Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Messmates by Henry Newbolt

Messmates
by Henry Newbolt

He gave us all a good-bye cheerily
At the first dawn of day;
We dropped him down the side full drearily
When the light died away.
It's a dead dark watch that he's a-keeping there,
And a long, long night that lags a-creeping there,
Where the Trades and the tides roll over him
And the great ships go by.

He's there alone with green seas rocking him
For a thousand miles round ;
He's there alone with dumb things mocking him,
And we're homeward bound.
It's a long, lone watch that he's a-keeping there,
And a dead cold night that lags a-creeping there,
While the months and the years roll over him
And the great ships go by.

I wonder if the tramps come near enough-
As they thrash to and fro,
And the battleship's bells ring clear enough
To be heard down below ;
If through all the lone watch that he's a-keeping there,
And the long, cold night that lags a-creeping there
The voices of the sailor-men shall comfort him
When the great ships go by.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Seems right

Christopher Hitchins:

"Politics is show business for ugly people."

Maud Muller

Maud Muller
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Maud Muller on a summer's day
Raked the meadow sweet with hay.

Beneath her torn hat glowed the wealth
Of simple beauty and rustic health.

Singing, she wrought, and her merry glee
The mock-bird echoed from his tree.

But when she glanced to the far-off town
White from its hill-slope looking down,

The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast,-

A wish that she hardly dared to own,
For something better than she had known.

The Judge rode slowly down the lane,
Smoothing his horse's chestnut mane.

He drew his bridle in the shade
Of the apple-trees, to greet the maid,

And asked a draught from the spring that flowed
Through the meadow across the road.

She stooped where the cool spring bubbled up,
And filled for him her small tin cup,

And blushed as she gave it, looking down
On her feet so bare, and her tattered gown.

"Thanks!" said the Judge; "a sweeter draught
From a fairer hand was never quaffed."

He spoke of the grass and flowers and trees,
Of the singing birds and the humming bees;

Then talked of the haying, and wondered whether
The cloud in the west would bring foul weather.

And Maud forgot her brier-torn gown
And her graceful ankles bare and brown;

And listened, while a pleased surprise
Looked from her long-lashed hazel eyes.

At last, like one who for delay
Seeks a vain excuse, he rode away.

Maud Muller looked and sighed: "Ah me!
That I the Judge's bride might be!

"He would dress me up in silks so fine,
And praise and toast me at his wine.

"My father should wear a broadcloth coat;
My brother should sail a pointed boat.

"I'd dress my mother so grand and gay,
And the baby should have a new toy each day.

"And I'd feed the hungry and clothe the poor,
And all should bless me who left our door."

The Judge looked back as he climbed the hill,
And saw Maud Muller standing still.

"A form more fair, a face more sweet,
Ne'er hath it been my lot to meet.

"And her modest answer and graceful air
Show her wise and good as she is fair.

"Would she were mine, and I to-day,
Like her, a harvester of hay.

"No doubtful balance of rights and wrongs,
Nor weary lawyers with endless tongues,

"But low of cattle and song of birds,
And health and quiet and loving words."

But he thought of his sisters, proud and cold,
And his mother, vain of her rank and gold.

So, closing his heart, the Judge rode on,
And Maud was left in the field alone.

But the lawyers smiled that afternoon,
When he hummed in court an old love-tune;

And the young girl mused beside the well
Till the rain on the unraked clover fell.

He wedded a wife of richest dower,
Who lived for fashion, as he for power.

Yet oft, in his marble hearth's bright glow,
He watched a picture come and go;

And sweet Maud Muller's hazel eyes
Looked out in their innocent surprise.

Oft, when the wine in his glass was red,
He longed for the wayside well instead;

And closed his eyes on his garnished rooms
To dream of meadows and clover-blooms.

And the proud man sighed, and with a secret pain,
"Ah, that I were free again!

"Free as when I rode that day,
Where the barefoot maiden raked her hay."

She wedded a man unlearned and poor,
And many children played round her door.

But care and sorrow, and childbirth pain,
Left their traces on heart and brain.

And oft, when the summer sun shone hot
On the new-mown hay in the meadow lot,

And she heard the little spring brook fall
Over the roadside, through a wall,

In the shade of the apple-tree again
She saw a rider draw his rein;

And, gazing down with timid grace,
She felt his pleased eyes read her face.

Sometimes her narrow kitchen walls
Stretched away into stately halls;

The weary wheel to a spinet turned,
The tallow candle an astral burned,

And for him who sat by the chimney lug,
Dozing and grumbling o'er pipe and mug,

A manly form at her side she saw,
And joy was duty and love was law.

Then she took up her burden of life again,
Saying only, "It might have been."

Alas for the maiden, alas for the Judge,
For rich repiner and househole drudge!

God pity them both and pity us all,
Who vainly the dreams of youth recall.

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: "It might have been!"

Ah, well! for us all some sweet hope lies
Deeply buried from human eyes;

And, in the hereafter, angels may
Roll the stone from its grave away!

Why do so many people read so little?

We have been working on this for some time. Selling books to the already committed reader is rewarding to an extent but where we can really make a difference is when we can help create a newly enthusiastic reader or resucitate a lapsed reader (principally by helping them find the books that are of greatest interest and are most meaningful to them.)

Here is the context for our thinking:



And here is why the issue is not simply one of giving books away.



Our attempt at a problem statement:



And our initial cut at a root-cause analysis:



And a narrative discussion of these issues:



As always, comments and suggestions in the comment box or directly to charles.bayless@ttmd.com are welcome.

Reading and Desirable Life Outcomes

We take it as read that reading is something that prepares a person for having and making good choices in life. But what is the evidence for that proposition and is it true?

Here are a couple of ways of making the connection; principally through the observation that the habit of presistent reading fosters certain behaviors and attributes which in turn are critical for good life decisions.



Or alternatively and a little less gastronomically:



And here is the associated discussion document. Feel free to contribute in the comments section or directly to charles.bayless@ttmd.com.

Growing a Reading Culture

I have at last gotten around to loading a number of presentations and slides which we routinely use at Through the Magic Door. One of the foundation slides is Growing a Reading Culture which identifies those key actions that a parent can undertake to establish a reading culture in their home and which will increase the probability of their children acquiring the habit of reading.



The associated presentation providing both some narrative as well as the factual research supporting these actions is here.



Comments and suggestions welcome in either the comments section or directly to charles.bayless@ttmd.com.

Monday, June 22, 2009

We must drink to one Saint more!

King Witlaf's Drinking-Horn
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Witlaf, a king of the Saxons,
Ere yet his last he breathed,
To the merry monks of Croyland
His drinking-horn bequeathed,--

That, whenever they sat at their revels,
And drank from the golden bowl,
They might remember the donor,
And breathe a prayer for his soul.

So sat they once at Christmas,
And bade the goblet pass;
In their beards the red wine glistened
Like dew-drops in the grass.

They drank to the soul of Witlaf,
They drank to Christ the Lord,
And to each of the Twelve Apostles,
Who had preached his holy word.

They drank to the Saints and Martyrs
Of the dismal days of yore,
And as soon as the horn was empty
They remembered one Saint more.

And the reader droned from the pulpit
Like the murmur of many bees,
The legend of good Saint Guthlac,
And Saint Basil's homilies;

Till the great bells of the convent,
From their prison in the tower,
Guthlac and Bartholomaeus,
Proclaimed the midnight hour.

And the Yule-log cracked in the chimney,
And the Abbot bowed his head,
And the flamelets flapped and flickered,
But the Abbot was stark and dead.

Yet still in his pallid fingers
He clutched the golden bowl,
In which, like a pearl dissolving,
Had sunk and dissolved his soul.

But not for this their revels
The jovial monks forbore,
For they cried, "Fill high the goblet!
We must drink to one Saint more!"

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana

Spent an hour this afternoon at the Book Nook with my youngest son. Found some books for just about everyone. I also picked up a complete Longfellow's Complete Poems published in 1922. When I was going through it on getting home, I realized it was inscribed:
Best wishes,

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow Dana

A little searching reveals that this most literary of names belongs to the grandson of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. HWLD lived from 1881 - 1950, was a professor at Harvard and then Columbia University till he was fired for his anti-war positions in 1917.

A small rivulet of history and literature of which I was unaware, washed into my hands through the magic of a used bookstore. One can only speculate by what circuitous path it made its way from presumably the northeast in 1922 to Atlanta in 2009, but I am happy that it did.

Shades of Lawrence Durrell's Antrobus

Reading this alleged report of an evening's concert performance in Bangkok, Thailand, it sounded too good to be true. Apparently the original article was written by Kenneth Langbell and ran in the May 27, 1967 edition of the English language Bangkok Post. So it is a proper article by a real writer from that date. The only thing missing in most of the re-postings and forwardings of the article over the years is that Kenneth Langbell was a humorist, not a music critic, and that this was always a satirical send-up of reviewers, not a factual report of an evening's performance. Apparently in musical circles, this article receives periodic recirculation as a straight piece of reporting. It must rank up there with Orson Welles' production of The War of the Worlds in its ability to adopt the guise of credibility. For complete background, see Chop Chop at Snopes.com.
A Humid Recital Stirs Bangkok

(This review, by Kenneth Langbell, appeared in the English language Bangkok Post.)

THE RECITAL last evening in the chamber music room of the Erewan Hotel by U.S. pianist Myron Kropp, the first appearance of Mr. Kropp in Bangkok, can only be described by this reviewer and those who witnessed Mr. Kropp's performance as one of the most interesting experiences in a long time.

A hush fell over the room as Mr. Kropp appeared from the right of the stage, attired in black formal evening-wear with a small, white poppy in his lapel. With sparse, sandy hair, a sallow complexion and a deceptively frail looking frame, the man who has repopularized Johann Sebastian Bach approached the Baldwin Concert Grand, bowed to the audience and placed himself upon the stool.

It might be appropriate to insert at this juncture that many pianists, including Mr. Kropp, prefer a bench, maintaining that on a screw-type stool they sometimes find themselves turning sideways during a particularly expressive strain. There was a slight delay, in fact, as Mr. Kropp left the stage briefly, apparently in search of a bench, but returned when informed there was none.

AS I HAVE mentioned on several other occasions, the Baldwin Concert Grand, while basically a fine instrument, needs constant attention, particularly in a climate such as Bangkok. This is even more true when the instrument is as old as the one provided in the chamber music room of the Erewan Hotel. In this humudity the felts which separate the white keys from the black tend to swell, causing an occasional key to stick, which apparently was the case last evening with the D in the second octave.

During the "raging storm" section of the D-Minor Toccata and Fugue, Mr. Kropp must be complimented for putting up with the awkward D. However, by the time the "storm" was past and he had gotten into the Prelude and Fugue in D Major, in which the second octave D plays a major role, Mr. Kropp's patience was wearing thin.

Some who attended the performance later questioned whether the awkward key justified some of the language which was heard coming from the stage during softer passages of the fugue. However, one member of the audience, who had sent his children out of the room by the midway point of the fugue, had a valid point when he commented over the music and extemporaneous remarks of Mr. Kropp that the workman who greased the stool might have done better to use some of the grease on the second octave D. Indeed, Mr. Kropp's stool had more than enough grease, and during one passage in which the music and lyrics both were particularly violent Mr. Kropp was turned completely around. Whereas before his remarks had been aimed largely at the piano and were therefore somewhat muted, to his surprise and that of those in the chamber music room he found himself addressing himself directly to the audience.

BUT SUCH THINGS do happen, and the person who began to laugh deserves to be severely reprimanded for this undignified behavior. Unfortunately, laughter is contagious, and by the time it had subsided and the audience had regained its composure Mr. Kropp appeared to be somewhat shaken. Nevertheless he swiveled himself back into position facing the piano
and, leaving the D-Major Fugue unfinished, commenced on the Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor.

Why the concert grand piano's G key in the third octave chose that particular time to begin sticking I hesitate to guess. However, it is certainly safe to say that Mr. Kropp himself did nothing to help matters when he began using his feet to kick the lower portion of the piano
instead of operating the pedals as is generally done.

Possibly it was this jarring, or the un-Bach-like hammering to which the sticking keyboard was being subjected. Something caused the right front leg of the piano to buckle slightly inward, leaving the entire instrument listing at approximately a 35-degree angle from that which is
normal. A gasp went up from the audience, for if the piano had actually fallen several of Mr. Kropp's toes, if not both his feet, would surely have been broken.

It was with a sigh of relief, therefore, that the audience saw Mr. Kropp slowly rise from the stool and leave the stage. A few men in the back of the room began clapping, and when Mr. Kropp reappeared a moment later it seemed he was responding to the ovation. Apparently, however, he had left to get the red-handled fire ax which was hung back stage in case of fire, for that was what he had in his hand.

MY FIRST REACTION at seeing Mr. Kropp begin to chop at the left leg of the grand piano was that he was attempting to make it tilt at the same angle as the right leg and thereby correct the list. However, when the weakened legs finally collapsed altogether and Mr. Kropp continued to
chop, it became obvious to all that he had no intention of going on with the concert.

The ushers, who had heard the snapping of piano wires and splintering of sounding board from the dining room, came rushing in and, with the help of the hotel manager, two Indian watchmen and a passing police corporal, finally succeeded in disarming Mr. Kropp and dragging him off the stage.

"The temptation to allow the problem of persuasion to overshadow the problem of knowledge"

From Daniel J. Boorstin's Hidden History, in the essay The Rhetoric of Democracy.
Democratic societies tend to become more concerned with what people believe than with what is true, to become more concerned with credibility than with truth

This manifests itself in the frequent overconcern in the political class about the nominal appearance of impropriety, conflict-of-interest, or of corruption coupled with an insouciance about the actual reality of those three fellow-travellers of politics.

And one might add to Boorstin's phrase, "more concerned with what people say they feel than with what they are willing to do".

An interesting question

"How has American civilization been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe advertising?"

From Daniel J. Boorstin's Hidden History, in his essay The Rhetoric of Democracy.
Never was there a more outrageous or more unscrupulous or more ill-informed advertising campaign than that by which the promoters for the American colonies brought settlers here. Brochures published in England in the seventeenth century, some even earlier, were full of hopeful overstatements, half-truths, and downright lies, along with some facts which nowadays surely would be the basis for investigation by a Better Business Bureau. Gold and silver, fountains of youth, plenty of fish, venison without limit, all these were promised, and of course some of them were actually here. How long might it have taken to settle this continent if there had not been such promotion by enterprising advertisers? How has American civilization been shaped by the fact that there was a kind of natural selection here of those people who were willing to believe advertising?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Saint Augustine on Friendship

It is refreshing to be reminded but also mildly jarring that they got it so right so long ago.

To talk and to laugh with mutual concessions; to read pleasant books; to jest and to be solemn, to dissent from each other without offence, to teach each other somewhat, or somewhat to learn - to expect those absent with impatience and to embrace their return with joy.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Department of Trivia

Bookkeeper is the only word in the English language with three consecutive double letters.

-- The Book of Useless Information by Noel Botham

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Skipper Ireson's Ride

Skipper Ireson's Ride
by John Greenleaf Whittier

Of all the rides since the birth of time,
Told in story or sung in rhyme,-
On Apuleius's Golden Ass,
Or one-eyed Calendar's horse of brass,
Witch astride of a human back,
Islam's prophet on Al-Borak,-
The strangest ride that ever was sped
Was Ireson's, out from Marblehead!
Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
By the women of Marblehead!

Body of turkey, head of owl,
Wings adroop like a rained-on fowl,
Feathered and ruffled in every part,
Skipper Ireson stood in the cart.
Scores of women, old and young,
Strong of muscle, and glib of tongue,
Pushed and pulled up the rocky lane,
Shouting and singing the shrill refrain:
"Here's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
By the women o' Morble'ead!"

Wrinkled scolds with hands on hips,
Girls in bloom of cheek and lips,
Wild-eyed, free-limbed, such as chase
Bacchus round some antique vase,
Brief of skirt, with ankles bare,
Loose of kerchief and loose of hair,
With conch-shells blowing and fish-horns' twang,
Over and over the M├Žnads sang:
"Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
By the women o' Morble'ead!"

Small pity for him!-He sailed away
From a leaking ship in Chaleur Bay,-
Sailed away from a sinking wreck,
With his own town's-people on her deck!
"Lay by! lay by!" they called to him.
Back he answered, "Sink or swim!
Brag of your catch of fish again!"
And off he sailed through the fog and rain!
Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
By the women of Marblehead!

Fathoms deep in dark Chaleur
That wreck shall lie forevermore.
Mother and sister, wife and maid,
Looked from the rocks of Marblehead
Over the moaning and rainy sea,-
Looked for the coming that might not be!
What did the winds and the sea-birds say
Of the cruel captain who sailed away?-
Old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
By the women of Marblehead.

Through the street, on either side,
Up flew windows, doors swung wide;
Sharp-tongued spinsters, old wives gray,
Treble lent the fish-horn's bray.
Sea-worn grandsires, cripple-bound,
Hulks of old sailors run aground,
Shook head, and fist, and hat, and cane,
And cracked with curses the hoarse refrain:
"Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
By the women o' Morble'ead!"

Sweetly along the Salem road
Bloom of orchard and lilac showed.
Little the wicked skipper knew
Of the fields so green and the sky so blue.
Riding there in his sorry trim,
Like an Indian idol glum and grim,
Scarcely he seemed the sound to hear
Of voices shouting, far and near:
"Here 's Flud Oirson, fur his horrd horrt,
Torr'd an' futherr'd an' corr'd in a corrt
By the women o' Morble'ead!"

"Hear me, neighbors!" at last he cried,-
"What to me is this noisy ride?
What is the shame that clothes the skin
To the nameless horror that lives within?
Waking or sleeping, I see a wreck,
And hear a cry from a reeling deck!
Hate me and curse me,- I only dread
The hand of God and the face of the dead!"
Said old Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
By the women of Marblehead!

Then the wife of the skipper lost at sea
Said, "God has touched him! why should we!"
Said an old wife mourning her only son,
"Cut the rogue's tether and let him run!"
So with soft relentings and rude excuse,
Half scorn, half pity, they cut him loose,
And gave him a cloak to hide him in,
And left him alone with his shame and sin.
Poor Floyd Ireson, for his hard heart,
Tarred and feathered and carried in a cart
By the women of Marblehead!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Why are the Middle Ages called the Dark Ages

Because there were so many knights.

-- Riddles, Riddles, Riddles by Darwin A. Hindman

Friday, June 5, 2009

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Looking astern, we saw a small clipper-built brig with a black hull heading directly after us.

I am reading Richard Dana's Two Years Before the Mast in instalments, courtesy of DailyLit.

With pirates resurrected in the news in their historic character of murderous thieves, rather than the disneyfied romantic image of recent decades, it is striking to come across a reference to them in Dana's account of his voyage where an encounter with a strange and unmarked ship on the wide ocean represented a race for one's life.
We continued running large before the north-east trade winds for several days, until Monday, September 22d; when, upon coming on deck at seven bells in the morning, we found the other watch aloft throwing water upon the sails; and looking astern, we saw a small clipper-built brig with a black hull heading directly after us. We went to work immediately, and put all the canvas upon the brig which we could get upon her, rigging out oars for studding-sail yards; and continued wetting down the sails by buckets of water whipped up to the mast-head, until about nine o'clock, when there came on a drizzling rain. The vessel continued in pursuit, changing her course as we changed ours, to keep before the wind. The captain, who watched her with his glass, said that she was armed, and full of men, and showed no colors. We continued running dead before the wind, knowing that we sailed better so, and that clippers are fastest on the wind. We had also another advantage.

The wind was light, and we spread more canvas than she did, having royals and sky-sails fore and aft, and ten studding-sails; while she, being an hermaphrodite brig, had only a gaff topsail, aft. Early in the morning she was overhauling us a little, but after the rain came on and the wind grew lighter, we began to leave her astern. All hands remained on deck throughout the day, and we got our arms in order; but we were too few to have done anything with her, if she had proved to be what we feared. Fortunately there was no moon, and the night which followed was exceedingly dark, so that by putting out all the lights and altering our course four points, we hoped to get out of her reach. We had no light in the binnacle, but steered by the stars, and kept perfect silence through the night. At daybreak there was no sign of anything in the horizon, and we kept the vessel off to her course.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Department of Trivia

The letter W is the only letter in the alphabet that doesn't have one syllable; it has three.

-- The Book of Useless Information by Noel Botham