Friday, December 28, 2007

Some Auden

Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral:
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie,
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

Soul and body have no bounds:
To lovers as they lie upon
Her tolerant enchanted slope
In their ordinary swoon,
Grave the vision Venus sends
Of supernatural sympathy,
Universal love and hope;
While an abstract insight wakes
Among the glaciers and the rocks
The hermit's carnal ecstacy.

Certainty, fidelity
on the stroke of midnight pass
Like vibrations of a bell
And fashionable madmen raise
Their pedantic boring cry:
Every farthing of the cost,
All the dreaded cards foretell,
Shall be paid, but from this night
Not a whisper, not a thought,
Not a kiss nor look be lost.

Beauty, midnight, vision dies:
Let the winds of dawn that blow
Softly round your dreaming head
Such a day of welcome show
Eye and knocking heart may bless,
Find our mortal world enough;
Noons of dryness till you fed
By the involuntary powers,
Nights of insult let you pass
Watched by every human love.

-W.H. Auden-

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Yule Tide Cheer

Christmas was most bountiful this year. Here are a few of the gifts I received:

1) A pair of monogrammed cufflinks. Many thanks to Madre, and the good people at Tiffany's.

2) Cash money. Mammonism always becomes a temptation around this time of year.

3) A two-volume OED. Way munificent.

Monday, December 24, 2007

I Should Have Said This in That Last Post. . .

Be sure to drink lots of eggnog and watch "It's a Wonderful Life."

If You Read This. . .

Merry Christmas, Et Pax Vobiscum.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Currently Playing

"I Am Legend" is two hours well spent. Will Smith does a good job pulling off a role which includes no verbal interaction with anyone except a dog for the first hour and a half. Also, as memory serves, the first symbolically Christian zombie flick that I have ever seen.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

On the Death of a Metaphysician

Unhappy dreamer, who outwinged in flight
The pleasant region of the things I love,
And soared beyond the sunshine, and above
The golden cornfields and the dear and bright
Warmth of the earth- blasphemer of delight,
Was your proud bosom not at rest with Jove,
That you sought, thankless for his guarded grove,
The empty horror of abysmal night?
Ah, the thin air is cold above the moon!
I stood and saw you fall, befooled in death,
As, in your numbed spirit's fatal swoon,
You cried you were a god, or were to be;
I heard with feeble moan your boastful breath
Bubble from the depths of the Icarian sea.

-George Santayana-

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Most/Least Desirable Women in Fiction

Accentuating the Positives First:

1. Penelope- Always found her attractive not only because of her loyalty and looks, but because she is just ambiguous enough to be psychologically captivating.

2. Imogen- Forceful yet yielding. A character sufficiently strong not to be a mere ornament, a la Hero, while not quite as blustery as Beatrice.

3. Rosalind- Along with No. 2, the most magnetic of Shakespeare's heroines.

4. Jane Bennett- Contrary to popular belief, Elizabeth is overrated and feisty. Jane is where it's at.

5. Calypso- Hard to reconcile with No. 1, but I think it would be pretty hot.

And the Not So Fines:

1. Clytemnestra: Authoress of the original Shower Scene. Need I say more?

2. Guinivere, Helen of Troy, Emma Bovary, Anna Keranina: All hot, but adultery has a way of killing the ratings.

3. Captain Ahab's Wife- She only appears in one sentence in the entire book, but any woman to whom whale-hunting is preferrable can't be such great shakes.

4. Beatrice, Gloriana, Una- Symbolic and ethereal women have a way of not offering much on the physical side of matrimony.

5. Bathsheba Everdean (of "Far from the Madding Crowd")- Something about her name bothers me. Mostly though, I just don't like her.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lines from "The Card Dealer"

What be her cards, you ask? Even these-
The heart, that doth but crave
More, having fed; the diamond,
Skilled to make the base seem brave;
The club, for smiting in the dark;
The spade, to dig a grave.

And do you ask what game she plays?
With me 'tis lost or won;
With thee it is playing still, with him
It is not well begun;
But 'tis a game she plays with all,
Beneath the sway o' the sun.

Thou seest the card that falls,- she knows
The card that followeth:
Her game in thy tongue is called Life,
As ebbs thy daily breath;
When she shall speak, thou'lt learn her tongue,
And know she calls it Death.

-Dante Gabriel Rossetti-

Famous Romantic One-Liners from Movies Rewritten for the Non-Comital

Don't know if it's good enough for McSweeney's, but here you are:

1. "Here's having you in my peripheral vision, kid."

2. "You had me rationalizing the contingency of possibly returning to you at hello."

3. "Love is never having to say your sorry, depending, of course, on the nature of the offence."

4. "Dito, with caveats."

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Classifications of Names to Avoid When Naming Your Child

1. Christian Virtues. (Sobriety, Chastity, etc.) The pilgrims tried it, God love them, but they didn't quite swing it. Plus we all know what girls named Chastity end up like.

2. Pretty Much All Manner of Botanical Phenomena. (Leaf, Flower, Fern) Let's leave the 60s where they wilted.

3. Popes. (Pius, Innocent, Boniface, Clement) Gregory and any permutation of John Paul excepted.

4. If you're an American who has recently converted to Islam, avoid naming your child. Have someone else do it for you.

5. Obscure U.S. presidents. (Rutherford, Millard, Grover) And for fans of Truman, actually make the middle initial stand for something this time, you smarmy bastards.

6. Minor Prophets. (Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Obadiah) Hosea is fair game if you're black.

7. T.S. Eliot poems. (Prufrock, Gidding) If you want your kid to go through life with a "pair of ragged claws" complex, then fine, go for it.

8. Knights of the Round Table. (Gawain, Perceval, Bedevere) Let's dissolve this fellowship once and for all, shall we?

9. Dictators, but not because they tend to commit genocide. Their names just suck. (Slobidan, Pol, Ho)

10. Aloysius.

Special thanks to my brother James for his contributions.

Monday, December 3, 2007

In Which if You Know Me, This Post Will Either Fan the Flames of Your Vanity or Really Insult You

I don't know why I didn't post on this when it actually happened, but about a year ago I had the most vivid dream of my entire life. I dreamt that the people in Hollywood (may their tribe increase!) were making a biopic about me, and I was sitting in a theater watching the trailer. Strangely, I never appeared in the trailer but everyone I know or had ever met did. Most of my friends and family members were played by major actors, some of whom are not actually alive, which anachronism caused me to realize it was a dream and to wake up. A few nights ago, I had a more fragmentary version of the same dream, which was stranger this time, and relied more heavily on the musical theme from "M*A*S*H." Again, I was curiously abscent from my own movie. I like to think that this was only due to the fact that Collin Farrel had scheduling conflicts and could not commit to the role, but I digress.

Anyhoo, this is the casting as I remember it. I have arranged them in order of how apt I think the casting choice is. If you are not flattered by the person who played you, then try to remind my subconcious of somebody else next time.

1. Josh Gibbs- Philip Seymour Hoffman
2. Davis Wilson- Andy Samberg (of SNL "Lazy Sunday" fame)
3. Drew Nicholas- Vince Vaughn.
4. Dana Banks- Played by Winona Ryder, who was pretending to be Audrey Hepburn.
5. Daniel Cornell- James Franco
6. Chad Honsinger-Daniel Craig, sans British accent and Bond Gadgetry.
7. Katie Botkin- Anne Hathaway.
8. James Banks- Al Pacino, c. 1972. This was problematic casting, and Pacino/James kept intersplicing dialogue from the first two Godfather movies and the "Attica, Attica!" line from Dog Day Afternoon into my movie. And for the record the casting director in the dream remarked that this casting only took place because Toby Maguire was busy.
9. Adrian Klingensmith- Hillary Swank. This was the conscious part of my brain acting up, since
I remember commenting on the resemblance before.
10. Ashleigh Hebert- Selma Hayek. Ash, you should be totally flattered.
11. Asher Weinbaum- This was out of left field; as it happened, the actor bold enough to step into this role in live-action form is not yet born, so his likeness was reproduced on screen via motion-capture animation.
12. Marshall Pierce- Jake Gyllenhaal. It's nothing personal.
13. Jeff Moss- Sean Penn. Again, I don't make the rules, I just apply them subconciously.
14. They weren't actually in the movie, but Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken and Dennis Hopper all wandered onto the set at one point. This was cool.

There were about a hundred others, but these were the most eyebrow arching I thought.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Simultaneous Aphorism

"You know, sex scenes in movies should be banned because they cause global warming."

-D,.T., and J. Banks

Which Would You Rather Have Named After You?

A city or an adjective?

Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Movie Note

"Rescue Dawn" with Christian Bale is a really good war drama that's not really big on politics and reminded me of "The Thin Red Line," also a good was flick. Also reminded me of "The New World," if you like that sort of thing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

A Movie Recommendation

"The Wendell Baker Story" was eminently hilarious. I'd give it about one and two-thirds thumbs.

Friday, November 16, 2007

So Money and She Didn't Even Realize It

A girl in my Greek class was delivering a presentation on Plato the other day and unintentionaly coined a new word: while meaning to say "Mediocrity" she slipped up and said "Mediocracy." No one seemed to notice.

Mediocracy. n. Government by the average.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Idle Charon

The shores of Styx are lone for evermore,
And not one shadowy form upon the steep
Looms through the dusk, as far as eyes can sweep,
To call the ferry over as of yore;
But tintless rushes, all about the shore,
Have hemm'd the old boat in, where, lock'd in sleep,
Hoar-bearded Charon lies; while pale weeds creep
With tightening grasp all round the unused oar.

For in the world of Life strange rumours run
That now the soul departs not with the breath,
But that the Body and the Soul are one;
And in the loved one's mouth, now, after death,
The widow puts no obol, nor the son,
To pay the ferry in the world beneath.

-Eugene Lee-Hamilton-

Friday, November 9, 2007

Some Lines

Farewell to thee, Empedocles,
Singer of Love and Strife!
May but the first secure thy being,
Now ebbs the tide of life.

And cured of conflict, far removed
From dire contention's grip,
Arise, and on the blessed isles
Embrace Love's Fellowship.

-Thomas Banks-

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Stuff I've Been Reading

1. The World and the West- Arnold Toynbee

Toynbee's become one of my favorite historians, and takes a sober but unsentimental view of the effects wrought throughout the world arrising from its encounter with Western Europe. Tastefully restrained, avoids forays into propagandistic revisionism of either the Right or the Left.

2. Antigone

Read this when I was a junior in high school, but enjoyed it more the second time. The German philosopher Hegel made a great point about this play- that it is the supreme classical tragedy because the opposed forces in it are both striving for two forms of Good, and so Good must necessarily be a victim in the dramatic contest.

3. Essays of Robert Louis Stevenson

The problem that comes from being known as an author of boys' adventure novels is that no matter how masterful a prose stylist you are, critics will always give you the short shrift. Stevenson is one of the victims of the fact. The man was a dauphin of non-fiction as well as a rousing storyteller, and if you haven't read any of his essays, "Aes Triplex" ("Triple-brass") is a good place to start.

4. The Ordeal of Richard Feverell- George Meredith

Meredith is an odd duck of a novelist; he's a Victorian, but not much for moralizing, which puts him at odds with most of his contemporaries. This story is a mock-melodrama about a boy whose father's brutally individualistic system of private education makes him into an antisocial arrogant jackass. Not a great novel, but it has some entertaining comic episodes and dialogue. A better starting place for Meredith, if you are thus inclined, would be "The Egoist." Also a fine poet.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Julia

Read the strangest thing on MSNBC, but it was strange in a charming way; Julia Roberts (go figure) was quoted as saying that her new life goal is "To keep myself busy as a stay at home mom, even if it's busy just doing needlework and stuff." I still haven't decided if it's more quaint or bizarre, given the source, but it does take some vim for a celebrity of that stature to drop a comment like that.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Lucifer in Starlight

Like "Ozymandias," this is one of those peculiar sonnets that really has no business bearing such a form; there is no amorous element, and (unlike the Shelley poem) no rhetorical current. It is one of those lyrics whose business it is to refrain from argument and cleave to the purely pictorial.

On a starr'd night prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screen'd,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he lean'd,
Now his huge bulk o'er Afric's sands careen'd,
Now the black planet shadow's Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that prick'd his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reach'd a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he look'd, and sank.
Around the ancient track march'd, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

-George Meredith-

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Something from Chesterton

The Donkey

When fishes flew and forests walk'd
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the world was blood
Then surely I was born;

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four footed things.

The tatter'd outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

-G.K. Chesterton-

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Greyweather Banquet

Props to those in attendance and more so to those involved in the preperation at Greyweather. I remain unconvinced as to the source of the occasion; if the weather did in fact reach its pinnacle of perfection in late October, we would've eaten outside. But fortunately, we did not, and a wonderful evening was had by all, unless someone was faking it.

Cheers.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Tyranny and Laughter

It's been out for a few months, but I saw a copy of Al Gore's book "The Assault on Reason" in Hastings today and thought: "When are we nearer the advent of a new tyranny: when reason is 'Under Assault' or when nobody in high places seems to have a sense of humor anymore?" Curiously, the history of tyranny has offered us only one man from its catalogue of corrupt despots averred to have possessed the capacity for laughter-the Emporer Domitian, whom the Roman chronicler mentions as often reaching the heights of hysteria while pulling the wings off of flies. Hmm.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Lines

The burden of fog settled low,
And under the burden unmoved
Were the living that lately had roved
And roamed when the weighting was light.

The thickening of the snow
And frost's fecundity groved
Where the bee had mid blossoming moved
And the thrush ends the arc of his flight.

-Thomas Banks-

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Lines from Horace: Ode 8

"Lydia, dic per omnis. . ."

By all the gods, O Lydia,
Tell us why you make haste
That our Sybaris for his love
Should thus be left to waste?

Why hates he now the brightening plain,
Who never before did yield
To the chafing of the burning sun,
Or the heat of the battlefield?

As venom he shuns the wrestler's oil,
And fears the Tigris' tide;
No more he bridles the Gallic steed
Among his peers to ride.

No longer from the deeds of arms
Are his limbs with bruises dark,
That once with the cast of the javelin
Achieved the noblest mark.

He hides as sea-born Thetis' son,
When woman-like he turned
From slaughter of the Trojan bands,
In the days before Troy burned.

-Translation by Thomas Banks-
In the past few years I've often found myself among friends turning over the question of what exactly is the relationship of art and morals. Do we impose upon them a direct correspondence, such that the quality of a painting, book or sculpture is to be plotted according to the spiritual purity or impurity of its creator? Conversely, do we impose a complete dissociation between these categories, to the end that art is art, and goodness goodness, and never the twain shall meet? Neither option really satisfies me; I certainly feel pious trumpeting the first, but must countenance the absurd naivety of so doing; as for the second, I am not comfortable supposing that even the most accomplished of the Muses' chosen technicians, devoid of all of conscience's better angels could ever produce any work that contains no hint of the repulsive. Thus the nature of the impass, with examples on both sides pointing to this joint conclusion. It is difficult to condemn the works of E.M. Forster, about as noble a figure as Secularism can afford, for being "ugly," in either a moral or aesthetic sense. There is a definite desperation about them, the grasping of the hand of the lost for The Other in the dark, but never in any gross, survivalistic way. As often as not, the blind lapses of his characters lead them across roads indistiguishable from the Path of the Righteous, and whether or not Forster shared his characters' dimmed vision, it is impolitic to tax him over the question of ethics. And yet the man was no Christian; do we then dismiss his ouevre in its entirety?

On the other hand, after we have presided over the divorce of art and morality, the evidences of the outcome lean no more in our favor than previously; has there ever been a great writer, or even a writer who approached greatness who had no interest in the nature of good and evil? If this new philosophy of ours were impressed upon the works of which we are the critics, would we so willingly nod approval as we keep telling ourselves? Honestly, I'm not at all sure the question can ever be fully satisfied. The odd bisection implied by the creed "Ars Gratia Artis" has never really ingrained itself in any poem or novel so thoroughly that questions of morality have ceased to arise, and having arisen to find a reply. Artists ask it often without thinking, or ask it while pretending not to. Even Oscar Wilde, the walking figure of the man who pretended uninterest in questions of goodness or wickedness gave us "Dorian Gray," which is nothing if not inquisitive of the inseperable nature of art and the soul.

I think, after all of this, that something of a valid middle ground is left for us; we measure the stature of art in relation to moral rectitude insofar as the ethical and metaphysical frame in which a work of art exists alters its appearance for better or worse; when the grotesqueries of a twisted philosophy warp the surface of that philosophy's artistic exposition, then the moralist and the critic in us can, and ought to speak with a united voice of reproof. At other times, each works his chosen office with respect to the limits of his voice's relevance; the one is judge of Beauty, the other of Goodness, distinct from each other, though never quite detatched.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

As You Like It

The new Branaugh "As You Like It" adaptation Utterly Owned. It's set in Japan and features some of the most pristine camerawork of any movie I've ever watched. Also sumo wrestling, which is, I believe, new territory for Shakespeare.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Horror and the Greeks

Had a thought today in my Greek Literature class-

Might Japanese horror films be in some way the bastard offspring of the Greek dramatic tradition, esp. the "Agamemnon" of Aeschylus? Both the genre and the play have at their center parents who mistreat their children and set off a vicious cycle of bloodletting that shows no sign of abatement at the end of their narratives. Similarly, the idea of positive alternatives of action does not appear in either; Agamemnon must either sacrifice his daughter or betray his oath to join the Achaians against Troy, and in "The Ring" Naomi Watts has to arrange the death of people around her to save herself and her son. Coincidence? Thoughts?

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Some Quasi-Wordsworthian Doggerel I Knocked out in Greek Civ.

Such faithful trees as Benedict would bless,
Their pious arms the very props of heav'n;
Come morn, low orison do these confess,
Sooth vesper in the even.

At end of day, this rustic hermitage
Lets rise its voice in the breeze's chosen key;
An Ave lifts above the foliage
In easeful harmony.

And a passing traveller, by chance intruding here,
And staring up amidst the warbling throng,
Pauses, a moment idling, so to hear
The arbor's holy song.

-Thomas Banks-

No Second Troy

Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have tought to ignorant men most vile ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

-William Butler Yeats-

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Occasional Pop Music Post

"Can't Believe a Single Word" by VHS or Beta (sadly a terrible name) is the best Brit pop song this side of Definitely Maybe. Although I'm told the band's actually Kentuckian.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Telos

-"EK TON DIAPHTHERONTON KALLISTEN HARMONIAN GIGNESTHAI"-
-Heraclitus-



The world's last song at last outsung,
The singer stands in silent pride
To hear his final note upglide
The sounding mountaintops among.

The loom's expance of scene fulfilled,
The weaver stands him back aways
To admire his web with awful gaze,
By his hands' crafting overthrilled.

A voice sounds forth, and drowns the ryhme
And cadence of the singer's hymn,
And in his muteness sings to him
The tonic of the Song of Time.

A hand outstreches, and it tears
The product of the weaver's pains,
And in its place there now remains
The many colored Loom of Years.

-Thomas Banks-

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy was a great novelist and poet who had the odd chance to be a native pessimist in an era not known for its pessimism. He was born in 1844, an Englishman who lived to see a large part of the world made British, and all manner of apparent progress in politics, industry and science, and he was disconcerted over most of it.

The following, written in 1912, is his thought on one of the great symbols of the end of that period.

"The Convergence of the Twain"

In the solitude of the Sea
Deep from human vanity,
And the Pride of Life that planned her, stilly couches she.

Steel chambers, late the pyres
Of her salamandrine fires,
Cold currents thrid, and turn to rythmic tidal lyres.

Over the mirrors meant
To glass the opulent
The sea-worm crawls- grotesque, slimed, dumb, indifferent.

Jewels in joy designed
To ravish the sensuous mind
Lie lightless, all their sparkles bleared and black and blind.

Dim moon-eyed fishes near
Gaze at the gilded gear
And query: "What does this vaingloriousness down here?"

Well: while was fashioning
This creature of cleaving wing,
The Immanent Will that stirs and urges everything

Prepared a sinister mate
For her- so gaily great
A Shape of Ice- for the time fat and dissociate.

Alien they seemed to be:
No mortal eye could see
The intimate wielding of their later history.

Or sign that they were bent
By paths coincident
On being anon twin halves of one august event,

Till the Spinner of the Years
Said "Now!" and each one hears,
And consummation comes, and jars two hemispheres.

-Thomas Hardy-

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Time's Secondhands

What we have sealed, and here have spoken,
Were loosed and echoed long before.
Leave we here a common token
Amidst its kindred thousand score.

We named Life ours, and all Her store,
Thought ours the fiat and command
That ruled Her subtle parts, which wore
The print of many a pulseless hand.

We drew and drank of all Life's Charms;
We owned we did invent Love's game;
But Love had lived in others' arms,
When Love went by another name.

All things we bore, others had buried.
The dead once wearied of what we'd prized.
And while with Love or Sin we tarried,
She slightly smiled, unsurprised.

-Thomas Banks-

Friday, September 14, 2007

Why Dualism Doesn't Work, in 100 Words or Less

When we posit a dualistic function at the center of things, we invariably do so with the understanding that on the one side we have some chaotic force and on the other an opposing motion towards harmony and oneness. But the very fact that their relationship is contentious invites the conclusion that the universe has violence at its center, and therefore, the chaotic force has shown itself dominant, or at least more compatable with nature, and harmony has to go and scowl in the corner.

Or am I full of it?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lines Composed After Having Read "Choric Song of the Lotus Eaters" For the Hundredth Time

Have had Ulysses on the brain lately. And yeah, I know I need a better title.

Now is surveyed the aggregate of all the earth,
And picked its pleasures,
Now we have tried the tune of all the sounding spheres,
And mined their measures,
Now that the grandeur of all eye-delighting sights
Has passed before us,
And to no novel spleandour from spent hopefulness
Can we restore us,
Why tread we still with withered feet our foot-tracks old,
In slowing pace,
Why with unyouthful eyes search for unvesseled sea,
Nor keep our place,
While every wave has weathered us, borne us to shores
That we have known,
To farthest latitude familiar, long familiar,
Every one?
Nought us awaits; no doubt that we had left a part
Of us with all;
And little better here to idle, earless of
The tempest's call.
Almost this doldrum goads our longing, hope in spite
Of likely end,
That further passage yielded nothing, save the sweat
And blood we spend-
But here to wait-no life in waiting, only promised
Ease from toil,
Better die for brighter guerdon, than to root
In this crude soil.
Or would it be to prove earth's spring of newness dry,
To bend the oar,
And cleave the wave, to seek a grave no worse than that
Which lies before
Us here unlabouring- Ah, but it ignoble were
To populate
This narrow isle, needless of our wisdom's gains,
To shrink from fate
Dry men and deedless, when perhaps there yet remains
Realm unespied-
Some virgin isle, untried delight of distant seas;
To more abide
Within this place, while sets horizonward the breeze-
Think on our late
Accomplished works- to grossly mar their merits bold
It were to wait.
Think you again on first the cause, what cost of pain,
What trying of fate!
How many friends much mourned have we lost, at what
Expense of tears,
Whose salt is blent amidst the sounding baths, that cured
Us of our fears,
Where piled to our mastpoints breakers dashed upon
Our groaning decks,
In strait and gulley, sinister with tearing rocks
And vessels' wrecks;
A perilled course, a path unkind, through fitful storm
'Cross faithless sea;
Yet eliminate from each, fast grew we slothful,
Listless, we,
In impious unmotion idling, by no god's
Divine decree,
Only by a lapse of will, a lazing valour
Gathering rust,
While the tide-pulse pounding beckons; let it cleanse
Our mortal dust.
-Thomas Banks-

Monday, September 10, 2007

As If the World Needed Another

Top Ten List. Novel titles this time.

10. War and Peace. Ashamed to say I have not read this, but have glanced through it enough to get the impression that the very vastness of its thematic, moral and social boundaries justify the almost overreaching ambition contained in those three words.

9. Tender Is the Night. Neatly communicates the fragility of its characters, and gets double points for being a John Keats allusion.

8. The Last. . . (of the Mohicans, Picture Show, Gentleman, Puritan, Tycoon, etc.) The perfect foundation for any elegy.

7. East of Eden. Cain and Abel updated to the Salinas Valley. The James Dean movie adaptation was also good.

6. The Razor's Edge. Somerset Maugham's rumination on the effects of capital on character and human affection, aptly summarized by this reference to a Buddhist proverb.

5. Heart of Darkness. As immediately dreadful as the smell of napalm in the morning.

4. For Whom the Bell Tolls. The closest to baroque that Hemingway ever got, its title the perfect exposition of the protagonist's growing awareness of his inevitable demise.

3. Far From the Madding Crowd. Hardy had some first rate titles; Jude the Obscure almost made the cut, but this one carries with it the moody atmosphere of the fictional Wessex moorlands where he set his works.

2. The Sound and the Fury. Expertly prepares us by way of a quotation from Macbeth for its complicated narrative structure, including that of Benjy the manchild.

1. Vanity Fair. Thackeray's uproarious yet forgiving sendup of Regency mores, all set within the coy frame of a pantomime show.

While I'm here, might as well include some duds as well. Here's the Ten Worst.

10. The Red and the Black. Critics still fight over why the hell this book is called this, which is sufficient cause to bring Stendhal up on charges of titular imprecision.

9. October Light. I like John Gardner, but Faulkner already gave us "A Light in August," and there ain't enough room on the syllabus for two novels whose dust jackets advertize an astrological phenomenon as appearing in a given month. At least change it up a bit. "November Fog" would be a bold move.

8. Vile Bodies. I really can't add to this.

7. Within a Budding Grove. I'd like to read more Proust, but he could at least have done me the favor of giving his book a title that wouldn't make my mother worry about me if she saw me reading it.

6. Moby Dick. I hate to be crass, but it is a fact that "Moby" means "Big" in old sea tar lingo.

5. A Good Man Is Hard to Find. Let's keep the truisms off the title page, eh, Flannery?

4. The Magic Mountain. This go-to candidate for best German novel of all time sounds like one of the four feet tall and under rides you find in third rate amusement parks.

3. Middlemarch. Middlebrow. (George Eliot deserves her own list of lousy titles. The Mill on the Floss, Romola, Adam Bede, it goes on.)

2. To Have and Have Not. The latter, in this case.

1. Persuasion. I hated this book from the front cover to the final puncuation mark. True, it is a misstep by one of the finest practicioners of the medium, but that doesn't excuse its title from bearing only a casual relation its central action, which brings drawing room triviality to a new low.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

More Movie Comments

"3:10 To Yuma" is the best western this side of "The Unforgiven." It's a more optimistic movie, and even though it's weak in certain areas (character motivation being one), Christian Bale and Russell Crowe both do some great work, and the choreography of the action sequences is very well done. More interestingly, the film is also one of the better ruminations on the exact nature of masculinity to come out of Hollywood in a while. If you have nothing to do with your weekend, I recommend this one.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Love's Compromise

In this our imperfected sphere,
Where every excellence is flawed,
And each perstringent measuring rod
Abuse the best that pass us here,

Why cringe that love must compromise,
That even in Dame Hera's rite
The best were wed in some despite
Of fault that in the other lies?

For if perfection reigned as such,
Complacency as well were king,
And honor to the oath and ring
Were easy-easy all too much.

And like in us, had we no slips
Of grace, of beauty-none of these
Awoke us from Philistine ease
With human hands and living lips.

And still the market makes increase,
Ideals being at a buying-price
That makes them cheap as cheapest vice;
And of their sale is no surcease.

But equally, do we as one
Defective love still realize;
And till in us perfection lies,
An easeful love us bettered none.

With unlucid tongue we speak our vow,
And hope that we, the faithless band,
Shall hear it said in later land
We loved enough for here, for now.

-Thomas Banks-

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Smart and the Clever

It was helpfully pointed out to me some years ago by my most observant older sister, and has since been confirmed to me by individuals of no mean powers of perception that my younger brother is smarter than I, though less clever; which qualification, if my grasp of exigesis does not slip, is an optimistic way of pointing out that at least Esau got the soup. Time will tell, and till He does, I will do my best to enjoy the tortellini.

Sybling rivalries for a moment marginalized, my sister's statement does place before us a demarcation in the exercises of the mind that is worth negotiating. Wherein lies the difference between cleverness and mere smarts? Or, for that matter, smartness and mere clevers? Being that which I am, the alleged representative for the alphabetically senior position, a part of me likes to defer the solution of this quandry to one of the Smarties, but the local MENSA chapter being in session till further notice, I shall proceed on my own.

1. Smartness is constructive. It deals in things in themselves, things of themselves, and sometimes I'm told, things doing both at once. It perceives a thing inning, or ofing, recognizes its essential function, the productive motions of said function, and lastly, brings of these motions the products themselves; an apple, in Newton's rather disappointing case. I should mention at this point that the constructivity which is the stock in trade of smartness is not without its exceptions; take Einstein for instance; personally, I'm quite all right with E being equivalent to MC squared, but your average zoning commisioner in mid-twentieth century Japan was markedly less keen on the idea.

Going back to my original point, Smartness, in its systemization of natural or mechanical functions, takes note first of the general operation and than of the operations subordinate to it. We will call this the Hierarchy of Mechanism, and illustrate it thusly: the heart (Dominant Instrument) pumps blood through the aorta (Subdominant Instrument) to the brain (Non-essential Instrument) which then tells the aorta it is getting the shorter end of the stick and that it should renegotiate its contract. The aorta goes on strike, the market (Body) threatens to stagnate (Die) and the heart, not to be undermined, hires a new aorta from a foreign market (i.e., illegally imported Vietnamese cadaver) that will pump the same amount of currency into the market regardless of union regulations. From this, we derive not only the novel science of Triple Bipass Economics, but also the sobering truth that the operations of Smartness have little regard for democratic ideals. Smartness, then, has not often held elected office, which ought to explain at least a few things to regular viewers of C-Span. But let us not abandon ourselves to calumny.

As an historical force, Smartness succeeds most when its energies are wholly devoted to cutting through the various dilemmas that political or scientific impass erects before it. Here we are best served by the example of the Gordian Knot. Alexander, when confronted with this nodal conundrum, and possessing neither the Patience of Job nor a background in Eagle Scouts, followed the path of action dictated to him by his own native Smartness and cut through the entanglement with his sword. Put the same dilemma in front of a contemporary congress, and it will find some way to ensure that no sword or other sharp instrument is employed in the procedure, and a bipartisan subcommitee of UN-approved Eagle Scouts lays down an authoritative sanction on the Knot, with the mandate to untie itself by such-and-such a deadline at the risk of a cessation of all discourse. At all of which, of course, the Knot laughs, and then extends a few of its loops into the Czech Republic and the choicer parts of Austria. All of this is Smartness in an advanced state of diplomatic decadence. It does us little good however, to reprimand Smartness too much for the inevitable onset of Senility. All good things must come to an end, All Paths of Glory Lead But to the Grave, on occasion by way of a Miami assisted living center. So it is with Smartness, and we will leave her to her rice pudding.

2. If Smartness' child is Construction, then the offspring of Cleverness is Paradox, who goes out less often for sports. The best expertise tends to suggest that a positive, consistent environment is the best for the cultivation of Smartness, but Cleverness thrives under a more peculiar set of circumstances, these usually furnished by several family neuroses, a bicycle horn and a wardrobe full of clown suits. I would own that Cleverness is the rarer quality of the two, as it is too often clipped in the bud by the society into which it is born; France, for instance. It is clever, in a minor sense, to invent something like those mock-pillories with painted figures and holes for the head and the hands that you see clowns in at carnivals. It is the domain of the Smart (and the Sadistic) to get rid of the clown, add a blade, and commence with the decapitation of the ruling class. Such are the rewards the Clever Man got for his pains in France, whose Cleverest son, Voltaire, was also her most renowned exile. As a side note, we strangely find in the above opposition, that when we harmonize the opposed elements, that is to say, leave the painted figures and Clown with his head in the pillory, and add the blade and beheading as an afterthought, we produce Irony, which is the only state in which Smartness and Cleverness may mutually exist. One can only hope.

Unfortunately, too much musing on this subject has wearied brain and body, and I find that I need something to eat. And it seems my brother's soup has grown cold.

-Thomas Banks-

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Penance Absolute

Another 15 minute poem. Hope you like. Am not sure about the 7th line.

In cruciform appointment, there outsplayed
Was He pierced for our portion,
Second Adam's holy person
Transfixed for trespass else than His, but paid

The pardoning in full; all other spill
Of saints self-fancying in self-drawn measure
Were pittance to that Godspilled sanguine treasure
That fed the soil of Calvary's fertile hill.

-Thomas Banks-

From Song #19

He turns their difference to naught
Then both into Himself, so sweetly
And with a flame so fine and fragrant
Which now I feel in me completely
Reduce my being, till no vagrant
Vestige of my own self stay.
And wholly I am burned away.

-San Juan de la Cruz-

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Benediction

May fortune without falter on thee shine,
From thee her countenance never remove;
And in your person virtue stand unshamed,
Unmarred thy love.
May all the graces thee companion, 'till
Tacet-fallen, earth close you in her tomb-
'Till then, may Wisdom's seven-pillar'd house
For thee be home.
-Thomas Banks-

Obituary for an Artist of no Great Significance

Here he lies whose foremost work it was
To pitch a sale on properties of words,
To keep a prospect occupied enough
To leave off brother-slaying with clubs and swords.

Failing in this, he took a part time job
As a dime-shop messiah; but none too well
This suited him- for as no doubt you know,
The girl Eurydice is still in hell.

The surgeon-critics most officiously
Forbade the favorite postures of his craft-
The cancer-causing faults in his technique
That "Might be cured sir, by a second draft."

Cynical and hopeless of repair
He ends in jingles and in greeting-cards,
Purchased by many a bourgeois-sweatered maenad,
And paid his place among the muted bards.

-Thomas Banks-

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Movie Notes

If you haven't seen "The Lookout," I give it a very enthused double plus. Reminded me visually of some of the stuff the Coen brothers do, but the writing was all around a bit tighter.

Go to Youtube and check out the preview for the "Sleuth" remake that's coming out in the next few months. Michael Caine and Jude Law. Kenneth Branaugh directing. Thumbs vertical.

While you're at it, pick up a copy of the original Sleuth, which is the best two-character movie ever made.

The new Beowulf (The motion-capture one) looks sort of (read: completely) geeky, but I'll probably see it anyway. At least once.

Finally saw "Benny and Joon," after years of people telling me how good it was, and realized they were mostly right. Johnny Depp's Buster Keaton routine is definitely worthwhile. I also noticed about halfway through that it was filmed in Spokane.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Lines from Hamlet

From Act four, Scene four:

How all occasions do inform against me,
And spur my dull revenge! What is a man
If his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed?-A beast, no more.
Sure, He that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking to precisely on th'event-
A thought which, quartered, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward-I do not know
Why yet I live to say "This thing's to do,"
Sith I have cause, and will, and strength, and means
To do't. Examples gross as earth exort me,
Witness this army of such mass and charge,
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puffed
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death, and danger dare,
Even for an eggshell. Rightly to be great
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw,
When honor's at the stake. How stand I, then,
That have a father killed, a mother stained,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep while, to my shame, I see
The immenent death of twenty thousand men
That, for a fantasy or trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain. O from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody or be nothing worth.

On Persuasion

Most of the people I know, self included, argue a lot, or perhaps even too much. For at least a few of us though, I think this must be a good thing. People who are given to aggressive discourse stand a better chance of offering a satisfactory account of themselves, if an account is ever called for, than people to whom the rule of deferrence denies the chance to cross propositions with a likely opponent. This much I gathered from living at a boarding house for a time long enough to realize that grace at times dwells even in division, even one as trivial as an argument on the theoretical application of the Mojo to the actual world of Men and Women. This is another point of knowledge I acquired at the Big Haus- that it is often more beneficial to devote a measure of mental energy to the trivial areas of life than to the Calamities of This Present Hour. This may be bias on my part, as most of the areas in which I am at all expert don't really mean that much. Fortunately, the atmosphere of the Big Haus fosters engagement with what Aristotle called "The Beautiful and the Useless." Very little, in all of the many arguments that there transpired, ever registered as a matter of any great importance. Most of E.W.'s philosophical expositions centered in the realm of proper valuation of the world and the things of the world, and then after having done so, casually dismisses all of them as objects of Futility. I am convinced, after having several years of attended his church and hanging out at his house that the reason anyone at all attends his church or hangs out at his house must owe itself to the fact that E.W. has the rare talent of making the proximity of the catastrophic sound sort of comfortable, provided one has an accomadating front porch and a good cohiba with which to enjoy it.

Among the other blessings of semicivil discourse is that, if I may state the obvious, it forces one to speak. A person's syntactical abilities tell as much, if not more about them than all the rest of their habits combined. Vocal expression is a better measure of intelligence than any standardized test could ever be, and it provides an opportunity to judge not just how much a person knows, but how much of what he knows he also as successfully arranged in a web of interrelation, and more importantly, what is the order of valuation in which he has placed it.
The ability to judge the latter of these is, I believe, the shortcoming of the Christian Classical movement, and the root of the development why relatively few students who graduate from any of its schools use their classical education for anything. They can teach grammar, logic and rhetoric year in and year out, and teach them effectively, but still not point a student toward a proper regard, specifically a proper aesthetic regard for the Order of Things, the attainment of which is, or ought to be one of the chiefest goals of any sound theory of education; we listen to the turn of a man's arguments, we can guess with some accuracy how closely he has gauged the optimal valuation.

Sorry to end on a dogmatic note, but I need to take off. Will post more on this in a bit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Epicurus

The so named "Dark Philosopher's" last testament, as I can best imagine it. For whatever interest it might serve, he died of kidney stones, which I can't imagine is all that restful an exit.


May no winds' withered index me disturb,
Or bear with fallen foliage cause to grieve;
To sweeter dissolution, body's death,
That comes when goes the fragrant final breath,
Grant quiet leave.

The grosser element the winds reclaim,
Go where it will; Tranquility's sweet grapes
I tasted long and deeply, and request
Death peacefully fulfill the stern bequest
That none escapes.

-Thomas Banks-

Monday, August 13, 2007

Some Thoughts on Joining, Post-College, the Renowned and Redoubtable Institution That Is the U.S. Army

Have pondered it, and think I just might. Would be thankful for your hopes and prayers.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

To Virgil

Roman Virgil, thou that singest Ilion's lofty temples robed in fire,
Ilion falling, Rome arising, wars, and filial faith and Dido's pyre;

Landscape-lover, lord of language more than he that sang the Works and Days,
All the chosen coin of fancy flashing out from many a golden phrase;

Thou that singest wheat and woodland, tilth and vineyard, hive and horse and herd;
All the charm of all the muses often flowering in a lonely word;

Poet of the happy Tityrus piping underneath his beachen bowers;
Poet of the poet-satyr whom the laughing sheperd bound with flowers;

Chanter of the Pollio, glorying in the blissful years again to be,
Summers of the snakeless meadow, unlaborious earth and oarless sea;

Thou that seest Universal Nature moved by Universal Mind;
Thou majestic in thy sadness at the doubtful doom of human kind;

Light among the vanished ages; star that gildest yet this phantom shore;
Golden branch amid the shadows, kings and realms that pass and rise no more;

Now thy fallen forum roars no longer, fallen every purple Caesar's dome-
Tho' thine ocean-roll of rythym sound forever of Imperial Rome-

Now the Rome of slaves hath perish'd, and the Rome of freedmen holds her place,
I, from out the Northern Island sunder'd once from all the human race,

I salute thee, Mantovano, I that loved thee since my day began,
Wielder of the stateliest measure ever moulded by the lips of man.

-Alfred, Lord Tennyson-

Monday, August 6, 2007

The New American Male

"Go on with the world, get gold in its strife,
Give your spouse the slip and betray your friend!
There are two who decline, a woman and I,
And enjoy our death in the darkness here."

-Robert Browning, from 'Dramatis Personae'-

To fit the mold of the fully functioning American Male, one must first abandon one's romantic resolution. All the men in American myth, Deerslayer and Captain Ahab being the foremost examples, were practicing monks in buckskin; later variations built on the same mythos, a la Eastwood and McQueen, appear before us in the guise of consumate loners. American masculinity is of the post-Byronic breed that excite emulation, but defy approach. Most of us have come to expect this, and the opposing type of man always seems a bit too revealing, a bit too effete. An adult male who simply wants to love, and love well looks like someone who suffers from a tragic poverty of imagination. The conquest of the frontier and its attendant challenges leaves precious little time to indulge the softer emotions, and it follows that the American conquistador has scant inclination to create a legacy for the progeny he doesn't have. In America, a man's wealth, like a man's wisdom is his own to do with what he will. Dynasties do not often here occur; we have our Rockefellers, but our Carnegies and our Warren Buffets excite more admiration. We may leave our conquests and capital to those that follow after, but to do so appears in questionable taste.
This is why it remains for us to raise the term "American Empire" only with a certain set of necessary qualifiers between either of the phrase's two parts, of which the two most most common are "Corporate" and "Capitalist," words whose mention immediately divides those who can't speak them without spitting at the nearest Starbucks label, from those on whose capuccino the aforementioned label is most likely located. But leaving these two sets to their free exchange of opinions, I think it is best to remove the phrase "American Empire" from our discourse, polite or political, in toto; at least, that is, until we have actually conquered something, and conquest, allow me to insist, is a practice seperate from buying and selling; the former demands endurance, endurance suffering, and suffering is worlds away from market speculation. A thing we have made, sweated and bled over demands an attentiveness and obligation that a bought commodity can never hope for. We cannot liquidate empires like so many stocks.
Here our two men, the American Male and the romantic male take their first step closer to contention. The former, in right perspective, still holds hejemony over the stock exchange and the cocktail party, for which environs he traded in his harpoons and hunting rifle around the turn of the last century, since which time he has grown ever the more comfortable. He has never met the romantic male, of which America offers precious few, of whom the only notable was Scott Fitzgerald's greatest creation. To his more extablished counterpart he cannot help but appear morbidly obsessive, as does Gatsby, the host of a thousand soirees he himself never attended, and who makes his first appearance reaching bayward for the woman he cannot have.
Needless to say, dislike, if not enmity would be a foregone conclusion if these two were to meet in a singles bar. In the short of it, the American Male as we now know him trumps all adversaries. But the romantic male does not suffer the handicap of having to recreate himself with each turn of a generation and each change in the fashion of leather jackets; he is always himself, and his bruises become him. Throw these two together for long enough, and synthesis will finally avail itself. And then, when the dust has settled, we will have our New American Male.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Odysseus

My education began with The Odyssey. I was about five at the time when my dad read Lattimore's translation to me, my brother and sister, and it had an effect on me that was profound enough to delay my Salvation until I was eight. I did not, at that time, make what was a conscious decision to avoid Christianity so much as I chose to ignore it until it could demand my attentions with a more magnetic pantheon of heroes. This aversion was not born out of an ignorance of the heroes of the Bible, because at this point, I already knew many of these, and I liked some of them; when you are five years old and male, you cannot help liking David, who was barely more than a kid himself when he killed Goliath and beheaded him (which detail I always relished). Moses took more effort, as a grown man with his insecurities (or any others) then struck me as a contradiction, but I somehow managed to get around these. Ehud and his assassination of the Moabite king were certainly attractive to the imagination, and I always thought it disgraceful that these only warranted a single chapter amongst the Judges, while simpering minor prophets like Hosea had whole books to their allowance. I liked Ehud, then as now, but had to recognize that he stood low among the giants.

Then I met Odysseus, who stood low in another sense, but triumphed over the giants (or gouged their eye out with a hot stick) in spite of the fact. His limitations were laid plainly before us, but unlike Ehud's, his story made all the vaster because of it; I was already familiar with many of the other Greek myths at this time, (outside of comic books, I didn't read much else) and didn't find the same finitude in any other hero or demigod; Heracles and Achilleus both impressed, but only too much. Each could subdue his world, but could grow none the larger inside of it. Their world was small in comparison to them, and in consequence the scenery suffered.

But with Odysseus, the tone of the story never allowed my attentions to lapse toward the flippant or casual; Odysseus himself was often diminished in contrast to the scale of the world that he traversed and the scope of the divine elements that cast themselves against him. Yet even in the midst of this, none of the edges of the character himself were in the least blurred; he endured his measure of hardships, "harried for years on end," and his role in the tale was almost as often that of victim as that of hero, and still he was harmonic enough for me to make sense of him, and just magnanimous enough to spark a latent idolatry. In fact, I think now that everything I have ever loved about the antique, and above all, about everything that is Hellenic goes back to Homer's sharp, percussive music and his "man of many ways." I have liked any number of mythologies outside of the Greek, but only to the level of avocation. I can appreciate some of the jocularity in the face of doom that weaves its way through all the Norse tradition, but never enough to create any lasting attachments. The window between the clownish volatility of Thor and the gravity of Odin is broad enough to let in all sorts of cold air, but more humane temperaments never seem to find much space for breathing; there, Balder is remembered chiefly for the manner of his death. The Norse tales have their place and time, and find it in autumn, where the twilight of the gods and the twilight of the year can best compliment each other. Here they sit best, and here we leave them.

The spirit of the Greek myths, and especially the story of Odysseus, was more sinuous in nature. Odin was circumspect, to be sure, but Odysseus had that curiosity which turns its interest not just to self perpetuation, but to the pursuit and possession of a knowledge such as gratifies the soul. And while this interrupts, it never too greatly interferes with his purely human longing for Ithica and Penelope. The instincts of both the aesthete and the homesick husband play within Odysseus, and jointly contribute to his preservation. He is governed by more than one characteristic, unlike Achilleus, and so outlives him, whom he finds in the underworld ruminating that it is "Better, I say, to break sod as a farm hand. . .than lord it over all the exhausted dead." Achilleus excells all around him too much to live long. Odysseus is both more hesitant and more completely humane, and his humanity is, as with many heroes, always a small step ahead of his better judgment; he leaves his ears unstopped in the presence of the sirens so as to hear their song. His curiosity is as energetic, but less dire than Faust's urgent absorption of the sciences; urgency, for Odysseus, is never far off, and still he finds time for his distractions, his daliances with Circe and Calypso. Reprobate as he often is, the whimsical and the inquiring side of him always prevents us from exhausting the stores of our sympathy. In him is the best, the most daring and the most dastardly in the humanistic instinct, and for this, and for much else besides, "He is always in my heaven."

Friday, August 3, 2007

Something from Butler

If you haven't read any Samuel Butler (most people haven't), I strongly advise picking up a copy of his novel "The Way of All Flesh" when you have the time (most people don't). These are a couple of snippets from his essay "On Knowing What Gives Us Pleasure" that have a nice aphoristic quality.

"I should like to like Schumann's music better than I do; I dare say I could make myself like it better if I tried; but I do not like having to try to make myself like things; I like things that make me like them at once and no trying at all."

"To know whether you are enjoying a piece of music or not you must see whether you find yourself looking at the advertisements of Pears' soap at the end of the programme."

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Beauty Projected

When such contingency as on me now attends
Shall sweetly decease, and in her recombine
The favored fragments of chance, and when no more contends

The new flesh with aged figments,
And fair the arrangements
Of hair's fall 'round face, and the twofold grace
Of soul clothed in such skin- let me lose me therein,
Or else waste the while
In the crescence of curve that's the bend of her smile.

Hopes of this- 'til pure form be configured within her,
She lives only in thought, and thought fails me to win her,
That of her semblance casts only faintest reflection,
Shadow of the fair shades that comprise her complexion.

-Thomas Banks-
-2002-

Sunday, July 22, 2007

This Present Hour

No time have we for rest, no time for sleeping;
The leaden cultivation of our toil
Us keeps from evening's natural reprieve,
And we compliant, remain for the reaping
Of the somber soil,
Reward without relief.

No space have we for thought, nor thought to muse on;
Its flights for us a kingdom bring no more,
But only afterprovince of the blind;
And left to us a quiet hell's confusion,
What was before
The heaven of the mind.

No place have we for love, space for desire;
And always on the second subway-track
Is Paolo by Francesca onward led,
Who for his pleading comes not any nigher,
Nor looks she back,
Always a car's length ahead.

Afterstrain:

What was our work is now our thoughtless toil,
And prior love but imparticular lust;
And love's laborers, returning to the soil,
Take their wage from the sand, their reward from the dust.

-Thomas Banks-

P.S.- If you don't know who Paolo and Francesca were, read Dante's Inferno.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Art of Apologetics, Briefly Demonstrated

Have you an Ought from an Is of a Why,
Dare you follow the Thus of your premise's part?
When all Quod Erat's have been hammered out, why still
Reluctance of head and retraction of heart?

Polish 'til paling the murky glass,
Stare to the stretch of a thousand yards' mark,
And penetrate never the brooding penumbra,
Though your stare lose its sight in the glass' dark.

To skyward string every theory and thought;
Tire the sun with your critical eye;
Nor ought for the better, nor ever the closer,
'Til you hale as the Heavens what you saw as the Sky.

-Thomas Banks-

Monday, July 16, 2007

Catullus' Complaint to an Ignorant Patron, Who Preferred Another's Verses to His Own

Often, and with eager mind
I sought songs which to you I sent,
Whereby I'd find your favor, if
You might their measures not resent.

I see my efforts are in vain,
And Gallius' rise my denegration-
Damn you, your troubling dart I scorn,
And yet shall have my compensation.

-Rendered from the Latin by Thomas Banks-

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Seafarer

Translated from the Anglo-Saxon by Ezra Pound

May I for my own self song's truth reckon,
Journey's jargon, how I in harsh days
Hardship endured oft.
Bitter breast-cares have I abided,
Known on my keel many a care's hold,
And dire sea-surge, and there I oft spent
Narrow nightwatch nigh the ship's head
While she tossed close to cliffs. Coldly afflicted,
My feet were by frost benumbed.
Chill its chains are; chafing sighs
Hew my heart round and hunger begot
Mere-weary mood. Lest man know not
That he on dry land loveliest liveth,
List how I, care-wretched, on ice-cold sea
Weathered the winter, wretched outcast
deprived of my kinsmen;
Hung with hard ice-flakes, where hail-scur flew,
There I heard nought save the harsh sea
And ice-cold wave, at whiles the swan cries,
Did for my games the gannet's clamour,
Sea-fowls' loudness was for me laughter,
The mew's singing all my mead-drink.
Storms, on the stone-cliffs beaten, fell on the stern
In icy feathers; full oft the eagle screamed
With spray on his pinion.
Not any protector
May make merry man faring needy.
This he little believes, who aye in winsome life
Abides 'mid burghers some heavy business,
Wealthy and wine-flushed, how I weary oft
Must bide above brine.
Neareth nightshade, snoweth from north,
Frost froze the land, hail fell on earth then,
Corn of the coldest. Nathless there knocketh now
The heart's thought that I on high streams
The salt-wavy tumult traverse alone.
Moaneth away my mind's lust
That I fare forth, that I afar hence
Seek out a foreign fastness.
For this there's no mood-lofty man over earth's midst,
Not though he be given his good, but will have in his
youth greed.
Nor his deed to the daring, nor his king to the faithful
But shall have his sorrow for sea-fare
Whatever his lord will.
He hath not heart for harping, nor ring-having
Nor winesomeness to wife, nor world's delight
Nor any whit save the wave's slash,
Yet longing comes upon him to fare forth on the water.
Bosque taketh blossom, cometh beauty of berries,
Fields to fairness, land fares brisker,
All this admonishes man eager of mood,
The heart turns to travel so that he then thinks
On flood-ways to be far departing.
Cuckoo calleth with gloomy crying,
He singeth summerward, bodeth sorrow,
The bitter heart's blood. Burgher knows not-
He the prosperous man- what some perform
Where the wandering them widest draweth.
So that now my heart burst from my breastlock,
My mood 'mid the mere-flood,
Over the whale's acre, would wander wide.
On earth's shelter cometh oft to me,
Eager and ready, the crying lone-flyer,
Whets for the whale-path the heart irresistibly,
Oe'r tracks of ocean; seeing that anyhow
My lord deems to me this dead life
On loan and on land, I believe not
That any earth-weal eternal standeth
Save there be somewhat calamitous
That, ere a man's tide go, turn it to twain.
Disease or oldness or sword-hate
Beats out the breath from doom-gripped body.
And for this, every earl whatever, for those speaking
after-
Laud of the living, bosteth some last word,
That he will work ere he pass onward,
Frame on the fair earth 'gainst foes his malice,
Daring ado. . .
So that all men shall honour him after
And his laud beyond them remain 'midst the English,
Aye, for ever, a lasting life's-blast,
Delight mid the daughty.
Days little durable,
And all arrogance of earthen riches,
There come now no kings or Caesars
Nor gold-giving lords like those gone.
Howe'er in mirth most magnified,
Whoe'er lived in life most lordliest,
Drear all this exellence, delights unendurable!
Waneth the watch, but the world holdeth.
Tomb hideth trouble. The blade is layed low.
Earthly glory ageth and seareth.
No man at all going the earth's gait,
But age fares against him, his face paleth
Grey-haired he growneth, knows gone companions,
Lordly men, are to earth o'ergiven,
Nor may he then the flesh-cover, whose life ceaseth,
Nor eat the sweet nor feel the sorry,
Nor stir hand nor think in mid heart,
And though he strew the grave with gold,
His born brothers, their buried bodies
Be an unlikely treasure hoard.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Comfortable Chaos

"For oft we see a wicked peace to be well changed for war."
-S. Daniel-

People who make it their business to ensure that other people understand them, and, slightly less important, that they understand other people, make no end of gassing on about Engaging with The Other on Its Own Terms.* There are two things to consider here: the first is the caveat that these people are usually a far sight nicer than I, at least for the first few minutes. The second is that their picked policy of engagement is only as valuable as the terms agreed upon, and these usually end up being some tenebrous compromise between two otherwise opposing paradigms; a compromise arrived at not so much from a desire for Mutual Understanding* as from an unflinching courtesy that unwittingy craves chaos. Remove all manner of disursive authority from the fray, and politeness can exist even between antagonists who would have flayed each other alive a few centuries prior. While this kind of discussion bears no benefit, neither does it threaten with much discomfort, as those engaged have tasted and grown familiar with the ideological courses of their opponent, and consequently neither fear nor regard them; they are only another fleeting sensation on the casual sophist's palate; to be momentarily enjoyed, and if retained at all, then retained only as a triviality. It follows that the Understanding which was initially the goal is only possessed in an adulterated form, and we have not reached out and met our antagonist half way as we hoped, or pretended that we might. We have only reached out and borrowed his glass for a short swallow.

Naturally, all of this only dillutes whatever argument was our first cause for engagement. But this is the solace that Relativism offers, that a willful confusion of ones own principles is a small offering to be made in the name of more convivial relations with ones enemies, political, intellectual, religious or other. It may make us all equally barbaric, but we run no risk of confrontation. And this is the exchange that every sincere relativist is willing to make, and even more importantly, the Genius of Relativism itself; the willingness to convert to a Polite Barbarism.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Choruses from "The Flight into Egypt"

A nice bit of mock-cinicism from one of the masters of the form.
"In the really dark night of the soul it is always three o' clock in the morning."
-F. Scott Fitzgerald-

Come to our bracing desert,
Where eternity is eventful,
Where the weather-glass
Is set at Alas,
The thermometer at Resentful.

Come to our old-world desert
Where everyone goes to pieces;
You can pick up tears
For souvenirs
Or genuine diseases.

Come to our well-run desert
Where anguish arrives by cable,
And the deadly sins
May be bought in tins
With instructions on the label.

Come to our jolly desert
Where even the dolls go whoring;
Where cigarette-ends
Become intimate friends,
And it's always three in the morning.

-W.H. Auden-

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

A Few Opinions, Entertained by Myself and Hopefully Worthy of at Least a Few Arched Brows

1. Richard Nixon is the only historically interesting U.S. President of the past seventy-five years.

2. France is not, nor ever has been a Romantic (capital "R") country.

3. The British Invasion was a more culturally significant event than the Kennedy Assassination, Vietnam, and Watergate combined; of which the third entry still does not bring me to withdraw statement #1.

4. America is lovable, but not likeable. (Due respect must here be paid to Sinclair Lewis, who said something similar back in 1928)

5. Personal freedom was a more common commodity in the Middle Ages than it is today.

6. Contrary to most opinion, the French are naturally more ambitious than we Americans; we label our generations X, Y, and so on, they label theirs as those of 1789, 1848, 1968; we measure ourselves merely by predictable succession, they measure themselves by how many of the bourgeois they beheaded in the morning, and then they celebrate by taking the rest of the week off.

7. It doesn't matter so much that the Obscure and the Celebrated among us return to the same dust, so much as it matters that the dust of the Celebrated is marked with a more attractive headstone.

8. Unawareness is the priviledge of the rich, Ignorance that of the middle class, and Complacency that of the poor; tragically, in an egalitarian society these distinctions are removed and all three classes are condemned to a lifetime of watching the six o' clock news.

9. Life is preferable to longevity of existence.

10. God. n. The Death of Questions.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Pagan and the Tree

Strike the root and sever the vine,
That the red fruit wither, so let it be-
Whose pendant weight bends over us,
Who stand below the tree.

Full fed were we from long before,
Much mindful of the apple taste-
To take remorseful rest to feed
Were nought to us but waste.

Split the vine, and smite the root,
We fed before on food less base-
Tear down, untasted leave the fruit,
Untouched the clustered grace.

-Thomas Banks-

Saturday, June 30, 2007

A Prediction

"Across the Universe," directed by Julie Taymor (of "Titus Andronicus" fame) will be the greatest film of the year. Not to mention a complete ripoff of "Moulin Rouge," but the best pop art is always guilty of pillage.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

To Brooklyn Bridge

A strikingly antique sounding ode to a strikingly modern edifice. Hope you enjoy.

How many dawns, chill from his rippling nest
The seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,
Shedding white rings of tumult, building high
Over the chained bay waters Liberty-
Then, with inviolate curve, forsake our eyes
As apparitional as sails that cross
Some page of figures to be filed away;
-Till elevators drop us from our day. . .
I think of cinemas, panoramic sleights
With multitudes bent toward some flashing scene
Never disclosed, but hastened to again,
Foretold to other eyes on the same screen;
And Thee, across the harbor, silver-paced
As though the sun took step of thee, yet left
Some motion ever unspent in thy stride-
Implicitly thy motion staying thee!
Out of some subway scuttle, cell or loft
A bedlamite speeds to thy parapets,
Tilting there momently, shrill shirt ballooning,
A jest falls from the speechless caravan.
Down Wall, from girder into street noon leaks,
A rip-tooth of the sky's acetylene;
All afternoon the cloud-flown derricks turn. . .
Thy cables breathe the North Atlantic still.
And obscure as that heaven of the Jews,
Thy guerdon. . . Accolade thou dost bestow
Of anonymity time cannot raise:
Vibrant reprieve and pardon thou dost show.
O harp and altar, of the fury fused,
(How could mere toil align thy choiring strings)
Terrific threshold of the prophet's pledge,
Prayer of pariah, and the lover's cry,-
Again the traffic lights that skim thy swift
Unfractioned idiom, immaculate sigh of stars,
Beading thy path, condense eternity:
And we have seen night lifted in thine arms.
Under thy shadow by the piers I waited;
Only in darkness is thy shadow clear.
The City's first parcels all undone,
Already snow submerges an iron year. . .
O Sleepless as the river under thee,
Vaulting the sea, the prairies' dreaming sod,
Unto us lowliest sometime sweep, descend
And of the curveship lend a myth to God.
-Hart Crane-

Monday, June 25, 2007

An Explanation of the Title of That Last Post

For anyone who's wondering, the pop cultural half of the title of the last post will get its explanation when I have World Enough and Time.

Pop Culture and the Arrangement of History

Much of the confusion that ensues from the study of history is due to the fact that we take it upon ourselves to arrange the subject into those supremely annoying quantities called "centuries." As a matter of mathematical convenience, I've got nothing against centuries, though I may have a number of things against math. But as a strictly practical contrivance, the century is not without its benefits, and Gregory, Julius or whoever it was that suggested the device in the first place undoubtedly merits a slightly higher position amid the Nine Circles for having done so. At first glance, the century charms us with its neatness. Any division of time is a supreme artifice by its very nature, and the partition of epochs into quantities of a hundred is one sufficiently fascile to appease both the lazy and the choleric minded among us, which two categories probably account for the greater majority of contemporary historians.

A more attentive inspection, however, proves that history ought not be divided up into anything as neat, moderate and dismissive of events as the century; and this because history is neither neat nor moderate, and if she is dismissive, it is only of practitioners of the second quality. History is naturally imbalanced, discordant and messy. The century fails to take these marks into its accounting of her.

Consider, for example, the Gothic Era; the Fall of the Western Empire, Odoacer, the deposition of Romulus Augustulus, etc., at 476 A.D. The end of that same period, say, at the Battle of Tours, the inauguration of the Carolingian Rennaisance, 732 A.D. No clean division of centuries here, but historians nonetheless feel it devolves upon them to mark each century with a characteristic of its own, like a group of fastidious authors that pay too much attention to minor characters; the twentieth century becomes the century of spiritual ennui (a quality equally prevalent in the nineteenth) and aesthetically the era of theoretical decenteredness (appicable also to the eighty year period in English letters between Mallory and Shakespeare). The measurment of history in terms of defining events is also a pebble in the shoe of any advocate of The Century; properly speaking, the twentieth century begins in 1900, but in actuality, 1914 is a more acceptable date, as is September 11th, 2001, rather than January 1st, 2000, for the date of its expiration. Almost every preceeding "century" is beset with the same inconvenience; the 19th century, as it turns out, was actually 125 years long (1789-1914) and the century prior to that even more difficult to estimate; it begins with the end of the Thirty Years' War, and ends with the French Revolution, making it 141 years in length. The Thirty Years' War, in turn, was merely the final evolution in the religious wars which, along with uglier churches and abominable fashion developments in Puritan circles, had been the primary product of the Reformation, which all testifies to the fact that the Thirty Years War was a more truly a part of the Sixteenth Century than to the following one, ergo the century that followed didn't actually happen.

It's really quite simple if you think it over for a minute.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thalassa

I found this rendition of the last stage in the Ulysses cycle and found it to be an attractive performance. Especially captivating if you read "Ulysses" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in the same sitting.



Run out the boat, my broken comrades;
Let the old seaweed crack, the surge
Burgeon oblivious of the last
Embarkation of feckless men,
Let every adverse force converge-
Here we must needs embark again.

Run up the sail, my heartsick comrades;
Let each horizon tilt and lurch-
You know the worst: your wills are fickle,
Your values blurred, your hearts impure
And your past life a ruined church-
But let your poison be your cure.

Put out to sea, ignoble comrades,
Whose record shall be noble yet;
Butting through scarps of moving marble
The narwhale dares us to be free;
By a high star our course is set,
Our end is Life. Put out to sea.

-Louis Macneice-

Friday, June 15, 2007

Proverbs and Stereotypes

I've been thinking lately that stereotypes, ethnic, political or other, are self-evidently valid categories in which the greater portion of humanity registers itself. Stereotypes, for better and for worse, reveal a great number of incontrovertible truths of human behavior to us, and if most of these seem distasteful to us, it's only because human behavior, more often than not, also is, or ought to be. When I write "for better and for worse" I have in mind the following premises; firstly, that an examination of mankind that acknowledges the value of stereotypes promotes in us a more comprehensive realism. Secondly, and on the negative side, it also causes us to assess people more as a sequence of predictable actions and reactions than as fellow human beings.

Nevertheless, these typifications of human nature cannot be denied wholesale, or if they can, we may as well throw out the greater part of our proverbs, commonplaces and aphorisms along with them.

More on this in a bit.

Friday, June 8, 2007

An Irish Airman Forsees His Death

I know that I shall meet my fate
Somewhere among the clouds above;
Those that I fight I do not hate,
Those that I guard I do not love;
My country is Kiltartan Cross,
My countrymen Kiltartan's poor;
No likely end would bring them loss
Or leave them happier than before;
Nor love nor duty bade me fight,
Nor public men, nor cheering crouds,
A lonely impulse of delight
Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
I balanced all, brought all to mind,
The years before seemed waste of breath,
A waste of breath the years behind,
In balance with this life, this death.

-William Butler Yeats-

Monday, June 4, 2007

Rossetti

Dante Rossetti is the most underrated poet in English literature. Period. I can't think of any other poet that combined an outstanding ear for melifluous syntax and pictorial sense of physical description with an attractive, if messy set of aesthetic principles that resulted in poems that seem both mystical and hopelessly enamored of their objects, yet who commonly merits only a few pages in most anthologies.

The following lines are from his 1870 collection, which has behing it one of the more rousing stories in poetic history; in 1862, Rossetti's wife Lizzie died of an opium overdose, and he, wracked with a mixture of grief and guilt, (and a notoriously manic personality) buried the manuscripts of several dozen of his poems in her coffin. Several years later, regretting that he had squandered some of his best work in the throws of the sort of macabre personal drama common amongst 19th century English poets, he exhumed her body in order to recover the poems. He subesequently published them and went on to fame, if not fortune, a laudanum addiction, bouts of paranoia, adultery with his best friend's wife, and death at the age of 54.

Here is some of his better work:

From "The Portrait":

Here with her face doth memory sit
Meanwhile, and look on day's decline,
'Til other eyes shall look from it,
Eyes of the spirit's Palestine,
Even than the old gaze tenderer;
While hopes and aims long lost with her
Stand round her image side by side,
Like tombs of pilgrims that have died
About the Holy Sepulcher.
"The One Hope":
When vain desire at last and vain regret
Go hand in hand to death, and all is vain,
What shall assuage the unforgotten pain
And teach the unforgetful to forget?
Shall peace be still a sunk dream long unmet-
Or may the soul at once in a green plain
Stoop through the spray of some sweet life fountain
And cull the dew-drenched flowering amulet?
Ah! When the wan soul in that golden air
Between the scriptured petals softly blown
Peers breathless for the gift of grace unknown-
Ah! Let none other alien spell soe'er
But only the one Hope's one name be there-
Not less nor more, but even that word alone.
Untitled:
Ah! Let not hope be still distraught
But find in her its gracious goal,
Whose speach Truth knows not from her thought,
Not Love her body from her soul.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Stamping on the Shoulders of Giants

C.S. Lewis once wrote that it is one of history's misfortunes that the great minds of one age always despise those of the age immediately preceeding their own. Petrarch enjoyed a few laughs at the expense of the Medieval period (the term "Dark Ages" was his brainchild), Voltaire took a few potshots at the age of religious turmoil which produced The Thirty Years' War, and Blake corrected Voltaire after the fact. I don't know that anyone bothered to correct Blake. Lunatics are difficult in that respect.

One commonality here, perhaps obvious, but worthy of mention, is that all of the above examples occur in what is termed for the sake of convenience the Modern Age. Prior to this, there isn't any discernable precedent for granting the badge of enlightenment to one's own era and adopting an air of condesention toward one's predecessors. Examining the succeeding layers of the Modern Age, we find that not only does it grind down harshly on the periods it succeeds, but that the same friction exists between its own substrata. The exemplars of Romanticism were as much at odds with their Augustan forbears as both were with the superstitions of the Middle Ages. I would submit as a likely cause the belief that the ascending arc purported to terminate in the perfection of humankind grows ever steeper, allowing its self-appointed prophets to stamp with increasing ease on the shoulders of the giants below them. Sadly, the upward path to that Paradisal Nowhere never materializes into anything but a continuation of itself, just as any arc never attains to zero. But its points have slowly grown aware of their relative elavation, and used it as an excuse to feed on their ancestors.

The damage attendant on this epochal parricide amounts to more than disrespect; if it were only that, I woudn't bother with any of this. I don't have any problem with the rejection of a particular tradition or periodical bias, and certainly have no attachment to tradition for its own sake; the latter fidelity can't help but be grossly sentimental, and while a tradition accepted on the strength of its own recommendation goes far in teaching motions, it fails to teach matter. But the problem of impertinence still remains. What perpetuates it-a blindly optimistic view of our own position aside- is a latent understanding that history is naturally at war with itself; one age presses against the next, its predecessor trampled underfoot, and the engine grinds massively and messily on. This type of thinking errs by inviting too much of a personalized view of the movements of history at the expense of the living personalities we most associate with them; we see Alexander forced into his conquests by the necessity of Hellenization, and by two centuries' preparation for a world dominated by Western, and not by Oriental ideals, rather than driven on by his own sublime ego. Alexander becomes a pawn moved only by so much Mechanism, as do the rest of the Outstanding. The same Mechanism finds Rome in brick and leaves her in marble, and then opens her gates to the Goths four centuries later. The Historical Mechanism cannot satisfy itself with any of its apparent conclusions, and sweeps all of them aside, and in accordance with nature, fills the abhorent vacuum with whatever it pleases.
We don't need to account for personalities or passions anymore, but only motions, pressures, colisions and collapses; this pattern, since the earliest origins of the universe has been the only pattern, and it is liable to stay that way, until the collective energy behind it resolves itself into whatever Utopia our more refined impulses proclaim as the necessary and final result.

That any sort of egotism should proceed from as inhumane a view of history as the one above is astonishing in the uttermost. The individual is no longer a factor, but the age which the individual inhabits certainly is, and possibly even the centerpiece. The individual no longer cares about any succesful application of his own will, but is content to be a part of the motion definitive of his age-its "Movement." The individual in question ceases to function as an individual, and begins to do so as a private citizen, dutifully making donations and signing ballots as his Movement demands. He doesn't expect any triumphs of his own, but only the triumph of his time, and that in its triumph some of its reflective glory might fall on him, who faithfully wore the right color ribbons. It doesn't take long for his expectancy to become impatience, and for impatience to become envy-envy of the individuals that achieved by their own capacity what he waited for his precious Movement to achieve for him. Soon enough, the spectator has grown as conceited as the figure on the stage; this is the only way in which arrogance today distinguishes itself from arrogance in any other frame in history; it has simply grown tired of pretending to be humble.

Such is my diagnosis, and to tell the truth, no real corrective measure comes to mind. We enjoy our vantage point more than it merits, and are not likely to surrender our ego when admonished of the vanity of our position; Seneca and Aurelius offered similar warnings, but no one ever paid attention. If anything humbles us, it will probably not be our own motives, newly purified. Nonetheless, I am confident that we will eventually realize, though due less to our own docile nature than by the approach of calamity, that the contempt we hold towards the art of gauging the Self and the extent of its perimeters, and that our overwillingness to delegate this function to some uninterested superintendent, will be channeled into a more realistic appraisal of our position in the greater order of things. This new estimation inflicts a sudden sobriety upon us; it gives us pause, and makes us consider that our star is no longer in its ascendancy. But whatever else it strips away, it leaves us at least the minimal trappings of Personality and of Will. We each of us admit our limitations, we take the first step down from the pedestal, and soon find ourselves face to face with those historical predecessors whom we previously only knew how to laugh at for not having been born as lately as ourselves.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

In the Ending We Kindly Desire

In the ending we kindly desire,
The conclusion we humbly request,
Love be thwarted, Thou Bard, the Muse wills it-
Do believe me, it's all for the best.

For if in passion received you should flourish,
Or Thy affection find its return,
All my best, but where's our "Vita Nuova?"
Or our "Ode on a Graecian Urn?"

If Laura had been more obliging,
Our Petrarch, in elation undone,
Left unpolished his "Canzoniere;"
Such the prize we should lose, his being won.

Had Beatrice been more giving with Dante-
Ah, behold the delight that it mars!
Would he trade for her love that far greater,
"That Moveth the Sun and the Stars?"

Had Keats gotten farther with Fanny-
Had consumption not cancelled his breath,
Hyperion's author were tarnished, though by half
Less "In love with easeful death."

Their passions have all been diminished;
Yeats', I believe, is far Gonne;
Ianthe, Leonetta- where were they, but for
Their Patronage that ever lives on?

An Essay on Hobbies

I have never liked the idea of a Hobby, either of having one or of being exposed to those of others. There are two possible explanations for this aversion, catalogued to the best of my abilities:

1) There is the chance that this is the result of a subconcious awareness of my own tenuous command of sociability. Perhaps I do not get out as much as I should. This potentiality may be the source of more consternation than I am willing to admit, and may have (outside of my knowledge) discouraged my latent desire for a collection, say, of outdated coinage; the explanation, of course, that all such habits have the unfortunate consequence of creating an overfixation in their practitioner; one moment, he's collecting buffalo nickels out of boredom; the next, he's an obsessed quasi-sociopath nervously looking for minting flaws in an antique guinea. All of his previous occupations devolve to this one absurdity, E Pluribus Unum mocking him all the while.

I can't help but feel that there's a morbid side to most any collection of pointless mementos; it picks up the slack left by the insufficient self and attatches to him one more anecdote by which he might be known. But in the end, the only thing more ignominious than not being remembered for one's exhaustive assortment of postage stamps is the ironic possibility that one be commemorated for it and little else: "Father, Husband, Collector." Gray may have rethought his position on the Paths of Glory when confronted with the fact that they at least provide for half-interesting epitaphs.

2) Another possible source of repulsion is that a hobby is by nature selfish; to better qualify this, I am excluding from the category of "Hobbies" any activity which encourages productive commeraderie or offers any useful material or intellectual result. To prove that I am not begging the question, let me also suggest that Hobbies are usually assumed to provide more of a distraction from one's world than an opportunity to engage with it; the latter convenience presents itself in all sorts of entertainments, but World of Warcraft, to the best of my knowledge, is not among them.

That said, Hobbies do not add to the self. They do not provide us with any of the augmentations available in a good book or enlivened conversation, nor then do they thrust us back into the prosaic realm of things better equiped to offer a graceful response. They invite the self that is already there to paint more of its own substance absent-mindedly on a new canvass. There is nothing more intrusive than a person who wants to share their hobbies with us; we don't want to know all that; at least not until we've known them, their pets and mother's maiden name for a good six months; even these are of comparative interest. Sharing one's Hobby at first meeting is a cheap dime tour route to acquaintance, and as good a reason as any for not using up precious space in one's rolodex to record the proverbial Hobbyist's further credentials.

Weighed among human activities, the Hobby has yet to find any notable patron to celebrate it.
The only literary example that comes even close to mind is Walton's "The Compleate Angler," and in all fairness, fishing invites too much reflection to interest the Hobbyist; it catches a variety of Officianadoes, Amateurs, and Poseurs, the latter of which are usually cast back of their own accord, due to a surprising lack of those photoshopped sunset moments promised in the Field and Stream advertisements.

Truth be told, the Hobby is a fairly recent distraction. Masturbatory forms of self-expression were uncommon before Descartes, and often quite dangerous for those as might indulge; the coin collector previously mentioned, if he had lived in 12th century instead of the 20th, would probably have been made suspect in any number of witch hunts and ended up on the wrong end of a stake. Say what you will about the Inquisition, it went far to keep asses of this ilk far from sharing their lack of taste and surplus of time with the rest of us.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Before I Sleep

An obscure yet moving piece from Rupert Brooke.

Lines Written in the Belief That the Ancient Roman Festival of the Dead Was Called Ambervalia
Swings the way still by hollow and hill,
And all the world's a song;
"She's far," it sings me, "but fair," it rings me,
"Quiet," it laughs, "and strong!"
Oh! spite of the miles and years between us,
Spite of your chosen part,
I do remember: and I go
With laughter in my heart.
So above the little folk that know not,
Out of the white hill-town,
High up I clamber; and I remember;
And watch the day go down.
Gold is my heart, and the world's golden,
And one peak tipped with light;
And the air lies still about the hill
With the first fear of night;
Till mystery down the soundless valley
Thunders, and dark is here;
And the wind blows, and the light goes,
And the night is full of fear,
And I know, one night, on some far height,
In the tongue I never knew,
I yet shall hear the tidings clear
From them that were friends of you.
They'll call the news from hill to hill,
Dark and uncomforted,
Earth and sky and the winds; and I
Shall know that you are dead.
I shall not hear your trentals,
Nor eat your arval bread;
For the kin of you shall surely do
Their duty by the dead.
Their little dull greasy eyes will water,
They'll paw you, and gulp afresh.
They'll sniff and weep, and their thoughts will creep
Like flies on the cold flesh.
They will put pence on your grey eyes,
Bind up your fallen chin,
And lay you straight, the fools that loved you
Because you were their kin.
They will praise all the bad about you,
And hush the good away.
And wonder how they'll do without you,
And then they'll go away.
But quieter than one sleeping,
And stranger than of old,
You will not stir for weeping,
You will not mind the cold;
But through the lips which laugh not,
The hands will be in place,
And at length the hair be lying still
About the quiet face.
With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
With dim and decorous mirth,
With ham and sherry, they'll meet to bury
The lordliest lass of earth.
The little dead hearts will tramp ungrieving
Beside lone-riding you,
The heart so high, the heart so living
Heart that they never knew.
I shall not hear your trentals,
Nor eat your arval bread,
Nor with smug breath tell lies of death
To the unanswering dead.
With snuffle and sniff and handkerchief,
The folk who loved you not
Will bury you, and go wondering
Back home. And you will rot.
But laughing and halfway up to heaven,
With wind, and hill and star,
I yet shall keep, before I sleep,
Your Ambervalia.