WORDS FOR TODAY♣ WMC
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© winnie caw 2003

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17 February 2003

De Spring is sprung
De grass is ris',
I wonder where
dem birdies is?

De little birds is
on de wing.
Ain't that absurd?
De little wings is
on de bird!

~ Unknown

***

In summer when I go to bed,
The sun still streaming overhead,
My bed becomes so small and hot
With sheets and pillow in a knot,
And then I lie and try to see
The things I'd really like to be.

I think I'd be a glossy cat,
A little plump, but not too fat.
I'd never touch a bird or mouse,
I'm much too busy round the house.

And then a fierce and hungry hound,
The king of dogs for miles around;
I'd chase the postman just for fun
To see how quickly he could run.

Perhaps I'd be a crocodile
Within the marshes of the Nile,
And paddle in the river-bed
With dripping mud-caps on my head.

Or maybe next a mountain goat
With shaggy whiskers at my throat,
Leaping streams and jumping rocks
In stripey pink and purple socks.

Or else I'd be a polar bear
And on an iceberg make my lair;
I'd keep a shop in Baffin Sound
To sell icebergs by the pound.

And then I'd be a wise old frog
Squatting on a sunken log,
I'd teach the fishes lots of games
And how to read and write their names.

An Indian lion then I'd be
And lounge about on my settee;
I'd feed on nothing but bananas
And spend all day in my pyjamas.

I'd like to be a tall giraffe,
Making lots of people laugh,
I'd do a tap dance in the street
With little bells upon my feet.

And then I'd be a foxy fox
Streaking through the hollyhocks,
Horse or hound would ne'er catch me;
I'm a master of disguise, you see.

I think I'd be a chimpanzee
With musical ability,
I'd play a silver clarinet
Or form a Monkey String Quartet.

And then a snake with scales of gold
Guarding hoards of wealth untold,
No thief would dare to steal a pin -
But friends of mine I would let in.

But then before I really know
Just what I'd be or where I'd go,
My bed becomes so wide and deep
And all my thoughts are fast asleep.

~ Thomas Hood (1799 - 1845)

***

16 February 2003

Silence

There is a silence where hath been no sound,
There is a silence where no sound may be,
In the cold grave - under the deep, deep sea,
Or in wide desert where no life is found,

Which hath been mute, and still must sleep profound,
No voice is hushed - no life treads silently,
But clouds and cloudy shadows wander free,
That never spoke, over the idle ground.

But in green ruins, in the desolate walls
Of antique palaces where Man hath been,
Though the dun fox or wild hyena calls,
And owls, that flit continually between,

Shriek to the echo, and the low winds moan -
There the True Silence is, self-conscious and alone.

~ Thomas Hood

***

"I believe in reincarnation, there's no other explanation for Mozart and Shakespeare, the last stages of incarnation. And the only explanation for evil, for criminals, is that they're living their first life and have nothing they can orient themselves by, they remember nothing, recognise nothing, and so they plump for the easiest and most banal path.

Life is sometimes like Sundays in a strange town; one doesn't know who to turn to."

~ From 'Der geschenkte Gaul' (The gift horse) by Hildegaard Knef

***

15 February 2003

Sonnet no 17 from 'Later Life'

Something this foggy day, a something which
is neither of this fog nor of today,
Has set me dreaming of the winds that play
Past certain cliffs, along one certain beach,

And turn the topmost edge of waves to spray:
Ah pleasant pebbly strand so far away,
So out of reach while quite within my reach,
As out of reach as India or Cathay!

I am sick of where I am and where I am not,
I am sick of foresight and of memory,
I am sick of all I have and all I see,
I am sick of self, and there is nothing new:

Oh weary impatient patience of my lot! -
Thus with myself: how fares it, Friends, with you?

~ Christina Rossetti

***

"Man longs for knowledge, but he has only the words of his speech to use, and these are inadequate. There can be little or no communication between man and man, for words are the names of memories, and no two men have the same memories...Moreover, words are little suited to knowledge, since each word is surrounded by the undertones of its own history. Finally, words are inadequate for piercing the essence of reality, since they are merely the indicators of our memories and the things we use to express our thoughts, and these being merely contingent can no more get at true reality than a spider that has put its nest in a corner of the palace can get at the total reality of the palace."

~ From 'The Shape of Chaos' by David Hesla, after Fritz Mauthner (1849 - 1923)

***

14 February 2003

Common Cause

Dear boy, uncommon brother, fourth apostle,
My next of kin, you helped me yesterday.
Among retreating dreams and childhood daisies
We briefly held the wicked world at bay.

Today within the grounds of my asylum
I can mouth anew the words we used to say.
There are tigers at the bottom of our bed:
Still they threaten: Matthew, Mark and Luke and John.

Well then, let me chant a rhyme or two to rid us.
Say a prayer to ward them off and then move on.

We can do without the suffering of sinners
We can do without the dark satanic mills
We can do without the cheeky little devils
We can do without the funny elfin dells
We can do without the curly locks and moonshine
We can do without Walt Disney wishing wells
We can do without the messages from Heaven
We can do without Grimm's tales and fairy bells.

From Hell, Hull and Halifax
good Lord deliver us.

Noli me tangere.

~ Susan Gaukroger

***

anyone lived in a pretty how town

anyone lived in a pretty how town
(with up so floating many bells down)
spring summer autumn winter
he sang his didn't he danced his did

women and men (both little and small)
cared for anyone not at all
they sowed their isnt they reaped their same
sun moon stars rain

children guessed (but only a few
and down they forgot as up they grew
autumn winter spring summer)
that noone loved him more by more

when by now and tree by leaf
she laughed his joy she cried his grief
bird by snow and stir by still
anyones any was all to her

someones married their everyones
laughed their cryings and did their dance
(sleep wake hope and then) they
said their nevers they slept their dream

stars rain sun moon
(and only the snow can begin to explain
how children are apt to forget to remember
with up so floating many bells down)

one day anyone died i guess
(and noone stooped to kiss his face)
busy folk buried them side by side
little by little and was by was

all by all and deep by deep
and more by more they dream their sleep
noone and anyone earth by april
wish by spirit and if by yes

women and men (both dong and ding)
summer autumn winter spring
reaped their sowing and went their came
sun moon stars rain

~ e e cummings

 

13 February 2003

It Couldn't Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But he with a chuckle replied,
That maybe it couldn't, but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.

So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face; if he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.

Somebody scoffed: 'Oh, you'll never do that,
At least no one ever has done it.'
And he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that are sure to assail you.

But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
Then take off your coat and go to it.
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
That 'cannot be done', and you'll do it.

~ Unknown

***

"I recorded several weeks' advice for my radio broadcasts. I gave everyone the same advice - the would-be suicide, the disillusioned Stalinist, the betrayed husband, the woman ill with cancer, the author without recognition, and the inventor whose patent had been stolen: This world is not our world, we did not create it, we are powerless to change it. The Higher Powers gave us but one gift; choice, the freedom to choose between one woe and another, between one illusion and another. My advice was, Do nothing. I even made up my own motto: 'Nothing is as good as nothing.' After all, most of the Ten Commandments begin with 'Thou shalt not.' I cited the Gemara: 'Sit and do nothing is preferred.' I instructed my listeners to swap, for the time being, one passion for another, one kind of tension for another. If you are unsuccessful in love, I said, try to channel your energies into business, or a hobby, even into some kind of amusement. Why commit suicide when inevitably one dies anyway? Death could not stop the human spirit. The soul, matter, and energy are made of the same stuff. Death is only a transition from one sphere to another. If the universe is alive, there is really no death within its framework. How could there be an end to what was infinite? The very thing that filled the living with terror - death - could well be the source of boundless bliss.

As I talked glibly on the radio, I realized that I often contradicted myself. But to whom would it cause harm? Surely somewhere a power existed which blended together all the contradictions and made of them one truth. I quoted Spinoza's saying that there was nothing in divinity which could be called a lie. Our lies were bits of truth, smashed tablets of the law, where the 'Thou shalt not' remained etched on only one fragment of stone. All that we could do was to avoid, as much as we could, inflicting pain on ourselves and on others. I advised my listeners to take a trip, to read a good book, to take up a hobby - never to try to change this or another system, this or another government.

The problems of the world are beyond our powers. We could bring our free choice to bear only on trifles, on matters which touched us personally. I embellished my 'sermons' with quotations from Goethe, Emerson, the Bible, with tractates from the Gemara and the Midrash. I myself felt greatly comforted after I had finished.

Yiddish journalists often wrote disparagingly of those who played cards, but I did not agree with them. If cards could inject a measure of tension and enjoyment into an individual's life, they were beneficial, not harmful. The same could be said of theater, films, music, books, magazines. Whatever killed time was good. Time was a void which somehow or other had to be filled.

I promised no permanent peace, no cure for humanity's neuroses and complexes. On the contrary, I warned my listeners that no sooner did one free oneself of a neurosis than another rushed in to take it's place. The neuroses were waiting in line. Life was one protracted crisis, one long-drawn-out struggle. When the crisis ceased, boredom came - the worst anguish of all. I quoted Schopenhauer, my favorite philosopher, although I did not agree with his assertion that the world-will was blind. I was certain the world-will, like the Angel of Death, had a thousand eyes."

~ From 'Meshugah' by Isaac Bashevis Singer

***

12 February 2003

The stars must make an awful noise
In whirling round the sky;
Yet somehow I can't even hear
Their loudest song or sigh.

So it is wonderful to think
One blackbird can outsing
The voice of all the swarming stars
On any day in Spring.

~ From 'Strange Meetings' by Harold Munro

***

The Language of Flowers

Alyssum (sweet) = Worth beyond beauty
Bluebell = Constancy / sorrowful regret
Broom = Humility, neatness
Buttercup = Ingratitude
Camellia Japonica (white) = Perfected loveliness
Carnation (Red) = Alas! for my poor heart
Carnation (Striped) = Refusal
Carnation (Yellow) = Disdain
Clematis = Mental Beauty
Crocus (Spring) = Youthful gladness
Daffodil = Regard
Dahlia = Instability
Daisy = Innocence
Elder - Compassion
Everlasting Pea = Lasting Pleasure
Fern = Sincerity
Foxglove = Insincerity
Geranium = Sorrowful, melancholy spirit
Hawthorne = Hope
Hollyhock = Fruitfulness
Honeysuckle = Bonds of Love
Ivy = Friendship
Lady's Slipper = Fickleness
Larkspur = Levity, lightness
Lilac = First emotion of love
Lilac (white) = Youth
London Pride = Frivolity
Marigold - Inquietude
Mimosa = Courtesy
Narcissus = False, delusive hope
Oak = Hospitality
Orange Blossom = Your purity equals your loveliness
Pansey or Heartsease = Think of me
Periwinkle = Sweet Remembrance
Pink = Lively and pure affection
Rhododendron - = Danger
Rose = Beauty
Rose (white) = Silence
Rosebud white = The heart that knows not love
Snapdragon = Presumption
Snowdrop = Hope
Strawberry = Perfect excellence
Sweet Pea = Delicate pleasures
Tuber-rose = Voluptuousness
Tulip (Red) = Declaration of Love
Tulip (Variegated) = Beautiful eyes
Tulip (Yellow) = Hopeless Love
Violet (Blue) = Faithfulness
Violet (Yellow) = Rural happiness
Virginia Creeper = I cling to you both in sunshine and in shade
Zinnia = Thoughts of absent friends

***

11 February 2003

Little Boxes

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky tacky,
Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes all the same;

There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
\\
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And the people in the houses
All went to the university;
Where they were put in boxes
And they came out all the same,

And there's doctors and there's lawyers,
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

And they all play on the golf course
And drink their martinis dry,
And they all have pretty children
And the children go to school,

And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
Where they are put in boxes
And they come out all the same,

And the boys go into business
And marry and raise a family
In boxes made of ticky tacky
And they all look just the same.

~ Song by Malvina Reynolds 1962

***

Here lies a poor woman

Here lies a poor woman who always was tired;
She lived in a house where help was not hired,
Her last words on earth were; 'Dear Friends, I am going
Where washing ain't done, nor sweeping nor sewing.

But everything there is exact to my wishes,
For where they don't eat, there's no washing of dishes;
I'll be where loud anthems will always be ringing
But, having no voice, I'll be clear of the singing.

Don't mourn for me now, don't mourn for me never,
I'm going to do nothing for ever and ever.'

~ Self-composed epitaph by Catherine Alsopp 1905

***

10 February 2003

Footnotes on Happiness

Happiness filters
Out through a crack in the door, through the net's reticulations.

But also in.

The old cat Patience
Watching the hole with folded paws and quiet tail

Can seldom catch it.

Time tables fail.
It rarely stands at a certain moment of a certain day
At a certain bus-stop.

You cannot say
It will keep an appointment, or pass the same street corner twice.
Nor say it won't.

Lavender, ice,
Camphor, glass cases, vacuum chambers hermetically sealed,
Won't keep it fresh.

It will not yield
Except to the light, the careless, the accidental hand,
And easily bruises.

It is brittle as sand,
It is more and less than you hoped to find. It has never quite
Your own ideas.

It shows no spite
Or favour in choosing its host. It is, like God,

Casual, odd.

~ A S J Tessimond

***

The Keepsake (in memory of Pete Laver)

'To Fleur from Pete, on loan perpetual.'

It's written on the flyleaf of the book
I wouldn't let you give away outright:
'Just make it permanent loan' I said - a joke
between librarians, professional
jargon. It seemed quite witty, on a night

when most things passed for wit. We were all hoarse
by then, from laughing at the bits you'd read
aloud - the heaving bosoms, blushing sighs,
demoniac lips. "Listen to this!' you said:
'thus rendered bold by frequent intercourse
I dared to take her hand.' We wiped our eyes.
'Colonel, what mean these stains upon your dress?' "

And then there was Lord Ravenstone
faced with Augusta's dutiful rejection
in anguished prose; or for a change of tone,
a touch of Gothic: Madame la Comtesse
's walled-up lover. An inspired collection.

The Keepsake, 1835: the standard
drawing-room annual, useful as a means
for luring ladies into chaste flirtation
in early 19th century courtship scenes.
I'd never seen a copy; often wondered.
Well, here it was - a pretty compilation

of tales and verses: stanzas by Lord Blank
and Countess this and Mrs That, demure
engravings, all white shoulders, corkscrew hair
and swelling bosoms; stories full of pure
sentiments, in which gentlemen of rank
urged suits upon the noble-minded fair.

You passed the volume round, and poured more wine.
Outside your cottage lightning flashed again:
a Grasmere storm, theatrically right
for stories of romance and terror. Then
somehow, quite suddenly, the book was mine.
The date in it's five weeks ago tonight.

'On loan perpetual'. If that implied
some dark finality, some hint of 'nox
perpetua', something desolate and bleak,
we didn't see it then, among the jokes.
Yesterday, walking on the fells, you died.
I'm left with this, a trifling, quaint antique.

You'll not reclaim it now; it's mine to keep:
a keepsake, nothing more. You've changed the 'loan
perpetual' to a bequest by dying.
Augusta, Lady Blanche, Lord Ravenstone -
I've read the lot, trying to get to sleep.

The jokes have all gone flat. I can't stop crying.

~ Fleur Adcock

***

9 February 2003

Fern Hill

 

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
The night above the dingle starry,
Time let me hail and climb
Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns,
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
Trail with daisies and barley
Down the rivers of the windfall light.

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns

About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.
And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
Flying with the ricks, and the horses
Flashing in the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
The sky gathered again
And the sun grew round that very day,
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
Out of the whinnying green stable
On to the fields of praise.

And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
In the sun born over and over,
I ran my heedless ways,
My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
Before the children green and golden
Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
In the moon that is always rising.
Nor that, riding to sleep,
I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh, as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

~ Dylan Thomas

***

I...could not accept the way religions competed for converts, as if they were postage stamps for a collection. I was influenced against these methods when I lived in the South Seas and saw, even on small islands, missionaries of various faiths, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jehovah Witnesses, selling their faiths to the confused and hitherto happy inhabitants as if they were representatives of competing industrial companies. People, I feel, should find their faith without being threatened by a form of spiritual blackmail.

...It is the peace which you can find in your soul which counts; and the soul is your personal possession throughout your journey towards perfection.

...I am unmoved by the mumbo-jumbo of the normal religious services , because they seem to me to reflect an automaton form of worship. The details of the service and the manner of those conducting it seem so contrived that the service makes an artificial impression upon me. It has no meaning. My heart is not touched, nor is my mind. I am watching a charade.

Religion for me, therefore, is not a question of dutifully attending religious services of one denomination or another. Religion for me is a secret affair, very personal, and requiring no conventional religious umbrella to shelter under. I do not believe I would be a better person if I read the Koran every day, or conscientiously attended communion, or fasted, or lit candles and confessed away my conscience. I could still be a heathen in my behaviour to others. I could still have only a facade of goodness. I could still be a bigot. I could still be a man of violence. The evidence of this surrounds us today. Religious fervour does not bring peace of mind; and peace of mind is what man searches for."

~ From 'Sun on the Lintel' by Derek Tangye

***

8 February 2003

The Mermaid

There was a gallant sailor-boy who'd crossed the harbour bar
And sailed in many a foreign main: in fact he was a tar;
And leaning o'er the good ship's side into the deep looked he
When a skimpy little mermaid came swimming o'er the sea.

She was very scaly, and sang in every scale;
And then she cried 'Encore! Encore!' and wagged her little tail
Till she came to the good ship's side, and saw the sailor-boy above
And a pang shot through her little heart, for she found she was in love.

She opened conversation, very cleverly, she thought.
'Have you spliced the capstan-jib, my boy? Is the tarpaulin taut?'
The sailor-boy was candid, he let his mirth appear:
He did not strive to hide his smile: he grinned from ear to ear.

She noticed his amusement, and it gave her feelings pain,
And her tail grew still more skimpy, as she began again.
'Oh, will you come and live with me? And you shall have delight
In catching limpets all the day and eating them all night;

And lobsters in abundance in the palace where I am;
And I will come and be thy bride, and make thee seaweed jam.'
The sailor-boy did shut one eye, and then did it unclose;
And with solemnity he put his thumb unto his nose;

And said 'Be bothered if I do, however much you sing;
You flabby little, dabby little, wetty little thing.' "

~ A E Housman

***

"Poets seem to write more easily about love than prose writers. For a start, they own that flexible 'I' ...Then again, poets seem able to turn bad love - selfish, shitty love - into good love poetry. Prose writers lack this power of admirable, dishonest transformation. We can only turn bad love into prose about bad love, so we are envious (and slightly distrustful) when poets talk to us of love. And they write this stuff called love poetry. It's collected into books called 'The Great Lovers' Valentine World Anthology of Love Poetry' or whatever. Then there are love letters; these are collected into the Golden Quill Treasury of Love Letters (available by mail order). But there is no genre that answers to the name of love prose. It sounds awkward, almost self-contradictory. Love Prose: A Plodder's Handbook. Look for it in the carpentry section.

..'I love you.' For a start, we'd better put these words on a high shelf; in a square box behind glass which we have to break with our elbow; in the bank. We shouldn't leave them lying around the house like a tube of vitamin C. If the words come too easily to hand, we'll use them without thought; we won't be able to resist. Oh, we say we won't, but we will. We'll get drunk, or lonely, or - likeliest of all, plain damn hopeful, and there are the words gone, used up, grubbied. We think we might be in love and we're trying out the words to see if they're appropriate? How can we know what we think till we hear what we say? Come off it; that won't wash. These are grand words; we must make sure we deserve them. Listen to them again: 'I love you.' Subject, verb, object: the unadorned, impregnable sentence. The subject is a short word, implying the self-effacement of the lover. The verb is longer but unambiguous, a demonstrative moment as the tongue flicks anxiously away from the palate to release the vowel. The object, like the subject, has no consonants, and is attained by pushing the lips forward as if for a kiss. 'I love you.' How serious, how weighted, how freighted it sounds.

I imagine a phonic conspiracy between the world's languages. They make a conference decision that the phrase must always sound like something to be earned, to be striven for, to be worthy of. Ich liebe dich: a late-night, cigarette-voice whisper, with that happy rhyme of subject and object. Je t'aime: a different procedure, with the subject and object being got out of the way first, so that the long vowel of adoration can be savoured to the full. (The grammar is also one of reassurance: with the object positioned second, the beloved isn't suddenly going to turn out to be someone different.) Ya tebya lyublyu: the object once more in consoling second position, but this time - despite the hinting rhyme of subject and object - an implication of difficult obstacles to be overcome. Ti amo: it sounds perhaps a bit too much like an aperitif, but is full of structural conviction with subject and verb, the doer and the deed, enclosed in the same word.

...We must keep these words in their box behind glass. And when we take them out we must be careful with them. Men will say 'I love you' to get women into bed with them; women will say 'I love you' to get men into marriage with them; both will say 'I love you' to keep fear at bay, to convince themselves of the deed by the word, to assure themselves that the promised condition has arrived, to deceive themselves that it hasn't yet gone away. We must beware of such uses. I love you shouldn't go out into the world, become a currency, a traded share, make profits for us. It will do that if we let it."

~ From ' A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters' by Julian Barnes

***

7 February 2003

The Traveller Has Regrets

 

The traveller has regrets
For the receding shore
That with its many nets
Has caught, not to restore
The white lights in the bay,
The blue lights on the hill.

Though night with many stars
May travel with him still,
But night has nought to say,
Only a colour and shape
Changing like cloth shaking,
A dancer with a cape
Whose dance is heart-breaking,

Night with its many stars
Can warn travellers
There's only time to kill
And nothing much to say:
But the blue lights on the hill,
The white lights in the bay
Told us the meal was laid
And that the bed was made
And that we could not stay.

~ G S Fraser

***

"There is a disease which afflicts many travellers, an endemic malaise whose symptoms are an acute melancholy, a sense of oppression by what is old and distaste for what is new. The faces one sees take on a sinister character, like the cartoons of da Vinci. The gaudy cavalcade of history becomes a procession of spavined caricatures shambling forward to the tolling of the miserere bell. One is conscious of solitude and strangeness. The effort of communication in an alien tongue becomes an intolerable burden. The food presents itself as a garbled mess. One longs for the thinnest wine of one's own country.

There is no remedy for the disease. One tolerates it like a recurrent bout of malaria, and then it goes away, with no perceptible harm to mind or body. The best treatment is to ignore it and keep moving; to go through the motions of interest and activity. A pretty girl is a great help. A half-bottle of brandy is an unreliable substitute."

~ From 'Daughter of Silence' by Morris West

***

6 February 2003

The Way through the Woods

 

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.

It is underneath the coppice and heath
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools,
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods...

But there is no road through the woods.

~ Rudyard Kipling (1865 - 1936)

***

The Scilly Isles

"They lie at the end of the world, the isles of Scilly: far beyond the land; a nest of rocks and isles cut off from the mainstream of British life. On a chart they are mere pinpricks situated twenty-one nautical miles west-south-west of Land's End: a cluster of small dots on the wide immensity of the sea - the last fragment of land for three thousand miles. Being so remote and isolated they remain, for the most part, unnoticed.

But sailors know them and mark them well.

Sailing inward, towards the major European ports, ships must find their way into the beckoning but treacherous arms of the English Channel, between the rugged north coast of Brittany on the one hand, and the Scillies, harbinger of the English mainland, on the other. For many vessels this will be their first landfall for thousands of miles. Even in good conditions navigation can be the most uncertain of sciences, but after long periods of bad weather, or in fog or storm, the chances of error increase dramatically. When the weather is thick the navigator can do little but make his calculations, check the distance run, - and then resort to hope, optimism and prayer.

He has reason to pray. The Scillies lie in wait for the unwary, eager to ensnare and reluctant to release.

The islands are unusually low - barely a hundred and sixty feet at their highest point - and therefore difficult to see from any real distance. In bad weather you can find yourself very close, even hear the surfs on the rocks, before you realise you are on top of them.

Ships are led to their doom by the wind which, for the greater part of the time, blows from the west, pushing ships speedily homeward, hastening the ship on her way, so that sailors have reason to be grateful for it. That is, unless the navigator is mistaken in his calculations. Then the wind blows the ship towards the crouching islands and the low teeth of the hidden reefs. A jagged grey mass of rocks is suddenly spotted close ahead, someone hears the thunder of surf on the ledges and the ship tries to turn, too late. All too late. Escape is impossible. The wind drives the vessel further and further onto the rocks, until she pounds heavily, and the teeth bite through, and the guts are torn out of her, and she is gone...

There are so many wrecks around the islands that even the inhabitants cannot count them. Hardly a year goes by without one, two - or in a bad year maybe a dozen - vessels meeting a lonely end on one of the outlying rocks. The men who live here have a realistic, practical attitude towards shipwrecks. The Lord taketh away, the Lord giveth... There is money in salvage, there are sometimes rich pickings to be found on the long white beaches... Who would not take advantage of that which is given?

But they save the people first. Bravely, sometimes in gale-force winds, they set out in their open gigos and row to the dying ship to save whosoever they can... Five islands are inhabited, four of them forming a circle round a shallow sound which was itself part of the land more than two thousand years ago. Most of the people live on St Mary's, the largest of the islands, which is just three miles wide. Across the sound to the north lie Bryher and Tresco, separated by an inlet which is the secret harbour of New Grimsby, where boats may hide...

Each of these islands has two distinct sides to it, like a coin. There is the windward side, bare and treeless, raked by the remorseless wind and salt spray, where only heather, hardy gorse, and a few stalwart flowers grow in the peaty soil. However, over the slight hills, in the lee of the land, it is possible to find shelter, and here, screened from the wind by tall hedges, of Pittosporum, Veronica and Tamarisk, there is a surprising fertility, with an abundance of early spring flowers, grain crops and grazing for domestic animals.

The fifth and smallest inhabited island, St Agnes, which lies to the south-west of St Mary's, is similar to the others - and yet somehow different. Lying outside the circle formed by the other four, it is surrounded by deep water and has a feeling of isolation about it. Its western shore, craggy and strewn with massive red and silver granite boulders, marks what ancient men believed to be the end of the world.

Or very nearly...Because the land has not ended - not quite. Though few would call it land...

Strewn over the sea to the south-west for a distance of four nautical miles are numerous islets, rocks and half-hidden ledges. Some say that there are fifty islets around the main islands, some say a hundred. Many of them are here, to the south-west. No-one has tried to count the rocks.

Some of the larger rocks and islets support colonies of seabirds - puffins, shearwaters, petrels and gulls. Other rocks are coloured grey-green with lichen and coarse vegetation. But many are quite bare. Washed by a hundred thousand Atlantic storms, the silver granite is unvisited, save for the seals who lie resting in the clefts before diving back into the restless rolling waves.

The most westerly of the rocks are so low that only the leaping, cascading surf reveals their position. In storms the angry white curtains of spray shoot high, high into the air - a terrible warning if you should be lucky enough to see it. The local people call these rocks ledges, though reefs might be a better name. They have ripped many a hull apart. Some vessels sank immediately; others pounded slowly and painfully to death, spilling cargo and people into the water for several days.

Once, a long time ago, the Royal Navy lost fifteen ships-of-the-line on the Western Rocks - the pride of the British fleet. Two thousand men drowned. Just over a hundred years ago during the height of the steamship era, a crack passenger ship died an agonized death on the Retarrier ledges with the loss of three hundred lives.

The carnage had to be stopped. They decided to build a lighthouse. They chose the Bishop rock, the last rock before the Atlantic, the final jagged point before the safe depths of the open sea. It is, unfortunately, a small rock, being only a few yards square. But they had no choice; there was nothing bigger.

They made three attempts. The first time the sea swept the structure away before the light was even lit. The second time the structure stayed up but, pounded by the winter storms, started to shake itself to death. Finally, they built a third one around the second because it was easier that way - though nothing achieved in that wild, windswept desolation could ever be called easy. It took years of superhuman effort to build the third mighty tower - but it stayed up.

Now, it stands proud and tall above the sea, unmoved even by the waves that sweep up and over its one hundred and sixty foot height - the tallest lighthouse in Britain. And the loneliest.

To navigators the light is a veritable godsend; in good conditions its powerful beam is visible eighteen nautical miles away. Even in poor conditions you are likely to see it before you are too close. In fog the loud blare of its foghorn will warn you away from the rocks.

Sailors love the light; they have taken to asking how far out from the Bishop they have sailed, or how far back to the Bishop it might be, or how long it will take to reach the Bishop. To the sailor the Bishop means home.

The light is a veritable godsend."

~ From 'Night Sky' by Clare Francis

***

5 February 2003

Timothy Winters

Timothy Winters comes to school
With eyes as wide as a football pool,
Ears like bombs and teeth like splinters;
A blitz of a boy is Timothy Winters.

His belly is white, his neck is dark,
And his hair is an exclamation-mark.
His clothes are enough to scare a crow
And through his britches the blue winds blow.

When teacher talks he won't hear a word
And he shoots down dead the arithmetic-bird.
He licks the patterns off his plate
And he's not even heard of the welfare state.

Timothy Winters has bloody feet
And he lives in a house on Suez Street,
He sleeps in a sack on the kitchen floor,
And they say there aren't boys like him any more.

Old Man Winters likes his beer
And his missus ran off with a bombardier,
Grandma sits in the grate with a gin
And Timothy's dosed with an aspirin.

The Welfare Worker lies awake
But the law's as tricky as a ten-foot snake,
So Timothy Winters drinks his cup
And slowly goes on growing up.

At Morning Prayers the master helves
For children less fortunate than ourselves,
And the loudest response in the room is when
Timothy Winters roars 'Amen!'

So come one angel, come on ten:
Timothy Winters says 'Amen
Amen amen amen amen.'

Timothy Winters, Lord, Amen."

            ~ Charles Causley

***

"Because now I reckon I've got a lot of things weighed up. All this has taught me, about life and everything, I mean. And the way I see it is this. The secret of it all is there is no secret, and no God and no heaven and no hell. And if you say well what is life about I'll say it's about life, and that's all. And it's enough, because there's plenty of good things in life as well as bad. And I reckon there's no such thing as sin and punishment, either. There's what you do and what comes of it. There's right things and there's wrong things and if you do wrong things, wrong things happen to you - and that's the punishment. But there's no easy way out because if you do only right things you don't always come off best because there's chance. After everything else there's chance and you can do the best you can and you can't allow for that. If you say, well why does one bloke have all the bad luck and another one have all good luck when he might be a wrong'un, well I'll say isn't that chance? And anyway, he might not be as lucky as you think because you can't see inside him, and a bloke can have 6 cars and holidays in the south of France every year and it's still what's inside him what counts. What it boils down to is you've got to do your best and hope for the same. Do what you thinks right and you'll be doing like millions of poor sods all over the world are doing. And when it hits you, if it does, chance, call it what you like you'll wonder like all the rest of them because you've always done your best and you don't deserve a rotten deal.

But that's your story."

~ From 'A Kind of Loving' by Stan Barstow

***

4 February 2003

(from 'Jubilate Agno')

For there is mystery in numbers.
For One is perfect and good being at unity in himself.
For Two is the most imperfect of all numbers.
For everything infinitely perfect is three.
For the Devil is two being without God.
For he is an evil spirit male and female.
For he is called the Duce by foolish invocation on that account.
For three is the simplest and best of all numbers.
For Four is good being square.
For Five is not so good in itself as it consists of two and three.
For six is very good consisting of twice three.
For Seven is very good consisting of two complete numbers.
For Eight is good for the same reason and propitious to me.

Eighth of March 1761 hallelujah.

For Nine is a number very good and harmonious.
For I prophecy that men will learn the use of their knees.
For everything that can be done in that posture (upon the knees)

is better so done than otherwise.

For the prophecy that they will understand the blessing and virtue of the rain.
For rain is exceedingly good for the human body.
For it is good therefore to have flat roofs to the houses, as of old.
For it is good to let the rain come upon the naked body unto purity and refreshment.

~ Christopher Smart (1722 - 71)

***

My Lover

For I will consider my lover, who shall remain nameless.
For at the age of 49 he can make the noise of five different kinds of lorry changing gear on a hill.
For he sometimes does this on the stairs at his place of work.
For he is embarrassed when people overhear him.
For he can also imitate at least three different kinds of train.
For these include the London tube train, the steam engine, and the Southern Rail electric.
For he supports Tottenham Hotspur with joyful and unswerving devotion.
For he abhors Arsenal, whose supporters are uncivilised and rough.
For he explains that Spurs are magic, whereas Arsenal are boring and defensive.
For I knew nothing of this six months ago, nor did I want to.
For now it all enchants me.
For this he performs in ten degrees.
For first he presents himself as a nice, serious, liberated person.
For secondly he sits through many lunches, discussing life and love and never mentioning football.
For thirdly he is careful not to reveal how much he dislikes losing an argument.
For fourthly he talks about the women in his past, acknowledging that some of it must have been his fault.
For fifthly he is so obviously reasonable that you are inclined to doubt this.
For sixthly he invites himself round for a drink one evening.
For seventhly you consume two bottles of wine between you.
For eighthly he stays the night.
For ninthly you cannot wait to see him again.
For tenthly this does not happen for several days.
For having achieved his object he turns again to his other interests.
For he will not miss his evening class or his choirpractice for a woman.
For he is out nearly all of the time.
For you cannot even get him on the telephone.
For he is the kind of man who has been driving women round the bend for generations.For, sad to say, this thought does not bring you to your senses.
For he is charming.
For he is good with animals and children.
For his voice is both reassuring and sexy.
For he drives an A-registration Vauxhall Astra Estate.
For he goes at 80 miles per hour on the motorways.
For when I plead with him he says, 'I'm not going any slower than this'.
For he is convinced he knows his way around better than anyone else on earth.
For he does not encourage suggestions from his passengers.
For if he ever got lost there would be hell to pay.
For he sometimes makes me sleep on the wrong side of my own bed.
For he cannot be bossed around.
For he has this grace, that he is happy to eat fish fingers or Chinese takeaway or to cook the supper himself.
For he knows about my cooking and is realistic.
For me makes me smooth cocoa with bubbles on the top.
For he drinks and smokes at least as much as I do.
For he is obsessed with sex.
For he would never say it is overrated.
For he grew up before the permissive society and remembers his adolescence.
For he does not insist it is healthy and natural, nor does he ask me what I would like him to do.
For he has a few ideas of his own.
For he has never been able to sleep much and talks with me late into the night.
For we wear each other out with our wakefulness.
For he makes me feel like a lightbulb that cannot switch itself off.
For he inspires poem after poem.
For he is clean and tidy but not too concerned with his appearance.
For he lets the barber cut his hair too short and goes round looking like a convict for a fortnight.
For when I ask if this necklace is all right he replies, 'Yes, if no means looking at three others.'
For he was shocked when younger team-mates began using talcum powder in the changing-room.
For his old-fashioned masculinity is the cause of continual merriment on my part.
For this puzzles him.

~ Wendy Cope

For an alternative version - click here


***


3 February 2003

CORDON BLEU

Elephant Pate (serves 750 people)

Ingredients

1 Elephant (fresh)
2 fencing knives
12 pygmy servants
4 wheelbarrows
1 swimming pool
1 cement mixer
12 bottles amantillado
Juice of 5000 breadfruit
6 buckets parsley
12 palm fronds
1/2 ton incense
1 eye of newt
3 tablespoons beeswax

Method

Seize the elephant firmly and work into a frenzy. Bother it about a bit, meanwhile greasing a large skillet with the pygmy servants. Parsley [parcel] it up, befrond it if it seems frondly, but do not incense it too much.

Drink amontillado to steady nerve, then seize elephant and plunge it rapidly into boiling water. At this stage, it is wise to hide among the 5000 breadfruit, as a boiled elephant will never think of looking there.

Serve hot or cold on sliced VW's.

***

"Words Flail Me

Having participated in a radio programme called 'My Word!' since about three weeks before the dawn of time, I now seem to have developed a form of mental affliction I can only describe as psychosemantic. The longer my BBC contract obliges me to contemplate the innards of the English language, the more difficult it becomes for me to understand how anyone not actually born and brought up in this country ever manages to master its peculiar inconsistencies.

Let me transfer some of my perplexities to your shoulders by giving a few examples. In dictionary terms, although our words 'vision' and 'sight' are practically synonymous, how many foreigners are likely to grasp the difference between telling a girl she looks a vision and telling her she looks a sight? The gap is as wide as that between letting her know she's looking cool and informing her she's not looking so hot. Similarly, is there any possible way for someone lacking a British upbringing to realise that the gulf between 'he's good-looking' and 'he's looking good' is generally at least 20 years?

If you think those instances fall into the category of special cases, consider the more prosaic words bucket and pail. With every English phrase-book showing them as practically interchangeable, it takes at least a lifetime's residence to appreciate that while mention of 'bucket-seats' evokes romantic pictures of fast sports-cars, 'pail-seats' conjures up latrines. Those are the kind of niceties that keep niggling at me. I find it hard to believe that anyone learning English by short-wave radio will ever appreciate the important distinction between a lady's virtue and a lady's virtues: a woman and child as opposed to a woman with child; the disparity, in terms of a hedge against inflation, between an Old Master and an old mistress. Such subtleties of idiom need to be experienced rather than learned. The more diligently a student is taught that 'to pick up' and 'to lift up' are more or less identical, the less likely he'll be to comprehend that 'If you're going to the cleaners, will you pick up my skirt?' reveals quite a different mood from 'If you're going to the cleaners, will you lift up my skirt?'.

What's equally true, of course, is that the thinking behind most of these linguistic nuances is as inexplicable to the natives as it is to the tourists. If we gave the name Poles to people who live in Poland, why weren't the inhabitants of Holland called Holes? Purely on the evidence of how we express ourselves, lots of things in this country take place beforehand but nothing seems to happen afterhand; there is no such thing as one measle, one mump or one smithereen; and although we are allowed to be dishevelled, high-faluting or overwhelmed, none of us is ever just plain shevelled, faluting, or whelmed.

Such incongruities abound. The opposite of antiseptic is septic but the opposite of antidote is not dote. Flammable has exactly the same meaning as inflammable, 'to cleave' means both 'to split apart' and 'to cling together', and although it's agreed that the word 'beautiful' should be understood to mean 'full of beauty', 'bashful' is never used in the sense of 'full of bash'. Anything promoted as being 'good for hayfever' is bought because it's actually bad for hay-fever, a fire-escape is really a people-escape, a children's zoo does not consist of cages with kids inside, 'economy-size' means 'large' when applied to detergent packets and 'small' when talking about cars, and there is a great sorrowful world of difference between a maternity dress and a paternity suit.

Although, as I've admitted, my obsession with these verbal idiosyncracies may be blamed on an over-indulgence in panel-game word-play - what you might call the loneliness of the long-distance punner - some current evidence indicates that our language really is exhibiting signs of strain. Among the symptoms I've observed are advertisements for 'farm-fresh margarine', vacancies for 'long-term temporary work', a best-selling paperback novel by [xxx] called Always is Not Forever and - most impenetrable of all - a bill I received which had printed on it 'To ensure personal attention please identify yourself by your account-number'.

Two anecdotes may serve to emphasise whatever point it is I'm making. I was told about a chap who bought some electrical gadget as a result of seeing an advert for it that said, 'Money returned if not satisfactory'. He wasn't happy with the way the thing worked so he wrote asking for his money back. He received a letter in reply which said 'Your money is quite satisfactory so we're not returning it'.

The other instance of language manipulation is one which, for some reason, I find rather consoling. A New York retailer recently put up a sign on his wall saying 'Shop-Lifters Will Be Defrosniated' [sic]. When an earnest student of English questioned him about it, he said 'No, I haven't the faintest idea what the word means. But since the sign's been up, the incidence of shoplifting has dropped by 60%."

~ Dennis Norden (December 1979)

***

2 February 2003

Ballad of the Bread Man

Mary stood in the kitchen
Baking a loaf of bread.
An angel flew in through the window.
'We've a job for you.' he said.

'God in his big gold heaven,
Sitting in his big blue chair,
Wanted a mother for his little son.
Suddenly saw you there.'

Mary shook and trembled,
'It isn't true what you say.'
'Don't say that,' said the angel,
'The baby's on its way.'

Joseph was in the workshop
Planing a piece of wood.
'The old man's past it,' the neighbours said.
'That girl's been up to no good.'

'And who was that elegant fellow,'
they said, 'in the shiny gear?'
The things they said about Gabriel
were hardly fit to hear.

Mary never answered,
Mary never replied.
She kept the information,
Like the baby, safe inside.

It was election winter.
They went to vote in the town.
When Mary found her time had come
The hotels let her down.

The baby was born in an annexe
Next to the local pub.
At midnight, a delegation
Turned up from the Farmers' Club.

They talked about an explosion
That made a hole in the sky,
Said they'd been sent to the Lamb and Flag
To see God come down from on high.

A few days later a bishop
And a five-star general were seen
With the head of an African country
In a bullet-proof limousine.

'We've come' they said, 'with tokens
For the little boy to choose.'
Told the tale about war and peace
In the television news.

After them came the soldiers
with rifle and bomb and gun,
Looking for enemies of the state.
The family had packed and gone.

He finished up in the papers.
He came to a very bad end.
He was charged with bringing the living to life.
No man was that prisoner's friend.

There's only one kind of punishment
To fit that kind of a crime.
They rigged a trial and shot him dead.
They were only just in time.

They lifted the young man by the leg.
They lifted him by the arm.
They locked him in a cathedral
In case he came to harm.

They stored him safe as water
Under seven rocks.
One Sunday morning he burst out
Like a jack-in-the-box.

Through the town he went walking.
He showed them the holes in his head.
'Now do you want any loaves?' he cried.
'Not today.' They said.

When they got back to the village
The neighbours said, to a man,
'That boy will never be one of us,
Though he does what he blessed well can.

He went round to all the people,
A paper crown on his head.
'Here is some bread from my father.
'Take, eat.' he said.

Nobody seemed very hungry.
Nobody seemed to care.
Nobody saw the god in himself
Quietly standing there."

~

Charles Causley

***

[Peter's talk to the Christians in Rome]

"...'This is in all of your minds,' said Peter in a voice to which compassion and sorrow had given an edge of intensity... 'You are asking, 'Is it the will of God that these hundred men and women, all of whom believe in Jesus and strive to walk in His steps, shall be put to death for a crime of which they are innocent?' You are thinking, 'Surely the Hand of the Lord will be stretched out to save them?' My brethren,' said Peter earnestly, 'I can give you no answer save the one you have already heard. The Lord has said, 'Arise, Peter, and save them.' And, truly, brothers and sisters in the faith, should we expect Him to speak? Listen, listen in patience and understanding. It is always known on the eve of a great battle that on the day following, thousands of fine young men will be cut down ruthlessly. Does the Lord feel it incumbent on Him to interfere in these tragic butcheries? When the forces of nature gather for the flooding of a mighty river or there is an agitation in the bowels of the earth and it is known in heaven that an earthquake will follow, the Lord does not reach down to remove the people who stand in the path of destruction. When a pestilence begins in the slums of a city, the Lord does not intervene to save the thousands who will die miserably of the plague. Life on this earth is made cruel by the barbarities of nature and the wickedness of men, and thus it has been from the beginning.'

'Hearken to me still,' he went on after a pause. 'The words I am going to say to you have been in my mind for a very long time. I give utterance to my thoughts now because I am sure the Lord is putting words in my mouth so that ye may know His will. There must be a testing of the faith of man if the teachings of Jesus are to prevail. It becomes ever clearer that the test will be here, in Rome, on which the eyes of the world rest and where a strange and cruel man sits on a temporal throne. The fate of these poor slaves who now lie in prison will be no more than a beginning. Rome will know such persecution as the world has never seen before. Many of us who sit here tonight will be among those who perish. Verily, it is the will of God that many shall die so that a great faith will rise triumphant out of martyrdom.'

Peter rested for a moment and then spoke in a voice that had risen to an exultant pitch.

'It is my hope that I, who denied Jesus on that blackest of nights, will be among those chosen to suffer, so that I may see the glory of the new dawn. And this I say to you, that the Christians of Rome will display such an unshakeable faith in the face of the sufferings to come that all will wonder and say, 'What is this man Jesus, what is His secret, that men and women will die at His beck?' And all over the world the true faith will spread and all men will bow down before the living God.' "

From 'The Silver Chalice' by Morris West

***

1 February 2003

Dance like no-one's watching
Love like you'll never be hurt
Sing like no-one's listening
Live like it's heaven on earth

***

I remembered one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited a while, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled. The wretched butterfly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently and the unfolding of its wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear, all crumpled before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand. That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my conscience. For I realise today that it is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient, but we should confidently obey the eternal rhythm.

I sat on a rock to absorb this New Year's thought. Ah, if only that little butterfly could always flutter before me to show me the way.

From 'Zorba the Greek' by Nikos Kazantsakis (translation by Bruna Cassirer)

***

 

31 January 2003

"A man is a thousand parts. All of them other people.

Those he loved, those he did not, those who merely passed through his life.

And the total of him is the sum of all of them added together, divided by each other, subtracted from each other and multiplied individually and emulatively.

~ Harold Robbins (from 'The Inheritors')

***

At the End of a Year

This is the end of a Year

Auntie dear;

Drear-

(Horridly, hopelessly drear)

As I write

In the night;

(From the depths of a frosty night)

I've little to show for the year,

I fear,

In the book of the Bank or the Heart,

(In cash or Flo's heart)

I'm twelve months older its true-

Entre nous,

That's all I can truthfully write

Tonight-

Painful, but painfully true.

 

I'm drawing three hundred a year

Out here,

But it's queer

I'd barter the 'bloomin' lot'

On the spot

(If I could)

For the wood

Pavement of Kensington High-

Street, and a London sky,

And the noise of the local trains,

(Those merry city trains)

And the flashing theatre lights,

In the Strand,

And the bustle and stir o' nights-

And 'the touch of a vanished hand'

 

(Do you think you could understand

What it is to live in the plains,

(The doleful dusty plains)

Alone, like a hermit crab,

Where gas is never seen

And there's half a world between

Yourself and a hansom cab?)

 

So I dream of a thousand things,

(As I scribble & smoke and think)

Of months with leaden wings,

Bedraggled with printers' ink,

Of chalky Sussex cliffs,

And how- were it not for the 'ifs'-

(Those pestilent practical 'ifs')

I would pack up my traps and go

By the bounding P and O;

And quit Lahore tonight

But that is impossible quite.

 

For the facts of the case are this

(The prose of my being is this)

On the table beneath my hand,

(In a neat little tape-bound row)

Are the proofs which the printers expect

(The proofs which this child must correct)

For tomorrow's issue you know.

And, in case I should be remiss,

This legend is writ for a guide:-

(On their fat little backs for a guide)

'Sir. Bearer is waiting outside

Please arrange. Sir, - Yours to command

Badshee Shah' - So you see I am tied

Verily, tight am I tied

To the land.

 

And the moral hereof is plain

I maintain

I've lost my first love and the heat

Of much primal conceit

(Nota Bene, There's lots of it yet

You bet)

I've lost all the fun of the college,

And half my school knowledge,

I've lost my first trust in all men,

From Colombo to Quetta,

I've lost (shall I find her again?)

My Love from the place where I set her.

 

I've gained what is called a 'good start'

A horse and a cart

A gun and few suits of clothes

And a stock of 'strange oaths',

A place at the Club

And my grub.

That is - if I face all the ills

Of fevers and chills,

And, once in two years, take a tolera-

Ble chance of a spasm of cholera.

In view of which facts I may safely assert

That I'm bound to Lahore till-I turns to its dirt.

And some fifteen years hence may be gaily employed

In spreading the germs of malignant typhoid.

Or, with cowdung and straw, duly plastered and set,

I may guard my successor's young head from the wet.

~

Rudyard Kipling

***

30 January 2003

Someone gave me a smile today.
I tried my best to give it away
to everyone I chanced to meet,
as I walked down the street

But everyone that I could see,
gave my smile right back to me.
When I got home, besides my smile,
I had enough to reach a mile.

***

Multitudes

A crash of rhinoceroses, a school of fish, a litter of pups, a flock of sheep, a string of ponies, a covey of partridges, a pride of lions, a herd of elephants, a plague of locusts, a colony of ants, a covey of quail, a kindle of kittens, a leap of leopards, a pod of seals, a sloth of bears, a rafter of turkeys, a pace of asses, a walk of snipe, a gam of whales, a nest of rabbits, a gang of elk, a fall of woodcocks, a dule of doves, a skulk of foxes, a dissimulation of birds, a spring of teal, a peep of chickens, a bevy of roebucks, a business of ferrets, a bale of turtles, a pitying of turtledoves, a drift of hogs, a paddling of ducks, a siege of herons, a trip of goats, a charm of finches, a cete of badgers, a deceit of lapwings, a shoal of bass, an exaltation of larks, a drove of cattle, a singular of boars, a tidings of magpies, a gaggle of geese, a congregation of plovers, a husk of hares, an unkindness of ravens, a labour of moles, a richness of martens, a cast of hawks, a knot of toads, a descent of woodpeckers, a sounder of swine, a mustering of storks, a clutch of eggs, a bouquet of pheasants, an army of caterpillars, a hover of trout, a flight of swallows, a troop of kangaroos, a clowder of cats, a watch of nightingales, a barren of mules, a shrewdness of apes, a rag of colts, a murmuration of starlings, a building of rooks, a smack of jellyfish, a harras of horses, a parliament of owls, a route of wolves, a host of sparrows, an ostentation of peacocks.

***

29 January 2003

January, falls the snow,
February, cold winds blow,
In March, peep out the early flowers,
And April comes with sunny showers.
In May, the roses bloom so gay,
In June, the farmer mows his hay,
In July, brightly shines the sun,
In August, harvest is begun.
September turns the green leaves brown,
October winds then shake them down,
November fills with bleak and smear,
December comes and ends the year.

~ Flora Willis Watson

***

The Weather Song

January

brings the snow

makes your feet and fingers glow.

 

February's

ice and sleet

freeze the toes right off your feet.

 

Welcome March

with wintry wind

would thou were not so unkind!

 

April

brings the sweet Spring showers

on and on for hours and hours.

 

Farmers fear unkindly May;

frost by night and hail by day.

 

June

just rains and never stops

thirty days and spoils the crops.

 

In July

the sun is hot.

Is it shining? No, it's not!

 

August

cold and dank and wet,

brings more rain than any yet.

 

Bleak September's

mists and mud

is enough to chill the blood.

 

Then October

as the gails

wind and slush and rain and hail.

 

Dark November

brings the fog.

Should not do it to a dog!

 

Freezing wet December

then

Bloody January again!

~ Flanders and Swann

***

28 January 2003

"Die meisten Menschen sind wie ein fallendes Blatt, das weht und dreht sich durch die Luft, und schwankt und tammelt zu Boden.

Andre aber, wenige sind die Sterne, die gehen ein feste Bahn, kein Wind erreicht sie, in sich selber haben sie ihr Gesetz und ihre Bahn."

From 'Siddhartha' by Hermann Hesse

( translation - most people are like a falling leaf; twisting and turning through the air, fluttering and drifting to earth. A few are different: like stars, their path is true, no wind can deflect them; they themselves determine their course and their rules.)

***

"We were not people who ate and worked and talked through the sunlit days: we were beings from a fantasy world, creatures of a moonlit stage, living only by our passions, able to talk about love and death and pain, only in the subtle and rarefied voices of poetry. This was the world of the doomed black sail, the enchanted cup, the swallow flying through the casement with the single gold hair in his beak. We were Pervaneh and Rafi, floating like ghosts through the night-time garden, and to us the death of love would come as poetry; not fear, and quarrelling, the grimy commonplaces of the station platform, the unanswered telephone, the letter gone astray, the years of dragging loneliness..."

From 'The Ivy Tree' by Mary Stewart

***

27 January 2003

To be content

is to be wealthy

To be dedicated

is to be strong

To be genuine

is to endure

To die and be remembered

is to have immortality

~ Tao

***

" I realised that people bring to what they see and hear and feel the inner weather of their souls and the complexion of their minds"

"..the sun cantered in a wide open sky; the wind coursed across the harbour its unsubdued white horses; the hills shook with decorous mirth."

"No motive is pure, no feeling unmixed, no thought unsullied. Out of the mass of contradictions which is ourselves alive, we shape effigies for the inspection of the mob and identification by our friends."

"Go where you will, go clean away, it does not matter; you can never hurt me, for the world you leave behind with me is always full of you."

[God] "..has used us as springboards for one another, a long vast leap into life...and even should the future cleverly intend to keep us apart, I shall still be grateful to Him, all my life."

"Passion..the dread beauty roaming through me now..twisting me out of shape, working its will on me like disease..when I could not sleep or eat, consumed with fever for you, and hating; and then terror gone, hunger slaked, sadness turned to resignation; the flowering of my joy. Then backwards into childhood, the search into the past to compel the future; the quest for the appropriate gesture that could save tomorrow from disaster. And now, beyond these stages, deeply diseased, I can no longer resist, worry, or be sad. Whatever happens now, I cannot be too sad. Sadness is so ungrateful when this has been given."

From 'A Many-Splendoured Thing' by Han Suyin

***

26 January 2003

Psalm of Single-Mindedness.

Lord of reality

...make me real,

not plastic
synthetic
pretend-phony,
an actor playing out his part,
hypocrite.

I don't want

to keep a prayer list,

...but to pray

Nor agonize to find Your Will

...but to obey what I already know.

Nor to argue theories of inspiration

...but to submit to Your Word.

I don't want

to explain the difference
between agape and phileo and eros

...but to love.

I don't want

to sing as if I mean it

...I want to mean it

I don't want

to tell it like

...but to be it

like You want it.

I don't want

to think another needs me,

...but I need Him..

else I'm not complete.

I don't want

to tell others how to do it,

...but to do it,

Nor to have to be always right

but to admit when I'm wrong.

I don't want

to be a census-taker

...but an obstetrician

Nor an involved person, a professional

...but a friend.

I don't want to be insensitive

...or to hurt where other people hurt;

Nor to say 'I know how you feel'

...but to say 'God knows'

and I'll try if you'll be patient with me...

meanwhile

...I'll be quiet.

I don't want

to scorn the clichés of others

...but to mean everything I say,

including this.

~ S Tallaksen

***

"Sometimes you can think, and sometimes the mind seems to float in an oil of its own, bringing words, and the look on faces, and the walk of somebody, or music never heard, though how it comes or where it is kept I could never tell. That night, in the quiet street, I was thinking of home, and chapel as a boy, and our family sitting in a line, and my mother passing a sweet to Angharad, and from her to Owen, and from him to me, and another coming down for the next, until everybody had one for the sermon, and the look on my mother's face if we made a noise taking off the paper, or sucked too loud, or cracked with the teeth. None of us needed a hymn-book or psalter, and we could follow the lessons under our breath from most of the Bible, and go on with the verses where the reader left off, and a sixpence from my father for the one who could go on the longest. It was always close between Ivor and Davy and Ceridwen and they generally got a sixpence each or split one between them, and we got pennies for trying, but none of us were any good after the Book of John to the end of the Bible, and Ivor was the one who said that in those books a lot of small coal was mixed, and in the push and pull of Peter and Paul, poor Christ got lost and never to be found again. That was why we read only the books of the Old Testament, and Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and nothing more in the New, because Revelations was full of dragons and smoke and smiting, and my father said that we all had a bit of that to come, and no use to read about it and have gooseflesh all over and go upstairs frightened, but better to read from the old ones singing in or out of pain, or from a Voice easy to tell from all the others, and have a bit of hope, and take peace to bed."

'Up into the Singing Mountain' (the sequel to 'How Green was my Valley') by Richard Llewellyn

***

25 January 2003

Achieve the highest goals by being passive;

Hold close to a state of perfect serenity. ~ Tao

***

"There is strange, and yet not strange, is the kiss. It is strange because it mixes silliness with tragedy, and yet not strange because there is good reason for it. There is shaking by the hand. That should be enough. Yet a shaking of hands is not enough to give a vent to all kinds of feeling. The hand is too hard and too used to doing all things with too little feeling and too far from the organs of taste and smell, and far from the brain, and the length of an arm from the heart. To rub a nose like the blacks, that we think is so silly, is better, but there is nothing good to the taste about the nose, only a piece of old bone pushing out of the face, and a nuisance in winter, but a friend before meals and in a garden, indeed.

With the eyes we can do nothing, for, if we come too near, they go crossed and everything comes twice to the sight without good from one or other.

There is nothing to be done with the ear, so back we come to the mouth, and we kiss with the mouth because it is a part of the head and of the organs of taste and smell. It is the temple of the voice, keeper of breath, and its giving out, treasurer of tastes and succulences, and home of the noble tongue. And its portals are firm, yet soft, with a warmth, of a ripeness unlike the rest of the face, rosy, and in women with a crinkling red tenderness, to the taste not in compare with the wild strawberry, yet if the taste of kisses went, and strawberries came the year round, half the joy would be gone from the world. There is no wonder to me that we kiss, for when mouth comes to mouth, in all its silliness, breath joins breath, and taste joins taste, warmth is enwarmed, and tongues commune in a soundless language, and those things are said that cannot find a shape, have a name, or know a life in the pitiful faults of speech."

From 'How Green was my Valley' by Richard Llewellyn

***

24 January 2003

"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all we need to make us really happy is something to be enthusiastic about."

~ Charles Kingsley (1819 - 1875)

***

"I quoted my father's words: 'If Paradise and Hell were in the middle of the marketplace, there would be no freedom of choice. One had to believe in God, in Providence, the immortality of the soul, in reward and punishment. Everyone could see God's wisdom, but one had to have faith in His mercy. Faith in turn was built on doubt.' The greatest saints had had their doubts. No lover could be absolutely sure that his beloved was faithful to him. As proof that the Almighty demanded his due, I quoted the verse: 'And he had faith in God, and it was counted up as a credit to him.' I pointed out that even the so-called exact sciences were no longer sure. Gases believed to be fundamental to all electromagnetic phenomena had been all but consumed years before our time. The atom, long believed unsplittable, had certainly been split. Time had become relative, gravitation was a sort of 'wrinkle' in space, the universe was fleeing from itself after an explosion believed to have happened twenty billion years ago. The axioms of mathematics had ceased to be eternal truths, having been transformed instead into definitions and the rules of a game...

...I had long ago formed the theory that freedom of choice was strictly individual. Two people together had less choice than did one; the masses had virtually no choice at all. A man who had a family had less choice than a bachelor, one who belonged to a party had less choice than his unaffiliated neighbor. This went hand in hand with a theory of mine that human civilisation, and even human culture, strove to give mankind more choice, more free will. I was still a pantheist, not of Spinoza's school, but partly of the Cabala's. I identified love with freedom. When a man loved a woman it was an act of freedom. Love of God could not take place by commandment; it could only be an act of free will. The fact that almost all creatures are born of a union between male and female was proof for me that life is an experiment in God's laboratory of freedom. Freedom could not remain passive, it wanted to create. It wanted countless variations, possibilities, combinations. It wanted love.

My bizarre fantasy concerning freedom of choice was also bound up with a theory of art. Science was, at least provisionally, the teaching of a constraint. But art was in a sense the teaching of freedom. It did what it wanted, not what it had to do. The true artist was a free-willed man who did as he pleased. Science was the product of teams of investigators: technology required a collective. But art was created by a single individual....I had always considered erroneous the art theories of Hippolyte Taine, as well as those of professors who wished to transform art into a science."

~ From 'Meshugah' by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1904 - 1991)

***

23 January 2003

In a child's lunch basket, a mother's thoughts.

~ Japanese Proverb

***

"How to Cook a Husband

A good many husbands are utterly spoiled by mismanagement. Some women keep them constantly in hot water; others let them freeze by their carelessness and indifference. Some keep them in a stew by irritating ways and words. Others roast them; some keep them in a pickle all their lives. It cannot be supposed that any husband will be tender and good managed in this way, but they are really delicious when properly treated. In selecting your husband, you should not be guided by the silvery appearance, as in buying mackerel; nor by the golden tint, as if you wanted salmon. Be sure and select him yourself, as tastes differ. Don't go to the market for him, as the best are always brought to your door. It is far better to have none, unless you know how to cook him. A preserving kettle of fine porcelain is best but, if you have nothing but an earthenware pipkin, it will do, with care. See that the linen in which you wrap him is nicely washed and mended, with the required number of buttons and strings nicely sewed on. Tie him in the kettle by a strong silk cord called comfort, as the one called duty is apt to be weak and they are apt to fly out of the kettle and be burned and crusty on the edges; since, like crabs and lobsters, you have to cook them alive.

Make a clear steady fire out of love, nearness and cheerfulness. Set him as near this as seems to agree with him. If he splutters and fizzles, do not be anxious; some husbands do this until they are quite done. Add a little sugar in the form of what confectioners call kisses, but no vinegar or pepper on any account; a little spice improves them, but it must be used with judgement. Do not stick any sharp instruments into him to see if he is becoming tender. Stir him gently; watch the while, lest he lie too flat and too close to the kettle, and so become useless. You cannot fail to know when he is done. If thus treated, you will find him very digestible, agreeing nicely with you and the children, and he will keep as long as you want, unless you become careless and set him in too cold a place."

The Chiddingstone Cookery Book 1988

*****

22 January 2003

Do not fear if others don't understand you;

Fear only not to understand others.

~ Confucius

***

"In the evening we drove to the Place du Tertre. It was completely empty except for a shaggy black animal that could have been a mixture of sheep dog and mastiff and whose dimensions were difficult to ascertain, since most of him was lying in a dark doorway. He yawned at us several times. looking very much like a hippopotamus in so doing, stood up - that is to say unfolded himself attaining astonishing height and breadth - and let his bored but perceptive eyes sweep around the square, reminding me of an ancient stationmaster checking his provincial station before shutting up shop, changing the signs, and turning out the light. He then trotted off to the opposite side of the square, knocking over a bicycle in the process, and disappeared into a bar. After less than three minutes, he came hurtling out of the bar and across the square, slithered to a stop, turned and tottered like someone who has sunk too many Pernods too quickly, sat down and looked at us as though awaiting a suggestion about how to brighten up a dull evening. Quickly sensing that we were uninitiated and pliable, he assumed leadership. In the very first bistro which, with its red and white gingham tablecloths and accordion player, was geared to tourism and gay Paree, we found the key to his soul: he was a beer drinker. He ignored food and water and made his preference clear by springing over the bar. Midnight found us on the steps of the Sacre Coeur with the mammoth lying across our laps; we gazed down at glittering Paris and listened to our companion's uninhibited snores. Although the parting was painful, we left him at one o'clock there where we had found him and, looking back, we saw him make a crooked beeline for the nearest bar."

From 'The Gift Horse' by Hildegaard Knef

***

21 January 2003

dare quam accipere (to give is better than to receive)

***

"...the monstrous proposition that it is easy to tell the truth and hard to tell a lie. I wish heartily it were...It is possible to avoid falsehood and yet not tell the truth... Yea and nay may mean nothing; the meaning must have been related to the question. Many words are often necessary to convey a very simple statement...the world was made before the English language, and seemingly upon a different design. Suppose we held our converse not in words, but in music; those who have a bad ear would find themselves cut off from all near commence, and no better than foreigners in this big world...the cruellest lies are often told in silence. A man may have sat in a room for hours and not opened his teeth, and yet come out of that room a disloyal friend or a vile calumniator. And how many loves have perished because, from pride, or spite, or diffidence, or that unmanly shame which withholds a man from daring to betray emotion, a lover at the critical point of the relation, has but hung his head and held his tongue? And, again, a lie may be told by a truth, or a truth conveyed through a lie. Truth to facts is not always truth to sentiment; and part of truth, as often happens in answer to a question, may be the foulest calumny. A fact may be an exception; but the feeling is the law, and it is that which you must neither garble nor belie."

From 'Truth of Intercourse' by Robert Louis Stevenson

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