Saturday, September 18, 2021

A New Poem Draft and Some Poem Re-Drafts

 Sigh Away

Your silence weeps upon the floor,
the day is crawling slowly;
I hear it through my shuttered door
and I am rendered lowly.
We never think in times of joy
that this could be our ending;
the game becomes transparent ploy
when angels are descending.

Sigh, sigh, sigh away;
sigh for the loss of a better day.
Words are breath, on winds they fly,
and a word is just an everlasting sigh.

Your silence like a wedding veil
across your face is playing;
it wafts like mist, transparent-pale,
and tangles every saying.
The darkened clouds in heaven's sky
like widow's gauze are forming;
the sun, no matter what we try,
is covered by their storming.

Sigh, sigh, sigh away;
the world will end no matter what we say.
Spirit is sigh and a dying flame;
our love's spirit will die the same.

The Desert Sands 

The desert sands are stretching bare and far,
as silent as the fear of haunted waste,
like carpets heavy-dusted by the wind
that stirs up sandy clouds in rushing haste;

half-hid, like sunken treasures in the sea,
a ruin goes to wreck with pillars dressed
by centuries in dusty dirt and sand
and days on days uncounted and unblessed. 

Where once a festive party sang their songs
with all the solemn light of laughter's care,
where once the lovers kissed in shadows' guard,
now all is waste and trace in desert bare. 

The carven image, once a sign of pride,
is vested with the tapestry of woe;
around the place decay and desert rule,
with none who care, and none who love and know. 

O let me laugh a while! The time to mourn
extends with endless years that weep with dust;
all things will pass and end, though stone their make,
foundations one day fail, and all our trust.

The Venture 

The thought that thinks itself,
to which all thinking tends,
is nearly reached when seeking faith
a light to pathway lends. 

 Beneath a sky of void,
more black and sure than night,
the mind wends long and careful way
by nothing but star's light. 

 All science and all art
from surmise take their start,
to know for you have surely heard
and keep it in your heart. 

Like sailor brave and bold,
the stars alone to guide,
the mind sets out with hoping faith
to reach another side. 

 It seeks and so will find,
though storms lie in the way,
and finds, if it on path abides,
the shores of glory's day.


The dandelion some call a weed;
it does not care
but laughs in gold and wafts its seed
and leaps and dances everywhere. 

The lion's tooth will spring with joy
in tribe that no one can destroy. 

Perhaps this verse is leaping up,
a wild endive on the green,
with morning dew on bloom and cup
that gives its simple face a sheen;
in swift disorder horse-bloom grows
but smiles and hosts its dancing shows.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Hildegardis Bingensis

 Today is the feast of St. Hildegard von Bingen, Doctor of the Church. Two interpretations of one of her most popular songs today:

O virtus Sapientiae,
quae circuiens circuisti
comprehendendo omnia
in una via, quae habet vitam,
tres alas habens,
quarum una in altum volat,
et altera de terra sudat,
et tertia undique volat.
Laus tibi sit, sicut te decet,
O Sapientia.

A rough translation:

O power of Wisdom
who by circling circled,
comprehending all
in one way that has life,
you have three wings;
one is flying on high,
one sweats on the earth,
the third flies everywhere.
Praise be to you, as befits you,
O Wisdom.

Sheet music for one interpretation of Hildegard's original composition into modern notation.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Links of Note, Notably Noted

 * Stuart Richie, Never trust a scientist, looks at scandals in the field of psychology

* Paul Silva, Jr., A Conceptual Analysis of Glory (PDF)

* An interview with Christopher Tollefsen on his recent book (co-written with Farr Curlin) on medical ethics; the book looks interesting.

* Daniel Williams, Is the brain an organ for free energy minimisation?, looks at some of the problems with the idea

* Ljiljana Radenovic, Philosophy of My Faith

* Mike Aquilina interviews Zena Hitz in Can faith help us live an 'intellectual life'?

* Alex Priou looks at Bacon's debt to Machiavelli

* David Horan's new translation of the Dialogues of Plato is available online.

* Jonathan Zittrain, The Internet Is Rotting, on the perpetual problem that things online swiftly disappear.

* Jordan Howell looks at a recent study by FIRE that suggests that non-tenured faculty are more harshly punished for controversial speech.

* Bruno Maçães, Crashing Out, argues that United States foreign policy has become obsessed with projecting an image, regardless of substance.

* An interesting article at the Met which looks at pricing fine art from different centuries. (The write-up is a few years old, but apparently the exhibit is ongoing.) The difficulty, of course, is that you have to find a unit that is relatively stable across centuries and meaningful in very different contexts; their choice is the milk cow, or, to be more exact, the price of a milk cow in silver. Silver is consistently in demand and a common form of money, and milk cows are a reasonable measure of 'buying power' across a wide variety of cultures and centuries.


 Today is the feast of St. Cyprian of Carthage, Martyr. From his treatise on patience:

Charity is the bond of brotherhood, the foundation of peace, the holdfast and security of unity, which is greater than both hope and faith, which excels both good works and martyrdoms, which will abide with us always, eternal with God in the kingdom of heaven. Take from it patience; and deprived of it, it does not endure. Take from it the substance of bearing and of enduring, and it continues with no roots nor strength. The apostle, finally, when he would speak of charity, joined to it endurance and patience. Charity, he says, is large-souled; charity is kind; charity envies not, is not puffed up, is not provoked, thinks not evil; loves all things, believes all things, hopes all things, bears all things. Thence he shows that it can tenaciously persevere, because it knows how to endure all things. And in another place: Forbearing one another, he says, in love, using every effort to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. He proved that neither unity nor peace could be kept unless brethren should cherish one another with mutual toleration, and should keep the bond of concord by the intervention of patience.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021


 The comedian Norm MacDonald died today of cancer, so it seems appropriate to post his most famous (and in many ways his most Normish) joke:

With Double Blessing Given

Crux Antarcticus
by John Holland

“The cross of the south is a timepiece that advances very regularly about four minutes a day -- how often have we heard our guides in the savannas of Venezuela, or in the desert extending from Lima to Truxillo, say, 'Midnight is past, the cross begins to bend!' -- how often these words reminded us of that affecting scene where Paul and Virginia, conversing together for the last time, the old man, at the sight of the Southern Cross, warns them that it is time to separate!" -- Humboldt. 

Oh, glorious sign of earth's most glorious theme,
How fitly character'd with stars in heaven!
Redemption's symbol! Thee, with joy supreme,
The voyager on southern ocean driven,
Hails nightly, as, with double blessing given --
To point his progress toward the antarctic pole,
Whilst embleming the faith that guides his soul:
On thee, the Australian traveller nightly smiles;
Proud Chimborazo's climber welcomes thee;
La Plata's vent'rous pilgrim, longs to see
Thy radiant form lit up; the Georgian isles,
With new-born joy, in those benignant skies,
Where many a brilliant constellation vies
With the bright sign -- delighted see the Crosier's rise.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Schlegel on Irony and Dialogue

I must not, however, omit to remind you that this term in modern phraseology has fallen very far below its primary meaning, and is often so taken as to designate nothing more than a mere playful mockery. In its original Socratic sense, however, such as it is found in the whole series of the thought and the internal structure of Plato's dialogues, where it is developed to its fullest measure and proportion, irony signifies nothing else than this amazement of the thinking spirit at itself, which so often dissolves in a light, gentle laugh. And this light laugh again oftentimes beneath its cheerful surface conceals and involves a deeper and profounder sense, another and a higher significance, even the most exalted seriousness. In the thoroughly dramatic development and exposition of thought which we meet with in the works of Plato, the dialogical form is essentially predominant. Even if all the superscriptions of names and persons, all forms of address and reply, and, in short, the whole conversational garb, were taken away from it, and we were merely to follow the inner threads of the thought according to their connection and course, the whole would, nevertheless, remain a dialogue, where each answer calls forth a new question, and the eddying stream of speech and counter-speech, or, rather, of thought and counter-thought, moves livingly onward. And unquestionably this form of inner dialogue is, if not in every case equally applicable and absolutely necessary, still it is all but essential, and at least highly natural and very appropriate to every form of living thought and its vivid enunciation. And in this sense even the continuous unbroken speech of a single person may also assume the character of a dialogue.

Friedrich Schlegel, The Philosophy of Language, p. 381. Irony plays a significant role in Schlegel's thought, and partly due to him in a lot of Romanticism. As he notes here, he doesn't mean it as a relative of sarcasm, but in the sense of Socratic irony. It is by irony that one recognizes the gap between one's words and one's ideas, it is by irony that one recognizes one's own ignorance, it is by irony that one recognizes one's own liability to inconsistency. But it is not a negative state; as Schlegel calls it here, it is the "amazement of the thinking spirit at itself" and he has previously called it "the highest intellectual clearness and brilliancy". This irony is something that can be obtained only by seeing the two-sidedness of our thought -- its excellences and its absurdities, its sublimities and its limitations -- and thus is naturally only found dialogically, by our ability to think along two interacting lines, whether it is with the help of another person or by a sort of inner dialogue. 

One of the things Schlegel associates with irony is genuine love; the irony of love is seeing the finiteness of the beloved along with the infinity that love associates with them. All love is to some degree ironic, and in pure cases, the recognition of the inconsistency can intensify the love.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Fortnightly Book, September 12

 J. R. R. Tolkien had worked since 1914 on various legends in his mythology-for-England; but in 1926, he sent a number of his narrative poems to a friend, R. W. Reynolds, including the story of Turin; with the stories he wrote a text titled "Sketch of the Mythology". It would be of relatively minor significance it it weren't for the fact that Tolkien began using this "Sketch" as a basis for further revisions and reworkings; somewhere around 1930 he used the work as the outline for another work, which he called "The Quenta, or The Quenta Noldorinwa, or Pennas-na-Ngoelidh". This would itself undergo further revisions and reworkings, and in 1937, he submitted a part of it to George Allen & Unwin as a proposal for where to go after the success of The Hobbit. The title he gave that incomplete portion was Quenta Silmarillion. Fatefully, they rejected the proposal (they thought the work too strange and Celtic), and Tolkien instead went on to write The Lord of the Rings instead. He didn't drop the other work, though; he continued to revise, and for a while still retained some hope of publishing it together with The Lord of the Rings. In the 1950s he returned to it, but found endless puzzles arising from the fact that the only version of it ever completed was the one from 1930; everything else was revised piecemeal. And despite never giving up on it on, he mostly just picked at and puzzled through various issues until his death in 1973.

Christopher Tolkien, who inherited all his father's papers, had as one of his projects getting The Silmarillion -- the work that his father had always wanted to publish but had never quite been able to -- into print. The problem, again, is that the only complete version of the main part of the work was the Quenta Nolodrinwa, and in the course of writing The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, and thinking through various parts of it, there had been a number of quite important modifications. Further, it had not been revised evenly; parts of it had been reworked extensively and parts had hardly been changed at all, leading to any number of inconsistencies. With some help from a Canadian research assistant, Guy Gavriel Kay, Christopher Tolkien attempted to blend the many disparate materials that had been left behind. In some cases, he was able to remain quite close to his father's actual words; in other parts, he had to reconstruct parts of a later story out of older versions that were not always perfectly consistent with the tendencies of the later versions; sometimes he had to work up something out of what were only outlines and timelines. In one case that Christopher Tolkien particularly highlights in The War of the Jewels, the chapter "Of the Ruin of Doriath", he had multiple inconsistent versions, all of which had problems, and largely had to work up a new version, in part by discussing the problems through with Kay. Christopher Tolkien would later come to regret this, as having been based on a forced choice (abandon the work or alter the story) that was not actually forced. But in any case, in 1977, The Silmarillion was published.

It was savaged by reviewers, who by and large hated it. They didn't like its seriousness; they didn't like the fact that it lacked unity of plot and character; they didn't like the many strange names; they didn't like the style; and probably there was a bit of reaction against Tolkien fans, since there are always reviewers who will hate things that inspire significant numbers of people with enthusiasm. But commercially it sold moderately well, not at the level of The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, but well enough. 

There has been a recent fad in certain sectors of criticizing the work for Christopher Tolkien's extensive editorial hand; unfortunately, there is a childish view of literary creation, common among academics, in which nothing is 'authentic' unless it is provably the author's intention. It is, to be sure, a view for which Christopher Tolkien himself had some sympathy; I read an interview with him once, I can't remember where, in which he mentions he had a recurring dream of meeting his father and being criticized for some of his changes, and he is on record as having said both that he probably should have waited and that he would have done some things quite differently if he had spent more time studying all the different versions first. Nonetheless, I think, this is simply wrong. The Silmarillion performs a needed function for the other works, one J. R. R. Tolkien himself had recognized was needed, despite his inability to convince others of that fact. It is a function that is not fulfilled, that cannot be fulfilled, by The History of Middle Earth, Christopher Tolkien's attempt to give a full discussion of all the variants; and indeed, something like The Silmarillion is necessary for that kind of discussion even to be useful at all. If Christopher Tolkien hadn't attempted to pull his father's versions into a coherent narrative for The Silmarillion, he would still have had to do something like it for the kind of variant-discussion some of his critics think he should have done instead. No doubt some things could have been done very differently; but Christopher Tolkien was doing better than he knew when he did it, regardless of what imperfections it might have.

The Silmarillion, which, as I'm sure you figured out by this point is the fortnightly book, consists of five parts: the Ainulindalë, about the formation of the world; the Valaquenta, about the Valar; the Quenta Silmarillion, or Silmarillion proper, about the Silmarils, holy gems forged from the light of the Two Trees; the Akallabêth, about Numenor; and Of the Rings of Power and of the Third Age, about the events given more development in The Lord of the Rings. As such it constitutes a compendium covering the history of Middle Earth from the Music of the Ainur to the end of the Third Age.