Saturday, May 09, 2009

Two Poem Re-Drafts

Sweet Delight

The rains were soft today -- ah, such sweet delight!
Each drop like white wine played across the mind
with dance and minuet, and sparkled in the light
like diamonds in the dust or smiles soft and kind,
each splash and patter pounding out the pulse of life
whereby the sky, the earth, in holy union each embrace
the other to its bosom, and the one lifts up its face
to feel the other's kiss -- ah, such sweet delight!

It was honey to reason's tongue, and ah! such sweet delight!

The air was sharp and clear; it was ringing like a bell
that is struck on solemn Sunday when couples newly-wed,
drinking from each other's eyes as the thirsty from a well,
dance with conjugal rejoicing to the flowering genius-bed;
lares and penates whisper as the gardens of our sight
bloom and sway and grow, life-rich like verdant ponds,
and to every heart's bright questions lie ready to respond.
The wind brushed past my skin, caressing where it fell.

It charged my will with love, and ah! such sweet delight!

The sun, profligate with rainbows, beamed with parent-pride
on all its living scions that flourish on this vital earth,
which into many cousin-families once happily did divide,
each to sing a note in symphony, in polyphonic birth,
each to taste the waters, to breathe in the piercing light,
to leap beneath the sun in the everlasting dance
which is composed of law compacted with sweet chance,
to look up to the sun-god who slays the wayward night.

I saw this all, and shivered with, ah! such sweet delight!

The Long Sedan

The Devil drove up in a long sedan,
its color jet and its windows night,
a darkness from which no hint of light
could ever escape, nor any man.
He stepped outside in a cunning style
of jacket, his motion smooth like silk,
and he wore, as do all hell's ilk,
the gloss of a fashion smile.

He took me up to the Temple-tower,
up to the highest judgment-seat,
and laid the world before my feet,
and promised success in endless shower
if I would but once recognize
the gods of this world, and mammon's power,
and earthly wisdom, the mind of the hour,
and see the world through worldly eyes.

"For," said he, "escapist dreams
will never change the simple fact
that matter is needed to ground each act;
your hopes may whisper, your need will scream.
If you but follow the sign of my way,
great good you'll do, and have great might
and shine in the world a blazing light,
as clear as the sun at bright noonday.
It's easy enough, no special charm
is required, just to sign your name
in a pact that says you will play the game;
there is no pain, nor any harm,
no Walpurgis night to shock the eyes,
no sacrifice, no dirty hands,
just living in full the life of man
as it always is lived beneath the sky."

Then said I, "That may be true,
but well I know that the Devil sells
only one thing, a house in hell,
where what you want is what you rue.
Your voice enchants a weakened heart,
and it well may be the course of fate
that without your aid no glory waits;
but I will take the better part.
Even if all is as you say,
and in every thing I must then fail,
and fall from out of every tale,
yet I accept the lesser way.
You make a bond seem like a boon,
but I know the Devil lies."

Pensive, but with burning eyes,
he stood a bit in the bright full moon
then smiled, his teeth like pearls.
"You speak quite bravely and for show,
but in the end we both still know
that I am coiled around the world
and around your heart. You are not so wise
as never to have loved me, nor sought gain,
nor failed the good to avoid its pain;
and while my offer you may despise,
it but makes plain the present pact,
the understanding we have kept
since you long before in Adam slept --
the convention of your thought and act,
which belies your words, shows the lie
to your height of mind; my rule you fight
when I make it plain; but on the quiet
you accept its terms, and hide it by."

And in my shame I hid my face;
this word was true; in that bright moonlight
I could not hide what was clear to sight.

"Then," said I, "God give me grace."

With sardonic salute and knowing smile,
he stepped back in and the long sedan
drove on; but he shouted, "So long, O man;
you will come to me in a little while."

The blood was pounding in my brain,
and a mist came up and obscured the day;
my eye could not see my intended way,
and as I wept, it began to rain.

Every Man a King Indeed!

A Charm
by Rudyard Kipling

Take of English earth as much
As either hand may rightly clutch.
In the taking of it breathe
Prayer for all who lie beneath.
Not the great nor well-bespoke,
But the mere uncounted folk
Of whose life and death is none
Report or lamentation.
Lay that earth upon thy heart,
And thy sickness shall depart!

It shall sweeten and make whole
Fevered breath and festered soul.
It shall mightily restrain
Over-busied hand and brain.
It shall ease thy mortal strife
'Gainst the immortal woe of life,
Till thyself, restored, shall prove
By what grace the Heavens do move.

Take of English flowers these --
Spring's full-faced primroses,
Summer's wild wide-hearted rose,
Autumn's wall-flower of the close,
And, thy darkness to illume,
Winter's bee-thronged ivy-bloom.
Seek and serve them where they bide
From Candlemas to Christmas-tide,
For these simples, used aright,
Can restore a failing sight.

These shall cleanse and purify
Webbed and inward-turning eye;
These shall show thee treasure hid
Thy familiar fields amid;
And reveal (which is thy need)
Every man a King indeed!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Clausewitz on the Use of Historical Examples

A very nice bit for those like myself who are interested in the philosophy of reasoning:

Now, if we consider closely the use of historical proofs, four points of view readily present themselves for the purpose.

First, they may be used merely as an explanation of an idea. In every abstract consideration it is very easy to be misunderstood, or not to be intelligible at all: when an author is afraid of this, an exemplification from history serves to throw the light which is wanted on his idea, and to ensure his being intelligible to his reader.

Secondly, it may serve as an application of an idea, because by means of an example there is an opportunity of showing the action of those minor circumstances which cannot all be comprehended and explained in any general expression of an idea; for in that consists, indeed, the difference between theory and experience. Both these cases belong to examples properly speaking, the two following belong to historical proofs.

Thirdly, a historical fact may be referred to particularly, in order to support what one has advanced. This is in all cases sufficient, if we have only to prove the possibility of a fact or effect.

Lastly, in the fourth place, from the circumstantial detail of a historical event, and by collecting together several of them, we may deduce some theory, which therefore has its true proof in this testimony itself.

Clausewitz, On War, Book II, Chapter VI. He goes on to consider how much of a role historical authenticity plays in each of these uses and the ways in which things can go wrong. This is one of the nice things about Clausewitz's philosophical work on war: he is very thoughtful about methodology, and he deserves more attention on that note if no other. I've already noted his comments on hypothetical scenarios.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Poem Re-Draft and a Poem Draft

End of term, so things are a bit busy. There will be a post up at some point on the Desert Fathers and moral philosophy, though.


Even on this desert planet
water can be found,
dew in secret places,
pools by sheltering rocks;
but the air is hot and dry,
clouded by storms of dust.
Endless realms of sand
make the hardy die of thirst.

But I have had a dream:
This desert became a beach,
mist was in the air,
great waves of philosophy
broke against the shore.


This morning I spoke with Jove
in the campus parking lot.
It was humid and hot,
and as below, so it was above;
he was looking, he said, for work,
some livable wage
in this thoughtless and surly age
where enlightenment itself is dark,
and fortune, it seemed, did not smile.
He made the lightning fall
and I happily watched it all
and listened to the clouds awhile.
Soft rain sprinkled down, and Jove and I
talked of long-lost things,
cyclops-bolts and magic rings,
trees that walked and stones that cried.
Then he sighed and drove away
to some future yet unknown;
for the pride of man has grown
and the titan-hosts invade.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Martha Nussbaum wrote about the problem of the stereotype of the violent Muslim, which leads Muslim liberals not to be taken at face value. I was amused by Ophelia Benson's response to this:

Well...are stereotypes really the only reason for that? Does the Koran, and the relationship of Islam to the Koran, have nothing to do with it? Couldn't it be that at least some people wonder if Muslim liberals still have the Koran to contend with, just as Christian liberals have the Bible, and if there is some tension? Couldn't some people think that liberalism is just more difficult for Muslims for a lot of reasons (family pressure, customs, the Koran, friends, and so on) and that different people can mean different things by 'liberal'? I would say it could, and that people who are slow to be convinced are not necessarily simply heeding stereotypes of the violent Muslim. They might be, but they might not.

In other words: Are stereotypes really the only reason? Couldn't it just be (insert a whole long list of stereotypes here)? Of course, technically she's right: it might not be the stereotype of the violent Muslim; it could be some other ill-founded and illiberal stereotype.

Cavalry Charges

It is a profoundly erroneous truism, repeated by all the copy-books and by eminent people when they are making speeches, that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. Operations of thought are like cavalry charges in a battle--they are strictly limited in number, they require fresh horses, and must only be made at decisive moments.

Alfred North Whitehead, An Introduction to Mathematics, Oxford UP (Oxford: 1948) p. 42.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Simultaneous Greatness and Wretchedness

An interesting set of reflections by a guest blogger at Jen's Conversion Diary (from a bit over a month ago). A notable quote:

I think my story is testimony to the simultaneous greatness and wretchedness of philosophy. Philosophy can drag someone into hell, but it can also raise you up and set you down right in front of heaven’s door for you to knock.