Friday, February 29, 2008


American Gothic Forests

The day before yesterday was the birthday of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. I am drawn to Longfellow for a couple of reasons. First, we are fellow countrymen, both natives of the Pine Tree State. Second, my contrarian bent leads me to champion those who were once popular but have now fallen out of favor.

Here is a sonnet by Longfellow,with the title My Cathedral:
Like two cathedral towers these stately pines
  Uplift their fretted summits tipped with cones;
  The arch beneath them is not built with stones,
  Not Art but Nature traced these lovely lines,
And carved this graceful arabesque of vines;
  No organ but the wind here sighs and moans,
  No sepulchre conceals a martyr's bones.
  No marble bishop on his tomb reclines.
Enter! the pavement, carpeted with leaves,
  Gives back a softened echo to thy tread!
  Listen! the choir is singing; all the birds,
In leafy galleries beneath the eaves,
  Are singing! listen, ere the sound be fled,
  And learn there may be worship with out words.
The comparison of a forest to a cathedral occurs often, and a couple of examples, also from 19th century American literature, will suffice to illustrate. The first comes from William Cullen Bryant, A Forest Hymn:
The groves were God's first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them,—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems; in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
And supplication. For his simple heart
Might not resist the sacred influences,
Which, from the stilly twilight of the place,
And from the gray old trunks that high in heaven
Mingled their mossy boughs, and from the sound
Of the invisible breath that swayed at once
All their green tops, stole over him, and bowed
His spirit with the thought of boundless power
And inaccessible majesty. Ah, why
Should we, in the world's riper years, neglect
God's ancient sanctuaries, and adore
Only among the crowd, and under roofs,
That our frail hands have raised?
The second example comes from Washington Irving, A Tour on the Prairies, chap. VII:
We were overshadowed by lofty trees, with straight smooth trunks, like stately columns; and as the glancing rays of the sun shone through the transparent leaves, tinted with the many-coloured hues of autumn, I was reminded of the effect of sunshine among the stained windows and clustering columns of a Gothic cathedral. Indeed, there is a grandeur and solemnity in some of our spacious forests of the West, that awakens in me the same feeling that I have experienced in those vast and venerable piles, and the sound of the wind sweeping through them supplies, occasionally, the deep breathings of the organ.
Sanford Robinson Gifford, Autumn, a Wood Path


Die Arschwische

To previously collected examples of bumf, add this, from Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Schubert's Songs: A Biographical Study, tr. Kenneth S. Whitton (New York: Limelight Editions, 1984), p. 231:
Since 1816 a group of poets, journalists, musicians, painters and academics had been meeting almost every evening, at first in an inn 'Zum Blumenstöckl', and later in the 'Pfuntneresche Bierhaus'. The group took its name 'Ludlams-Höhle' ("Ludlam's Cave') from a fairy-tale by the Dane, Adam Oehlenschläger, being performed at the time at the Theater an der Wien....The members produced periodicals in the inn which were read out on certain days of the week and which bore titles like 'Fliegende Blätter für Magen und Herz' ('Fly-sheets for stomach and heart'), 'Der Wachter' ('The Observer') and 'Die Arschwische'('The Arse-Wiper').

Thursday, February 28, 2008



Hester Lynch Thrale Piozzi, Anecdotes of the late Samuel Johnson:
Though thus uncommonly ready both to give and take offence, Mr. Johnson had many rigid maxims concerning the necessity of continued softness and compliance of disposition: and when I once mentioned Shenstone's idea that some little quarrel among lovers, relations, and friends was useful, and contributed to their general happiness upon the whole, by making the soul feel her elastic force, and return to the beloved object with renewed delight: "Why, what a pernicious maxim is this now," cries Johnson, "All quarrels ought to be avoided studiously, particularly conjugal ones, as no one can possibly tell where they may end; besides that lasting dislike is often the consequence of occasional disgust, and that the cup of life is surely bitter enough without squeezing in the hateful rind of resentment."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008



Heinrich Heine, Lyrisches Intermezzo 33 (tr. Hal Draper):
A pine is standing lonely
In the North on a bare plateau.
He sleeps, a bright white blanket
Enshrouds him in ice and snow.

He's dreaming of a palm tree
Far away in the Eastern land
Lonely and silently mourning
On a sunburnt rocky strand.

Ein Fichtenbaum steht einsam
  Im Norden auf kahler Höh.
Ihn schläfert; mit weißer Decke
  Umhüllen ihn Eis und Schnee.

Er träumt von einer Palme,
  Die, fern im Morgenland,
Einsam und schweigend trauert
  Auf brennender Felsenwand.
Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898), In the Wild North


Idleness and Business

William Cowper, The Task, Book III, lines 352-360:
How various his employments, whom the world
Calls idle, and who justly in return
Esteems that busy world an idler, too!
Friends, books, a garden, and perhaps his pen,
Delightful industry enjoyed at home,
And nature in her cultivated trim
Dressed to his taste, inviting him abroad—
Can he want occupation who has these?
Will he be idle who has much to enjoy?
Related posts:

Monday, February 25, 2008


The Amateur

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1961), p. 201:
Your amateur, on the other hand, is delightfully if perhaps almost sinfully free of responsibility and can spread himself as thin as he likes over the vast field of nature. There are few places not covered with concrete or trod into dust where he does not find something to look at. Best of all, perhaps, is the fact that he feels no pressing obligation to "add something to the sum of human knowledge." He is quite satisfied when he adds something to his knowledge. And if he keeps his field wide enough he will remain so ignorant that may do exactly that at intervals very gratifyingly short. A professional field botanist, for instance, has done very well if in the course of a lifetime he adds a dozen new species to the flora of the region he is studying. Even a hitherto unrecognized variety is enough to make a red-letter day. But to the amateur, any flower he has never seen is a new species as far as he is concerned and on a short trip into a new area he can easily find a dozen "new species."

Sunday, February 24, 2008



Last week I heard an announcer on Minnesota Public Radio say, "She took umbrance with that." There are over a thousand examples of the solecism umbrance on Google. Not only was the radio announcer's noun incorrect, but so was his preposition. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you can give umbrage (displeasure, annoyance, offence, resentment) to and take umbrage at, but you can't take umbrage with.

There are also hundreds of examples of umbrance in Google Books, most of them due to faulty optical character recognition of encumbrance. I did note among the Google Books examples "in the semblance of the substance for the membrance of the umbrance with the remnance of the emblence," from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Joyce was obviously playing with words, but just as obviously Rand B. Evans in Thomas Carlyle Dalton and Rand B. Evans, edd. The Life Cycle of Psychological Ideas: Understanding Prominence and the Dynamics of Intellectual Change (Springer, 2004), p. 30, was serious:
Even today one criticizes James with care lest some of his present day admirers take umbrance.
I take umbrage at umbrance.


Chiasmus, Part III

Plato, Republic 6.494e, is an example of interlocking chiasmus:
...every deed, every word saying and doing...

...πᾶν μὲν ἔργον, πᾶν δ’ ἔπος λέγοντάς τε καὶ πράττοντας...
The same words in the following order would be an example of reflecting chiasmus:
...every deed doing and saying every word...

...πᾶν ἔργον πράττοντας καὶ λέγοντας πᾶν ἔπος...
A normal, non-chiastic arrangement of the same words would be:
...every deed doing and every word saying...

...πᾶν ἔργον πράττοντας καὶ πᾶν ἔπος λέγοντας...
Other examples of interlocking chiasmus in Plato's Republic are 2.370e, 3.390d, 6.500a, 7.536b, and 10.604d.

There is another set of examples involving ὁ μέν ... ὁ δέ. According to J.D. Denniston in his Greek Particles, "In ὁ μέν ... ὁ δέ, ὁ μέν normally refers to the first, ὁ δέ to the second substantive. But occasionally the order of reference is reversed." Denniston cites Thucydides 1.68.4, 3.82.7, and 4.62.2 and Xenophon, Anabasis 1.10.4 from Kühner-Gerth9 (who compare hic ... ille in Latin). This order being normal, deviation from it can reasonably be regarded as a variety of interlocking chiasmus. Plato has an interesting example at Republic 9.576d:
"What, then, as regards virtue, is a city ruled by a tyrant in comparison to a city ruled by a king such as we discussed at first?"
"Completely the opposite," he said. "For the one is best, the other worst."
"I will not ask," I said, "which of the two you mean. For it is clear."

Τί οὖν ἀρετῇ τυραννουμένη πόλις πρὸς βασιλευομένην οἵαν τὸ πρῶτον διήλθομεν;
Πᾶν τοὐναντίον, ἔφη· ἡ μὲν γὰρ ἀρίστη, ἡ δὲ κακίστη.
Οὐκ ἐρήσομαι, εἶπον, ὁποτέραν λέγεις· δῆλον γάρ.
Plato here defines the necessary condition for the employment of chiastic ὁ μέν ... ὁ δέ: this use is permissible whenever there is no possibility of error or doubt as to what each of the two refers to. Other examples of chiastic ὁ μέν ... ὁ δέ in the Republic are 2.360e-361a, 2.360d, 2.367b, 3.410b-c, 3.413b, 5.458b-c, and 7.518a-b.

Related posts:

Saturday, February 23, 2008


Playing Tricks on Missionaries

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Forgotten Peninsula: A Naturalist in Baja California (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1961), p. 109:
Of the minor difficulties of Father Juan de Ugarte, a former professor of philosophy who was sent to take charge at San Javier, Clavijero writes: "At the beginning [the natives] were very restless at the time of the Catechism. Often bursting out into loud laughter. He noticed that the principal reason for the mockery was his mistakes in speaking the language, and that some of the Indians, when he consulted them about the words or pronunciation, intentionally answered him with absurdities in order to have something to laugh at in the Catechism and for that reason, from then on, he asked only children about the language, for they were more sincere."
The Micmac Indians played the very same trick on the missionary Father Biard. Francis Parkman, Pioneers of France in the New World, part II (Champlain and His Associates), chap. VI (Jesuits in Acadia), tells the story:
Biard's greatest difficulty was with the Micmac language. Young Biencourt was his best interpreter, and on common occasions served him well; but the moment that religion was in question he was, as it were, stricken dumb, the reason being that the language was totally without abstract terms. Biard resolutely set himself to the study of it, a hard and thorny path, on which he made small progress, and often went astray. Seated, pencil in hand, before some Indian squatting on the floor, whom with the bribe of a mouldy biscuit he had lured into the hut, he plied him with questions which he often neither would nor could answer. What was the Indian word for Faith, Hope, Charity, Sacrament, Baptism, Eucharist, Trinity, Incarnation? The perplexed savage, willing to amuse himself, and impelled, as Biard thinks, by the Devil, gave him scurrilous and unseemly phrases as the equivalent of things holy, which, studiously incorporated into the father's Indian catechism, produced on his pupils an effect the reverse of that intended.
See also Francis Parkman, The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, chap. IV (Le Jeune and the Hunters):
At the outset, he had proffered his aid to Le Jeune in his study of the Algonquin; and, like the Indian practical jokers of Acadia in the case of Father Biard, palmed off upon him the foulest words in the language as the equivalent of things spiritual. Thus it happened, that, while the missionary sought to explain to the assembled wigwam some point of Christian doctrine, he was interrupted by peals of laughter from men, children, and squaws.

Friday, February 22, 2008


Who Would You Be?

Robert Frost's poem To a Moth Seen in Winter opens thus:
Here's first a gloveless hand warm from my pocket,
A perch and resting place 'twixt wood and wood,
Bright-black-eyed silvery creature, brushed with brown,
The wings not folded in repose, but spread.
(Who would you be, I wonder, by those marks
If I had moths to friend as I have flowers?)
And now pray tell what lured you with false hope
To make the venture of eternity
And seek the love of kind in wintertime?
No one could answer Frost's second question, but I wonder if it is possible to answer his first question. From the description given, is it possible to identify the species of moth?

There is a species familiarly named winter moth, scientifically named Operophtera brumata. It's hard to see bright black eyes in this photograph of the moth, although by wishful thinking one could perhaps call it a "silvery creature, brushed with brown."

Operophtera brumata (©Entomart)

However Operophtera brumata is a comparatively new arrival in North America, first appearing in the 1940's or thereabouts. Frost's poem was first published in 1942, but a note attached to its publication says "Circa 1900." So either the composition of the poem or the event that gave rise to it antedates the appearance of the winter moth in North America. It occurred to me that Frost may have seen the moth when he lived in England, but he lived there too late also, from 1912 to 1915.

I don't know if an entomologist could identify the moth in Frost's poem from the description, but I'm fairly confident that it isn't Operophtera brumata.

Frost was interested in such matters. He was friendly enough with flowers, at least, to know their names. In my collection of Frost's poems, immediately preceding To a Moth Seen in Winter, is a poem entitled Time Out, in which the poet mentions the scientific plant name Maianthemum (May lily).

Thursday, February 21, 2008


A Transfusion of Courage

Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (December):
Pines have earned the reputation of being ‘evergreen’ by the same device that governments use to achieve the appearance of perpetuity: overlapping terms of office. By taking on new needles on the new growth of each year, and discarding old needles at longer intervals, they have led the casual onlooker to believe that needles remain forever green.

Each species of pine has its own constitution, which prescribes a term of office for needles appropriate for its way of life. Thus the white pine retains its needles for a year and a half; the red and the jackpines for two years and a half. Incoming needles take office each June and outgoing needles write their farewell addresses in October. All write the same thing, in the same tawny yellow ink, which by November turns brown. Then the needles fall, and are filed in the duff to enrich the wisdom of the stand. It is this accumulated wisdom that hushes the footsteps of whoever walks under pines.

It is in midwinter that I sometimes glean from my pines something more important than woodlot politics, and the news of the wind and weather. This is especially likely to happen on some gloomy evening when the snow has buried all irrelevant detail, and the hush of elemental sadness lies heavy upon every living thing. Nevertheless, my pines, each with his burden of snow, are standing ramrod-straight, rank upon rank, and in the dusk beyond I sense the presence of hundreds more. At such times I feel a curious transfusion of courage.

Isaak Levitan, Forest

Wednesday, February 20, 2008



Ancient frog was as big as a bowling ball (Associated Press, Feb. 18, 2008):
A frog the size of a bowling ball, with heavy armor and teeth, lived among dinosaurs millions of years ago — intimidating enough that scientists who unearthed its fossils dubbed the beast Beelzebufo, or Devil Toad....The name comes from the Greek word for devil, Beelzebub, and Latin for toad, bufo (pronounced boo-foe).
Of course Beelzebub, although it occurs in Greek, is not a "Greek" word, any more than it is an "English" word merely because it occurs in English. But the clever portmanteau word Beelzebufo is an appropriate name, an aptronym, for a type of frog.

Beelzebub was originally the name of a Philistine deity. I'm out of my league here, but some authorities, e.g. Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich-Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, say that the name means "Lord of Flies." Such a name is appropriate for frogs, which eat flies.

Frogs have also been traditionally associated with devils. "Paddock calls," says one of the witches in Shakespeare's Macbeth. A paddock is a frog or toad.

Hat tip: Jim K.

Other posts on aptronyms:

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Schopenhauer and Michael Jackson's Nose

Eric Thomson writes in an email:
Between 'Sin against the Holy Ghost' and 'Nosegay', there's a snippet of connective tissue, also from the P&P - 'Mere acquired knowledge belongs to us only like a wooden leg or a wax nose', which leaves me (and you too I imagine) without a leg to stand on. Guilty as charged, M'Ludd. Never having been visited by an 'original and powerful thought' in my life (and if I had been it would have scared me away rather than the opposite), I've always been happy to poach them, so the bucketful of Schopenspleen is water off a duck's back.

I found the wax nose quote ... in a delightful book (recently acquired) – the Book-Lover's Enchiridion by Alexander Ireland (enlarged edition 1888). I wonder if you know it?
I don't know Ireland's enchiridion, but it's available in its entirety on Google Books, so I'll be looking at it soon and poaching from it myself.

Ireland's quotation from Schopenhauer's Parerga and Paralipomena comes after the same passage I quoted in A Sin Against the Holy Ghost (II, Kap. XXII, § 260). Here is E.F.J. Payne's translation, followed by the original German:
The truth that has been merely learnt sticks to us like an articifial limb, a false tooth, a nose of wax, or at best like a rhinoplastic nose formed from someone else's flesh. On the other hand, the truth acquired through our own thinking is like the natural limb; it alone really belongs to us.

Hingegen klebt die bloß erlernte Wahrheit uns nur an, wie ein angesetztes Glied, ein falscher Zahn, eine wächserne Nase, oder höchstens wie eine rhinoplastische aus fremdem Fleische. Die durch eigenes Denken erworbene Wahrheit aber gleicht dem natürlichen Gliede: sie allein gehört uns wirklich an.
Or to put it another way, the truth that you have merely learned through reading is like Michael Jackson's nose, and the truth that you have acquired through your own thinking is like your own nose. Follow your own nose.

Another post on Michael Jackson: Umbrellas.

Monday, February 18, 2008


Turning Over a New Leaf

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (Oct. 24, 1857):
I get a couple of quarts of chestnuts by patiently brushing the thick beds of leaves aside with my hand in successive concentric circles till I reach the trunk; more than half under one tree. I believe I get more by resolving, where they are reasonably thick, to pick all under one tree first. Begin at the tree and brush the leaves with your right hand in toward the stump, while your left holds the basket, and so go round and round it in concentric circles, each time laying bare about two feet in width, till you get as far as the boughs extend. You may presume that you have got about all then. It is best to reduce it to a system. Of course you will shake the tree first, if there are any on it. The nuts lie commonly two or three together, as they fell.


I find my account in this long-continued monotonous labor of picking chestnuts all the afternoon, brushing the leaves aside without looking up, absorbed in that, and forgetting better things awhile. My eye is educated to discover anything on the ground, as chestnuts, etc. It is probably wholesomer to look at the ground much than at the heavens. As I go stooping and brushing the leaves aside by the hour, I am not thinking of chestnuts merely, but I find myself humming a thought of more significance. This occupation affords a certain broad pause and opportunity to start again afterward, — turn over a new leaf.


The Scent of Apples

Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples:
Early apples begin to be ripe about the first of August; but I think that none of them are so good to eat as some to smell. One is worth more to scent your handkerchief with than any perfume which they sell in the shops. The fragrance of some fruits is not to be forgotten, along with that of flowers.
The English word pomade, meaning "perfumed ointment for the hair," comes from French pommade, itself from Italian pomata, originally apple-scented hair oil (French pomme and Italian pomo mean apple). It is tempting to sneer at those nations for giving us this effeminate product, but my barber, when I was a boy, used to ask if I wanted any "smellum" applied after a haircut. He had several bottles of hair oil, but none smelling of apples, as I recall. My current barber doesn't carry smellum.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


National Emblem

Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee loves squirrels, or used to love them, loved to eat them fried in a popcorn popper, that is. Jane Owen hates squirrels and gave vent to her hatred in the screed The squirrels are out. Get me my gun (The Times, Feb. 15, 2008). Against such murderous love and hate must squirrels contend.

Our national emblem is the bald eagle, but John Burroughs, in Pepacton, thought that the gray squirrel also had claim to that title:
The gray squirrel is peculiarly an American product, and might serve very well as a national emblem. The Old World can beat us on rats and mice, but we are far ahead on squirrels, having five or six species to Europe's one.
What follows is a little anthology in praise of squirrels, taken from the pages of our three great nature writers, Thoreau, Burroughs, and Muir.

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, chapter Winter Animals:
Usually the red squirrel (Sciurus Hudsonius) waked me in the dawn, coursing over the roof and up and down the sides of the house, as if sent out of the woods for this purpose. In the course of the winter I threw out half a bushel of ears of sweet corn, which had not got ripe, on to the snow-crust by my door, and was amused by watching the motions of the various animals which were baited by it.

In the twilight and the night the rabbits came regularly and made a hearty meal. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres. One would approach at first warily through the shrub oaks, running over the snow-crust by fits and starts like a leaf blown by the wind, now a few paces this way, with wonderful speed and waste of energy, making inconceivable haste with his "trotters," as if it were for a wager, and now as many paces that way, but never getting on more than half a rod at a time; and then suddenly pausing with a ludicrous expression and a gratuitous somerset, as if all the eyes in the universe were eyed on him — for all the motions of a squirrel, even in the most solitary recesses of the forest, imply spectators as much as those of a dancing girl — wasting more time in delay and circumspection than would have sufficed to walk the whole distance — I never saw one walk — and then suddenly, before you could say Jack Robinson, he would be in the top of a young pitch pine, winding up his clock and chiding all imaginary spectators, soliloquizing and talking to all the universe at the same time — for no reason that I could ever detect, or he himself was aware of, I suspect. At length he would reach the corn, and selecting a suitable ear, frisk about in the same uncertain trigonometrical way to the topmost stick of my wood-pile, before my window, where he looked me in the face, and there sit for hours, supplying himself with a new ear from time to time, nibbling at first voraciously and throwing the half-naked cobs about; till at length he grew more dainty still and played with his food, tasting only the inside of the kernel, and the ear, which was held balanced over the stick by one paw, slipped from his careless grasp and fell to the ground, when he would look over at it with a ludicrous expression of uncertainty, as if suspecting that it had life, with a mind not made up whether to get it again, or a new one, or be off; now thinking of corn, then listening to hear what was in the wind. So the little impudent fellow would waste many an ear in a forenoon; till at last, seizing some longer and plumper one, considerably bigger than himself, and skilfully balancing it, he would set out with it to the woods, like a tiger with a buffalo, by the same zig-zag course and frequent pauses, scratching along with it as if it were too heavy for him and falling all the while, making its fall a diagonal between a perpendicular and horizontal, being determined to put it through at any rate; — a singularly frivolous and whimsical fellow; — and so he would get off with it to where he lived, perhaps carry it to the top of a pine tree forty or fifty rods distant, and I would afterwards find the cobs strewn about the woods in various directions.

John Burroughs, In the Catskills, chapter The Snow-Walkers:
The squirrel tracks — sharp, nervous, and wiry — have their histories also. But how rarely we see squirrels in winter! The naturalists say they are mostly torpid; yet evidently that little pocket-faced depredator, the chipmunk, was not carrying buckwheat for so many days to his hole for nothing: was he anticipating a state of torpidity, or providing against the demands of a very active appetite? Red and gray squirrels are more or less active all winter, though very shy, and, I am inclined to think, partially nocturnal in their habits. Here a gray one has just passed, — came down that tree and went up this; there he dug for a beechnut, and left the burr on the snow. How did he know where to dig? During an unusually severe winter I have known him to make long journeys to a barn, in a remote field, where wheat was stored. How did he know there was wheat there? In attempting to return, the adventurous creature was frequently run down and caught in the deep snow.

His home is in the trunk of some old birch or maple, with an entrance far up amid the branches. In the spring he builds himself a summer-house of small leafy twigs in the top of a neighboring beech, where the young are reared and much of the time is passed. But the safer retreat in the maple is not abandoned, and both old and young resort thither in the fall, or when danger threatens. Whether this temporary residence amid the branches is for elegance or pleasure, or for sanitary reasons or domestic convenience, the naturalist has forgotten to mention.

The elegant creature, so cleanly in its habits, so graceful in its carriage, so nimble and daring in its movements, excites feelings of admiration akin to those awakened by the birds and the fairer forms of nature. His passage through the trees is almost a flight. Indeed, the flying squirrel has little or no advantage over him, and in speed and nimbleness cannot compare with him at all. If he miss his footing and fall, he is sure to catch on the next branch; if the connection be broken, he leaps recklessly for the nearest spray or limb, and secures his hold, even if it be by the aid of his teeth.

His career of frolic and festivity begins in the fall, after the birds have left us and the holiday spirit of nature has commenced to subside. How absorbing the pastime of the sportsman who goes to the woods in the still October morning in quest of him! You step lightly across the threshold of the forest, and sit down upon the first log or rock to await the signals. It is so still that the ear suddenly seems to have acquired new powers, and there is no movement to confuse the eye. Presently you hear the rustling of a branch, and see it sway or spring as the squirrel leaps from or to it; or else you hear a disturbance in the dry leaves, and mark one running upon the ground. He has probably seen the intruder, and, not liking his stealthy movements, desires to avoid a nearer acquaintance. Now he mounts a stump to see if the way is clear, then pauses a moment at the foot of a tree to take his bearings, his tail, as he skims along, undulating behind him, and adding to the easy grace and dignity of his movements. Or else you are first advised of his proximity by the dropping of a false nut, or the fragments of the shucks rattling upon the leaves. Or, again, after contemplating you awhile unobserved, and making up his mind that you are not dangerous, he strikes an attitude on a branch, and commences to quack and bark, with an accompanying movement of his tail. Late in the afternoon, when the same stillness reigns, the same scenes are repeated. There is a black variety, quite rare, but mating freely with the gray, from which he seems to be distinguished only in color.

The track of the red squirrel may be known by its smaller size. He is more common and less dignified than the gray, and oftener guilty of petty larceny about the barns and grain-fields. He is most abundant in old barkpeelings, and low, dilapidated hemlocks, from which he makes excursions to the fields and orchards, spinning along the tops of the fences, which afford not only convenient lines of communication, but a safe retreat if danger threatens. He loves to linger about the orchard; and, sitting upright on the topmost stone in the wall, or on the tallest stake in the fence, chipping up an apple for the seeds, his tail conforming to the curve of his back, his paws shifting and turning the apple, he is a pretty sight, and his bright, pert appearance atones for all the mischief he does. At home, in the woods, he is the most frolicsome and loquacious. The appearance of anything unusual, if, after contemplating it a moment, he concludes it not dangerous, excites his unbounded mirth and ridicule, and he snickers and chatters, hardly able to contain himself; now darting up the trunk of a tree and squealing in derision, then hopping into position on a limb and dancing to the music of his own cackle, and all for your special benefit.

There is something very human in this apparent mirth and mockery of the squirrels. It seems to be a sort of ironical laughter, and implies self-conscious pride and exultation in the laugher. "What a ridiculous thing you are, to be sure!" he seems to say; "how clumsy and awkward, and what a poor show for a tail! Look at me, look at me!" — and he capers about in his best style. Again, he would seem to tease you and provoke your attention; then suddenly assumes a tone of good-natured, childlike defiance and derision. That pretty little imp, the chipmunk, will sit on the stone above his den and defy you, as plainly as if he said so, to catch him before he can get into his hole if you can. You hurl a stone at him, and "No you didn't!" comes up from the depth of his retreat.

John Muir, Steep Trails, chapter XXII (The Forests of Oregon and Their Inhabitants):
But there is a little airy, elfin animal in these woods, and in all the evergreen woods of the Pacific Coast, that is more influential and interesting than even the beaver. This is the Douglas squirrel (Sciurus Douglasi). Go where you will throughout all these noble forests, you everywhere find this little squirrel the master-existence. Though only a few inches long, so intense is his fiery vigor and restlessness, he stirs every grove with wild life, and makes himself more important than the great bears that shuffle through the berry tangles beneath him. Every tree feels the sting of his sharp feet. Nature has made him master-forester, and committed the greater part of the coniferous crops to his management. Probably over half of all the ripe cones of the spruces, firs, and pines are cut off and handled by this busy harvester. Most of them are stored away for food through the winter and spring, but a part are pushed into shallow pits and covered loosely, where some of the seeds are no doubt left to germinate and grow up. All the tree squirrels are more or less birdlike in voice and movements, but the Douglas is pre-eminently so, possessing every squirrelish attribute, fully developed and concentrated. He is the squirrel of squirrels, flashing from branch to branch of his favorite evergreens, crisp and glossy and sound as a sunbeam. He stirs the leaves like a rustling breeze, darting across openings in arrowy lines, launching in curves, glinting deftly from side to side in sudden zigzags, and swirling in giddy loops and spirals around the trunks, now on his haunches, now on his head, yet ever graceful and performing all his feats of strength and skill without apparent effort. One never tires of this bright spark of life, the brave little voice crying in the wilderness. His varied, piney gossip is as savory to the air as balsam to the palate. Some of his notes are almost flutelike in softness, while other prick and tingle like thistles. He is the mockingbird of squirrels, barking like a dog, screaming like a hawk, whistling like a blackbird or linnet, while in bluff, audacious noisiness he is a jay. A small thing, but filling and animating all the woods.

Albrecht Dürer, Eichhörnchen

Related post: Treacle.

Saturday, February 16, 2008



Edward Thomas, First Known When Lost, is the latest installment in the series of literary reactions to arboricide:
I never had noticed it until
'Twas gone, - the narrow copse
Where now the woodman lops
The last of the willows with his bill.

It was not more than a hedge overgrown.
One meadow's breadth away
I passed it day by day.
Now the soil is bare as bone,

And black betwixt two meadows green,
Though fresh-cut faggot ends
Of hazel made some amends
With a gleam as if flowers they had been.

Strange it could have hidden so near!
And now I see as I look
That the small winding brook,
A tributary's tributary, rises there.
Thoreau, Journal (Feb. 10, 1857), tells an amusing tale about the eradication of a willow hedge:
When I surveyed Shattuck's Merrick's pasture fields, about January 10th, I was the more pleased with the task because of the three willow-rows about them. One, trimmed a year before, had grown about seven feet, a dense hedge of bright-yellow osiers. But MacManus, who was helping me, said that he thought the land would be worth two hundred dollars more if the willows were out of the way, they so filled the ground with their roots. He had found that you could not plow within five rods [sic] of them, unless at right angles with the rows. Hayden, senior, tells me that when he lived with Abel Moore, Moore's son Henry one day set out a row of willow boughs for a hedge, but the father, who had just been eradicating an old willow-row at great labor and expense, asked Hayden who had done that and finally offered him a dollar if he would destroy them, which he agreed to do. So each morning, as he went to and from his work, he used to pull some of them up a little way, and if there were many roots formed he rubbed them off on a rock. And when, at the breakfast-table, Henry expressed wonder that his willows did not grow any better, being set in a rich soil, the father would look at Hayden and laugh.
The roots of the willow are so tenacious and invasive that there was a 19th century Illinois statute (still on the books as 605 ILCS 5/9-108) prohibiting the planting of willow hedges on a roadside:
Where willow hedges, or a line of willow trees have been planted along the margin of a highway, so as to render tiling impracticable, the highway authority having jurisdiction of such highway may contract with the owner for their destruction; and they shall be destroyed before tiling. The planting of such hedges or trees hereafter on the margin of highways is declared to be a public nuisance.



Dear Michael G.

Thank you for your nosegay and the equally probosterous rhinotrichosis. How about a post now on Lord Elgin's arhinia, a condition he unhappily shared with many of the marbles he pillaged/salvaged (delete as appropriate)? Or Mussorgsky's spectacular rhinophyma (as in Ilya Repin's less than flattering portrait), or Nicharchus' Nicon de Bergerac from the Greek Anthology?

For fellow sufferers of rhinorrhea it may be some comfort to know that 'snotorscipe' ['sc' pronounced 'sh'] in Old English means "sense, discretion, prudence". It sounds like a good name for some support group website. And for the chronically flatulent, there's 'Fisting' (from OE 'fisting' - 'action of breaking wind'). No, perhaps not such a good idea after all.

All the best,

Peter W.

In this age of mass rhinoplasty, why not a revival of the adjective 'snout-fair'? What's good enough for Tyndale should be good enough for anyone.

Thursday, February 14, 2008



In an email with the subject line Rhinotrichosis, James Cooley writes:
I've had some fun with this imaginary complaint at doctors' offices. Thought you might be amused...
It might be an imaginary complaint for James, but it's a real one for me!

Rhinotrichosis doesn't appear in Google, so you can say that you saw it first here, on Laudator Temporis Acti. It means "excessive nose hair." Those who suffer from this problem owe a debt of gratitude to Celestino George D'Amato, inventor of the nose hair clipper (U.S. Patent 2,525,450).

Related post: Nosegay.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008



A.Word.A.Day (AWAD) for Tuesday, February 12, 2008 was nosology, about which AWAD creator Anu Garg wrote, "No, you wouldn't go to a nosologist if you have nose trouble."

You'd go to a rhinologist, which word is derived from Greek ῥίς (rhís), ῥινός (rhinós) = nose. English nose is related to Latin nasum. According to Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, Book 11, chapter 9 (tr. D. Magarshack), there are sub-specialities within the field of rhinology:
I tell you the old-fashioned doctor who used to cure you of all illnesses has quite disappeared. Now there are only specialists and they all advertise in the papers. If there's something wrong with your nose, they will send you to Paris: there's a European specialist there who cures noses. You go to Paris, he examines your nose. "I'm sorry," he tells you, "I can only cure your right nostril, for I don't cure left nostrils, it's not my specialty. You'd better go to Vienna. There you'll find a specialist who will cure your left nostril."
It just so happens that there was a famous rhinologist in Vienna a few years after Dostoyevsky wrote his novel — Sigmund Freud's friend Wilhelm Fliess. When Fliess followed his nose, it led him in some odd directions. He wrote Die Beziehungen zwischen Nase und weibliche Geschlechtsorgnanen in ihrer biologischen Bedeutungen dargestellt (The Relations between the Nose and the Female Sexual Organs, presented in their Biological Aspects). Needless to say, Fliess was an utter quack. See Martin Gardner, Science: Good, Bad and Bogus (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1981), pp. 131-139, for the story of the folie à deux which existed between Fliess and Freud.

Another English word derived from the Greek word for nose is rhinorrhea, meaning runny nose. Heraclitus taught us that πάντα ῥεῖ (pánta rheî = all things are in a state of flux, or all things flow), and that includes noses. I find the name of a medication intended to relieve rhinorrhea odd — Flonase. It sounds like what it is intended to cure. Cf. Nasalcrom, which brings "nasal crumbs" to my imagination.

An uncommon word for a probably not uncommon condition is rhinotillexomania, a psychological disorder characterized by excessive nose-picking. But another Austrian physician, Dr. Friedrich Bischinger has this to say about the health benefits of rhinotillexis in moderation:
Sinnvoller ist es zu bohren zu popeln - und, natürlich kann man dann auch besser atmen, das hängt ja auch von der Größe des Popels ab. Das ist auch eine mechanische Reinigung....Ja also, wenn da die Herrschaften da in der Nase bohren, dann ist das ein völlig natürlicher Reflex, den ich aus medizinischer Sicht als nicht schlecht empfinde. Diese Reflexe sind durch unsere Zivilisation absolut verkümmert und verstümmelt und tragen zu der Entwicklung solcher neuen modernen Erkrankungen wesentlich bei....Auch das Verspeißen der, wie sagt der Tiroler, der Nasenrammel gehört zu etwas völlig Natürlichem. Generell ist Nasenpopelessen zwar etwas gesellschaftlich verpöntes, immunologisch aber ist es eine absolut sinnvolle und, auf leeren Magen, eine ergänzende Aktion.
You'll have to translate that yourself, although you may not find words like Nasenbohren and Nasenpopelessen in your pocket German dictionary. While we're on this indelicate subject, did you know that English snot and snout are etymological cousins? Their common Indo-European root is snē-.

Similarly, the suffix -ness in place names (meaning promontory) is related to nose. A synonym for promontory is headland, but noseland might be just as appropriate. George Orwell, In Front of Your Nose (Tribune, March 22, 1946), wrote:
To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
Especially if one has a nose like that of Proclus, in the Greek Anthology 11.268 (tr. W.R. Paton):
Proclus cannot wipe his nose with his hand, for his arm is shorter than his nose; nor does he say "God preserve us" when he sneezes, for he can't hear his nose, it is so far away from his ears.

Οὐ δύναται τῇ χειρὶ Πρόκλος τὴν ῥῖν᾽ ἀπομύσσειν·
  τῆς ῥινὸς γὰρ ἔχει τὴν χέρα μικροτέρην·
οὐδὲ λέγει Ζεῦ σῶσον ἐὰν πταρῇ· οὐ γὰρ ἀκούει
  τῆς ῥινὸς· πολὺ γὰρ τῆς ἀκοῆς ἀπέχει.
Other epigrams in the eleventh book of the Greek Anthology that make fun of the length or shape of noses are 198, 199, 203, 204, 405, 406, and 418.

The narrator in Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy refers repeatedly to a scholarly treatise De Nasis (On Noses) by Hafen Slawkenbergius. He even quotes a long extract from the work. But Slawkenbergius' treatise is an imaginary book, in the same category as the Ars Honeste Petandi in Societate (The Art of Breaking Wind Politely in Public) mentioned by Rabelais.

Consider this blog post an modest attempt to fill the void left by the absence of Slawkenbergius De Nasis.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


A Sin Against the Holy Ghost

Seneca, Letters to Lucilius 33.7-11 (tr. Richard M. Gummere):
[7] For it is disgraceful even for an old man, or one who has sighted old age, to have a note-book knowledge. "This is what Zeno said." But what have you yourself said? "This is the opinion of Cleanthes." But what is your own opinion? How long shall you march under another man's orders? Take command, and utter some word which posterity will remember. Put forth something from your own stock.

[8] For this reason I hold that there is nothing of eminence in all such men as these, who never create anything themselves, but always lurk in the shadow of others, playing the role of interpreters, never daring to put once into practice what they have been so long in learning. They have exercised their memories on other men's material. But it is one thing to remember, another to know. Remembering is merely safeguarding something entrusted to the memory; knowing, however, means making everything your own; it means not depending upon the copy and not all the time glancing back at the master.

[9] "Thus said Zeno, thus said Cleanthes, indeed!" Let there be a difference between yourself and your book! How long shall you be a learner? From now on be a teacher as well! "But why," one asks, "should I have to continue hearing lectures on what I can read?" "The living voice," one replies, "is a great help." Perhaps, but not the voice which merely makes itself the mouthpiece of another's words, and only performs the duty of a reporter.

[10] Consider this fact also. Those who have never attained their mental independence begin, in the first place, by following the leader in cases where everyone has deserted the leader; then, in the second place, they follow him in matters where the truth is still being investigated. However, the truth will never be discovered if we rest contented with discoveries already made. Besides, he who follows another not only discovers nothing but is not even investigating.

[11] What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.

[7] Turpe est enim seni aut prospicienti senectutem ex commentario sapere. 'Hoc Zenon dixit': tu quid? 'Hoc Cleanthes': tu quid? Quousque sub alio moveris? impera et dic quod memoriae tradatur, aliquid et de tuo profer.

[8] Omnes itaque istos, numquam auctores, semper interpretes, sub aliena umbra latentes, nihil existimo habere generosi, numquam ausos aliquando facere quod diu didicerant. Memoriam in alienis exercuerunt; aliud autem est meminisse, aliud scire. Meminisse est rem commissam memoriae custodire; at contra scire est et sua facere quaeque nec ad exemplar pendere et totiens respicere ad magistrum.

[9] 'Hoc dixit Zenon, hoc Cleanthes.' Aliquid inter te intersit et librum. Quousque disces? iam et praecipe. Quid est quare audiam quod legere possum? 'Multum' inquit 'viva vox facit.' Non quidem haec quae alienis verbis commodatur et actuari vice fungitur.

[10] Adice nunc quod isti qui numquam tutelae suae fiunt primum in ea re sequuntur priores in qua nemo non a priore descivit; deinde in ea re sequuntur quae adhuc quaeritur. Numquam autem invenietur, si contenti fuerimus inventis. Praeterea qui alium sequitur nihil invenit, immo nec quaerit.

[11] Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est.
Arthur Schopenhauer, Parerga and Paralipomena II, Kap. XXII, § 260 (tr. E.F.J. Payne):
On the other hand, to scare away our own original and powerful ideas in order to take up a book, is a sin against the Holy Ghost. We then resemble the man who runs away from free nature in order to look at a herbarium, or to contemplate a beautiful landscape in a copper engraving.

Even if occasionally we had been able very easily and conveniently to find in a book a truth or view which we very laboriously and slowly discovered through our own thinking and combining, it is nevertheless a hundred times more valuable if we have arrived at it through our own original thinking. Only then does it enter into the whole system of our ideas as an integral part and living member; only then is it completely and firmly connected therewith, is understood in all its grounds and consequents, bears the colour, tone, and stamp of our whole mode of thought, has come at the very time when the need for it was keen, is therefore firmly established and cannot again pass away.

Hingegen die eigenen, urkräftigen Gedanken verscheuchen, um ein Buch zur Hand zu nehmen, ist Sünde wider den heiligen Geist. Man gleicht alsdann Dem, der aus der freien Natur flieht, um ein Herbarium zu besehn, oder um schöne Gegenden im Kupferstiche zu betrachten.

Wenn man auch bisweilen eine Wahrheit, eine Einsicht, die man mit vieler Mühe und langsam durch eigenes Denken und Kombiniren herausgebracht hat, hätte mit Bequemlichkeit in einem Buche ganz fertig vorfinden können; so ist sie doch hundert Mal mehr werth, wenn man sie durch eigenes Denken erlangt hat. Denn nur alsdann tritt sie als integrirender Theil, als lebendiges Glied, ein, in das ganze System unserer Gedanken, steht mit demselben in vollkommenem und festem Zusammenhange, wird mit allen ihren Gründen und Folgen verstanden, trägt die Farbe, den Farbenton, das Gepräge unsrer ganzen Denkweise, ist eben zur rechten Zeit, als das Bedürfniß derselben rege war, gekommen, sitzt daher fest und kann nicht wieder verschwinden.
Related post: Quotations.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Dangers of Autodidacticism

Fanny Hardy Eckstorm (1865-1946), Indian Place Names of the Penobscot Valley and the Maine Coast (1941; rpt. Orono: University of Maine at Orono Press, 1978), pp. xiv-xv:
The method favored by these pundits was to break up a place-name into syllables, quite at random, and then to match the individual parts to anything above the earth that they could find in print, regardless of dialect and grammatical structure. It was the method of two young children who announced that they were studying Latin all by themselves. "I see a volo!" cried one. "I see another volo!" exclaimed the other, with a vigorous smack of the fly-swatter. A "volo" was a fly, as they proved by showing in an old Latin book, "volo, volare, to fly."
I've owned Eckstorm's treatise for many years. It has more than casual interest for me because the author was a native and resident of the town where I grew up (Brewer, Maine) and because I'm acquainted with some of the places whose names she explained.

I recently looked at the book again because I was curious to see if any of the place-names in it resembled Mus-sa-lun-squit, which is supposedly the Indian name of the area near Sandy River in Farmington, Maine, where I own some land.

Ben and Natalie S. Butler, The Falls: Where Farmington, Maine, Began in 1776 (Farmington: Farmington Historical Society, 1976), p. 7, state:
Before white men came to the area, the Indians who named this early wilderness considered it an ideal hunting ground They called it Mus-sa-lun-squit, which freely translated meant, "A place where you can go and get plenty of moose, deer, fur, and so forth — whole canoe full."
I suspect the Butlers had no other source for their statement than Thomas Parker, History of Farmington, Maine, From Its Settlement To the Year 1846, 2nd ed. (Farmington: J.S. Swift, 1875), p. 8, note:
The game in the Sandy River Valley attracted the attention of the Indians, and hence they gave the river the name "Mus-sa-lun-squit," which they subsequently, in their quaint English, translated to the whites as meaning—"A place where you can go and get plenty of moose, deer, fur," &c.;—literally, "GoodHunting Ground."—Farmington Chronicle, No. 65.
Presumably Mus-sa-lun-squit is an Abenaki name, because the Abenaki inhabited this part of western Maine. Eckstorm doesn't cover place-names of western Maine, but in her index p. 260 she says that edali- is the stem meaning "there is" or "a place where." Among her examples of place-names with this stem are Edali-q'saga-holdemuk in Bucksport ("where one crosses over"), Edali-t'wakil-amuk in Winterport ("place where you have to run up hill"), etc. But perhaps I'd better stop now, lest I say something as stupid and ridiculous as "I see a volo!"

I haven't consulted David L. Ghere, "The 'Disappearance' of the Abenaki in Western Maine: Political Organization and Ethnocentric Assumptions," American Indian Quarterly 17.2 (Spring, 1993) 193-207, or Gordon M. Day, Western Abenaki Dictionary, 2 vols. (Hull: Canadian Museum of Civilization, 1994).

Sunday, February 10, 2008


Chiasmus, Part II

The examples of reflecting chiasmus in Chiasmus, Part I, involved crosswise pairs of repeated words, usually synonyms or antonyms. Another common type of reflecting chiasmus involves syntactical patterns.

Verbs (or Participles) plus Objects

Plato, Republic 9.588e-589a: strengthen the lion and the things pertaining to the lion, but the man to starve and to weaken...

...ποιεῖν ἰσχυρὸν καὶ τὸν λέοντα καὶ τὰ περὶ τὸν λέοντα, τὸν δὲ ἄνθρωπον λιμοκτονεῖν καὶ ποιεῖν ἀσθενῆ...
See also 2.381a, 2.367b, 2.371e, 2.373c, 2.383a, 3.393e, 3.404e, 8.550a, 8.554a, 9.572a, 9.573b, 9.576a, 9.576b-c, and 9.578a-b.

Subjects plus Predicates

To the gods also then, Thrasymachus, hateful will be the unjust man, but the just man dear.

καὶ θεοῖς ἄρα ἐχθρὸς ἔσται ὁ ἄδικος, ὦ Θρασύμαχε, ὁ δὲ δίκαιος φίλος.
See also 6.484b, 6.505d, 8.568a, 9.572e, 9.588e, 9.591a, 10.604e, and 10.616e.

Sometimes the chiastically arranged subject / predicate pairs occur with a verb of calling or naming, e.g. 2.371 d:
"Shopkeepers" do we not call those seated in the marketplace performing a service in buying and selling, but those wandering to cities "merchants"?

οὐ καπήλους καλοῦμεν τοὺς πρὸς ὠνήν τε καὶ πρᾶσιν διακονοῦντας ἱδρυμένους ἐν ἀγορᾷ, τοὺς δὲ πλανήτας ἐπὶ τὰς πόλεις ἐμπόρους;
See also 7.534a, 8.559c, and 8.559c-d.

Nouns plus Possessive Genitives

...noises of winds and of hailstones and of axles and of pulleys, and of trumpets and of flutes and of pipes and of all instruments sounds...

...ψόφους ἀνέμων τε καὶ χαλαζῶν καὶ ἀξόνων τε καὶ τροχιλιῶν, καὶ σαλπίγγων καὶ αὐλῶν καὶ συρίγγων καὶ πάντων ὀργάνων φωνάς...
See also 1.353b, 7.532c, 8.552c, and 8.569b-c.

Nouns plus Prepositional Phrases

In the class of virtue and wisdom you place injustice, but justice in the opposites.

ἐν ἀρετῆς καὶ σοφίας τιθεῖς μέρει τὴν ἀδικίαν, τὴν δὲ δικαιοσύνην ἐν τοῖς ἐναντίοις.
See also 1.333b, 3.389c, 5.477a, and 10.614c-d.

Nouns plus Adjectives or Participles

Of whatever, then, a man is a skillful guardian, of that also he is a thief skillful.

ὅτου τις ἄρα δεινὸς φύλαξ, τούτου καὶ φὼρ δεινός.
See also 8.574e, 10.603c, and 10.609e-610a.

Miscellaneous examples of reflecting chiasmus involving syntactical patterns that do not fall into any of the above categories occur in Plato's Republic at 1.334a, 1.352e, 2.373d, 3.400a, 3.402d, 7.535d, 7.536b, 8.551c, 8.560d, 9.580a-b, 9.587b, 10.599e, 10.609a, and 10.613a-b.

Saturday, February 09, 2008


For Adults Only

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country (New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949), December:
There are certain things which children should not be allowed to see too soon—such things, I mean, as the sea, the mountains, and, above all, the snow. To a child all phenomena are equally remarkable and therefore not remarkable at all. The most astonishing are taken for granted before he knows that they oughtn't to be. I have long envied those who never saw so much as even one flake of crystal until a day when—after they had reached years of discretion—they were permitted to watch the whole visible earth disappear under the relentless accumulation of soft, glistening powder.


Snow is made tonight to be dissolved into water again next month, or perhaps even next day. And yet each individual grain, billions upon billions upon billions of them, is finished perfectly as one or another of the hundreds of different six-pointed stars; as though each, instead of being piled in unnoticed, uncounted heaps, had been formed for the careful eye of some connoisseur with a hand lens. Surely there is nothing else in Nature which demonstrates more abundantly her profusion, the careless extravagance of her inexhaustible ability endlessly to create the beautiful.
Anders Andersen Lundby, Winter's Eve



Stanley Crawford, A Garlic Testament: Seasons on a Small New Mexico Farm (New York: Edward Burlingame Books, 1992), p. 39:
[W]ere Cleofes capable of sustained rational conversation he would no doubt posit the theory that the test of a good meal is the amount of flatulence it produces, or even that such is the purpose of feeding oneself.
Some unnamed person (I suspect my brother) sent me a link to an article in the Bangor Daily News about a supposed ban on "intentional flatulence" at Camden-Rockport Middle School in Maine. If Cleofes' theory is true, the quality of school lunches must have improved since I was a youngster. I'm not sure how one would prove mens rea in an offender. I'm also not sure how one would reliably identify a culprit unless caught in fragrante delicto.

Sundays used to be prime time for flatulence, intentional or otherwise, in Maine, because almost everyone ate baked beans for supper on Saturday nights. Maine author John Gould (1908-2003), in his last book Tales from Rhapsody Home. Or, What They Don't Tell You About Senior Living (Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2000), pp. 131-132, describes the inevitable consequences on the Sabbath:
Some of our best farts were heard or suppressed in church. Many's the demure maiden lady who thought she had a silent kind and came out loud and strong. It was pleasant to see her sitting there in the pew looking like the Twenty-Third Psalm and wondering if she'd soiled her drawers. Many, also, were they who refrained from offending at great risk, and then let go during the doxology, which was tumultuous enough to drown out all competition. Nobody heard these offerings, but there were lingering testimonials of what happened.
Related posts:

Thursday, February 07, 2008


The Trees Are Down

Thanks to David Norton for introducing me to a poem by Charlotte Mew (1869-1928) about arboricide. The title of Mew's poem is "The Trees Are Down" and it opens with a quotation from Revelation 7.2-3 ("and he cried with a loud voice: Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees"). "He" in the quotation is the "angel ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God." Charlotte Mew wrote the poem in reaction to the felling of plane trees in Euston Square Gardens in the early 1920's:
They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of
         the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of
         the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoa', the loud common talk,
         the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding
         a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a
         god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.

The week's work here is as good as done. There is just
         one bough
On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
         Green and high
         And lonely against the sky.
                    (Down now! -)
         And but for that,
         If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment, unmake the Spring, I might never
         have thought of him again.

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade to-day;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas' have carted
         the whole of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the
         hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
         In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
         There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
         They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying -
         But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
          'Hurt not the trees.'
Charlotte Mew also wrote a shorter poem ("Domus Caedet Arborem") on the same theme:
Ever since the great planes were murdered at the end of the gardens,
The city, to me, at night has the look of a spirit brooding crime:
As if the dark houses watching the trees from dark windows
Were simply biding their time.
A decade earlier Charlotte Mew published a two-part essay on "Men and Trees" in the periodical The Englishwoman 17.50 (Feb. 1913) 181-188 and 17.51 (March 1913) 311-319. Here are some excerpts from "Men and Trees":
'You are looking at something', said my blind friend quietly. 'Not here', I told him.

'It was a tree outside the British Museum they were felling last week, with all the instruments of butchery, the axe and the rope and the saw, and the clearing round it like a scaffold; it went on for days and I didn't altogether care for it.'

'No,' he agreed, with sudden animation, 'I really can't bear to see a tree cut down - a big tree: it's a sort of sacrilege. I suppose we belong, of course we do - I anyhow - to the Dark Ages.'


One may read whole libraries about the tree. tree-myth, tree marriage, tree-burial, tree-murder (under 'Forestry'), shelf upon shelf of books, dreams analysed and prayers dissected, millions of words strewn round it like its own dead leaves, and outside there stands the living tree, aloof, splendid; as magical as it was before one of them was written...
Winslow Homer, Woodchopper in the Adirondacks

Related posts:

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


Latin and the Organ of Veneration

Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre, chapter 8:
They conversed of things I had never heard of; of nations and times past; of countries far away; of secrets of nature discovered or guessed at: they spoke of books: how many they had read! What stores of knowledge they possessed! Then they seemed so familiar with French names and French authors: but my amazement reached its climax when Miss Temple asked Helen if she sometimes snatched a moment to recall the Latin her father had taught her, and taking a book from a shelf, bade her read and construe a page of Virgil; and Helen obeyed, my organ of veneration expanding at every sounding line.
We always hear about the Brontë sisters, but they had a less well known brother who was an accomplished Latinist. Patrick Branwell Brontë translated the first book of Horace's Odes, including this hymn to the divine sister and brother Diana and Apollo (Ode 1.21):
Virgins, sing the Virgin Huntress;
  Youths, the youthful Phoebus, sing;
Sing Latona, she who bore them
  Dearest to the eternal King:
Sing the heavenly maid who roves
Joyous, through the mountain groves;
She who winding waters loves;
  Let her haunts her praises ring!

Sing the vale of Peneus' river
  Sing the Delian deity;
The shoulder glorious with its quiver;
  And the Lyre of Mercury.
From our country, at our prayer —
Famine, plague, and tearful war
These, benign, shall drive afar
  To Persias plains or Britains sea.

Dianam tenerae dicite virgines,
intonsum, pueri, dicite Cynthium
  Latonamque supremo
  dilectam penitus Iovi;

vos laetam fluviis et nemorum coma,
quaecumque aut gelido prominet Algido,
  nigris aut Erymanthi
  silvis aut viridis Gragi;

vos Tempe totidem tollite laudibus
natalemque, mares, Delon Apollinis
  insignemque pharetra
  fraternaque umerum lyra.

Hic bellum lacrimosum, hic miseram famem
pestemque a populo et principe Caesare in
  Persas atque Britannos
  vestra motus aget prece.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Congenial Company

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Best of Two Worlds (New York: William Sloane, 1953), p. 18, quoted by John D. Margolis, Joseph Wood Krutch: A Writer's Life (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1980), p. 163:
I always feel more serene after a conversation with a few friendly animals than I do after an evening with even the most brilliant of my human acquaintances.
Related post: True Love.


Lessons from an Old Oak

Tolstoy, War and Peace, Book 6, Chapter 1 (tr. Louise and Aylmer Maude):
At the edge of the road stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birches that formed the forest, it was ten times as thick and twice as tall as they. It was an enormous tree, its girth twice as great as a man could embrace, and evidently long ago some of its branches had been broken off and its bark scarred. With its huge ungainly limbs sprawling unsymmetrically, and its gnarled hands and fingers, it stood an aged, stern, and scornful monster among the smiling birch trees. Only the dead-looking evergreen firs dotted about in the forest, and this oak, refused to yield to the charm of spring or notice either the spring or the sunshine.

"Spring, love, happiness!" this oak seemed to say. "Are you not weary of that stupid, meaningless, constantly repeated fraud? Always the same and always a fraud? There is no spring, no sun, no happiness! Look at those cramped dead firs, ever the same, and at me too, sticking out my broken and barked fingers just where they have grown, whether from my back or my sides: as they have grown so I stand, and I do not believe in your hopes and your lies."

As he passed through the forest Prince Andrew turned several times to look at that oak, as if expecting something from it. Under the oak, too, were flowers and grass, but it stood among them scowling, rigid, misshapen, and grim as ever.

"Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right," thought Prince Andrew. "Let others—the young—yield afresh to that fraud, but we know life, our life is finished!"


It was already the beginning of June when on his return journey he drove into the birch forest where the gnarled old oak had made so strange and memorable an impression on him. In the forest the harness bells sounded yet more muffled than they had done six weeks before, for now all was thick, shady, and dense, and the young firs dotted about in the forest did not jar on the general beauty but, lending themselves to the mood around, were delicately green with fluffy young shoots.

The whole day had been hot. Somewhere a storm was gathering, but only a small cloud had scattered some raindrops lightly, sprinkling the road and the sappy leaves. The left side of the forest was dark in the shade, the right side glittered in the sunlight, wet and shiny and scarcely swayed by the breeze. Everything was in blossom, the nightingales trilled, and their voices reverberated now near, now far away.

"Yes, here in this forest was that oak with which I agreed," thought Prince Andrew. "But where is it?" he again wondered, gazing at the left side of the road, and without recognizing it he looked with admiration at the very oak he sought. The old oak, quite transfigured, spreading out a canopy of sappy dark-green foliage, stood rapt and slightly trembling in the rays of the evening sun. Neither gnarled fingers nor old scars nor old doubts and sorrows were any of them in evidence now. Through the hard century-old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves had sprouted such as one could hardly believe the old veteran could have produced.

"Yes, it is the same oak," thought Prince Andrew, and all at once he was seized by an unreasoning springtime feeling of joy and renewal.
Isaak Levitan, Oak Tree

Related post: It Is All Here.

Monday, February 04, 2008


Birds in Hell

Edwin Way Teale, Autumn Across America (New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1956), p. 22 (on Raymond T. Bond):
Certainly no one else ever proved, eruditely and to our satisfaction, that hell is a place where there are no birds by quoting Virgil's famous line from the sixth book of the Aeneid: "Easy is the descent to Hell—Facilis descensus Averno." Avernus, Virgil's portal to Hades—a noxious lake in the Italian Campania where fumes were supposed to kill all birds flying overhead—received its name from the Greek Aornos, a not, and ornos or ornis, a bird. So it seemed an eminently logical step to Bond, who has been an avid bird watcher since boyhood, that hell should thus be construed to be a place without birds and a place without birds to be hell.
There is little in "facilis descensus Averno" (Vergil, Aeneid 6.126) itself to suggest an absence of birds, but there is a passage later on in the sixth book of the Aeneid that does allude to birdless Lake Avernus (lines 237-242, tr. H. Rushton Fairclough):
A deep cave there was, yawning wide and vast, and sheltered by dark lake and woodland gloom, over which no flying creatures could safely wing their way; such a vapour from those black jaws poured into the over-arching heaven [whence the Greeks spoke of Avernus, the Birdless Place].

spelunca alta fuit vastoque immanis hiatu,
scrupea, tuta lacu nigro nemorumque tenebris,
quam super haud ullae poterant impune volantes
tendere iter pennis: talis sese halitus atris
faucibus effundens supera ad convexa ferebat.
[unde locum Grai dixerunt nomine Aornon.]
Of course it would be easy to argue the contrary, that there are birds (or at least one bird, a vulture) in hell, by reference to another passage in the sixth book of the Aeneid (lines 595-600, tr. Fairclough):
Likewise one might see Tityos, nursling of Earth, the universal mother. Over nine full acres his body is stretched, and a monstrous vulture with crooked beak gnaws at his deathless liver and vitals fruitful for anguish; deep within the breast he lodges and gropes for his feast; nor is there any respite given to the filaments that grow anew.

nec non et Tityon, Terrae omniparentis alumnum,
cernere erat, per tota novem cui iugera corpus
porrigitur, rostroque immanis vultur obunco
immortale iecur tondens fecundaque poenis
viscera rimaturque epulis habitatque sub alto
pectore, nec fibris requies datur ulla renatis.

Sunday, February 03, 2008


Chiasmus, Part I

H.W. Smyth in his Greek Grammar defines chiasmus as "the crosswise arrangement of contrasted pairs to give alternate stress. By this figure both the extremes and the means are correlated."

I divide chiasmus into two main categories, which I call reflecting and interlocking. With reflecting chiasmus, the word order produces a sort of mirror image, in which both halves are self-contained; with interlocking chiasmus, one half is not complete, grammatically or logically, without the other.

As an example of reflecting chiasmus, take Shakespeare, Macbeth 3.4:
Hence, horrible shadow!
Unreal mockery, hence!
Here the extremes are the two occurrences of "hence," and the means (or inner terms) are the vocatives "horrible shadow" and "unreal mockery." Each sentence stands by itself, and the word order of the second sentence reflects and reverses, as in a mirror, the word order of the first sentence.

As an example of interlocking chiasmus, consider Shakespeare, Macbeth 2.1:
O horror, horror, horror!
Tongue nor heart cannot
conceive nor name thee!
Here the outside pair are the subject "tongue" and its verb "name," and the inner pair are the subject "heart" and its verb "conceive." The clauses interlock, and the first two terms ("tongue" and "heart") are grammatically and logically incomplete without the final two terms ("conceive" and "name").

The English word chiasmus comes from the Greek χιασμός, which itself comes from the Greek letter chi (χ). The letter χ is formed by two strokes crossing, and chiasmus is thus a "crosswise arrangement."

The ancient Greeks meant something very different by χιασμός from what we mean by chiasmus. At some later date, I'll discuss the ancient Greek meaning of χιασμός, but now I'll give a few examples of reflecting chiasmus in its modern sense from an ancient Greek text, Plato's Republic. Existing translations often obscure examples of chiasmus, and in what follows I've revised Paul Shorey's translation as necessary to show chiasmus (highlighted in italic font).

In reflecting chiasmus, the words reflected in reverse order are often either (1) opposites or contrasted pairs, or (2) synonyms or related pairs.

We see the opposite notions many and one in this example (4.423d):
The purport of all this was that the other citizens too must be sent to the task for which their natures were fitted, one man to one work, in order that each of them fulfilling his own function may be not many, but one, and so the entire city may come to be one, but not many.

τοῦτο δ’ ἐβούλετο δηλοῦν ὅτι καὶ τοὺς ἄλλους πολίτας, πρὸς ὅ τις πέφυκεν, πρὸς τοῦτο ἕνα πρὸς ἓν ἕκαστον ἔργον δεῖ κομίζειν, ὅπως ἂν ἓν τὸ αὑτοῦ ἐπιτηδεύων ἕκαστος μὴ πολλοὶ ἀλλ’ εἷς γίγνηται, καὶ οὕτω δὴ σύμπασα ἡ πόλις μία φύηται ἀλλὰ μὴ πολλαί.
Elsewhere in the Republic we see reflecting chiasmus with contrasted pairs at 1.332b (to lend / to return), 3.401a (grace / lack of grace), 3.413a (good / evil), 4.421d-e (wealth / poverty), 5.470b-c (another's / one's own), 5.470c (Greeks / barbarians), 5.476c-d (dream / wakefulness), 6.609d (intelligible / visible), 9.582a-b (lover of gain / lover of wisdom), 9.583e-584a (pleasurable / painful), and 10.598a (not to differ in reality / to appear different).

An example of chiasmus with synonyms or related pairs (to deem it worthy / to think it just) is 1.349b:
But how would he treat the unjust man—would he deem it worthy and think it just to outdo, overreach, or go beyond him, or would he not?

He would think it just and deem it worthy, he said, but he wouldn't be able to.

τοῦ δὲ ἀδίκου πότερον ἀξιοῖ ἂν πλεονεκτεῖν καὶ ἡγοῖτο δίκαιον εἶναι, ἢ οὐκ ἂν ἡγοῖτο;

ἡγοῖτ' ἄν, ἦ δ' ὅς, καὶ ἀξιοῖ, ἀλλ' οὐκ ἂν δύναιτο.
Elsewhere in the Republic we see reflecting chiasmus with related or synonymous pairs at 1.343c (the just / justice), 2.376b-c (loving learning / loving wisdom), 4.438c (what / of what sort), 5.461d-e (sisters / brothers), 5.465a-b (fear / respect), 5.470b (war / civil strife), 6.500c-d (divine / orderly), 7.538c-e (obedience / honor), and 9.576c (for the longest time / most).

To be continued.

Saturday, February 02, 2008


Tree Geometry: Parallel Lines

Among the illustrations between pp. 112 and 113 of Bernd Heinrich, The Trees In My Forest (New York: Cliff Street Books, 1997), a twig of the yellow birch exhibits parallelism of the type I discussed a few days ago:

In Heinrich's drawing of the hop hornbeam twig, counting from the bottom the second and fourth segments are nicely parallel, the first and third less so:

The trees in which these parallel twig segments have been noticed (European hornbeam, American hornbeam, yellow birch, hop hornbeam) are all members of the family Betulaceae.

From western Maine, Beth writes appreciatively and perceptively about another book by Bernd Heinrich, A Year in the Maine Woods.

Friday, February 01, 2008


An Old Saying

Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist's Year (February 21):
I have been remembering a beautiful woodland I enjoyed for years, now wiped out forever. A few men, a forest; many men, a desert. That old saying never had greater point than it has today. It remains to be seen whether Man is ultimately known as the Lord of Creation or the Lord of Destruction.
The source of the old saying seems to be Charles Conrad Abbott, In Deep, Dark Forests, from his Clear Skies and Cloudy (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1899), p. 243:
Few men and a forest; many men and a desert.
Isaak Levitan (1860-1900), Footpath in a Forest, Ferns

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