‘Could a rule be given from without, poetry would cease to be poetry, and sink into a mechanical art. It would be μóρφωσις, not ποίησις. The rules of the IMAGINATION are themselves the very powers of growth and production. The words to which they are reducible, present only the outlines and external appearance of the fruit. A deceptive counterfeit of the superficial form and colours may be elaborated; but the marble peach feels cold and heavy, and children only put it to their mouths.’ [Coleridge, Biographia ch. 18]

‘ποίησις’ (poiēsis) means ‘a making, a creation, a production’ and is used of poetry in Aristotle and Plato. ‘μóρφωσις’ (morphōsis) in essence means the same thing: ‘a shaping, a bringing into shape.’ But Coleridge has in mind the New Testament use of the word as ‘semblance’ or ‘outward appearance’, which the KJV translates as ‘form’: ‘An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form [μóρφωσις] of knowledge and of the truth in the law’ [Romans 2:20]; ‘Having a form [μóρφωσις] of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away’ [2 Timothy 3:5]. I trust that's clear.

There is much more on Coleridge at my other, Coleridgean blog.

Friday, 30 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 9



LYCIDAS: Off, are you Moeris? Tramping to town?

MOERIS: It's a welter, Lycidas.
We've lived long enough to see the unliving day.
         We'd clung to our little farm, but now it's eviction.
A stranger says: “Mine now, and you lot can fuck off.”

Bashed.The cudgel on my naked back struck
         sparks from the cobbles of my spine
which is to teach me Chance Is The One True God.

We've sent the new master some kids as a gift;
         and each one is a matryoshka goat,
inside each curse a smaller curse, and inside that another.

LYCIDAS: Where the hills swell from the meadow's edge
rising to where the summit borders sky
         daytime moon like an owl's eye;
the ridge of the land dropping again
sloping down to the whorl of water;
the old beeches with their now shattered tops:
it was only the songs of your Menalcas that saved all that.

MOERIS: That's the story. An unmarked grave.
Songs are useless now,
         music tuneless, words senseless
only the angled weapons of war makes sense, Lycidas.

We are silly doves, filling
Dodona’s courtyard with coos
until the eagle comes:
swells, in the white sky,
from speck to
eye-filling blur
fluttery crescendo
fist-smash,
his clutch of hooks-for-hands
bundled onto the ends of two tight legs
and his talon-beak
loosening our sinews and
the fibres of our muscles:
the beak fidgets, fidgets inside our breast,
and comes out red

Inside an wormeaten oak,
hollow as an unworn coat
a raven on the sinister side
harshes its voice at me.

I took it as a warning, luckily.
It's why you're still alive, Moeris. Menalcas too.

LYCIDAS: Sad solace in poetry

Menalcas was almost torn from us, along with you yourself.

After the first prism pried the colours out of white
they never quite fitted back together again.
We call this “impurity”. There will be
nobody left to sing about the women.

There will be red flower petals littering the ground
a bead-curtain of lineated green shade from the trees.

I slyly overheard you reciting the other day
plucking the ghost out of your darling Amaryllis:
“Tityrus, until I come back – the curt way  – feed my goats,
Tityrus drive the herd to water,
watch for the he-goat
he butts with his horn.”

MOERIS: Maybe you mean these fragmentary lines:

“Varus we know you want to flatten Mantua
Pound it with your ranked hefty smoothbores
Tenderise the ground to mud and craters:
We know it has strategic importance
as the key to unlucky Cremona.

If you spare us, swans will applaud you,
clatter their tasselled elbows together
strike rainbows from their huge wings
and your name will float to the sun.”

LYCIDAS: A swarm of bees puts all its voices
into one hairdryer cry of refusal refusal
at the yews of Corsica.

Heifers process clover with mechanical mouths
inflate their udders like party balloons.

The Muses kitted me out in a poet's polyester uniform
paid me the poet's minimum wage.
I bussed songs to all the tables.

Customers did call me bard.
But I don't trust them. I'm hardly sweet-swan-of-wherever
like Varius or Cinna.
I screech the black-wind, frosty goose cackle.

MOERIS: That’s exactly where I am, Lycidas,
silently turning it over in my mind, in case I can recall it.
A cool poem, too:

“Come with me Galatea.
Can pleasure live inside when all four walls are waves
         and roof a scruff of white foam?
The carpals and petals of roses our the emblem.

Spring scatters a chaff-cloud of flowers behind it,
a thousand colours in its trail, hoping to confuse
Winter's shrieking, ever-closer AIM-9 Sidewinder.
        as Autumn twists and hurtles.

White poplar bends over the cave.
The tangled fraying cables of vines.
Shadows recoil from the light.

Come with me Galatea,
A procession of newborn waves
wild as any baby,
bash their heads against the shore
desperate to suckle,
doomed to break and die.”

LYCIDAS: Not that one. The hypothermia one:

“Daphnis, staring yourself nightblind
as the tattered remnants of the old constellations rising.

Here, a luminous asterisk footnoting the whole black page of the sky
is Dionean Caesar's star
smiling on rounded bubble-wrap of cobbed corn
darkening the grape on the sunny hills.

Slit the veins of pears-twigs, Daphnis
and graft a cuckoo fruit onto the stem.
Your children’s children's children will gather what you have sown.”

MOERIS: Time defrauds our bank accounts.
The Platonic form of identity theft is Time.

The angular rock of Memory
is pebbled by this stream, smooth as a tumour-stone.

When I was a boy I played that song on my bedside tape-machine
through long summer evenings to send me to sleep.

Now my ears have forgotten all my songs.
My mouth has forgotten its own voice

The wolves see Moeris before he sees them,
They're a long way off, but their superpower
is annihilating distance, hurl distance behind them

all the time Moeris motionless
staring

Still, we can rely on Menalcas to remember your songs.
Often as you like.

LYCIDAS: The more you beg the more I want it.

The perfectly flat mesh of the sea plain's surface.

The breeze that must move to fulfil the bare definition of breeze
stops moving and becomes dead.

We're halfway to Bianor’s remote tomb
you can see it in the distance,
coming into view.

Here, where farmers raise the shoehorn-shaped buzzsaws
and unleash its inner haunting of wasps
to devour bough after bough
here, Moeris, let us sing.

Here put down the kids.
We'll reach the town all the same.
Rain wrapped around a column of sleet
riddling such snow as remains.
Toads lurch across rain-drummed roads.
We can still sing, if we raise our voice.

I will relieve you of this burden.

MOERIS: There is nothing more to say, lad.
There are jobs to do.
Our songs we sound better when the master himself has come.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 8



For I will consider the pastoral Muse of Damon and Alphesiboeus.
For the cows were so broadly amazed at their singing they forgot even to graze.
For it hypnotised the lynxes three two one and you're under.
For the rivers were rendered stony-astonished and stuttered like snakes and stopped flowing altogether.
For I will tell the story of the pastoral Muse of Damon and Alphesiboeus.
For though you are sailing dextrously past the hefty, sheared-off coastal defensive blocks of Timavus.
For though you are tacking laboriously through the Illyrian sea.
For you cannot be certain the day ever dawn when I will tell your story.
For freedom to sing if not guaranteed in this world.
For who could ever be as good as Sophocles?
For you are where I begin.
For your reputation will end me.
For ivy twitches a nematode wriggle across your wide forehead.

For it was barely nightfall. Daylight's impetus had not wholly drained from the sky.
For dew saturated the grass, like water in the lungs of a drowned woman.
For the cutstring puppet of Damon was propped against an olive trunk
and it sang, it sang:
“Wake up, morning star, sleepy head.
My love for promised Nysa is quite dead.
so I am dead.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Maenalus made the woodland shudder.
Made Pan and shepherds clutch one another.
With a song of murder.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Hard Mopsus fucked Nysa then and there.
You think lovers won't stop and stare?
Griffins rape mares.

It's a new age. Here's an end to hope.
Wild dogs force deer's lips to the cup
Mospus! Light it up!

Here comes the bride! Here comes the bride.
Confetti! Husband: she's yours to ride.
Jam your cock inside.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Oeta startles the evening star into running off,
going into witness-protection.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Married now, bitch? No escape.
Could've had me instead of this ape.
So cry the river we're presently sitting beside.
You hated my face. You hated my beard.
You think the gods ever really cared?
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

I've been stalking you. I lurked in the hedge.
Watched as you played with your little kid.
Stealing fruit from the orchard.
Man, I wanted you then and there
Hard as a rod, I stared, I stared
I hid.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Love is psychosis. Tmarus's bare stones
Brain blanking heat. Distant Garamantes
No human infant.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Sociopathic Love taught a mother.
The drain her children’s blood in murder.
That was hard core.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

But who was the guilty party here?
The mother, or the madness of desire?
It was the latter.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Sheep chase down wolves. Gold apples grow on oaks.
Alders bloom with daffodils,. The rough barks
of tamarisks ooze honey-blood amber.
Oaks out-sing swans. Dumb lose to dumber.

Let Tityrus cosplay Orpheus in the woodland.
Or swim with dolpghins dressed an Arion
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Let the fucking ocean swallow everything
Lowlands, forest, towns, everything
I'll stand on the summit of Everest and watch everything
swirl into the Apocalypse Sea, and when everything
has drowned I'll throw myself in.
My pipe is drained dry of Maenalan songs for now.”

For this was Damon's song, unplugged, harsh.
For it made the river weep incoherently through its mouthful of mud.
For the Muses, being women, were not pleased.
For this reason, Alphesiboeus stood up, wearing his guitar like bodyarmour, and sang
and sang:
“Bring out water.
Wrap soft wool around this altar;
Burn fine-smelling herbs and male frankincense,
Accompany my magic with this incense.
Set my lover's cold mind on fire.
Desire. Desire. Desire.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

Dislodge the moon from its roulette-wheel spin
Sing to draw it down.
Like Circe sang Ulysses' men into swine
The cold snake in the meadows is torn outside-in
The string of its guts ripped out clean
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

To tie you up I use three cords each a different colour.
To charm you I move your image three times around the altar.
Witch-magic works in threes.
The three knots Amaryllis weaves
Iridesce as the colours change.
She is making magic lover's chains.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

The clay hardens on my voodoo doll.
I hold this other one over a flame until wax drops fall.
So may Daphnis melt with love for me!
Sprinkle some flour
on the fire
Burn bay-leaves til they crackle
and blacken.
Daphnis burns; this burning leaf is Daphnis.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

Daphnis will want me. He will yearn
On and on.
Like a long-horn heifer
Who's been looking for a mate, like, forever,
Lost in the woods, collapsing by a stream
Where the marsh sedges grow white and green
Forlorn, forlorn, forlorn.
He will want me more and more.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

He's a fucking traitor for leaving me, is the God's honest.
These momentos of the affair are all I have left.
I'll bury them in the soil to send the spell west.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

These herbs are from Pontis.
I made these poisons myself. Moeris himself
Gave them me – they grow wild in Pontus.
By their aid I have with my own eyes seen Moeris
Turn werewolf and lope into the wood
And also call spirits from the dead
And charm sown corn away from neighbouring farmstead
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

Carry out the ashes, Amaryllis,
Throw them over your head into running water
And don't look back.
With their help I'll make Daphnis pay.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

The ashes that were dead and desiccated and white
Have of themselves rekindled and caught alight.
Now the flame shivers on the altar
I coud barely believe what my eyes saw.
Hylax the dog is yapping outside the door.
Is swallows Seems.
Do lovers invent their own dreams?
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.”

.

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 8



For I will consider the pastoral Muse of Damon and Alphesiboeus.
For the cows were so broadly amazed at their singing they forgot even to graze.
For it hypnotised the lynxes three two one and you're under.
For the rivers were rendered stony-astonished and stuttered like snakes and stopped flowing altogether.
For I will tell the story of the pastoral Muse of Damon and Alphesiboeus.
For though you are sailing dextrously past the hefty, sheared-off coastal defensive blocks of Timavus.
For though you are tacking laboriously through the Illyrian sea.
For you cannot be certain the day ever dawn when I will tell your story.
For freedom to sing if not guaranteed in this world.
For who could ever be as good as Sophocles?
For you are where I begin.
For your reputation will end me.
For ivy twitches a nematode wriggle across your wide forehead.

For it was barely nightfall. Daylight's impetus had not wholly drained from the sky.
For dew saturated the grass, like water in the lungs of a drowned woman.
For the cutstring puppet of Damon was propped against an olive trunk
and it sang, it sang:
“Wake up, morning star, sleepy head.
My love for promised Nysa is quite dead.
so I am dead.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Maenalus made the woodland shudder.
Made Pan and shepherds clutch one another.
With a song of murder.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Hard Mopsus fucked Nysa then and there.
You think lovers won't stop and stare?
Griffins rape mares.

It's a new age. Here's an end to hope.
Wild dogs force deer's lips to the cup
Mospus! Light it up!

Here comes the bride! Here comes the bride.
Confetti! Husband: she's yours to ride.
Jam your cock inside.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Oeta startles the evening star into running off,
going into witness-protection.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Married now, bitch? No escape.
Could've had me instead of this ape.
So cry the river we're presently sitting beside.
You hated my face. You hated my beard.
You think the gods ever really cared?
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

I've been stalking you. I lurked in the hedge.
Watched as you played with your little kid.
Stealing fruit from the orchard.
Man, I wanted you then and there
Hard as a rod, I stared, I stared
I hid.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Love is psychosis. Tmarus's bare stones
Brain blanking heat. Distant Garamantes
No human infant.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Sociopathic Love taught a mother.
The drain her children’s blood in murder.
That was hard core.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

But who was the guilty party here?
The mother, or the madness of desire?
It was the latter.
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Sheep chase down wolves. Gold apples grow on oaks.
Alders bloom with daffodils,. The rough barks
of tamarisks ooze honey-blood amber.
Oaks out-sing swans. Dumb lose to dumber.

Let Tityrus cosplay Orpheus in the woodland.
Or swim with dolpghins dressed an Arion
Maenalan songs spurt from my pipe, if you know what I mean.

Let the fucking ocean swallow everything
Lowlands, forest, towns, everything
I'll stand on the summit of Everest and watch everything
swirl into the Apocalypse Sea, and when everything
has drowned I'll throw myself in.
My pipe is drained dry of Maenalan songs for now.”

For this was Damon's song, unplugged, harsh.
For it made the river weep incoherently through its mouthful of mud.
For the Muses, being women, were not pleased.
For this reason, Alphesiboeus stood up, wearing his guitar like bodyarmour, and sang
and sang:
“Bring out water.
Wrap soft wool around this altar;
Burn fine-smelling herbs and male frankincense,
Accompany my magic with this incense.
Set my lover's cold mind on fire.
Desire. Desire. Desire.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

Dislodge the moon from its roulette-wheel spin
Sing to draw it down.
Like Circe sang Ulysses' men into swine
The cold snake in the meadows is torn outside-in
The string of its guts ripped out clean
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

To tie you up I use three cords each a different colour.
To charm you I move your image three times around the altar.
Witch-magic works in threes.
The three knots Amaryllis weaves
Iridesce as the colours change.
She is making magic lover's chains.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

The clay hardens on my voodoo doll.
I hold this other one over a flame until wax drops fall.
So may Daphnis melt with love for me!
Sprinkle some flour
on the fire
Burn bay-leaves til they crackle
and blacken.
Daphnis burns; this burning leaf is Daphnis.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

Daphnis will want me. He will yearn
On and on.
Like a long-horn heifer
Who's been looking for a mate, like, forever,
Lost in the woods, collapsing by a stream
Where the marsh sedges grow white and green
Forlorn, forlorn, forlorn.
He will want me more and more.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

He's a fucking traitor for leaving me, is the God's honest.
These momentos of the affair are all I have left.
I'll bury them in the soil to send the spell west.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

These herbs are from Pontis.
I made these poisons myself. Moeris himself
Gave them me – they grow wild in Pontus.
By their aid I have with my own eyes seen Moeris
Turn werewolf and lope into the wood
And also call spirits from the dead
And charm sown corn away from neighbouring farmstead
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

Carry out the ashes, Amaryllis,
Throw them over your head into running water
And don't look back.
With their help I'll make Daphnis pay.
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.

The ashes that were dead and desiccated and white
Have of themselves rekindled and caught alight.
Now the flame shivers on the altar
I coud barely believe what my eyes saw.
Hylax the dog is yapping outside the door.
Is swallows Seems.
Do lovers invent their own dreams?
Come to me Daphnis, this magic spell will bring you home.”

.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 6



It began when I was in Sicily,
Mused-up to the gills
thinking of the old stories
and how the world was made.

Sicily maps a goat's head
straining its Italian leash to nibble Tunis:
chlorine-coloured woods,
a pallor of soil
the punishing sun
and there I was, staring at the perfect sea-blue
and thinking about writing my epic
when Apollo put his tongue in my ear
gave me the goddam common courtesy of a reach-around
and said: “keep your sheep plump, boyo
and your verse slender.”

So I dropped a line to Varus:
he'd have to hire someone else to do the
praise-Varus-and-glorify-war thing.
Not that I'll be missed.
Put 'Varus' on the title page and we're in bestsellerland.
My name might as well be 'Remainder Stock'
for all the good it does sales.

Wait. Let me Irish-up this coffee,
which is to say, this poem,
with a slug of Pierian brand Muse.

Anyway, this happened: the boys
Chromis and Mnasyllos
broke into Silenus's house
found the old lecher asleep,
snoring like waterfall,
veins thick as straining tendons,
brain still drenched in yesterday's wine,
out for the count;
a mug on its side next to him
screaming silently
and the whole of his room a mess of leaves
            and rotting petals.
So they BDSM'd him with ropes,
creepers, bindweed. Hog-tied.
It might've been sexy, I guess
but it wasn't. Real menace in their faces.
In swaggered Aegle,
white romper-suit, black boots and bowler,
cog-pattern mascara round one eye only,
and she landed a few blows,
smeared mush and paint on his face.
He was sobbing, begging, bruises
bursting with pain, his heart
kept banging on the door of cardiac arrest
desperate to be let inside.
“I'll do anything,” he said, over and over,
like he was vomiting the words;
and “please”, “I'm begging you, please”
and “please”, as if that would sway them.
As if they weren't plenty pleased already.

We see animals running, grappling
other animals, teeth-to-nape,
and we think they're dancing.

We see the oaks in the wind
ponderously banging their heads
listening to a song only they can hear.

But not even Apollo can make Parnassus move.
Not even Orpheus can wipe the disdain
from the faces of Rhodope and Ismarus
filing their nails, tutting.

***

In the beginning
the huge world was disembarrassed of its void
by seeds flying
falling
inoculating earth and air and sea against nothingness;
and kindling, quick, into
hill-sized ocean swells of liquid fire
parabolas of elemental matter intersecting
spiraling and zoning-in
whirling into a solid globe
metal and stone baked together
and polished to cannonball smoothness
big enough to electroplate whole continents and seas
onto its surface.

Nereus, reeking of brine,
sopping seaweed dreadlocks
muscles like ribbed sand at low tide:
and he was locked away from the land.

The landscape rose like bread
under an oven sun
shunting clouds higher
they left their rain behind
and it fell down, or the land came up
hard to say which it was:
forests spread, and from up here
they looked like green-mould on the white fresh land.

Creatures twitched into frankenstein life
lurched over mountains
wholly uncomprehending of them.

Pyrhha threw stones
in the potter sense of the word,
wrung rock like a dishcloth
and the twisted braids became men and women.
Saturn in charge. Eagles from the Caucasus
with Nazi insignia on their wings
tuned friction's shriek into a slow crescendo
as they'd stuka down on Prometheus.

Sailors said: we lost touch with Hylas.
No idea where he is living now.
Doesn't seem to be even on social media.
I mean, we call out, and this new-solidified shoreline
bounces those soundwaves back, “Hylas! Hylas!
Where are you?” Zilch.

Pasiphaë's bestiality: never an easy sell.
On the other hand, this was no ordinary bull—white
as the virginity of Christ, powerfully built,
a good listener, placid eyed,
face white-lead-paint pale
ink-black ears two perfectly rounded parallelograms
haunches, thighs, cock, irresistible
Sure, it drove her mad. What lust doesn't?
Remember when Proteus's daughters
got punished for their pride?
made to believe they were all cows?
scrambling through the mud in all weathers
biting at grass, making moo.
Though they didn't go so far as
            actually fucking the bulls.
So, no luck for you girl.
You're on your own now, while he
lowers a vast expanse of white flank
onto an upholstery of purple hyacinths,
under that holly tree's crenulated shadow
chewing the colourless grass,
chatting-up some heifer from the populous herd.
And you're shut it up, ladies,
Dicte's ladies,
Lock down the whole forest,
Key-in the security code. Keep that bull in,
Maybe then I can track him down,
pick out line of coffee-bean patterns
where his hoofs have kicked divots from the lawn.
Maybe he's following the crowd. Or back at the stall. Girl, please.

Another woman, another obsession:
an apple, red-gold like a salmon's egg,
large and firm as a football,
from the Hesperides sunset orchards.

Phaëthon’s sisters' eczema
spread over their whole skin, and consolidated
into a crust of moss-coloured bark,
and when they next checked they were
birch trees, taller than ever before.

Gallus's cross-country run took him down by
the streams of Permessus, where
the officials, wearing luminous tabards,
redirected him by waving their IAAF rule books
sent him off up the Aonian hills,
and off he went,
panting in time to his heel-strikes on the dirt,
Phoebus's music in his ear-buds
though Linus was shouting after him,
really putting some welly into his voice,
face the colour of tizer, cords
of his neck tight as bass guitar strings,
yelling: “You forgot your Strat-o-caster, man!
The Muses's own Fender
the one the old Ascraean used to play,
those songs of his that made ash trees jig
and tumbledowned whole mountains.
Don't leave it behind, man!
Do the one about the birth of the Grynean wood,
rock and roll can never die, man.
Never die!”

We need to talk about sea-wolf Scylla.
Nisus was her father.
Her midriff belted around with
howling harrowing monsters
and she the Torpedo
the naval contact mine made flesh,
where the ships trail their wakes
from Ithaca to Sicily (my beloved Sicily)
until inadvertently easing their boats' chins
against the trigger
the tick-tick of contact
and a deep-bodied woof from
the dog throat of the whole sea
hurling up to spill back down
a shower of brine-rain, and turn
the waters a swirl of suck

a sailor's face swoops past you, and that's
terror you can see in his eyes.
But he's gone

down

to where its always dark
and the water is dense with death
and the light never is.

Or Tereus, the glutton.
His abuse of young Philomela
stuck in his throat eventually.

Omnivorous Phoebus's Never Ending Tour
reworking his old songs
so that we barely recognise them
always on the road, always playing.
Eurotas in the mosh-pit, near the front
has all the lyrics by heart.
Silenus sings harmonies.
The stadium is so full it looks like
a curving valley forest
all these voices together flinging
songs at the stars,
till Vesper whispers the magic word
into the ears of every one of the sheep
and they all scuttle off, lock-hoof, clone herd,
and the day is folded away and stacked
in a storeroom whose walls and ceiling
are studded all over with twinkling stars.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 5



Menalcas said: the core of it, now, is
we're both good men, well met.
Well met. Here
between the giant green quiffs of these elms
with hazels growing in their gaps, in we go.

Mopsus said: you, older than me, should
lead the way. Through weed-coloured shadows
towards this cave and its bead curtain of vines
I follow.

Menalcas said: we're both good poets, well met.
Well met.
Who's better, in all this hilly country?
Maybe only Amyntas.

Mopsus concurred.

Menalcas said: you start then. Subject: Phyllis,
her beauty. Or: Alcon. Or: Codrus's jollies.
Don't fret about sheep. Tityrus'll tend the sheep.

Mopsus said: I could, I don't know, maybe,
how about, how about my Daphnis one?
I scritched it into the bark of a green beech,
words and stave and tadpole notes threaded on the lines.
Is it as good as Amyntas though? I don't know.

Menalcas said: the way a willow looks
like a blurred photo of itself,
lens twitched up at just the wrong time?
That's him.
You're the electroplated leaves of an olive
shining bosky silver in the sunlight.

So Mopsus said: "Daphnis' life cut off, as the sabre slides on through where the bottle-neck bulges out to its cork-brained head, and snap, gushes of foaming grief, and it fizzes in your gut, and the Nymphs' faces a mess of tears and snot, hazels in their despair throwing bush-branches wide like wings, the very rivers bereaved, his mother grappling with the corpse like a drunken wrestler, shouting gods: cruel and stars: cruel and one African lion, mouth a gluey gash, puts a voice to its roaring grief, and tigers too, tigers, tigers, harnessed like shire horses, and Bacchus, drinking to forget, reeling around the fountain, and the vine cords itself about trees like veins and arteries in blue and red, and after the Fates carried your body off, shoulder high, your arms were all gibbon-floppy, a life-sized manikin, dead. Pales has debouched from our fields, and even Apollo has gone, and all the stalks of barley have shot off on their million miniature rockets into orbit and the furrows a centre parting to weeds lank as unwashed hair, and the bully thistles have flourished their razors at the narcissi and glassed the soft violets, in the face no less, and taken over the whole row, and the sky has emptied its binbag of old leaves all over the ground and a solar eclipse puts a shadow filter on the world's lense, and on the gravestone it says Daphnis/[INSERT DATES HERE]/Lived in the woods/Famed beyond them/Drop Dead Gorgeous."

Menalcas said: your words unknot the world.
They strop the leather band of my heart like a razor.
They are their own body.
They are the trickling echo of water in the Zen garden.
They unbreak horses and manumit housepet cats and dogs.
And now it's my turn.

Mopsus said: the prospect of you singing is a gift as big as the sun
It is as close as the moon.
It is an aircraft sliding like a rice grain
over the blue ceramic of high sky
drawing a bridal train of white behind it.
It's the shivery pulse in my jugular.
It is all Stimichon promised, years ago.

So Menalcas said: “Daphnis approaching the Door Itself, squinting in the light, presses the brass nubbin, and a bell spills metallic vibration into the depths of the house, and his feet are standing on a doormat of clouds and stars, and subaerially the woods and all the countryside dance beneath him, dance, dance like nobody's looking. Pan is wearing tehmat and chagi and he dances Bhangra, the shepherds shug, the Dryad girls lindy hop, a wolf buries his tilted face in the wool of a sheep and weeps real tears of real remorse for all the evil he previously did to sheepkind as the ghost of Daphnis stand right there and says peace, man, peace, mountains with hippy beards of woodland do the stomp, and groves of trees are struck like cymbals, god is alive and he is Menalcas so be kind to one another all you folk and don't do evil, and hwaet!s this? Four altars!—two, see, for you, Daphnis; two, see, for you Phoebus. That's why I say we fill two cups with milk so fresh it foams like white beer. I say two osaka Japanese porcelain bowls topped up with olive oil as thick as deseil, I say: nibbles, of course, and of course wine—winter vintage, cooled, bubbles at the brim like a curving line of perfectly arranged couscous grains. This bottle is a little dusty, but the label says Chian, and that says it all. Damoetas and Lyctian Aegon are going to sing for me, and Alphesiboeus will hoof the beat with his dancing feet. Its a wake, for the best of guys, which means there's a liturgy we have to follow now: give our word of honour to the Nymphs, and purify our fields with monoammonium phosphate and various kinds of potassium sulfate. From behind that boar looks like Cousin It. From above those fish look shavings of pure silver. From where we're sitting the bees look like dust caught in a tiny whirl of updrifting breeze. From what I can here the cicadas are laughing. Here's a glass to you, Daphnis, here's mud in your eye, here's a health to Bacchus and Ceres, and year after year.”

Mopsus said: what would be an acceptable gift?
To reward such a song, I mean?
It was sweeter than the natural sibilance of the south wind.
It would no more quit
than the randy ocean will quit banging the shoreline.
It was as lovely as zizag streams inset into the mountain.

Menalcas said: gifts, sure: take this guitar.
It was what I wrote
'Corydon On Fire For Lovely Alexis' on.
and also
'Meliboeus Maybe (Whose Flock Do You Think This Is?)'

Mopsus said: Wow, thanks. Thanks!
You can have my crook, which Antigenes really wants,
but can't have: a long-tail question mark
in bronze and wood. It's yours.

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 10



I've always particularly loved this poem, the last of Vergil's ten Eclogues. It concerns Vergil's friend and old schoolfellow Cornelius Gallus (c. 70 – 26 BC), himself also a poet, but more importantly for Vergil's connectivity to the corridors of power, an important politician. The conceit of the poem is that Gallus has been deserted by his lover Lycoris, has given up on life and is dying, to the great sorrow of the natural world. Three gods come along to try to talk him out of his death, but to no avail. It's based, as several Vergilian Eclogues are, on Theocritus (in this case his first Idyll); but more to the point it paid itself forward, influence-wise, into many great poems, not least Shelley's mighty elegy 'Adonais'. That latter poem seems to me the most impressive validation of Vergil's original that English poetry has produced. Which is more than we can say about the text below. Ah well. What you gonna do?

The image at the top of the post is from a still life by Jean Spitzer, and is reproduced by kind permission.



Eclogue 10

This is the end.
Last task: frost dry as sandpaper
covering all external surfaces.
The wind biting at itself
          smouldering
Muse Arethusa's breath, passing into my lungs
fizzling out again over my tongue.

A shrunken poem.

Ghost grows solid for Gallus, humming its voltage
for Gallus:
impossible to refuse.

The river oms its trance
flows smokily down the trench of the world
to lose itself in the salt sea
           where Arethusa and Doris languidly copulate
in the drowned medium.

Gallus, the anxious lover.

Goats, snub-nosed, pistol-headed,
bury their faces in the hay
blow luminous tatters aside, chewing,
and all I do is sing
at the woodland's receptive curve,
one Jodrell Bank ear of green.

Where were you, all you single ladies
all you single ladies
when Gallus was was was hysteric with his unrequited love?
Put up your hands.
The scree-slopes of Parnassus;
Mount Pindus;
The waiting rooms of Aeonian Aganippe;
no excuses.

Laurel leaves squeezed teardrops
from their stomata,
meniscus
tight as drumskin.

Bruise-coloured tamarisk.

That huge hill called Maenalus with its
pelt of pines
became fragile as an eggshell with grief
for Gallus.
The sheep were shameless in sorrow,
their narrow skulls full of sap
curdcoloured fleeces gravid with rain
staring
an ice-age.
Handsome as Adonis was
he still fed his sheep beside the streams.

The shepherd came.
The swineherd came.
Menalcas came, sopping wet
           carrying cattle feed, a bucket of doused acorns.

Apollo came
dressed as a jazz trumpeter.
"Gallus," he wheezed, "you lost your fucking mind?
Your girl Lycoris, she gone, solid gone.
She gone over the range, man,
where the snow never melts, and the winds
are a vise crushing your head,
where your hands and feet get so cold
feel like Gestapo ripped out your fingernails and your toenails
forced you to wade boiling water.
She's a rather be there than here lady, my friend."

Silvanus came, leaves caught in his hair,
red and marmite-colour and whisky-yellow.

Pan came, Arcady's local god
his skin smeared with vermillion juice
crimson with squeezed elderberries
coloured like the devil from a mystery play,
and he said: "get over yourself, man.
Get the fuck over it."

Gallus sideeyed them all. "The fuck.
Tell it to the mountains.
Boo, and may I take this opportunity to add, hoo.
My bones would soften
           picked clean of flesh and soaked in vinegar nine weeks.
I could have shepherded your flocks,
I could have crushed the purple from the
           soggy baubles of your grapes
Phyllis; or Amyntas, with her skin
the colour of violets, cyan-black,
hyacinths,
my darling would be stretched alongside me;
vines would festoon our bedroom ceiling,
Phyllis yanking garlands from the tangle;
Amyntas singing.
But that wasn't to be.
You fall in love with who you fall in love with.

The trickling spring is cold
like void.
The meadows are soft as decay.
I would lie there with my lover until time
blissed me to dust.

But now to be a solider
comes on me like a persistent delusional psychosis:
in my body-armour
rifle lengthy as a spear
The god of war himself my recruiting sergeant:
flown overseas,
this shithole or that one, in the Middle-to-Far East,
where some bastard had left the furnace door open
and the furnace was the entire sky
and the least virile of breezes
stroked webs rolling down-dune
along the very toppermost surface of the sand.
And all this time she was in Germany,
fucking Germany,
Austria maybe,
Rhine water cold as the moon.
All that ice white ice-cream applied with a palette-knife
           to the tops of those Alps.
I could not fucking believe this.
Could not fucking even believe it.
I could have said, darling don't let
the frost nip your toes,
and I would almost not be being sarcastic.
Almost.

Going.
Going.

Go on. Let me have a tootle on that Sicilian flute
then
it's not as if I've never seen fucking woodland before
now
is it.
I've grafittized my name, tree-trunks for concrete walls;
           growing, growing, gone.
I'll link arm in arm with the nymphs and
goat-trip down that yellow brick road together
to emerald Maenalus,
or I'll hunt wild pigs in the wilderness.
No amount of icecrust on the soil will stop me.
I'm there already.
In my imagination, I mean.
I'm there.

Like that could solve my mental health issues.
Like the gods give a flying fuck for humanity.
Hamadryads don't put lead in my pencil.
Goodbye; its goodbye from me, it's a long goodbye from him.

Drink as much Hebrus as you like. Stand there
in the drizzle
shoeless;
watch the dishclout-coloured snow
get progressively acned by the winter rain. Then
say yah, yah to your sheep, and thwack
           their woolly withers with a switch

under the stars
as the constellation of the Crab looks away
to a more interesting portion of the sky.

Dying bark shrinks, cracks
on elms as tall as a window-cleaner's ladder;
and we cede the whole of the territory
that comprises us and is us
to Love
the Conqueror."

That's what the poet said.
He sat there, right where you're standing now,
and all the time
he braided flexible stems of hibiscus into
baskets. He was poeticizing about Gallus,
Gallus,
the much-loved

green

alder shoots in the sharpness of spring.
Time to go. The shade is poisonous to poets,
allergic to shadow.
Dusk falls through itself,
and the goats
jiggle and scramble and bleat their kazoo bleats
going home.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 4



The fourth eclogue has a good claim to being the single most famous short poem ever written, certainly the most famous artifact of non-epic Classical Latin literature. That's because its hazily-framed promise that a saviour baby was about to be born (almost certainly designed to be non-specific enough that various political big beasts of the day, maybe Pollio, maybe Octavian, might be flattered into thinking their sprog was the foretold saviour) connected powerfully with later medieval and Renaissance Christian readers. They decided that this poem—despite having been written four decades before the birth of Christ—was nonetheless magically about the birth of Christ. This sense of Vergil as a virtuous pagan who somehow poetically intuited Christ's salvation has had an incalculable impact upon the way his verse has been read and understood. For a long time he was seen as white wizard and prophet as much as a poet; the Sortes Vergilanae are only one manifestation of this mode of popularity. The original Latin for this famous text, beginning
Sicelides Musae, paulo maiora canamus!
Non omnis arbusta iuvant humilesque myricae;
si canimus silvas, silvae sint consule dignae.
Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;
magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo:
iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna;
iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto. [1-7]
... can be found here, alongside Greenough's rather stiff 1890 English translation. And here's a link to A S Kline's much more fluent version from 2001. Indeed, there's no shortage of versions of this desperately celebrated poem. I feel a bit sheepish, actually, about adding to them. Ah well. You'll get the gist quick enough. The real question is whether you think it works, or not.


Eclogue 4


Mafia Muses of Sicily, time to raise the tone.
We don't all cream our pants
at orchards or stunted salt cedar bushes. Capisce?
If we got to talk about woods,
let em be woods worthy of a capo di tutti capi.

It's the last gasp of that witch from Cumae
round it comes again, as
everything always swings round again:
ten decades per century, stacked like crates
piled up to millennia, over, again.
Some sweet teenage girl, never been kissed, steps in
and she's equal measure scared and proud.
And here's the old guy, Saturn Barbabianca: he's in charge now.
He's back, yeah. You'd better fucken believe it.
Whole new crew, youngbloods, straight off the boat
the ferry down from high heaven
strutting.
All for this newborn bambino, this kid, come
to break through the iron logic of the world
remake it, through the eye, through the mouth.
Golden, he is: golden; and all his crew are
dorato too. Lucina does the honors.
Apollo is now Boss.
You'd better do what he says.

Credit where it's due:
you deserve this praise, Pollio.
You're the Don, you oversaw this regime change
shining months driving fast on.
You bring not-guilty and no-charge-to-answer
to all of us, every one:
thanks to you mio amico it's no more looking over our shoulders,
nothing more to fear from the wide world.
You're capo when this kid comes in,
and that means none of us get whacked
none of us ever again.
We're all made, and for ever.

Every day now pay-day. All doors and windows
open. Safes cracked wide like
church doors at a wedding.
Gardens, sure: cute, if you like that kind of thing.
Ivy in green ribbons draped all over
foxgloves and acanthus
and that plant they call elephant ears.
Nice.
Thirsty? Hey: all you can drink!
on the house buddy!
Hungry? Fill your boots!
And as for our rivals, the Leones?
We don't got to worry about them no more.
And that just leaves the rat, that fucker,
that serpente
oh, we'll spring clean that snake,
you can forget about him;
place of his poisonous reek
we'll have all the perfumes of fucken Araby, trust me,
trust me.

We gotta respect who came before, fathers
and their fathers,
and theirs, sure:
they had balls. No question.
Walked the fields, drank good vino,
made good trades. No question.
Shipped stuff in, sold it at good profit,
paid their tributes.
I'm not saying all that has been flushed away, all gone;
some assholes will remain to remind us
of how our fathers went to war, or moved
containers over the gray shapes of the sea.
It all comes round again,
Achilles gotta go to war with Troy again,
over and over.

Until, that is—until our kid exits puberty,
and becomes uomo,
and he'll have balls of steel.
Then all our hard work will be over
fucken over.
Easy times ahead, then:
think of it like Dorothy, when everything blooms
from black-and-white into arcobaleno technicolour;
sheep in the fields no longer fucken white
but rainbow psychedelic coloured wool,
shifting from purple to yellow like rosso d'uovo
to blood-red.
Woh.
Madre di Dio this is some strong shit.
Deep breath out.

Look:
Destiny don't back down, no matter how
you square up to her. It's happening, she says:
it slides on like something
really smoothly lubricated.
And all her crew call out in one voice
Fucken A, they sing.
Fucken A.

Time to get what's coming. The deadline is almost here.
This thing of ours.
You ever look at the world, like,
really look at it?
It's a great dome, some real
supernatural architecture, roof so smooth
and high
you can't even touch it in a jet, not even
those invisible ones the Air Force fly
made of black ceramic
or some shit like that, going faster than music
faster than light can catch up with
not even then. And the air is thin up there,
so, and, that's why I keep coughing, capisce?
Cold like frost lining the inside of the lungs.
And from so high, looking down
the sea is texture like an untuned TV channel
bright and gray and white and impossibly far deep.
This bambino, though:
he'll step over this whole vault, like
stepping over the corpse of a rival,
bleeding on the sidewalk, and you got somewhere you need to be.
This whole dome and everything inside it
will kiss his ass
and sing his fucken praises. Believe me.

We gotta go, pay our respects to his mother.
Birthing a baby, that's hard work: shitting
a bowling ball, they say.
You gotta get me some more of this shit.
This shit is the proper shit, no question,
forget about it. Little bambino
smiles around him. Think of the deals he'll do
the girls he'll bang. Let's go.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 2


Here's a link to the first of these. Vergil's second eclogue, though numbered '2', may well have been the first written. It is pretty closely based on two of the Idylls of Theocritus: his third, in which a neglected lover bemoans his condition, and his eleventh, in which the Cyclops Polyphemus is hopelessly in love with the sea-nymph Galatea, and finds solace for his pain in singing. Vergil's shepherd's name, 'Corydon', means songbird: (from the Greek κόρυδος korudos "lark"). It's a name first used in Theocritus's fourth Idyll, and was used again by Siculus as the name for his pastoral shepherd, as well as (obviously) by Vergil, such that pretty soon it became the stock name for a shepherd, and later Classical and English Renaissance pastoral is crowded with Corydons. The name Alexis is from Ἄλεξις ‎(which means 'helper, defender') and is related to the heroic warrior name Alexander; so I like to think that the Alexis of this poem is pretty beefy. Hard to be sure, of course. The original Latin can be found here, along with an English translation.

[The art at the top of this post is a woodcut print by Maria Arango]



Eclogue 2


Beauty slammed the shepherd Corydon hard
the beauty of Alexis
his master's pet
         love burning in the air of Cory's soul.
To numb his pain
here he comes, moping through the tree-maze
threading the entrails of woodland
beeches hoarding shade in their summits

and he sings his inanity to the hills:

"You, virulent Alexis,
my birdsong songs mean nothing to you.
Your lack of pity is an incomprehensible
hieroglyph,
you will inevitably laboriously
                  eventually kill me.
Even the hot cows, fierce with
joyful breath, even they
suck relief from the webs of shade;
even the verdigris lizards
vanish down the plughole of a
thistle-textured thornhedge. Thestylis
grinds a sludge from savoury herbs
          oily garlic, thyme,
stiff pestle driving into the yearning mortar
over and over, reapers sweating, scorched,
standing erect against the blindness of sunlight.
Not me. I bloodhound your traces
through wildernesses of vegetation
copses huddled against the sun's
silent first-day-of-the-Somme
bombardment of heat
and only the cicadas are singing
their withered song
only the cicadas,
only
and me.

I should have swallowed
the petulant sourness of that girl Amaryllis,
or maybe gone after Menalcas
though his skin is dark as soil
and yours is white like
purity itself
ice-cumbered, cloudlessly
cloud-coloured.
But boy, you can't rely forever on the
come-fuck-me bloom of your skin.
It will happen to you, the same thing that
happens to the pale privet and its
grape-clusters of white flowers:
slashed, bladed and rooted out.
The mauve hyacinths too:
wrecked, and left to rot.

You disrespect me, Alexis. You don't know me at all.
You don't know how rich in cows,
how much the tycoon I am
where snow-coloured milk is concerned.
I own no fewer than one thousand lambs
meandering over Sicilian hills.
Abundance of milk, it gushes for me
summer and winter, sweet white fluid
in my mouth and spilling over my mouth.
          I model my singing on Amphion, from Dirce,
         and how he would croon the herds home
         over fields in Aracynthus, in Greece.

Handsome too,
                        though I say so myself,
I mirror admire myself,
why not?
when the winds go limp, and the waters
settle in lithe stillness, perfectly flat
the curve of shore my boudoir
the sea itself my who-is-the-fairest-of-them-all
hushing, it's me, it's me.
Daphnis thinks so too:
reflected beauty is truth. Image makes magic.

Oh! imagine if you consented to dwell where I dwell
a small cottage in the open fields,
toad-shaped under thatch,
squatting under the hill
home, and we would hunt together
shoot arrows to prick down deer,
grasp the green osier-wand to whip
the rocking rumps of our straggling flock!
You and me, babe, you and me,
          singing together
songs from the forestlands
better singing than Pan himself,
prime Pan, godfather of music
maker of musical instruments, a god and
a lover of sheep, and shepherds of sheep.

You would not regret
fitting the stalk of the flute's
erect length into your mouth,
          to chafe your lip.
Do it like Amyntas used to.
Seven tubes unequally long
wax-stuck together make up my pipe.
Damoetas gave it to me, and that made
Amyntas jealous, the idiot.
It's yours.
And more than that: a duo of roes
jetsam of a dangerous valley
hides leoparded with white spots
so young they syphon
a whole udderful of ewe milk every day
into their own bellies,
I'm keeping them for you.
Thestylis begs me for them, on her knees,
head at crotch-height
kneel all she likes, they're yours,
they're my gift to the gem light in your eyes.

Come over here, oh you beauty: you get
gifts of heaped nymph lilies
Naiad, so in love, in love with you,
gashes violet petals from their stems, shreds
poppy heads, rust-red, unseams
narcissus and sugar-smelling fennel flower;
winds them into a rope
with sepia cassia and other sweet herbs,
tangles in fragile hyacinth
and citrine marigolds.
My own fingers will fumble at
quinces, skin fuzzed with the cilia of pale down,
            and chestnuts.
Amaryllis always loved those.
Plums, waxen globules, maroon
as a glans, I gather that fruit too.
Some laurels—yes, you, laurels
I'm taking you down from your branch
and your friend, myrtle,
both sweet savourable odours.

Oh what a fucking peasant you are, Corydon.
Like Alexis cares for gifts.
Like that would even seduce, I don't know,
Iollas, even.
Fuck my life.
Seriously.
What was I thinking? The south wind
has snuck past me and mugged my flowers,
and while I was moping after that boy, wild boar
have pigged their way into my clear wells of water.
You're demented. Who are you even running from?
Gods have taken trees as walls and roof
Dardan Paris too.
Pallas fitted together the jigsaw pieces
into full-sized cities
tiled and tessellated and undulating with bright roofs
the way only a goddess can
so she can live there.
Forest is my passion.
The lioness with the psycho-eyes pursues the wolf,
a thousand yard stare
distance she covers in seconds;
the wolf runs down she-goat, even the she-goat
gets to tear the innards from
the flowering broom bushes,
and Corydon
and Alexis,
each keelhauled by their own longing.
Here comes the ox, home
with plough up-tilted like a heiling arm.
Tumescent shadows grow and harden
to twice their length
as the sun ducks and covers, arms over its head,
chin on its knees, a bundle of
night terrors.
This love has simmered and scorched my heart
blackened it, blistered me,
done everything but numb me.
You can't stop feeling it
Ah! Corydon, Corydon, searing.
You haven't pruned your dangling vine
slopping its dreadlock off the leaf-swarming elm;
weave pliant wicker together? Scorned
scorned.
Go looking for a new Alexis."

Friday, 23 September 2016

Polytheism



I'm afraid this isn't very carefully thought-through. At any rate, these jumbled thoughts are intended in a purely descriptive, and not in a prescriptive, sense.

I wonder if polytheistic societies are less likely to get into wars that are premised on conceptions of heresy or blasphemy. After all presumably polytheists are as it were primed to accept that there are many gods; so encountering a society who worships a different god can be integrated into their worldview without much difficulty. Is that right, though? Of course, the ostensible reasons humans give for going to war are often not the actual reasons; and of course polytheists tend to believe that some gods are more powerful and important than other ones, so it's not hard to find examples of such societies going to war to show that their god is stronger. That's more or less what Moses does in Egypt, after all. Still, there's something here I think: I'm thinking of the religious praxis in Ancient Greece and Classical Rome. The urbs separated out political religion from individual religion, such that, provided you were willing to accept (for instance) the divinity of Augustus, you were left alone to worship as a Jew or a Phoenician or whatever.

Part of this was the notion widely accepted in the Classical world that different gods from different cultures were basically versions of the same divinities. This is commented on in a more or less neutral way by writers from the period: it's simply accepted that the Roman Jove is effectively the same god as the Greek Zeus and the German Tius and so on. What I mean is: there aren't any Classical texts where a Roman says, as it might be, 'of course we worship the true divine father under his true name, Jove; not like those heretical Greeks with their blasphemous perversion of religion of so-called Zeus'. But precisely that attitude, or something like it, seems to me to have become part of the way different later, monotheistic societies and cultures have interacted. But I wonder. Do Sunni Muslims, say, think of Shia Muslims in terms of "well they basically worship the same God and revere the same prophet as we do, though under slightly different rubrics'? Or do they think: "their worship is such a profound misprison of the true nature of God and the Prophet they can't even truly be called Muslims at all"? Do Evangelical Protestants consider Catholics, Jews and Muslims to be worshippers of the same, one true God? Clearly some do; but others clearly don't. Is the second group larger than the first? Are monotheists liable to get angrier with other monotheists who don't worship the mono-theos in what the former believe to be the right way, than polytheists are liable to get angry with other polytheists whose pantheon is different? I wonder how we might check that.

The rationale, I suppose, would be something like: being a polytheist requires a more flexible attitude to the divine, since you already believe that the divine comes in all sorts of different shapes and flavours, where being a monotheist requires you to be less flexible, or if you prefer more rigorous and exacting, about what you believe. It does seem to me that polytheism suits most humans better than a strict monotheism, since a polytheistic pantheon can accommodate a wide range of different sorts of people, or even different moods and needs of individual people. Under the logic of monotheism the different sorts of people must fit themselves to the divine, where under the logic of polytheism the divine fits itself to the human. And, of course, a monotheistic system like 'Christianity' is, in many actual cases, functionally a polytheism: so there are three gods in the central godhead, as well as goddesses (the Virgin Mary, for instance: functionally if not theologically a goddess), saints and so on. But presumably the oneness of God matters to a monotheist, and I wonder if that results in a lack of hospitality to other versions of that oneness?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Wodwo Vergil: Eclogue 3



Menalcas
So, these sheep, eh Damoetas?
Meliboeus's, are they?

Damoetas
Mate, not his. Aegon's, isn't it.
And this is me, minding them.
Aegon trusts me, see. 

Menalcas
Oho, that's this lot fucked, then.
Off on a date, is he?
And while your boss's hands are on Neara's tits
like a kid with playdoh
you'll be all over these suede udders
groping out six times the usual flow of milk,
stealing sustenance from the lambkins' little mouths
glutting yourself, selling the surplus. Leaving
ewes as giddy-weak
as marathon-runners crossing the line,
legs all rope.
Naughty naughty.

Damoetas
Fuck off, my friend.
You think I don't know 
who you've been doing? And with what fervour?
Do me a favour.

Menalcas
Careful now. You seen me use a knife?.

Damoetas
Oh, so scared.
Veritably quaking.
Check out these trees, yeah? A longer look?
I like to think of these old-boy beeches as
witnesses. They stand, they surveil.
Perfect recall, isn't it?
They saw when you knacked that bow across your knee
stunned it to splinters, threw the pieces in the sedge.
The bow-and-arrow given to young Damon, 
and you browned-off for not getting it.
Moody Menalcas, you sulky fucker.

Menalcas
Oho. You didn't steal Damon's goat, then?
My fucking mistake. My miscuntderstanding.
That wasn't you, whilst the boy's dog, Lycisca,
kept hammering away at the plank of his barking
over and over,
as if barking was the only idea in his head.
Nah, saw you, mate. Called to Tityrus, didn't I,
and you ducked behind the fucking hedgerow.

Damoetas
He owed me that goat.
Won it fair and square,
squire.

Menalcas
Right: You sang a whole fucking cantata
and he wheezed old king cole,
so you won, right?
Thing is, you can no more carry a tune than 
clouds can hold onto the weight
of their own hard rain.
Your singing is piss through a colander.
Sound like a worn-down brake-pad.
I've shat turds with a better top end
no word of a fucking lie.

Damoetas
Care to put your money where your
hairy sack-shaped mouth is?
I'll bet you this heifer; a twice-a-day milker.

Menalcas 
Seriously, though, look:
if I bet one of these sheep, my Dad 
would fucking kill me, and my stepmother
would rip off my balls with nails
lacquered black like ten raven beaks.
So fuck that for a game of shepherds.
No, mate
no
I bet you: one girl, two cups. Cups, that's it.
Alcimedon spiked them onto his centrifuge
spun and scraped the wood away
like candyfloss in reverse,
until they were shapely as hourglasses, then
he worked vines into the sides with his burin
ivy berries like a cluster of
sweet little hemorrhoids
and standing under them two men
Conon, one, and
I forget the name of the other geezer.
Holding a wand, though, so maybe Gandalf.

Damoetas
Nah, babe, I already got two Alcimedon cups, don't I,
and mine have handles, you loser.
Mine got Orpheus on them, in a tangle
of forest matrix as it locks about him, in love with him.
Hardly worth a cow, though, is it? Some cups?

Menalcas
Whatever. Bet's on, fucker.
Your cum's thin as piss and mine's fucking gold-top.
All we need's a judge, impartial like.
And, bingo, here comes Palaemon. He'll do.
For a singing comp he'll doo-be-doo-be-doo.

Damoetas
Bring it.

Palaemon
Gents, let's park our derrieres
on this dollar-green grass, right here.
Pastures and trees and all that, burgeoning
all around us
my friends, truly burgeoning.
The trees standing high as a ship's mast:
foliage came gliding by as green as
aim-air-auld
as the poet says. Hi-de-hi.
Damoetas, you go first, sir.
Then you, Menalcas.

Damoetas
"You'd think that people woulda
had enough of silly Jove-songs
I asked the Muse now and she said
it isn't so
oh no."

Menalcas
"Phoebus loves me
yeah, yeah yeah
Phoe loves me
yeah yeah yeah
and with hyacinths
she gives me what I need."

Damoetas
"Gay Galatea
Gay Galatea
Gay Galatea
Chucks me an apple,
Then runs to the willows
Ooh I gotta see her
I gotta see her
Galatea."

Menalcas
"I don't got to beg her
Amyntas comes down;
my dogs don't bark
my dogs don't bark
when she comes round."

Damoetas
"I got my eyes on a
gift for my love
I got my eyes on a
gift for my love
in the skies is my
gift for my love
where pigeons fly
is my gift for my love
gift for my love."

Menalcas
"Ten gold apples
I gave to that boy.
Ten gold apples
I gave to that boy.
And if he'll just kiss me
I'll give him ten ones more
and he'll have
Twenty gold apples
lying on his floor."

Damoetas
"Every little breeze seems to whisper
Galatea
whispea
Galatea
Birds in the trees seem to twitter
Galatea
twittea
Galatea."

Menalcas
"It breaks my heart to see you go
Iollas
You say farewell I'm filled with woe
Iollas
Oh Iollas"

Damoetas
"She don't have to be beautiful
To be his girl
She just use her country-breeding,
To rock his world.
She don't have to be rich
For Pollio
She don't got to own cows
To make him go
Oh Pie-ri-an maids
he is com-pat-i-ble with—"

Menalcas
Alright alright. Fucking hell, already.
Let me just clear my throat.

"Pollio
Pollio
baby
You know I'm in need of you?
Pollio
Pollio
baby
Don't you believe it's true?"

Damoetas
You're just embarrassing yourself.
Stand back, I'm going to blast this next one,
go full Adele in the dale:

"And with Pollio
When things crumble
We will stand tall-
all-he-all
face it altogether;
stay with Pollio
when things crumble
we will stand tall-all-all
Face it all
together
with Pollio."

Menalcas
You'll do yourself a mischief
hernia or therenia. Settle down, my boy.

"I get no kick from sham Bavius,
His rubbish verse doesn't thrill me at all
But baby, Maevius's true:
That I get a goat
Out of you."

Damoetas
"My Apollo
Oh mist rolling in from the sea
You must know
the whole breadth of heaven
sees you
Apollo."

Menalcas
"You make me dizzy
Miss Phyllis,
kings are on the line;
you make me dizzy
Miss Phyllis
they all think you're so fine;
come on Miss Phyllis
come and love me all the time."

Palaemon
Enough!
Fuck me.
Bacchus on a badger that was bad.
Each as atrocious as at-nother.
You've worked yourselves into
a right two-and-eight.
Boy, boys, shut off
your fucking sluices,
for the fields have drunk their fill.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

'To Marguerite, From Vergil...'



Arnold's 'To Marguerite: Continued' (1852) is more than one of my favourite Victorian poems; it is one of my favourite poems, period:
Yes! in the sea of life enisled,
With echoing straits between us thrown,
Dotting the shoreless watery wild,
We mortal millions live alone.
The islands feel the enclasping flow,
And then their endless bounds they know.

But when the moon their hollows lights,
And they are swept by balms of spring,
And in their glens, on starry nights,
The nightingales divinely sing;
And lovely notes, from shore to shore,
Across the sounds and channels pour—

Oh! then a longing like despair
Is to their farthest caverns sent;
For surely once, they feel, we were
Parts of a single continent!
Now round us spreads the watery plain—
Oh might our marges meet again!

Who order'd, that their longing's fire
Should be, as soon as kindled, cool'd?
Who renders vain their deep desire?—
A God, a God their severance ruled!
And bade betwixt their shores to be
The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea.
Now, the most obvious intertext (horrid word, but there you go) here is Keats, and in particular the 'Ode to a Nightingale' (1819). I'm not saying anything original when I note that. Critics have explored at length the Keatsian anxiety of influence not just in this poem, but throughout Arnold's verse. 'But when the moon their hollows lights,/And they are swept by balms of spring' says Arnold, full of yearning: 'and in their glens, on starry nights,/The nightingales divinely sing ...' Not only the specifics but the mood of the whole clearly owes much to Keats's masterpoem:
And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
         But here there is no light,
Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
         Through verdurous glooms.
Tender is that night. We could say that the whole of Arnold's poem elaborates one of Keats's most famous, most-discussed phrases, when he describes himself attending to the song of the nightingale under the stars: 'Darkling I listen'.  Darkling. It's beautiful of course. But what does it mean?

I'm going to suggest putting these two poems alongside the opening of Aeneid 7. Aeneas has just returned from the underworld, having seen both the punished distorted into tortuous shapes by the consequences of their sinfulness, and the blissful existence of the blessed. Book Seven starts by addressing one more dead person: Aeneas's old nurse Caieta. He buries her on a piece of coastline that subsequently becomes the promontory and town of Caieta. Then he sails off:
At pius exsequiis Aeneas rite solutis,
aggere composito tumuli, postquam alta quierunt
aequora, tendit iter velis portumque relinquit.
Adspirant aurae in noctem nec candida cursus
Luna negat, splendet tremulo sub lumine pontus.
Proxima Circaeae raduntur litora terrae,
dives inaccessos ubi Solis filia lucos
adsiduo resonat cantu tectisque superbis
urit odoratam nocturna in lumina cedrum,
arguto tenuis percurrens pectine telas.
Hinc exaudiri gemitus iraeque leonum
vincla recusantum et sera sub nocte rudentum,
saetigerique sues atque in praesaepibus ursi
saevire ac formae magnorum ululare luporum,
quos hominum ex facie dea saeva potentibus herbis
induerat Circe in voltus ac terga ferarum.
Quae ne monstra pii paterentur talia Troes
delati in portus neu litora dira subirent,
Neptunus ventis implevit vela secundis
atque fugam dedit et praeter vada fervida vexit. [Aeneid, 7:5-24]

So pious Aeneas, having performed those last rites,
and smoothed the mound over the grave, as a hush
lies over the high seas, unfurls his sails and leaves the harbour.
Breezes blow through the night, white light speeds them on
a gift of the Moon, the sea glitters with a tremulous radiance.
Soon they are skirting the shoreline of Circe's land,
where the rich daughter of the Sun makes
her untrodden groves echo with ceaseless song;
nightlong her shining palace is sweet with burning cedarwood,
as she drives her shuttle, weaving delicate textiles.
And from far away you can hear angry lions
chafing at their fetters and roaring in the deep night,
and bears and bristle-backed hogs in their pens,
raging, and huge-bodied wolves howling aloud;
these are men who, eating her magical herbs,
the deadly divine Circe had disfashioned into beasts.
To save the good Trojans from so hideous a change,
prevent them from stopping on those ominous shores,
Neptune fills their sails with favourable winds,
and hurries them, sweeping them past the seething shallows.
That's my line-by-line translation. Anyway: Arnold will certainly have known this passage (Aeneid 7 was often taught at school level). It's not likely, of course, that Keats read this Latin; but that doesn't mean he was unaware of the passage. These elements: the starry, white-moonlit night, the soft breeze, the islands in the flow, the sound of a beautiful song echoing across the straits, the animal life—these two latter becoming fused into one image that replaces the anger and frustration of the beast-people with a kind of yearning melancholy. It's all here. And if Keats wasn't reading Vergil in the original, he was surely aware of John Dryden's famous translation. Here's Dryden's version of this passage:
Now, when the prince her fun'ral rites had paid,
He plow'd the Tyrrhene seas with sails display'd.
From land a gentle breeze arose by night,
Serenely shone the stars, the moon was bright,
And the sea trembled with her silver light.
Now near the shelves of Circe's shores they run,
(Circe the rich, the daughter of the Sun,)
A dang'rous coast: the goddess wastes her days
In joyous songs; the rocks resound her lays:
In spinning, or the loom, she spends the night,
And cedar brands supply her father's light.
From hence were heard, rebellowing to the main,
The roars of lions that refuse the chain,
The grunts of bristled boars, and groans of bears,
And herds of howling wolves that stun the sailors' ears.
These from their caverns, at the close of night,
Fill the sad isle with horror and affright.
Darkling they mourn their fate, whom Circe's pow'r,
(That watch'd the moon and planetary hour,)
With words and wicked herbs from humankind
Had alter'd, and in brutal shapes confin'd.
Which monsters lest the Trojans' pious host
Should bear, or touch upon th' inchanted coast,
Propitious Neptune steer'd their course by night
With rising gales that sped their happy flight.
Supplied with these, they skim the sounding shore,
And hear the swelling surges vainly roar.
'Darkling they mourn'. Who are they? The animals whose voice so powerfully effects the human listener. Was this passage one of the things in Keats's mind when he wrote his own Ode? And is there at least a hint of Aeneas standing by 'the sounding shore,/Hear[ing] the swelling surges vainly roar' in Arnold's anguished question 'who bade betwixt their shores to be/The unplumb'd, salt, estranging sea'? If so, then we might start to think that the god whose bidding Arnold questions is Vergil's very own Neptune, the deity who has decided Arnoldian men ought not to tarry with sexually alluring women in foreign lands and so turn bestial in their lust.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Leopardi's 'L'infinito' (1819)



Autumn 1819, a young Giacomo Leopardi was sitting on the hill near his small home town of Recanati, yearning to see more of the world. He wrote a poem about it, which he called 'L'infinito'. It is, by all accounts, very widely known in Italy. Indeed the actual hill in actual Recanati even has the above monument to it. Here's the poem:
'L'infinito'

Sempre caro mi fu quest’ermo colle,
e questa siepe, che da tanta parte
dell’ultimo orizzonte il guardo esclude.
Ma sedendo e mirando, interminati
spazi di là da quella, e sovrumani
silenzi, e profondissima quiete
io nel pensier mi fingo; ove per poco
il cor non si spaura. E come il vento
odo stormir tra queste piante, io quello
infinito silenzio a questa voce
vo comparando: e mi sovvien l’eterno,
e le morte stagioni, e la presente
e viva, e il suon di lei. Così tra questa
immensità s’annega il pensier mio:
e il naufragar m’è dolce in questo mare.
Here's my go at an English version:
Infinity

was always in my heart, this lonely hill,
and this hedgerow, and the larger part
of the far horizon it blocks from view;
my sedentary amazement at endless
spaces opening beyond, the superhuman
silences, this most profound quiet,
I fix it all up with my thoughts. It
almost scares my soul. As the wind
hisses through the leaves I set that
infinite silence against this voice,
for comparison: and remember eternity,
and the dead seasons, and the present
live one, and the sound it makes. Into this
immensity go my thoughts to drown:
and shipwreck is sweet in such an ocean.
I'm not sure any poet ever had a cooler name than 'Jack Leopard'. I may be wrong about this.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Protocols of the Elders of Simov



Did Ace really reissue Asimov's Foundation in the 50s under a title phrased after the logic of, I don't know, let's say, Tausendjähriges Plannen und Reich? And did they really bung a sinister stern-faced bald fellow on the cover, sporting a logo somewhat resembling a crooked black cross in a white circle against a red background?

It seems they did.

Anyway: late in his career, in the 1980s and 1990s, Asimov pulled his whole imagined cosmos together, uniting in one shared universe and one timeline his many individual Foundation stories with his many individual Robot stories. Now, since there were no robots in the original Foundation stories (written between 1942 and the early 1950s); and since the early robot stories (I, Robot (1950), The Caves of Steel (1953) and so on) take place in a cosmos that has neither Galactic Empire nor Foundation, this took some finessing. What Asimov did was to add an extra 'zeroth' law to his three laws of robotics such that, by contorting narrative and worldbuilding plausibility somewhat, all the robots go into hiding and start secretly manipulating the events of human history, during the Galactic Empire and its collapse, in order to bring about far-future utopia.

In the unified Foundation and Robot stories from the 1980s-90s Asimov is adumbrating a specific worldview. It is worldview that says: the world is being controlled by an occult conspiracy. It says: behind the world there is a secret cabal, hidden away, manipulating the human world for its own ends. And furthermore: though the members of this cabal might look human, and might even pass as human, they are fundamentally not human. In point of fact, and despite their cunning and cleverness, they are less than human. Nonetheless, they are influencing everything you do, and all the social and political structures under which you live, with their secret conspiracy. Their leader is known by the Jewish name 'Daniel' (well, almost). Hmm.

In other news: Isaac Asimov was one of the twentieth-century's most successful and influential Jewish writers.

Friday, 2 September 2016

When this cartoon is over, you will have nothing that you want



The beak does not look good on you, it's a duck's bill, and when you come to the microphone you sound like you're speaking through a kazoo. Nobody seems sure, and even you don't know, whether you could even grow a beard under that bill, for all your bushy side-whiskers. It looks cheap, the beak, the kind of cheap no top-hat can compensate for. Your eyes look dead, grey where the whites should be. That you even have whites to your eyes is wrong, if you think about it for two seconds. I guess people don't devote that much time to thinking about it. But then people don't want a president to be that tasty with orange sauce. You know that now. Why doesn't someone in your entourage dare to say these things? So sad. The fans are wild about you, and Donald is as loyal as they come, but Huey, Dewey and Louie are reassuring in that stilted way of hospital visitors. And The Media treat you like the village idiot. This is painful for a wealthy duck from the Bear Mountain Mansion trying to win respect in the big city, in LA and Disneyland, where pathos is for live-action only, and cartoon characters are only there to be mocked and derided. When you came over 40 years ago, you discovered that in entertainment, the press, politics, finance, everywhere you went, you ran into humans, and they are not like you: humans didn't go in for diving into swimming-pools full of gold coins or buying magic hourglasses or travelling back in time to Ancient Egypt to retrieve a pharaoh's papyrus. — they showed off by way of philanthropy or having successful kids. The swimming-pools full of gold coins were totally duck, the bragging, the honking, but you wanted to be liked by Those People. You wanted Pixar to include you in an intensely moving pre-credits sequence tracing how you fell in love as a young duck and married but never had kids and then she got sick and slowly died and everyone in the cinema is weeping, actually weeping heartfelt tears, as you turn into this cantakerous old geezer from the sheer bereaved psychic pain. But Pixar is a separate commercial arm, you're told, and ducks like you don't belong in that stable, its strictly the ludicrous and humiliating for you.



Meanwhile, you keep plugging away. You try to be be serious about this crazy idea; although there's no profit in it. It's the hardest work you've ever done. You walk out and your huge orange bill goes first, everywhere, and you rant and hiss and splutter for an hour about stuff that means nothing and the fans laugh and you wish you could level with them for once and say one true thing: I am literally a two-dimensional character and you're laughing at me to cover your fear that you are too, you all are, all precisely as vacant and depthless and money-addicted as I am and when this cartoon is over you will have nothing that you want.

Thursday, 1 September 2016