Sunday, September 06, 2015


Minoan Porcelain

Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), "Minoan Porcelain," Jonah (Oxford: Holywell Press, 1917), p. 3 (line numbers added):
Her eyes of bright unwinking glaze
All imperturbable do not
Even make pretences to regard
The jutting absence of her stays
Where many a Tyrian gallipot        5
Excites desire with spilth of nard.
The bistred rims above the fard
Of cheeks as red as bergamot
Attest that no shamefaced delays
Will clog fulfilment nor retard        10
Full payment of the Cyprian's praise
Down to the last remorseful jot.
    Hail! priestess of we know not what
    Strange cult of Mycenean days.
My notes (quoted definitions are from the Oxford English Dictionary):

4 jutting: misprinted as justing in The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems (Oxford: Blackwell, 1918), p. 34, an error that persists in many copies of this poem on the Internet.

4 stays: underbodice.

5 gallipot: "A small earthen glazed pot, esp. one used by apothecaries for ointments and medicines."

6 spilth: "That which is spilled."

7 bistred: "Stained with or as with bistre," i.e. "A brown pigment prepared from common soot."

7 fard: "Paint (esp. white paint) for the face."

8 bergamot: " A fine kind of pear."

11 the Cyprian: the goddess of love.

Dear Mike,

Thanks for 'Minoan Porcelain'. I'll refrain from branding you a prude for not including buxom visual aids. I don't know quite which statuette Huxley had in mind but of a jutting absence of Minoan stays there's no dearth. I happened to look up the poem and found a version in a bilingual collection from the Spanish University of Almeria where 'jutting absence of stays' was translated 'prolongada ausencia de estancias'. Retranslated this cannot mean anything other than 'prolonged absence of sojourns' or 'stays' but only in the sense of 'spending a length of time in a place'. The 'Cyprian's praise' has been translated 'del elogio de los chipriotas', which may be either subjective or objective, 'the praise of the Cypriots' or 'the Cypriots' praise' but in any case the translator seems blissfully ignorant of the difference between Cyprian and an inhabitant of Cyprus. Someone must have baulked at 'bistred' in the English text as it appears as 'blistered', but is correctly if loosely translated as 'pigmentada'. I have half a mind to write to the University Press to urge them to employ an at least half-educated native speaker reader to vet the guff that comes their way. A woeful performance.

I like your arch (?) note 'stays: underbodice': not so obscurum per obscurius. It's been a while since I last came across the word 'underbodice' and have never so much as had a glimpse of the article itself. It must have been quite exciting in sinu/situ.

Best wishes,
Eric [Thomson]

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