Monday, December 31, 2018

Why quarrel with this lake?

     I looked along the bar
     And saw my fellow creature
     Bravely standing there.
     "By word, sign, or touch,"
     I cried, in my mute heart,
     "Tell me, be my teacher,
     Be learnèd in that art,
     What is my name and nature?"

David Ferry
  New Poems and
  At a Bar
University of Chicago, 2012©

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Graham Greene, "The Lost Childhood"

I remember distinctly the suddenness
with which a key turned in a lock
and I found I could read .. All a
long summer holiday I kept my secret,
as I believed: I did not want anybody
to know that I could read. I suppose
I half consciously realized even then
that this was the dangerous moment.


    I expunge the stain of
    remembering the Little
    Father and his Czarina
    beneath the White House
    Christmas trees, toying
    with children's dreams -

    as I recall a fragment
    from an essay in plain
    sight of every visitor
    to my home, every day  -

    who lets one trust the
    lessons we must learn.

Graham Greene
The Lost Childhood
  and Other Essays
Viking, 1951©

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Origins of Wednesday lxxxvi: Socratic cynic on the line

   He called to ask me if I still
   believed in the existence of
   Cetera, because at my age the
   promises of Et must have worn
   a little thin, right? I didn't
   know how to cope with this co-
   nundrum, to think of "and" as
   stripped of all connection, a
   constant tease without a term, 
   as if he'd always be with us.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Christmas Eve Dryden, revisited

I think a scan of precedents will
find that my custom of reading in
John Dryden on Christmas Eve has
been inspired by his brilliant 
translation of Aeneid. I haven't
any inhibition against admitting,
I love Dryden, because he's safe
from superfluous reprisals. That
said, as stoutly as I've champi-
oned to myself, at least, the 
music of his Aeneid, this year
in America, as this year in my
aging, has found me this evening
grateful for his lovely phrasing
of Virgil's bucolic masterpiece,
Georgics. There is not a poem be-
fore Pope's which I revisit more
constantly, or one which better
typifies my respect for music.

This year, I need the great mig-
ration of the priceless treasure
more, even than Aeneas' searches.
Say what one will, for defaults
in our study of Latin, that we
had such conduits as Pope and
Dryden to absolve us in their
mercy is, to me, a gift of God.
The night can withstand another.

Oh, fortunate farmers, he
famously had begun, in the
2nd book of Georgics, and 
every schoolboy will smile
to recognize, Shakespeare:

         O happy if he knew his happy state!
            The swain who, free from business and debate,
            Receives his easy food from nature's hand
            And just returns of cultivated land!
            No palace with a lofty gate he wants
            To pour out tides of early visitants.
            With eager eyes devouring as they pass
            The breathing figures of Corinthian brass.

            No statues threaten from high pedestals;
            No Persian arras hides his homely walls
            With antique vests which through their shady fold
            Betray the streaks of ill-dissembled gold.

            He boasts no wool, whose native white is dyed
            with purple poison of Assyrian pride.
            No costly drugs of Araby defile
            With foreign scents the sweetness of his oil.

            But easy quiet, a secure retreat,
            A harmless life that knows not how to cheat,
            With homebred plenty the rich owner bless,
            And rural pleasures crown his happiness ..

                    Ye sacred muses, with wise beauty fired,
            My soul is ravished and my brain inspired.

John Dryden
1631 - 1700
Selected Poems
  The Country
Steven N. Zwicker
  and David Bywaters
Penguin Classics, 2001©


Christmas cracker

    A man has to hold his mouth open
    a long time before a roasted par-
    tridge flies into it.

African proverb, cited in our book of
the year, a timely escape from a year
absorbed in waiting for a government.

Hank Shaw
  Upland birds and small
  game from field to feast
H&H Books
Orangevale, California


Thursday, December 20, 2018


   I don't think we know anyone who
   did not recognize his immediate
   and complete withdrawal of proof
   of a national self-interest in a
   safer Middle East as the gesture
   of a tormented mentality's decom-
   position under pressures of expo-
   sure. An unforgettably transpar-
   ent imitation of escape, less a
   displacement than a scavenging.

And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.

T.S. Eliot
Four Quartets
  East Coker, iii

Valéry Lorenzo

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Gosh, there were good stories

See a sympathetic figure escape from
danger. I don't know for how long the
formula prevailed in English fiction,
but I'm not going to pretend to dis-
dain for it. It seems that the advan-
tage of this formula has less to do
with characterization and outcomes
than with freeing its composing agent
to perfect narrative scheme and style.

Knowing what the story is, seems to
have lent such stability to its arch-
itecture that, whether one cared for
the edifice or not, one could not
help but admit to its integrity. If
one were writing about an honest Am-
erican President within that genre,
his speech would hold such granitic
congruency that it could hardly be
expected to gain such trust today,
when the more thrilling improvisa-
tions of a fashion for psychological 
conjecture so absorb public taste.

If Hitchcock's Roger Thornhill were
to hang by his fingers, being crushed
by Leonard's shoe on Mount Rushmore,
would anyone recall the outcome if he
were a contemptible liar? I put this 
down to a curious feature in language,
regardless of who wields it over us.
Suspense, itself, is endangered, then.

                   There's no saying anent that - 
                   zeal catches fire at a slight
                   spark as fast as a brunstane
                   match .. I hae kent a minister
                   wad be fair gude day and fair
                   gude e'en wi'ilka man in the
                   parochine, and hing just as
                   quiet as a rocket on a stick,
                   till ye mentioned the word ab-
                   juration oath - and then, whiz,
                   he was off, and up in the air
                   an hundred miles beyond common
                   manners, common sense, and com-
                   mon comprehension.

Sir Walter Scott
The Heart of Mid-Lothian
  Ch xviii
J.M. Dent, Ltd., 1906©

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday commute clxi: Holidays against type

    The phrase throttles the throat
    which utters it, as humiliating
    tautology. Yet, we can imagine
    characters in Forster, wandering
    from pensione to pensione, in a
    cocoon, wrapped up in a gondola,
    on a single, cluttered canal, ex-
    periencing that extraction which
    the holiday must be, as a restor-
    ation of timidity. Slip Maggie
    Smith into the craft, and you'd
    almost row for free. Someone has
    to substitute for Helena Bonham
    Carter, who leapt out, oars ago.
    Watch the film again. I've been.
    It doesn't go so far as Venice,
    but it does suggest, one might. 

James Ivory
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala
E.M. Forster
Ismail Merchant
Goldcrest et al, 1986©

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Tinkle, tinkle, media star

 You and I, involuntary stakeholders as
 we are, in the conduct of the American
 Presidency - whether hailing from Char-
 lottesville or Abbéville - could only
 gasp in wondering delight when the no-
 toriously female San Franciscan tidied
 up her Oval Office host, changing his
 nappies for no extra charge. To relive
 any one moment of her catechism on fact-
 speaking, so risks that dissolution in
 its absorbent lace as to foil the foil
 how the world did weep for the hilarity
 of the sight, of the haplessly incontin-
 ent misogynist's being exhibited in his
 own crib, for the boasting, taunting bul-
 ly his Republican godfathers insulate
 from justice. There has always been an
 underlying odor of infancy in our vaude-
 villian taste for slapstick, but never
 let it be said, the genre lacks revenge.

 Still, the last word was best reported
 capturing the synopsis offered by the
 Senate Minority Leader, a New Yorker -
 When the President brags that he won
 North Dakota .., he's in real trouble.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Origins of Wednesday lxxxv: Réflexions sur la question Bush

I opened a much-too-young vintage from
Graves - a favorite appellation - the
other night, and I told my excellent
wine merchant that I'd spend a little
time revisiting the writings of one
of its earliest vignerons. My impetu-
osity in tampering with a 2012 was
only doubly edified, in samplings of
sound and balanced discernment.
Where possible, I take that style of
commentary on our time as a favorite.

Several days ago, in a country house where 
I was staying, I came upon two scholars who 
enjoy a wide reputation here. Their charac-
ter struck me as admirable. The conversa-
tion of the first, when properly weighed, 
came down to this: "What I said is true be-
cause I said it."  The conversation of the 
second dealt with other matters: "What I 
did not say is not true because I didn't 
say it."

I rather liked the first man: that a man 
should be opinionated doesn't bother me 
at all; but that he should be impertinent, 
that does bother me, and a lot. The first 
man defends his own ideas; they are his own 
wealth. The second attacks the opinion of 
others, and that constitutes the wealth of 

Oh, my dear Uzbek, how badly vanity serves 
men who have a stronger dose of it than 
they need for the preservation of nature. 
Those fellows seek to be admired by dint 
of displeasing. They strive to be super-
ior; they are not even equal.

Charles de Secondat
  Baron de la Brède et
  de Montesquieu
The Persian Letters
  144: Rica to Uzbek
J. Robert Loy
  editor & translator
World, 1961©

1    Château de la Brède

iii  5th Avenue
      from the St Regis