suggests that the verb should be abjure, that one should abstain from alcohol.

That is why this quatrain is puzzling.  The poet suggests that if those who abjure or abstain from the Vine and Love.  .  . gain Paradise, then the poet doesn't think (doubts) that Paradise would be empty.  This suggests that those who abjure wine and love will go to heaven, but it doesn't say anything about those who don't abjure the Vine and Love. Could it be that it doesn't make any difference what one believes?  All will go to Paradise.

I suspect my problem is caused some changes in meaning in one or more words in the quatrain. Or perhaps what puzzles me is what caused FitzGerald to eventually drop this quatrain.

Your thoughts?