Friday, October 31, 2008

The Gloomy Academic by Louis MacNeice

Sappho and Alcaeus by Alma-Tadema, 1881
The Gloomy Academic
by Louis MacNeice

The Glory that was Greece: put it in a syllabus, grade it
Page by page
To train the mind or even to point a moral
For the present age:
Models of logic and lucidity, dignity, sanity,
The golden mean between opposing ills...
But I can do nothing so useful or so simple;
These dead are dead
And when I should remember the paragons of Hellas
I think instead
Of the crooks, the adventurers, the opportunists,
The careless athletes and the fancy boys,
The hair-splitters, the pedants, the hard-boiled sceptics
And the Agora and the noise
Of the demagogues and the quacks; and the women pouring
Libations over graves
And the trimmers at Delphi and the dummies at Sparta and lastly
I think of the slaves.
And how one can imagine oneself among them
I do not know;
It was all so unimaginably different
And all so long ago.

Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats


Sailing to Byzantium
by William Butler Yeats

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another's arms, birds in the trees
- Those dying generations - at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence;
And therefore I have sailed the seas and come
To the holy city of Byzantium.

O sages standing in God's holy fire
As in the gold mosaic of a wall,
Come from the holy fire, perne in a gyre,
And be the singing-masters of my soul.
Consume my heart away; sick with desire
And fastened to a dying animal
It knows not what it is; and gather me
Into the artifice of eternity.

Once out of nature I shall never take
My bodily form from any natural thing,
But such a form as Grecian goldsmiths make
Of hammered gold and gold enamelling
To keep a drowsy Emperor awake;
Or set upon a golden bough to sing
To lords and ladies of Byzantium
Of what is past, or passing, or to come.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Falling Down is Part of Growing Up

"With each tottering attempt to walk, our bodies learn from the falls what not to do next time. In time we walk without thinking and think without falling, but it is not so much that we have learned how to walk as we have learned not to fall."
To Engineer Is Human by Henry Petroski page 13

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Skippery Boo by Earl L. Newton

The Skippery Boo
By Earl L. Newton

I went to bring,
From the rippling spring,
One morning dry and damp,
A brimming pail
Of Adam's ale
For use about the camp;
My happy frame
Did well proclaim
A cheerful bent of mind,
And I hummed a song,
As I loped along,
Of the most enchanting kind.
But my heart stood still,
As I turned the hill,
And the spring came to my view,
For drinking there
Of the potion rare,
Was the terrible Skippery Boo.

He drank his fill
From the flowing rill,
And shook his mighty mane,
Then with his jaws
And his hairy paws,
He ripped a tree in twain.
With fear and dread
To camp I sped,
For my trusty .30 bore,
Then turned about
With daring shout,
And sought the spring once more;
But though my feet
With speed were fleet,
As o'er the glade I flew,
No sign was there
On earth, in air,
Of the slippery Skippery Boo.

To left and right
I strained my sight,
To find where he had gone,
Among the pines
I sought for signs,
But found not a single one.
To East and West
I turned my quest,
But all to no avail,
No trace I found
On gorse or ground,
Of his departing trail.
And then aloft
My gaze I doffed,
And there in the hazy blue,
On the topmost spine
Of the tallest pine,
Hung the fabulous Skippery Boo.

Oh, the Skippery Boo
Is a fanciful zoo:
A mermaid and a bat,
A grizzly hare
And a webfoot bear,
A goof and a bumble-cat.
He can fell an oak
With a single stroke,
Or shatter a mountain side,
Then lightly rise
To the azure skies,
And light as a zephyr ride.
My heart he fills
With terror's chills,
Oh, don't know what I'd do,
If some dark night,
In broad daylight,
I should meet a Skippery Boo.

A poison flows
From his warty toes,
And the grass where he shall tread,
Shall wilt and fade
At evening's shade,
And tomorrow shall be dead.
And who shall walk
Where he shall stalk,
O'er valley, hill or plain,
Shall die, 'tis said,
Of illness dread,
And a terrible dark-green pain.
So as you wade
This vale of shade,
And jog life's journey through,
At day, at night,
Be it dark or light,
Watch out for the Skippery Boo.

The Happy Family by John Ciardi

The Happy Family
by John Ciardi

Before the children say goodnight,
Mother, Father, stop and think:
Have you screwed their heads on tight?
Have you washed their ears with ink?

Have you said and done and thought
All the earnest parents should?
Have you beaten them as you ought:
Have you begged them to be good?

And above all - when you start
Out the door and douse the light -
Think, be certain, search your heart:
Have you screwed their heads on tight?

If they sneeze when they're asleep,
Will their little heads come off?
If they just breathe very deep?
If - especially - they cough?

Should - alas! - the little dears
Lose a little head or two,
Have you inked their little ears:
Girls' ears pink and boys' ears blue?

Children's heads are very loose.
Mother, Father, screw them tight.
If you feel uncertain use
A monkey wrench, but do it right.

If a head should come unscrewed
You will know that you have failed.
Doubtful cases should be glued.
Stubborn cases should be nailed.

Then when all your darlings go
Sweetly screaming off to bed,
Mother, Father, you may know
Angels guard each little head.

Come the morning you will find
One by one each little head
Fill of gentle thoughts and kind,
Sweetly screaming to be fed.

The Song of Mr. Toad by Kenneth Grahame

The Song of Mr. Toad
by Kenneth Grahame

The world has held great Heroes,
As history-books have showed;
But never a name to go down to fame
Compared with that of Toad

The clever men at Oxford
Know all that there is to be knowed.
But they none of them knew one half as much
As intelligent Mr. Toad!

The animals sat in the Ark and cried,
Their tears in torrents flowed.
Who was it said, "There's land ahead?"
Encouraging Mr. Toad!

The Army all saluted
As they marched along the road.
Was it the King? Or Kitchener?
No. It was Mr. Toad!

The Queen and her Ladies-in-waiting
Sat at the window and sewed.
She cried, "Look! who's that handsome man?"
They answered, "Mr. Toad."

On the Ning Nang Nong by Spike Milligan

On the Ning Nang Nong
By Spike Milligan

On the Ning Nang Nong
Where the Cows go Bong!
And the monkeys all say BOO!
There's a Nong Nang Ning
Where the trees go Ping!
And the tea pots Jibber Jabber Joo.
On the Nong Ning Nang
All the mice go Clang
And you just can't catch 'em when they do!
So its Ning Nang Nong!
Cows go Bong!
Nong Nang Ning !
Trees go Ping !
Nong Ning Nang !
The mice go Clang!
What a noisy place to belong
Is the Ning Nang Ning Nang Nong!!

The Panther by Ogden Nash

The Panther
By Ogden Nash

The panther is like a leopard,
Except it hasn't been peppered.
Should you behold a panther crouch,
Prepare to say Ouch.
Better yet, if called by a panther,
Don't anther.

The Pobble Who Has No Toes by Edward Lear

The Pobble Who Has No Toes
By Edward Lear

The Pobble who has no toes
Had once as many as we;
When they said, 'Some day you may lose them all;'--
He replied, -- 'Fish fiddle de-dee!'
And his Aunt Jobiska made him drink,
Lavender water tinged with pink,
For she said, 'The World in general knows
There's nothing so good for a Pobble's toes!'

The Pobble who has no toes,
Swam across the Bristol Channel;
But before he set out he wrapped his nose,
In a piece of scarlet flannel.
For his Aunt Jobiska said, 'No harm
'Can come to his toes if his nose is warm;
'And it's perfectly known that a Pobble's toes
'Are safe, -- provided he minds his nose.'

The Pobble swam fast and well
And when boats or ships came near him
He tinkedly-binkledy-winkled a bell
So that all the world could hear him.
And all the Sailors and Admirals cried,
When they saw him nearing the further side,--
'He has gone to fish, for his Aunt Jobiska's
'Runcible Cat with crimson whiskers!'

But before he touched the shore,
The shore of the Bristol Channel,
A sea-green Porpoise carried away
His wrapper of scarlet flannel.
And when he came to observe his feet
Formerly garnished with toes so neat
His face at once became forlorn
On perceiving that all his toes were gone!

And nobody ever knew
From that dark day to the present,
Whoso had taken the Pobble's toes,
In a manner so far from pleasant.
Whether the shrimps or crawfish gray,
Or crafty Mermaids stole them away --
Nobody knew; and nobody knows
How the Pebble was robbed of his twice five toes!

The Pobble who has no toes
Was placed in a friendly Bark,
And they rowed him back, and carried him up,
To his Aunt Jobiska's Park.
And she made him a feast at his earnest wish
Of eggs and buttercups fried with fish;--
And she said,-- 'It's a fact the whole world knows,
'That Pebbles are happier without their toes.'

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat by Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat
Edward Lear

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea
In a beautiful pea-green boat,
They took some honey, and plenty of money,
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.
The Owl looked up to the stars above,
And sang to a small guitar,
"O lovely Pussy! O Pussy, my love,
"What a beautiful Pussy you are,
"You are,
"You are!
"What a beautiful Pussy you are!"

Pussy said to the Owl, "You elegant fowl!
"How charmingly sweet you sing!
"O let us be married! too long we have tarried!
"But what shall we do for a ring?"
They sailed away for a year and a day,
To the land where the Bong-tree grows,
And there in a wood a Piggy-wig stood,
With a ring at the end of his nose,
His nose,
His nose,
With a ring at the end of his nose.

"Dear Pig, are you willing to sell for one schilling
"Your ring?" Said the Piggy, "I will."
So they took it away, and were married next day
By the Turkey who lives on the hill.
They dined on mince, and slices of quince,
Which they ate with a runcible spoon;
And hand in hand, on the edge of the sand,
They danced by the light of the moon,
The moon,
The moon,
They danced by the light of the moon.

Calico Pie by Edward Lear

Calico Pie
by Edward Lear

Calico Pie,
The little birds fly
Down to the calico tree,
Their wings were blue,
And they sang "Tilly-loo!"
Till away they flew,--
And they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Jam,
The little Fish swam
Over the syllabub sea.
He took off his hat,
To the Sole and the Sprat,
And the Willeby-wat,--
But he never came back to me!
He never came back!
He never came back!
He never came back to me!

Calico Ban,
The little Mice ran,
To be ready in time for tea,
Flippity flup,
They drank it all up,
And danced in the cup,--
But they never came back to me!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

Calico Drum,
The grasshoppers come,
The Butterfly, Beetle, and Bee,
Over the ground,
Around and round,
With a hop and a bound,--
But they never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back!
They never came back to me!

The Lobster Quadrille by Lewis Carroll

The Lobster Quadrille
By Lewis Carroll

"Will you walk a little faster?" said a whiting to a snail,
"There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my
See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance!
They are waiting on the shingle—will you come and join the
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the

"You can really have no notion how delightful it will be
When they take us up and throw us, with the lobsters, out
to sea!"
But the snail replied, "Too far, too far!" and gave a look
Said he thanked the whiting kindly, but he would not join
the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, would not join
the dance.
Would not, could not, would not, could not, could not join
the dance.

"What matters it how far we go?" his scaly friend replied.
"There is another shore, you know, upon the other side.
The further off from England the nearer is to France-
Then turn not pale, beloved snail, but come and join the
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the
Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, won’t you join the

The Walrus and the Carpenter by Lewis Carroll

The Walrus and the Carpenter
by Lewis Carroll

The sun was shining on the sea,
Shining with all his might;
He did his very best to make
The billows smooth and bright--
And this was odd, because it was
The middle of the night.

The moon was shining sulkily,
Because she thought the sun
Had got no business to be there
After the day was done--
"It's very rude of him," she said,
"To come and spoil the fun!"

The sea was wet as wet could be,
The sands were dry as dry.
You could not see a cloud, because
No cloud was in the sky;
No birds were flying overhead--
There were no birds to fly.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Were walking close at hand;
They wept like anything to see
Such quantities of sand--
"If this were only cleared away,"
They said, "it would be grand!"

"If seven maids with seven mops
Swept it for half a year,
Do you suppose," the Walrus said,
"That they could get it clear?"
"I doubt it," said the Carpenter,
And shed a bitter tear.

"O Oysters, come and walk with us!"
The Walrus did beseech.
"A Pleasant walk, a pleasant talk,
Along the briny beach;
We cannot do with more than four,
To give a hand to each."

The eldest Oyster looked at him,
But never a word he said;
The eldest Oyster winked his eye,
And shook his heavy head--
Meaning to say he did not choose
To leave the oyster-bed.

But four young Oysters hurried up,
All eager for the treat;
Their coats were brushed, their faces washed,
Their shoes were clean and neat--
And this was odd, because, you know,
They hadn't any feet.

Four other Oysters followed them,
And yet another four;
And thick and fast they came at last,
And more, and more, and more--
All hopping through the frothy waves,
And scrambling to the shore.

The Walrus and the Carpenter
Walked on a mile or so,
And then they rested on a rock
Conveniently low--
And all the little Oysters stood
And waited in a row.

"The time has come," the Walrus said,
"To talk of many things:
Of shoes -- and ships -- and sealing-wax --
Of cabbages -- and kings --
And why the sea is boiling hot--
And whether pigs have wings."

"But wait a bit," the Oysters cried,
"Before we have our chat;
For some of us are out of breath,
And all of us are fat!"
"No hurry!" said the Carpenter.
They thanked him much for that.

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,
"Is what we chiefly need;
Pepper and vinegar besides
Are very good indeed--
Now, if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

"But not on us!" the Oysters cried,
Turning a little blue.
"After such kindness, that would be
A dismal thing to do!"
"The night is fine," the Walrus said.
"Do you admire the view?"

"It was so kind of you to come!
And you are very nice!"
The Carpenter said nothing but,
"Cut us another slice.
I wish you were not quite so deaf--
I've had to ask you twice!"

"It seems a shame," the Walrus said,
"To play them such a trick.
After we've brought them out so far,
And made them trot so quick!"
The Carpenter said nothing but,
"The butter's spread too thick!"

"I weep for you," the Walrus said;
"I deeply sympathize."
With sobs and tears he sorted out
Those of the largest size,
Holding his pocket-handkerchief
Before his streaming eyes.

"O Oysters," said the Carpenter,
"You've had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?"
But answer came there none--
And this was scarcely odd, because
They'd eaten every one.

Father William by Lewis Carroll

Father William
by Lewis Carroll

"You are old, Father William," the young man said,
"And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head--
Do you think, at your age, it is right?"

"In my youth," Father William replied to his son,
"I feared it might injure the brain;
But, now that I'm perfectly sure I have none,
Why, I do it again and again."

"You are old," said the youth, "as I mentioned before,
And have grown most uncommonly fat;
Yet you turned a back-somersault in at the door--
Pray, what is the reason of that?"

"In my youth," said the sage, as he shook his gray locks,
"I kept all my limbs very supple
By the use of this ointment -- one shilling the box --
Allow me to sell you a couple?"

"You are old," said the youth, "and your jaws are too weak
For anything tougher than suet;
Yet you finished the goose, with the bones and the beak--
Pray, how did you manage to do it?"

"In my youth," said his father, "I took to the law,
And argued each case with my wife;
And the muscular strength which it gave to my jaw
Has lasted the rest of my life."

"You are old," said the youth, "one would hardly suppose
That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose--
What made you so awfully clever?"

"I have answered three questions, and that is enough,"
Said his father; "don't give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
Be off, or I'll kick you down-stairs!"

Hearn and Lowell

I picked up a copy of Selected Poems by Robert Lowell at one of my favorite used bookstores yesterday. I have been aware of Lowell as a poet for the past ten or twenty years and I am sure I have read some of his poems but nothing has stuck or resonated. Thinking to deepen my exposure and see if I might find something that I like, I leafed through the book and came across a poem that, in passing, references Lafcadio Hearn. Hearn was a fascinating individual who was one of the early Westerners to take up residence in Japan in 1890, ultimately becoming a naturalized Japanese citizen. He wrote many books about Japan and in particular Japanese folklore and myths, many of which were pitched towards children. It was an illustrated version of one of his stories which introduced me to Japan as a very young child. Among the titles still in print are Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things (Independent Reader), Lafcadio Hearn's Japan: An Anthology of His Writings on the Country and Its People (Young Adult), and The Funny Little Woman (Picture Book).

Here is the poem from Lowell that brought Hearn to mind.

Father's Bedroom
by Robert Lowell

In my Father's bedroom:
blue threads as thin
as pen-writing on the bedspread,
blue dots on the curtains,
a blue kimono,
Chinese sandals with blue plush straps.
The broad-planked floor
had a sandpapered neatness.
The clear glass bed-lamp
with a white doily shade
was still raised a few
inches by resting on volume two
of Lafcadio Hearn's
Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.
Its warped olive cover
was punished like a rhinoceros hide.
In the flyleaf:
"Robbie from Mother."
Years later in the same hand:
"This book has had hard usage
on the Yangtze River, China.
It was left under an open
porthole in a storm."

Monday, October 13, 2008

What's new is old

For years I have heard readers and writers that I respect reference F.A. Hayek's Road to Serfdom as a critical book in their own development. I recently picked up a copy. Written originally in 1944 in the context of the various totalitarian regimes of the Second World War (Communism, National Socialism, and Fascism), this was Hayek's reflection on the nature of and contest between individual liberty and government authority. I have only started the book but there are a number of items that seem awfully pertinent in this time of financial market turmoil with almost universal pleading for interventions to mitigate that which has been well anticipated for nearly a decade (a deflation of the asset bubble).

Hayek serves a prefatory and cautionary quote from David Hume "It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once."

His opening paragraph is worth quoting at length - we have travelled these paths before and it warrants keeping things in perspective while all the Chicken Little's are squawking so loudly.

The Abandoned Road
A program whose basic thesis is, not that the system of free enterprise for profit has failed in this generation, but that it has not yet been tried.- F.D. Roosevelt

When the course of civilization takes an unexpected turn - when, instead of the continuous progress which we have come to expect, we find ourselves threatened by evils associated by us with past ages of barbarism - we naturally blame anything but ourselves. Have we not all striven according to our best lights, and have not many of our finest minds incessantly worked to make this a better world? Have not all our efforts and hopes been directed toward greater freedom, justice, and prosperity? If the outcome is so different from our aims - if, instead of freedom and prosperity, bondage and misery stare us in the face - is it not clear that sinister forces must have foiled our intentions, that we are the victims of some evil power which must be conquered before we can resume the road to better things? However much we may differ when we name the culprit - whether it is the wicked capitalist or the vicious spirit of a particular nation, the stupidity of our elders, or a social system not yet, although we have struggled against it for half a century, fully overthrown - we all are, or at least were until recently, certain of one thing: that the leading ideas which during the last generation have become common to most people of good will and have determined the major changes in our social life cannot have been wrong. We are ready to accept almost any explanation of the present crisis of our civilization except one: that the present state of the world may be the result of genuine error on our own part and that the pursuit of some of our most cherished ideals has apparently produced results utterly different from those which we expected.