Friday, May 22, 2009

Horace, Ode 1.11 (Tu ne quaesieris (scire nefas) quem mihi, quem tibi. . .

Seek not to know what mortal end
The gods, my friend, have writ for thee,
Nor in dark divination look,
Not necromancer's prophecy.

Far better friend, to take from god
Whatever winters he bestows,
Which number now in secrecy
Hides where the tide Tyhrennian flows.

Be wise, quaf wine; put off vain hopes.
While now we speak, the hour retires.
Live thou today, tomorrow's life
Exalted less in thy desires.

-Translated from the Latin by Thomas Banks-

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Long War

Less passionate the long war throws
Its burning thorn about all men,
Caught in one grief, we share one wound,
And cry one dialect of pain.

We have forgot who fired the house,
Whose easy mischief spilled first blood;
Under one raging roof we lie,
The fault no longer understood.

But as our twisted arms embrace
The desert where our cities stood,
Death's family likeness in each face
Must show at last our brotherhood.

-Laurie Lee, 1945-

Friday, May 15, 2009

Desertion Reconsidered

"Non tamen Aenean, quamvis male cogitat, odi."

I pitied Dido, that her pious lord
Did not slacken his sails or bless her nearness.
My prayers are with him, for his conscience' sake;
His broken vows must vex him, and fate's goading.
His only crime was that he did did not want
For rest except the rest that fate had promised.
But though his mourning her was no event,
Her once loved flesh reduced to unwept ash,
Curse not his coldness, balanced with itself.
The host and queen and mistress met in her
Showed much to him of peace, but could not show
The shadow of Troy's sins that trailed behind.
Gods guide him to his home on Sabine hills;
Beside Sychaeus she resumes her place
And flinches from her quondam king's unfaith,
Who could not know to love her as a church.

-Thomas Banks-

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Sunlight on the Garden

The sunlight on the garden
Hardens and grows cold,
We cannot cage the minute
Within its nets of gold;
When all is told
We cannot beg for pardon.

Our freedom as free lances
Advances towards its end;
The earth compels, upon it
Sonnets and birds descend,
And soon, my friend,
We shall have no time for dances.

The sky was good for flying
Defying church bells
And every evil iron
Siren and what it tells:
The earth compels,
We are dying, Egypt, dying

And not expecting pardon,
Hardened in heart anew,
But glad to have sat under
Thunder and rain with you,
And grateful too
For sunlight on the garden.

-Louis Macneice-

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Pronunciation

The level of a man's confidence reveals itself nowhere more candidly than in his pronunciation of an unfamiliar word. A friend of mine, who has seen three continents and lived in two, once became the object of reproach when, reading out loud in a German literature class, he met with the name "Goethe," having had no previous encounter with the patronymic of the celebrated polymath. Being himself the very soul of fortitude, he took his phonetic leap of faith and offered the approximation "Goatie." The professor, a woman of refinement, caught her breath in such a way as to appear to have detected a gas leak, or maybe to have been stuck with a hypodermic needle; the posture achieved was one that diversely communicated an absolute authority both over her students and the proper utterance of the family names of the leading Weimar Dramatists. The chastisement that fell upon the head of my friend was of a length and intensity sufficient to cause Kali, Goddess of Blood, the Avenging Furies and the Angel of Death to entertain doubts concerning their future job security.

Such is the nature of Shiboleths. The code of international diplomacy permits that a U.N. representative may declare frankly and without reserve that Venezuela is a failed state, its leadership exemplary of the grossest despotism, its treaties dishonored by worse than Punic mendacity, and its currency not worth the llama hide it is printed on. He may say this much and more. Yet he must not indulge even the slightest liberality in his glossal representation of its name. It is imperative that he abandon the his own countrymen's received pronunciation of the locality in question, and make whatever concessions the junta of cosmopolitanism deems appropriate. Thus "Cheelay" must be "Cheelay," and "Cooba" "Cooba" at all costs. The diplomat may represent the interests and policies of his own nation in all areas but this. When he utters the names of other nations, "be they ne'er so vile," he must betray his patriot's conscience and the doubtless sainted memory of his sixth grade grammar teacher to the linguistic whims of a tin pot caudillo. I cannot help but suppose that these kowtows of the tongue appear as laughable to our enemies as they do to those of us who are not devoted listeners of National Public Radio or readers of the Huffington Post, and they go far in the encouragement of ever more daring acts of oppression whose media coverage must be almost as painful to our ears as the syllabic self abasement that inspired them.

Every diplomat worth his salt must be willing to consider every nation to which he is assigned, no matter how amicable at present, to be a potential competitor in the future, and every competitor a potential enemy. When he (heaven forbid) should have to appear in the chambers of their government to deliver a declaration of war, he should know that the manner in which he reads that declaration is as revelatory of our resolve as the first bombs that soon shall fall on them. Too many of our leaders at this present time concede their prerogatives as statesmen with such alarming alacrity that Neville Chamberlain begins to look like Winston Churchill, and Winston Churchill like Christ in the middle of the forty days of fasting and temptation. Those of us who are disturbed by this servile observance of so many delicate forms of Mandarin humbly request our representatives abroad that they be no more heedful of respecting foreign idioms than the average American is of respecting his own, and respectfully remind them that the only language a citizen of any nation need answer for having abused is the one which is his native birthright.

-Thomas Banks-

Monday, May 11, 2009

Huxley Hall

In the Garden City Cafe with its murals on the wall
Before a talk on 'Sex and Civics' I meditated on the fall.

Deep depression settled on me under that electric glare
While outside the lightsome poplars flanked the rose-beds in the square.

While outside the carefree children sported in the summer haze
And released their inhibitions in a hundred different ways.

She who eats her greasy crumpets snuggled in her inglenook
Of some birch-enshrouded homestead, dropping butter on her book.

Can she know the deep depression of this bright, hygienic hell?
And her husband, stout free-thinker, can he share in it as well?

Not the folk-museum's charting of man's progress out of slime
Can release me from the painful seeming accident of time.

Barry smashes Shirley's dolly, Shirley's eyes are crossed with hate,
Comrades plot a comrade's downfall 'In the interests of the State.'

Not my vegetarian dinner, not my lime juice minus gin,
Can quite shake the faint conviction that we may be born in sin.

-Sir John Betjeman-

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Autumn Rain-Scene

There trudges one to merry-making
With a sturdy swing,
On whom the rain comes down.

To fetch the saving medicament
Is another bent,
On whom the rain comes down.

One slowly drives his herd to stall
Ere ill befall,
On whom the rain comes down.

This bears his missives of life and death
With quickening breath,
On whom the rain comes down.

One watches for signals of wreck and war,
From the hill afar,
On whom the rain comes down.

No care if he gain a shelter or none,
Unhired moves one,
On whom the rain comes down.

And another knows naught of its chilling fall
Upon him at all,
On whom the rain comes down.

-Thomas Hardy-