Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Old Masters

Nice crossword about 'Old Masters' from Cruicible yesterday.
Including a pedagogue, and a Breughel.  Lovely.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Nasty, Meaningless Word.


As in Health Service, Police force, Public Sector, Country's Finances, Civil Service, etc.

It seems to mean (i) cut, (ii) fiddle around with, (iii) privatise and/or outsource, (iv) screw over or (v) any selection of these.

Why can't a reform add efficiency and save money in a service for the public good by moving it to the public sector, insourcing or adding more budget?  They would all work, clearly.  But it seems they aren't reforms in our current political discourse.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Crossword blog continued

The next in the Guardian's top 10 mentions of crosswords in fiction is a piece by P. G. Wodehouse called The Truth About George.

This scores:
Accuracy of portrayal of crosswords: 3/10
Positive attitude regarding crosswords: 9/10
Importance of crosswords in plot: 2/10

Poem(s) of the Week

This appeared in Nones (1951) as Footnotes to Dr Sheldon. However the two parts (I and II) are more often found as separate poems nowadays.

Footnotes to Dr. Sheldon
W H Auden

Behold the manly mesomorph
Showing his bulging biceps off,
Whom social workers love to touch,
Though the loveliest girls do not care for him much.

Pretty to watch with bat or ball,
An Achilles, too, in a bar-room brawl,
But in the ditch of hopeless odds,
The hour of desertion by brass and gods,

Not a hero. It is the pink-and-white,
Fastidious, almost girlish in the night
When the proud-arsed broad-shouldered break and run,
Who covers their retreat, dies at his gun.

Give me a doctor partridge-plump,
Short in the leg and broad in the rump,
An endomorph with gentle hands
Who'll never make absurd demands
That I abandon all my vices
Nor pull a long face in a crisis,
But with a twinkle in his eye
Will tell me that I have to die.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Everyone needs to know where theirs is...

It appears that today is officially Towel Day.  I didn't know.  Certainly worth marking...

Wednesday, 23 May 2012


Our Steve Bell alternative antimonarchy Jubilee mugs and T Shirts came today from Philosophyfootball.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jubilee Poem of the Week

I recall sitting in a punt, with a stereo blaring out this Jubilee anthem, in 1977... so now seems the right time to broadcast it again.

God Save The Queen
The Sex Pistols

God save the queen
The fascist regime
They made you a moron
Potential H-bomb

God save the queen
She ain't no human being
There is no future
In England's dreaming

Don't be told what you want
Don't be told what you need
There's no future, no future,
No future for you

God save the queen
We mean it man
We love our queen
God saves

God save the queen
'Cause tourists are money
And our figurehead
Is not what she seems

Oh God save history
God save your mad parade
Oh Lord God have mercy
All crimes are paid

When there's no future
How can there be sin
We're the flowers in the dustbin
We're the poison in your human machine
We're the future, your future

God save the queen
We mean it man
We love our queen
God saves

God save the queen
We mean it man
And there is no future
In England's dreaming

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future,
No future for me

No future, no future,
No future for you
No future, no future
For you

Saturday, 19 May 2012


A slow, gray day in Nunhead today, enlivened in a quiet, modest way by a bacon sandwich with brown sauce in Bambuni's.  The only creatures who seemed at ease with the world were four frogs basking on the edge of our garden pond.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Essay Assay

A few days back, I was sent a link to an essay by Neal Stephenson, (author of Anathem, The Baroque cycle, Cryptonomicon and other novels).  It is In the Beginning was the Command Line, and is an extended, detailed disquisition on operating systems and other stuff.  Like universes and so forth. 

And it kind of reminded me of The Cathedral and the Bazaar by Eric S. Raymond from around 1999 onwards (I think - it evolves).

Then, yesterday, while reading an entertaining book about typefaces and fonts ("Just My Type: A Book About Fonts", by Simon Garfield, 2010),  I came acros a strong recommendation for Eric Gill's "Essay on Typography" from 1931.

All of this made me want to essay some thoughts about Essays. 

It seems obvious from at least two of the examples above that the form is far from dead.  Rather, it has acquired a huge new lease of life via the Internet - but also some recent striking newspaper essays impressed me.   For exmple. a Simon Schama article for the NYT springs to mind from around six years ago, on radical American history and how it might act as a key for challenging right-wing responses to 9/11.

Essays are not just non-fiction books.  They - ideally - should be shorter, and more focused.  So neither On The Origin Of The Species nor The Principia Mathematica counts an essay.  For me, On Fairy Stories just scrapes under the wire.

And the latter also hints at another aspect of essays - they are usually colloquial, and accessible.  They may even, like On Fairy Stories, have begun as talks or lectures.  But typically not political speeches.  Repackaging the Gettysburg Address does not make it an essay.

And the really great essays may often be annoying.  They get under the skin, and you disagree with them -while at the same time being carried along by the prose.

They have influence - they live on, people remember them and cite them, continue to laugh along with them -or build scientific or other academic disciplines based upon them

So here then is a short, random selection of essays (loosely defined, some other short nonfiction is in it) that seem to me reasonably seminal, or interesting or something.  As a general note, I will admit to a gneral European rather than American bias.  For which no apologies. And for no readily discernable reason, they are arranged in date order.

Commentariolus, Copernicus, Nicholas, 1514.  This is his short outline/precis of what later became "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium." (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres).  In other words one of the most significant scientific works of the renaissance.

Of Friendship, Bacon, Francis, 1625. Bacon wrote many esays, of course, but this is one of the best.

Areopagitica, Milton, John, 1644.  On the freedon of speech - Milton's great anti-censorship polemic.

The Education of Women, Defoe, Daniel, 1719.  He's in favour, of course.

A Modest Proposal For Preventing The Children of Poor People in Ireland From Being A Burden to Their Parents or Country, and For Making Them Beneficial to The Public, Swift, Jonathan, 1729.   OK so who hasn't read this?  Really?  Stop reading this blog now and go and read this essay at once.  It's essential.  Now read it again.  Good, isn't it?

Advice on the Choice of a Mistress, Franklin, Benjamin, 1745.  Just because it is funny...

And now it's time for Hazlitt - so much loved and eulogised by the late, great Michael Foot.  Many to choose from, but I limited the selection to three:

On Corporate Bodies, William Hazlitt, c.1821.  Marvellous splenetic rant. "Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individuals, because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amenable to disgrace or punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor goodwill"

On Going a Journey, William Hazlitt, c.1821.  This is the witty, calm, poised iconoclastic Hazlitt grabbing a subject and dealing with it at length.

On The Pleasure Of Hating, William Hazlitt, c.1826.  For my own part, as I once said, I like a friend the better for having faults that one can talk about. 

The Chemical History of a Candle, Faraday, Michael, 1860.  I can't really claim this as an essay in all honesty, but what the hell..  Probably Faraday's most famous Christmas lecture series.

On The Decay of the Art Of Lying, Twain, Mark, 1882.   Lying nees to be done properly. No high-minded man, no man of right feeling, can contemplate the lumbering and slovenly lying of the present day without grieving to see a noble art so prostituted.

The Soul of Man Under Socialism, Wilde, Oscar, 1891.  Paradoxical, libertarian, artistic, witty, human and annoying in equal measures.

De Profundis, Wilde, Oscar, 1897.  Really, a letter to Douglas written from Reading jail.

Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown, Woolf, Virginia, 1923. A beautiful, great modernist blast against Arnold Bennet and the "realist" novel.

On Being the Right Size, Haldane, J.B.S, 1928.  A beautiful short piece and the origin of the notion  that a horse splashes.

A Hanging, Orwell, George, 1931.  Classic reportage and feeling. 

The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin, Walter, 1936.  Still fresh and relevant, despite the fact that we are several generations of technology on.

Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics, Tolkien, J.R.R., 1936.  It could be argued that this was the first piece of writing that really began to understand and sympathise with Beowulf.
If Hazlitt has to be limited to just three essays then the same must apply to Orwell. But it is hard, very hard.

Wells, Hitler and the World State, Orwell, George, 1941.  Timely, precise, astonishing.

Decline of the English Murder, Orwell, George, 1946.  Famous and rightly so.

On Fairy Stories, Tolkien, J.R.R., 1947.  Could be said to have been the piece that kicked off a whole industry of thinking and thought about fantasy and the fantastic.

There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, Feynman, Richard P., 1959.  The founding text, I think, of nanotechnology.

Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences, Derrida, Jacques, 1966.  The real secret joy of this piece is just how impenetrable it is!

The Death of the Author, Barthes, Roland, 1967.  Arguifying against the establishment ways of seeing art and culture - and winning...

Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity, Sokal, Alan D., 1994.  And finally, the only possible, and wholly necessary, corrective to the Derrida and his brethren.

Wear Word

It was nice to see the River Wear - one of the Three Rivers from earlier in this blog - appearing in Orlando's cryptic crossword on the 15th May.

Monday, 14 May 2012

All about Browning

In recognition of Browning’s recent Bicentenary, as keen observers of TANH will have spotted, I posted a few of his poems. And I’m a bit of a Browning fan, so I wanted to show him off a little, to choose poems that would explain my enthusiasm.

This was really quite hard. Rather, I guess, like choosing the tracks to be your Desert Island Discs. What to include, and what to leave out, and why?

First off, I’d already plastered a few Browning’s over TANH as part of the Poem of the Week strand. In particular:-
And I also mentioned him in passing, in an essay on Tennyson, in 2009 and also discussed a radio programme about My Last Duchess.

So what to choose for the centenary?  Well, one of the great pleasures of Browning is his range, and the first thing I noticed was that I hadn't posted any of the love lyrics or shorter poems previously.  So I began with one of my favourite lyrics, Love Among the Ruins, with its unusual patterning of rhythm.
And by far the most famous of theshort poems is Home Thoughts from Abroad of course, with it's opening of "Oh, to be in England/Now that April's there" - so that seemed to be a cert.
Then, given that I was thinking about his most famous poetry, "The Pied Piper of Hamelin" had to be there with its wonderful:

They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.
After which why Garden Fancies II: Sindandus Schafnaburgensis? Partly, I will admit, a desire for some suitably 'crabbed' Browning but also because I love:
How did he like it when the live creatures
Tickled and toused and browsed him all over,
And worm, slug, eft, with serious features,
Came in, each one, for his right of trover?
---When the water-beetle with great blind deaf face
Made of her eggs the stately deposit,
And the newt borrowed just so much of the preface
As tiled in the top of his black wife's closet?
After which a more direct short poem again seemed in order - so I chose the "the quick sharp scratch/And blue spurt of a lighted match from "Meeting at Night"

By now I'd covered a lot of ground, but still hadn't touched upon one of Browning's great topics, the great painter and scupltors of renaissance Italy.  Hence Andrea del Sarto - called by some "the faultless painter" - which many critics have thought Browning's greatest poem.  I can see it is great, but to be honest it isn't even my favourite Browning poem about renaissance Italian painters! (*)

So in keeping with the plan of keeping things diverse, it was back to the short love lyric and Summum Bonum

Perhaps the most anthologised of Browning's poems (after the Pied Piper, of course) is My Last Duchess - and one of my great pleasures.  So I couldn't leave that out.

(")  And I had to have my favourite poem about a renaissance Italian painter, Fra Lippo Lippi.  Browning keeps close to Vasari.  The latter tells us 
Cosimo therefore, when he was working for him in his house, caused him to be shut in, so that he could not go out and waste his time; but he, cutting up the sheets of the bed with a pair of scissors, made a rope and let himself down by the window...
Which in Browning's poem becomes:
— three slim shapes,

And a face that looked up . . . zooks, sir, flesh and blood,
That's all I'm made of! Into shreds it went,
Curtain and counterpane and coverlet,
All the bed-furniture — a dozen knots,
There was a ladder! Down I let myself,
Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped,
And after them. I came up with the fun
Less well-known, but also interesting, is House - with some echoes of Keats and Tennyson, in very different ways.

Eventually everything comes to an end of course, but I had to leave so much out! 

Pictor Ignotus;
An Epistle Containing the Strange Medical Experience of Karshish, the Arab Physician;
Mr Sludge, the Medium;
How they Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix (honest!);
Rabbi Ben Ezra (Grow old along with me/The best is yet to be/The last of life/For which the first was made)
Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister;
By the Fireside;
The Bishop Orders His Tomb at Saint Praxed's Church;
A Toccata of Galuppi's;
Caliban Upon Setebos;
The Laboratory
Anyway, go read.  It's an order.

Browning's House

Robert Browning
Shall I sonnet-sing you about myself?
Do I live in a house you would like to see?
Is it scant of gear, has it store of pelf?
“Unlock my heart with a sonnet-key?”

Invite the world, as my betters have done?
“Take notice: this building remains on view,
Its suites of reception every one,
Its private apartment and bedroom too;

“For a ticket, apply to the Publisher.”
No: thanking the public I must decline.
A peep through my window, if folk prefer;
But, please you, no foot over threshold of mine!

I have mixed with a crowd and heard free talk
In a foreign land where an earthquake chanced;
And a house stood gaping, naught to balk
Man’s eye wherever he gazed or glanced.
The whole of the frontage shaven sheer,
The inside gaped: exposed to day,
Right and wrong and common and queer,
Bare, as the palm of your hand, it lay.

The owner? Oh, he had been crushed, no doubt!
“Odd tables and chairs for a man of wealth!
What a parcel of musty old books about!
He smoked—no wonder he lost his health!

“I doubt he bathed before he dressed.
A brazier?—the pagan, he burned perfumes!
You see it is proved, what the neighbours guessed:
His wife and himself had separate rooms.”

Friends, the goodman of the house at least
Kept house to himself till an earthquake came:
‘Tis the fall of its frontage permits you feast
On the inside arrangement you praise or blame.

Outside should suffice for evidence:
And whoso desires to penetrate
Deeper, must dive by the spirit sense—
No optics like yours, at any rate!

“Hoity toity! A street to explore,
Your house is the exception! ‘With this same key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart,’ once more”
Did Shakespeare? If so, the less Shakespeare he!

Fra Lippo Lippi

Fra Lippo Lippi
Robert Browning

[Florentine painter, 1412-69]

I am poor brother Lippo, by your leave!
You need not clap your torches to my face.
Zooks, what's to blame? you think you see a monk!
What, 'tis past midnight, and you go the rounds,
And here you catch me at an alley's end
Where sportive ladies leave their doors ajar?
The Carmine's my cloister: hunt it up,
Do — harry out, if you must show your zeal,
Whatever rat, there, haps on his wrong hole,
And nip each softling of a wee white mouse,
, , that's crept to keep him company!
Aha, you know your betters! Then, you'll take
Your hand away that's fiddling on my throat,
And please to know me likewise. Who am I?
Why, one, sir, who is lodging with a friend
Three streets off — he's a certain . . . how d'ye call?
Master — a . . . Cosimo of the Medici,
I' the house that caps the corner. Boh! you were best!
Remember and tell me, the day you're hanged,
How you affected such a gullet's-gripe!
But you, sir, it concerns you that your knaves
Pick up a manner nor discredit you:
Zooks, are we pilchards, that they sweep the streets
And count fair prize what comes into their net?
He's Judas to a tittle, that man is!
Just such a face! Why, sir, you make amends.
Lord, I'm not angry! Bid your hangdogs go
Drink out this quarter-florin to the health
Of the munificent House that harbors me
(And many more beside, lads! more beside!)
And all's come square again. I'd like his face —
His, elbowing on his comrade in the door
With the pike and lantern — for the slave that holds
John Baptist's head a-dangle by the hair
With one hand ("Look you, now," as who should say)
And his weapon in the other, yet unwiped!
It's not your chance to have a bit of chalk,
A wood-coal or the like? or you should see!
Yes, I'm the painter, since you style me so.
What, brother Lippo's doings, up and down,
You know them and they take you? like enough!
I saw the proper twinkle in your eye —
'Tell you, I liked your looks at very first.
Let's sit and set things straight now, hip to haunch.
Here's spring come, and the nights one makes up bands
To roam the town and sing out carnival,
And I've been three weeks shut within my mew,
A-painting for the great man, saints and saints
And saints again. I could not paint all night —
Ouf! I leaned out of window for fresh air.
There came a hurry of feet and little feet,
A sweep of lute-strings, laughs, and whifts of song —
Flower o' the broom,
Take away love, and our earth is a tomb!
Flower o' the quince,
I let Lisa go, and what good is life since?
Flower o' the thyme> — and so on. Round they went.
Scarce had they turned the corner when a titter
Like the skipping of rabbits by moonlight — three slim shapes,
And a face that looked up . . . zooks, sir, flesh and blood,
That's all I'm made of! Into shreds it went,
Curtain and counterpane and coverlet,
All the bed-furniture — a dozen knots,
There was a ladder! Down I let myself,
Hands and feet, scrambling somehow, and so dropped,
And after them. I came up with the fun
Hard by Saint Laurence, hail fellow, well met —
If I've been merry, what matter who knows?hy
And so as I was stealing back again
To get to bed and have a bit of sleep
Ere I rise up to-morrow and go work
On Jerome knocking at his poor old breast
With his great round stone to subdue the flesh,
You snap me of the sudden. Ah, I see!
Though your eye twinkles still, you shake your head —
Mine's shaved — a monk, you say — the sting's in that!
If Master Cosimo announced himself,
Mum's the word naturally; but a monk!
Come, what am I a beast for? tell us, now!
I was a baby when my mother died
And father died and left me in the street.
I starved there. God knows how, a year or two
On fig-skins, melon-parings, rinds and shucks,
Refuse and rubbish. One fine frosty day,
My stomach being empty as your hat,
The wind doubled me up and down I went.
Old Aunt Lapaccia trussed me with one hand,
(Its fellow was a stinger as I knew)
And so along the wall, over the bridge,
By the straight cut to the convent. Six words there,
While I stood munching my first bread that month:
"So, boy, you're minded," quoth the good fat father
Wiping his own mouth, 't was refection-time —
"To quit this very miserable world?
Will you renounce" . . . "the mouthful of bread?" thought I;
By no means! Brief, they made a monk of me;
I did renounce the world, its pride and greed,
Palace, farm, villa, shop and banking-house,
Trash, such as these poor devils of Medici
Have given their hearts to — all at eight years old.
Well, sir, I found in time, you may be sure,
'T was not for nothing — the good bellyful,
The warm serge and the rope that goes all round,
And day-long blessed idleness beside!
"Let's see what the urchin's fit for" — that came next,
Not overmuch their way, I must confess.
Such a to-do! They tried me with their books:
Lord, they'd have taught me Latin in pure waste!
Flower o' the clove,
All the Latin I construe is, "amo" I love!
But, mind you, when a boy starves in the streets
Eight years together, as my fortune was,
Watching folk's faces to know who will fling
The bit of half-stripped grape-bunch he desires,
And who will curse or kick him for his pains,
Which gentleman processional and fine,
Holding a candle to the Sacrament,
Will wink and let him lift a plate and catch
The droppings of the wax to sell again,
Or holla for the Eight and have him whipped,
How say I? — nay, which dog bites?, which lets drop
His bone from the heap of offal in the street —
Why, soul and sense of him grow sharp alike,
He learns the look of things, and none the less
For admonition from the hunger-pinch.
I had a store of such remarks, be sure,
Which, after I found leisure, turned to use.
I drew men's faces on my copy-books,
Scrawled them within the antiphonary's marge,
Joined legs and arms to the long music-notes,
Found eyes and nose and chin for A's and B's,
And made a string of pictures of the world
Betwixt the ins and outs of verb and noun,
On the wall, the bench, the door. The monks looked black.
"Nay," quoth the Prior, "turn him out, d' ye say?
In no wise. Lose a crow and catch a lark.
What if at last we get our man of parts,
We Carmelites, like those Camaldolese
And Preaching Friars, to do our church up fine
And put the front on it that ought to be!"
And hereupon he bade me daub away.
Thank you! my head being crammed, the walls a blank,
Never was such prompt disemburdening.
First, every sort of monk, the black and white,
I drew them, fat and lean : then, folk at church,
From good old gossips waiting to confess
Their cribs of barrel-droppings, candle-ends —
To the breathless fellow at the altar-foot,
Fresh from his murder, safe and sitting there
With the little children round him in a row
Of admiration, half for his beard and half
For that white anger of his victim's son
Shaking a fist at him with one fierce arm,
Signing himself with the other because of Christ
(Whose sad face on the cross sees only this
After the passion of a thousand years)
Till some poor girl, her apron o'er her head,
(Which the intense eyes looked through) came at eve
On tiptoe, said a word, dropped in a loaf,
Her pair of earrings and a bunch of flowers
(The brute took growling), prayed, and so was gone,
I painted all, then cried "'T is ask and have;
Choose, for more's ready!" — laid the ladder flat,
And showed my covered bit of cloister-wall.
The monks closed in a circle and praised loud
Till checked, taught what to see and not to see,
Being simple bodies — "That's the very man!
Look at the boy who stoops to pat the dog!
That woman's like the Prior's niece who comes
To care about his asthma: it's the life!"
But there my triumph's straw-fire flared and funked;
Their betters took their turn to see and say:
The Prior and the learned pulled a face
And stopped all that in no time. "How? what's here?
Quite from the mark of painting, bless us all!
Faces, arms, legs and bodies like the true
As much as pea and pea! it's devil's-game!
Your business is not to catch men with show,
With homage to the perishable clay,
But lift them over it, ignore it all,
Make them forget there's such a thing as flesh.
Your business is to paint the souls of men —
Man's soul, and it's a fire, smoke . . . no, it's not . . .
It's vapor done up like a new-born babe —
(In that shape when you die it leaves your mouth)
It's . . . well, what matters talking, it's the soul!
Give us no more of body than shows soul!
Here's Giotto, with his Saint a-praising God,
That sets us praising — why not stop with him?
Why put all thoughts of praise out of our head
With wonder at lines, colors, and what not?
Paint the soul, never mind the legs and arms!
Rub all out, try at it a second time.
Oh, that white smallish female with the breasts,
She's just my niece . . . Herodias, I would say —
Who went and danced and got men's heads cut off!
Have it all out! "Now, is this sense, I ask?
A fine way to paint soul, by painting body
So ill, the eye can't stop there, must go further
And can't fare worse! Thus, yellow does for white
When what you put for yellow's simply black,
And any sort of meaning looks intense
When all beside itself means and looks naught.
Why can't a painter lift each foot in turn,
Left foot and right foot, go a double step,
Make his flesh liker and his soul more like,
Both in their order? Take the prettiest face,
The Prior's niece . . . patron-saint — is it so pretty
You can't discover if it means hope, fear,
Sorrow or joy? won't beauty go with these?
Suppose I've made her eyes all right and blue,
Can't I take breath and try to add life's flash,
And then add soul and heighten them three-fold?
Or say there's beauty with no soul at all —
(I never saw it — put the case the same — )
If you get simple beauty and naught else,
You get about the best thing God invents:
That's somewhat: and you'll find the soul you have missed,
Within yourself, when you return him thanks.
"Rub all out! "Well, well, there's my life, in short,
And so the thing has gone on ever since.
I'm grown a man no doubt, I've broken bounds:
You should not take a fellow eight years old
And make him swear to never kiss the girls.
I'm my own master, paint now as I please —
Having a friend, you see, in the Corner-house!
Lord, it's fast holding by the rings in front —
Those great rings serve more purposes than just
To plant a flag in, or tie up a horse!
And yet the old schooling sticks, the old grave eyes
Are peeping o'er my shoulder as I work,
The heads shake still — "It's art's decline, my son!
You're not of the true painters, great and old;
Brother Angelico's the man, you'll find;
Brother Lorenzo stands his single peer:
Fag on at flesh, you'll never make the third!"
You keep your mistr . . . manners, and I'll stick to mine!
I'm not the third, then: bless us, they must know!
Don't you think they're the likeliest to know,
They with their Latin? So, I swallow my rage,
Clench my teeth, suck my lips in tight, and paint
To please them — sometimes do and sometimes don't;
For, doing most, there's pretty sure to come
A turn, some warm eve finds me at my saints —
A laugh, a cry, the business of the world —
Flower o' the peach,
Death for us all, and his own life for each!
And my whole soul revolves, the cup runs over,
The world and life's too big to pass for a dream,
And I do these wild things in sheer despite,
And play the fooleries you catch me at,
In pure rage! The old mill-horse, out at grass
After hard years, throws up his stiff heels so,
Although the miller does not preach to him
The only good of grass is to make chaff.
What would men have? Do they like grass or no —
May they or may n't they? all I want's the thing
Settled forever one way. As it is,
You tell too many lies and hurt yourself:
You don't like what you only like too much,
You do like what, if given you at your word,
You find abundantly detestable.
For me, I think I speak as I was taught;
I always see the garden and God there
A-making man's wife: and, my lesson learned,
The value and significance of flesh,
I can't unlearn ten minutes afterwards,

You understand me: I'm a beast, I know.
But see, now — why, I see as certainly
As that the morning-star's about to shine,
What will hap some day. We've a youngster here
Comes to our convent, studies what I do,
Slouches and stares and lets no atom drop:
His name is Guidi — he'll not mind the monks —
They call him Hulking Tom, he lets them talk —
He picks my practice up — he'll paint apace,
I hope so — though I never live so long,
I know what's sure to follow. You be judge!
You speak no Latin more than I, belike;
However, you're my man, you've seen the world
— The beauty and the wonder and the power,
The shapes of things, their colors, lights and shades,
Changes, surprises, — and God made it all!
— For what? Do you feel thankful, ay or no,
For this fair town's face, yonder river's line,
The mountain round it and the sky above,
Much more the figures of man, woman, child,
These are the frame to? What's it all about?
To be passed over, despised? or dwelt upon,
Wondered at? oh, this last of course! — you say.
But why not do as well as say — paint these
Just as they are, careless what comes of it?
God's works — paint any one, and count it crime
To let a truth slip. Don't object, "His works
Are here already; nature is complete:
Suppose you reproduce her (which you can't)
There's no advantage! you must beat her, then."
For, don't you mark? we're made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
And so they are better, painted — better to us,
Which is the same thing. Art was given for that;
God uses us to help each other so,
Lending our minds out. Have you noticed, now,
Your cullion's hanging face? A bit of chalk,
And trust me but you should, though! How much more,
If I drew higher things with the same truth!
That were to take the Prior's pulpit-place,
Interpret God to all of you! Oh, oh,
It makes me mad to see what men shall do
And we in our graves! This world's no blot for us,
Nor blank; it means intensely, and means good:
To find its meaning is my meat and drink.
"Ay, but you don't so instigate to prayer!"
Strikes in the Prior: "when your meaning's plain
It does not say to folk — remember matins,
Or, mind you fast next Friday! "Why, for this
What need of art at all? A skull and bones,
Two bits of stick nailed crosswise, or, what's best,
A bell to chime the hour with, does as well.
I painted a Saint Laurence six months since
At Prato, splashed the fresco in fine style:
" How looks my painting, now the scaffold's down?"
I ask a brother: "Hugely," he returns —
"Already not one phiz of your three slaves
Who turn the Deacon off his toasted side,
But's scratched and prodded to our heart's content,
The pious people have so eased their own
With coming to say prayers there in a rage:
We get on fast to see the bricks beneath.
Expect another job this time next year,
For pity and religion grow i' the crowd —
Your painting serves its purpose! Hang the fools!

— That is — you'll not mistake an idle word
Spoke in a huff by a poor monk. God wot,
Tasting the air this spicy night which turns
The unaccustomed head like Chianti wine!
Oh, the church knows! don't misreport me, now!
It's natural a poor monk out of bounds
Should have his apt word to excuse himself:
And hearken how I plot to make amends.
I have bethought me: I shall paint a piece
. . . There's for you! Give me six months, then go, see
Something in Sant' Ambrogio's! Bless the nuns!
They want a cast o' my office. I shall paint
God in the midst. Madonna and her babe,
Ringed by a bowery flowery angel-brood,
Lilies and vestments and white faces, sweet
As puff on puff of grated orris-root
When ladies crowd to Church at midsummer.
And then i' the front, of course a saint or two —
Saint John, because he saves the Florentines,
Saint Ambrose, who puts down in black and white
The convent's friends and gives them a long day,
And Job, I must have him there past mistake,
The man of Uz (and Us without the z,
Painters who need his patience). Well, all these
Secured at their devotion, up shall come
Out of a corner when you least expect,
As one by a dark stair into a great light,
Music and talking, who but Lippo! I! —
Mazed, motionless and moonstruck — I'm the man!
Back I shrink — what is this I see and hear?
I, caught up with my monk's-things by mistake,
My old serge gown and rope that goes all round,
I, in this presence, this pure company!
Where's a hole, where's a corner for escape?
Then steps a sweet angelic slip of a thing
Forward, puts out a soft palm — "Not so fast!"
— Addresses the celestial presence, "nay —
He made you and devised you, after all,
Though he's none of you! Could Saint John there draw —
His camel-hair make up a painting-brush?
We come to brother Lippo for all that,
"Iste perfecit opus." So, all smile —
I shuffle sideways with my blushing face
Under the cover of a hundred wings
Thrown like a spread of kirtles when you're gay
And play hot cockles, all the doors being shut,
Till, wholly unexpected, in there pops
The hothead husband! Thus I scuttle off
To some safe bench behind, not letting go
The palm of her, the little lily thing
That spoke the good word for me in the nick,
Like the Prior's niece . . . Saint Lucy, I would say.
And so all's saved for me, and for the church
A pretty picture gained. Go, six months hence!
Your hand, sir, and good-bye: no lights, no lights!
The street's hushed, and I know my own way back,
Don't fear me! There's the gray beginning. Zooks!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Unexpected Item in the Bagging Area

Tesco, W H Smith and similar store chains seem to have committed heavily to customer self-service checkouts.

Based on the discoveries that the barcodes work, and that debit and credit cards work, and the belief that the business of working behind the counter in one of those chains can become ever more menial, we can now fully serve ourselves. Anyone can do it, it is so deskilled.

At the same time, this automation – and cost saving for the shareholder – is painted as a bonus, a step forward. We are sold the idea that we can escape from the queue, we can upgrade by doing it ourselves. And this notion today, at the checkout (what a word! what an essay in itself!) is sold to us by those whose jobs close ever faster the more we buy into this nostrum.

(I could wax nostalgic, for the time when every purchase was a personalised conversation between me and the shop assistant – idealised, private and special. But I have to admit I am a surly, taciturn shopper at best – grunting and gesturing by preference, rather than comfortably discussing my retail needs. There may have been a time when shopping was social – but not, I’m afraid, for me. In fact, the exhortations from the downtrodden soon-to-be-fired assistants that I should want to use the machines are themselves far more interactivity than I crave).

To continue: we buy into this idea - we pay with time and frustration to become part of the store’s system. And yet, for us poor store users, this is nothing new. The system trapped us years ago.  The only thing we don't do now is stack the shelves.  And I imagine that time too will come.

The new technology is not the important technology; the play of standardisation masquerading as quality has held us for years. So, we acquiesce – this is nothing new.

But if this is not a fracture, in itself, it demonstrates another widening gap. For being in a store, buying stuff, is not shopping. Tesco , W. H Smith are not shops.

And to the extent that they define our physical retail experience Napoleon is proven out-of-date: we are no longer a nation of shopkeepers.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dramatic, Astonishing

My Last Duchess
Robert Browning


That’s my last Duchess painted on the wall,
Looking as if she were alive. I call
That piece a wonder, now; Fra Pandolf’s hands
Worked busily a day, and there she stands.
Will’t please you sit and look at her? I said
“Fra Pandolf” by design, for never read
Strangers like you that pictured countenance,
The depth and passion of its earnest glance,
But to myself they turned (since none puts by
The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)
And seemed as they would ask me, if they durst,
How such a glance came there; so, not the first
Are you to turn and ask thus. Sir, ’twas not
Her husband’s presence only, called that spot
Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek; perhaps
Fra Pandolf chanced to say, “Her mantle laps
Over my lady’s wrist too much,” or “Paint
Must never hope to reproduce the faint
Half-flush that dies along her throat.” Such stuff
Was courtesy, she thought, and cause enough
For calling up that spot of joy. She had
A heart—how shall I say?— too soon made glad,
Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er
She looked on, and her looks went everywhere.
Sir, ’twas all one! My favour at her breast,
The dropping of the daylight in the West,
The bough of cherries some officious fool
Broke in the orchard for her, the white mule
She rode with round the terrace—all and each
Would draw from her alike the approving speech,
Or blush, at least. She thanked men—good! but thanked
Somehow—I know not how—as if she ranked
My gift of a nine-hundred-years-old name
With anybody’s gift. Who’d stoop to blame
This sort of trifling? Even had you skill
In speech—which I have not—to make your will
Quite clear to such an one, and say, “Just this
Or that in you disgusts me; here you miss,
Or there exceed the mark”—and if she let
Herself be lessoned so, nor plainly set
Her wits to yours, forsooth, and made excuse—
E’en then would be some stooping; and I choose
Never to stoop. Oh, sir, she smiled, no doubt,
Whene’er I passed her; but who passed without
Much the same smile? This grew; I gave commands;
Then all smiles stopped together. There she stands
As if alive. Will’t please you rise? We’ll meet
The company below, then. I repeat,
The Count your master’s known munificence
Is ample warrant that no just pretense
Of mine for dowry will be disallowed;
Though his fair daughter’s self, as I avowed
At starting, is my object. Nay, we’ll go
Together down, sir. Notice Neptune, though,
Taming a sea-horse, thought a rarity,
Which Claus of Innsbruck cast in bronze for me!

More Browning

Summum Bonum
Robert Browning

All the breath and the bloom of the year
In the bag of one bee
All the wonder and wealth of the mine
In the heart of one gem
In the core of one pearl all the shade
And the shine of the sea
Breath and bloom, shade and shine, wonder, wealth,
And how far above them
Truth that's brighter than gem
Trust that's purer than pearl,
Brightest truth, purest trust in the universe
All were for me
In the kiss of one girl.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Great Browning

Andrea del Sarto
Robert Browning

But do not let us quarrel any more,
No, my Lucrezia; bear with me for once:
Sit down and all shall happen as you wish.
You turn your face, but does it bring your heart?
I'll work then for your friend's friend, never fear,
Treat his own subject after his own way,
Fix his own time, accept too his own price,
And shut the money into this small hand
When next it takes mine. Will it? tenderly?
Oh, I'll content him,—but to-morrow, Love!
I often am much wearier than you think,
This evening more than usual, and it seems
As if—forgive now—should you let me sit
Here by the window with your hand in mine
And look a half-hour forth on Fiesole,
Both of one mind, as married people use,
Quietly, quietly the evening through,
I might get up to-morrow to my work
Cheerful and fresh as ever. Let us try.
To-morrow, how you shall be glad for this!
Your soft hand is a woman of itself,
And mine the man's bared breast she curls inside.
Don't count the time lost, neither; you must serve
For each of the five pictures we require:
It saves a model. So! keep looking so—
My serpentining beauty, rounds on rounds!
—How could you ever prick those perfect ears,
Even to put the pearl there! oh, so sweet—
My face, my moon, my everybody's moon,
Which everybody looks on and calls his,
And, I suppose, is looked on by in turn,
While she looks—no one's: very dear, no less.
You smile? why, there's my picture ready made,
There's what we painters call our harmony!
A common greyness silvers everything,—
All in a twilight, you and I alike
—You, at the point of your first pride in me
(That's gone you know),—but I, at every point;
My youth, my hope, my art, being all toned down
To yonder sober pleasant Fiesole.
There's the bell clinking from the chapel-top;
That length of convent-wall across the way
Holds the trees safer, huddled more inside;
The last monk leaves the garden; days decrease,
And autumn grows, autumn in everything.
Eh? the whole seems to fall into a shape
As if I saw alike my work and self
And all that I was born to be and do,
A twilight-piece. Love, we are in God's hand.
How strange now, looks the life he makes us lead;
So free we seem, so fettered fast we are!
I feel he laid the fetter: let it lie!
This chamber for example—turn your head—
All that's behind us! You don't understand
Nor care to understand about my art,
But you can hear at least when people speak:
And that cartoon, the second from the door
—It is the thing, Love! so such things should be—
Behold Madonna!—I am bold to say.
I can do with my pencil what I know,
What I see, what at bottom of my heart
I wish for, if I ever wish so deep—
Do easily, too—when I say, perfectly,
I do not boast, perhaps: yourself are judge,
Who listened to the Legate's talk last week,
And just as much they used to say in France.
At any rate 'tis easy, all of it!
No sketches first, no studies, that's long past:
I do what many dream of, all their lives,
—Dream? strive to do, and agonize to do,
And fail in doing. I could count twenty such
On twice your fingers, and not leave this town,
Who strive—you don't know how the others strive
To paint a little thing like that you smeared
Carelessly passing with your robes afloat,—
Yet do much less, so much less, Someone says,
(I know his name, no matter)—so much less!
Well, less is more, Lucrezia: I am judged.
There burns a truer light of God in them,
In their vexed beating stuffed and stopped-up brain,
Heart, or whate'er else, than goes on to prompt
This low-pulsed forthright craftsman's hand of mine.
Their works drop groundward, but themselves, I know,
Reach many a time a heaven that's shut to me,
Enter and take their place there sure enough,
Though they come back and cannot tell the world.
My works are nearer heaven, but I sit here.
The sudden blood of these men! at a word—
Praise them, it boils, or blame them, it boils too.
I, painting from myself and to myself,
Know what I do, am unmoved by men's blame
Or their praise either. Somebody remarks
Morello's outline there is wrongly traced,
His hue mistaken; what of that? or else,
Rightly traced and well ordered; what of that?
Speak as they please, what does the mountain care?
Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what's a heaven for? All is silver-grey,
Placid and perfect with my art: the worse!
I know both what I want and what might gain,
And yet how profitless to know, to sigh
"Had I been two, another and myself,
"Our head would have o'erlooked the world!" No doubt.
Yonder's a work now, of that famous youth
The Urbinate who died five years ago.
('Tis copied, George Vasari sent it me.)
Well, I can fancy how he did it all,
Pouring his soul, with kings and popes to see,
Reaching, that heaven might so replenish him,
Above and through his art—for it gives way;
That arm is wrongly put—and there again—
A fault to pardon in the drawing's lines,
Its body, so to speak: its soul is right,
He means right—that, a child may understand.
Still, what an arm! and I could alter it:
But all the play, the insight and the stretch—
(Out of me, out of me! And wherefore out?
Had you enjoined them on me, given me soul,
We might have risen to Rafael, I and you!
Nay, Love, you did give all I asked, I think—
More than I merit, yes, by many times.
But had you—oh, with the same perfect brow,
And perfect eyes, and more than perfect mouth,
And the low voice my soul hears, as a bird
The fowler's pipe, and follows to the snare —
Had you, with these the same, but brought a mind!
Some women do so. Had the mouth there urged
"God and the glory! never care for gain.
"The present by the future, what is that?
"Live for fame, side by side with Agnolo!
"Rafael is waiting: up to God, all three!"
I might have done it for you. So it seems:
Perhaps not. All is as God over-rules.
Beside, incentives come from the soul's self;
The rest avail not. Why do I need you?
What wife had Rafael, or has Agnolo?
In this world, who can do a thing, will not;
And who would do it, cannot, I perceive:
Yet the will's somewhat—somewhat, too, the power—
And thus we half-men struggle. At the end,
God, I conclude, compensates, punishes.
'Tis safer for me, if the award be strict,
That I am something underrated here,
Poor this long while, despised, to speak the truth.
I dared not, do you know, leave home all day,
For fear of chancing on the Paris lords.
The best is when they pass and look aside;
But they speak sometimes; I must bear it all.
Well may they speak! That Francis, that first time,
And that long festal year at Fontainebleau!
I surely then could sometimes leave the ground,
Put on the glory, Rafael's daily wear,
In that humane great monarch's golden look,—
One finger in his beard or twisted curl
Over his mouth's good mark that made the smile,
One arm about my shoulder, round my neck,
The jingle of his gold chain in my ear,
I painting proudly with his breath on me,
All his court round him, seeing with his eyes,
Such frank French eyes, and such a fire of souls
Profuse, my hand kept plying by those hearts,—
And, best of all, this, this, this face beyond,
This in the background, waiting on my work,
To crown the issue with a last reward!
A good time, was it not, my kingly days?
And had you not grown restless... but I know—
'Tis done and past: 'twas right, my instinct said:
Too live the life grew, golden and not grey,
And I'm the weak-eyed bat no sun should tempt
Out of the grange whose four walls make his world.
How could it end in any other way?
You called me, and I came home to your heart.
The triumph was—to reach and stay there; since
I reached it ere the triumph, what is lost?
Let my hands frame your face in your hair's gold,
You beautiful Lucrezia that are mine!
"Rafael did this, Andrea painted that;
"The Roman's is the better when you pray,
"But still the other's Virgin was his wife—"
Men will excuse me. I am glad to judge
Both pictures in your presence; clearer grows
My better fortune, I resolve to think.
For, do you know, Lucrezia, as God lives,
Said one day Agnolo, his very self,
To Rafael . . . I have known it all these years . . .
(When the young man was flaming out his thoughts
Upon a palace-wall for Rome to see,
Too lifted up in heart because of it)
"Friend, there's a certain sorry little scrub
"Goes up and down our Florence, none cares how,
"Who, were he set to plan and execute
"As you are, pricked on by your popes and kings,
"Would bring the sweat into that brow of yours!"
To Rafael's!—And indeed the arm is wrong.
I hardly dare . . . yet, only you to see,
Give the chalk here—quick, thus, the line should go!
Ay, but the soul! he's Rafael! rub it out!
Still, all I care for, if he spoke the truth,
(What he? why, who but Michel Agnolo?
Do you forget already words like those?)
If really there was such a chance, so lost,—
Is, whether you're—not grateful—but more pleased.
Well, let me think so. And you smile indeed!
This hour has been an hour! Another smile?
If you would sit thus by me every night
I should work better, do you comprehend?
I mean that I should earn more, give you more.
See, it is settled dusk now; there's a star;
Morello's gone, the watch-lights show the wall,
The cue-owls speak the name we call them by.
Come from the window, love,—come in, at last,
Inside the melancholy little house
We built to be so gay with. God is just.
King Francis may forgive me: oft at nights
When I look up from painting, eyes tired out,
The walls become illumined, brick from brick
Distinct, instead of mortar, fierce bright gold,
That gold of his I did cement them with!
Let us but love each other. Must you go?
That Cousin here again? he waits outside?
Must see you—you, and not with me? Those loans?
More gaming debts to pay? you smiled for that?
Well, let smiles buy me! have you more to spend?
While hand and eye and something of a heart
Are left me, work's my ware, and what's it worth?
I'll pay my fancy. Only let me sit
The grey remainder of the evening out,
Idle, you call it, and muse perfectly
How I could paint, were I but back in France,
One picture, just one more—the Virgin's face,
Not yours this time! I want you at my side
To hear them—that is, Michel Agnolo—
Judge all I do and tell you of its worth.
Will you? To-morrow, satisfy your friend.
I take the subjects for his corridor,
Finish the portrait out of hand—there, there,
And throw him in another thing or two
If he demurs; the whole should prove enough
To pay for this same Cousin's freak. Beside,
What's better and what's all I care about,
Get you the thirteen scudi for the ruff!
Love, does that please you? Ah, but what does he,
The Cousin! what does he to please you more?

I am grown peaceful as old age to-night.
I regret little, I would change still less.
Since there my past life lies, why alter it?
The very wrong to Francis!—it is true
I took his coin, was tempted and complied,
And built this house and sinned, and all is said.
My father and my mother died of want.
Well, had I riches of my own? you see
How one gets rich! Let each one bear his lot.
They were born poor, lived poor, and poor they died:
And I have laboured somewhat in my time
And not been paid profusely. Some good son
Paint my two hundred pictures—let him try!
No doubt, there's something strikes a balance. Yes,
You loved me quite enough. it seems to-night.
This must suffice me here. What would one have?
In heaven, perhaps, new chances, one more chance—
Four great walls in the New Jerusalem,
Meted on each side by the angel's reed,
For Leonard, Rafael, Agnolo and me
To cover—the three first without a wife,
While I have mine! So—still they overcome
Because there's still Lucrezia,—as I choose.

Again the Cousin's whistle! Go, my Love.


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Currently promoting UnDiamond Jubilee memorabilia from Steve Bell.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Thursday Browning II

Meeting at Night
Robert Browning

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

One more minor obsession

The Guardian has started a list of the top 10 mentions of crosswords in fiction, with No 10: Brief Encounter.
They note:
Brief Encounter is number two in the BFI's pick of the all-time best British films. While undoubtedly impressive, it is a picture viciously critical of crosswords, and so can come no higher than number 10 in our list
and in passing criticise the use of crosswords in Hot Fuzz too.
Here are the final scores for Brief Encounter:
Accuracy of portrayal of crosswords: 4/10
Positive attitude regarding crosswords: 0/10
Importance of crosswords in plot: 6/10

At last! A role for Prince Charles!

I couldn't believe it either, but - with significant amounts of training - it appears there is something useful a member of the horrible Windsor family can do!

See here...

Thursday Browning I

Garden Fancies II: Sindandus Schafnaburgensis
Robert Browning

Plague take all your pedants, say I!
He who wrote what I hold in my hand,
Centuries back was so good as to die,
Leaving this rubbish to cumber the land;
This, that was a book in its time,
Printed on paper and bound in leather,
Last month in the white of a matin-prime
Just when the birds sang all together.

Into the garden I brought it to read,
And under the arbute and laurustine
Read it, so help me grace in my need,
From title-page to closing line.
Chapter on chapter did I count,
As a curious traveller counts Stonehenge;
Added up the mortal amount;
And then proceeded to my revenge.

Yonder's a plum-tree with a crevice
An owl would build in, were he but sage;
For a lap of moss, like a fine pont-levis
In a castle of the Middle Age,
Joins to a lip of gum, pure amber;
When he'd be private, there might he spend
Hours alone in his lady's chamber:
Into this crevice I dropped our friend.

Splash, went he, as under he ducked,
---At the bottom, I knew, rain-drippings stagnate:
Next, a handful of blossoms I plucked
To bury him with, my bookshelf's magnate;
Then I went in-doors, brought out a loaf,
Half a cheese, and a bottle of Chablis;
Lay on the grass and forgot the oaf
Over a jolly chapter of Rabelais.

Now, this morning, betwixt the moss
And gum that locked our friend in limbo,
A spider had spun his web across,
And sat in the midst with arms akimbo:
So, I took pity, for learning's sake,
And, _de profundis, accentibus ltis,
Cantate!_ quoth I, as I got a rake;
And up I fished his delectable treatise.

Here you have it, dry in the sun,
With all the binding all of a blister,
And great blue spots where the ink has run,
And reddish streaks that wink and glister
O'er the page so beautifully yellow:
Oh, well have the droppings played their tricks!
Did he guess how toadstools grow, this fellow?
Here's one stuck in his chapter six!

How did he like it when the live creatures
Tickled and toused and browsed him all over,
And worm, slug, eft, with serious features,
Came in, each one, for his right of trover?
---When the water-beetle with great blind deaf face
Made of her eggs the stately deposit,
And the newt borrowed just so much of the preface
As tiled in the top of his black wife's closet?

All that life and fun and romping,
All that frisking and twisting and coupling,
While slowly our poor friend's leaves were swamping
And clasps were cracking and covers suppling!
As if you bad carried sour John Knox
To the play-house at Paris, Vienna or Munich,
Fastened him into a front-row box,
And danced off the ballet with trousers and tunic.

Come, old martyr! What, torment enough is it?
Back to my room shall you take your sweet self.
Good-bye, mother-beetle; husband-eft, _sufficit!_
See the snug niche I have made on my shelf!
A.'s book shall prop you up, B.'s shall cover you,
Here's C. to be grave with, or D. to be gay,
And with E. on each side, and F. right over you,
Dry-rot at ease till the Judgment-day!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Pied Piper

The Pied Piper of Hamelin
Robert Browning

Hamelin Town’s in Brunswick,
By famous Hanover city;
The river Weser, deep and wide,
Washes its wall on the southern side;
A pleasanter spot you never spied;
But, when begins my ditty,
Almost five hundred years ago,
To see the townsfolk suffer so
From vermin, was a pity.

They fought the dogs and killed the cats,
And bit the babies in the cradles,
And ate the cheeses out of the vats,
And licked the soup from the cook’s own ladles,
Split open the kegs of salted sprats,
Made nests inside men’s Sunday hats,
And even spoiled the women’s chats
By drowning their speaking
With shrieking and squeaking
In fifty different sharps and flats.

At last the people in a body
To the Town Hall came flocking:
“ ’T is clear,” cried they, “our Mayor’s a noddy;
And as for our Corporation — shocking
To think we buy gowns lined with ermine
For dolts that can’t or won’t determine
What’s best to rid us of our vermin!
You hope, because you’re old and obese,
To find in the furry civic robe ease?
Rouse up, sirs! Give your brains a racking
To find the remedy we’re lacking,
Or, sure as fate, we’ll send you packing!”
At this the Mayor and Corporation
Quaked with a mighty consternation.

An hour they sat in council;
At length the Mayor broke silence:
“For a guilder I’d my ermine gown sell,
I wish I were a mile hence!
It’s easy to bid one rack one’s brain —
I’m sure my poor head aches again,
I’ve scratched it so, and all in vain.
Oh, for a trap, a trap, a trap!”
Just as he said this, what should hap
At the chamber-door but a gentle tap?
“Bless us,” cried the Mayor, “What’s that?”
(With the Corporation as he sat,
Looking little though wondrous fat;
Nor brighter was his eye nor moister
Than a too-long-opened oyster,
Save when at noon his paunch grew mutinous
For a plate of turtle green and glutinous)
“Only a scraping of shoes on the mat?
Anything like the sound of a rat
Makes my heart go pit-a-pat!”

“Come in!” — the Mayor cried, looking bigger:
And in did come the strangest figure!
His queer long coat from heel to head
Was half of yellow and half of red,
And he himself was tall and thin,
With sharp blue eyes, each like a pin,
And light loose hair, yet swarthy skin,
No tuft on cheek nor beard on chin,
But lips where smiles went out and in;
There was no guessing his kith and kin:
And nobody could enough admire
The tall man and his quaint attire.
Quoth one: “It’s as my great-grandsire,
Starting up at the Trump of Doom’s tone,
Had walked this way from his painted tombstone!”

He advanced to the council-table:
And “Please, your honors,” said he, “I’m able,
By means of a secret charm, to draw
All creatures living beneath the sun,
That creep or swim or fly or run,
After me so as you never saw!
And I chiefly use my charm
On creatures that do people harm,
The mole and toad and newt and viper;
And people call me the Pied Piper.”
(And here they noticed round his neck
A scarf of red and yellow stripe,
To match with his coat of the self-same cheque;
And at the scarf’s end hung a pipe;
And his fingers, they noticed, were ever straying
As if impatient to be playing
Upon this pipe, as low it dangled
Over his vesture so old-fangled.)
“Yet,” said he, “poor piper as I am,
In Tartary I freed the Cham,
Last June, from his huge swarms of gnats;
I eased in Asia the Nizam
Of a monstrous brood of vampire-bats;
And as for what your brain bewilders,
If I can rid your town of rats
Will you give me a thousand guilders?”
“One!? Fifty thousand!” — was the exclamation
Of the astonished Mayor and Corporation.

Into the street the Piper stept,
Smiling first a little smile,
As if he knew what magic slept
In his quiet pipe the while;
Then, like a musical adept,
To blow his pipe his lips he wrinkled,
And green and blue his sharp eyes twinkled.
Like a candle-flame where salt is sprinkled;
And ere three shrill notes the pipe uttered,
You heard as if an army muttered;
And the muttering grew to a grumbling;
And the grumbling grew to a mighty rumbling;
And out of the houses the rats came tumbling.
Great rats, small rats, lean rats, brawny rats,
Brown rats, black rats, gray rats, tawny rats,
Grave old plodders, gay young friskers,
Fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins,
Cocking tails and pricking whiskers,
Families by tens and dozens,
Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives,
Followed the Piper for their lives.
From street to street he piped advancing,
And step by step they followed dancing,
Until they came to the river Weser,
Wherein all plunged and perished!
— Save one, who, stout as Julias Caeser,
Swam across and lived to carry
(As he, the manuscript he cherished)
to Rat-land home his commentary:
Which was, “At the first shrill notes of the pipe,
I heard a sound as of scraping tripe,
And putting apples, wondrous ripe,
Into a cider-press’s gripe,
And a moving away of pickle tub-boards,
And a leaving ajar of conserve-cupboards,
And a drawing the corks of train-oil-flasks,
And a breaking the hoops of butter-casks:
And it seemed as if a voice
(Sweeter far than by harp or psaltery
Is breathed) called out, ’Oh rats, rejoice!
The world is grown to one vast drysaltery!
So munch on, crunch on, take your nuncheon,
Breakfast, supper, dinner, luncheon!’
And just as a bulky sugar-puncheon,
All ready staved, like a great sun shone,
Glorious scarce an inch before me,
Just as methought it said, ’Come, bore me!’
— I found the Weser rolling o’er me.”

You should have heard the Hamelin people
Ringing the bells till they rocked the steeple.
“Go,” cried the Mayor, “and get long poles,
Poke out the nests and block up the holes!
Consult with carpenters and builders,
And leave in our town not even a trace
of the rats!” — when suddenly, up the face
Of the Piper perked in the market-place,
With a “First, if you please, my thousand guilders!”

A thousand guilders! The Mayor looked blue.
So did the corporation too.
For council dinners made rare havoc
With Claret, Moselle, Vin-de-Grave, Hock;
And half the money would replenish
Their cellar’s biggest butt with Rhenish.
To pay this sum to a wandering fellow
With a gypsy coat of red and yellow!
“Beside,” quoth the Mayor with a knowing wink,
“Our business was ended at the river’s brink;
We saw with our eyes the vermin sink,
And what’s dead can’t come to life, I think;
So, friend, we’re not the folks to shrink
From the duty of giving you something for drink,
And a matter of money to put in your poke;
But as for the guilders, what we spoke
Of them, as you very well know, was in joke.
Beside, our losses have made us thrifty.
A thousand guilders! Come, take fifty!”

The Piper’s face fell, and he cried,
“No trifling, I can’t wait, beside!
I’ve promised to visit by dinner time
Bagdat, and accept the prime
Of the Head-Cook’s pottage, all he’s rich in
For having left, in the Caliph’s kitchen
Of a nest of scorpions no survivor,
With him I proved no bargain-driver.
With you, don’t think I’ll bate a stiver!
And folks who put me in a passion
May find me pipe after another fashion.”

“How?” cried the Mayor, “D’ye think I brook
Being worse treated than a cook?
Insulted by a lazy ribald
With idle pipe and vesture piebald?
You threaten us, fellow? Do your worst,
Blow your pipe there till you burst!”

Once more he stept into the street,
And to his lips again,
Laid his long pipe of smooth straight cane;
And ere he blew three notes (such sweet
Soft notes as yet musician’s cunning
Never gave the enraptured air)
There was a rustling that seemed like a bustling
Of merry crowds justling at pitching and hustling;
Small feet were pattering, wooden shoes clattering,
Little hands clapping and little tongues chattering,
And, like fowls in a farm-yard when barley is scattering,
Out came the children running.
All the little boys and girls,
With rosy cheeks and flaxen curls,
And sparkling eyes and teeth like pearls,
Tripping and skipping, ran merrily after
The wonderful music with shouting and laughter.

The Mayor was dumb, and the Council stood
As if they were changed into blocks of wood,
Unable to move a step, or cry
To the children merrily skipping by,
— Could only follow with the eye
That joyous crowd at the Piper’s back.
But how the Mayor was on the rack,
And the wretched Council’s bosoms beat,
As the piper turned from the High Street
To where the Weser rolled its waters
Right in the way of their sons and daughters!
However, he turned from South to West,
And to Koppelberg Hill his steps addressed,
And after him the children pressed;
Great was the joy in every breast.
“He never can cross that mighty top!
He’s forced to let the piping drop,
And we shall see our children stop!”
When, lo, as they reached the mountain-side,
A wondrous portal opened wide,
As if a cavern was suddenly hollowed,
And the Piper advanced and the children followed,
And when all were in to the very last,
The door in the mountain-side shut fast.
Did I say all? No! one was lame,
And could not dance the whole of the way;
And in after years, if you would blame
His sadness, he was used to say, —
“It’s dull in our town since my playmates left!
I can’t forget that I’m bereft
Of all the pleasant sights they see,
Which the Piper also promised me.
For he led us, he said, to a joyous land,
Joining the town and just at hand,
Where waters gushed and fruit-trees grew,
And flowers put forth a fairer hue,
And everything was strange and new;
The sparrows were brighter then peacocks here,
And their dogs outran our fallow deer,
And honey-bees had lost their stings,
And horses were born with eagles’ wings;
And just as I became assured
My lame foot would be speedily cured,
The music stopped and I stood still,
And found myself outside the hill,
Left alone against my will,
To go now limping as before,
And never hear of that country more!”

Alas, alas for Hamelin!
There came into many a burgher’s pate
A text which says that heaven’s gate
Opes to the rich at as easy rate
As the needle’s eye takes a camel in!
The Mayor sent East, West, North and South
To offer the Piper, by word of mouth,
Wherever it was men’s lot to find him,
Silver and gold to his heart’s content,
If he’d only return the way he went,
And bring the children behind him.
But when they saw ’t was a lost endeavor,
And Piper and dancers were gone forever,
They made a decree that lawyers never
Should think their records dated duly
If, after the day of the month and year,
These words did not as well appear,
“And so long after what happened here
On the Twenty-second of July,
Thirteen hundred and seventy-six:”
And the better in memory to fix
The place of the children’s last retreat,
They called it, the Pied Piper’s Street —
Where anyone playing on pipe or tabor,
Was sure for the future to lose his labor.
Nor suffered they hostelry or tavern
To shock with mirth a street so solemn.
But opposite the place of the cavern
They wrote the story on a column,
And on the great church-window painted
The same, to make the world acquainted
How their children were stolen away,
And there it stands to this very day.
And I must not omit to say
That in Transylvania there’s a tribe
Of alien people who ascribe
The outlandish ways and dress
On which their neighbors lay such stress,
To their fathers and mothers having risen
Out of some subterraneous prison
Into which they were trepanned
Long time ago in a mighty band
Out of Hamelin town in Brunswick land,
But how or why, they don’t understand.

So, Willy, let me and you be wipers
Of scores out with all men — especially pipers!
And, whether they pipe us free from rats or from mice,
If we’ve promised them aught, let us keep our promise!

Howard Carter's Sandals

Today's Google Doodle recognises Howard Carter's birthday (his 138th!):-
... but did you know that his sandals can be found in a storeroom in the Egyptology department of the British Museum?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Three Rivers

Six or so weeks ago, in mid-March, we went up north and visted three different rivers.  See if you can spot which ones they are (answers at the end).

Here is the first - pretty easy I think, although not the usual tourist views:
 The second should be even easier.
 And finally, this one is somewhat further south:

For those who need the answers, see below.

The first is the Wear at Durham, seen from Elvet Bridge.  I think the boats give it away.

The second is the Tees at High Force waterfall.  Lots of things to write about here - the Whin Sill, etc.  But here is a sign from the walk to do it for me:-
Finally, we went and stayed in a B&B in the peaks, and visited Dovedale for a lovely, sunny walk.

Easy, really...

Today's Browning

Home Thoughts, From Abroad
Robert Browning

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Major Versions

Today's XKCD is wonderful - a cartoon rendition of G&S's "Modern Major General."   And if you click on it you'll find you link through to a YouTube video of a company singing the original on the Beeb - lead by Simon Butteriss as the MG.

And then, only a few hours later, this appeared online:


Poem of the Week

Love among the Ruins
Robert Browning

Where the quiet-coloured end of evening smiles,
  Miles and miles
On the solitary pastures where our sheep
Tinkle homeward thro' the twilight, stray or stop
  As they crop—
Was the site once of a city great and gay,
  (So they say)
Of our country's very capital, its prince
  Ages since
Held his court in, gathered councils, wielding far
  Peace or war.

Now the country does not even boast a tree,
  As you see,
To distinguish slopes of verdure, certain rills
  From the hills
Intersect and give a name to, (else they run
  Into one)
Where the domed and daring palace shot its spires
  Up like fires
O'er the hundred-gated circuit of a wall
  Bounding all
Made of marble, men might march on nor be prest
  Twelve abreast.

And such plenty and perfection, see, of grass
  Never was!
Such a carpet as, this summer-time, o'er-spreads
  And embeds
Every vestige of the city, guessed alone,
  Stock or stone—
Where a multitude of men breathed joy and woe
  Long ago;
Lust of glory pricked their hearts up, dread of shame
  Struck them tame;
And that glory and that shame alike, the gold
  Bought and sold.

Now—the single little turret that remains
  On the plains,
By the caper overrooted, by the gourd
While the patching houseleek's head of blossom winks
  Through the chinks—
Marks the basement whence a tower in ancient time
  Sprang sublime,
And a burning ring, all round, the chariots traced
  As they raced,
And the monarch and his minions and his dames
  Viewed the games.

And I know, while thus the quiet-coloured eve
  Smiles to leave
To their folding, all our many-tinkling fleece
  In such peace,
And the slopes and rills in undistinguished grey
  Melt away—
That a girl with eager eyes and yellow hair
  Waits me there
In the turret whence the charioteers caught soul
  For the goal,
When the king looked, where she looks now, breathless, dumb
  Till I come.

But he looked upon the city, every side,
  Far and wide,
All the mountains topped with temples, all the glades'
All the causeys, bridges, aqueducts,—and then
  All the men!
When I do come, she will speak not, she will stand,
  Either hand
On my shoulder, give her eyes the first embrace
  Of my face,
Ere we rush, ere we extinguish sight and speech
  Each on each.

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
  South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
  As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
  Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
  Earth's returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
  Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
  Love is best.

Two Hundred

Today is the two hundredth anniversary of Robert Browning's birth.  Almost wholly overshadowed this year by Dickens, who was three months older than him, it is a great shame that more isn't being made of the occasion.

Author of long, complicated poems, dramatic monologues, love lyrics and other pieces.  Born in Camberwell, schooled for a while in Peckham.  He committed himself to poetry and lived with his parents in New Cross (see his plaque on the side of Haberdashers' Aske's School in Jerningham Rd). 

He's one of those poets who've written lines you've heard before many times, but you didn't know they came from him.  

We like him, here at the Trees.  And he is a local lad.

So this is the start of our Browning week

On The Amazon

I developed an Amazon habit last year - books and CDs mostly - which I decided I should give  up for Lent.  All those newly-reviewed books and albums would just have to wait until Easter.

And then a few days before the end of Lent, the stories started circulating about Amazon's tax dodging.  Which meant, of course, I couldn't go back, couldn't re-acquire the habit.  Which is good really, and it does mean that I've been spending more time in real shops. 

But I do miss the little online frisson, the parcels turning up a few days later, and the voice saying 'What the hell have you bought now?'

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Growing Argonath

I mentioned Nunhead's own Argonath a few years back.  They have often seemed small and stunted. 

However, possibly as a result of all of the recent rain, they seem to be sprouting!  Lots of tender green growth from the tips of the branches.

Go and have a look...

The Norbiton Dragon

So last weekend we went to damp Norbiton to see friends get married.  Or rather to join in with the post-event meal.

Which turned out to involve multiple courses of Thai food.  Ten or more.  If the usual fare at the Dragon is anything like this (and we believe it may be), they should be highly commended - and recommended,