Sunday, April 26, 2015

 

Self-Imposed Rules

James Henry (1798-1876), preface to Aeneidea:
On the contrary, the less the control from without, the stronger has always been the impulse from within, (a) never to speak until I had examined all that had been already said on the subject, nor even then unless I had, or thought I had, something new to say; (b) never to leave my meaning liable to be misunderstood so long as I saw a possibility of making it clear by further explanation, but always to prefer laborious, old-fashioned, and even, as I fear it may sometimes be found, tedious prolixity, to the safe and easy brevity of the modern professorial cortina; (c) never either to take or quote my authorities at second hand, but always directly ex ipso fonte, always from the best editions available to me, always at full, and never putting-off the reader or student hungry for the living bread of the author's own words, with the indigestible stone of signs and ciphers sometimes wholly unintelligible except to the party employing them, sometimes rewarding the pains of the decipherer with cold and dry, too often careless and incorrect, references to works, or editions of works, which, in order to be consulted, must either be brought from distant countries at a great expense of time, trouble, and money, or visited in those countries at a still greater.

 

The Best Religion

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Alcibiades and Xenophon," Imaginary Conversations (Alcibiades speaking):
It appears to me, O Xenophon, who indeed have thought but little and incuriously about the varieties of religion, that whichever is the least intrusive and dogmatical is the best.

 

Complaint

Seneca, On Benefits 1.10.1 (tr. John W. Basore):
The complaint our ancestors made, the complaint we make, the complaint our posterity will make, is that morality is overturned, that wickedness holds sway, and that human affairs and every sin are tending toward the worse.

hoc maiores nostri questi sunt, hoc nos querimur, hoc posteri nostri querentur, eversos mores, regnare nequitiam, in deterius res humanas et omne nefas labi.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

 

The Sick in Soul

Eric Hoffer (1898-1983), The Passionate State of Mind (New York: Harper & Row, 1955), p. 68, § 104:
The sick in soul insist that it is humanity that is sick, and they are the surgeons to operate on it. They want to turn the world into a sickroom. And once they get humanity strapped to the operating table, they operate on it with an ax.

 

Old Age

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Epicurus, Leontion, and Ternissa," Imaginary Conversations:
Ternissa. Oh, what a thing is age!
Leontion. Death without death's quiet.

 

A Drearily Bewildering Book

A.C. Benson (1862-1925), "The Training of the Imagination," Cambridge Essays on Education (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1917), pp. 34-52 (at 45):
Of course there is an initial difficulty in the case of the classics, that there is very little in either Greek or Latin which really appeals to an immature taste at all; and such books as might appeal to inquisitive and inexperienced minds, such as Homer or the Anabasis of Xenophon, are made unattractive by the method of giving such short snippets, and insisting on what used to be called thorough parsing. Even Alice in Wonderland, let me say, could only prove a drearily bewildering book, if read at the rate of twenty lines a lesson, and if the principal tenses of all the verbs had to be repeated correctly.


In an email (with the subject line "No Parsing Fad") a friend writes:
The world would be a considerably better place with thorough parsing. In fact we're all going to hell in a handcart for the want of it. I remember waggishly asking my Latin teacher to parse 'farcio' when we came across it in a text and how I relished his blushes. The 70s could still be a buttoned-up time, for Latin teachers at any rate.
The blushes of the Latin teacher can be explained by a look at the principal parts of farcio.

Friday, April 24, 2015

 

Homo est omnis divisus in partes tres

Nicole Crowder, "Off the grid: Building a simple life among a 'Valley of Angels' in Sicily," Washington Post (April 24, 2015):
Built in three parts, Angelo began repairing the first part of the home while his family remained in the old house.

 

Self-Flagellation

Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), "Lucian and Timotheus," Imaginary Conversations (Lucian speaking):
If we are to give pain to anyone because he thinks differently from us, we ought to begin by inflicting a few smart stripes on ourselves; for both upon light and upon grave occasions, if we have thought much and often, our opinions must have varied.

 

Gilbert Highet's Homage to Ezra Pound

Gilbert Highet, "Homage to Ezra Pound," in Robert P. Falk, ed., American Literature in Parody (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1955), pp. 204-206:


Thursday, April 23, 2015

 

Fit to Beg in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin

Robert Wild (1609-1679), "Alas poore Scholler whither wilt thou go," lines 1-13:
In a melancholly studdy
    None but my selfe,
Me thought my muse grew muddy,
    After seaven yeares reading
    And costly breeding,
I felt, but could finde no pelfe:
Into learned raggs
    I've rent my Plush and Sattin,
And now am fit to begg
    in Hebrew, Greeke and Lattin,
Instead of Aristotle,
    would I had got a Patten:
Alasse poore Scholler whither wilt thou go?
This reminds me of the old joke:
Q. What did the liberal arts graduate say to the engineering graduate?
A. Would you like some fries with that?

 

A Glorious Court

John Fletcher (1579-1625), The Elder Brother, Act I, Scene II:
                                               Give me leave
T'injoy myself; that place that does containe
My Bookes (the best Companions) is to me
A glorious Court, where hourely I converse
With the old Sages and Philosophers,
And sometimes for variety, I conferre
With Kings and Emperours, and weigh their Counsels,
Calling their Victories (if unjustly got)
Unto a strict accompt, and in my phancy,
Deface their ill-plac'd Statues; Can I then
Part with such constant pleasures, to embrace
Uncertaine vanities? No, be it your care
T'augment your heap of wealth; It shall be mine
T'encrease in knowledg—Lights there for my study.

 

Springfret

Holbrook Jackson (1874-1948), "Instead of a Spring Song," Occasions (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1922), pp. 130-137 (at 130):
Sometimes the happiest of us feel that life is of little value in this workaday world. The sun shines, and we go on working; winds shout, birds sing; memories of coloured cities in brighter climates invite us, and the rolling, bare-backed downs beckon—but all for nothing; we go on working. We go on working, most of us, merely for daily bread, and the remainder from habit, from ineptitude, or—to encourage the others. But we have to nudge each other to remind ourselves that we like it, for all that; and when the springfret comes we know we don't!
Id. (at 131-132):
It is the invitation of the sun, it is the whisper of the wild, bidding you lay down your tools and your nets and follow, follow, you know not whither, for man knows not what is good or bad for him. You only know that when the white door becomes opalescent, and the hawthorn buds green fire, you suffer a kind of nausea in the face of all humdrum things and long to have done with them, to break free, to run wild for a time. And why should you not? For you do not; you simply fight it down, like the good sensible fellow you are. You fight it down and plunge into the brown air of commerce again, until next year. It is always next year, "always jam to-morrow," as Alice said, "but never jam to-day," and when the same old spur to rebellion comes at you again—once more you force it from you, for next year, like to-morrow, never comes. But the day will come when the light will shine full on common things, giving them distinction, and you will see it not. In that hour the springfret will pass you by. "The grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail..." You may look through your office window at the blue sky interlaced with telephone cables, and yearn for Saskatchewan, or shake your fist at the engine on Ludgate Bridge, protesting your determination to fly to the South Seas. You will be too old.

That is life's tragedy—to find suddenly that you are too old; to find that you no longer desire to play truant, that you are become a mere Mantalini doomed to know only that "life is nothing but one demnition grind," even when the spring comes in, and the sun wakes up, and the Strand and Cheapside become temples of light; to find that you are good for nothing but to stay at home and be good.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

 

The Killing of a Tree

Kunwar Narain, "The Killing of a Tree," No Other World: Selected Poems, tr. Apurva Narain (New Delhi: Rupa & Co., 2008), p. 159:
This time he was not there –
the old tree that always stood to attention,
like a guard at the door to my house.

His worn leathery trunk
weather-beaten life
wrinkled rough upright shabby,
branch like a rifle,
hat of leafy flowers,
rugged boots on feet,
creaking coarse courage

                In sun in rain
                in rain in cold
                untiringly alert
                in khaki fatigues

He'd accost from afar, "Who goes there?"
"A friend," I'd answer
                and sit down for a moment
                under his benign shade.

In fact, there always lurked in our ways
the mortal fear of some common foe –
                the house had to be saved from thieves
                the city from plunderers
                the nation from its enemies

                had to be saved –

                    river from becoming drain
                    air from becoming smoke
                    food from becoming poison

                    jungles from becoming deserts
                    humans from becoming jungles.
Hat tip: Eric Thomson.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

 

Laziness as a Good Quality

Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), "Eastern and Western Ideals of Happiness," The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell (1961; rpt. London: Routledge, 2009), pp. 535-541 (at 538-539):
If I were to sum up in a phrase the main difference between Chinese and ourselves, I should say that they, in the main, aim at enjoyment, while we, in the main, aim at power. We like power over our fellow-men, and we like power over Nature. For the sake of the former, we have built up strong states, and for the sake of the latter we have built up Science. The Chinese are too lazy and too good-natured for such pursuits. To say that they are lazy is, however, only true in certain sense. They are not lazy in the way that Russians are, that is to say, they will work hard for their living. Employers of labour find them extraordinarily industrious. But they will not work, as Americans and Western Europeans do, simply because they would be bored if they did not work, nor do they love hustle for its own sake. When they have enough to live on, they live on it, instead of trying to augment it by hard work. They have an infinite capacity for leisurely amusements—going to theatre, talking while they drink tea, admiring the Chinese art of earlier times, or walking in beautiful scenery. To our way of thinking, there is something unduly mild about such a way of spending one's life; we respect more a man who goes to his office very day, even if all that he does in his office is harmful.

Living in the East has, perhaps, a corrupting influence upon a white man, but I must confess that, since I came to know China, I have regarded laziness as one of the best qualities of which men in the mass are capable. We achieve certain things by being energetic, but it may be questioned whether, on the balance, the things that we achieve are of any value.
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Let Them Laugh

Luis de Góngora (1561-1627), "Letrilla," tr. John Dent-Young:
Just let me be warm and easy,
and let them laugh, if they will.


    Let others of the governance
of the world speak and its kingdoms,
I'd rather my days were ruled
by fresh rolls and butter;
and if in winter I've my fill
of orange conserve and brandy,
    let them laugh, if they will.

    Let princes eat from golden plates
a thousand tribulations,
gilded like a pill;
I at my simple cottage board
prefer a nice black pudding,
spitting and hissing on the grill.
    Let them laugh, if they will.

    When the mountaintops are covered
in January's white snows,
I'm happy seeing my brazier full
of acorns and sweet chestnuts,
with one beside me who can tell
tales of the mad king's exploits.
    Let them laugh, if they will.

    The merchant can go, and welcome,
to seek his new horizons;
while I stay here and search the sands
for any pretty seashell,
and listen to the nightingale
in the poplar beside the well
    and let them laugh, if they will.

    Let Leander burning
with desire for his lady love
struggle to pass the midnight sea,
but as for me, I'd rather swim
in floods that from my winepress spill
their red and white sparkling tides.
    Let them laugh, if they will.

    While Love so cruelly lets a sword
make the marriage bed
where Pyramus and his love
are to be joined forever,
let a pastry be my Thisbe,
my teeth the murdering steel,
    and let them laugh, if they will.
In Spanish:
Ándame yo caliente
y ríase la gente.


    Traten otros del gobierno
del mundo y sus monarquías,
mientras gobiernan mis días
mantequillas y pan tierno,
y las mañanas de invierno
naranjada y aguardiente,
    y ríase la gente.

    Coma en dorada vajilla
el príncipe mil cuidados,
como píldoras dorados;
que yo en mi pobre mesilla
quiero más una morcilla
que en el asador reviente,
    y ríase la gente.

    Cuando cubra las montañas
de blanca nieve el enero,
tenga yo lleno el brasero
de bellotas y castañas,
y quien las dulces patrañas
del Rey que rabió me cuente,
    y ríase la gente.

    Busque muy en buena hora
el mercader nuevos soles;
yo conchas y caracoles
entre la menuda arena,
escuchando a Filomena
sobre el chopo de la fuente,
    y ríase la gente.

    Pase a medianoche el mar,
y arda en amorosa llama
Leandro por ver su Dama;
que yo más quiero pasar
del golfo de mi lagar
la blanca o roja corriente,
    y ríase la gente.

    Pues Amor es tan crüel,
que de Píramo y su amada
hace tálamo una espada,
do se juntan ella y él,
sea mi Tisbe un pastel,
y la espada sea mi diente,
    y ríase la gente.

Monday, April 20, 2015

 

Why Should We Lament These Things?

Euripides, fragment 757 (from Hypsipyle), lines 122-128 (tr. Christopher Collard and Martin Cropp):
No mortal was ever born who does not suffer;
he buries children and gets other new ones,
and dies himself, and mortals grieve at these things,
bringing earth to earth. But it is our inevitable lot
to harvest life like a fruitful crop,
for one of us to live, one not: why should we
lament these things, which by our very nature we must endure?

ἔφυ μὲν οὐδεὶς ὅ[στις οὐ πονεῖ βροτῶν·
θάπτει τε τέκ[να χἄτερα κτᾶται νέα,
αὐτός τε θνῄσκε[ι· καὶ τάδ᾿ ἄχθονται βροτοὶ
εἰς γῆν φέροντες [γῆν. ἀναγκαίως δ᾿ ἔχει
βίον θερίζειν ὥ[στε κάρπιμον στάχυν,
καὶ τὸν μὲν εἶ[ναι, τὸν δὲ μή· τί ταῦτα δεῖ
στένειν ἅπε[ρ δεῖ κατὰ φύσιν διεκπερᾶν;
Cicero translated these lines in Tusculan Disputations 3.25.59 (tr. J.E. King):
No mortal is there but pain finds him out
And sickness; many must their children bury,
And sow fresh issue; death is end for all;
In vain do these things vex the race of men,
Earth must go back to earth: then life by all
Like crops is reaped. So bids Necessity.

mortalis nemo est quem non attingit dolor
morbusque; multis sunt humandi liberi,
rursum creandi, morsque est finita omnibus,
quae generi humano angorem nequicquam adferunt.
reddenda terrae est terra, tum vita omnibus
metenda, ut fruges. sic iubet necessitas.

 

Keep in Touch

Cicero, Letters to Atticus 1.12.4 (tr. D.R. Shackleton Bailey):
I hope you will write to me often. If you lack a topic, just put down whatever comes into your head.

tu velim saepe ad nos scribas. si rem nullam habebis, quod in buccam venerit scribito.

 

Like Fallen Leaves

C.M. Bowra, From Virgil to Milton (1945; rpt. London: Macmillan, 1967), pp. 240-241:
[p. 240]

How deep his roots were even Milton did not always know. Describing the number of the fallen angels, he says that they lie
Thick as Autumnal Leaves that strow the Brooks
In Vallombrosa, where th' Etrurian shades
High overarch't imbowr.                          (I, 302-4)
The comparison of spirits in the underworld to fallen leaves is of great antiquity. It may first have appeared in some lost Orphic poem about a descent into Hades. From this Bacchylides, in the fifth century B.C., probably took it when he told how Heracles visited Hades:
    ἔνθα δυστάνων βροτῶν
ψυχὰς ἐδάη παρὰ Κωκυτοῦ ῥεέθροις,
    οἷά τε φύλλ᾽ ἄνεμος
Ἴδας ἀνὰ μηλοβότους
    πρῶνας ἀργηστὰς δονεῖ.
1
                                                   (V, 63-7)
Virgil took up the idea for the ghosts of the unburied dead:
quam multa in silvis autumni frigore primo
lapsa cadunt folia,2                  (VI, 309-10)
and after him Dante told of the ghosts pressing to cross Acheron:

1 There he saw the ghosts
Of unlucky men by Cocytus' streams,
Like leaves that the wind flutters
On Ida's glittering headlands
Where the flocks graze.

2 Thick as in forests at first autumn frost
Leaves drift and fall.

[p. 241]
Come d' autunno si levan le foglie
L'una appresso dell'altra, fin che 'l ramo
Vede alia terra tutte le sue spoglie.1
                                         (Inf. III, 112-14)
Tasso gave a new turn to the comparison when he made the routed devils go back to Hell:
Nè tante vede mai l' autunno al suolo
Cader co' primi freddi aride foglie.2
                                        (IX, 66, 5-6)
Marlowe picked it up to describes a vast army in Tamerlane:
In number more than are the quivering leaves
Of Ida's forest.
At the end of the succession comes Milton who knew Virgil, Dante, Tasso and Marlowe but not Bacchylides or his unknown predecessor. He picks up the old simile and uses it of the hosts of fallen angels, thus showing some indebtedness to Tasso, who used it of devils, to Marlowe, who used it of an army, and to Virgil and Dante, who used it of spirits in the underworld. Moreover his instinctive genius shows his affinity to classical art when he gives a real place to the fallen leaves. His Vallombrosa is as exact as Bacchylides' Ida and has the immediacy of Greek poetry.

1 And as the late leaves of November fall
One after one till on the earthen floor
The ruined bough looks on their funeral.
                                                      (L. Binyon)

2 Nor leaves in so great numbers fall away
When winter nips them with his new-come frosts,
                                                                       (Fairfax)

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