In Natales et Pascha concurrentes

It is, for a little while yet, the 25th of March: the day the Church celebrates the Annunciation, whereby the Word was made Flesh.

It is also Friday, and we call this Friday good: for it is the day our Lord Jesus Christ climbed the shameful gallows-tree, transforming its shame to glory, trampling down death by death, bearing all sin in His sinless body to save us from our sin.

That these two great days occur together is apt, and rare; it will not occur again for 141 years.  On that account, John Donne wrote a poem (both here, and in the 2 prior links).  George Herbert also wrote a poem on the subject (item 67), this one in Latin, and that is the one I wanted to share:

Cum tu, Christe, cadis, nascor; mentémque ligavit
Una meam membris horula, téque cruci.
O me disparibus natum cum numine fatis!
Cur mihi das vitam, quam tibi, Christe, negas?
Quin moriar tecum: vitam, quam negligis ipse,
Accipe; ni talem des, tibi qualis erat.
Hoc mihi legatum tristi si funere præstes,
Christe, duplex fiet mors tua vita mihi:
Atque ibi per te sanctificer natalibus ipsis,
In vitam, et nervos Pascha coæva fluet.

Translated the best I can (after years without Latin practice, but with the benefit of some dictionaries):

When you, O Christ, fall, I rise;* it bound both my mind
And one of my members a little while, with you on the cross.
O how unlike, to me, that birth from the divine will now spoken!
Why do you give me life, when for yourself, Christ, you reject it?
I would even die with you: life, which itself you disregard,
Receive: unless you give such, as was given to you.
This would be a sad legacy for me if you would bestow death,
Christ, your death will doubly be made my life:
And yet, when I would be sanctified through your birth itself,
In life, and strength, your Passion coeval will flow.

*Alternately: When you, O Christ, die, I am born…

A friend has offered this (far superior) rendering:

As you die, o Christ, I am born: and my mind is bound
a little while with your limbs, to the Cross.
O what different destinies – of the man born, and the god.
Why do you give me life, which you, O Christ, renounce?
That I might die with you; take from me the life that you misprize [disregard],
unless you give to me a suffering similar to yours [??]
And if you grant to me – miserable creature – such a death,
o Christ, then your death would doubly be made my life.
And thus might my birth be sanctified to you
in life, and strength will flow from your sacrifice.

The Ships – A Prose Poem by CP Cavafy

From Imagination to the Blank Page.  A difficult crossing, the waters dangerous.  At first sight the distance seems small, yet what a long voyage it is, and how injurious sometimes for the ships that undertake it.

The first injury derives from the highly fragile nature of the merchandise that the ships transport. In the marketplaces of Imagination most of the best things are made of fine glass and diaphanous tiles, and despite all the care in the world, many break on the way, and many break when unloaded on the shore. Moreover, any such injury is irreversible, because it is out of the question for the ship to turn back and take delivery of things equal in quality. There is no chance of finding the same shop that sold them. In the marketplaces of Imagination, the shops are large and luxurious but not long-lasting. Their transactions are short-lived, they dispose of their merchandise quickly and immediately liquidate. It is very rare for a returning ship to find the same exporters with the same goods.

Another injury derives from the capacity of the ships. They leave the harbors of the opulent continents fully loaded, and then, when they reach the open sea, they are forced to throw out a part of the load in order to save the whole. Thus, almost no ship manages to carry intact as many treasures as it took on. The discarded goods are of course those of the least value, but it happens sometimes that the sailors, in their great haste, make mistakes and throw precious things overboard.

And upon reaching the white paper port, additional sacrifices are necessary. The customs officials arrive and inspect a product and consider whether they should allow it to be unloaded; some other product is not permitted ashore; and some goods they admit only in small quantities. A country has its laws. Not all merchandise has free entry, and contraband is strictly forbidden. The importation of wine is restricted, because the continents from which the ships come produce wines and spirits from grapes that grow and mature in more generous temperatures. The customs officials do not want these alcoholic products in the least. They are highly intoxicating. They are not appropriate for all palates. Besides, there is a local company that has the monopoly in wine. It produces a beverage that has the color of wine and the taste of water, and this you can drink the day long without being affected at all. It is an old company. It is held in great esteem, and its stock is always overpriced.

Still, let us be pleased when the ships enter the harbor, even with all these sacrifices. Because, after all, with vigilance and great care, the number of broken or discarded goods can be reduced during the course of the voyage. Also, the laws of the country and the customs regulations, though oppressive in large measure, are not entirely prohibitive, and a good part of the cargo gets unloaded. Furthermore, the customs officials are not infallible: some of the merchandise gets through in mislabeled boxes that say one thing on the outside and contain something else; and, after all, some choice wines are imported for select symposia.

Something else is sad, very sad. That is when certain huge ships go by with coral decorations and ebony masts, with great white and red flags unfurled, full of treasures, ships that do not even approach the harbor either because all of their cargo is forbidden or because the harbor is not deep enough to receive them. So they continue on their way. A favorable wind fills their silk sails, the sun burnishes the glory of their golden prows, and they sail out of sight calmly, majestically, distancing themselves forever from us and our cramped harbor.

Fortunately, these ships are very scarce. During our lifetime we see two or three of them at most. And we forget them quickly. Equal to the radiance of the vision is the swiftness of its passing. And after a few years have gone by, if—as we sit passively gazing at the light or listening to the silence—if someday certain inspiring verses return by chance to our mind’s hearing, we do not recognize them at first and we torment our memory trying to recollect where we heard them before. With great effort the old remembrance is awakened, and we recall that those verses are from the song chanted by the sailors, handsome as the heroes of the Iliad, when the great, the exquisite ships would go by on their way—who knows where.

Devonian Corals

petoskey collection

A friend recommended the poetry of Robert Hass to me, which is why I spent half of a weekend this summer in the library reading his Time and Materials cover to cover. This might not be the best method for poetic appreciation – rather like a boa constrictor swallowing its prey whole for later digestion – but it proves more effective than returning the book unread.

One poem in particular, “State of the Planet,” arrested me mid-read. Composed for a conference of the same name, it meditates on Earth’s history and considers man’s place within it.  The principle focus is certain environmental problems: polluted, overfished, carrying on nonetheless. Hass imagines a Californian schoolgirl, both as an allusion to future generations of stewards, and to ruminate on how one learns about the world. There are friendly textbooks and voices of authority instructing her about the cosmos, as well as the informative delights of experience: raindrops pelting her crimson backpack, copper-colored Japanese plums, leaning into the face of the wind, the possibility of Petoskeys.

That last was what made me pause, the fifth section in:

If she lived in Michigan or the Ukraine,
She’d find, washed up on the beach in a storm like this
Limestone fossils of Devonian coral. She could study
The faint white markings: she might have to lick the stone
To see them if the wind was drying the pale surface
Even as she held it, to bring back the picture of what life
Looked like forty millions years ago: a honeycomb with mouths.

It grabbed me, but oddly: no one ever bothers calling a Petoskey stone a fossil of Devonian coral. Possibly it was his way of including Charlevoix stones, or whatever folks in the Ukraine call their particular coral fossils; theirs wouldn’t be named for Chief Petosogay like ours are.

More than the mention of Michigan, I was caught by she might lick the stone, which squares up so neatly with reality.

Dry petoskeys Wet Petoskeys

However lovely it is to walk a Michigan beach – or swim, or read, or watch a sunset – the rocks are my greatest lure. Peering at them, poring over them, eyes peeled for that particular array of hexagons, those faint lines made distinct by the wash of a wave.

As Hass notes, it’s more difficult when the stones are dry. Licking the stone is the quickest test if you’ve stepped away from the shore.

I love this about them: that they hide, even as you look at them, especially when you take them further from the water. That mute honeycomb cries out, long after the coral has died, to be returned to the sea.

Petoskey stones

Yogh and Ash and Thorn

Last week Back in May, I shared Peter Bellamy’s setting of Rudyard Kipling, noting that I’d stumbled over it thanks to the glory and munificence of the internet.

More specifically, I was contemplating Anglo-Saxon words that start with an ash or a thorn, and came across this parody by Catherine Faber:

Yogh and Ash and Thorn

Some time between the year fourteen-ought-five and -fifty-one
There was a strange and radical change in spoken English done.
These letters all but past recall should not be held in scorn;
The rose in May must go the way of yogh and ash and thorn.

Yogh and ash and thorn good sirs, mouldering vellum adorn;
Here do we see mortality in yogh and ash and thorn.

Yogh to me resembles a three a little bit flattened above
And sound denotes so low in the throat as only the Dutch could love
Yet now is found both letter and sound discarded and forlorn;
Remember you are mortal too, like yogh and ash and thorn.

A “b” with a tail, thorn didn’t prevail, but though it lost the race
It takes a pair of letters to wear the shoes to take its place,
And a and e an ash will be when back to back they are bourne;
Into dark the passing mark of yogh and ash and thorn.

“Vowel shift” said somebody miffed, “It’s more like a hey or a bransle
“Letter and sound keep swapping around and ‘hands about go all!'”
Some were stored and some ignored and some were mangled and torn,
Caught up in the rout as vowels fell out with yogh and ash and thorn.

Time must be an enemy that ever ending brings–
Even word-fame cannot be heard when words are mortal things.
Some clever cuss in studying us some distant future morn
Will find us surely strange to her as yogh and ash and thorn.

Rich and strangely words will change in warpage under use
But why in past it happened so fast Gude Godde only knoos.**
We work the sum of what we become from where and how we are born.
And hold these three in memory: yogh and ash and thorn!

A Tree Song

Through the glorious bounty of the internet, I stumbled upon this poem by Rudyard Kipling today.  It’s not yet midsummer, but it seems appropriate anyway when the weather is so lovely and I am longing to go back to England.

Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.
Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
Surely we sing of no little thing,
In Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oak of the Clay lived many a day,
Or ever Aeneas began;
Ash of the Loam was a lady at home,
When Brut was an outlaw man;
Thorn of the Down saw New Troy Town
(From which was London born);
Witness hereby the ancientry
Of Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Yew that is old in churchyard mould,
He breedeth a mighty bow;
Alder for shoes do wise men choose,
And beech for cups also.
But when ye have killed, and your bowl is spilled,
Your shoes are clean outworn,
Back ye must speed for all that ye need,
To Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Ellum she hateth mankind, and waiteth
Till every gust be laid,
To drop a limb on the head of him
That anyway trusts her shade:
But whether a lad be sober or sad,
Or mellow with ale from the horn,
He’ll take no wrong when he lieth along
‘Neath Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Oh, do not tell the Priest our plight,
Or he would call it a sin;
But—we have been out in the woods all night,
A-conjuring Summer in!
And we bring you news by word of mouth—
Good news for cattle and corn—
Now is the Sun come up from the South,
With Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, good Sirs
(All of a Midsummer’s morn)!
England shall bide till Judgement Tide,
By Oak and Ash and Thorn!

Law Like Love

Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.

Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.

Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.

Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I’ve told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.

Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Anytime, anywhere,
Law is Good morning and Good night.

Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.

And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.

If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,

No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.

Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.

Like love we don’t know where or why,
Like love we can’t compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.

– Auden

Random Research: Raphael and Rilke

Every once in a while, I stop and consider how utterly reliant I am on the internet in general, and Google in particular.  O, benevolent online overlords!  Thou art the repository of so much of human thought, the cache of my own ideas, and my lady Mnemosyne.  Nor dost thou scorn to stoop and serve me, so long as my ISP does not fail me and I can limit my query to 128 characters.

But sometimes even Google, mighty Google, cannot come to my aid.

Two instances of late come to mind.

Back in April, I went to Rome with a friend.  Among the sights I appreciated most was the library of Pope Julius II, the Stanza della Segnatura, which Raphael decorated on all sides with frescoes.  The School of Athens is there (cue flashbacks to college days), as well as La Disputa del Sacramento – The Disputation of the Sacrament.

Disputa_del_Sacramento_(Rafael)

I was struck with curiosity over the scribe girl sitting next to St. Augustine (the fellow with a miter to the right of the altar, who is gesturing toward her).  Presumably she’s taking notes on the discussion of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
La Disputa scribe

I love her.  My practice is the same: to write down what people are saying in conversation, whether it’s in a booklet or whatever scraps of paper I have to hand, whether it’s clever or funny or erudite or just plain ridiculous.  Whoever she is, she is my representative where this picture is concerned.

Sadly, I have no idea who she is.  She might not be anyone at all; she might be a figure representing all scribes in all times and in all places, or the preservation of the doctrine of the church throughout history.  She might be the anthropomorphization of some concept: purity, truth, reason.

After scrolling through site after site in vain, I became convinced that all the Googling in the world could not illuminate this figure for me.  I headed to the library and got out every book on Raphael they’ve got, which gave me background on the putative chronology of the frescoes, and the background for how Raphael was chosen to paint them, but not much insight on the iconography he used, beyond the fact that it was ground-breaking in its animation. Roger Jones and Nicholas Penny, bless them, shared an endnote in their 1983 Raphael that Heinrich Pfeiffer explored the question in his dissertation, Zur Ikonographie von Raffaels Disputa.

It is a testament to my curiosity that I submitted a WorldCat request to get it from Montreal, despite the fact that I will need to translate the lot to get any answers from it.  Provoking!

But not, perhaps, as provoking as that other problem that plagues the internet, namely: people crediting an individual as the author of a quotation or idea or aphorism, without citing where they found it.  Then other people share it, be it truth or falsehood.  The thing becomes ubiquitous, a weed with no way to trace its forebears.

In this case, I found a poem credited to Rilke called “Blank Joy,” which of course appealed to me very greatly.  Given that he composed in German and French but not, to my knowledge, in English, I was interested in finding and translating the original.  So I checked Amazon for his titles, and took a look at their respective tables of contents.  I consulted my library’s catalog, and Wikipedia, and poetic fan sites: all the usual places.

The original German…does not appear to exist.  Or, rather, I’ve found it on three sites, but no one indicates what volume of his it was published in (was it published?  Did someone share a poem once written in a letter?).  Is it actually his?  How can we know?

So far the only solution I’ve come up with…is to request Sämtliche Werke in 12 Bänden – his complete works in twelve volumes – from the library.

I’m not sure what to take from this.  Maybe I should rely on Google less; perhaps I should consult the library and librarians therein first; possibly (probably) I should develop more vigorous and enterprising methods of research.

Or perhaps the real lesson is that I should learn German.

A Long-Unexpected Illustration

I’m hoping it won’t be stepping over any bounds to say that Thalia and her Vati have spent the past several months working on some storybooks (if so, expect redactions in the morning, I suppose).  They tell of The Noble Adventures of Georges and Jean-Luc, and are (so far as I have seen and read) charming.

The thing about them is, Thalia writes the stories and G. R. T. does the illustration.  This is, I am assured, a wise division of labor.

But.  Thalia HAS done some illustration in the past, and whilst going through some older pictures on my laptop this week, I came across proof of the fact.

There was a day, nigh-on two and a half years ago now, when the two of us declared that we would Draw Pictures of Poetic Merit for the Baby Loon (now a much older Loon!  We shall have to call her something else) and mail them to her.

The pictures were duly drawn, but were never sent.

Our apologies, dear Baby Loon.  Here they are now, better late (we hope?) than never.

IMG_3282 IMG_3284

After she had drawn Methuselah with ice cream, a camel, and a tent, and I had drawn a peacock, a pelican, a phoenix, and an albatross around a cross, we were in a sort of groove.  So we kept drawing.

IMG_3278 IMG_3279 IMG_3308

The latter pictures weren’t necessarily meant to go together, but I find it amusing that the Jameson family crest (shown here according to the whiskey brand variation; typically there are 3 ships and a bugle) and the tale of the Nancy Bell are both rather maritimey in nature.   I suppose one could indeed say that James of the Nancy Bell is indeed Sine Metu: Without Fear!  Without any Dutch courage involved, even.

“Oh, I am a cook and a captain bold,
And the mate of the Nancy brig,
And a bo’sun tight, and a midshipmite,
And the crew of the captain’s gig!”