Thursday, December 31, 2009


Too Savage to be Photographed?

Norman Douglas, Old Calabria, chapter XIX ("Uplands of Pollino," ellipses in original):
During this afternoon ramble I often wondered what the burghers of Taranto would think of these sylvan solitudes. Doubtless they would share the opinion of a genteel photographer of Morano who showed me some coloured pictures of local brides in their appropriate costumes, such as are sent to relatives in America after weddings. He possessed a good camera, and I asked whether he had never made any pictures of this fine forest scenery. No, he said; he had only once been to the festival of the Madonna di Pollino, but he went alone—his companion, an avvocato, got frightened and failed to appear at the last moment.

'So I went alone,' he said, 'and those forests, it must be confessed, are too savage to be photographed. Now, if my friend had come, he might have posed for me, sitting comically at the foot of a tree, with crossed legs, and smoking a cigar, like this....Or he might have pretended to be a wood-cutter, bending forwards and felling a tree...tac, tac, tac...without his jacket, of course. That would have made a picture. But those woods and mountains, all by themselves—no! The camera revolts. In photography, as in all good art, the human element must predominate.'
The English word savage comes from Latin silvaticus (wild), itself from silva (wood, forest). Unlike the genteel photographer of Morano, I prefer, in painting and photography and life, the opposite—a landscape in which the human element is completely absent. In Eliot Porter's photograph Spruce Trees and Hawkweed, for example, even the bit of railing, made by human hands, is somehow intrusive:

Better, to my mind, is Porter's Rock Spires and Spruce Trees, in which there is no trace at all of the human:

Related post: Wilderness.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The Anti-Library

Thanks to Dave Lull for introducing me to the concept of the anti-library and for passing along the following explanations of the concept.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (New York: Random House, 2007), p. 1:
The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with 'Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?' and others—a very small minority—who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real estate market allow you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call the collection of unread books an antilibrary.
Bjørn Stærk, Lessons from the anti-library:
Taleb introduces the Hayekian and almost taoistic metaphor of the anti-library: A library of the books you haven't read, of the things you don't know. A massive collection of unknowledge, the anti-library contains all the books that may still change your life. Most of your favourite books are there, hidden and forgotten. It has facts you need to know, authors you'd worship. Only people who read very little can think the anti-library doesn't matter. To book-lovers, and especially generalists like me, who jump all over the place without focus, the stacks of the anti-library loom higher and darker for every book we read. Every book that changes me reminds me of the ones that still might.
Related posts:


Have You Read Them All?

Maverick Philosopher, "Have You Read Them All?":
It is not unusual for a non-bookman, upon entering the book-lined domicile of a bookman, to crack, "Have you read them all?" The quip smacks of a veiled accusation of hypocrisy, the suggestion being that the bookman is making a false show of an erudition and well-readedness the likes of which he does not possess. I invariably reply, "This is no show library, this is a working library." That tends to shut 'em up.
Umberto Eco, How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays, tr. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), pp. 116-117 (from "How to Justify a Private Library"):
The visitor enters and says, "What a lot of books! Have you read them all?" At first I thought that the question characterized only people who had scant familiarity with books, people accustomed to seeing a couple of shelves with five paperback mysteries and a children's encyclopedia bought in installments. But experience has taught me that the same words can be uttered also by people above suspicion. It could be said that they are still people who consider a bookshelf as a mere storage place for already read books and do not think of the library as a working tool. But there is more to it than that. I believe that, confronted by a vast array of books, anyone will be seized by the anguish of learning and will inevitably lapse into asking the question that expresses his torment and his remorse.


But the question about your books has to be answered, while your jaw stiffens and rivulets of cold sweat trickle down your spine. In the past I adopted a tone of contemptuous sarcasm. "I haven’t read any of them; otherwise, why would I keep them here?" But this is a dangerous answer because it invites the obvious follow-up: "And where do you put them after you’ve read them?" The best answer is the one always used by Roberto Leydi: "And more, dear sir, many more," which freezes the adversary and plunges him into a state of awed admiration. But I find it merciless and angst-generating. Now I have fallen back on the riposte: "No, these are the ones I have to read by the end of the month. I keep the others in my office," a reply that on the one hand suggests a sublime ergonomic strategy, and on the other leads the visitor to hasten the moment of his departure.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


Arboricide on the Wayne Ranch

In John Steinbeck's novel To a God Unknown, rancher Joseph Wayne becomes convinced that the spirit of his dead father has entered an oak tree. (Ch. 4.) When he kills chicken hawks, he hangs them in the tree, and when he notches the ears of his cattle, he nails the ear notchings to the tree. (Ch. 6.) He talks to the tree, as if to his father, e.g. when his brother Benjamin is killed. (Ch. 11.) He slaughters a pig and wipes its blood on the bark of the tree. (Ch. 15.) He pours wine on the tree's bark and places a piece of barbecued meat in the crotch of the tree. (Ch. 16.) His brother Burton chides him:
"I've seen you make offerings to the tree. I've seen the pagan growth in you, and I come to warn you." .... "Joseph," he begged, "come to the barn and pray with me. Let us cut down the tree."

But Joseph swung away from him and shook off the hand that was put out to restrain him. "Save yourself, Burton," he laughed shortly. "Now go to bed. Don't interfere with my games. Keep to your own."
(Ch. 16.) Joseph's wife Elizabeth gives birth to a boy, and Joseph wants to let the baby sit in the crotch of the tree. Burton begs him not to:
Elizabeth had been staring from one to the other of them. She stood up and held the baby against her breast. "What are you two arguing about?" she demanded. "There's something in this I don't know about."

"I’ll tell her," Burton threatened.

"Tell her what? What is there to tell?"

Burton sighed deeply. "Elizabeth, my brother is denying Christ. He is worshipping as the old pagans did. He is losing his soul and letting in the evil."

"I'm denying no Christ," Joseph said sharply. "I’m doing a simple thing that pleases me."

"Then the hanging of sacrifices, the pouring of blood, the offering of every good thing to this tree is a simple thing? I've seen you sneak out of the house at night, and I’ve heard you talk to this tree. Is that a simple thing?"

"Yes, a simple thing," Joseph said. "There's no hurt in it."

"And the offering of your own first-born child to the tree — is that a simple thing, too?"

"Yes, a little game."
(Ch. 19.) Burton is so upset that he leaves the ranch for good. After Burton's departure, Joseph worries that the oak tree is dying:
When the dawn came he slipped out of bed and went outside. The oak leaves were a little shriveled and some of their glossiness was gone.

Thomas, on his way to the stable, saw Joseph and walked over. "By George, there is something wrong with that tree," he said. Joseph watched anxiously while he inspected the bark and the limbs. He picked up a hoe and dug into the soft earth at the base of the trunk. Only two strokes he made, and then stepped back. "There it is, Joseph."

Joseph knelt down beside the hole and saw a chopped path on the trunk. "What did it?" he demanded angrily.

Thomas laughed brutally. "Why, Burton girdled your tree! He's keeping the devil out."
(Ch. 20.)

Hat tip: My son, who gave me To a God Unknown as a Christmas present.

Related posts: The Woods of Bachycraigh; Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; 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.

Monday, December 28, 2009



Charles Causley, Innocent's Song:
Who's that knocking on the window,
Who's that standing at the door,
What are all those presents
Lying on the kitchen floor?

Who is the smiling stranger
With hair as white as gin,
What is he doing with the children
And who could have let him in?

Why has he rubies on his fingers,
A cold, cold crown on his head,
Why, when he caws his carol,
Does the salty snow run red?

Why does he ferry my fireside
As a spider on a thread,
His fingers made of fuses
And his tongue of gingerbread?

Why does the world before him
Melt in a million suns,
Why do his yellow, yearning eyes
Burn like saffron buns?

Watch where he comes walking
Out of the Christmas flame,
Dancing, double-talking:
Herod is his name.


In an Ancient Library

Thomas Thornely, In an Ancient Library :
Tread softly here! The dust is deep,
And in the dust long buried, here they sleep,
Who, through the years, their ancient order keep.

In pages spotted o'er with mould,
Some edged with lingering trace of tarnished gold,
The serried tomes their ponderous wisdom hold.

From age-worn lancet overhead,
A little glooming, glimmering light is shed,
And by this light the old-time readers read.

What did they seek, who gathered here,
Where but the bibliomaniac cares to peer,
And the chance-comer scarcely veils his sneer?

And what was found? Did any rise
From these cramped seats, with startled wondering eyes,
Wrapped in the glory of some vast surmise?

Touch lightly! and with reverence due;
'Twas here perchance some darkened spirit drew
The strength to build a broken life anew.

Here lies, in frayed and tattered dress,
What once could fire the blood, or soothe distress,
Or wake the infrequent smiles of loneliness.

Some puzzled sage has hither brought
His tangled thicket of bewildered thought,
And sought with sighs for clue—and vainly sought.

And here some eager questioning mind,
Aflame with zeal some saving truth to find,
Pressed on and left authority behind,

And, to his dire confusion, found,
That he, by solemn vows and orders bound,
Had walked unwitting on forbidden ground.

This portly, cardinal-crested tome,
Like shell that vibrates to the distant foam,
Still holds faint rumblings of the wrath of Rome.

Its home-spun neighbour meekly strives
To gather honey from abandoned hives,
And store the sweets of sanctimonious lives.

While here, o'er-sprawled with gloss and note,
With lines deep-scored for pedagogues to quote,
The wind was brewed for many a boisterous throat.

This hide, in rusty ribbons slit,
Still guards its wealth of dull forensic wit,
As when the salt of usage seasoned it.

These shrivelled leaves of old romance
Have made the impetuous novice backward glance,
And change the censer for the pennoned lance.

Here science tried her infant wings,
And mingled dark and subtly-dangerous things
With her devout, inspired imaginings.

To this blurred, mildewed scroll 'twas given,
The sodden dough of life with joy to leaven,
And earth suffuse with rainbow tints of heaven.

Dim visions of approaching light
Have hung and hovered here and, at the sight,
Dust-clouded, thirsting souls have drunk delight.

Judge gently! Check the indulgent smile;
Mock not at quaint conceit or pedant style;
But stay and ponder on the past awhile.

Scorn not the stinted light it shed;
The lips, that at this long-dried fountain fed,
Have quivered passion-shaken as they read.

Sunday, December 27, 2009


Horace, Satire 1.8.40-50, and Wetwood

The setting of Horace, Satire 1.8, is the Esquiline in Rome, which used to be a cemetery, but now was the site of beautiful gardens. Witches still frequented the Esquiline under cover of darkness, to excavate bones for use in their magical rites. A wooden statue of the god Priapus tells how he scared the witches Sagana and Canidia away (lines 40-50, tr. H. Ruston Fairclough):
Why tell each detail—how in converse with Sagana the shades made echoes sad and shrill, how the two stealthily buried in the ground a wolf's beard and the tooth of a spotted snake, how the fire blazed higher from the image of wax, and how as a witness I shuddered at the words and deeds of the two Furies—though not unavenged? For as loud as the noise of a bursting bladder was the crack when my fig-wood buttock split. Away they ran into town. Then amid great laughter and mirth you might see Canidia's teeth and Sagana's high wig come tumbling down, and from their arms the herbs and enchanted love-knots.

singula quid memorem, quo pacto alterna loquentes
umbrae cum Sagana resonarint triste et acutum
utque lupi barbam variae cum dente colubrae
abdiderint furtim terris et imagine cerea
largior arserit ignis et ut non testis inultus
horruerim voces furiarum et facta duarum?
nam, displosa sonat quantum vesica, pepedi
diffissa nate ficus; at illae currere in urbem.
Canidiae dentis, altum Saganae caliendrum
excidere atque herbas atque incantata lacertis
vincula cum magno risuque iocoque videres.
Priapus broke wind, as the Latin (pepedi) makes clear.

It is a curious fact that methane gas (a chemical component of flatus) is produced in certain trees, and that the pressure of the methane gas can cause the wood to split. I learned this fact from Oliver Rackham, The History of the Countryside (London: J.M. Dent, 1986; rpt. London: Phoenix, 2000), p. 240:
Elms are subject to many diseases. They have the famous and mysterious property of unexpectedly dropping big boughs. Of this I have many times been a near-witness, with English and East Anglian elms and also in America. It happens, not under the stress of gales or heavy rain, but on calm hot days. The boughs do not, therefore, drop through weakness, but are actively severed. I suspect some connection with the bacterial wetwood that infects nearly all elms (Rackham 1975); the wetwood bacteria generate methane gas under pressure which is capable of rending the wood apart.
"Rackham 1975" is a reference to Oliver Rackham, Hayley Wood: Its History and Ecology (Cambridge: Cambridgeshire and Naturalists' Trust, 1975), which I have not seen.

There is a discussion of the phenomenon in J.C. Ward and W.Y. Pong, "Wetwood in Trees: A Timber Resource Problem," United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report PNW-112 (August 1980), p. 12:
During the summer growing season, high positive gas pressures have been recorded in wetwood of standing hardwood trees, and these pressures are attributed to bacterial metabolism (33, 79, 191, 221, 222). Trunk gases contributing to the positive pressures in wetwood are carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, nitrogen, and hydrogen sulfide. Zeikus and Ward (222) established that the methane gas is produced by an autotropic anaerobe which is a secondary invader and not common to all wetwood populations even within the same host species. This methanogen, subsequently characterized and named Methanobacterium arbophilicum by Zeikus and Henning (221), is also found in soil and water.
The articles by Zeikus are cited on p. 56:
221. Zeikus, J. G., and D. L. Henning. 1975. Methanobacterium arbophilicum sp. nov. An obligate anaerobe isolated from wetwood of living trees. Antonie van Leeuwenhoek J. Microbial. and Serol. 41(4):543-552.

222. Zeikus, J. G., and J. C. Ward. 1974. Methane formation in living trees: A microbial origin. Science 184(4142):1181-1183.
Wetwood also has an unpleasant odor or pong (Ward & Pong, p. 10).

Unfortunately, I can't find any references to wetwood in fig trees.

Articles (which I haven't yet seen) on Horace, Satire 1.8, include:

Saturday, December 26, 2009


How to Keep Your Spirits Up

Henry David Thoreau, Journal (December 25, 1856):
Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.
Jasper Francis Cropsey, Winter Scene, North Conway, New Hampshire



Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), pp. 97-98 ("A Little Treatise on Colors"):
The leaves of the oaks are like the leather of bookbinding. How to speak otherwise of them, when in October they take on a brown hue and are as if leathery, ready to be set with gold. Why this excessive poverty of language any time we deal with colors? What do we have at our disposal when we try to name the splendor of colors? Some leaves are yellow, some red, and is that all? But there are also yellow-red, and flame-red, and bull's blood-red (why this recourse to comparisons?). And birches. Their leaves are like small, pale-yellow coins, sparsely attached to twigs which are of what hue? Lilac, from the lilacs, and violet, from the violet (again, these unwieldy comparisons). How does the yellow of birch leaves differ from the yellow of aspens, underlaid with copper, stronger and stronger, till copper wins. A copper color? Again a thing, copper. And probably only green and yellow are deeply rooted in the language, for blue the etymologists associate with flavus, yellow, while red again, in its old Norse forms, goes back to trees, the rowan or reynir, the mountain ash, or perhaps to rust. Is the language so resistant because our eyes are not very attentive to details of nature unless they serve a practical purpose? In October, pumpkins ripen in the fields and their color is orange. Why this recourse to orange, how many eyes saw oranges in a northern country?

I put this all down, for I have encountered difficulty in describing autumn in the valley of the Connecticut River in a precise and simple manner, without the props of comparison and metaphor.

Friday, December 25, 2009


And Every Stone Shall Cry

Richard Wilbur, A Christmas Hymn:
And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out.

—St. Luke XIX, 39-40

A stable lamp is lighted
Whose glow shall wake the sky;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
And straw like gold shall shine;
A barn shall harbor heaven,
A stall become a shrine.

This child through David's city
Shall ride in triumph by;
The palm shall strew its branches,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
Though heavy, dull, and dumb,
And lie within the roadway
To pave his kingdom come.

Yet he shall be forsaken,
And yielded up to die;
The sky shall groan and darken,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry
For stony hearts of men:
God's blood upon the spearhead,
God's love refused again.

But now, as at the ending,
The low is lifted high;
The stars shall bend their voices,
And every stone shall cry.
And every stone shall cry,
In praises of the child
By whose descent among us
The worlds are reconciled.

Thursday, December 24, 2009


The Night Before Christmas

Charles Causley, At Nine of the Night I Opened My Door:
At nine of the night I opened my door
That stands midway between moor and moor,
And all around me, silver-bright,
I saw that the world had turned to white.

Thick was the snow on field and hedge
And vanished was the river-sedge,
Where winter skilfully had wound
A shining scarf without a sound.

And as I stood and gazed my fill
A stable-boy came down the hill.
With every step I saw him take
Flew at his heel a puff of flake.

His brow was whiter than the hoar,
A beard of freshest snow he wore,
And round about him, snowflake starred,
A red horse-blanket from the yard.

In a red cloak I saw him go,
His back was bent, his step was slow,
And as he laboured through the cold
He seemed a hundred winters old.

I stood and watched the snowy head,
The whiskers white, the cloak of red.
'A Merry Christmas!' I heard him cry.
'The same to you, old friend,' said I.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Sensus Literalis

Edward Kennard Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), p. 86:
St. Thomas Aquinas and Dante give what looks like a final and scientific statement about allegory, with the four varieties of meaning that might attend a verse of scripture or a poet's verse—the sensus literalis, that is, the obvious or historical meaning of the words; sensus moralis, their application to human character; sensus allegoricus or mysticus, the prophecy of the Gospels in some passage of the Old Testament; and the sensus anagogicus, which revealed somethg about man's existence in the life to come.
When I read, I seldom get beyond the sensus literalis, the literal meaning of the words, which is often not at all obvious, at least to me. See, for example, Donald J. Greene, "'Pictures in the Mind': Johnson and Imagery," in Johnson, Boswell and Their Circle: Essays Presented to Lawrence Fitzroy Powell in Honour of His Eighty-Fourth Birthday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 137-158 (at 141):
The modern reader can, of course, miss the subtler points in Johnson's imagery. Sometimes this is because time has obscured references that were vivid to Johnson and his audience. The point of Johnson's quip about the Scotch, 'Droves of them would come up [to London], and attest anything for the honour of Scotland' is lost (even though Boswell tries to help by italicizing the key word) when we fail to see, what Johnson's contemporaries did, the dense herds of Scottish cattle regularly driven down the dusty roads of northern England to Smithfield. The metaphor in Johnson's protest about Boswell's habit of trying to stimulate controversy between Johnson and others is now virtually dead—'It is very uncivil to pit two people against one another.' But again Boswell's italics indicate that it could call up a vivid picture when cock-fighting was still a popular sport.
David West, The Imagery and Poetry of Lucretius (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1969), is especially good at this kind of analysis.

Related post: Fossil Poetry.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Docendo Discimus

Edward Kennard Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), p. 78 (on St. Ambrose, footnote omitted):
He is a modest teacher. "When I was rushed from the bench of justice into the priesthood," he says, "I began to teach what I had not learned myself.—The result is that I now must learn and teach at the same time." This confession of Ambrose's must be made by any teacher of any subject at any stage of his career. Sometimes, at the outset, one makes the confession with a certain glee, as if it involved a kind of crime against society which one committed without detection. Later, one perceives that it is the normal condition of the teacher and the vitality of his art.
Ambrose, De Officiis Ministrorum 1.4:
ego enim raptus de tribunalibus atque administrationis infulis ad sacerdotium, docere vos coepi quod ipse non didici. itaque factum est, ut prius docere inciperem, quam discere. discendum igitur mihi simul et docendum est, quoniam non vacavit ante discere.
A. Otto, Die Sprichwörter und sprichwörtlichen Redensarten der Römer (Leipzig: Teubner, 1890), p. 118 (no. 563), also cites Seneca, Ep. 7.8 (homines dum docent, discunt) and Serg. Explan. in Donat. 4.486.11 (cum enim docemus, discimus).


A Kind of Relief

Czeslaw Milosz, Road-side Dog (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), p. 31 ("In a Landscape"):
In a landscape that is nearly totally urban, just by the freeway, a pond, rushes, a wild duck, small trees. Those who pass on the road feel at that sight a kind of relief, though they would not be able to name it.

Sunday, December 20, 2009


Parodies of Housman

Thanks to Alan Knell for an interesting email in response to Kingsley Amis on A.E. Housman, and especially for drawing my attention to Hugh Kingsmill's parody of Housman:
What - still alive at twenty-two,
A clean, upstanding chap like you?
Sure, if your throat is hard to slit,
Slit your girl's, and swing for it.

Like enough you won't be glad,
When they come to hang you, lad:
But bacon's not the only thing
That's cured by hanging from a string.

So, when the spilt ink of the night
Spreads o'er the blotting-pad of light,
Lads whose job is still to do
Shall whet their knives, and think of you.
In a letter to his brother (September 19, 1925), Housman called Kingsmill's parody "the best I have seen."

Other parodies include Ezra Pound, Mr. Housman's Message:
O woe, woe,
People are born and die,
We also shall be dead pretty soon
Therefore let us act as if we were dead already.

The bird sits on the hawthorn tree
But he dies also, presently.
Some lads get hung, and some get shot.
Woeful is this human lot.
        Woe! woe, etcetera....

London is a woeful place,
Shropshire is much pleasanter.
Then let us smile a little space
Upon fond nature's morbid grace,
        Oh, Woe, woe, woe, etcetera....
and this one by Humbert Wolfe:
When lads have done with labour
  In Shropshire, one will cry
"Let's go and kill a neighbour,"
  And t'other answers "Aye!"
So this one kills his cousins,
  And that one kills his dad;
And, as they hang by dozens
  At Ludlow, lad by lad,
Each of them one-and-twenty,
  All of them murderers,
The hangman mutters: "Plenty
  Even for Housman's verse."


The Woods of Bachycraigh

R.W. Ketton-Cremer, "Johnson and the Countryside," in Johnson, Boswell and Their Circle: Essays Presented to Lawrence Fitzroy Powell in Honour of His Eighty-Fourth Birthday (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 65-75 (at 68):
While aware of the economic facts of forestry, he was opposed to ruthless felling—to the treatment of woodlands as an expendable asset. During his tour of Wales with Mr. and Mrs. Thrale in 1774, they visited the home of her ancestors at Bach-y-Graig; and when, a few years later, Thrale wanted to cut down the woods that surrounded the house, he helped her to resist. 'I never disputed with my Husband in my Life,' she wrote later, 'but to save my Wood in Wales from being cut down as Mr. Thrale apparently intended to do: after about a Week's Intreaties, Tears, and Sullens on my part, he promised me their Lives.' She mentioned Johnson's assistance in this matter more than once;3 and he long recalled these woods with pleasure. 'Boswell ... wants to see Wales,' he wrote in 1777, 'but except the woods of Bachycraigh, what is there in Wales?'4 Thrale had his way in the end, and the woods were sold for £4,000. It is unlikely that he replanted them.

3 Thraliana, i. 222, 424; Life, v. 586-7. 4 Letters, no. 545.
Related posts: Papadendrion; Papadendrion Again; A Bewilderment of Birds; Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; 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.

Saturday, December 19, 2009



Democritus, fragment 198 (from Stobaeus 3.4.72, tr. Kathleen Freeman):
The animal needing something knows how much it needs, the man does not.

τὸ χρῇζον οἶδεν, ὁκόσον χρῄζει, ὁ δὲ χρῄζων οὐ γινώσκει.
Related post: Lessons from Animals.


Kingsley Amis on A.E. Housman

Kingley Amis, A.E.H.:
Flame the westward skies adorning
Leaves no like on holt or hill;
Sounds of battle joined at morning
Wane and wander and are still.

Past the standards rent and muddied,
Past the careless heaps of slain,
Stalks a redcoat who, unbloodied,
Weeps with fury, not from pain.

Wounded lads, when to renew them
Death and surgeons cross the shade,
Still their cries, hug darkness to them;
All at last in sleep are laid.

All save one, who nightlong curses
Wounds imagined more than seen,
Who in level tones rehearses
What the fact of wounds must mean.


Papadendrion Again

From Eric Thomson:
Dictionary Johnson and Papadendrion Johnson were consubstantial. One of the two quotations Johnson provides for his definition of 'axe' is literally disarming, leaving the definiendum unseen and unheard. Only a tree-lover could end a dictionary entry for such an instrument of havoc with the words 'a venerable sight':

There stood a forest on the mountain's brow,
Which overlook'd the shaded plains below
No sounding axe presum'd these trees to bite,
Coeval with the world, a venerable sight.

[Dryden's translation of Ov. Met. VIII 329-30
'Silva frequens trabibus, quam nulla ceciderat aetas,
incipit a plano devexaque prospicit arva']

Friday, December 18, 2009



From Bear Mountain Tree Sit.

A good example of asyndetic, privative adjectives. Too bad it's marred by a misspelled word.


The Game

Umberto Eco, "How Not to Talk about Soccer," in How to Travel with a Salmon & Other Essays, tr. William Weaver (New York: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1994), pp. 39-42 (at 41):
"But you're going to watch the game tonight, aren't you?"

"No, I have to work on Book Z of the Metaphysics, you know? The Stagirite."

Thursday, December 17, 2009



Among Samuel Johnson's nicknames were Dictionary Johnson and Ursa Major. A less well-known appellation is Papadendrion. To show how he acquired it, a bit of background is needed.

In A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland, Johnson criticized the treeless aspect of Scotland:
From the bank of the Tweed to St. Andrews I had never seen a single tree which I did not believe had grown up far within the present century. Now and then about a gentleman's house stands a small plantation, which in Scotch is called a policy, but of these there are few, and those few all very young. The variety of sun and shade is here utterly unknown. There is no tree for either shelter or timber. The oak and the thorn is equally a stranger, and the whole country is extended in uniform nakedness, except that in the road between Kirkcaldy and Cowpar I passed for a few yards between two hedges. A tree might be a show in Scotland as a horse in Venice. At St. Andrews Mr. Boswell found only one, and recommended it to my notice; I told him it was rough and low, or looked as if I thought so. This, said he, is nothing to another a few miles off. I was still less delighted to hear that another tree was not to be seen nearer. Nay, said a gentleman that stood by, I know but of this and that tree in the county.

The Lowlands of Scotland had once undoubtedly an equal portion of woods with other countries. Forests are everywhere gradually diminished, as architecture and cultivation prevail by the increase of people and the introduction of arts. But I believe few regions have been denuded like this, where many centuries must have passed in waste without the least thought of future supply. Davies observes in his account of Ireland, that no Irishman had ever planted an orchard. From that negligence some excuse might be drawn from an unsettled state of life, and the instability of property; but in Scotland possession has long been secure, and inheritance regular, yet it may be doubted whether before the Union any man between Edinburgh and England had ever set a tree.

Of this improvidence no other account can be given than that it probably began in times of tumult, and continued because it had begun. Established custom is not easily broken, till some great event shakes the whole system of things, and life seems to recommence upon new principles. That before the Union the Scots had little trade and little money is no valid apology; for plantation is the least expensive of all methods of improvement. To drop a seed into the ground can cost nothing, and the trouble is not great of protecting the young plant till it is out of danger; though it must be allowed to have some difficulty in places like these, where they have neither wood for palisades, nor thorns for hedges.
Similarly, in a letter to Hester Thrale (September 6, 1773), he wrote:
Next morning, August 25, we continued our journey through a country not uncultivated, but so denuded of its woods that in all this journey I had not travelled a hundred yards between hedges, or seen five trees fit for the carpenter. A few small plantations may be found, but I believe scarcely any thirty years old; at least, as I do not forget to tell, they are all posteriour to the union.
Johnson may have been exaggerating, but there is other evidence to somewhat the same effect, much of it collected in Henry Grey Graham, The Social Life of Scotland in the Eighteenth Century, Volume 1 (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1899), pp. 195-200, e.g. (at 195):
The ancient woods had disappeared; wasted by raids, burnt as fuel, destroyed as encumbrances of the ground, or sold by impecunious owners. We become almost sceptical of their ever having existed at all when we read the accounts of travellers, like the caustic Sir Anthony Weldon, who in 1617 attended his Majesty, James VI., to his northern dominions, and protested that "Judas had scarce got a tree to hang himself," if he had betrayed his Lord in Scotland.
At any rate, Johnson's strictures on the deforestation of Scotland seems to have spurred some tree planting among the region's inhabitants. Sir Alexander Dick wrote to him from Prestonfield (February 17, 1777):
Indeed our country of Scotland, in spite of the union of the crowns, is still in most places so devoid of clothing, or cover from hedges and plantations, that it was well you gave your readers a sound Monitoire with respect to that circumstance. The truths you have told, and the purity of the language in which they are expressed, as your 'Journey' is universally read, may, and already appear to have a very good effect. For a man of my acquaintance, who has the largest nursery for trees and hedges in this country, tells me, that of late the demand upon him for these articles is doubled, and sometimes tripled. I have, therefore, listed Dr. Samuel Johnson in some of my memorandums of the principal planters and favourers of the enclosures, under a name which I took the liberty to invent from the Greek, Papadendrion. Lord Auchinleck and some few more are of the list. I am told that one gentleman in the shire of Aberdeen, viz. Sir Archibald Grant, has planted above fifty millions of trees on a piece of very wild ground at Monimusk: I must enquire if he has fenced them well, before he enters my list; for, that is the soul of enclosing. I began myself to plant a little, our ground being too valuable for much, and that is now fifty years ago; and the trees, now in my seventy-fourth year, I look up to with reverence, and shew them to my eldest son, now in his fifteenth year, and they are full the height of my country-house here, where I had the pleasure of receiving you, and hope again to have that satisfaction with our mutual friend, Mr. Boswell.
Papadendrion presumably comes from the Greek nouns πάππας (pappas), also spelled πάπας (papas), meaning papa, and δένδρον (dendron), also spelled δένδρεον (dendreon) meaning tree (diminutive δενδρίον = dendrion). The compound thus means "father of trees" or "tree father".

In his Latin poem Rivum a Mola Stoana Lichfieldiae Diffluentem (On the Stream Flowing from Stowe Mill at Lichfield), Johnson lamented that the shade along the stream had disappeared because the trees had been felled by duris ... securibus ("cruel axes"), and in a letter to Hester Thrale (August 14, 1769) he grumbled about the "audacious aldermen" who had cut down trees in George Lane in Litchfield. Henry Hitchings, Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr Johnson's Dictionary (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2005), p. 60, relates an interesting anecdote about Johnson as tree-hugger, but cites no source, and I have been unable to discover one:
Besides, there were more immediately analgesic rewards to be had from visiting the Strahans' home. In the courtyard stood a lime tree which Johnson, in moments of abstraction, liked to hug.
Related posts:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Ne Plus Ultra

Last Saturday (December 12) was Flaubert's birthday. Garrison Keillor, in The Writer's Almanac for that day, noted the anniversary and quoted Flaubert as having said:
I can imagine nothing in the world preferable to a nice, well-heated room, with the books one loves and the leisure one wants.
I always want to see chapter, verse, and the original language, which I found in a letter from Flaubert to Emmanuel Vasse (January 1845):
Je ne vois pas qu'il y ait au monde rien de préférable pour moi à une bonne chambre bien chauffée, avec les livres qu'on aime et tout le loisir désiré.
Keillor slightly truncated Francis Steegmuller's translation:
For me I can imagine nothing in the world preferable to a nice, well heated room, with the books one loves and the leisure one wants.
Literally, "all the leisure one wants." I'm sitting in such a room right now, with some leisure, but not all I want.

Edgar Degas, Portrait of Edmond Duranty

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


Frivolous Philologist

A.J. Liebling, Days with the DayDayBay:
Another of my lecturers was Professor Antoine Thomas, who taught Old Provençal. I remember that he had a spade-shaped white beard and that he accused Professor Anglade, of the University of Toulouse, his rival in their common field, of approaching the origin of a verb I have forgotten "avec sa légèreté coutumière" ("with his habitual frivolity"). What an epithet can be derived from that—"Frivolous philologist!" For thirty years I have been waiting for a chance to use it, but every time I get into an argument with a savant, he turns out to be of some other persuasion—a psychologist, perhaps, or a podiatrist. The neck my knife would fit has never presented itself.
There is an obituary of Antoine Thomas (November 29, 1857-May 17, 1935) by C. Brunel in Bibliothèque de l'école des chartes 96 (1935) 433-437.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Two Phrases in Paradise Lost

Primo Levi, The Voice of Memory: Interviews, 1961-1987, tr. Robert Gordon (New York: The New Press, 2001), p. 146 (on his favorite writers):
I must confess my guilt: I prefer to stick to the tried and tested, to make a hole and then nibble away at it, perhaps for an entire lifetime, like woodworms when they find a piece of wood to their taste.
If I may compare the small (me) to the great (Levi), I've been nibbling away at Milton's Paradise Lost for many years, and I'm rereading it now. Two phrases recently attracted my notice: 3.730 (countenance triform) and 4.266 (universal Pan). In what follows, I only point out what is common knowledge.

In the first phrase (countenance triform, referring to the moon), Milton probably alludes to the diva triformis of (e.g.) Horace, Odes 3.22.4. See Nisbet and Rudd ad loc.:
In her capacity as a goddess of witchcraft and magic, Hecate was associated with the moon (RE 7.277 f.); on earth she haunted junctions where three roads met (Soph. TrGF 535, Burkert 171); and she was also a goddess of the underworld. So a triple form was assigned to her at least as early as the fifth century (Pease on Virg. Aen 4.511, Bömer on Ov. fast. 1.141), and she is often represented thus in Greek art (Roscher 1.1903 ff., LIMC 6.1.1014 ff., 6.2.661 ff.). Since Artemis/Diana was, for different reasons, a moon goddess (LIMC 2.1.689 f., 2.2.512 ff., Pease on Cic. Nat. deor. 2.68, she also, by a typical process of syncretism, became associated with Hecate as a goddess of crossroads and of the underworld (Roscher 1.1896 f., RE 7.2770 f., LIMC 2.1.686 ff.). Hence triformis came to refer to Diana's power in heaven, earth, and the underworld; cf. a coin of 43 BC illustrated by Beard-North-Price 2.15, and the three statues portrayed on a wall-painting in the 'House of Livia' on the Palatine (Simon 57 with pl. 69).
In the second phrase (universal Pan), Milton refers to the supposed connection between the name Pan and the Greek adjective πᾶς (all), which can be traced as far back as Homeric Hymn 19.47: They called him Pan because he delighted the hearts of all (Πᾶνα δέ μιν καλέεσκον, ὅτι φρένα πᾶσιν ἔτερψε).

Related post: Pagan Myth in Milton.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Inexhaustible Whiteness

Joseph Wood Krutch, The Twelve Seasons: A Perpetual Calendar for the Country ("December"):
That from the sky itself this inexhaustible whiteness should descend, often gently but always relentlessly, until the earth has been transformed on a scale that the boldest of engineers would not dream of attempting to imitate! That in one night more cubic yards should be laid down than were moved in the years when the Panama Canal was a-building! We awake to find that the whole visible world has been regraded and landscaped anew. But so neatly as well as so grandly, too! Where is the mess that our operations always involve, where the rubbish and the disorder? Every detail is finished. There is not a curve not graceful, not a form not pleasing.

Only yesterday this miracle was promised for New England. The daily papers said merely: "Tonight—snow." And when I looked out of the window this morning I wondered if such a masterpiece of understatement had, on any other occasion, ever been achieved by journalism. "MAYOR DENOUNCES HIS OPPONENTS," "THRILLING GANG FILM AT THE COLISEUM," "HIGHWAY DEPARTMENT WILL WIDEN CHESTNUT STREET" ... and then: "Tonight—snow." I am sure that The Daily Universe, wherever it may be published, would estimate differently how much display each of these stories was worth.


Dirt itself is not so cheap as snow and very far from being so impermanent. 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 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.
Andrew Wyeth, Not Plowed



Democritus, fragment 64 (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
Many much-learned men have no intelligence.

πολλοὶ πολυμαθέες νοῦν οὐκ ἔχουσιν.
Id., fragment 65 (tr. Freeman):
One should practice much-sense, not much-learning.

πολυνοΐην, οὐ πολυμαθίην ἀσκέειν χρή.

Saturday, December 12, 2009



Po Chü-i (772–846), Reflections (tr. Burton Watson):
Past events—don't think back on them;
thinking of them brings too much sorrow and pain.
Things to come—don't anticipate;
anticipating too will breed fret and worry.
Best just sit with a blank mind,
best just to flop down in bed.
Food comes? open your mouth;
sleep comes? shut your eyes—
both of prime importance to the body,
sleep sound, take care to eat hearty!
Forget thoughts, let things work out as they will;
go along with fate, long life or short.
And if a mood of elation should strike you,
then wild songs and a helping of wine!


Notes on a Limerick

There once was a vicar of Ryhill
Who went for a shit on a high hill;
When his curate asked: "Was it
A goodly deposit?"
He said: "Vox, et praeterea nihil."
A goodly deposit — 2 Timothy 1.14: "Preserve the goodly deposit through the Holy Spirit who dwelleth in us." (τὴν καλὴν παραθήκην φύλαξον διὰ πνεύματος ἁγίου τοῦ ἐνοικοῦντος ἐν ἡμῖν.)

Vox, et praeterea nihil — Plutarch, Apophthegmata Laconica 15 (233a, said of a plucked nightingale, tr. Frank Cole Babbitt): "It's all voice ye are, and nought else." (φωνὰ τύ τίς ἐσσι καὶ οὐδὲν ἄλλο.)

Friday, December 11, 2009


Still Life by Chardin?

Walter de la Mare, Still Life:
Bottle, coarse tumbler, loaf of bread,
Cheap paper, a lean long kitchen knife:
No moral, no problem, sermon, or text,
No hint of a Why, Whence, Whither, or If;
Mere workaday objects put into paint —
Bottle and tumbler, loaf and knife....
And engrossed, round-spectacled Chardin's
          Passion for life.
Chardin is Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), and the still life is apparently in the National Gallery (number 1258):

The painting is dated 1754 and is signed Chardin. Older authorities attribute it to Chardin. See, e.g., Edward T. Cook, A Popular Handbook to the National Gallery, 6th ed., vol. 1 (London: Macmillan, 1906), p. 599:
The simple subject of this picture—a loaf of brown bread, with a bottle of wine, spread out on a piece of old newspaper—takes us far away from the luxurious trifling of the Court painters. Chardin followed the path of frank realism, treating, however, all his subjects with refinement. To Dutch precision he added Gallic grace.
But National Gallery catalogues now attribute the painting to a 19th century "imitator of Chardin," i.e. to a forger. For "round-spectacled Chardin," see his self-portrait:

Related posts:

Thursday, December 10, 2009


These Shall Cleanse and Purify

"A jingo imperialist...morally insensitive and aesthetically disgusting." This is Rudyard Kipling, as described by George Orwell, who also called most of Kipling's poetry "horribly vulgar." I'm a Philistine at heart, and these criticisms are recommendations to me. Here's A Charm by Rudyard Kipling:
Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe
Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke,
But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none
Report or lamentation.
  Lay that earth upon thy heart,
  And thy sickness shall depart!

It shall sweeten and make whole
Fevered breath and festered soul.
It shall mightily restrain
Over-busied hand and brain.
It shall ease thy mortal strife
'Gainst the immortal woe of life,
Till thyself, restored, shall prove
By what grace the Heavens do move.

Take of English flowers these—
Spring's full-facèd primroses,
Summer's wild wide-hearted rose,
Autumn's wall-flower of the close,
And, thy darkness to illume,
Winter's bee-thronged ivy-bloom.
Seek and serve them where they bide
From Candlemas to Christmas-tide,
  For these simples, used aright,
  Can restore a failing sight.

These shall cleanse and purify
Webbed and inward-turning eye;
These shall show thee treasure hid,
Thy familiar fields amid;
And reveal (which is thy need)
Every man a King indeed!
On Kipling's interest in botany, see Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (London: Macmillan, 1955; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986), p. 554:
He travelled always with a well-used copy of that old classic, Flowers of the Field by C.A. Johns, and noted observations in its margins. He arranged the ninety-three orders of British plants in a mnemonic rhyme for easy mental reference and, as might be expected of a writer who so much enjoyed 'baiting his hook with gaudy words', he was avid to acquire new rustic names for flowers and herbs. In France he made a point of collecting French varieties of English wild flowers and recording their French rural names.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Latin Hymns

Edward Kennard Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 214-215:
To appreciate a Latin hymn with all its flavors, we must take it not merely for itself, but as a part of something larger. First of all, it is wedded to music, which makes its own appeal. Then, it is caught up into the larger atmosphere of some religious office—Vespers or Compline or the supreme sacrifice of the Mass. Finally, this service is celebrated in a church, which, however humble, decently puts the altar in the place of reverence and adorns it with candles, type of a shining faith. We must know the whole to appreciate the part. As we read Veni redemptor gentium, or Gloria, laus et honor, or Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium, we must not translate, or—absit omen—read the pious doggerel of somebody else's translation, but listen to the Latin words, hear the deep voice of the organ, glance upwards, in imagination, at the Gothic vaulting of Amiens or Chartres, see the light sifting in through the flaming windows and the purer flame of the candles shining on the altar where the holy sacrifice is made. And, above all, we must consider these beauties, not as the moving force that brings the worshippers to church,—who then would be idolators indeed,—but as the offering of their richest treasures made thankfully for the revelation of the truth. This is the whole body of the hymn, which loses flesh and blood if you tear it away.


Reading History

Fan Chengda (1126-1193), Reading History (tr. J.D. Schmidt):
After scheming a lifetime for victory over others,
They ended up feasting the ravens and worms.
I adjust my flickering lampwick to read more clearly,
My eyes blur trying to decide, who was right, who was wrong.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Kipling and Horace

I just finished reading Charles Carrington, Rudyard Kipling: His Life and Work (London: Macmillan, 1955; rpt. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1986). On pp. 554-556 Carrington discusses Kipling's fondness for the Latin poet Horace, whose birthday is today. Carrington also prints (p. 556) some poetical summaries or comments on Horace by Kipling, which interested me and might interest you as well. Kipling summarized the Soracte Ode (1.9) thus:
'Tis cold! Heap on the logs — and let's get tight!
The Gods can turn this world for just one night.
I will enjoy myself and be no scorner
Of any nice girl giggling in a corner.
On Ode 1.22 (Integer vitae scelerisque purus) Kipling commented:
The Pure and Perfect Bore
  Goes scatheless evermore,
Arrows and Poison never yet destroyed him.
  Such is the Mantle thrown
  By Dulness on Her own
That when he sings the very Beasts avoid him.

So he pervades the Earth
  Absorbed in his own Worth,
No Tact restrains — no Grace — no Humour move him,
  And yet — Oh Womankind!
  This God's Own Ass can find
Some long-enduring Lalage to love him!
Finally, on a more serious note, Ode 1.24 (Quis desiderio sit pudor aut modus) inspired this little poem:
They pass, O God, and all
  Our grief, our tears,
Achieve not their recall
  Nor reach their ears.
Our lamentations leave
  But one thing sure.
They perish and we grieve
  But we endure.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Horace's Best

Edward Kennard Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 64-65 (in the chapter on "The Church and Pagan Culture"):
For the moment, I will take as type and symbol a bit of the Eucharistic liturgy of the Church preserved in one of its most ancient monuments, the Missale Gothicum.40 In the benedictio populi in the mass for the eve of the Epiphany, Christ is besought to turn dull hearts to Him, just as at the wedding of Cana He converted plain water into — not just wine, but Falernian. Horace's best! Let this be a symbol of the history of Christian humanism. Though the stricter souls have denounced it and even threatened to break it, that jar of old Falernian has always reposed in the sanctuary of the Church.
Id., n. 40 on p. 299:
Ed. H.M. Bannister, Henry Bradshaw Society, vol. LII (1917), p. 25.
I don't have access to Bannister's edition, but the words from the Missale Gothicum are apparently:
Converte ad te quaerendum stupidas mentes hominum, qui nuptiale convivio vertisti latices in Falernum.
So too Prudentius, Hymns 9.28 (also on the wedding feast at Cana, tr. Sister M. Clement Eagan):
Water poured into the tankards turns to rich Falernian wine.

cantharis infusa lympha fit Falernum nobile.
It is said that Horace mentions Falernian more than any other wine. If references to Falernian vines and grapes are counted, as well as references to Falernian wine, I find fifteen passages: Odes 1.20.10, 1.27.10, 2.3.8, 2.6.19, 2.11.19, 3.1.43; Satires 1.10.24, 2.2.15, 2.3.115, 2.4.19, 2.4.24, 2.4.55, 2.8.16; and Epistles 1.14.34, 1.18.91.

There are some interesting pages on Falernian wine in Andrew Dalby, Empire of Pleasures: Luxury and Indulgence in the Roman World (London: Routledge, 2002), pp. 48-50. I haven't read Steele Commager, "The Function of Wine in Horace's Odes," Transactions of the American Philological Association 88 (1957) 68-80, or Gregson Davis, "Wine and the Symposium," in The Cambridge Companion to Horace (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), pp. 207-220.

Sunday, December 06, 2009


Exquisite Pregnant Idleness

Walter de la Mare, Owl:
Apart, thank Heaven, from all to do
To keep alive the long day through;
To imagine; think; watch; listen to;
There still remains - the heart to bless,
Exquisite pregnant Idleness.

Why, we might let all else go by
To seek its Essence till we die . . .

Hark, now! that Owl, a-snoring in his tree,
Till it grow dark enough for him to see.
Walter Jack Duncan, Illustration for Christopher Morley's On Laziness

Hat tip: Stephen Pentz

Related posts:

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Life in Recession

Donald Culross Peattie, An Almanac for Moderns (December 5):
Not a flower now, and scarce a berry. Birds flown south, and insects gone; leaves all fallen, and the very sap in the trees descended to the roots; mammals and reptiles stolen away to their winter's rest. Everywhere life in recession, life like a flame turned low.

Now, perhaps, is the moment to catch napping the phenomenon life, and examine it to discover what it is. For of a brilliant summer day, with the air humming with midges, with every great tree expanding a full acre of green leaf surface to catch and employ the power of the sun, with mating and birth going on all around us, and the waters bringing forth and the very earth astir, a man can make little enough of it all. There is too much in summer—too much green, too much spawning, too much profusion of kind and form.

But in winter here is the problem in its least common denominators. No ant or bee is abroad to distract with questions of instinct and intelligence. The vine has ceased to grow; no need now to concern ourselves with tropism. The maggot is numb; touch him how you will, no reflex stirs him. Life is so still, almost we are persuaded that we can reduce it to structure and protoplasm, look up in the brilliance of the winter constellations and behold what structure they too have, sort out the elements of which life and the home of life are made, and test the poet's notion that

"All things by immortal power
Near or far
To each other linkèd are,
That thou canst not stir a flower
Without troubling a star."

Friday, December 04, 2009


Poverty and Wealth

Democritus, fragment 283 (tr. Kathleen Freeman):
Poverty and wealth are terms for lack and superfluity; so that he who lacks is not wealthy, and he who does not lack is not poor.

πενίη πλοῦτος ὀνόματα ἐνδείης καὶ κόρου· οὔτε οὖν πλούσιος <ὁ> ἐνδέων οὔτε πένης ὁ μὴ ἐνδέων.
Related posts:


What Is a Humanist?

Edward Kennard Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 102-103:
A humanist is one who has a love of things human, one whose regard is centred on the world about him and the best that man has done; one who cares more for art and letters, particularly the art and letters of Greece and Rome, than for the dry light of reason or the mystic's flight into the unknown; one who distrusts allegory; one who adores critical editions with variants and variorum notes; one who has a passion for manuscripts, which he would like to discover, beg, borrow, or steal; one who has an eloquent tongue which he frequently exercises; one who has a sharp tongue, which on occasion can let free a flood of good billingsgate or sting an opponent with an epigram.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


Chimborazo, Cotopaxi

I received two interesting emails about W.J. Turner's poem Romance.

Ernie Moncada wrote:
The first time I read this poem, many decades ago, made me think back on my First Year HS Latin teacher, Fr. White (RIP), in whose class I first heard the words, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi. Fr. White was a no nonsense teacher and on many an occasion his fledglings' recitations in class gave him reason sufficient to grasp his head with both hands, look upward in dismay and in an extra loud voice cry out, "Chimborazo, boy, have you taken leave of your senses?" or "Cotopaxi, may God grant me patience." We were all certain these introductory exclamations must have been expletives or imprecations of some sort, unrecognizable and therefore probably of Latin or Greek origin.
David Norton wrote:
First, three cheers for Stephen Vincent Benet, who said what had to be said and did so more memorably than anybody else has done.

As for W. J. Turner's "Romance", there was a time when I too was much taken with this lyric, but now I figure that it's among the things that Benet was reacting against. Moreover, by way of a gradually extending acquaintance with the languages and geography of Latin America, I have come to recognize that Cotopaxi is pronounced as if the 'x' is (our) "sh", and much earlier I learned that Popocatepetl is neither spelt nor pronounced as (I take it) Turner imagined. For confirmation of this latter fact I refer you to Ernst Toch’s "Geographical Fugue", with which you’ll anyway be (if you're not already) happy to be acquainted:

When two of the three crucial names in the poem differ so strikingly from the way the author and (I suppose) most of his readers imagine them, "Romance" makes, I fear, a very feeble example of the magic of words.

(Toch, on the other hand . . . !)
I recently happened on a passage from Thoreau's Journal (July 22, 1851), in which he mentions the music of some Canadian place names:
It needed only a little outlandishness in the names, a little foreign accent, a few more vowels in the words, to make me locate all my ideals at once. How prepared we are for another world than this! We are no sooner over the line of the States than we expect to see men leading poetic lives, — nothing so natural, that is the presumption. The names of the mountains, and the streams, and the villages reel with the intoxication of poetry — Longueuil, Chambly, Barthillon ( ?), Montilly(?).

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


A Bewilderment of Birds

Thanks to Stephen Pentz for drawing my attention to the following poem, another episode in the annals of arboricide.

Howard Nemerov, Learning by Doing:
They're taking down a tree at the front door,
The power saw is snarling at some nerves,
Whining at others. Now and then it grunts,
And sawdust falls like snow or a drift of seeds.

Rotten, they tell us, at the fork, and one
Big wind would bring it down. So what they do
They do, as usual, to do us good.
Whatever cannot carry its own weight
Has got to go, and so on; you expect
To hear them talking next about survival
And the values of a free society.
For in the explanations people give
On these occasions there is generally some
Mean-spirited moral point, and everyone
Privately wonders if his neighbors plan
To saw him up before he falls on them.

Maybe a hundred years in sun and shower
Dismantled in a morning and let down
Out of itself a finger at a time
And then an arm, and so down to the trunk,
Until there's nothing left to hold on to
Or snub the splintery holding rope around,
And where those big green divagations were
So loftily with shadows interleaved
The absent-minded blue rains in on us.
Now that they've got it sectioned on the ground

It looks as though somebody made a plain
Error in diagnosis, for the wood
Looks sweet and sound throughout. You couldn't know,
Of course, until you took it down. That's what
Experts are for, and these experts stand round
The giant pieces of tree as though expecting
An instruction booklet from the factory
Before they try to put it back together.

Anyhow, there it isn't, on the ground.
Next come the tractor and the crowbar crew
To extirpate what's left and fill the grave.
Maybe tomorrow grass seed will be sown.
There's some mean-spirited moral point in that
As well: you learn to bury your mistakes,
Though for a while at dusk the darkening air
Will be with many shadows interleaved,
And pierced with a bewilderment of birds.
Related posts: Ancient Protests Against Deforestation; Illustrations of Erysichthon; Prayer and Sacrifice to Accompany Tree Cutting; A Spirit Protects the Trees; St. Martin and the Pine Tree; The Geismar Oak; Bregalad's Lament; Petition of a Poplar; Cactus Ed and Arboricide; Views from the Center of Highgate Wood; Artaxerxes and Arboricide; When the Last Tree Falls; The Hamadryads of George Lane; Sorbs and Medlars; So Foul a Deed; 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; Willows; Mourning Over Trees; The Trees Are Down; Sad Ravages in the Woods; An Old Saying; Strokes of Havoc; Maltreatment of Trees; Arboricide; An Impious Lumberjack; Erysichthon in Ovid; Erysichthon in Callimachus; Vandalism.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009


An Old Person of Hove

Edward Lear:
There was an old person of Hove,
Who frequented the depths of a grove;
Where he studied his books,
With the wrens and the rooks,
That tranquil old person of Hove.
I aspire to be like "that tranquil old person of Hove."


Making a List and Checking It Twice

Here is a list of some English words derived from Latin pronouns:I intentionally but somewhat irrationally left out ipsedixitism, paternoster, quodlibet, and some others, although they do contain Latin pronouns. At first I thought hocus-pocus should be included, but the Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology says no.

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