Friday, July 31, 2009


The Happy Man

Thanks to David Norton for pointing out a mistake in my quotation of Abraham Cowley's translation of Martial 10.47:
The first word of the 19th line of the Cowley passage from Martial that you posted yesterday is correctly Ana. Before I looked on the Internet I could detect only that the scansion was wanting; and the Internet gives quite a lively menagerie of errors beginning this line.
See the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), s.v. ana:
Used in recipes in the sense of throughout, of each, of every one alike, in specifying a quantity applicable to every ingredient; hence sometimes in older literature for 'an equal quantity or number.'
One of the OED citations is to this line of Cowley. The couplet should therefore read:
In the same weight Prudence and Innocence take,
Ana of each does the just mixture make.

Roger Kuin yesterday posted the French original and his elegant translation of a delightful sonnet (Le Bonheur de ce Monde) by Christophe Plantin. The sonnet reminded me of Martial 10.47. Here is Roger's translation:

To have a house convenient, clean and fair;
A wallèd garden lined with fragrant trees;
Fruit and fine wine, few servants and few children;
The only lover of a faithful wife;

No debts, no love-affairs, lawsuits nor feuds,
No wills to haggle out with relatives,
Simply content, dependent on no magnate,
And by a righteous rule to rule one's life;

To live in frankness, from ambition far;
With conscience clear devoted to devotion,
To tame one's passions until they obey,

To keep the spirit free and judgement strong,
Saying one's prayers while looking to one's pear-trees:
A kindly way at home to wait for Death.

Along with Cowley's translation of Martial 10.47, I also posted a translation of the same poem by Thomas Randolph (1600-1635). I've been reading more of Thomas Randolph's poetry, and I especially enjoyed his translation of Claudian's Old Man of Verona:
Happy the man that all his dayes hath spent
Within his owne grounds, and no farther went:
Whom the same house that did him erst behold
A little Infant, sees him now grown old,
That with his staffe walkes where he crawl'd before,
Counts th' age of one poore cottage and no more.
Fortune ne're him with various tumult prest,
Nor dranke he unknown streams, a wandring guest.
He fear'd no Merchants stormes, nor drummes of war,
Nor ever knew the strifes of the hoarse Bar.
Who though to th' next Towne he a stranger bee,
Yet heav'ns sweet prospect he injoyes more free.
From fruits, not Consuls, computation brings,
By Apples Autumnes knows, by flowers the springs.
Thus he the day by his owne orbe doth prize;
In the same feild his Sunne doth set and rise.
That knew an oake a twigge, and walking thither
Beholds a wood and he grown up together.
Neighbou'ring Veron he may for India take,
And thinke the red sea is Benacus lake.
Yet is his strength untam'd, and firme his knees,
Him the third age a lusty Grandsire sees.
Goe seeke who s' will the farre Iberian shore,
This man hath liv'd, though that hath travel'd more.
Camille Pissarro, Farmyard

Note to myself: read Maren-Sofie Røstvig, The Happy Man: Studies in the Metamorphoses of a Classical Ideal, 2 vols. (Oslo: Norwegian Universities Press, 1962-1971).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


A True Receipt of Happiness

Martial 10.47, tr. Abraham Cowley:
Since, dearest Friend, 'tis your desire to see
A true Receipt of Happiness from Me;
These are the chief Ingredients, if not all;
Take an Estate neither too great nor small,
Which Quantum Sufficit the Doctors call;
Let this Estate from Parents care descend;
The getting it too much of Life does spend.
Take such a Ground, whose gratitude may be
A fair Encouragement for Industry.
Let constant Fires the Winters fury tame;
And let thy Kitchens be a Vestal Flame.
Thee to the Town let never Suit at Law;
And rarely, very rarely Business draw.
Thy active Mind in equal Temper keep,
In undisturbed Peace, yet not in sleep.
Let Exercise a vigorous Health maintain,
Without which all the Composition's vain.
In the same weight Prudence and Innocence take,
And of each does the just mixture make.
But a few Friendships wear, and let them be
By Nature and by Fortune fit for thee.
In stead of Art and Luxury in food,
Let Mirth and Freedome make thy Table good.
If any cares into thy Day-time creep,
At night, without Wines Opium, let them sleep.
Let rest, which Nature does to Darkness wed,
And not Lust, recommend to thee thy Bed,
Be satisfi'd, and pleas'd with what thou art;
Act chearfully and well th' allotted part,
Enjoy the present Hour, be thankful for the Past,
And neither fear, nor wish th' approaches of the last.
The same, tr. Thomas Randolph:
These are things that being possest
Will make a life that's truly blest:
Estate bequeath'd, not got with toyle;
A good hot fire, a gratefull soyle.
No strife, warm clothes, a quiet soule,
A strength intire, a body whole.
Prudent simplicity, equall freinds,
A diet that no Art commends.
A night not drunke, and yet secure;
A bed not sad, yet chast and pure.
Long sleepes to make the nights but short,
A will be to but what thou art.
Naught rather choose; contented lye,
And neither feare, nor wish to dye.
The Latin original:
Vitam quae faciant beatiorem,
iucundissime Martialis, haec sunt:
res non parta labore sed relicta;
non ingratus ager, focus perennis;
lis numquam, toga rara, mens quieta;
vires ingenuae, salubre corpus;
prudens simplicitas, pares amici;
convictus facilis, sine arte mensa;
nox non ebria sed soluta curis;
non tristis torus et tamen pudicus;
somnus qui faciat breves tenebras:
quod sis esse velis nihilque malis;
summum nec metuas diem nec optes.
Other translations of the same poem by:

Update: There is a mistake in the quotation from Cowley. See The Happy Man for a correction.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Some Shad-Bush Thoughts

Last weekend we planted a service tree, Amelanchier canadensis, in the back yard. Nathaniel Lord Britton and Addison Brown, An Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions, 2nd ed. (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1913; rpt. New York: Dover, 1970), II, 291, give several other common names for this plant, including June-berry, service-berry, May-cherry, sand-cherry, May-pear, juice-pear, wild Indian pear, Indian cherry, shad-bush, etc.

Thoreau often mentions the tree, although it's sometimes difficult to determine which of the six species of Amelanchier he's talking about. I haven't tracked down all of the passages in his Journal, but on June 25, 1853, he praised the fruit of the tree:
To Assabet bathing-place. Found an unusual quantity of Amelanchier berries. I think of the two common kinds, one a taller bush twice as high as my head, with thinner and lighter colored leaves, and larger, or at least somewhat softer, fruit, the other, a shorter bush, with more rigid and darker leaves, and dark, blue berries, with often a sort of wooliness on them. Both these are now in their prime. These are the first berries after strawberries, or the first and, I think, the sweetest bush berries, somewhat like high blueberries, but not so hard. Much eaten by insects, worms, etc., as big as the largest blueberries or peas. These are the "service berries" which the Indians of the north and the Canadians use, "la poire" of the latter. They, by a little, precede the early blueberry (though H—— brought two quarts of the last, day before yesterday), being now in their prime, while blueberries are but just beginning. I never saw nearly so many before. It is a very agreeable surprise. I hear the cherry-birds and others about me, no doubt attracted by this fruit. It is owing to some peculiarity of the season that they bear fruit. I have picked a quart of them for a pudding. I felt all the while I was picking them, in the low, light, waving, shrubby wood they make, as if I were in a foreign country. Several old farmers say, "Well, though I have lived seventy years, I never saw nor heard of them." I think them a delicious berry. No doubt they require only to be more abundant every year to be appreciated.
See also Thoreau's Journal for October 13, 1859:
The shad-bush is leafing again by the sunny swamp-side. It is like a youthful or poetic thought in old age. Several times I have been cheered by this sight when surveying in former years. The chickadee seems to lisp a sweeter note at the sight of it. I would not fear the winter more than the shad-bush which puts forth fresh and tender leaves on its approach. In the fall I will take this for my coat-of-arms. It seems to detain the sun that expands it. These twigs are so full of life that they can hardly contain themselves. They ignore winter. They anticipate spring. What faith! Away in some warm and sheltered recess in the swamp you find where these leaves have expanded. It is a foretaste of spring. In my latter years, let me have some shad-bush thoughts.
The derivation of the generic name is interesting. Here's my rough attempt at a translation of Helmut Genaust, Etymologische Wörterbuch der botanischen Pflanzennamen, 3rd ed. (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1996), p. 56, s.v. Amelanchier:
serviceberry: French amélanchier "wild medlar, serviceberry" (N. Lémery, Dictionnaire des drogues, 1733), which is derived from French amélanche (serviceberry fruit) with the French tree suffix -ier (cf. la pomme > le pommier, apple tree). This word, confined to Savoy and southeast Provence, came into being through a false separation of the article (la mélanche > l'amélanche) and leads back, with southeast Provencal melanko, belanko, melenko, berlenko (alpine medlar, serviceberry), to the pre-Romance form *melanca, *melenka (same meaning) (Romanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch 9696). These forms (with Ligurian suffix -anka, -enka) are certainly derived from the Indo-European root *mel- with color signification "dingy gray, dark colored, black" (Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch 1, 720f.), to which root Greek mélas (black), Sanskrit maliná- (dingy, black), and Latvian męlns (black) also belong. Hence the genus is named from its dark purple fruits. Cf. Dauzat 27. On erroneous attempts to derive this word (borrowed in botanical nomenclature directly from French) from Greek, see G.C. Wittstein, Etymologisch-botanisches Handwörterbuch 36, and A. Seybold, Lehrbuch der Botanik 1,63.
‹Felsenbirne›: frz. amélanchier ‹néflier sauvage, Felsenbirne› (N. Lémery, Dict. des drogues, 1733), das mit dem frz. Baumnamensuffix -ier (vgl. la pomme > le pommier ‹Apfelbaum>) von frz. amélanche ‹Felsenbirne (Frucht)› abgeleitet ist. Dieses auf Savoyen und die südöstl. Provence beschränkte Wort ist durch falsche Abtrennung des Artikels (la mélanche > l'amélanche) entstanden und führt mit südostprov. melanko, belanko, melenko, berlenko ‹Alpenmispel, Felsenbirne› auf die vorröm. Form *melanca, *melenka ‹ds.› zurück (REW 9696). Diese Formen sind sicher mit dem ligur. Suffix -anka, -enka von der idg. Wz. *mel- in Farbezeichnungen ‹schmutziggrau, dunkelfarbig, schwarz› (IEW 1, 720f.) abgeleitet, zu der auch gr. mélas ‹schwarz›, aind. maliná- ‹schmutzig, schwarz›, lett. męlns ‹schwarz› usw. gehören. Somit ist die Gatt. nach ihren schwarzvioletten Früchten benannt. — Vgl. Dauzat 27. — Über abwegige Versuche, das aus dem Französischen direkt in die bot. Nomenklatur übernommene Wort aus dem Griech. zu denken, s. Wi. 36, A. Seybold 1,63.
Many authorities restrict the range of Amelanchier canadensis to the eastern coast regions of Canada and the United States, but it does seem to be native to Minnesota. See, e.g., Frederic E. Clements et al., Minnesota Trees and Shrubs (1912), p. 151: "Distributed from Newfoundland to Minnesota to Florida and Louisiana." I haven't seen Etlar L. Nielsen, "A Taxonomic Study of the Genus Amelanchier in Minnesota," American Midland Naturalist 22.1 (July 1939) 160-206.

Monday, July 27, 2009



W.S. Merwin, Odysseus:
Always the setting forth was the same,
Same sea, same dangers waiting for him
As though he had got nowhere but older.
Behind him on the receding shore
The identical reproaches, and somewhere
Out before him, the unravelling patience
He was wedded to. There were the islands
Each with its woman and twining welcome
To be navigated, and one to call "home."
The knowledge of all that he betrayed
Grew till it was the same whether he stayed
Or went. Therefore he went. And what wonder
If sometimes he could not remember
Which was the one who wished on his departure
Perils that he could never sail through,
And which, improbable, remote, and true,
Was the one he kept sailing home to?
C.P. Cavafy, Ithaca (tr. George Valassopoulo):
When you start on the way to Ithaca,
wish that the way be long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Laestrygones and the Cyclopes
and angry Poseidon, do not fear:
such, on your way, you shall never meet
if your thoughts are lofty, if a noble
emotion touch your mind, your body.
The Laestrygones and the Cyclopes
and angry Poseidon you shall not meet
if you carry them not in your soul,
if your soul sets them not up before you.

Wish that the way be long,
that on many summer mornings,
with great pleasure, great delight,
you enter harbours for the first time seen;
that you stop at Phoenician marts,
and procure the goodly merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
plenty of sensual perfumes especially;
to wend your way to many Egyptian cities,
to learn and yet to learn from the wise.

Ever keep Ithaca in your mind,
your return thither is your goal.
But do not hasten at all your voyage,
better that it last for many years;
And full of years at length you anchor at your isle
rich with all that you gained on the way;
do not expect Ithaca to give you riches.

Ithaca gave you your fair voyage.
Without her you would not have ventured on the way.
But she has no more to give you.

And if you find Ithaca a poor place,
    she has not mocked you.
You have become so wise, so full of experience
that you should understand already what
    these Ithacas mean.

Sunday, July 26, 2009


Finding One's Vocation

Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: Trivia, More Trivia, Afterthoughts, Last Words (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1945), p. 181 (from Afterthoughts, V. Art and Letters):
To be an elegant and acrimonious scholar, and make emendations in Greek texts that shall fill the world with wonder;

Or an illustrious Egyptologist, with spectacles and a white beard;

Or a Lord of Thought, and sum up the universe in a single phrase;

And know all about it, whatever it is, and break the teeth of the young lions, break their great teeth in their mouths;

Or to lie in bed day after day like Joubert, in a pink dressing-gown, trying to think nothing and feel no emotion?
Joubert: a selection from his Thoughts. Translated by Katharine Littleton. With a Preface by Mrs. Humphry Ward (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1899), p. xxii:
And in his daily life Joubert was always protecting himself against emotions, keeping out the newspapers, refusing to read or discuss politics when politics became tormenting, withdrawing himself from all the persons and writings that did not yield him pleasure or edification. He would spend whole days in bed, clad in the 'pink silk spenser' that his friends remembered, couched there 'like a horse in its stall,' trying to feel nothing and think of nothing.

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The Mean Is Best

Palladas, Greek Anthology 10.51, tr. W.R. Paton:
Envy, says Pindar, is better than pity. Those who are envied lead a splendid life, while our pity is for the excessively unfortunate. I would be neither too fortunate nor too badly off; for the mean is best, since the height of fortune is apt to bring danger, while the depth of misery exposes to insult.
The same, tr. William Cowper:
Pity, says the Theban bard,
From my wishes I discard;
Envy, let me rather be,
Rather far, a theme for thee!
Pity to distress is shown,
Envy to the great alone.
So the Theban: but to shine
Less conspicuous be mine!
I prefer the golden mean,
Pomp and penury between;
For alarm and peril wait
Ever on the loftiest state,
And the lowest,, to the end,
Obloquy and scorn attend.
The original Greek:
Ὁ φθόνος οἰκτιρμοῦ, κατὰ Πίνδαρον, ἐστὶν ἀμείνων·
  οἱ βασκαινόμενοι λαμπρὸν ἔχουσι βίον·
τοὺς δὲ λίαν ἀτυχεῖς οἰκτείρομεν. ἀλλά τις εἴην
  μήτ' ἄγαν εὐδαίμων, μήτ' ἐλεεινὸς ἐγώ.
ἡ μεσότης γὰρ ἄριστον, ἐπεὶ τὰ μὲν ἄκρα πέφυκεν
  κινδύνους ἐπάγειν, ἔσχατα δ' ὕβριν ἔχει.
The reference to Pindar is to Pythian Odes 1.85-86 (tr. William H. Race): "But nevertheless, since envy is better than pity, / do not pass over any noble things." (ἀλλ' ὅμως, κρέσσων γὰρ οἰκτιρμοῦ φθόνος / μὴ παρίει καλά.)

Friday, July 24, 2009


List of Epigrams by Palladas

A convenient list, divided into genuine and doubtful epigrams, from Alfred Franke, De Pallada epigrammatographo‎ (diss. Leipzig, 1899), pp. 23-24:

Roman numerals refer to books of the Greek Anthology.


No Love for the Age

Logan Pearsall Smith, The Age (from More Trivia):
Again, as the train drew out of the station, the old gentleman pulled out of his pocket his great shining watch; and for the fifth, or, as it seemed to me, the five-hundredth time, he said (we were in the carriage alone together) 'To the minute, to the very minute! It's a marvellous thing, the Railway; a wonderful age!'

Now I had been long annoyed by the old gentleman's smiling face, platitudes, and piles of newspapers; I had no love for the Age, and an impulse came on me to denounce it.

'Allow me to tell you,' I said, 'that I consider it a wretched, an ignoble age. Where's the greatness of Life? Where's dignity, leisure, stateliness; where's Art and Eloquence? Where are your great scholars, statesmen? Let me ask you, sir,' I cried glaring at him, 'where's your Gibbon, your Burke or Chatham?'



Excerpts from Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish (New York: Vintage Books, 1998).

I (p. 6):
I don't know what to do. No, I know what to do. I will open a book.
II (p. 39):
I see again that the kaddish is my good fortune. It looks after the externalities, and so saves me from the task of improvising the rituals of my bereavement, which is a lot to ask.
III (p. 59):
A person who has buried a child has a right to raise a fist to the heavens. Anger is not apostasy. Quite the contrary. It is another way of acknowledging God's responsibility for the world.
III (p. 62):
The claim of tradition is that it is a light that does not dim as it travels from its source. This is outrageous.
III (p. 75):
I study the old texts because I hope to be infected by their dimensions, to attain the size of what I read.
III (p. 84):
Back and forth from my desk to my shelves, ten, twenty, thirty times a day. The sources swirl around me. I am drugged by books. The sweet savor rises from the pages. A delirium of study.
III (p. 91):
The opposite of traditionalism is sensationalism, or living merely now.
IV (p. 119):
Self-sufficiency is not only a state of independence. It is also a state of constriction. Only a small soul does not need others. To subsist within oneself is a paltry and prideful subsistence.
IV (p. 123):
When Nietzsche lost his faith, he concluded that God is dead. This is not critical thinking. This is narcissism. I understand the idea that if God exists, then you must believe in him. I do not understand the idea that if you do not believe in him, then God must not exist.
IV (p. 123):
The fact that I spend my entire life in darkness does not prove that there is no light. My experience is not the only philosophical datum that counts.
V (p. 133):
What is the difference, for me, between studying and wallowing, between avidity and morbidity? Sometimes, it is hard to tell. Obsession has many uses. Its intensity sometimes disguises the fact that it is a method of insulation.
V (p. 136):
There are differences between individuals and societies that may be explained by the fact that some fictions are more ennobling than others.
V (p. 138):
On my desk, my books are like my peonies. I am pleased by the sight of them closed and clenched with promise, and then I am pleased by the sight of them opening, until they reveal the fullness that I expect of them.
V (p. 143):
I detest the condescension of the materialist. It is he who has the easy task. Intellectually speaking, the materialist is a man of leisure.
VI (p. 178):
I am disgusted by this bowdlerization of the text. It is cowardly. It is decadence.
VI (p. 210):
Whenever I read Kafka, I wonder: what sort of dejection is this, that leaves one the strength to write, and write, and write? If you can write about the wreckage, the wreckage is not complete. You are intact.
VII (p. 234):
I don't know a more incomprehensible remark about religion than Haydn's remark that the thought of God made him cheerful.
VII (p.236):
Consolations are more frequently false than true. The universe does not owe me edification.
VIII (p. 267):
Science grants absolution more easily than religion.
VIII (p. 268):
Pity the man who can explain everything. The materialist laughs at the difficulties with which the others are beset, but it is his own lack of difficulties that is comic.
VIII (pp. 275-276):
"You are lucky," someone said to me a few months ago, in a mildly envious tone. "You have an anchor." But an anchor is also a weight; and when it doesn't fix you, it pulls you down; and its destination is always the very bottom.
VIII (p. 290):
Give me no gold. Give me no silver. Give me paper. (A prayer.)
VIII (p. 295):
Tradition is not reproduced. It is thrown and it is caught. It lives a long time in the air.
IX (p. 307):
Words as spices, words as perfumes.
IX (p. 323):
As long as there are shuls and churches and mosques, the feeling for philosophy will not be lost. The same cannot be said about universities.
IX (p. 350):
I have always hated happy funerals: we are here to celebrate a life, and so on. No, we are not here to celebrate anything. We are here to bury an imperfect man or an imperfect woman, to regard his or her frailty and therefore to be frail.
IX (p. 355):
My library looked like a graveyard tonight, and every book looked like a grave. But one must open these graves and enter them. Inside these graves, there is life.
X (pp. 377-378):
As the rabbis taught, "it is better that a man throw himself into a fiery furnace than humiliate another man publicly."
X (p. 384):
But it occurs to me that there is something more troubling than the inefficacy of prayer, and it is the efficacy of prayer. Who, really, would want the responsibility? What should be regretted is not our lack of cosmic influence. What should be regretted is our interest in cosmic influence.
XII (p. 472):
In a gathering without grief, human experience is inadequately represented.
XII (p. 475):
The modern reader of medieval texts must beware.
XIV (p. 506):
Custom is lovable in a way that law is not. Custom is so unpristine. It has fingerprints all over it. It asserts the reality of practices against the ideality of principles.
XIV (p. 537):
I cannot imagine anything more revolutionary than to slow things down.
XV (p. 550):
Sometimes "how are you" is a sadistic thing to say.
XVI (p. 576):
What is happening to me now is nothing what like Americans call "closure." What a ludicrous notion of emotional efficiency! Americans really believe that the past is past. They do not care to know that the past soaks the present like the light of a distant star. Things that are over do not end. They come inside us, and seek sanctuary in subjectivity. And there they live on, in the consciousness of individuals and communities.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


More Pills to Purge Melancholy

Thanks to Eric Thomson for drawing my attention to David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, Book I, Part IV, section VII:
I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, inviron'd with the deepest darkness, and utterly depriv'd of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends; and when after three or four hours' amusement, I wou'd return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strain'd, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.
Some symptoms:Some palliatives:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


The Idler on Idleness

Samuel Johnson, The Idler, No. 31 (Saturday, November 18, 1758):
Many moralists have remarked, that Pride has of all human vices the widest dominion, appears in the greatest multiplicity of forms, and lies hid under the greatest variety of disguises; of disguises, which, like the moon's veil of brightness, are both its lustre and its shade, and betray it to others, tho' they hide it from ourselves.

It is not my intention to degrade Pride from this pre-eminence of mischief; yet I know not whether Idleness may not maintain a very doubtful and obstinate competition.

There are some that profess Idleness in its full dignity, who call themselves the Idle, as Busiris in the play calls himself the Proud; who boast that they do nothing, and thank their stars that they have nothing to do; who sleep every night till they can sleep no longer, and rise only that exercise may enable them to sleep again; who prolong the reign of darkness by double curtains, and never see the sun but to tell him how they hate his beams; whose whole labour is to vary the posture of indolence, and whose day differs from their night but as a couch or chair differs from a bed.

These are the true and open votaries of Idleness, for whom she weaves the garlands of poppies, and into whose cup she pours the waters of oblivion; who exist in a state of unruffled stupidity, forgetting and forgotten; who have long ceased to live, and at whose death the survivors can only say, that they have ceased to breathe.

But Idleness predominates in many lives where it is not suspected; for, being a vice which terminates in itself, it may be enjoyed without injury to others; and it is therefore not watched like Fraud, which endangers property; or like Pride, which naturally seeks its gratifications in another's inferiority. Idleness is a silent and peaceful quality, that neither raises envy by ostentation, nor hatred by opposition; and therefore nobody is busy to censure or detect it.

As Pride sometimes is hid under humility, Idleness is often covered by turbulence and hurry. He that neglects his known duty and real employment, naturally endeavours to crowd his mind with something that may bar out the remembrance of his own folly, and does any thing but what he ought to do with eager diligence, that he may keep himself in his own favour.

Some are always in a state of preparation, occupied in previous measures, forming plans, accumulating materials, and providing for the main affair. These are certainly under the secret power of Idleness. Nothing is to be expected from the workman whose tools are for ever to be sought. I was once told by a great master, that no man ever excelled in painting, who was eminently curious about pencils and colours.

There are others to whom Idleness dictates another expedient, by which life may be passed unprofitably away without the tediousness of many vacant hours. The art is, to fill the day with petty business, to have always something in hand which may raise curiosity, but not solicitude, and keep the mind in a state of action, but not of labour.
The third paragraph, with the phrase "never see the sun but to tell him how they hate his beams," reminds me of the tribe of daylight-shunners, as described, for example, by Seneca Rhetor, Controversiae 3.1:
So it happens, where men spend the greater part of their life in darkness, that they end up disliking the sun, as something superfluous.

sic fit, ubi homines maiorem vitae partem in tenebris agunt, ut novissime solem quasi supervacuum fastidiant.
See:Chapter 5 (pp. 153-177) of Sarah Jordan, The Anxieties of Idleness: Idleness in Eighteenth-Century British Literature and Culture (Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press, 2003) is entitled "Driving on the System of Life": Samuel Johnson and Idleness.

Pieter van der Heyden, Desidia (Sloth), after Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


No Satisfaction

Samuel Johnson, The Idler, No. 88 (Saturday, December 22, 1759):
He that in the latter part of his life too strictly enquires what he has done, can very seldom receive from his own heart such an account as will give him satisfaction.

Monday, July 20, 2009


All the World's a Stage

Palladas (Greek Anthology 10.72, tr. J. W. Mackail):
All life is a stage and a game: either learn to play it, laying by seriousness, or bear its pains.
The same, tr. W.R. Paton:
All life is a stage and a play: either learn to play laying your gravity aside, or bear with life's pains.
The same, tr. E.R. Dodds:
The world's a stage, and life's a toy:
  dress up and play your part;
Put every serious thought away—
Or risk a broken heart.
The same, tr. Tony Harrison:
Life's a performance. Either join in
  lightheartedly, or thole the pain.
The same, tr. Robert Bland:
This life a theatre we well may call,
  Where every actor must perform with art,
Or laugh it through, and make a farce of all,
  Or learn to bear with grace his tragic part.
The Greek original:
σκηνὴ πᾶς ὁ βίος καὶ παίγνιον· ἢ μάθε παίζειν
  τὴν σπουδὴν μεταθεὶς, ἢ φέρε τὰς ὀδύνας.
Among my notes is a list of articles on Palladas I've been meaning to read, and this is a good a place as any to keep it:Related posts:

Sunday, July 19, 2009


More from Logan Pearsall Smith

Excerpts from Logan Pearsall Smith, All Trivia: Trivia, More Trivia, Afterthoughts, Last Words (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1945):

Pp. 68-69 (Consolation, in Trivia, Book II):
The other day, depressed on the Underground, I tried to cheer myself by thinking over the joys of our human lot. But there wasn't one of them for which I seemed to care a button—not Wine, nor Fame, nor Friendship, nor Eating, nor Making Love, nor the Consciousness of Virtue. Was it worth while then going way up in a lift into a world that had nothing less trite to offer?

Then I thought of reading—the nice and subtle happiness of reading. This was enough, this joy not dulled by Age, this polite and unpunishable vice, this selfish, serene, life-long intoxication.
P. 177 (from Myself, in Afterthoughts):
People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.
P. 192 (from Last Words):
Give me a bed and a book and I'm happy.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


Complex Questions

Logan Pearsall Smith, Complex Questions (from Trivia):
The Age, the Vicar would remark, was a serious one; Englishmen were met face to face with complex questions. But the questions that had an interest for me at that time, would no doubt have seemed to the Vicar, many of them, old and imaginary. I was often occupied, I am afraid, with the complexities of my own thoughts; their odd travels and changes; their way of peopling English forests with wood-nymphs, or transforming English orchards—seen perhaps at dawn or in the late sunshine—into far Hesperian gardens. Sometimes it was merely names that filled my mind: 'Magalat, Galgalat, Saraïm,' I syllabled to myself; were these the names of the Magi of the East; or Atos, Satos, Paratoras? What were the names of the nymphs Actaeon saw bathing with Diana? The names of the hounds that hunted to his death that intruder; Ladon, Harpyia, Laelaps, Oresitrophos, as some call them; or, as they are given in other authentic books, Boreas, Omelampus, Agreus, Aretusa, Gorgo?


Pietas Erga Patrem

Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.2.13 (tr. E.C. Marchant):
Don't you know that even the state ignores all other forms of ingratitude and pronounces no judgment on them, caring nothing if the recipient of a favour neglects to thank his benefactor, but inflicts penalties on the man who is discourteous to his parents and rejects him as unworthy of office, holding that it would be a sin for him to offer sacrifices on behalf of the state and that he is unlikely to do anything else honourably and rightly? Aye, and if one fail to honour his parents' graves, the state inquires into that too, when it examines the candidates for office.
My brother, tending our father's grave

Related posts:

Thursday, July 16, 2009


How Can I Work?

Robert F. Murray (1863-1893), Indolence:
Fain would I shake thee off, but weak am I
  Thy strong solicitations to withstand.
  Plenty of work lies ready to my hand,
Which rests irresolute, and lets it lie.

How can I work, when that seductive sky
  Smiles through the window, beautiful and bland,
  And seems to half entreat and half command
My presence out of doors beneath its eye?

Will not the air be fresh, the water blue,
  The smell of beanfields, blowing to the shore,
    Better than these poor drooping purchased flowers?
Good-bye, dull books! Hot room, good-bye to you!
  And think it strange if I return before
    The sea grows purple in the evening hours.
Related posts:


Death Comes To All

The Poems of Thomas Love Peacock, ed. Brimley Johnson (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1906), pp. 396-397 (excerpt from Time):
Death comes to all. His cold and sapless hand
Waves o'er the world, and beckons us away.
Who shall resist the summons? Child of earth!
While yet the blood runs dancing through thy veins,
Impelled by joy and youth's meridian heat,
'Twere wise at times, to change the crowded haunts
Of human splendour, for the woodland realms
Of solitude, and mark, with heedful ear,
The hollow voice of the autumnal wind,
That warns thee of thy own mortality.

Death comes to all. Not earth's collected wealth,
Golcondian diamonds and Peruvian gold,
Can gain from him the respite of an hour.
He wrests his treasure from the miser's grasp,
Dims the pale rose on beauty's fading cheeks,
Tears the proud diadem from kingly brows,
And breaks the warrior's adamantine shield.

Man yields to death; and man's sublimest works
Must yield at length to Time. The proud one thinks
Of life's uncertain tenure, and laments
His transitory greatness. While he boasts
His noble blood, from ancient kings derived,
And views with careless and disdainful eye
The humble and the poor, he shrinks in vain
From anxious thoughts, that teach his sickening heart
That he is like the beings he contemns,
The creature of an hour; that when a few,
Few years have past, that little spot of earth,
That dark and narrow bed, which all must press,
Will level all distinction. Then he bids
The marble structure rise, to guard awhile,
A little while, his fading memory.
Thou lord of thousands! Time is lord of thee:
Thy wealth, thy glory, and thy name are his,
And may protract the blow, but cannot bar
His certain course, nor shield his destined prey.
  The wind and rain assail thy sumptuous domes:
They sink, and are forgotten. All that is
Must one day cease to be. The chiefs and kings,
That awe the nations with their pomp and power,
Shall slumber with the chiefs and kings of old:
And Time shall leave no monumental stone
To tell the spot of their eternal rest.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Men of Pith and Thew

Edmund Blunden, Forefathers:
Here they went with smock and crook,
Toiled in the sun, lolled in the shade,
Here they mudded out the brook
And here their hatchet cleared the glade:
Harvest-supper woke their wit,
Huntsmen's moon their wooings lit.

From this church they led their brides,
From this church themselves were led
Shoulder-high; on these waysides
Sat to take their beer and bread.
Names are gone - what men they were
These their cottages declare.

Names are vanished, save the few
In the old brown Bible scrawled;
These were men of pith and thew,
Whom the city never called;
Scarce could read or hold a quill,
Built the barn, the forge, the mill.

On the green they watched their sons
Playing till too dark to see,
As their fathers watched them once,
As my father once watched me;
While the bat and beetle flew
On the warm air webbed with dew.

Unrecorded, unrenowned,
Men from whom my ways begin,
Here I know you by your ground
But I know you not within -
There is silence, there survives
Not a moment of your lives.

Like the bee that now is blown
Honey-heavy on my hand,
From his toppling tansy-throne
In the green tempestuous land -
I'm in clover now, nor know
Who made honey long ago.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Staying Healthy When Old

Logan Pearsall Smith, Last Words:
The denunciation of the young is a necessary part of the hygiene of older people, and greatly assists in the circulation of their blood.
Related posts:

Monday, July 13, 2009


Tools, Land, Beasts, Loves

V. Sackville-West, A Saxon Song:
        Tools with the comely names,
        Mattock and scythe and spade,
        Couth and bitter as flames,
        Clean, and bowed in the blade,—
A man and his tools make a man and his trade.

        Breadth of the English shires,
        Hummock and kame and mead,
        Tang of the reeking byres,
        Land of the English breed,—
A man and his land make a man and his creed.

        Leisurely flocks and herds,
        Cool-eyed cattle that come
        Mildly to wonted words,
        Swine that in orchards roam,—
A man and his beasts make a man and his home.

        Children sturdy and flaxen
        Shouting in brotherly strife,
        Like the land they are Saxon,
        Sons of a man and his wife,—
For a man and his loves make a man and his life.

Sunday, July 12, 2009



Thanks to Eric Thomson for introducing me to the word milver. The word appears in Owen Barfield, "Coleridge's Enjoyment of Words," in John Beer, ed., Coleridge's Variety: Bicentenary Studies (London: Macmillan, 1974; rpt. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1975), pp. 204-218. Here is the beginning of Barfield's essay:
There is a little volume in the series known as the Home University Library entitled The English Language. It is rather more than sixty years old now, but it is a book I always recommend very strongly to anyone who either enjoys words already or is anxious to begin enjoying them. But what does one mean when one speaks of 'enjoying' words?

When I was a very young man, I was for a brief period in rather close touch with the author of that book, Logan Pearsall Smith. In fact he took me to a certain extent under his wing as the result of an article I had published. Pearsall Smith was a literary friend of the poet Walter de la Mare, and I remember him telling me that, in one of his conversations with the poet, they had agreed there ought to be a word to denote a person with a certain easily recognisable but hardly definable feeling for, or delight in, or enjoyment of words. They decided to invent one and they further decided that, in doing so, they would apply a new principle of coinage. This was, to look around for some especially lovely word, with which there happened to be no available rhyme, and to invent a rhyme for it. The existing word they hit on was 'silver' and the word they invented was 'milver'. A 'milver' was to be a man who enjoyed words in the way they both meant.

I believe I am right in saying that that was as far as it went and that neither of them ever did actually did use the word in public.
As a matter of fact, Logan Pearsall Smith did use the word in public. It occurs, although with a different meaning, in his Afterthoughts, which I quote from the collection All Trivia: Trivia, More Trivia, Afterthoughts, Last Words (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1945), pp. 168-169:
When we talk politely of new books with a new acquaintance, what chasms, abysmally, yawn between us!

But what festivals of unanimity we celebrate when we meet what I call a 'Milver'—a fellow-fanatic whose thoughts chime in a sweet ecstasy of execration with our own!
In either meaning of the word, Eric Thomson is a milver.

Jennifer Steinhauer, "A Literary Legend Fights for a Local Library," New York Times (June 19, 2009), quotes Ray Bradbury:
"Libraries raised me," Mr. Bradbury said. "I don't believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don't have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn't go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years."


The Internet? Don't get him started. "The Internet is a big distraction," Mr. Bradbury barked from his perch in his house in Los Angeles, which is jammed with enormous stuffed animals, videos, DVDs, wooden toys, photographs and books, with things like the National Medal of Arts sort of tossed on a table.

"Yahoo called me eight weeks ago," he said, voice rising. "They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? 'To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the Internet.'"
My Luddite sympathies incline me to agree with Ray Bradbury's execration of the Internet. On the other hand, if it weren't for the Internet, I would never have had the privilege of meeting Eric Thomson and a few other milvers.

I found Owen Barfield's essay on "Coleridge's Enjoyment of Words" a delightful read, and I want to record here another passage from the essay (pp. 212-213) which struck my fancy:
There are two ways in which the mind can relate itself to reality; and both of them have their importance. If you care to imagine reality as a vast solid sphere and the individual mind as an ant on its surface, one of the things the ant can do is to crawl about over as much of the surface as it has time for. The other thing is to begin from any point where it happens to be and bore its way in towards the centre. This is rather what can happen when anyone enjoys, studies and meditates on a particular word. That word, the point where he happens to be, becomes the point of penetration. This was very much Coleridge's way. And one of the first things this kind of ant discovers is that language is not, as he first supposed, a kind of thin film spread over the surface of a wordless sphere (a film which he can penetrate by taking care to feel through a word and not for it), but that the entire sphere is composed of a substance for which 'word' and 'thing' are both correct names in different contexts. 'I would endeavour', Coleridge wrote to Godwin in 1800, 'to destroy the old antithesis of Words and Things, elevating, as it were, words into Things, and living Things too. All the nonsense of vibrations etc. you would of course dismiss.'

In other words, if your goal is reality, or truth, or Life with a capital 'L', or whatever your favourite nickname may be for the sphere as a sphere, and if you are anxious to get at it through words, one of the sharpest instruments you can use is a deep feeling for words, and for their history. You will be all the better equipped for finding out how things came to be what they are, if you know something of how words came to be what they are.
Owen Barfield recommended Logan Pearsall Smith's The English Language to one who enjoys, or is eager to enjoy, words. I'd recommend Owen Barfield's own History in English Words (London: Faber, 1953; rpt. 1969).

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Winter in July

August von Platen (1796-1835), Winterlieder:
Patience, tiny bud,
In the dear quiet wood:
It is still much too cold,
It is still much too soon.

For now I pass you by,
But I remember the spot,
And when Spring draws near,
I'll fetch you then, my treasure.

The sky is so clear and blue,
If only the earth were green!
The wind cuts, if only it were mild!
The snow glistens, if only it were dew!
If only the earth were green!

Geduld, du kleine Knospe,
Im lieben stillen Wald,
Es ist noch viel zu frostig,
Es ist noch viel zu bald.

Noch geh' ich dich vorüber,
Doch merk' ich mir den Platz,
Und kommt heran der Frühling,
So hol' ich dich, mein Schatz.

Der Himmel ist so hell und blau,
Ach wäre die Erde grüne!
Der Wind ist scharf, ach wär' er lau!
Es schimmert der Schnee, ach wär' es Thau!
Ach wäre die Erde grüne!
Basil Lanneau Gildersleeve, "Platen's Poems," in Essays and Studies, Educational and Literary (Baltimore: N. Murray, 1890), pp. 401-450 (at 403):
We may well despair of giving to an English translation the finished perfection of language which is to many the highest, to some the sole charm of Platen.
Related post: That Man, Where Is He Now?

Friday, July 10, 2009


Star Wars

Randall Jarrell, The Breath Of Night:
The moon rises. The red cubs rolling
In the ferns by the rotten oak
Stare over a marsh and a meadow
To the farm's white wisp of smoke.
A spark burns, high in heaven.
Deer thread the blossoming rows
Of the old orchard, rabbits
Hop by the well-curb. The cock crows
From the tree by the widow's walk;
Two stars in the trees to the west,
Are snared, and an owl's soft cry
Runs like a breath through the forest.
Here too, though death is hushed, though joy
Obscures, like night, their wars,
The beings of this world are swept
By the Strife that moves the stars.
A beautiful poem, but I find the last line a bit puzzling. Traditionally, it isn't Strife that moves the stars, but Love. See, for example, the last line of Dante's Paradiso: "l'amor che move il sole e l'altre stelle."

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Curious About Nature

Niko Tinbergen, Curious Naturalists (New York: Basic Books, 1958), chapter 16:
It seems to me that no man need be ashamed of being curious about nature. It could even be argued that this is what he got his brains for and that no greater insult to nature and to oneself is possible than to be indifferent to nature.


Scientific examination naturally requires concentration, a narrowing of interest, and the knowledge we gained through this has meant a great deal to us. But it has become increasingly clear to me how valuable have been the long periods of relaxed, unspecified, uncommitted interest.


The curious naturalist often feels sorry for those of his fellow-men who miss such an experience; and miss it unnecessarily, because it is there, to be seen, all the time. Nor is reading about it anything more than a poor substitute; direct, active observation is the only real thing.
Related post: The Investigation of Nature.


Bible Study

Gary A. Rendsburg, "The Mock of Baal in 1 Kings 18:27," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50.3 (July 1988) 414-417 (at 414):
One of the most memorable scenes in the entire Bible is the contest between Elijah the prophet of Yahweh and the 450 prophets of Baal atop Mt. Carmel. The confrontation, recorded in 1 Kings 18, called on both parties to attempt to produce rain, with the Baal prophets going first and Elijah scheduled second. When the former's efforts from morning until noon had produced no results, Elijah began to taunt his opponents about the inefficacy of their god. His exact words were as follows: "Shout in a loud voice, for he is a god, kî śîaḥ wekî śîg lô, or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping or waking up" (1 Kgs 18:27).

The words left untranslated apparently form a hendiadys, i.e., the use of two words (śîaḥ and śîg) to express one idea (compare the English "bits and pieces" or "odds and ends"). Unfortunately, however, none of the usual meanings of these Hebrew words fits the present context, so the phrase has proved to be enigmatic for scholars.
Rendsburg in his article argues that śîg (go aside, move away) means to go aside for the purpose of defecating (Targum Jonathan translates it as a euphemism for ease oneself) and that śîaḥ means to urinate (there are cognates with this meaning in other Semitic languages). He concludes (at 416):
In short, there is good reason to conclude that both elements in the hendiadys, śîaḥ and śîg, refer to excretion and that the phrase should be rendered "he may be defecating/urinating." These would certainly be powerful words from the mouth of Elijah and would be a most appropriate mock of the Canaanite god Baal.
Unfortunately, I don't know Hebrew, so I can't judge how plausible this interpretation is. There can be no question of any classical influences, but like Old Porteous, I always come back to the Greeks and the Romans, or, in this case, the Greeks.

First, on "going aside," see Xenophon, Education of Cyrus 1.2.16 (tr. Walter Miller):
There remains even unto this day evidence of their moderate fare and of their working off by exercise what they eat: for even to the present time it is a breach of decorum for a Persian to spit or to blow his nose or to appear afflicted with flatulence; it is a breach of decorum also to be seen going apart [ἰόντα ποι] either to make water or for anything else of that kind. And this would not be possible for them, if they did not lead an abstemious life and throw off the moisture by hard work, so that it passes off in some other way.
Second, on the bodily functions of gods, see the passages collected at Holy Ordures and Noctes Scatologicae: Divine Flatulence, to which add Aristophanes, Clouds 373 (tr. Jeffrey Henderson), where, after learning that clouds cause rain, Strepsiades says:
And imagine, before now I thought that rain is Zeus pissing through a sieve!

καίτοι πρότερον τὸν Δί' ἀληθῶς ᾤμην διὰ κοσκίνου οὐρεῖν.
J.P. Mallory and D.Q. Adams, Oxford Introduction to Proto-European and the Proto-European World (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 126, connect Greek οὐρέω (ouréō = urinate) with Hittite warsa- (rainfall) and Sanskrit várṣati (rain). Some derive Greek οὐρανός (ouranós = sky, heaven, cf. Latin and English Uranus) from a root that is also the source of ouréō: see Gregory Nagy, Comparative Studies in Greek and Indic Meter (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1974), p. 275, who cites Hjalmar Frisk, Griechisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, II, 446-447. One is supposed to be able to search Frisk at the Indo-European Etymological Dictionary web site, but I have consistently bad luck with this tool. It almost always responds to my queries with "Sorry, the server may be busy: please try your request later!" M.L. West, Indo-European Poetry and Myth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), p. 137, discussing the suffix *-nos, derives Greek Ouranós from *Worsanos = lord of rain.

Hat tip: Rick Brannan, Humor in Ancient Literature (the meme).

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Method of Study

Linnie Marsh Wolfe, ed., John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1938; rpt. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979), p. 69:
This was my 'method of study': I drifted about from rock to rock, from stream to stream, from grove to grove. Where night found me, there I camped. When I discovered a new plant, I sat down beside it for a minute or a day, to make its acquaintance and try to hear what it had to say. When I came to moraines, or ice-scratches upon the rocks, I traced them, learning what I could of the glacier that made them. I asked the boulders I met whence they came and whither they were going. I followed to their fountains the various soils upon which the forests and meadows are planted; and when I discovered a mountain or rock of marked form and structure, I climbed about it, comparing it with its neighbors, marking its relations to the forces that have acted upon it, glaciers, streams, avalanches, etc., in seeking to account for its form, finish, position, and general characters. It is astonishing how high and far we can climb in mountains that we love, and how little we require food and clothing. Weary at times, with only the birds and squirrels to compare notes with, I rested beneath the spicy pines, among the needles and burrs, or upon the plushy sod of a glacier meadow, touching my cheek to its gentians and daisies. No evil consequence from 'waste of time,' concerning which good people who accomplish nothing make such a sermonizing, has befallen me.

Monday, July 06, 2009


So Foul a Deed

Thanks very much to Dr. Robert J. O'Hara for the following email:
I'm enjoying your series of blog posts on trees and groves. Here's another you may like -- George Wither's "When I behold the havocke and the spoyle" (1635):

And there's also Stanley Kunitz's "The War Against the Trees" (1958):

Many thanks for the interesting posts.
George Wither, When I behold the havocke and the spoyle:
When I behold the Havocke and the Spoyle,
Which (ev'n within the compasse of my Dayes)
Is made through every quarter of this Ile,
In Woods and Groves (which were this Kingdomes praise)
And, when I minde with how much greedinesse,
We seeke the present Gaine in every thing;
Not caring (so our Lust we may possesse)
What Dammage to Posterity we bring:
They doe, me-thinkes, as if they did foresee,
That, some of those, whom they have cause to hate,
Should come in Future-times, their Heires to be:
Or else, why should they such things perpetrate:
For, if they thinke their Children shall succeed;
Or, can believe, that they begot their Heires;
They could not, surely, doe so foule a Deed,
As to deface the Land, that should be theirs.
What our Forefathers planted, we destroy:
Nay, all Mens labours, living heretofore,
And all our owne, we lavishly employ
To serve our present Lusts; and, for no more.
 But, let these carelesse Wasters learne to know,
That, as Vaine-Spoyle is open Injury;
So, Planting is a Debt, they truely owe,
And ought to pay to their Posterity.
Selfe-love, for none, but for it selfe, doth care;
And, onely, for the present, taketh paine:
But, Charity for others doth prepare;
And, joyes in that, which Future-Time shall gaine.
 If, After-Ages may my Labours blesse;
 I care not, much, how Litle I possesse.
Stanley Kunitz, The War Against the Trees:
The man who sold his lawn to standard oil
Joked with his neighbors come to watch the show
While the bulldozers, drunk with gasoline,
Tested the virtue of the soil
Under the branchy sky
By overthowing first the privet-row.
Forsythia-forays and hydrangea-raids
Were but preliminaries to a war
Against the great-grandfathers of the town,
So freshly lopped and maimed.
They struck and struck again,
And with each elm a century went down.
All day the hireling engines charged the trees,
Subverting them by hacking underground
In grub-dominions, where dark summer's mole
Rampages through his halls,
Till a northern seizure shook
Those crowns, forcing the giants to their knees.
I saw the ghosts of children at their games
Racing beyond their childhood in the shade,
And while the green world turned its death-foxed page
And a red wagon wheeled,
I watched them disappear
Into the suburbs of their grievous age.
Ripped from the craters much too big for hearts
The club-roots bared their amputated coils,
Raw gorgons matted blind, whose pocks and scars
Cried Moon! On a corner lot
One witness-moment, caught
In the rear-view mirrors of the passing cars.
Related posts: Like Another Erysichthon; The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Sunday, July 05, 2009


Old Porteous

George Orwell, Coming Up For Air, III.1:
It's always that way with old Porteous. All his talk is about things that happened centuries ago. Whatever you start off with it always comes back to statues and poetry and the Greeks and Romans. If you mention the Queen Mary he'll start telling you about Phoenician triremes. He never reads a modern book, refuses to know their names, never looks at any newspaper except The Times and takes a pride in telling you he's never been to the pictures. Except for a few poets like Keats and Wordsworth he thinks the modern world—and from his point of view the modern world is the last two thousand years—just oughtn't to have happened.

I'm part of the modern world myself, but I like to hear him talk. He'll stroll round the shelves and haul out first one book and then another, and now and again he'll read you a piece between little puffs of smoke, generally having to translate it from the Latin or something as he goes. It's all kind of peaceful, kind of mellow. All a little like a schoolmaster, and yet it soothes you, somehow. While you listen you aren't in the same world as trams and gas-bills and insurance companies. It's all temples and olive trees, and peacocks and elephants, and chaps in the arena with their nets and tridents, and winged lions and eunuchs and galleys and catapults, and generals in brass armour galloping their horses over the soldiers' shields.

Saturday, July 04, 2009



Richard Wilbur, Riddle:
Where far in forest I am laid,
In a place ringed around by stones,
Do not look for melancholy shade,
And have no thoughts of buried bones;
For I am bodiless and bright,
And fill this glade with sudden glow;
The leaves are washed in under-light;
Shade lies upon the boughs like snow.
Albert Bierstadt, My Camp in the Rocky Mountains



Greek Anthology 9.234 (Crinagoras, tr. D.L. Page):
How long, poor fool, fluttering on hopes as high as the chilly clouds, my soul, will you sketch dream upon dream of riches? Nothing comes to man's possession of its own accord. Pursue rather the Muses' gifts, and leave these dim phantoms of the mind to fools.

ἄχρι τεῦ, ἆ δείλαιε, κεναῖς ἐπὶ ἐλπίσι, θυμέ,
  πωτηθεὶς ψυχρῶν ἀσσοτάτω νεφέων
ἄλλοις ἄλλ' ἐπ' ὄνειρα διαγράψεις ἀφένοιο;
  κτητὸν γὰρ θνητοῖς οὐδὲ ἓν αὐτόματον.
Μουσέων ἀλλ' ἐπὶ δῶρα μετέρχεο, ταῦτα δ' ἀμυδρά
  εἴδωλα ψυχῆς ἠλεμάτοισι μέθες.
Gow and Page, commentary (The Garland of Philip) on line 4:
The point seems to be that it is no good merely dreaming of riches, hoping that they will fall into your lap; wealth will come only with effort—a kind of effort beyond the power of Crinagoras, who will be well advised to stop dreaming of becoming a millionaire and to make good use of the talents which the Muses have given him.

Friday, July 03, 2009



Walter de la Mare, Trees:
Of all the trees in England,
    Her sweet three corners in,
Only the Ash, the bonnie Ash
    Burns fierce while it is green.

Of all the trees in England,
    From sea to sea again,
The Willow loveliest stoops her boughs
    Beneath the driving rain.

Of all the trees in England,
    Past frankincense and myrrh,
There's none for smell, of bloom and smoke,
    Like Lime and Juniper.

Of all the trees in England,
    Oak, Elder, Elm and Thorn,
The Yew alone burns lamps of peace
    For them that lie forlorn.
Related post: Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009


Like Another Erysichthon

Kenelm Henry Digby, Compitum; or, The Meeting of the Ways at the Catholic Church. The Second Book, 2nd ed. (London: C. Dolman, 1852), pp. 30-31:
There was an oak, itself a grove, una nemus, under whose spreading branches I had sat and read old books each day during two summers. No repose like this under the greenwood tree. Here the ancients would have thought the Dryads led the festal dance; for under no other shade on all that common was the grass so delicate. If unacquainted with enterprising men of money, who, as Pliny says of Nero, accelerate the death even of trees, one might have thought that it would have outlived generations yet unborn, like the lofty chestnut, with deep roots, proof against the wintry tempest, that Virgil describes,
—————"immota manet, multosque per annos
Multa virûm volvens durando secula vincit."‡
To me it was like already an old friend: though I did not, like Papienus Crispus, the consul, kiss it and embrace it, as he used to do the beech tree on the Tusculan hill, I used to lie under it, and feel transported to Camaldoli and Vallombrosa, and even talk to it as many have talked to trees, like Perigone, daughter of Sinis, who flying from Theseus, after he had slain her father, implored the thorns and wild asparagus, as if they could hear, to screen her from view, promising in return never to cut them more, for which reason the Toxides, as sprung from her, respected these poor plants. Alas! on my return, after an absence of some months, I found that less gentle visitors than even Shakspeare's duke, who would drink under this tree, had been to that spot; for the mayor of the adjacent town, like another Erysichthon, had profanely cut it down. One day carelessly he sent his wood-cutter,
"Et nemora evertit multos ignava per annos,
Antiquasque domos avium cum stirpibus imis
I came but in time to see the ground strewed with some naked branches, and the last waggon that was employed in their removal. Thus was I directed to a better and more lasting shade.

‡ Georg. ii. 295. § Georg. ii. 208.
The tree hugger "Papienus Crispus" is a mistake for "Passienus Crispus" — see Pliny, Natural History 16.91.242 (tr. John Bostock and H.T. Riley):
In the territory about the suburbs of Tusculum, upon a hill known by the name of Corne, there is a grove which has been consecrated to Diana by the people of Latium from time immemorial; it is formed of beeches, the foliage of which has all the appearance of being trimmed by art. Passienus Crispus, the orator, who in our time was twice consul, and afterwards became still more famous as having Nero for his step-son, on marrying his mother Agrippina, was passionately attached to a fine tree that grew in this grove, and would often kiss and embrace it: not only would he lie down, too, beneath it, but he would also moisten its roots with wine.

est in suburbano Tusculani agri colle, qui Corne appellatur, lucus antiqua religione Dianae sacratus a Latio, velut arte tonsili coma fagei nemoris. in hoc arborem eximiam aetate nostra amavit Passienus Crispus bis cos., orator, Agrippinae matrimonio et Nerone privigno clarior postea, osculari conplectique eam solitus, non modo cubare sub ea vinumque illi adfundere.
Here are translations, by H. Ruston Fairclough, of the two passages from Vergil's Georgics quoted by Digby:
Unmoved it abides, and many generations, many ages of men it outlives, letting them roll by while it endures. (2.194-295)

Levelling groves that have idled many a year, and up-tearing by their deepest roots the olden homes of the birds. (2.208-210)
Related posts: The Fate of Old Trees; Scandalous Misuse of the Globe; The Groves Are Down; Massacre; Executioners; Anagyrasian Spirit; Butchers of Our Poor Trees; Cruel Axes; Odi et Amo; Kentucky Chainsaw Massacre; Hornbeams; Protection of Sacred Groves; Lex Luci Spoletina; Turullius and the Grove of Asclepius; Caesarian Section; Death of a Noble Pine; Two Yew Trees in Chilthorne, Somerset; The Fate of the Shrubbery at Weston; The Trees Are Down; Hornbeams; Sad Ravages in the Woods; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?