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Preview: Michael Peverett

Michael Peverett

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Updated: 2017-12-15T15:37:28.883+00:00


gold wires


Illustration by Frank Cheyne Papé (1910)[Image source:]This post begins in a witch's hovel. Florimell, as you can see, seeks refuge there. The witch's son obsesses about their new visitor. Florimell starts to get a creepy feeling about the place, and clears off in the night without saying goodbye. The "accursed Hag" sends a monster in pursuit of her, and the monster returns with a bloodied girdle. The witch thinks her demented son will be consoled by this indication of Florimell's demise, but instead he loses it completely and now threatens to slay his mother. So she decides to knock up a fake Florimell for his use. The substance, whereof she the bodie made,  Was purest snow in massie mould congeald,  Which she had gathered in a shadie glade  Of the Riphoean hils, to her reueald  By errant Sprights, but from all men conceald:  The same she tempred with fine Mercury,  And virgin wex, that neuer yet was seald,  And mingled them with perfect vermily,That like a liuely sanguine it seem'd to the eye.In stead of eyes two burning lampes she set  In siluer sockets, shyning like the skyes,  And a quicke mouing Spirit did arret  To stirre and roll them, like a womans eyes;  In stead of yellow lockes she did deuise,  With golden wyre to weaue her curled head;  Yet golden wyre was not so yellow thrise  As Florimells faire haire: and in the steadOf life, she put a Spright to rule the carkasse dead.(Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, Bk III Canto 8, Stanzas 6-7)The witch's son is delighted with this apparent return of a newly compliant Florimell, but is far too clownish to be able to hang on to her once a gentlemanly swaggerer happens along. In fact the False Florimell proves to be the source of much contention among the testosterone-fuelled knights of fairyland. The False Florimell seems not to be able to fasten the girdle of chastity[Image source: Illustration by Walter Crane, from the Chiswick Press edition of 1894-1896.]Spenser's story casts a critical glance at Petrarchan conventions of celebrating a woman's external attributes by reifying them (as snow, roses, jewels, etc). A couple of years after this was published, Shakespeare came at the same topic from a different angle.My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun;Coral is far more red than her lips' red;If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.I have seen roses damask'd, red and white,But no such roses see I in her cheeks;And in some perfumes is there more delightThan in the breath that from my mistress reeks.I love to hear her speak, yet well I knowThat music hath a far more pleasing sound;I grant I never saw a goddess go;My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rareAs any she belied with false compare. (Sonnet 130)The wire to which both Spenser and Shakespeare allude was produced by the medieval technique of wire-drawing. In those days wire was made of precious metals and its use was ornamental, as a component in jewellery and rich costumes. Twisted gold wire in Elizabethan necklace[Image source:]"Grape" pendant of amethyst and gold wire[Image source:]Both of the above, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, came from the Cheapside Hoard, an extraodrinary collection of jewellery discovered by builders in 1912. It was probably the stock of a Jacobean goldsmith. Wires were gold-coloured, of course. Shakespeare's point about "black wires", in the fourth line of his poem, is that there's no such thing. His mistress, in all her stark, unapologetic reality, makes a bonfire of all these stale conceits. Though as it transpires, Sha[...]

Pocket Litter


Extracts from this month's Pocket Litter (a Writers Forum magazine, published irregularly since 2011) :LAWRENCE UPTONBeen hope of old.Been led of pooh.Beep.Beep fond.Beep fond loo.Beep fool nod.Beep eon fold.Beep floodBeep hold of one.Beep hole nod of.  Beep.Bop. Won dring. Bop flee.Debone fool nob.Deep lob.Deepen hoof.Oboe.Do flee. Hope?Dole eel end.Feeble.Feed noble pooh.Fen hope lob ode.Fled oboe.Fondle hobo pee.(from Phone: That Buzzing Noise)XAVIER VELASTIN(from Score - 1B)This piece is connected to Xavier's Me & My Whale project -- see ROBERTSONhe has been kicking the ball well tonighthe's been goodlooking for twomeasures a kick to the top of the squarenot a good fifty to give awayso too thomasswitches through the middlewell taken care of in the endwell the conversation goes on(from Transcript 04/04)*Re Pocket Litter :For futher information contact[...]

the knowledge of nature


St Mary's Church, Birkin (c. 1140)[Image source: . Photo © Alan Murray-Rust (cc-by-sa/2.0) ]Can the knowledge of nature be itself a part or product of nature, in that sense of nature in which it is said to be an object of knowledge ? This is our first question.I've been taking a look at Thomas Hill Green's Prolegomena to Ethics. Green (1836 - 1882) was a British Idealist in phlosophy (along with F.H. Bradley and others), and a vocal Liberal in politics. Green, who was born in the village of Birkin in the West Riding, was appointed Whyte's Professor of Moral Philosophy at Oxford in 1877. That appointment allowed him to set about his major work, but it was left unfinished when he died from blood poisoning in March 1882, and was published posthumously (his fellow Balliol man A.C. Bradley acting as editor) in April 1883. (A large part had already appeared in Mind.)Here's the quote in its context. Green is querying the contention that the moral aspects, and even the epistemological aspects, of our conscious life can be considered part of a materialistic Nature (as per Hume, Mill, evolutionary theorists...). §8. The elimination of ethics, then, as a system of precepts, involves no intrinsic difficulties other than those involved in the admission of a natural science that can account for the moralisation of man. The discovery, however, that our assertions of moral obligation are merely the expression of an ineffectual wish to be better off than we are, or are due to the survival of habits originally enforced by physical fear, but of which the origin is forgotten, is of a kind to give us pause. It logically carries with it the conclusion, however the conclusion may be disguised, that, in inciting ourselves or others to do anything because it ought to be done, we are at best making use of a serviceable illusion. And when this consequence is found to follow logically from the con- ception of man as in his moral attributes a subject of natural science, it may lead to a reconsideration of a doctrine which would otherwise have been taken for granted as the most important outcome of modern enlightenment. As the first charm of accounting for what has previously seemed the mystery of our moral nature passes away, and the spirit of criticism returns, we cannot but enquire whether a being that was merely a result of natural forces could form a theory of those forces as explaining himself. We have to return once more to that analysis of the conditions of knowledge, which forms the basis of all Critical Philosophy whether called by the name of Kant or no, and to ask whether the experience of connected matters of fact, which in its metho- dical expression we call science, does not presuppose a prin- ciple which is not itself any one or number of such matters of fact, or their result. Can the knowledge of nature be itself a part or product of nature, in that sense of nature in which it is said to be an object of knowledge ? This is our first question. If it is answered in the negative, we shall at least have satisfied ourselves that man, in respect of the function called know- ledge, is not merely a child of nature. We shall have ascertained the presence in him of a principle not natural, and a specific function of this principle in rendering know- ledge possible.On that last point, Green elaborates the metaphor a little later:"there is a sense in which man is related to nature as its author, as well as one in which he is related to it as its child" (§10).*Green uses the example, a rather dramatic one, of an engine driver who misreads a signal. The engine driver, wondering if has made a mistake, has a conception of the "real", as opposed to the mistaken and illusory world of the unreal. From where do we get that conception?a consciousness of events as a related series — experience in the most elemen- tary form in which it can be the beginning of knowledge — has not any element of iden[...]

Christmas tree sentences


Frenchay Forestry, Bristol[Image source:]Every establishment has to have its Christmas tree. The most impressive one I saw this past week-end was outside the Milk Churn, a newly built Hall & Woodhouse chain pub on the expanding Hampton Park trading estate in Melksham.At IKEA, in the understore carpark, there were queues of people threading sociably into a gridded square stacked with sleeved trees. The trees (fresh Norway Spruces, smelling of rain and resin) were £25 each but the irresistible point was, they also gave you a £20 IKEA voucher to use in the shop. Laura doesn't like them using real trees. She's planning to get a £4 artificial tree from Homebase. She wants to decorate it on Wednesday, while she's looking after Shelden for the afternoon. Nordmann Fir, the non-drop Christmas tree -- they call them "Nordmanns" in the trade. Not liking to buy a real fir tree may seem a bit illogical when we'll happily buy wooden shelving, or give bunches of cut flowers, or consume cabbages, etc.  And since young trees lock up more carbon than older ones, the regular consumption of Christmas trees ought to be a good thing from the climate change perspective. A lot better than throwaway Christmas jumpers, anyhow.Our sensitivity perhaps has something to do with the tree being a whole organism (at any rate, the whole organism above ground). We are reacting, I suppose, like those many meat-eaters who like the look of burgers or steaks but would not much relish looking at a whole dead cow. There's something, too, about the use to which our fir tree will be put to. It's going to be a centrepiece of celebration and piety, and that feels a bit too close to an old-school sacrificial rite. And finally, as if in mockery of the victim, its intended role is as a simulacrum of a living tree, displaying for us its fresh juicy leaves and resinous wood, even though its own death is certain, even though the fatal dissevering has already been performed. (And conifers, being a primitive sort of plant life, cannot re-grow from that. )How can we not respond to the pathos of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Fir-Tree" , from 1844?   .....the Tree was pulled out and thrown—rather hard, it is true—down on the floor, but a man drew him toward the stairs, where the daylight shone. "Now a merry life will begin again," thought the Tree. He felt the fresh air, the first sunbeam—and now he was out in the courtyard. All passed so quickly, there was so much going on around him, that the Tree quite forgot to look to himself. The court adjoined a garden, and all was in flower; the roses hung so fresh and odorous over the balustrade, the lindens were in blossom, the Swallows flew by, and said, "Quirre-vit! my husband is come!" but it was not the Fir-tree that they meant. "Now, then, I shall really enjoy life," said he, exultingly, and spread out his branches; but, alas! they were all withered and yellow. It was in a corner that he lay, among weeds and nettles. The golden star of tinsel was still on the top of the Tree, and glittered in the sunshine. In the courtyard some of the merry children were playing who had danced at Christmas round the Fir-tree, and were so glad at the sight of him. One of the youngest ran and tore off the golden star. "Only look what is still on the ugly old Christmas tree!" said he, trampling on the branches, so that they all cracked beneath his feet.   ....(In the 2011 Danish TV film, they softened Andersen's story by introducing a note of hope at the end. The tree still died, but one of its cones fell to the ground and seeded. But perhaps the makers thought a big turd-shaped spruce-cone would [...]

A greeting to Denmark


German troops march in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation[Image source:]Your house lies shuttered in dark tonightand dampened the conversation sounds,Oh Denmark! who lit the flame of art   for a thousand years in our northern lands.In the church that Absalon built in LundA song of memory should come after:'Twas Danish culture that was our ground,   and Tegnér his music found   in honoured Oelenschläger.Mörklagt ligger i kväll ditt husoch dämpad är tonen i samtalsorden,Danmark! Som tände bildningens ljus   för tusen år sen i Norden.I kyrkan som Absalon byggde i Lundett minnesaltare sången äger:det var på den danska kulturens grund   Tegnér i upplyst stund   bekransade Oelenschläger.Four-stringed was the northern lute that has burst:but our hands seek now for that friendly grip.Yet Christian still stands firm at the mast   of Denmark's unbroken ship.How could this proud people ever expireonce joined in Grundtvig's hymn of praise? Unquenched by diktat of earthly power,    God's soul-searchlight, the fire    kindled by Kierkegaard's blaze!Fyrsträngad var Nordens luta som brast:nu söker vår hand de förlorade greppet.Än står Kung Christian vid högan mast     obruten på Danaskeppet.Hur skulle det folk kunna tigas ihjäl,som Grundtvig har sjungit med psalmsång samman?Ej släcks på jordiska makters befäl   Guds sökarljus i den själ   där Kierkegaard tände flamman!Joyous for parted friends to meetIn the springtime of books, or on summer morns;sweet too, when snow sweeps winter-white     its banner round fields and lawns. Then glows at daybreak the sun so redas if to inscribe a solemn promise:From nights of unease and the soul's hard bed    in the morning a flame will spread    in Denmark's sacred colours! Ljuvt är för vänner att komma hiti bokarnas vår eller sommardagar,ljuvt även då snön sveper vintervit   sin fana kring fält och hagar.Då flammar i gryningen solen så röd,som var det ett löfte den frambesvärjer:Ur nätter av oro och själanöd   skall tändas en morgonglöd   i Danmarks heliga färger![Extremely free translation... :)  The flag-conceit in the final stanza foreshadows Don Paterson's "Imperial". ]Hjalmar Gullberg, a very popular Swedish lyric poet of the 20th century, came from Malmö in the extreme south of Sweden. This is his poem "Greeting to Denmark", published in 1942 when Denmark was under Nazi occupation  (in what's probably his best-known collection, Fem kornbröd och två fiskar = Five barley-loaves and two fishes). The poet is, we imagine, looking across the Öresund channel towards Copenhagen, some ten miles west of Malmö as the crow flies. The poem emphasizes Denmark's role as a crucible of civilization in the Nordic world. St 1Absalon, a 12th century bishop, first of Roskilde in Denmark, then of Lund in Sweden. Presumably the "church" in question is Lund Cathedral, though its foundation predated Absalon's tenure. (Scania, now the southernmost part of Sweden, was part of Denmark until the mid-17th century.)Esaias Tegnér (1782 - 1846), Swedish romantic poet whose epic Frithjof's Saga was once famous throughout Europe. The poem was somewhat influenced by the Helge of the Danish poet Adam Gottlob Oelenschläger (1779 - 1850). St 2N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783 - 1872), pastor and poet, important in the growth of Danish nationalism, also in Lutheran renewal, and in national politics (he began as a conservative but moved towards liberalism); a major composer of hymns and sacred songs. (He was also a pioneering Anglo-Saxoni[...]

"species character of animal life"


a murmuration of starlings[Image source:]Like two looslely-held divining rods suddenly slithering across each other, two highly disparate reads (Mark Lilla and Vincent ) have suddenly brought Hannah Arendt into my focus. A quick read of the opening pages of The Human Condition made me feel like there was nothing I wished to read more -- unfortunately, that's not an uncommon experience. So God created mankind in his own image,    in the image of God he created them;    male and female he created them.   (Genesis 1:27)There are two creation stories at the start of Genesis. Arendt says in a footnote: 1 . In the analysis of postclassical political thought, it is often quite illuminat- ing to find out which of the two biblical versions of the creation story is cited. Thus it is highly characteristic of the difference between the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth and of Paul that Jesus, discussing the relationship between man and wife, refers to Genesis 1:27: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female” (Matt. 19:4), whereas Paul on a similar occasion insists that the woman was created “of the man” and hence “for the man,” even though he then somewhat attenuates the dependence: “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man” (I Cor. 11:8-12). The difference indicates much more than a different attitude to the role of woman. For Jesus, faith was closely related to action (cf. § 3 3 below) ; for Paul, faith was primarily related to salvation. Especially interesting in this respect is Augustine ( De civitate Dei xii. 21), who not only ignores Genesis 1:27 altogether but sees the difference between man and animal in that man was created unum ac singu- lum, whereas all animals were ordered “to come into being several at once” (plura simul iussit exsistere) . To Augustine, the creation story offers a welcome opportunity to stress the species character of animal life as distinguished from the singularity of human existence. The footnote glosses the following part of her main text, regarding "action" (one of the three key terms in this book, with a special definition of activity between human beings). ....       in its most elementary form, the human condition of action is implicit even in Genesis (“Male and female created He them ”), if we understand that this story of man’s crea- tion is distinguished in principle from the one according to which God originally created Man ( adam ), “him” and not “them,” so that the multitude of human beings becomes the result of multipli- cation . Action would be an unnecessary luxury, a capricious in- terference with general laws of behavior, if men were endlessly reproducible repetitions of the same model, whose nature or es- sence was the same for all and as predictable as the nature or essence of any other thing. Plurality is the condition of human action because we are all the same, that is, human, in such a way that nobody is ever the same as anyone else who ever lived, lives, or will live. The "species character of animal life" reminds me of the observation by Hazlitt that I often seem to refer to.  Hazlitt was saying that we tend to experience nature in species terms: on our walk we see primroses and lambs, we don't usually have much awareness of them as individuals. Augustine is saying that animals don't have individual significance in the way that we do. Following up the Augustine reference:But it is ridiculous to condemn the faults of beasts and trees, and other such mortal and mutable things as are void of intelligence, sensation, or life, even though these faults should destroy their[...]

Reindeer lichen (Cladonia rangiferina)


Cladonia rangiferina[Image source: . Photo by Konrad Wothe.]This species is called grålav ("grey lichen") in Swedish, but more commonly known as renlav ("reindeer lichen"), though the latter is a collective term that also covers some other slightly less ubiquitous Cladonia species. It's the winter food of reindeer, who hoof it out from beneath deep snow in the boreal forests. In the days before sealed double glazing, northern Swedes used to place a layer of grålav in the gap between the inner and outer panes to keep it condensation-free through the winter. ( post to mark the publication, yesterday, of Drew Milne's In Darkest Capital: Collected Poems  (Carcanet). I have always had a strong aversion to Collecteds in paper format, as being too bulky for the high-intensity portable immersion that I feel poetry requires, but in Kindle format they suddenly make a bit more sense. Drew thus becomes the second person, alongside Sir Walter Scott, whose collecteds are on my smartphone. Turns out they're both Dunediners.   In other respects it's possible to tell the difference. There has never been the slightest mystery what Drew's poems are about: his radically disenchanted Cambridge Marxist punky perspective on the corrosive destructiveness of the capital-driven world. In Drew's case there's also a strongly ecological side to all this, none too optimistic, and his interest in lichens fits in round about here. (That's about as infantile a way of putting it as I can come up with right now.) For now let's do the predictably obvious, and instead of delving into the earlier work  (I'm keen to re-encounter "Foul Papers" and "the Trojan light", among others) head straight to the very end of the book and the newish sequence Lichens for Marxists. (The volume of published poetry about lichens has just risen sharply.)  REINDEER LICHEN some for trophies some to flag in canvas imperial some to lie blinded by prospects of relics scarce quick to a lichen trail subsisting through the poo-jok welcome to anthropogenic gases our polluting breath one cloud after another sung oft & aloft tracers to cap data in cuilkuq and beyond this arctic haze by any other misnomer would smell as rank in source signature of Eurasian air the name spelling car lungs into the troposphere and albedo as the polar scalps warm to softly falling sulphur & carbons settling on cladonia rangiferina misnamed cryptogamor reindeer .....wilds spent to a chemical sink the sheet like flows so turbid so given over to written screeI chopped a little bit out, just so it doesn't feel like I'm completely undercutting yesterday's publication.  poo-jok:Arctic haze is the phenomenon of a visible reddish-brown springtime haze in the atmosphere at high latitudes in the Arctic due to anthropogenic air pollution. A major distinguishing factor of Arctic haze is the ability of its chemical ingredients to persist in the atmosphere for an extended period of time compared to other pollutants. ...  Arctic haze was first noticed in 1750 when the Industrial Revolution began. Explorers and whalers could not figure out where the foggy layer was coming from. "Poo-jok" was the term the Inuit used for it. [Source:]Above, the illustration that accompanied the first publication of the poem, which was here: pamphlet tied in with an event at the Polar Museum (Scott Polar Research Institute) in Cambridge in 2014-2015.)For more on the lichen poems, see this commentary by Stephen Collis:[...]

poets of the world


The last post was about Fernando Pizarro, a local poet from NW Spain.  The best information I could find about him was here: I started to the explore a bit more widely and realized that its scope is giddying.  (The highly productive editor is  the poet Fernando Sabido Sánchez.) There must be samples of about 2,000 Spanish poets alone, 1,250 Mexican, more than 1,800 Argentinian...  and a bit of most other countries: 250 UK poets,  1,000 Americans, 55 Haitians, 144 Guatemalans, 70 Finns, 64 Iranians, 42 Icelanders,  102 Swedes, 133 Japanese, 92 Vietnamese, 60 Morroccans  ..(  For a few countries the coverage is surprisingly light: just 17 Nigerians and 8 Pakistanis, for example. ) Poems may appear in the original language or translations (Spanish, English, German...) . Annoyingly for the purposes of this blog post, the texts are not electronically copyable. In such a vast horde is it possible to find the silence needed to encounter a poem?  *from Gieve Patel (India), "Bombay Central" That odour does not offend,The station's high and cool vaultSucks it up and sprays down instead,Interspersed with miraculous, heraldicShafts of sunlight, an eternalStation odour, amalgamof diesel oil, hot steel, cool rails,Light and shadow, human sweat,Metallic distillations, dung, urine,Newspaper ink, Parle's Gluco Biscuits,And sharp noisy sprays of water from tapsWith worn-out bushes, allhitting the nostril as one singularInvariable atmospheric thing,Seeping into your clothingThe way cigarette smoke and air-conditioningSeep into you at cinema halls ....*from Sandeep Parmar (UK), "Against Chaos (after Jagit Singh)"He who has not strode the full length of age, has countedthen lost count of days that swallow, like fever, dark chaos,And you, strange company in the backseat of childhood,propped on the raft of memory like some god of chaos,You threaten to drown me: wind through palmed streets.Oracle of grief. The vagrant dance of figures in chaoscarting trash over tarmac. Stench of Popeye's Chicken,the Capitol Records building, injecting light and chaosinto the LA sky. That paper boat in rainwater, rushing, divesout of my reach and old women give no order here to chaos, ...*Fun ways to improve your Spanish: pick a pretty straightforward funny poet (such as Australia's Emmie Rae ), read one of the poems in English, then read the Spanish translation. new york citysent you home a picture of my naked chest andyour were like, shit is dangerous on the internetfor your sake I'm deleting that and when Iordered a small iced coffee it was twice thesize of my head and I hugged it like a realboyfriend or a baby which seemed appropriateconsidering the circumstances I guess.nueva yorkte envié a casa una foto de mi pecho desnudoy te pusiste como "esta mierda es peligrosa en internet,lo borraré por tu bien" y pedí un café con un trozo de hielode dos veces el tamaño de mi cabeza y lo abracé comosi fuera my verdadero novio o como a un bebé porqueteniendo en cuenta las circunstanciasparecía lo corecto, supongo(Translation by Óscar García Sierra)[...]

After Fernando Pizarro


Valladolid: tower of the Iglesia del Salvador[Image source:]About Fernando Pizarro: Pizarro García: A poet and prose writer - also a judge - b. 1951, from the Valladolid area. And it was during a rushed hour in Valladolid last September that I bought his book Cuando la noche (1999)*. Here are some very free translations.  (Some of the Spanish texts are in the link above.)Of confused genesis,of indefinite limits,you are the enemy.  You arrivedevious and demand treacherousan unequal, bloody struggle.But you are not, you do not exist,because the tenacious attempt to annihilate youis the cruel struggle to give you life.And in the end you appear. And you are another,innocent dispossession of a pledgeobsessive, exhausting, uselessGuilt.              Fear.                          Hate.                                      Revenge.Guilt gave birth to fear,fear to hate,and hate to revenge. On the back of dark silence,like four horsemen, they ride,erasing the horizons. How hidden the dagger,how deep the wound.Exposed, trusting,the noble breast to the blow.And it arrived unerringly.And how dark now,how slow the agony. Divided body and heart into two halves,I look from the nothing to the nothing and seejust a dense blanket of ash on everything.Time and laziness. More laziness and more time.And the rain insistent on the window-pane. Lights, shadows, reflections. And in the street,matter streaming towards nothing. YEARBOOKT hat my voice be not just a crywhat you hear not only an echosilence will be                                nothing changes. janCity  frosted  by  the fog febHow sky so blue.How blue  so cold.How cold in the blueof so skymarOn a wind that polishes the cornersfast clouds ride pillionaprOther expectation, though vain, lovelymaySo blue in the blue.So green in the green.In the blue and in the green,how much light.junBled by the light the hours,all in the sky just horizon.julWhat destroyer the sun of the outskirts.How luminous its light. And  how evident. augIn that sea,                                all was shipwreck.And in its demolished coast,                                         all shadow. sepOn the ruffled track of the waterindecisive      glare        iridescentoctA    dense   stormy   sky,frontier of the countryside silent & flatnovYet something green in the already yellowdecAfter the expectationthis renunciationresignation    to accepting the defeat* The title Cuando la noche  refers to some lines in a well-known poem ("A mano amada..")  by Ángel González Muñiz:Cuando la noche impone su costumbre de insomnioy conviertecada minuto[...]

continuing with Cymbeline ... Honour


Posthumus and Imogen[Image source: The Folger Shakespeare Library.,-Posthumus-and-Imogen--gr?sort=Call_Number%2CAuthor%2CCD_Title%2CImprint&qvq=q:CD_Title%3DCymbeline%2B;sort:Call_Number%2CAuthor%2CCD_Title%2CImprint;lc:FOLGERCM1~6~6&mi=6&trs=184 . Picture by Henry Justice Ford, 1860 - 1941. Carrying on from my previous chatter: and the pundonor.(Cym.)Thou art welcome, Caius.Thy Caesar knighted me; my youth I spentMuch under him; of him I gather'd honour,Which he to seek of me again, perforce,Behoves me keep at utterance. (Act III.1.67-71)The "point of honour" (Spanish pundonor) is not  a new theme in Shakespeare - see e.g. Claudio in Much Ado - but now it's restlessly recycled in Cymbeline. [In modern Spanish, pundonor means "self-respect".]"At utterance" is connected with "utter" in the sense of extreme or total,  rather than enunciate. Cymbeline is saying that he feels obliged to defend his honour to the very last gasp. He attempts to suggest to Lucius  that since Augustus originally conferred the honour, Cymbeline owes it to Augustus to take good care of it, to maintain it at all costs. Even should it be Augustus himself who loses out as a result (i.e. by not receiving his tribute).  Cymbeline is "punctilious", both in his defiance and in his contrasting courtesy to the ambassador Gaius Lucius, a friend of long-standing, and one to whom Cymbeline feels obligations ("his goodness forespent on us" II.3.56).Typical of this play, that the otherwise anodyne Cymbeline suddenly speaks so well here. Typical too, that it eventually turns out that Cymbeline never wanted to withhold the tribute, but was set on to it by the Queen and Cloten. Points of honour are serious things, but they can also be convenient post-rationalizations when you want to provide a public explanation for a chosen course of action. *The crucial point of honour is of course Posthumus's wager in I.4. The wager appears to gain nothing for Posthumus, yet he's manoeuvred into feeling compelled to take it up. The wager is about Imogen's "honour" (in male eyes --- i.e. chastity). (Jac.) .. and I will bring from thence that honour of hers which you imagine so reserv'd. Accepting this infamous wager is increasingly a point of honour: Jachimo leads Posthumus into a position from which he can't draw back without disgrace. Imogen calls out Jachimo correctly:    Thou wrong'st a gentleman who is as far    From thy report as thou from honour...That's right. As Jachimo himself confesses much later, " Knighthoods and honours borne / As I wear mine are titles but of scorn".But Jachimo is too skilled an operator to be caught by Imogen. He promptly and smoothly retracts his slander about Posthumus, making good use of the magic word:    He sits 'mongst men like a descended god:    He hath a kind of honour sets him off    More than a mortal seeming...Thus mollified, soon it's Imogen who is putting her honour (not, as she thinks, her chastity) on the line:     (Jac.) 'Tis plate of rare device, and jewels    Of rich and exquisite form, their values great;    And I am something curious, being strange,    To have them in safe stowage. May it please you    To take them in protection?  IMOGEN. Willingly;    And pawn mine honour for their safety. Since    My lord hath interest in them,[...]

Red maple


I moved to a new neighbourhood in Swindon a couple of weeks back, and immediately got interested in this small crimson-looking tree.  (Photos from 15th November 2017).It's obviously a kind of maple, and the best match for the leaf shape that I could find is Red Maple (Acer rubrum).  This is a big tree from eastern North America with an upright habit -- a major constituent, of course, of those famous Fall colors. In fact it's now the commonest tree in the north-eastern USA, but it was a lot less common when European settlers arrived. This is thought to be because they started to control the wildfires, and that worked in favour of Red Maple (deep-rooted trees like hickories and oak can survive wildfires, but shallow-rooted trees like Red Maple cannot). (There's also a theory that the 1938 hurricane severely reduced the percentage of White Pine: )Apart from Red Maple, it's also known as Swamp Maple, Water Maple, and Soft Maple. The latter is comparative: the timber is a bit softer than some other maples, but it's still very much a hardwood. In Britain, horitculturalists seem to call it Canadian Maple. This is a bit surprising as the maple leaf on the Canadian flag, introduced in 1965,  is often said to be Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). (In fact the design was stylized and not based on any species in particular). There are garden cultivars grown in the UK including "Brandywine", "Red Sunset", "October Glory" and "Schlesingeri", but all the images I've seen look more upright than this one. A dazzling sight in mid-November, anyhow. The leaves are highly toxic to horses, apparently. Red Maple is one of the three maple species most commonly used to make Maple Syrup (along with Sugar Maple (A. saccharum) and Black Maple (A. nigrum). For the second time in about a week, we are talking about a process that European settlers learnt from Native Americans. The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being, about two miles from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house-dog bark. I was in haste to buy it, before the proprietor finished getting out some rocks, cutting down the hollow apple trees, and grubbing up some young birches which had sprung up in the pasture, or, in short, had made any more of his improvements.   (from Thoreau's Walden, "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For")  [Thoreau sold back the Hollowell farm when the previous owner decided he wanted it after all, and went to the woods at Walden instead.]Already, by the first of September, I had seen two or three small maples turned scarlet across the pond, beneath where the white stems of three aspens diverged, at the point of a promontory, next the water. Ah, many a tale their color told! And gradually from week to week the character of each tree came out, and it admired itself reflected in[...]

thinking again about Cymbeline


Emma Fielding as Imogen, in an RSC production from 2003[Image source:]Cymbeline was one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote on his own. More than that is difficult to assert.  Shakespeare may have been working on The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and The Tempest all at the same time. Pericles, that very seminal play, had been performed in early 1608. It was a big hit, much to Jonson's annoyance (he called it a "mouldy tale"). You can understand that Shakespeare might have decided to write more plays in the same vein.  But there was a delay. London always had a low background level of plague, but sometimes the level rose. The London playhouses had to close if the level of plague went above 30 dead (or possibly 40 dead) per week. Now, for 17 months, from July 1608 to January 1610, the level was above 50. Finally performances resumed. We have records of Macbeth and Othello being played at the Globe in April 1610.  Coriolanus, Shakespeare's final tragedy, is a difficult play to date but the consensus is for 1608-09 with, we can speculate, a first performance in early 1610. (There's no record of any such performance, but some 1610 sources, such as Jonson's Epicoene, seem to allude to Coriolanus.) Then in July 1610 the plague levels rose again, so there was another closure of six months until early 1611. The earliest known performances of Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale come from May 1611. The Tempest was played at court that November (in all likelihood, there had been earlier public performances). [ Info from Leeds Barroll, "Shakespeare and the Second Blackfriars Theater" in Shakespeare Studies 33 (2005). ]The main thing that stands out about the years 1607-1611 is that Shakespeare's productivity dropped by half. For the previous 15 years he had averaged  two plays per year, but in these five years he wrote only five plays. And this trend continued, with just the three Fletcher collaborations in the years 1612-1614. We can only speculate about the reasons for the slowdown. *What's clear is that the five plays have close links with each other. The scenes of greatest emotional intensity are connected by a general theme of "secular salvation", particularly figured by family reconciliations. It's secular salvation because the protagonist receives it in this life, not for eternity. Generally speaking the protagonist who receives salvation is male and the agent or agents of salvation are female. This is all far too schematic, but let's spell it out anyway. All of the plays take place in pre-Christian or never-never type places and times, where the gods are only pagan. The salvations figured in the plays have no explicit Christian trappings. (All the odder, in The Tempest, where Naples and names like Sebastian and Ferdinand clearly proclaim a context of Christendom.) The theme began to become prominent for Shakespeare, perhaps, with King Lear ... with the crazed king's reunion with Cordelia, with her "No cause, no cause" (IV.7). Lear's salvation is short-lived, of course, but he does have it, and it's not meaningless even if heartbreak soon follows; a Lear in which the king was never reconciled with Cordelia at all would have been even darker. At this moment his own behaviour to his daughter, the misunderstandings of the past, are all forgiven, he receives what he could never expect, he can redeem the past. The emotional heart of Pericles is the miraculous reunion with his daughter Marina. Mouldy tale or not, the drama is intensel[...]

the Cross-in-Hand


The Cross-in-Hand, Gore Hill, Batcombe, Dorset -- late spring[Image source: . Photograph by Nigel Mykura.]"I think I must leave you now," he remarked, as they drew near to this spot. "I have to preach at Abbot's-Cernel at six this evening, and my way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me somewhat too, Tessy—I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and get strength. … How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good English?""I have learnt things in my troubles," she said evasively."What troubles have you had?"She told him of the first one—the only one that related to him.D'Urberville was struck mute. "I knew nothing of this till now!" he next murmured. "Why didn't you write to me when you felt your trouble coming on?"She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: "Well—you will see me again.""No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!""I will think. But before we part come here." He stepped up to the pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments—far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me—by your charms or ways.""Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest from my thought!""Yes—but swear it."Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand upon the stone and swore."I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued; "that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows what may not happen? I'm off. Goodbye!"[A short while after they part, Tess meets a solitary shepherd.]"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?" she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?""Cross—no; 'twer not a cross! 'Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times."(from Tess of the D'Urbervilles,  Chapter XLV)Some stories say that there was the shape of a hand carved on the stone. Apparently there is none there now (though I seem to make one out in the late summer photo by Trevor). Cross-in-Hand, winter[Image source:,_Dorset] allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">Above, John Simpson's three-minute film of visiting the Cross-in-Hand. *Elisabeth Bletsoe's Landscape from a Dream (2008) contains, among other astounding and complex poems, one called "Cross-in-Hand". It begins, perhaps, with Tess's working hand. I'll quote that opening, up to the first of the prose annotations, just to give a sense (though by no means a complete one) of how far the poem opens out.  The poem is also about a walk from Cerne Abbas (Hardy's Abbot's Cerne) to Evershot (Hardy's Evershead); the walk would have passed the Cross-in-Hand about midway. It becomes, also, about other resonances in the touch of old stones and the simples of the field (Bletsoe drawing on her homeoepathic interests). But the violation meted out to Tess is figured through the whole poem. no slack-twister I, seemy work-strong arms; gloves    thick as a warrior's &a rope of hair like a ship's cablepolishing grain against my sidemy bones become milk:see how the stalks                              imitate memoving in the wind's elec[...]

More to say


Apologies to regular readers. The blog is being severely impacted by soul-destroying labour on my TEFL end-of-course assignment.  I've gone soft when it comes to this kind of thing. *Our "English" family came together at our house at Christmas. We lived upstairs in an old oast-house. Out in the weald, the hop-fields were grey and an empty forest of poles, the ducks flew around the pond shrieking. A day or two before, here came my grandmother on the bus, with her small brown suitcase and her presents wrapped in re-used wrapping paper. We went out into the garden with my mother and cut sprigs of holly with plenty of red berries on them. Here too came my great-aunt, once a receptionist in Harley Street, and still with a certain brisk city air about her. She learnt to drive late in life, but not very well, and it was a relief when her small DAF automatic came through the winding lanes and chugged up against the garden gate without actually hitting it. I and my sister --- I still had only one in those days --- had been taken Christmas shopping in Tunbridge Wells. On Christmas Eve we had our "Swedish" Christmas, and then we opened the presents sent from Sundsvall. We sat around the tree, decorated with straw goats and straw tomtegubbar, and we also admired the snowy scene that my father set up on a bookshelf, where the figurines of priest and skiing angel and crib and bearded dwarf and horse-drawn sledge gathered together on a lumpy terrain of cotton wool. We ate herrings, boiled potatoes, and Christmas ham. At some point my mother would put the Swedish long-dance on the gramophone. It was a high-tempo medley beginning with Nu är det jul igen and proceeding through various other Christmas favourites. We joined hands in a chain and flew uproariously through every room in the house. On Christmas Day we had the "English" Christmas: a proper roast, but more often a capon than a turkey. Just before dinner (it was really a sort of late lunch), the adults watched the Queen's Speech. My sister and I were, of course, more interested in examining the bright parcels under the tree and trying to guess what they might contain. We never had cranberry sauce.*  We would have lingonberry sauce (sent over from Sweden), or my mum's home-made grape "jelly", rather delicious but runny. (The oast-house had an ornamental grapevine on its west wall.)  In those days the family still kept up a pretence of drinking alcohol, something that no-one particularly liked, but considered an essential part of any celebratory meal. I learnt to let the red wine "breathe".My sister and I were allowed wine with water. Often there was an adult conversation about how it was good to introduce children to alcohol early, so it lost its mystique. It certainly worked in our case, we drink about two units a year. At the time, however, we were most enthusiastic. The most reluctant wine-drinker, even more reluctant than my mother, was my grandmother. But this was not because it was alcohol. My grandmother was always reluctant, even ungracious, when she was offered any kind of treat. Eventually she gave in.  I observed her behaviour closely, understanding that she was a much better person than the rest of us. Even today, I still have difficulty accepting a gift graciously.Then we had Christmas pudding. My dad made "brandy butter" by whisking up butter in a dish with brandy. He also poured brandy over the pudding and set light to it, so that it flickered with blue flames when brought to the table. Inside the pudding he placed verious silver threepennie[...]

Västra Bunnerstöten


[Image source:]If you are at Storulvån STF hostel, and you can tear your eyes away from the enticing destinations to the SW, but instead look towards the east across the river Handölån, you'll see the Bunnerfjällen massif, lying south of the big lake Annsjön, and north-east of the Tjallingdalen valley, and west of Vålådalen.It's a rarely visited area, and none of the major walking routes go near it. There are several summits of which the highest is Västra Bunnerstöten, though it has had other names in the past (1,554m or 1,545m according to other sources).The map and the pages below come from Sven Kilander's 1955 book Kärlväxterna övre gränser på fjäll i sydvästra Jämtland ("Upper Limits of Vascular Plants on Mountains of South-Western Jämtland") (Acta Phytogeographica Suecica 35). The whole book can be accessed using the link above. It includes a summary in English (pp. 183-189).Kilander went there four times, on 18-19 July 1943,  2 Aug 1949, 20-22 July 1950 and 24-26 August 1951. Unlike Abrahamsson (see below), he was lucky with the weather.V Bunnerstöten is a somewhat lower mountain than those in the Sylarna and Helags massifs but near the summit it just creeps into the high alpine category, Kilander considers (p. 80). Kilander investigated some 25 mountains in the area.  Many, perhaps most, of his height records come from Stora Helagstöten, a higher and more southerly mountain than V Bunnerstöten. (As Kilander admits, the Sylarna group might have produced more records if it hadn't been so forbiddingly precipitous.) A few species, however, grew highest on V Bunnerstöten: Lycopodium annotinum (Interrupted Clubmoss) Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort)Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine. The specimen was 7 cm tall, and dead at the top)Hierochloë odorata (Holy-grass)Carex atrata x norvegica  (Black Alpine Sedge x Close-headed Alpine Sedge)Carex glacialis (Glacier Sedge)Arctystaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry)On his last day on the mountain Kilander noticed traces of a serpentine outcrop, but didn't have time to investigate properly; the demands of this unusual geology, high in toxic metals and with a high percentage of magnesium to calcium, can produce an interesting flora. Here he found the rare Cerastium alpinum var. glabrum   (now called ssp. glabratum) along with Viscaria alpina. The highest record for Equisetum pratense (Shade Horsetail) was on the neighbouring summit Östra Bunnerstöten, outside Kilander's study area but re-confirmed from Smith's record of 1920. *Tore Abrahamsson went to Bunnerfjällen too, as he recounts in his 1992 book Okända Fjäll (Unknown Mountains). His visit began on 7th September, and the weather was mostly awful, but he took some gloomily impressive photographs. The composer Wilhelm Peterson-Berger passed along its flank in 1906, accompanying a topographical expedition from Handöl to Ljungdalen. Abrahamsson quotes a couple of lyrics from Peterson-Berger's early choral work  En Fjällfärd  (P-B wrote the words himself) -- see below.  Abrahamsson also quotes from the opening page of the book in his own backpack, Mörkrets hjärta by Joseph Conrad. An excellent book to read, I imagine, as darkness closed in on the tumbledown shelter beside the Bunnersjöarna (a pair of plateau lakes to the north of the area shown in the map). Here's some very b[...]

Maynard Mack (1909 - 2001)


Maynard Mack[Image source:]Maynard Mack was a professor at Yale, born in Michigan. Mostly remembered as an Alexander Pope scholar, but he was interested in Shakespeare too, and I've been reading him on Shakespeare's tragedies. Samuel Johnson, it's said, never read a book through. I begin to recognize this behaviour in my own life. Increasingly my contacts with authors are  becoming more fleeting, usually far less than a whole book. In this case, it's a paper from 1960, "The Jacobean Shakespeare: Some Observations on the Construction of the Tragedies", which was included as an appendix to the Signet Othello that I picked up in a charity shop yesterday lunchtime. (Edition by Alvin Kernan, another Yale academic; it was published in 1963.) Mack writes about patterns that the tragedies have in common. The hyperbolic tendencies of the hero(es). "Comic overstatement aims at being preposterous. Tragic overstatement aspires to be believed."The hero's down-to-earth foil (Horatio, Kent, Iago, Enobarbus, Menenius, Mercutio, Cassius). Or, say, Desdemona talking to Emilia. "The alabaster innocence of Desdemona's world shines out beside the crumpled bedsitters of Emilia's --  ... but the two languages never, essentially, commune -- and, for this reason, the dialogue they hold can never be finally adjudicated." Dramatization of the conflict between the values of the individual ( integrity, to be oneself) and the values of the social ( accommodation to existing circumstance, to survive). Mack also writes about "indirections": ways in which one part of the action mirrors another, or one character's words are seen to illuminate another. So that Edgar and Gloucester and the Fool, all speaking for themselves, yet somehow illuminate Lear too. Likewise the three sons Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet illuminate each other. Mirrorings: Bianca's appearances shedding light on Othello's dimming view of Desdemona. Mirror scenes: the opening scenes and what they introduce about the field of action of the rest of the play. Hamlet (mystery, solving), Othello (manipulation), Lear (hierarchical nature, bestial nature), Antony and Cleopatra (the great debates of lovers). Symbolic entrances and exits: the emblematic deaths that tell us about someone else's experience: John of Gaunt, Mamillius, Eros. Motifs:  the three Poisonings in Hamlet Act I, Act III, Act V: Claudius' corruption of an entire society. The transforming journeys (Hamlet to England, Macbeth's re-visit to the Witches, or Lear and Gloucester to Dover).The cycle of change in which the hero becomes the hero's antithesis: the perfect, accomplished courtier Hamlet becomes obscene and cruel and dithering; the supremely self-possessed Othello raves, rolls around, and hits out;  the majestic Lear becomes a deranged wanderer; These transformations reveal, however, a potential that always lay within them. The madnesses of the tragic heroes. But let's hear some of Mack's own words:"Moreover, both he [Lear] and Hamlet can be privileged in madness to say things -- Hamlet about the corruption of human nature, and Lear about the corruption of the Jacobean social system (and by extension about all social systems whatever), which Shakespeare could hardly have risked apart from this license. Doubtless one of the anguishes of being a great artist is that you cannot tell people what they and you and your common institutions are really like --- when viewed absolutely -- without being dismissed as insane. To communicate [...]

The streetlamp


Contained, as you we cast off, the water and hunger must be, be content; when we stood at the sometimes the weather was bad they were frightened the beating gateand called security. our coats and babies, yellow eyes and  we named set prayer beards... unfathomed request, not respect but copies itwrappings more searching, already a prince dancingYes, our eyes grew to that squat pulpit swallow the cave, the salt sea, the hunger. irregular flask My friends of then,  the cast-off skins of our days, I wish...                        but                   snow             was          on      the  groundyou would have sung mories no long a trouble to their eyes!that I believed, a country  [...]

Penguin Modern Poets 19 Ashbery Harwood Raworth


Add captionSad thing, to think that in the past couple of years all three of the poets who appeared in this influential volume have died, most recently John Ashbery. The volume catches their output to date in the year 1971.  By that time Ashbery and Lee Harwood had already delivered in spades;  some of their best poems are here. My perception is that Tom Raworth, the most formally radical of the three, was still feeling for the right kind of space, and the Raworth poems here are opening gambits. Comparatively speaking. But opening the book at random, with 5 minutes to spare while waiting for a Linux engineer, lets enjoy this opening of a Raworth poem:There Are Lime-Trees in Leaf on the Promenade                           (for Ed & Helene)the blossom blows                                across the stepno moon.          night, the curtain moveswe had come back from seeing one friend in the weekthey celebrated the twentieth anniversary of victory, fireworksparades.         and all across the town the signs the frenchpeople are not your allies mr johnson          who werethen, the old photographs.           garlanded the tanks withflowers nowchoke-cherry                    a poison        we cameseparately homethe children were therecovered with pink blossoms like burned men         takingthe things they laughed                                   at the strange coins, tickets.           ranaround the house pointing up at the plane thenthe only noisethere can be no dedication         all things in their wayare          the actual scars      tension.            the feelingof isolation.           lovefor me in one way is waiting for it to end- - - - - -  *Re line 3, I couldn't help being struck by reading, the next day, in Laurie Duggan's No Particular Place to Go, My poetry -- a life watching curtains flutter. ("Lives of the Poets") [...]



Grocery shop in the Edgeware Road[Image source: Photo by Adrian Scottow.] Here's the beginning and end of Laurie Duggan's "Autumn Journal".gulls caught in early light over rooftopsyellow sky*one red fox, several deerthe length of the King's Wood*mud and twigscracked acorns on a wet road*- - - -smoke turns to fogmoonrise south of Gravesend*rough windswrong equinoxThe characteristic generous, indifferent, allusion in the title:  LD's poem does have some quiet conversation with MacNeice's eve-of-war meditations. But the differences are marked. For example,  this autumn journal consists of 14 lines, instead of 24 cantos. Macneice's poem covered about 4 months in 1938. There's a hint of a smile in just how brief LD's Autumn Journal is. What's happening in our news media, then? The silence hums with that unvoiced commentary. Yet isn't this poem, too, in some accord with what Macneice says in his introductory note, "Nor am I attempting to offer what so many people now demand from poets -- a final verdict or a balanced judgment". The poetic is one in which the integrity of the real world is specifically not "captured" in the words, it is not immanent in the words. Yet it feels very present For, example, the poem uses no verbs of  movement, yet looking past the text we're aware of  movement.  The gulls, for example, are flying and wheeling and gliding. How do I know? The poem doesn't say that. But I see them. You can read the poem in a few seconds. The asterisks, however, are there to tell us that its seven annotations are spaced far apart, in place and probably in time.  Its horizons are large, it's a big page. The length of the King's Wood is also quite a long way: it's one of the largest woodlands in E. Kent. Placed next to the deer, it suggests a chase, vistas opening, canopy thinning. The second allusion is to Shakespeare's Sonnet 18: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May .  The springtime of that poem explains why now is the "wrong" equinox.  But then isn't the autumnal equinox always the wrong equinox. Yet the trans-seasonal "rough winds" are, in a way, reassuring of larger cycles. It was in a park in Bexhill-on-Sea, last Saturday morning, that I encountered the cracked acorns. (Moving between the ash-dominant scarplands of the upper and lower Jurassic, well, I don't seem to spend a lot of time with oak trees and am always struck by them when I visit other parts of the country.)Only some of the acorns were cracked. This was more about cycling and trampling than the pulverization of trucks. Pedunculate Oak. Some of the acorns were really big. I picked up the fattest and juiciest and bunged it into the pocket of my hoodie. Then I forgot about it until, very late last night, after luminous dinner at a Lebanese restaurant on the Edgeware Road, and several hours of train and coach into provincial darkness,  I was settling down in the van, and I heard the sound of something rolling along the foot-well then plunking onto the step. The Indo-European root for "acorn" is very ancient; it meant fruit of various sorts. Words from the same root turn up in Celtic languages, referring to sloes and plums. Preparing acorns for human food is not straightforw[...]

the Dickens fleet


Cullimore Group: the Jarvis LorryThe Cullimore group are a Stroud-based family-owned firm in roads and aggregates. They are currently busy about the Chippenham by-pass, hence this note.  Each of the distinctive bottle-green lorries carries a name on the driver's door. Nothing unusual there, but in this case, the first name I spotted was "Poll Sweedlepipe" and the next "Vincent Crummles". Moreton C. Cullimore, the company patriarch, was a Dickens fan who began the custom of naming his vehicles during the early 1940s, when the green livery had to be abandoned due to wartime shortages. "The tradition survives today; all Cullimore vehicles, large and small, and even the individual items of plant, proudly display their Dickensian names. Some names are of course particularly appropriate: OliverTwist could be nothing other than a truck mixer, while well-placed confidence saw the ready-mix plant at Netherhills christened Great Expectations when it was opened nearly 30 years ago."  The names of the trucks, likewise, often have a certain appropriateness to their function as work vehicles. can't tell you how I thirst to re-read Dickens. For today, however, just ten minutes and an indulgent visit to some of the characters that are named on the Cullimore cabs. It's a visit that emphasizes some of the deep folklore connections that continue to exist between Dickens and the working lives of ordinary people. COLONEL BULDER‘Colonel Bulder, Mrs. Colonel Bulder, and Miss Bulder,’ were the next arrivals. ‘Head of the garrison,’ said the stranger, in reply to Mr. Tupman’s inquiring look. Miss Bulder was warmly welcomed by the Misses Clubber; the greeting between Mrs. Colonel Bulder and Lady Clubber was of the most affectionate description; Colonel Bulder and Sir Thomas Clubber exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked very much like a pair of Alexander Selkirks—‘Monarchs of all they surveyed.’   (Pickwick Papers)COUNT SMORLTORKMr. Pickwick saluted the count with all the reverence due to so great a man, and the count drew forth a set of tablets. ‘What you say, Mrs. Hunt?’ inquired the count, smiling graciously on the gratified Mrs. Leo Hunter, ‘Pig Vig or Big Vig—what you call—lawyer—eh? I see—that is it. Big Vig’—and the count was proceeding to enter Mr. Pickwick in his tablets, as a gentleman of the long robe, who derived his name from the profession to which he belonged, when Mrs. Leo Hunter interposed. ‘No, no, count,’ said the lady, ‘Pick-wick.’ ‘Ah, ah, I see,’ replied the count. ‘Peek—christian name; Weeks—surname; good, ver good. Peek Weeks. How you do, Weeks?’ ‘Quite well, I thank you,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, with all his usual affability. ‘Have you been long in England?’ ‘Long—ver long time—fortnight—more.’ ‘Do you stay here long?’ ‘One week.’ ‘You will have enough to do,’ said Mr. Pickwick smiling, ‘to gather all the materials you want in that time.’ ‘Eh, they are gathered,’ said the count. ‘Indeed!’ said Mr. Pickwick. ‘They are here,’ added the count, tapping his forehead significantly. ‘Large book at home—full of notes—music, picture, science, potry, poltic; all tings.’ (Pickwick Papers)VINCENT CRUMMLESMr. Vincent Crummles received Nic[...]



A medley for Monday, I think. 1. From a brochure for exclusive holidays in rural Andalucia (aimed, I venture, at the elderly and wealthy), and run by the extended A-- family. The A-- wives are the inpiration behind the delicious food for which they have become known producing just the right balance of lightness and quantity. Their husbands' appreciation of good wine ensures variety, quality and a plentiful supply!Is it just me, or do others too find the words "wife" and "husband" somewhat bizarre? "Partner", sure, but what are those other words about?  Will I be expected to teach this old-fashioned vocabulary in TEFL? (Obviously yes, but I cannot say these are exactly everyday terms in my own part of the world, it will be rather like teaching "commissionaire" or "docking clerk" or "seamstress".) 2. Biscuiterie de l'Abbaye: Galettes des Vikings au Sarrasin.  A packet of bisuits I picked up at a motorway services in Normandy. [Image source: , which also notes: En mémoire du Moulin de la Porte à Lonlay l'Abbaye, autrefois spécialisé dans la mouture du sarrasin, est né un délicieux biscuit, sur lequel figure le célèbre drakkar des Vikings.]So "sarrasin" is buckwheat. Even in 2010, France's production was exceeded only by China, Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, France is a net importer. Buckwheat growing is said to have declined with the arrival of chemical fertilizers, which boosted the productivity of true grain crops. Unlike them, Buckwheat is not a grass but a plant in the sorrel family, originating in Sichuan. (On this and other matters I found the French Wikipedia entry more persuasive than the English one.) Buckwheat retains an association with Brittany, but also Normandy, Augergne etc. It can grow on poor soils and the cycle from seed-time to harvest is only three months. The French name "Sarrasin" also means "Saracen" and this may reflect a  popular memory (true or not) of the plant being introduced from Morocco. "Drakkar" (a word known to the English-speaking world only as the "pour homme" cologne Drakkar Noir) is the French word for a Viking long-ship, specifically the Old Norse drekar, the kind with a dragon or snake carved on the prow. Though this has become the iconic image of a Viking long-ship, the drekar is known only from descriptions in Norse sagas; no archaeological remains have ever been found. Normandy is so-called in reference to the Scandinavian colonization of the 9th-11th centuries. (Or rather Anglo-Scandinavian, since many came from the Danelaw.) The duchy of Normandy came into existence as a forced royal concession to the Viking leadership.  On the evidence of names most of the Vikings who came to Normandy were Danes. *3. With which slender connection, onto a symphony I've been listening to recently, Carl Nielsen's No. 4, titled Det uudslukkelige : "The Inextinguishable". I quote Neilsen's further interesting remarks from a Guardian article by Tom Service (these come from Gerhardt Lynge's program note of 1/4/1938). "Music is Life. As soon as even a single note sounds in the air or through space, it is result of life and movement; that is why music (and the dance) are the more immediate expressions of the will to life."The symphony evokes the most primal sources of life and the wellspring of the life-feeling; that is, what lies behin[...]

balmy sleep


Anne Brontë, aged about 13 (drawing by a 17-year-old Charlotte in 1833)

[Image source:]

More info on portraits of Anne: . There are none of her as an adult.

No hope, no pleasure can I find;
I am grown weary of my mind;
Often in balmy sleep I try
To gain a rest from misery,

And in one hour of calm repose
To find a respite from my woes;
But dreamless sleep is not for me
And I am still in misery.

(from Anne Brontë, "A Voice from the Dungeon")

The Gondal speaker is a certain Marina Sabia, otherwise unknown.

This exemplifies what makes us warm to Anne, an eighteenth-century (say, Cowperian) firmness of diction, a penetrating insight, a bold straightforwardness of statement,  and all this completely without ego (unlike both her sisters).

The repeat of the word "misery" at the end of successive stanzas, but varied by being made to rhyme with different vowel-sounds, actually recalls to me a mid-sixteenth-century music, maybe Wyatt.

I tried to look up the rhetorical device that Anne uses when she says "balmy sleep", but I failed to find it.  "Balmy" applies to sleep as it ought to be - as it is in books - but clearly not as it's experienced by Marina, whose dreams are terrible, turmoiled things. Even the happy dream of her child and her child's father goes wrong, in the space of a single stanza:

I thought he smiled and spoke to me,
But still in silent ecstasy
I gazed at him, I could not speak;
I uttered one long piercing shriek. ...

believing the words


Hubbel Palmer as Mr Collins in the 2003 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, transposed to modern-day Utah[Image source:]In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Collins proposes to his cousin Elizabeth Bennet and, of course, she turns him down. Collins, however, doesn't seem to understand the refusal, suggests that young ladies say No when they mean Yes, and ponders aloud: "perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character". Collins is ridiculous, complacent, and utterly lacking in sensibility. But still, his difficulty is genuine. Since he possesses a theory that would fully account for why Elizabeth might refuse his proposal while still intending to marry him, in what sense should he understand her?A bad situation, this lack of trust in a person's words, and it can lead to worse things than an unduly prolonged proposal. Collins might have been helped if he had had a little insight into body language and other non-linguistic clues, but that was what not many men of his time did have. Indeed, the question of whether a woman liked a man was deliberately censored from thought. as being indelicate towards the woman as well as uncomfortable for the man to contemplate seriously. But everyone, not just Mr Collins, is stupid and blind in some respects and to some degree. Collins' difficulty is our difficulty. What if you believe in despite of the words, or (most likely) you don't know what to believe? There's no safe advice. You cannot say, for instance:  If in doubt, abide by the words. And the principle No-one ever got sacked for choosing IBM just doesn't apply when it comes to human relationships. Cue for another Claes Andersson poem!*Nowadays I don't trust you any morethan I always trusted myselfAs soon as I turn my back you deceive meAnd right you areI would do the same if I were ISomeways I'm not me anymoreI get extended bouts of faithfulness and caringIt's some kind of revengeNow when there's nothing more to massacrewe could have it fairly good together, you and IBut you! You don't mean a word of what I say!Go to hell but come back(Trans. Lennart and Sonja Bruce, in Poems in Our Absence, Bonne Chance Press 1994)*Recent dramatizations of this scene have wanted to emphasize the force and conviction of Elizabeth's refusal. Collins' maddening refusal to understand her (in the novel) has tended to be underemphasized. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber (1995) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">Keira Knightley and Tom Hollander (2005) allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" gesture="media" height="315" src="" width="560">Recommended: An edit that combines the above two renderings along with the same scene from the 1940 film featuring Melville Cooper as Collins and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet[...]

the hyperreal -- Gildas


When I was writing about St Martin of Tours recently, it occurred to me that these early saints exist, not quite but almost, entirely in the hyperrealis. We don't know much about the real person or their world. We don't know their character or personality. Most of the stories about them are not designed as biography in any modern sense but to convey pious messages. Management of the hyperreal, that sphere that feeds no-one but has an addictive effect on people's imaginations, --- this management was already being skilfully exercised by the medieval church.  Though today we are swamped by the hyperreal (so that, for example, nearly all news and public debate is about mainly unreal topics) it's nothing new. The saint can be pictured as a very small stick-figure (representing what is concretely known about the person) who is dwarfed by a loosely attached but very large, billowing nebula of hyperreality; that is, the saint's myths and legends, traditions, associations, iconography, feasts and customs, patronage and so forth. This large hyperreal element, projecting far into the future, touches the lives of millions of people across the millennia. As the saint's hyperreal nebula grows, it absorbs more and more material, and this material derives not from the original saint but from the lives of others, so that in the end the hyperreal nebula is not only an influential control on larger communities, but is also itself a communal creation. Shakespeare understood the mechanism of it well. With reference to today's feast:This day is called the feast of Crispian:He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,And rouse him at the name of Crispian.He that shall live this day, and see old age,Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,But he'll remember with advantagesWhat feats he did that day: then shall our names.Familiar in his mouth as household wordsHarry the king, Bedford and Exeter,Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.This story shall the good man teach his son;And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,From this day to the ending of the world,But we in it shall be remember'd;[Quoted this morning on Radio 3, which I was listening to on the way to work. By the way, there was also mention of the prominence of St Crispin, as patron saint of cobblers, in Wagner's Die Meistersinger ..]*Peter Philpott, re Arthur (in Wound Scar Memories):Probably, if he existed (ie a dude called something Artorial doing some important stuff against the "Anglo-Saxons"), a little earlier than Cerdic. Probably, too, also not a king, but a warband leader, a dux. OK -- so Gildas doesn't mention him: his On the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae), written early or mid Sixth Century, is the only British/Welsh contemporary narrative of the post-colonial period dealing with the early "Welsh" kingdoms. It is a splenetic sermon, a rant addressed to those who know what he's talking about, in which actual leaders are transformed into political cartoon monsters. It is like trying to obtain historical information from the cartoons of Steve Bell or Martin Rowson.("Not a Note on Some Matters with Britain", Wound Sc[...]

morning in somerset


All through the night the van had been stealthily clawed by branches. The first time I heard that soft skreeking sound, back in the summer, I nearly jumped out of my skin; but now that I was back I found it soothing. It was quite deliberate to wedge the van up among the trees behind the billboard at one end of the lay-by; I didn't want to be parked where a half-asleep HGV driver might cannon into me. As I sat in the darkness drinking hot chocolate, I realized there were other advantages.  A regular  commerce of vehicles proceeded through the night, and I was as far away as possible from that. More than once, large convoys pulled in, blazoned with flashing orange lights and signs saying "Exceptional Load", men in high viz gear piled out for a piss and a smoke, stood around chatting and larking about. The reflective bands around their trouser legs made them look like a circus troupe, and their high vehicles might, to my wandering imagination, be funfair attractions or carnival floats but were more likely something to do with civil engineering. Evidently this generously-sized lay-by had been remarked by others as well as myself. Midnight was the preferred time for making these awkward multi-vehicle flits through the small, winding A-Roads of rural Somerset. At last I put up the sunshield for extra privacy (ruefully thinking of warmer nights in the south), and turned in with the Life of Buonaparte on my smartphone.

I got up in the morning and examined the screecher. It had leathery leaves on thick knobbly twigs, and in fact it was this crab-apple with streaked fruit. The apples dangled on long thin black stalks (very unlike domestic apples). The taste was sharp but sweet and delicious.