Friday, April 29, 2011

1900 was the first year in which religious works (at least in England) did not outnumber all other publications

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Brian Jacques. Page 10.

Could this really be true? There is no footnote to the passage but Barzun is an exemplary scholar. His comment is in the context of a discussion of the volume of communication, discussion and writing attendant to the Reformation.
From his unexpected sabbatical onward, Luther kept addressing the Germans on every issue of religious, moral, political, and social importance. Pamphlets, books, letters to individuals that were "given to the press" by the recipients, biblical commentaries, sermons, and hymns kept streaming from his inkwell. Disciples made Latin translations of what was in German and vice versa. It was an unexampled barrage of propaganda to pose a countrywide issue. Opponents retorted, confrontations were staged at universities and written up. A torrent of black-on-white wordage about the true faith and the good society poured over Christian heads. It did not cease for 350 years: 1900 was the first year in which religious works (at least in England) did not outnumber all other publications.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Such is, roughly, how revolutions "feel."

From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life by Brian Jacques. Page 7.

Though written in 2000 and Barzun's comments are in the context of the religious and political revolution sparked by Martin Luther posting his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, his description seems fresh and pertinent to the events of the Middle East in the past three months.
How a revolution erupts from a commonplace event - tidal wave from a ripple - is cause for endless astonishment. Neither Luther in 1517 nor the men who gathered at Versailles in 1789 intended at first what they produced at last. Even less did the Russian Liberals who made the revolution of 1917 foresee what followed. All were ignorant as everybody else of how much was about to be destroyed. Nor could they guess what feverish feelings, what strange behavior ensue when revolution, great or short-lived, is in the air.

First, a piece of news about something said or done travels quickly, more so than usual, because it is uniquely apt; it fits a half-conscious mood or caps a situation: a monk questions indulgences, and he does it not just out of the blue - they are being sold again on a large scale. The fact and the challenger's name generate rumor, exaggeration, misunderstanding, falsehood. People ask each other what is true and what it means. The atmosphere becomes electric, the sense of time changes, grows rapid; a vague future seems nearer.

On impulse, perhaps to snap the tension, somebody shouts in a church, throws a stone through a window, which provokes a fight - it happened so at Wittenberg - and clearly it is no ordinary breach of the peace. Another unknown harangues a crowd, urging it to stay calm - or not to stand there gaping but *do* something. As further news spreads, various types of people become aroused for or against the thing now upsetting everybody's daily life. But what is that thing? Concretely: ardent youths full of hope as they catch drift of the idea, rowdies looking for fun, and characters with a grudge. Cranks and tolerated lunatics come out of the houses, criminals out of hideouts, and all assert themselves.

Manners are flouted and customs broken. Foul language and direct insult become normal, in keeping with the rest of the excitement, buildings are defaced, images destroyed, shops looted. Printed sheets pass from hand to hand and are read with delight or outrage - Listen to this! Angry debates multiply about things long since settled: talk of free love, of priests marrying and monks breaking their vows, of property and wives in common, of sweeping out all evils, all corruption, all at once - all things new for a blissful life on earth.

A curious leveling takes place: the common people learn words and ideas hitherto not familiar and not interesting and discuss them like intellectuals, while others neglect their usual concerns - art, philosophy, scholarship - because there is only one compelling topic, the revolutionary Idea. The well-to-do and the "right-thinking," full of fear, come together and defend their possessions and habits. But counsels are divided and many see their young "taking the wrong side." The powers that be wonder and keep watch, with fleeting thoughts of advantage to be had from the confusion. Leaders of opinion try to put together some of the ideas afloat into a position which they mean to fight for. They will reassure others, preach boldness, and anyhow head the movement.

Voices grow shrill, parties form and adopt names or are tagged with them in derision and contempt. Again and again comes the shock of broken friendships, broken families. As times goes on, "betraying the cause" is an incessant charge, and there are indeed turncoats. Authorities are bewildered, heads of institutions try threats and concessions by turns, hoping the surge of subversion will collapse like previous ones. But none of this holds back that transfer of power and property which is the mark of revolution and which in the end establishes the Idea.


Such is, roughly, how revolutions "feel." The gains and the deeds of blood vary in detail from one time to the next, but the motives are the usual mix: hope, ambition, greed, fear, lust, envy, hatred of order and of art, fanatic fervor, heroic devotion, and love of destruction.

Friday, April 22, 2011

We encounter all sorts of conundrums and puzzles

From P.J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. Page 14.
Human problems are complex. If something isn't complex, it doesn't qualify as problematic. Very simple bad things are not worth troubling ourselves about. Die and that's that. Survive, on the other hand, and we encounter all sorts of conundrums and puzzles.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

No cause to rejoice over the death of so many Christian men

From Anthony Mockler's Haile Selassie's War.

Ethiopia has a fascinating (and tragic) history. A native African empire that lasted into the modern era and one of the most ancient continuous Christian communities in the world. Mockler's book (so far) looks to be a well balanced history of the kingdom's (successful) struggle to remain independent at the time of the onslaught of European imperial land grabs in the late 1800s. In the first Italo-Ethiopian War, this culminated in the Ethiopian victory over the Italians on March 1, 1896 in the Battle of Adowa. Italy lost about a quarter or half of their invasion force of 16,000.

The tale is full of the exotic and unexpected from an event that is only a hundred and some years ago: eunuch generals, tribal champions, imperial courts, the Ark of the Covenant, Empresses leading divisions of the army, etc. Among the more striking elements is a moral consistency so rarely encountered in history. From page xxxx.
The Empress Taitu meanwhile had taken up her position on Mount Latsat behind her guns - six quick-firing Hotchkiss directed by the Commander of the Artillery, the young Galla eunuch, Bajirond Balcha. With her, gathered under the black umbrella - raised instead of the Imperial Red as a sign of grief at battle against fellow-Christians - were Woizero Zauditu, her step-daughter, and their maidservants.


There was no organized pursuit of the routed [Italian] army. And there were no great rejoicings in the Ethiopian camp. Menelik cut short the boasting ceremonies and the war-songs in favor of 'Abba Dagnew', his horse-name. Later he told Dr. Neruzzini that he saw no cause to rejoice over the death of so many Christian men.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit

From P.J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. Page 12.
In fact, if we use the word politics in its broadest sense, there really is only one political goal in the world. Politics is the business of getting power and privilege without possessing merit. A politician is anyone who asks individuals to surrender part of their liberty - their power and privilege - to State, Masses, Mankind, Planet Earth, or whatever. This state, those masses, that mankind, and the planet will then be run by . . . politicians.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Our business is to be good and happy today.

Sydney Smith
We know nothing of tomorrow; our business is to be good and happy today.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes

From P.J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. Page 9.

On the distinction between theory and practice, ideals and reality.
And worrying is less work than doing something to fix that worry. This is especially true if we're careful to pick the biggest possible problems to worry about. Everybody wants to save the earth; nobody wants to help Mom do the dishes.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Thanks to Tylenol and two Bloody Marys.

From P.J. O'Rourke, All the Trouble in the World: The Lighter Side of Overpopulation, Famine, Ecological Disaster, Ethnic Hatred, Plague, and Poverty. Page 2.
Things are batter now than things have been since men began keeping track of things. Things are better than they were only a few years ago. Things are better, in fact, than they were at 9:30 this morning, thanks to Tylenol and two Bloody Marys.

But that's personal and history is general. It's always possible to come down with the mumps on V-J Day or to have, right in the middle of the fall of the Berlin Wall, a piece of it fall on your foot. In general, life is better than it ever has been, and if you think that, in the past, there was some golden age of pleasure and plenty to which you would, if you were able, transport yourself, let me say one single word: "dentistry."

Friday, April 15, 2011

They must change if they are to get better

Just came across this insightful quote from Georg Christoph Lichtenberg:
I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.

Rather neatly sums up the diplomat's dilemma in the Middle East. What existed before was not great and we would wish it to be better. To get better, change must occur. We can't know that, even if there is change, it will end up better.

Here is another of his aphorisms for which he was famous.
Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinion at all.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I denounced this Prof. Veblen as a geyser of pishposh

Prejudices, First Series by H.L. Mencken. Page 34

Critiquing the economist Thorstein Veblen.
Ten or twelve years ago, being engaged in a bombastic discussion with what was then known as an intellectual Socialist (like the rest of the intelligentsia, he succumbed to the first fife-corps of World War I, pulled down the red flag, damned Marx as a German spy, and began whooping for Woodrow Wilson and Otto Kahn), I was greatly belabored and incommoded by his long quotations from a certain Prof. Thorstein Veblen, then quite unknown to me. My antagonist manifestly attached a great deal of importance to these borrowed sagacities, for he often heaved them at me in lengths of a column or two, and urged me to read every word of them. I tried hard enough, but found it impossible going. The more I read them, in fact, the less I could make of them, and so in the end, growing impatient and impolite, I denounced this Prof. Veblen as a geyser of pishposh, refused to waste any more time upon his incomprehensible syllogisms, and applied myself to the other Socialist witnesses in the case, seeking to set fire to their shirts.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Such pious piffle is horribly familiar among us

Prejudices, First Series by H.L. Mencken. Page 5
This Spingarn-Croce-Carlyle-Goethe theory, of course, throws a heavy burden upon the critic. It presupposes that he is a civilized and tolerant man, hospitable to all intelligible ideas and capable of reading them as he runs. This is a demand that at once rules out nine-tenths of the grown-up sophomores who carry on the business of criticism in America. Their trouble is simply that they lack the intellectual resilience necessary for taking in ideas, and particularly new ideas. The only way they can ingest one is by transforming it into the nearest related formula - usually a harsh and devastating operation. This fact accounts for their chronic inability to understand all that is most personal and original and hence most forceful and significant in the emerging literature of the country. They can get down what has been digested and re-digested, and so brought into forms that they know, and carefully labeled by predecessors of their own sort - but they exhibit alarm immediately they come into the presence of the extraordinary.

As practiced by all such learned and diligent but essentially ignorant and unimaginative men, criticism is little more than a branch of homiletics. They judge a work of art, not by its clarity and sincerity, not by the force and charm of its ideas, not by the technical virtuosity of the artist, not by his originality and artistic courage, but simply and solely by his orthodoxy. If he is what is called a "right thinker," if he devotes himself to advocating the transient platitudes in a sonorous manner, then he is worthy of respect. But if he lets fall the slightest hint that he is in doubt about any of them, or, worse still, that he is indifferent, then he is a scoundrel, and hence, by their theory, a bad artist. Such pious piffle is horribly familiar among us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Moraines and stalagmites of words

Prejudices, First Series by H.L. Mencken. Page 34

Observations on the writing style of the economist Thorstein Veblen.
For those ideas, in the main, were quite simple, and often anything but revolutionary in essence. What was genuinely remarkable about them was not their novelty, or their complexity, nor even the fact that a professor should harbor them; it was the astoundingly grandiose and rococo manner of their statement, the almost unbelievable tediousness and flatulence of the gifted headmaster's prose, his unprecedented talent for saying nothing in an august and heroic manner. There are tales of an actress of the last generation, probably Sarah Bernhardt, who could put pathos and even terror into a recitation of the multiplication table. Something of the same talent, raised to a high power, was in this Prof. Veblen. If one tunneled under his great moraines and stalagmites of words, dug down into his vast kitchen-midden of discordant and raucous polysyllables, blew up the hard, thick shell of his almost theological manner, what one found in his discourse was chiefly a mass of platitudes—the self-evident made horrifying, the obvious in terms of the staggering.

Marx, I daresay, had said a good deal of it long before him, and what Marx overlooked had been said over and over again by his heirs and assigns. But Marx, at this business, labored under a technical handicap; he wrote in German, a language he actually understood. Prof. Veblen submitted himself to no such disadvantage. Though born, I believe, in These States, and resident here all his life, he achieved the effect, perhaps without employing the means, of thinking in some unearthly foreign language—say Swahili, Sumerian or Old Bulgarian—and then painfully clawing his thoughts into a copious but uncertain and book-learned English. The result was a style that affected the higher cerebral centers like a constant roll of subway expresses. The second result was a sort of bewildered numbness of the senses, as before some fabulous and unearthly marvel. And the third result, if I make no mistake, was the celebrity of the professor as a Great Thinker. In brief, he stated his hollow nothings in such high, astounding terms that inevitably arrested and blistered the right-thinking mind. He made them mysterious. He made them shocking. He made them portentous. And so, flinging them at naive and believing souls, he made them stick and burn.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The character and background of the poet are beside the mark

Prejudices, First Series by H.L. Mencken. Page 5
"Poets," says Major Spingarn, "do not really write epics, pastorals, lyrics, however much they may be deceived by these false abstractions; they express themselves, and this expression is their only form. There are not, therefore, only three or ten or a hundred literary kinds; there are as many kinds as there are individual poets." Nor is there any valid appeal ad hominem. The character and background of the poet are beside the mark; the poem itself is the thing. Oscar Wilde, weak and swine-like, yet wrote beautiful prose. To reject that prose on the ground that Wilde had filthy habits is as absurd as to reject "What Is Man?" on the ground that its theology is beyond the intelligence of the editor of the New York Times.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

For a professor must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas

Prejudices, First Series by H.L. Mencken. Page 3

On critics and criticism.
Against the whole corps, moral and æsthetic, psychological and algebraic, stands Major J. E. Spingarn, U.S.A. Major Spingarn lately served formal notice upon me that he had abandoned the life of the academic grove for that of the armed array, and so I give him his military title, but at the time he wrote his "Creative Criticism" he was a professor in Columbia University, and I still find myself thinking of him, not as a soldier extraordinarily literate, but as a professor in rebellion. For his notions, whatever one may say in opposition to them, are at least magnificently unprofessorial - they fly violently in the face of the principles that distinguish the largest and most influential group of campus critics. As wtness: "To say that poetry is moral or immoral is as meaningless as to say that an equilateral triangle is moral and an isosceles triangle immoral." Or, worse: "It is only onceivable in a world in which dinner-table conversation runs after this fashion: 'This cauliflower would be good if it had only been prepared in accordance with international law.'" One imagines, on hearing such atheism flying about, the amazed indignation of Prof. Dr. William Lyon Phelps, with his discovery that Joseph Conrad preaches "the axiom of the moral law"; the "Hey, what's that!" of Prof. Dr. W. C. Brownell, the Amherst Aristotle, with his eloquent plea for standards as iron-clad as the Westminster Confession; the loud, patriotic alarm of the gifted Prof. Dr. Stuart P. Sherman, of Iowa, with his maxim that Puritanism is the official philosophy of America, and that all who dispute it are enemy aliens and should be deported. Major Spingarn, in truth, here performs a treason most horrible upon the reverend order he once adorned, and having achieved it, he straightway performs another and then another. That is to say, he tackles all the antagonistic groups of orthodox critics seriatim, and knocks them about unanimously - first the aforesaid agents of the sweet and pious; then the advocates of unities, meters, all rigid formulæ; then the experts in imaginary psychology; then the historical comparers, pigeonholers and makers of categories; finally, the professors of pure æsthetic. One and all, they take their places upon his operating table, and one and all they are stripped and anatomized.

But what is the anarchistic ex-professor's own theory? - for a professor must have a theory, as a dog must have fleas. In brief, what he offers is a doctrine borrowed from the Italian, Benedetto Croce, and by Croce filched from Goethe - a doctrine anything but new in the world, even in Goethe's time, but nevertheless long buried in forgetfulness - to wit, the doctrine that it is the critic's first and only duty, as Carlyle once put it, to find out "what the poet's aim really and truly was, how the task he had to do stood before his eye, and how far, with such materials as were afforded him, he has fulfilled it."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Certitude is not the test of certainty

An interesting article highlighting the precariousness of knowledge. As our body knowledge of increases, becomes more precise and so often more beneficial, the temptation to extrapolate and conclude that all important topics share a similar level of completeness of knowledge seems to be irresistible. In particular, crime, climate, obesity, many health issues and education all are incredibly important but are also incredibly complex. Our confidence in our knowledge of cause and effect in these matters is as yet, no matter what advocates and self-dealing politicians might say, wholly unfounded.

What if It's All Been a Big Fat Lie? by Gary Taubes is a report on emerging concerns that the confident advice rendered on necessary attributes of diet might be linked to the obesity epidemic.

I am reminded of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. from Natural Law, Harvard Law Review
Certitude is not the test of certainty. We have been cocksure of many things that were not so.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Her passengers were all middle-aged Germans, unbelieavbly ugly but dressed with courage and enterprise

Evelyn Waugh, When the Going Was Good. An account of travels between 1929-1935, destinations including Brazil, South Africa, British Guiana, the Mediterranean and Abyssinia.

A greater frankness in discussing national traits than we are accustomed to today.
We ran into the bay early on Sunday morning, and moored alongside the quay. There was a German-owned tourist ship in the harbour, which we were to see several times during the next few weeks, as she was following practically the same lines as the Stella, but the officers spoke contemptuously of her seaworthiness. She had capsized, they said, on the day she was launched, and was now ballasted with concrete. She carried a small black aeroplane on her deck, and the passengers paid about five guineas a time to fly over the harbour. At night her name appeared on the boat deck in illuminated letters. She had two bands which played almost incessantly. Her passengers were all middle-aged Germans, unbelievably ugly but dressed with courage and enterprise. One man wore a morning coat, white trousers, and a beret. Everyone in the Stella felt great contempt for this vulgar ship.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Why, yes, he said, all the hotels in Monaco were better than this one

Evelyn Waugh, When the Going Was Good. An account of travels between 1929-1935, destinations including Brazil, South Africa, British Guiana, the Mediterranean and Abyssinia. Not only a different era but almost a different world.
The station at Monaco is very small and unpretending. The only porter I could find belonged to an hotel with a fairly reputable-sounding name. He took my suitcase and led me through the falling snow, down the hill to his hotel. It was a pension in a side street. There was a small lounge full of basket chairs in which elderly Englishwomen sat sewing. I asked the porter whether there was not a better hotel at Monaco. Why, yes, he said, all the hotels in Monaco were better than this one. So he picked up my suitcase again and we went out into the snow, pursued by a manageress, and soon reached a larger hotel facing the harbour.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Intelligence sprouts where it will and is spent day by day like income for incessant needs

The House of the Intellect by Jacques Barzun. Page 5.

Shades of E.D. Hirsch in Cultural Literacy.
Intellect is community property and can be handed down. We all know what we mean by an intellectual tradition, localized here or there; but we do not speak of a 'tradition of intelligence,' for intelligence sprouts where it will and is spent day by day like income for incessant needs. Intelligence is the native ability of the creature to achieve its ends by varying the use of its powers - living, as we say, by its wits. Accordingly, we can distinguish the intelligent from the stupid throughout the scale of sentient beings: an intelligent, but not intellectual, dog or child; an intellectual, but not intelligent, bluestocking or university professor. Intelligence is by definition the protean faculty. We find it in a political move or in a work of art, in the performance of a football team or in a piece of repartee, none of which are specifically intellectual. And though Intellect neither implies nor precludes intelligence, two of its uses are - to make up for the lack of intelligence and to amplify the force of it by giving it quick recognition and embodiment.

For intelligence wherever found is an individual and private possession; it dies with the owner unless he embodies it in more or less lasting form. Intellect is on the contrary a product of social effort and an acquirement. A man cannot help being intelligent, but he can easily help becoming an intellectual. Intellect is an institution; it stands up as it were by itself, apart from possessors of intelligence, even though they alone could rebuild it if it should be destroyed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The measure of the age in which you live

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 232.
Our grandparents used to say that we must eat a peck of dirt before we die, and they were right. And you must read a lot of rubbish before you die, as well, because an exclusive diet of masterpieces will give you spiritual dyspepsia. How can you know that a mountain peak is glorious if you have never scrambled through a dirty valley? How do you know that your gourmet meal is perfect in its kind if you have never eaten a roadside hot dog? If you want to know what a masterpiece The Pilgrim’s Progress is, read Bonfire of the Vanities, and if you have any taste — which of course may not be the case — you will quickly find out. So I advise you, as well as reading great books that I have been talking about, read some current books and some periodicals. They will help you to take the measure of the age in which you live.

The worst, and even the mediocre, must be taken for granted as a cultural constant

The House of the Intellect by Jacques Barzun. Page xiii.
I would also ask the reader to remember that in a critical description of this sort only examples of the best have any probative value. And by the best I mean the most developed, the most serious, the most highly regarded efforts in any relevant kind. The worst, and even the mediocre, must be taken for granted as a cultural constant. It is waste of time to belabor shady schools, corrupt journals, stupid government officials, and unscrupulous exploiters of the eternally gullible. The ignorance of the unlettered takes no scrutiny to establish. What we need to plumb is the ignorance of the educated and the anti-intellectualism of the intellectual. What matters to a nation is whether the best product, or in certain cases the high average, which prides itself on excellence, deserves its reputation.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Nobody ever reads the same book twice

I am reading a collection of essays and speeches by Robertson Davies, The Merry Heart.

There are two lectures, Reading and Writing, which he delivered as part of Yale University's Tanner lecture series. Filled with marvellous quotes and thoughts. Page 228.
What I have just said about rereading is a point I should like to stress. The great sin, as I have said, is to assume that something that has been read once has been read forever. . . . Nobody ever reads the same book twice.

Mind disciplined in specified ways to overcome Difficulty

From The House of Intellect by Jacques Barzun. Page ix.

It is interesting to me to see these sentiments expressed in this book from 1959 and which so clearly echo common sentiments of today. The Teacher, as always, was right, "there is nothing new under the sun." The elder thinkers in every generation are cautiously skeptical of those that are coming after them. Sometimes that skepticism is well merited, sometimes not.

The thought to which Barzun gives voice (and a thought which has a tradition going back centuries), is perhaps not ever one of a specific concrete concern, but more of a general rallying cry to the idea that we should protect that which apparently has brought us so far. In our case, the sentiments and motivations of the Enlightenment. We may not correctly identify the specific elements within our traditions which make the most difference, but the general sentiment to be cautious of changing that which has worked so well is not misplaced. A recent example of the native and unreflecting hostility shown by our leaders to basic rights (freedom of speech, freedome of religion) demonstrates just how pervasive has become the isolation of broad segments of the chattering classes, and what passes for their thinking, from the traditions of the Enlightenment.

So here, from 52 years ago, is a contemporary complaint.
The most obvious feature of the phase of civilization we are in is the flattening of the merit curve. It is almost level - a wobbly line. The demand for competence is weak. This is acknowledged in the cliche 'decline of standards,' which applies to every institution, from schooling to the professions and from manners to language. Error, often born of indifference, is accepted, indeed saluted, as a proof of 'being human.' The word 'elitism' has arisen to condemn any expression of desire for what is in any way high. All these attitudes are validated to the possessors by the conviction that to display and act upon them is 'democratic.'

Clearly, every impulse behind this general surrender is inimical to Intellect, since it is mind disciplined in specified ways to overcome Difficulty. This discipline implies things now abhorred - rigor, power, authority, superiority.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Also the names of Emory P. Gray

A revision of one of my favorite poems, the original, Ozymandias by Shelley.

Ozymandias Revisited
by Morris Bishop

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said —“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings,
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Also the names of Emory P. Gray,
Mr. and Mrs. Dukes, and Oscar Baer
Of 17 West 4th St., Oyster Bay.”

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Not the sea, but the sound of the sea

What is poetry?
by Eleanor Farjeon

What is poetry? Who knows?
Not the rose, but the scent of the rose;
Not the sky, but the light of the sky;
Not the fly, but the gleam of the fly;
Not the sea, but the sound of the sea;
Not myself, but what makes me
See, hear, and feel something that prose
Cannot; and what is it, who knows?

Friday, April 1, 2011

I met an elf man in the woods

How To Treat Elves
by Morris Bishop

I met an elf man in the woods,
The wee-est little elf!
Sitting under a mushroom tall--
'Twas taller than himself!

"How do you do, little elf," I said,
"And what do you do all day?"
"I dance 'n fwolic about," said he,
"'N scuttle about and play;"

"I s'prise the butterflies, 'n when
A katydid I see,
'Katy didn't' I say, and he
Says 'Katy did!' to me!

"I hide behind my mushroom stalk
When Mister Mole comes froo,
'N only jus' to fwighten him
I jump out'n say 'Boo!'

"'N then I swing on a cobweb swing
Up in the air so high,
'N the cwickets chirp to hear me sing

"'N then I play with the baby chicks,
I call them, chick chick chick!
'N what do you think of that?" said he.
I said, "It makes me sick.

"It gives me sharp and shooting pains
To listen to such drool."
I lifted up my foot, and squashed
The God damn little fool.