Tuesday, November 21, 2017

the Cross-in-Hand

The Cross-in-Hand, Gore Hill, Batcombe, Dorset -- late spring
[Image source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/808323 . Photograph by Nigel Mykura.]

"I think I must leave you now," he remarked, as they drew near to this spot. "I have to preach at Abbot's-Cernel at six this evening, and my way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me somewhat too, Tessy—I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and get strength. … How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good English?"
"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said evasively.
"What troubles have you had?"
She told him of the first one—the only one that related to him.
D'Urberville was struck mute. "I knew nothing of this till now!" he next murmured. "Why didn't you write to me when you felt your trouble coming on?"
She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: "Well—you will see me again."
"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
"I will think. But before we part come here." He stepped up to the pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments—far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me—by your charms or ways."
"Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest from my thought!"
"Yes—but swear it."
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
"I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued; "that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows what may not happen? I'm off. Goodbye!"

[A short while after they part, Tess meets a solitary shepherd.]

"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?" she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
"Cross—no; 'twer not a cross! 'Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times."

(from Tess of the D'Urbervilles,  Chapter XLV)

Some stories say that there was the shape of a hand carved on the stone. Apparently there is none there now (though I seem to make one out in the late summer photo by Trevor).

The Cross-in-Hand, winter

[Image source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Batcombe,_Dorset]

Above, John Simpson's three-minute film of visiting the Cross-in-Hand.


Elisabeth Bletsoe's Landscape from a Dream (2008) contains, among other astounding and complex poems, one called "Cross-in-Hand". It begins, perhaps, with Tess's working hand. I'll quote that opening, up to the first of the prose annotations, just to give a sense (though by no means a complete one) of how far the poem opens out.  The poem is also about a walk from Cerne Abbas (Hardy's Abbot's Cerne) to Evershot (Hardy's Evershead); the walk would have passed the Cross-in-Hand about midway. It becomes, also, about other resonances in the touch of old stones and the simples of the field (Bletsoe drawing on her homeoepathic interests). But the violation meted out to Tess is figured through the whole poem.

no slack-twister I, see
my work-strong arms; gloves
    thick as a warrior's &
a rope of hair like a ship's cable

polishing grain against my side
my bones become milk:
see how the stalks
                              imitate me
moving in the wind's electric spindle

working the ricks, binding
               sheaves to me, the
wrist's bare skin scarified by
stubble &
                     the rain's arrows

To orient: to bring into clearly understood relations, to determine how one stands. Quincunxial signs I thread long by; A's magic well, church, folly, trendle, sky-notch. Beak through stone, the one who tracks me, and the other for whom I wait. High Stoy, Dogbury Hill wave a fringe of dark, concentrate the toxin rape-fields, xanthin and arsenic-yellow. One field flares and then another, under the wheel of cloud. Drunk on rare pollens I would dance on this floor of lights, finger-hoops of earth spraying, apricot-coloured and friable. Serrated with pig-huts, dry as a kex. To study the architectonics of hogweed. To unpack the poppy-bud of its outraged silk, corolla visibly hurt to the end of its days. 

I torce the necks of wounded gamebirds,
shock of come-apart cervicals .... 


High Stoy and Dogbury Hill are other eminences near to Gore Hill. (Hardy mentions them at the beginning of Ch II of Tess.)

Here's another piece I wrote about this poetry collection:


[Image not reproduced here; waiting for permission]

Photo from late summer, with wild marjoram at the foot of the stone.

Cross-in-Hand, early spring

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Friday, November 17, 2017

More to say

Apologies to regular readers. The blog is being severely impacted by soul-destroying labour on my TEFL end-of-course assignment.  I've gone soft when it comes to this kind of thing.


Our "English" family came together at our house at Christmas. We lived upstairs in an old oast-house. Out in the weald, the hop-fields were grey and an empty forest of poles, the ducks flew around the pond shrieking.

A day or two before, here came my grandmother on the bus, with her small brown suitcase and her presents wrapped in re-used wrapping paper. We went out into the garden with my mother and cut sprigs of holly with plenty of red berries on them.

Here too came my great-aunt, once a receptionist in Harley Street, and still with a certain brisk city air about her. She learnt to drive late in life, but not very well, and it was a relief when her small DAF automatic came through the winding lanes and chugged up against the garden gate without actually hitting it.

I and my sister --- I still had only one in those days --- had been taken Christmas shopping in Tunbridge Wells.

On Christmas Eve we had our "Swedish" Christmas, and then we opened the presents sent from Sundsvall. We sat around the tree, decorated with straw goats and straw tomtegubbar, and we also admired the snowy scene that my father set up on a bookshelf, where the figurines of priest and skiing angel and crib and bearded dwarf and horse-drawn sledge gathered together on a lumpy terrain of cotton wool. We ate herrings, boiled potatoes, and Christmas ham. At some point my mother would put the Swedish long-dance on the gramophone. It was a high-tempo medley beginning with Nu är det jul igen and proceeding through various other Christmas favourites. We joined hands in a chain and flew uproariously through every room in the house.

On Christmas Day we had the "English" Christmas: a proper roast, but more often a capon than a turkey. Just before dinner (it was really a sort of late lunch), the adults watched the Queen's Speech. My sister and I were, of course, more interested in examining the bright parcels under the tree and trying to guess what they might contain.

We never had cranberry sauce.*  We would have lingonberry sauce (sent over from Sweden), or my mum's home-made grape "jelly", rather delicious but runny. (The oast-house had an ornamental grapevine on its west wall.) 

In those days the family still kept up a pretence of drinking alcohol, something that no-one particularly liked, but considered an essential part of any celebratory meal. I learnt to let the red wine "breathe".

My sister and I were allowed wine with water. Often there was an adult conversation about how it was good to introduce children to alcohol early, so it lost its mystique. It certainly worked in our case, we drink about two units a year.

At the time, however, we were most enthusiastic. The most reluctant wine-drinker, even more reluctant than my mother, was my grandmother. But this was not because it was alcohol. My grandmother was always reluctant, even ungracious, when she was offered any kind of treat. Eventually she gave in.  I observed her behaviour closely, understanding that she was a much better person than the rest of us. Even today, I still have difficulty accepting a gift graciously.

Then we had Christmas pudding. My dad made "brandy butter" by whisking up butter in a dish with brandy. He also poured brandy over the pudding and set light to it, so that it flickered with blue flames when brought to the table. Inside the pudding he placed verious silver threepennies and other silver trinkets in the shape of wedding-bells or money-bags. Then he tried to ensure that everyone got a trinket in their slice of "pud". The trinket told your fortune. Now and then someone would choke or break their teeth on a trinket.

After dinner we went for a walk down the rutted lane between grey farmlands, the dog scampering ahead of us just as if it had no concept of Christmas, had not overeaten nor drunk wine, and this was merely another brilliant day.

Even so, the dog was not neglected at Christmas. My mother always bought it a new squeaky toy, and it was a joy for us the first time the dog made the toy squeak.


*This was down to a sort of naive anti-Americanism.

We regarded "American" cranberries as very inferior to "true" cranberries, i.e. Swedish lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).  So far as the flavour is concerned, I still prefer lingon for meat dishes, it's much less sweet than cranberry. But our facts were wrong, because lingonberries are not cranberries, that is, they do not belong to the distinct cranberry subsection of Vaccinium. (There is a European cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus), a tiny shrub that grows on the surface of bogs, but how it compares in flavour to American cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon)  I don't know, and I should think it's impossible to harvest commercially, the fruit yield would be far too low.  European emigrants learned from Native Americans to harvest American cranberries, around 1550.

In the same chauvinistic vein we regarded American blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum etc) as extremely inferior to "true" blueberries, i.e. Swedish blåbär (Vaccinium myrtillus, known as bilberries or whortleberries in English). Once again, we had our facts wrong. European bilberries do not belong to the blueberry subsection of Vaccinium. Both kinds of berry are excellent but they are very different.  Bilberries are great for jams and pies, but fresh bilberries can only be used on a domestic scale, they do not keep well and the juice is extremely staining.  Fresh blueberries (now so ubiquitous, but a rare sight in Britain twenty years ago) proved to be a splendid, robust and versatile fruit. And they've deservedly stormed the pantheon of international supermarket fruits, to the great benefit of all our healths.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Västra Bunnerstöten

[Image source: https://uu.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:565546/FULLTEXT01.pdf]

If you are at Storulvån STF hostel, and you can tear your eyes away from the enticing destinations to the SW, but instead look towards the east across the river Handölån, you'll see the Bunnerfjällen massif, lying south of the big lake Annsjön, and north-east of the Tjallingdalen valley, and west of Vålådalen.

It's a rarely visited area, and none of the major walking routes go near it. There are several summits of which the highest is Västra Bunnerstöten, though it has had other names in the past (1,554m or 1,545m according to other sources).

The map and the pages below come from Sven Kilander's 1955 book Kärlväxterna övre gränser på fjäll i sydvästra Jämtland ("Upper Limits of Vascular Plants on Mountains of South-Western Jämtland") (Acta Phytogeographica Suecica 35). The whole book can be accessed using the link above. It includes a summary in English (pp. 183-189).

Kilander went there four times, on 18-19 July 1943,  2 Aug 1949, 20-22 July 1950 and 24-26 August 1951. Unlike Abrahamsson (see below), he was lucky with the weather.

V Bunnerstöten is a somewhat lower mountain than those in the Sylarna and Helags massifs but near the summit it just creeps into the high alpine category, Kilander considers (p. 80).

Kilander investigated some 25 mountains in the area.  Many, perhaps most, of his height records come from Stora Helagstöten, a higher and more southerly mountain than V Bunnerstöten. (As Kilander admits, the Sylarna group might have produced more records if it hadn't been so forbiddingly precipitous.)

A few species, however, grew highest on V Bunnerstöten:

Lycopodium annotinum (Interrupted Clubmoss)
Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort)
Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine. The specimen was 7 cm tall, and dead at the top)
Hierochloë odorata (Holy-grass)
Carex atrata x norvegica  (Black Alpine Sedge x Close-headed Alpine Sedge)
Carex glacialis (Glacier Sedge)
Arctystaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry)

On his last day on the mountain Kilander noticed traces of a serpentine outcrop, but didn't have time to investigate properly; the demands of this unusual geology, high in toxic metals and with a high percentage of magnesium to calcium, can produce an interesting flora. Here he found the rare Cerastium alpinum var. glabrum   (now called ssp. glabratum) along with Viscaria alpina.
The highest record for Equisetum pratense (Shade Horsetail) was on the neighbouring summit Östra Bunnerstöten, outside Kilander's study area but re-confirmed from Smith's record of 1920.


Tore Abrahamsson went to Bunnerfjällen too, as he recounts in his 1992 book Okända Fjäll (Unknown Mountains). His visit began on 7th September, and the weather was mostly awful, but he took some gloomily impressive photographs.

The composer Wilhelm Peterson-Berger passed along its flank in 1906, accompanying a topographical expedition from Handöl to Ljungdalen. Abrahamsson quotes a couple of lyrics from Peterson-Berger's early choral work  En Fjällfärd  (P-B wrote the words himself) -- see below.  Abrahamsson also quotes from the opening page of the book in his own backpack, Mörkrets hjärta by Joseph Conrad. An excellent book to read, I imagine, as darkness closed in on the tumbledown shelter beside the Bunnersjöarna (a pair of plateau lakes to the north of the area shown in the map).

Here's some very bad photos of photos from Tore Abrahamsson's book.

Bunnersjöarna: twin plateau lakes on the Bunnerfjällen massif

Västra Bunnertjärnen, a tarn just north of the summit of Västra Bunnerstöten

The pass between Sitäntja and Västra Bunnerstöten, with Tjallingklumpen in the background.

Bunnerfjällen, from Annsjön

Here's three of the songs from En Fjällfärd :

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Maynard Mack (1909 - 2001)

Maynard Mack

[Image source: http://archives.news.yale.edu/v29.n23/story8.html]

Maynard Mack was a professor at Yale, born in Michigan. Mostly remembered as an Alexander Pope scholar, but he was interested in Shakespeare too, and I've been reading him on Shakespeare's tragedies.

Samuel Johnson, it's said, never read a book through. I begin to recognize this behaviour in my own life. Increasingly my contacts with authors are  becoming more fleeting, usually far less than a whole book. In this case, it's a paper from 1960, "The Jacobean Shakespeare: Some Observations on the Construction of the Tragedies", which was included as an appendix to the Signet Othello that I picked up in a charity shop yesterday lunchtime. (Edition by Alvin Kernan, another Yale academic; it was published in 1963.)

Mack writes about patterns that the tragedies have in common.

The hyperbolic tendencies of the hero(es). "Comic overstatement aims at being preposterous. Tragic overstatement aspires to be believed."

The hero's down-to-earth foil (Horatio, Kent, Iago, Enobarbus, Menenius, Mercutio, Cassius).

Or, say, Desdemona talking to Emilia. "The alabaster innocence of Desdemona's world shines out beside the crumpled bedsitters of Emilia's --  ... but the two languages never, essentially, commune -- and, for this reason, the dialogue they hold can never be finally adjudicated."

Dramatization of the conflict between the values of the individual ( integrity, to be oneself) and the values of the social ( accommodation to existing circumstance, to survive).

Mack also writes about "indirections": ways in which one part of the action mirrors another, or one character's words are seen to illuminate another. So that Edgar and Gloucester and the Fool, all speaking for themselves, yet somehow illuminate Lear too. Likewise the three sons Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet illuminate each other.

Mirrorings: Bianca's appearances shedding light on Othello's dimming view of Desdemona.

Mirror scenes: the opening scenes and what they introduce about the field of action of the rest of the play. Hamlet (mystery, solving), Othello (manipulation), Lear (hierarchical nature, bestial nature), Antony and Cleopatra (the great debates of lovers).

Symbolic entrances and exits: the emblematic deaths that tell us about someone else's experience: John of Gaunt, Mamillius, Eros.

Motifs:  the three Poisonings in Hamlet Act I, Act III, Act V: Claudius' corruption of an entire society.

The transforming journeys (Hamlet to England, Macbeth's re-visit to the Witches, or Lear and Gloucester to Dover).

The cycle of change in which the hero becomes the hero's antithesis: the perfect, accomplished courtier Hamlet becomes obscene and cruel and dithering; the supremely self-possessed Othello raves, rolls around, and hits out;  the majestic Lear becomes a deranged wanderer; These transformations reveal, however, a potential that always lay within them.

The madnesses of the tragic heroes. But let's hear some of Mack's own words:

"Moreover, both he [Lear] and Hamlet can be privileged in madness to say things -- Hamlet about the corruption of human nature, and Lear about the corruption of the Jacobean social system (and by extension about all social systems whatever), which Shakespeare could hardly have risked apart from this license. Doubtless one of the anguishes of being a great artist is that you cannot tell people what they and you and your common institutions are really like --- when viewed absolutely -- without being dismissed as insane. To communicate at all, you must acknowledge the opposing voice, and it is as deeply rooted in your own nature as in your audience's. "

Their madness is like Cassandra's. [It] "contains both punishment and insight. She is doomed to know, by a consciousness that moves to measures outside our normal space and time; she is doomed never to be believed, because those to whom she speaks can hear only the opposing voice. With the language of the god Apollo sounding in her brain, and the incredulity of her fellow mortals ringing in her ears, she makes an ideal emblem of the predicament of the Shakespearean tragic hero, caught as he is between the absolute and the expedient."

Mack's essay leads up to the proposal that Jacobean drama (meaning Webster as well as Shakespeare) is obsessed with acts of self-will , especially when the agents are "stripped to their naked humanity and mortality, and torn loose from accustomed moorings". He suggests this obsession was premonitory of the upheavals and conflicts of the coming century. 


Many illuminations, then. I find something deeply attractive in the essay, though I'm hard-pressed to put my finger on it.  The prose-style is workmanlike but not particularly elegant or breathtaking. Perhaps it has something to do with the essay coming out of a past era, with the natural interest attached to reading something that nobody reads any more. It's also the kind of work that I steadfastly neglected back in 1976 when I began my degree studies in Eng Lit , when Mack and Frye and Brooks and Abrams and all the others might well have been my daily bread .... but I usually preferred reading more Lit  -- more plays, more poems --  rather than getting a handle on the critical conversation of my own time. Only now, it seems, do I begin to feel curious about the person behind the eminent name... What did they look like, who were they? 

Mack's bigger assertions don't seem especially persuasive -- about Jacobean drama, for instance: you want to ask, What about Jonson, What about Philaster? If the tragedians' debate about self-will was so socially urgent, how did it come to be displaced by tragicomedy and masque?

And then, you remember the stark differences between the plays. Mack recognizes those stark differences, as who could not,  but his essay purposely looks for common patterns. Fair enough, but take this matter of madness, for instance. Othello behaves as madly as any other of the tragic heroes, but his madness seems especially un-Cassandra-like. It intuits nothing -- nothing true, that is -- , but, on the contrary, comes before us expressly in the form of delusion, error, utter blindness.

And again, concerning self-will, our primary sense of Othello is how, on the contray, he's bent to someone else's will...

The themes of multi-culturalism, ethnicity, xenophobia, that bulk so large in the Othello criticism of today, and in my own reading of it, are completely absent from Mack's account. (Though one pauses at the choice of "alabaster" to describe Desdemona's innocence.)  In the context of his own times there's nothing in the least unusual about this. It's remarkable, considering that, how much the play says to him, and how much he can tell us us about it.

Maybe this is what I find attractive about his essay, a feeling of being in such sure-footed company, of someone who knows every scene so well, whose quotations are always apposite, who sees no need to limit himself to only one aspect (imagery, or plot, or performance, for instance); who's always intelligent, agreeable, never perverse. With such people, you find that you can forgive a great deal.

Maynard Mack (possibly in 1942?)

[Image source: https://www.gf.org/fellows/all-fellows/maynard-mack/]

I was surprised - maybe I shouldn't have been, but I was -  how few on-line pics there are of such an eminent scholar.  These three are the only ones I could find.

Maynard Mack

[Image source: https://yalealumnimagazine.com/articles/4528-who-needs-the-great-books]

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

The streetlamp

Contained, as you we cast off, the water and hunger must be, be content;
when we stood at the sometimes the weather was bad 

they were frightened the beating gate
and called security. our coats and babies,
yellow eyes and  we named set prayer beards...

unfathomed request, not respect

but copies it

wrappings more searching, already a prince dancing

Yes, our eyes grew to that squat pulpit swallow the cave, the salt sea, the hunger.

irregular flask

My friends of then,  the cast-off skins of our days, I wish...
you would have sung mories no long a trouble to their eyes!

that I believed, a country



Friday, November 03, 2017

Penguin Modern Poets 19 Ashbery Harwood Raworth

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Sad thing, to think that in the past couple of years all three of the poets who appeared in this influential volume have died, most recently John Ashbery.

The volume catches their output to date in the year 1971.  By that time Ashbery and Lee Harwood had already delivered in spades;  some of their best poems are here. My perception is that Tom Raworth, the most formally radical of the three, was still feeling for the right kind of space, and the Raworth poems here are opening gambits.

Comparatively speaking. But opening the book at random, with 5 minutes to spare while waiting for a Linux engineer, lets enjoy this opening of a Raworth poem:

There Are Lime-Trees in Leaf on the Promenade
                           (for Ed & Helene)

the blossom blows
                                across the step
no moon.          night, the curtain moves

we had come back from seeing one friend in the week
they celebrated the twentieth anniversary of victory, fireworks
parades.         and all across the town the signs the french
people are not your allies mr johnson          who were
then, the old photographs.           garlanded the tanks with
flowers now
                    a poison        we came
separately home

the children were there
covered with pink blossoms like burned men         taking
the things they laughed
                                   at the strange coins, tickets.           ran
around the house pointing up at the plane then
the only noise

there can be no dedication         all things in their way
are          the actual scars      tension.            the feeling
of isolation.           love
for me in one way is waiting for it to end

- - - - - - 


Re line 3, I couldn't help being struck by reading, the next day, in Laurie Duggan's No Particular Place to Go,

My poetry -- a life watching curtains flutter.

 ("Lives of the Poets")

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Thursday, November 02, 2017


Grocery shop in the Edgeware Road

[Image source: https://londonist.com/2015/08/the-culinary-tube-map-edgware-road. Photo by Adrian Scottow.]

Here's the beginning and end of Laurie Duggan's "Autumn Journal".

gulls caught in early light over rooftops

yellow sky


one red fox, several deer

the length of the King's Wood


mud and twigs

cracked acorns on a wet road


- - - -

smoke turns to fog

moonrise south of Gravesend


rough winds

wrong equinox

The characteristic generous, indifferent, allusion in the title:  LD's poem does have some quiet conversation with MacNeice's eve-of-war meditations. But the differences are marked. For example,  this autumn journal consists of 14 lines, instead of 24 cantos. Macneice's poem covered about 4 months in 1938. There's a hint of a smile in just how brief LD's Autumn Journal is. What's happening in our news media, then? The silence hums with that unvoiced commentary. Yet isn't this poem, too, in some accord with what Macneice says in his introductory note, "Nor am I attempting to offer what so many people now demand from poets -- a final verdict or a balanced judgment".

The poetic is one in which the integrity of the real world is specifically not "captured" in the words, it is not immanent in the words. Yet it feels very present For, example, the poem uses no verbs of  movement, yet looking past the text we're aware of  movement.  The gulls, for example, are flying and wheeling and gliding. How do I know? The poem doesn't say that. But I see them.

You can read the poem in a few seconds. The asterisks, however, are there to tell us that its seven annotations are spaced far apart, in place and probably in time.  Its horizons are large, it's a big page.

The length of the King's Wood is also quite a long way: it's one of the largest woodlands in E. Kent. Placed next to the deer, it suggests a chase, vistas opening, canopy thinning.

The second allusion is to Shakespeare's Sonnet 18: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May .  The springtime of that poem explains why now is the "wrong" equinox.  But then isn't the autumnal equinox always the wrong equinox. Yet the trans-seasonal "rough winds" are, in a way, reassuring of larger cycles.

It was in a park in Bexhill-on-Sea, last Saturday morning, that I encountered the cracked acorns. (Moving between the ash-dominant scarplands of the upper and lower Jurassic, well, I don't seem to spend a lot of time with oak trees and am always struck by them when I visit other parts of the country.)

Only some of the acorns were cracked. This was more about cycling and trampling than the pulverization of trucks.

Pedunculate Oak. Some of the acorns were really big. I picked up the fattest and juiciest and bunged it into the pocket of my hoodie. Then I forgot about it until, very late last night, after luminous dinner at a Lebanese restaurant on the Edgeware Road, and several hours of train and coach into provincial darkness,  I was settling down in the van, and I heard the sound of something rolling along the foot-well then plunking onto the step.

The Indo-European root for "acorn" is very ancient; it meant fruit of various sorts. Words from the same root turn up in Celtic languages, referring to sloes and plums. Preparing acorns for human food is not straightforward, but it's possible. The tannins must be leached off, boiling with five changes of water. But potentially it's worth it in survival terms, because this is an abundant source of starch and fat, things that most easily-foraged foods tend to be lacking in.



"moonrise south of Gravesend".

This could, I suppose, mean a moonrise witnessed while standing somewhere to the south of Gravesend;  and if so, that's not particularly interesting, except for confirming that the poem reports from a number of different locations. 

 The alternative and I think more natural interpretation is that, from where the observer is standing, the moon appears to rise to the southward of Gravesend. 

Let's think a bit about this.

Moonrise, we all know, takes place in the east -- approximately. In the UK moonrises vary between nearly NE (e.g. a full moon in midwinter) and nearly SE (e.g. a full moon in midsummer).

The observer would need to be seeing the lights of Gravesend on or near the eastern horizon. Not necessarily due east, but definitely easterly. It wouldn't make much sense to say the moonrise was "south" of Gravesend if Gravesend itself lay far to the north (or the south, for that matter).

Positioned thus, the observer might witness the moon come up to the south of  an eastward-lying Gravesend. The moonrise isn't, I suppose, very far to the south, or why would you mention Gravesend at all?

The observer would need to be quite a long way off, so that the lights of Gravesend appeared as a localized cluster (or smudge), something you could refer to in relation to the moon.

On the other hand, if you were a very long way to the west then Gravesend wouldn't be distinguishable from the lights of other nearby conurbations.

My imagination takes me to a viewpoint somewhere on the high ground south of Swanscombe. A motorist on the A2 eastbound -- yes, that might do it.

People usually notice moonrises when the moon is (more or less) a full moon, rising in the early evening. A full moon at the autumnal equinox would rise due east. If you were standing, let's say, on Castle Hill, then it would appear to come up just to the south of Gravesend. Though (to quote Ashbery) this is just one example.

The magical power of four words!


Since Ashbery' s "These Lacustrine Cities" has swept into view, I can't neglect the opportunity to recommend Norman Finkelstein's interesting reading of that poem (The Utopian Moment in Contemporary American Poetry (2nd edn 1993), p. 62ff.).

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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

the Dickens fleet

Cullimore Group: the Jarvis Lorry

The Cullimore group are a Stroud-based family-owned firm in roads and aggregates. They are currently busy about the Chippenham by-pass, hence this note.  Each of the distinctive bottle-green lorries carries a name on the driver's door. Nothing unusual there, but in this case, the first name I spotted was "Poll Sweedlepipe" and the next "Vincent Crummles". Moreton C. Cullimore, the company patriarch, was a Dickens fan who began the custom of naming his vehicles during the early 1940s, when the green livery had to be abandoned due to wartime shortages. "The tradition survives today; all Cullimore vehicles, large and small, and even the individual items of plant, proudly display their Dickensian names. Some names are of course particularly appropriate: OliverTwist could be nothing other than a truck mixer, while well-placed confidence saw the ready-mix plant at Netherhills christened Great Expectations when it was opened nearly 30 years ago."  The names of the trucks, likewise, often have a certain appropriateness to their function as work vehicles.


I can't tell you how I thirst to re-read Dickens. For today, however, just ten minutes and an indulgent visit to some of the characters that are named on the Cullimore cabs. It's a visit that emphasizes some of the deep folklore connections that continue to exist between Dickens and the working lives of ordinary people.


‘Colonel Bulder, Mrs. Colonel Bulder, and Miss Bulder,’ were the next arrivals.
‘Head of the garrison,’ said the stranger, in reply to Mr. Tupman’s inquiring look.
Miss Bulder was warmly welcomed by the Misses Clubber; the greeting between Mrs. Colonel Bulder and Lady Clubber was of the most affectionate description; Colonel Bulder and Sir Thomas Clubber exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked very much like a pair of Alexander Selkirks—‘Monarchs of all they surveyed.’   (Pickwick Papers)

Mr. Pickwick saluted the count with all the reverence due to so great a man, and the count drew forth a set of tablets.
‘What you say, Mrs. Hunt?’ inquired the count, smiling graciously on the gratified Mrs. Leo Hunter, ‘Pig Vig or Big Vig—what you call—lawyer—eh? I see—that is it. Big Vig’—and the count was proceeding to enter Mr. Pickwick in his tablets, as a gentleman of the long robe, who derived his name from the profession to which he belonged, when Mrs. Leo Hunter interposed.
‘No, no, count,’ said the lady, ‘Pick-wick.’
‘Ah, ah, I see,’ replied the count. ‘Peek—christian name; Weeks—surname; good, ver good. Peek Weeks. How you do, Weeks?’
‘Quite well, I thank you,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, with all his usual affability. ‘Have you been long in England?’
‘Long—ver long time—fortnight—more.’
‘Do you stay here long?’
‘One week.’
‘You will have enough to do,’ said Mr. Pickwick smiling, ‘to gather all the materials you want in that time.’
‘Eh, they are gathered,’ said the count.
‘Indeed!’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘They are here,’ added the count, tapping his forehead significantly. ‘Large book at home—full of notes—music, picture, science, potry, poltic; all tings.’ (Pickwick Papers)


Mr. Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the head, something between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod of a pot companion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.
‘There’s a picture,’ said Mr. Crummles, motioning Nicholas not to advance and spoil it. ‘The little ‘un has him; if the big ‘un doesn’t knock under, in three seconds, he’s a dead man. Do that again, boys.’
The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away until the swords emitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr. Crummles, who appeared to consider this a very great point indeed. The engagement commenced with about two hundred chops administered by the short sailor and the tall sailor alternately, without producing any particular result, until the short sailor was chopped down on one knee; but this was nothing to him, for he worked himself about on the one knee with the assistance of his left hand, and fought most desperately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out of his grasp. Now, the inference was, that the short sailor, reduced to this extremity, would give in at once and cry quarter, but, instead of that, he all of a sudden drew a large pistol from his belt and presented it at the face of the tall sailor, who was so overcome at this (not expecting it) that he let the short sailor pick up his sword and begin again. Then, the chopping recommenced, and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both sides; such as chops dealt with the left hand, and under the leg, and over the right shoulder, and over the left; and when the short sailor made a vigorous cut at the tall sailor’s legs, which would have shaved them clean off if it had taken effect, the tall sailor jumped over the short sailor’s sword, wherefore to balance the matter, and make it all fair, the tall sailor administered the same cut, and the short sailor jumped over his sword. After this, there was a good deal of dodging about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence of braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral character evidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent demonstration and closed with the tall sailor, who, after a few unavailing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as the short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole in him through and through.
‘That’ll be a double encore if you take care, boys,’ said Mr. Crummles. ‘You had better get your wind now and change your clothes.’ (Nicholas Nickelby)


It has been remarked that Mr Pecksniff was a moral man. So he was. Perhaps there never was a more moral man than Mr Pecksniff, especially in his conversation and correspondence. It was once said of him by a homely admirer, that he had a Fortunatus’s purse of good sentiments in his inside. In this particular he was like the girl in the fairy tale, except that if they were not actual diamonds which fell from his lips, they were the very brightest paste, and shone prodigiously. He was a most exemplary man; fuller of virtuous precept than a copy book. Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there; but these were his enemies, the shadows cast by his brightness; that was all. His very throat was moral. You saw a good deal of it. You looked over a very low fence of white cravat (whereof no man had ever beheld the tie for he fastened it behind), and there it lay, a valley between two jutting heights of collar, serene and whiskerless before you. It seemed to say, on the part of Mr Pecksniff, ‘There is no deception, ladies and gentlemen, all is peace, a holy calm pervades me.’ So did his hair, just grizzled with an iron-grey which was all brushed off his forehead, and stood bolt upright, or slightly drooped in kindred action with his heavy eyelids. So did his person, which was sleek though free from corpulency. So did his manner, which was soft and oily. In a word, even his plain black suit, and state of widower and dangling double eye-glass, all tended to the same purpose, and cried aloud, ‘Behold the moral Pecksniff!’
The brazen plate upon the door (which being Mr Pecksniff’s, could not lie) bore this inscription, ‘PECKSNIFF, ARCHITECT,’ to which Mr Pecksniff, on his cards of business, added, AND LAND SURVEYOR.’ In one sense, and only one, he may be said to have been a Land Surveyor on a pretty large scale, as an extensive prospect lay stretched out before the windows of his house. Of his architectural doings, nothing was clearly known, except that he had never designed or built anything; but it was generally understood that his knowledge of the science was almost awful in its profundity. (Martin Chuzzlewit)


The laws of sympathy between beards and birds, and the secret source of that attraction which frequently impels a shaver of the one to be a dealer in the other, are questions for the subtle reasoning of scientific bodies; not the less so, because their investigation would seem calculated to lead to no particular result. It is enough to know that the artist who had the honour of entertaining Mrs Gamp as his first-floor lodger, united the two pursuits of barbering and bird-fancying; and that it was not an original idea of his, but one in which he had, dispersed about the by-streets and suburbs of the town, a host of rivals.
The name of the householder was Paul Sweedlepipe. But he was commonly called Poll Sweedlepipe; and was not uncommonly believed to have been so christened, among his friends and neighbours.
With the exception of the staircase, and his lodger’s private apartment, Poll Sweedlepipe’s house was one great bird’s nest. Gamecocks resided in the kitchen; pheasants wasted the brightness of their golden plumage on the garret; bantams roosted in the cellar; owls had possession of the bedroom; and specimens of all the smaller fry of birds chirrupped and twittered in the shop. The staircase was sacred to rabbits. There in hutches of all shapes and kinds, made from old packing-cases, boxes, drawers, and tea-chests, they increased in a prodigious degree, and contributed their share towards that complicated whiff which, quite impartially, and without distinction of persons, saluted every nose that was put into Sweedlepipe’s easy shaving-shop. (Martin Chuzzlewit)


The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it. ``Know it!'' said Scrooge. ``Was I apprenticed here!'' They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welch wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement: ``Why, it's old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it's Fezziwig alive again!'' Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice: ``Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!'' Scrooge's former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-'prentice. (A Christmas Carol)


The coffee-room had no other occupant, that forenoon, than the gentleman in brown. His breakfast-table was drawn before the fire, and as he sat, with its light shining on him, waiting for the meal, he sat so still, that he might have been sitting for his portrait.
Very orderly and methodical he looked, with a hand on each knee, and a loud watch ticking a sonorous sermon under his flapped waist-coat, as though it pitted its gravity and longevity against the levity and evanescence of the brisk fire. He had a good leg, and was a little vain of it, for his brown stockings fitted sleek and close, and were of a fine texture; his shoes and buckles, too, though plain, were trim. He wore an odd little sleek crisp flaxen wig, setting very close to his head: which wig, it is to be presumed, was made of hair, but which looked far more as though it were spun from filaments of silk or glass. His linen, though not of a fineness in accordance with his stockings, was as white as the tops of the waves that broke upon the neighbouring beach, or the specks of sail that glinted in the sunlight far at sea. A face habitually suppressed and quieted, was still lighted up under the quaint wig by a pair of moist bright eyes that it must have cost their owner, in years gone by, some pains to drill to the composed and reserved expression of Tellson’s Bank. He had a healthy colour in his cheeks, and his face, though lined, bore few traces of anxiety. But, perhaps the confidential bachelor clerks in Tellson’s Bank were principally occupied with the cares of other people; and perhaps second-hand cares, like second-hand clothes, come easily off and on.
Completing his resemblance to a man who was sitting for his portrait, Mr. Lorry dropped off to sleep. The arrival of his breakfast roused him, and he said to the drawer, as he moved his chair to it:
“I wish accommodation prepared for a young lady who may come here at any time to-day. She may ask for Mr. Jarvis Lorry, or she may only ask for a gentleman from Tellson’s Bank. Please to let me know.”
“Yes, sir. Tellson’s Bank in London, sir?”
“Yes, sir. We have oftentimes the honour to entertain your gentlemen in their travelling backwards and forwards betwixt London and Paris, sir. A vast deal of travelling, sir, in Tellson and Company’s House.”
“Yes. We are quite a French House, as well as an English one.”
“Yes, sir. Not much in the habit of such travelling yourself, I think, sir?”(A Tale of Two Cities)


Mr. Stryver, a man of little more than thirty, but looking twenty years older than he was, stout, loud, red, bluff, and free from any drawback of delicacy, had a pushing way of shouldering himself (morally and physically) into companies and conversations, that argued well for his shouldering his way up in life.
He still had his wig and gown on, and he said, squaring himself at his late client to that degree that he squeezed the innocent Mr. Lorry clean out of the group: “I am glad to have brought you off with honour, Mr. Darnay. It was an infamous prosecution, grossly infamous; but not the less likely to succeed on that account.”
“You have laid me under an obligation to you for life—in two senses,” said his late client, taking his hand.
“I have done my best for you, Mr. Darnay; and my best is as good as another man’s, I believe.”
It clearly being incumbent on some one to say, “Much better,” Mr. Lorry said it; perhaps not quite disinterestedly, but with the interested object of squeezing himself back again.
“You think so?” said Mr. Stryver. “Well! you have been present all day, and you ought to know. You are a man of business, too.”
“And as such,” quoth Mr. Lorry, whom the counsel learned in the law had now shouldered back into the group, just as he had previously shouldered him out of it—“as such I will appeal to Doctor Manette, to break up this conference and order us all to our homes. Miss Lucie looks ill, Mr. Darnay has had a terrible day, we are worn out.”
“Speak for yourself, Mr. Lorry,” said Stryver; “I have a night’s work to do yet. Speak for yourself.” (A Tale of Two Cities)


Monday, October 30, 2017


A medley for Monday, I think.

1. From a brochure for exclusive holidays in rural Andalucia (aimed, I venture, at the elderly and wealthy), and run by the extended A-- family.

The A-- wives are the inpiration behind the delicious food for which they have become known producing just the right balance of lightness and quantity. Their husbands' appreciation of good wine ensures variety, quality and a plentiful supply!

Is it just me, or do others too find the words "wife" and "husband" somewhat bizarre? "Partner", sure, but what are those other words about?  Will I be expected to teach this old-fashioned vocabulary in TEFL? (Obviously yes, but I cannot say these are exactly everyday terms in my own part of the world, it will be rather like teaching "commissionaire" or "docking clerk" or "seamstress".)

2. Biscuiterie de l'Abbaye: Galettes des Vikings au Sarrasin.  A packet of bisuits I picked up at a motorway services in Normandy.

[Image source: http://www.boutique-biscuits-abbaye.com/acheter-gateaux.aspx?l=galettes-des-vikings-au-sarrasin&prod=8540 , which also notes: En mémoire du Moulin de la Porte à Lonlay l'Abbaye, autrefois spécialisé dans la mouture du sarrasin, est né un délicieux biscuit, sur lequel figure le célèbre drakkar des Vikings.]

So "sarrasin" is buckwheat. Even in 2010, France's production was exceeded only by China, Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, France is a net importer. Buckwheat growing is said to have declined with the arrival of chemical fertilizers, which boosted the productivity of true grain crops. Unlike them, Buckwheat is not a grass but a plant in the sorrel family, originating in Sichuan. (On this and other matters I found the French Wikipedia entry more persuasive than the English one.) Buckwheat retains an association with Brittany, but also Normandy, Augergne etc. It can grow on poor soils and the cycle from seed-time to harvest is only three months.

The French name "Sarrasin" also means "Saracen" and this may reflect a  popular memory (true or not) of the plant being introduced from Morocco.

"Drakkar" (a word known to the English-speaking world only as the "pour homme" cologne Drakkar Noir) is the French word for a Viking long-ship, specifically the Old Norse drekar, the kind with a dragon or snake carved on the prow. Though this has become the iconic image of a Viking long-ship, the drekar is known only from descriptions in Norse sagas; no archaeological remains have ever been found.

Normandy is so-called in reference to the Scandinavian colonization of the 9th-11th centuries. (Or rather Anglo-Scandinavian, since many came from the Danelaw.) The duchy of Normandy came into existence as a forced royal concession to the Viking leadership.  On the evidence of names most of the Vikings who came to Normandy were Danes.


3. With which slender connection, onto a symphony I've been listening to recently, Carl Nielsen's No. 4, titled Det uudslukkelige : "The Inextinguishable".

I quote Neilsen's further interesting remarks from a Guardian article by Tom Service (these come from Gerhardt Lynge's program note of 1/4/1938).

"Music is Life. As soon as even a single note sounds in the air or through space, it is result of life and movement; that is why music (and the dance) are the more immediate expressions of the will to life.

"The symphony evokes the most primal sources of life and the wellspring of the life-feeling; that is, what lies behind all human, animal and plant life, as we perceive or live it. It is not a musical, programme-like account of the development of a life within a limited stretch of time and space, but an un-programme-like dip right down to the layers of the emotional life that are still half-chaotic and wholly elementary. In other words the opposite of all programme music, despite the fact that this sounds like a programme.

"The symphony is not something with a thought-content, except insofar as the structuring of the various sections and the ordering of the musical material are the fruit of deliberation by the composer in the same way as when an engineer sets up dykes and sluices for the water during a flood. It is in a way a completely thoughtless expression of what make the birds cry, the animals roar, bleat, run and fight, and humans moan, groan exult and shout without any explanation. The symphony does not describe all this, but the basic emotion that lies beneath all this. Music can do just this, it is its most profound quality, its true domain … because, by simply being itself, it has performed its task. For it is life, whereas the other arts only represent and paraphrase life. Life is indomitable and inextinguishable; the struggle, the wrestling, the generation and the wasting away go on today as yesterday, tomorrow as today, and everything returns. Once more: music is life, and like it inextinguishable."

...men et uprogrammæssigt Greb helt ned i de Lag af Følelselivet, som endnu er halvt-kaotiske og helt-elementære. Altsaa det modsatte af al Programmusik, till Trods for at dette lyder som et Program.

Symfonien er ikke et Tankeindhold, uden for saa vidt som Bygningen af de forskellige Afsnit og Ordningen af det musikalske Stof jo er Frugten af en Omtanke fra Komponistens side paa samme Maade, som naar en Ingeniør sætter Diger og Sluser for Vandet under en Oversømmelse. Den er paa en Maade et fuldkommen tankeløst Udtryk for det, der bringer Fuglene til at skrige, Dyrene til at brøle, bræge, løbe og kæmpe, og Menneskene til at jamre, stønne, juble og raabe uden al Forklaring. ...



Nielsen's 4th symphony "The Inextinguishable" came out in 1916.  It was a pretty brilliant time for Nordic symphonies. Sibelius had completed the first version of his 5th (fp 1915), but would continue to revise it for another three years. Stenhammar's marvellous 2nd was completed in 1915. Peterson-Berger's 3rd ("Same Ätnam") appeared in 1915 and Atterbeg's 3rd ("Västkustbilder") in 1916; their best symphonies, and both of them highly programmatic.

The Nordic countries had managed to stay out of the world war, until Finland's civil war of 1918 in the wake of the Russian Revolution. There was plenty of indirect impact, and the War and its unprecendented horrors was anxiously discussed, but Nordic neutrality was steadfast so far as the conflict between Allies and Central Powers was concerned.


Friday, October 27, 2017

balmy sleep

Anne Brontë, aged about 13 (drawing by a 17-year-old Charlotte in 1833)

[Image source: http://kleurrijkbrontesisters.blogspot.co.uk/2012/03/anne-bronte-william-weightman.html]

More info on portraits of Anne: http://www.mick-armitage.staff.shef.ac.uk/anne/ann5face.html . There are none of her as an adult.

No hope, no pleasure can I find;
I am grown weary of my mind;
Often in balmy sleep I try
To gain a rest from misery,

And in one hour of calm repose
To find a respite from my woes;
But dreamless sleep is not for me
And I am still in misery.

(from Anne Brontë, "A Voice from the Dungeon")

The Gondal speaker is a certain Marina Sabia, otherwise unknown.

This exemplifies what makes us warm to Anne, an eighteenth-century (say, Cowperian) firmness of diction, a penetrating insight, a bold straightforwardness of statement,  and all this completely without ego (unlike both her sisters).

The repeat of the word "misery" at the end of successive stanzas, but varied by being made to rhyme with different vowel-sounds, actually recalls to me a mid-sixteenth-century music, maybe Wyatt.

I tried to look up the rhetorical device that Anne uses when she says "balmy sleep", but I failed to find it.  "Balmy" applies to sleep as it ought to be - as it is in books - but clearly not as it's experienced by Marina, whose dreams are terrible, turmoiled things. Even the happy dream of her child and her child's father goes wrong, in the space of a single stanza:

I thought he smiled and spoke to me,
But still in silent ecstasy
I gazed at him, I could not speak;
I uttered one long piercing shriek. ...


Thursday, October 26, 2017

believing the words

Hubbel Palmer as Mr Collins in the 2003 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, transposed to modern-day Utah

[Image source: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/on-line/vol29no1/chan.html]

In Pride and Prejudice, Mr Collins proposes to his cousin Elizabeth Bennet and, of course, she turns him down. Collins, however, doesn't seem to understand the refusal, suggests that young ladies say No when they mean Yes, and ponders aloud: "perhaps you have even now said as much to encourage my suit as would be consistent with the true delicacy of the female character".

Collins is ridiculous, complacent, and utterly lacking in sensibility. But still, his difficulty is genuine. Since he possesses a theory that would fully account for why Elizabeth might refuse his proposal while still intending to marry him, in what sense should he understand her?

A bad situation, this lack of trust in a person's words, and it can lead to worse things than an unduly prolonged proposal.

Collins might have been helped if he had had a little insight into body language and other non-linguistic clues, but that was what not many men of his time did have. Indeed, the question of whether a woman liked a man was deliberately censored from thought. as being indelicate towards the woman as well as uncomfortable for the man to contemplate seriously.

But everyone, not just Mr Collins, is stupid and blind in some respects and to some degree. Collins' difficulty is our difficulty.

What if you believe in despite of the words, or (most likely) you don't know what to believe?

There's no safe advice. You cannot say, for instance:  If in doubt, abide by the words.

And the principle No-one ever got sacked for choosing IBM just doesn't apply when it comes to human relationships.

Cue for another Claes Andersson poem!


Nowadays I don't trust you any more
than I always trusted myself
As soon as I turn my back you deceive me
And right you are
I would do the same if I were I
Someways I'm not me anymore
I get extended bouts of faithfulness and caring
It's some kind of revenge
Now when there's nothing more to massacre
we could have it fairly good together, you and I
But you! You don't mean a word of what I say!
Go to hell but come back

(Trans. Lennart and Sonja Bruce, in Poems in Our Absence, Bonne Chance Press 1994)


Recent dramatizations of this scene have wanted to emphasize the force and conviction of Elizabeth's refusal. Collins' maddening refusal to understand her (in the novel) has tended to be underemphasized.

Jennifer Ehle and David Bamber (1995)

Keira Knightley and Tom Hollander (2005)

Recommended: An edit that combines the above two renderings along with the same scene from the 1940 film featuring Melville Cooper as Collins and Greer Garson as Elizabeth Bennet

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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

the hyperreal -- Gildas

When I was writing about St Martin of Tours recently, it occurred to me that these early saints exist, not quite but almost, entirely in the hyperrealis. We don't know much about the real person or their world. We don't know their character or personality. Most of the stories about them are not designed as biography in any modern sense but to convey pious messages. Management of the hyperreal, that sphere that feeds no-one but has an addictive effect on people's imaginations, --- this management was already being skilfully exercised by the medieval church.  Though today we are swamped by the hyperreal (so that, for example, nearly all news and public debate is about mainly unreal topics) it's nothing new.

The saint can be pictured as a very small stick-figure (representing what is concretely known about the person) who is dwarfed by a loosely attached but very large, billowing nebula of hyperreality; that is, the saint's myths and legends, traditions, associations, iconography, feasts and customs, patronage and so forth.

This large hyperreal element, projecting far into the future, touches the lives of millions of people across the millennia. As the saint's hyperreal nebula grows, it absorbs more and more material, and this material derives not from the original saint but from the lives of others, so that in the end the hyperreal nebula is not only an influential control on larger communities, but is also itself a communal creation.

Shakespeare understood the mechanism of it well. With reference to today's feast:

This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when the day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars.
And say 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day: then shall our names.
Familiar in his mouth as household words
Harry the king, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remember'd.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remember'd;

[Quoted this morning on Radio 3, which I was listening to on the way to work. By the way, there was also mention of the prominence of St Crispin, as patron saint of cobblers, in Wagner's Die Meistersinger ..]


Peter Philpott, re Arthur (in Wound Scar Memories):

Probably, if he existed (ie a dude called something Artorial doing some important stuff against the "Anglo-Saxons"), a little earlier than Cerdic. Probably, too, also not a king, but a warband leader, a dux. OK -- so Gildas doesn't mention him: his On the Ruin of Britain (De Excidio Britanniae), written early or mid Sixth Century, is the only British/Welsh contemporary narrative of the post-colonial period dealing with the early "Welsh" kingdoms. It is a splenetic sermon, a rant addressed to those who know what he's talking about, in which actual leaders are transformed into political cartoon monsters. It is like trying to obtain historical information from the cartoons of Steve Bell or Martin Rowson.

("Not a Note on Some Matters with Britain", Wound Scar Memory p. 68).

PP's casual language is the perfect vehicle for engaging with and just about emerging from the stew of hyperrealism that passes for Dark-Age history. The language tacitly acknowledges, too, that any statement about a hyperrealized topic tends to become meta-statement, ie it is apt to be only about the hyperreal component that it feeds, while the core matter slips away. (That's why nearly all media stories are about media stories.)  PP recognizes that we live in "circulating words".  Cue for more seasonal verse.

1. wound scar memory

OK, then, it's dying down into winter now so
turn on the fairy lanterns to light our way
ignore this darkness, spike it all with glow
the day shrivels so we can transform our nights

that's it; that something may resist, survive
hold our lives awhile in something like delight
even if only in our most common struggle
holding off our end for what we choose as life

here, this is us as people, all of us to enjoy
circulating words, bodies & our food
that we have made together as we wish: night
with all its force awaits; we don't but
hesitant at first, then rushing, reach out & share
human solace over fate, all our delight in the air

(from the sequence "Action in the Play Zone", in Wound Scar Memory)

Let's have some sentences from Gildas, or at any rate the Englished version of Gildas.


"It is protected by the wide, and if I may so say, impassable circle of the sea on all sides, with the exception of the straits on the south coast where ships sail to Belgic Gaul."

Not so very well protected, if Gildas himself is to be believed. Here is Gildas's influential account of the Saxon incomers' rapacity and deceit.

"Then there breaks forth a brood of whelps from the lair of the savage lioness, in three cyulae (keels), as it is expressed in their language, but in ours, in ships of war under full sail, with omens and divinations. In these it was foretold, there being a prophecy firmly relied upon among them, that they should occupy the country to which the bows of their ships were turned, for three hundred years; for one hundred and fifty----that is for half the time----they should make frequent devastations. They sailed out, and at the directions of the unlucky tyrant, first fixed their dreadful talons in the eastern part of the island, as men intending to fight for the country, but more truly to assail it."

Happily, this rascally crew of foreigners were utterly routed at Mount Badon. But...

"The recollection of so hopeless a ruin of the island, and of the unlooked-for help, has been fixed in the memory of those who have survived as witnesses of both marvels. Owing to this (aid) kings, magistrates, private persons, priests, ecclesiastics, severally preserved their own rank. As they died away, when an age had succeeded ignorant of that storm, and having experience only of the present quiet, all the controlling influences of truth and justice were so shaken and overturned that, not to speak of traces, not even the remembrance of them is to be found among the ranks named above..."

Gildas' address to one of the five evil rulers, "Aurelius Caninus":

"Thou also, lion whelp, as the prophet says, what doest thou, Aurelius Caninus? Art thou not swallowed up in the same, if not more destructive, filth, as the man previously mentioned, the filth of murders, fornications, adulteries, like sea-waves rushing fatally upon thee? Hast thou not by thy hatred of thy country's peace, as if it were a deadly serpent, or by thy iniquitous thirst for civil wars and repeated spoils, closed the doors of heavenly peace and repose for thy soul? Left alone now, like a dry tree in the midst of a field, remember, I pray thee, the pride of thy fathers and brothers, with their early and untimely death. Wilt thou, because of pious deserts, an exception to almost all thy family, survive for a hundred years, or be of the years of Methuselah? No. But unless, as the Psalmist says, thou be very speedily converted to the Lord, that King will soon brandish his sword against thee; who says by the prophet: I will kill and I will make alive: I shall wound and I shall heal, and there is none that can deliver out of my hand. Wherefore shake thyself from thy filthy dust, and turn unto Him with thy whole heart, unto Him who created thee, so that when His anger quickly kindles, thou mayest be blest, hoping in Him. But if not so, eternal pains await thee, who shalt be always tormented, without being consumed, in the dread jaws of hell."

Gildas' idealism, disappointed by the clergy of his time:

"But let us also see the following words: Ruling his own house well, having his children in subjection with all chastity. The chastity of the fathers is therefore imperfect, if that of the children is not added to it. But what shall be where neither father nor son (depraved by the example of a wicked parent) is found to be chaste? But if a man knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he show care of the church of God? Here are words that are proved by effects that admit of no doubt. Deacons in like manner must be chaste, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not following after filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. But let these first be proved, and thus let them serve if they are without reproach. With a shudder, indeed, at having to linger long at these things, I can with truth make one statement, that is, all these are changed into the contrary deeds, so that the clergy are (a confession I make not without sorrow of heart) unchaste, double-tongued, drunk, greedy of filthy lucre, having the faith, and, to speak with more truth, the want of faith, in an impure conscience, ministering not as men proved good in work, but as known beforehand in evil work, and, though with innumerable charges of crime, admitted to the sacred ministry."

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