Monday, January 16, 2017


Drowning in Filth

George Orwell, Diaries (April 27, 1942):
We are all drowning in filth. When I talk to anyone or read the writings of anyone who has any axe to grind, I feel that intellectual honesty and balanced judgement have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. Everyone's thought is forensic, everyone is simply putting a "case" with deliberate suppression of his opponent's point of view, and, what is more, with complete insensitiveness to any sufferings except those of himself and his friends.


A Bad Habit

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Writers and Readers," Complete Essays, Vol. IV: 1936-1938 (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001), pp. 5-29 (at 5-6):
To a considerable extent reading has become, for almost all of us, an addiction, like cigarette-smoking. We read, most of the time, not because we wish to instruct ourselves, not because we long to have our feelings touched and our imagination fired, but because reading is one of our bad habits, because we suffer when we have time to spare and no printed matter with which to plug the void. Deprived of their newspaper or a novel, reading-addicts will fall back on cookery books, on the literature that is wrapped round bottles and patent medicines, on those instructions for keeping the contents crisp which are printed on the outside of boxes of breakfast cereals. On anything.
Related posts:

Sunday, January 15, 2017



Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), "To Urbanus," lines 17-20 (tr. Niall Rudd):
No page is more welcome to the Muses than that which knows how to combine grave and gay, and to refresh the weary mind with helpful trifles.

Non ulla Musis pagina gratior
Quam quae severis ludicra iungere
    Novit, fatigatamque nugis
        Utilibus recreare mentem.


The Coral Reefs of Scholarship

Michael King (1945-2004), Being Pakeha Now: Reflections and Recollections of a White Native (Auckland: Penguin Books, 1999), p. 218 (Eric = Eric McCormick [1906-1995], at the 41st International PEN Conference in London in 1976):
Of everything that occurred that week, however, I was most moved by a remark Eric made in the course of our evening at Westminster. The function of the scholar, he said then, was analogous to that of the coral organism. One lays down one's own skeleton on the heap of bones left by others, who by so doing have built up a patterned structure. One also does it for the benefit of later comers, who will in turn lay their remains on yours. It is the inclusive effect of this accretion that creates meaning, Eric said, not the individual contribution. I cannot think of any metaphor which better describes the organic growth of culture and scholarship; nor of one which is more indicative of Eric's own monumental patience, humility and achievements as a writer and scholar.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.

Saturday, January 14, 2017


In Bed

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), "Translation of Lines by Benserade," Poems (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1964; rpt. 1975), p. 293:
In bed we laugh, in bed we cry,
And born in bed, in bed we die;
The near approach a bed may shew
Of human bliss to human woe.
French original:
Théâtre des ris et des pleurs
Lit! où je nais, et où je meurs,
Tu nous fais voir comment voisins
Sont nos plaisirs et chagrins.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Student's Lament

E.E. Cummings (1894-1962), "Ballad of the Scholar's Lament," Complete Poems (New York: Liveright, 1991), p. 851:
When I have struggled through three hundred years
    Of Roman history, and hastened o'er
Some French play—(though I have my private fears
    Of flunking sorely when I take the floor
In class),—when I have steeped my soul in gore
    And Greek, and figured over half a ream
With Algebra, which I do (not) adore,
    How shall I manage to compose a theme?

It's well enough to talk of poor and peers,
    And munch the golden apples' shiny core,
And lay a lot of heroes on their biers;—
    While the great Alec, knocking down a score,
Takes out his handkerchief, boohoo-ing, "More!"—
    But harshly I awaken from my dream,
To find a new,—er,—privilege,—in store:
    How shall I manage to compose a theme?

After I've swallowed prophecies of seers,
    And trailed Aeneas from the Trojan shore,
Learned how Achilles, after many jeers,
    On piggy Agamemnon got to sore,
And heard how Hercules, Esq., tore
    Around, and swept and dusted with a stream,
There's one last duty,—let's not call it bore,—
    How shall I manage to compose a theme?


Of what avail is all my mighty lore?
    I beat my breast, I tear my hair, I scream:
"Behold, I have a Herculean chore.
    How shall I manage to compose a theme?"


Serpent's Tooth

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1857), "L'Avertisseur," tr. Francis Scarfe:
Every man worthy of the name has, in his heart, a yellow Serpent, set there as on a throne, and which, if he says 'I will!' replies: 'No.'

Plunge your eyes into the unmoving eyes of satyresses and nixies, and the Tooth says: 'Think of your duty!'

Whether you make children or plant trees, or polish verses, or sculpt marbles, the Tooth says: 'Will you be alive, this night?'

Whatever he undertakes or hopes, man never lives a moment without enduring the insufferable Viper's warning.
In French:
Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»

Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»

Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»

Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.



Jacques Prévert (1900-1977), Fatras (Paris: Gallimard, 1966), p. 121:
Mangez sur l'herbe
Un jour ou l'autre
L'herbe mangera sur vous
Picnic on the grass
Hurry up
One of these days
The grass will picnic on you

Édouard Manet, Déjeuner sur l'herbe

Thanks to Ian Jackson for help.

Thursday, January 12, 2017


In Praise of Dogs

Columella, On Agriculture 7.12.1 (tr. E.S. Forster and Edward H. Heffner):
For what human being more clearly or so vociferously gives warning of the presence of a wild beast or of a thief as does the dog by its barking? What servant is more attached to his master than is a dog? What companion more faithful? What guardian more incorruptible? What more wakeful night-watchman can be found? Lastly, what more steadfast avenger or defender? To buy and keep a dog ought, therefore, to be among the first things which a farmer does, because it is the guardian of the farm, its produce, the household and the cattle.

Nam quis hominum clarius aut tanta vociferatione bestiam vel furem praedicat, quam iste latratu? quis famulus amantior domini? quis fidelior comes? quis custos incorruptior? quis excubitor inveniri potest vigilantior? quis denique ultor aut vindex constantior? Quare vel in primis hoc animal mercari tuerique debet agricola, quod et villam et fructus familiamque et pecora custodit.


Teacher's Lament

D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), "Last Lesson of the Afternoon," Complete Poems (Ware: Wordsworth, 2002), p. 40:
When will the bell ring, and end this weariness?
How long have they tugged the leash, and strained apart,
My pack of unruly hounds! I cannot start
Them again on a quarry of knowledge they hate to hunt,
I can haul them and urge them no more.

No longer now can I endure the brunt
Of the books that lie out on the desks; a full threescore
Of several insults of blotted pages, and scrawl
Of slovenly work that they have offered me.
I am sick, and what on earth is the good of it all?
What good to them or me, I cannot see!

                                            So, shall I take
My last dear fuel of life to heap on my soul
And kindle my will to a flame that shall consume
Their dross of indifference; and take the toll
Of their insults in punishment? — I will not! —

I will not waste my soul and my strength for this.
What do I care for all that they do amiss!
What is the point of this teaching of mine, and of this
Learning of theirs? It all goes down the same abyss.

What does it matter to me, if they can write
A description of a dog, or if they can't?
What is the point? To us both, it is all my aunt!
And yet I'm supposed to care, with all my might.

I do not, and will not; they won't and they don't; and that's all!
I shall keep my strength for myself; they can keep theirs as well.
Why should we beat our heads against the wall
Of each other? I shall sit and wait for the bell.
Related posts:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017


A Rare Word in Rabelais

In the prologue to Rabelais' 4th book, the word merdigues occurs. Here is the entry for the word in Edmond Huguet, Dictionnaire de la langue française du seizième siècle, vol. 5 (Paris: Didier, 1961), p. 213:
Merdigues, juron. Mère de Dieu. — Soubriant du bout du nez dict. Merdigues, ceste cy estoit mienne. RABELAIS, IV. Prologue. — Marmes, Merdigues. Juremens de gens villageoys en Touraine, ID. Briefve Declar. (III, 197).
There seems to be a misprint in Huguet, where the word appears as merdignes (corrected by me to merdigues in the transcription above):

"Briefve Declar." in Huguet's entry is a reference to Briefve declaration d'aulcunes dictions plus obscures contenües on quatriesme livre des faicts et dicts Heroïcques de Pantagruel, published with the Quart Livre in 1552.

M.A. Screech translates merdigues as "Mudder of God," W.F. Smith as "By'r Lakin" (i.e. by our ladykin, an Elizabethan oath). See also Oeuvres de François Rabelais: édition critique publiée sous la direction de Abel Lefranc, Tome sixième: Le Quart Livre, Chapitres I-XVII (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1955), p. 57 (note 248):
Par la mère de Dieu. "Jurement de gens villageoys en Touraine", Br. Déclar. Amplification de par la Merdé, cf. 1. I, ch. XIII, n. 55, Sainéan, II, 338.
But J.M. Cohen translates merdigues as "God's turds," Donald M. Frame as "Turd of God" with the note:
"Merdigues," euphemism for "Mère de Dieu" but with the sound that we show in our translation.
Likewise Marie-Luce Demonet, "Pantagrueline humanism and Rabelaisian fiction," in The Cambridge Companion to Rabelais, ed. John O'Brien (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), pp. 73-92 (at 87), explains the word as "turd of God."

The "index verborum" in the edition of Gargantua edited by Ruth Calder, M.A. Screech, and V.L. Saulnier, for the "Textes littéraires français" series (Geneva: Librairie Droz, 1970), p. 405, glosses "Mer Dé, par la" as:
imprécation, par la merci de Dieu; avec équivoque (merde).
The same editors, on p. 91, note 99, gloss "par la mer Dé" in Gargantua, Chapter 12, line 99, as:
Forme variante populaire de l'imprécation Par la merci Dieu, qui tombe bien à propos dans un contexte fécal.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson, who provided most of the information above.

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The Sole Test of a Translation

Herbert Read, review of the Fowler brothers' translation of Lucian, New Age (November 3, 1921):
The translation is so perfect that one is never aware that it is a translation: it reads like the work of an original genius—which, assuming a sufficient accuracy, is the sole test of a translation.
I owe the quotation to Jenny McMorris, The Warden of English: The Life of H.W. Fowler (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001; rpt. 2002), p. 56, with note on p. 221.



Shahid of Balkh, "On the Ruins of Tus," tr. A.V. Williams Jackson, From Constantinople to the Home of Omar Khayyam (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1911), p. 278:
Last night by ruined Tus I chanced to go,
An owl sat perched where once the cock did crow.
I asked, "What message from this waste bring'st Thou?"
It said, "The message is, Woe, woe, all's woe!"

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


Inscription for a House

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), "Insula Sancti Kennethi," lines 21-22:
Quo vagor ulterius? quod ubique requiritur hic est;
    Hic secura quies, hic et honestus amor.
Translated by Niall Rudd:
Why should I wander any further? All that is required anywhere is here; here is serene repose, and here is honourable love.

Isaak Levitan, Sunny Day

Related post: Small Houses.


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