Tuesday, March 31, 2009

is hope not plumed?

To-night this sunset spreads two golden wings
    Cleaving the western sky;
Winged too with wind it is, and winnowings
Of birds; as if the day's last hour in rings
    Of strenuous flight must die.

Sun-steeped in fire, the homeward pinions sway
    Above the dovecote-tops;
And clouds of starlings, ere they rest with day,
Sink, clamorous like mill-waters, at wild play,
    By turns in every copse:

Each tree heart-deep the wrangling rout receives, —
    Save for the whirr within,
You could not tell the starlings from the leaves;
Then one great puff of wings, and the swarm heaves
    Away with all its din.

Even thus Hope's hours, in ever-eddying flight,
    To many a refuge tend;
With the first light she laughed, and the last light
Glows round her still; who natheless in the night
    At length must make an end.

And now the mustering rooks innumerable
    Together sail and soar,
While for the day's death, like a tolling knell,
Unto the heart they seem to cry, Farewell,
    No more, farewell, no more!

Is Hope not plumed, as 'twere a fiery dart?
    And oh! thou dying day,
Even as thou goest must she too depart,
And Sorrow fold such pinions on the heart
    As will not fly away?
This is 'Sunset Wings' by D.G. Rossetti, from Sonnets and Lyrical Poems, (London, 1894). It is the 48th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Lawrence was fond of Rossetti's poems and believed they transcended the man himself. In a letter to his friend Charlotte Shaw he said 'Rossetti was a very great poet: and his poetry was much greater than himself.' (30.X.28 quoted by Jeremy Wilson, the editor of Minorities)

The poem is technically interesting and scans well. Natheless, in the fourth stanza, means nevertheless. The poem turns on this stanza and, for me, it has the most emotional force.

{Click to view full size; these two images show Rossetti's draft manuscript of the poem; source Delaware Art Museum draft manuscript on rossettiarchive.org}

{Click to view full size; these two images show a fair copy of the poem made in 1871; source rossettiarchive.org}

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Ballads & sonnets, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; edited by Walter Pater (T. B. Mosher, 1903)

Scholarly Commentary on 'Sunset Wings'

Monday, March 30, 2009

you mumble and sigh and turn your head

Why do you lie with your legs ungainly huddled,
And one arm bent across your sullen cold
Exhausted face? It hurts my heart to watch you,
Deep-shadow'd from the candle's guttering gold;
And you wonder why I shake you by the shoulder;
Drowsy, you mumble and sigh and turn your head. . . .
You are too young to fall asleep for ever;
And when you sleep you remind me of the dead.

This is 'The Dug-Out' by Siegfried Sassoon, from Picture Show, (Privately-printed by the author, Cambridge, 1919). It is the 47th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages. The ellipsis is in the original printed version.

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Picture-show, by Siegfried Sassoon (New York, E. P. Dutton & Company, 1920)

Cincinnati, 1938

Below I've reproduced some more photos from the Library of Congress Prints and Photos division. They were taken by John Vachon for the Farm Security Administration and they show people in Cincinnati during a parade to celebrate the city's 150th anniversary in 1938. LC gives background information about Vachon and his FSA work here. About this day's work, he wrote to his wife:
October 11, 1938
Cincinnati, Ohio

Noon, Tuesday,

my sainted wife:

I got ya lettah this morning. You old dear girl. Now I'm gonna take it on the lamb. I don't know whether I'll have time to get a hair carve or not. I'd like to do the 1:30 train.

I got up about 9 o'clock went down for breakfast and then out to find a haircut, when whoops! Millions of people milling and muttering, mewling and puling, lining the streets for blocks & blocks to watch the parade go by. Cincinnati's Sesquicentennial parade. And me without a camera. So up I scoots to the 10th floor, loads me Leica, and down I am again. First I takes in the post office, reads your lovely letter, sighs for you, and then starts snapping. In short, I spent a very profitable 2½ hours. Really got some good material. I don't know what it is worth to John Citizen who is paying for it, but it pleases me, and was a great deal of fun. Our organization really should be a part of the WPA art project. That is my only trouble these days, getting an untroubled and respectable conscience about what I'm doing. The parade was the nuts. All the school children in town marched, with bands, costumes, etc., militia, etc., clubs, etc., a very long affair. I specialized on the people watching the parade. But the marching children were very touching, all the bright young faces, y'know. First the public schools, then the Catholic schools. There seem to be a lot of Catholic schools in town.

Each school unit carried a banner with its name; some had bands, flags; all the way from very simple to very elaborate. The schools from the poor districts, made up mostly of colored kids (though there seems to be no segregation here) were sort of heart wringing. Poorly dressed brats, tattered banners, no bands. Then the orphanages — some of them with fine looking, uniformed bands, and very nice looking boys & girls. . . .

Well I've got to clear out dearest one. What do you mean by: "I wonder if they ever hear you" (snoring). Are you trying to tell me, in my absence, that I snore? . . . My room here is a $2.50 one, but when the clerk found out yesterday that I was a govt. man, he said he would change the rate. Make it $2.00. He said I should always identify myself as govt. Nice, hey? Not all hotels, however, so recognize Uncle Sam.

I'm off my one. My love,


{ — source: John Vachon's America}
Here are the images. Click to view full size. The first is followed by some detail crops; the rest appear only in full.

Details of this image:

More shots of parade watchers:

Additional information and photos:

John Vachon, photographer
John Vachon's America Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II

John Vachon's America
From 1936 to 1943, John Vachon traveled across America as part of the Farm Security Administration photography project, documenting the desperate world of the Great Depression and also the efforts at resistance--from strikes to stoic determination. This collection, the first to feature Vachon's work, offers a stirring and elegant record of this extraordinary photographer's vision and of America's land and people as the country moved from the depths of the Depression to the dramatic mobilization for World War II. Vachon's portraits of white and black Americans are among the most affecting that FSA photographers produced; and his portrayals of the American landscape, from rural scenes to small towns and urban centers, present a remarkable visual account of these pivotal years, in a style that is transitional from Walker Evans to Robert Frank.
Vachon nurtured a lifelong ambition to be a writer, and the intimate and revealing letters he wrote from the field to his wife back home reflect vividly on American conditions, on movies and jazz, on landscape, and on his job fulfilling the directives from Washington to capture the heart of America. Together, these letters and photographs, along with journal entries and other writings by Vachon, constitute a multifaceted biography of this remarkable photographer and a unique look at the years he captured in such unforgettable images.

More details
John Vachon's America: Photographs and Letters from the Depression to World War II
By John Vachon, Miles Orvell
Contributor Miles Orvell
Edition: illustrated
Published by University of California Press, 2003
ISBN 0520223780, 9780520223783
344 pages

Sunday, March 29, 2009

I am rich in all that I have lost

When I was young my heart and head were light,
And I was gay and feckless as a colt
Out in the fields, with morning in the may,
Wind on the grass, wings in the orchard bloom.
   O thrilling sweet, my joy, when life was free,
   And all the paths led on from hawthorn-time
   Across the carolling meadows into June.

But now my heart is heavy-laden. I sit
Burning my dreams away beside the fire:
For death has made me wise and bitter and strong;
And I am rich in all that I have lost.
   O star shine on the fields of long-ago,
   Bring me the darkness and the nightingale;
   Dim wealds of vanished summer, peace of home,
   And silence; and the faces of my friends.
This is 'Memory' by Siegfried Sassoon, from Picture Show, (Cambridge, 1919). It is the xxxx poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Sassoon privately published the first edition of Picture Show in an edition of 200 copies. The book has only 34 leaves.

{A Browning automatic pistol that Sassoon purchased because he had little respect for Colt service revolver which the British Army issued to its officers. This photo is not directly related to the poem. He wrote that he would use the pistol to shoot himself rather than suffer a lingering death if he should be wounded in no-man's land. Unlike many contemporaries, he survived WWI and lived to experience the emotion described in this poem. source: Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum* }

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Picture-show, by Siegfried Sassoon (New York, E. P. Dutton & Company, 1920).


The website of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Museum says:
The service issue revolvers of the First World War were large and clumsy, intended for use in the confines of trench or bunker - or as a last resort. Not surprisingly, wealthy officers sometimes purchased smaller, handier, examples for themselves, with semi-automatic pistols being especially popular.

One such officer was renowned poet and author Siegfried Sassoon. As he confides in Memoirs of an Infantry Officer (1930):
..I was weary of my Colt revolver, with which I knew I couldn't hit anything, although I had blazed it off a few times in the dark when I was pretending to be important in No-Man's Land. The only object I could be sure of hitting was myself.
But it wasn't simply the inaccuracy of the revolver as an offensive weapon which troubled Sassoon. Like many others, he was appalled by the prospect of a slow death "lying out in a shell-hole with something more serious than a Blighty wound". In such circumstances, he reasoned, it would be necessary to end it all quickly, while "to blow one's brains out with that clumsy Colt was unthinkable". With this grim prospect in mind, Sassoon purchased a 7.62mm Browning semi-automatic from the London branch of the Army and Navy Stores in March 1916, on his way back from leave to France.

Rumours of a massive summer offensive also prompted Sassoon's purchase, and as he left the idyllic Kent of his childhood he wondered whether he would ever return again.

Over the next two and half years Sassoon served variously with the 1st and 2nd Battalions, Royal Welch Fusiliers, in France and Flanders and with the 25th Battalion in Palestine and France.

When out on patrol in No Man's Land, Sassoon wrote that he would clutch the Browning pistol in his breeches pocket for reassurance, no doubt helping to give an outward appearance of calm.

Although twice wounded (once in the head) Sassoon never needed to use the pistol for the desperate purpose he had intended. After the war he gave it to a fellow officer, who later emigrated to Australia. After many years, the pistol returned to Wales and can be seen today on display in the Regimental Museum, clearly engraved 'S. Sassoon 1 RWF'.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eve with a berry half way to her lips

Eve, with her basket, was
Deep in the bells and grass,
Wading in bells and grass
Up to her knees,
Picking a dish of sweet
Berries and plums to eat,
Down in the bell and grass
Under the trees.

Mute as a mouse in a
Corner the cobra lay,
Circled round a bough of the
Cinnamon tall. . . .
Now to get even and
Humble proud heaven and
Now was the moment or
Never at all.

"Eva!" Each syllable
Light as a flower fell,
"Eva!" he whispered the
Wondering maid,
Soft as a bubble sung
Out of a linnet's lung,
Soft and most silverly
"Eva!" he said.

Picture that orchard sprite,
Eve, with her body white,
Supple and smooth to her
Slim finger tips.
Wondering, listening,
Listening, wondering,
Eve with a berry
Half-way to her lips.

Oh had our simple Eve
Seen through the make-believe!
Had she but known the
Pretender he was!
Out of the boughs he came,
Whispering still her name,
Tumbling in twenty rings
Into the grass.

Here was the strangest pair
In the world anywhere,
Eve in the bells and grass
Kneeling, and he
Telling the story low. . . .
Singing birds saw them go
Down the dark path to
The Blasphemous Tree.

O what a clatter when
Titmouse and Jenny Wren
Saw him successful and
Taking his leave!
How the birds rated him,
How they all hated him!
How they all pitied
Poor motherless Eve!

Picture her crying
Outside in the lane,
Eve, with no dish of sweet
Berries and plums to eat,
Haunting the gate of the
Orchard in vain. . . .
Picture the lewd delight
Under the hill to-night --
"Eva!" the toast goes round,
"Eva!" again.
This is 'Eve' by Ralph Hodgson, from Poems, (London, 1917). It is the 45th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages. The ellipses are in the poem itself; they don't reflect omissions that Lawrence made when he put the poem in Minorities.

The Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections Dept. holds the Ralph Hodgson and Aurelia Bolliger Hodgson Papers where you can find some images of the man and some of his work as an artist.

{Portrait of Ralph Hodgson painted in Japan, artist and date unknown; from the Bryn Mawr Special Collections site}

{Galley proof of Hodgson's poems "Time" and "Eve" with corrections c. 1917 with note on the back by CL Fraser; from the Bryn Mawr Special Collections site}

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

POEMS, by Ralph Hodgson, from the American edition (NY, 1918).

Poems,Ralph Hodgson (London, Macmillan, 1917).

Ralph Hodgson entry in wikipedia.

Friday, March 27, 2009

your mind’s the room where you have slept

If you could crowd them into forty lines!
Yes; you can do it, once you get a start;
All that you want is waiting in your head,
For long-ago you’ve learnt it off by heart.
                .     .     .     .     .                
Begin: your mind’s the room where you have slept,
(Don’t pause for rhymes), till twilight woke you early.
The window stands wide-open, as it stood
When tree-tops loomed enchanted for a child
Hearing the dawn’s first thrushes through the wood
Warbling (you know the words) serene and wild.

You’ve said it all before: you dreamed of Death,
A dim Apollo in the bird-voiced breeze
That drifts across the morning veiled with showers,
While golden weather shines among dark trees.

You’ve got your limitations; let them sing,
And all your life will waken with a cry:
Why should you halt when rapture’s on the wing
And you’ve no limit but the cloud-flocked sky? . . .

But some chap shouts, ‘Here, stop it; that’s been done!’ —
As God might holloa to the rising sun,
And then relent, because the glorying rays
Remind Him of green-glinting Eden days,
And Adam’s trustful eyes as he looks up
From carving eagles on his beechwood cup.

Young Adam knew his job; he could condense
Life to an eagle from the unknown immense . . . .
Go on, whoever you are; your lines can be
A whisper in the music from the weirs
Of song that plunge and tumble toward the sea
That is the uncharted mercy of our tears.
                .     .     .     .     .                
I told you it was easy! . . . Words are fools
Who follow blindly, once they get a lead.
But thoughts are kingfishers that haunt the pools
Of quiet; seldom-seen: and all you need
Is just that flash of joy above your dream.
So, when those forty platitudes are done,
You’ll hear a bird-note calling from the stream
That wandered through your childhood; and the sun
Will strike the old flaming wonder from the waters . . . .
And there’ll be forty lines not yet begun.
This is 'Limitations' by Siegfried Sassoon. It is the 44th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Sassoon wrote it out for Lawrence in Lawrence's copy of Sassoon's Picture Show. It later appeared in the American edition of that book. The ellipses are in the poem itself; they don't reflect omissions that Lawrence made when he put the poem in Minorities.

It's very good, is it not?

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Poems by Siegfried Sassoon on poemhunter.com

Siegfried Sassoon on poetryconnection.net

Thursday, March 26, 2009

home movie, summer, 1939, Warsaw

In October 1939 Germany attacked Poland, one of the most significant events of World War II. Warsaw fell without very much of a fight and became an occupied city.

The following summer an amateur cinematographer took his camera on to the street to film daily life, particularly in the Jewish quarter. The shots, in color, show much eagerness to be immortalized in moving images, but also -- particularly among the bearded traditionalists -- reluctance and a certain amount of resistance. There is good humored joshing on screen and some hazing of a harmless peddler. Most of the subjects are males: men, youths, and boys, but in the middle there are a few women and one captivating and very young girl with a big bow in her hair. The tone is relaxed.

Not much more than a year later, the Nazis compelled all Warsaw's Jews to crowd into a ghetto which they then walled off from the rest of the city and kept in strict isolation. That began a period of repression which ended in the deaths of most of the city's Jewish population through disease, starvation, murder, exportation to the death camps, and finally brutal repression of a desperate uprising. It's likely that nine tenths or more of the people in the home movie were dead before the end of 1943.

Here is the first of two versions of the footage:

This second longer version has this caption: 'Amateur color footage filmed on May 3, 1939 in Warsaw. The video at the beginning shows Pilsudski's Place, in the city center. The rest shows shots of an area which was mainly inhabited by Jews - so called Northern District.'

Here is a photo of the wall.

{Caption: Nazis ghettoize Warsaw's Jews: Polish and Jewish laborers contribute to the construction of a 10-foot-high wall that will enclose the Jewish ghetto of Warsaw. After the 1939 Nazi German takeover of Poland, Gestapo chief Reinhard Heydrich ordered Jews into segregated living areas. In the fall of 1940, Heydrich used the pretext of a typhus outbreak in Jewish neighborhoods to force the city's Jews into a 3.5-square-mile section of town. Non-Jewish Poles were moved out of the area. That November, the ghetto wall's 22 gates were closed, sealing off 360,000 Jews (one-third of Warsaw's entire population) from the rest of the Polish capital. Source: howstuffworks.com}

A web page called THE WARSAW GHETTO gives more photos of the ghetto during the war.

There are also some ghetto photos on a blog called BloggusSatiricum.

Here are a few from the former with captions mostly from the latter:

{Jews being marched to the ghetto. In 1940, the population of the Ghetto was estimated to be 440,000 people, about 38% of the population of Warsaw. However, the size of the Ghetto was about 4.5% of the size of Warsaw. Nazis then closed the Warsaw Ghetto from the outside world on November 16, 1940, building a wall with armed guards.}

{Views inside and outside the wall}

{During the next year and a half, thousands of the Polish Jews as well as some Romani people from smaller cities and the countryside were brought into the Ghetto, while diseases (especially typhus) and starvation kept the inhabitants at about the same number. Average food rations in 1941 for Jews in Warsaw were limited to 184 kcal, compared to 669 kcal for gentile Poles and 2,614 kcal for Germans.}

{Caption: Children smuggling food. Unemployment was a major problem in the ghetto. Illegal workshops were created to manufacture goods to be sold illegally on the outside and raw goods were smuggled in often by children. Hundreds of four to five year old Jewish children went across en masse to the "Aryan side", sometimes several times a day, smuggling food into the ghettos, returning with goods that often weighed more than they did. Smuggling was often the only source of subsistence for Ghetto inhabitants, who would otherwise have died of starvation. Despite the grave hardships, life in the Warsaw Ghetto was rich with educational and cultural activities, conducted by its underground organizations. Hospitals, public soup kitchens, orphanages, refugee centers and recreation facilities were formed, as well as a school system. Some schools were illegal and operated under the guise of a soup kitchen. There were secret libraries, classes for the children and even a symphony orchestra. The life in the ghetto was chronicled by the Oyneg Shabbos group.}

{Over 100,000 of the Ghetto's residents died due to rampant disease or starvation, as well as random killings, even before the Nazis began massive deportations of the inhabitants from the Ghetto's Umschlagplatz to the Treblinka extermination camp during the Gross-aktion Warschau, part of the countrywide Operation Reinhard. Between Tisha B'Av (July 23) and Yom Kippur (September 21) of 1942, about 254,000 Ghetto residents (or at least 300,000 by different accounts) were sent to Treblinka and murdered there. In 1942 Polish resistance officer Jan Karski reported to the Western governments on the situation in the Ghetto and on the extermination camps. By the end of 1942, it was clear that the deportations were to their deaths, and many of the remaining Jews decided to fight.}

{These and other photos on the WARSAW GHETTO site document the unspeakable lives and deaths of the Warsaw Jews.}

T.E. Lawrence, Minorities, Nos. 30-43

Here are links to the 30th-43rd poems that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages. With exception of two, they're all from his copy of the The Oxford Book of English Verse. I'm particularly fond of no. 42.
30. Dominus Illuminatio Mea, by R.D. Blackmore

31. Ode Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood, by William Wordsworth

32. Salve!, by T.E. Brown

33. Elizabeth of Bohemia, by Sir Henry Wotton*

34. Love, by George Herbert

35. The Great Misgiving, by William Watson. The editor of Minorities says Lawrence wrote this poem into his pocket book on November 4, 1917, a day on which he learned of the treachery of a fighting companion. Having planned an attack on a railway and now being certain that the enemy knew his plans, he decided to proceed regardless. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom he wrote: 'The Turks, if they took the most reasonable precautions, would trap us at the bridge. We took council with Fahad and decided to push on none the less, trusting to the usual incompetence of our enemy. It was not a confident decision.'

36. Youth and Age, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge**

37. Death the Leveller, by James Shirley.

38. The Vine, by James Thomson. In 1922 Lawrence wrote to Robert Graves: 'By the way James Thomson's Sunday up the River is most excellent, isn't it?'

39. Lawrence did not copy this out of his OBEV. It is verse XVI from 'Sunday up the River' by James Thompson's The City of Dreadful Night, and other poems (London, 1910)
My love is the flaming Sword
To fight through the world;
Thy love is the Shield to ward,
And the Armor of the Lord
And the Banner of Heaven unfurled.
40. Bride Song, from 'The Prince's Progress' by Christina Georgina Rossetti

41. Kubla Khan, by Samuel Taylor Coleridge. In general, Lawrence did not think highly of Coleridge's work. He wrote his friend Charlotte Shaw that the man 'wrote so little that was quintessential: and a cargo of dross.' (30.X.28 to C. F. Shaw.)

42. Lawrence did not copy this out of his OBEV. It is 'Everyone Sang' from Siegfried Sassoon's Picture Show (Cambridge, 1919)
Everyone suddenly burst out singing;
And I was filled with such delight
As prisoned birds must find in freedom,
Winging wildly across the white
Orchards and dark-green fields; on — on — and out of sight.

Everyone's voice was suddenly lifted;
And beauty came like the setting sun:
My heart was shaken with tears; and horror
Drifted away . . . O, but Everyone
Was a bird; and the song was wordless; the singing will never be done.
In a letter written in 1929 Lawrence said Sassoon's poetry 'touches nearer to my own train of mind than the work of anyone else publishing. Every verse of his makes me say "I wish to God I'd said that": and his fox-hunting gave me a shock of astonishment that he was so different and so good to know. If I was trying to export the ideal Englishman to an international exhibition, I think I'd choose S.S. for chief exhibit.'

43. Ode to a Nightingale, by John Keats

{Siegfried Sassoon; source: ebooks-library}

{Siegfried Sassoon; source: Imperial War Museum}

{Siegfried Sassoon at the Fourth Army School, May 1916; source: Imperial War Museum}

* Lawrence wrote out the first three verses and omitted the last:
You meaner beauties of the night,
  That poorly satisfy our eyes
More by your number than your light,
  You common people of the skies;
  What are you when the moon shall rise?

You curious chanters of the wood,
  That warble forth Dame Nature's lays,
Thinking your passions understood
  By your weak accents; what 's your praise
  When Philomel her voice shall raise?

You violets that first appear,
  By your pure purple mantles known
Like the proud virgins of the year,
  As if the spring were all your own;
  What are you when the rose is blown?
** Lawrence omitted parts of this poem, as shown.
Verse, a breeze 'mid blossoms straying,
Where Hope clung feeding, like a bee —
Both were mine! Life went a-maying
With Nature, Hope, and Poesy,
      When I was young!
When I was young? — Ah, woful When!
Ah! for the change 'twixt Now and Then!
This breathing house not built with hands,
This body that does me grievous wrong,
O'er aery cliffs and glittering sands,
How lightly then it flash'd along —
Like those trim skiffs, unknown of yore,
On winding lakes and rivers wide,
That ask no aid of sail or oar,
That fear no spite of wind or tide!
Naught cared this body for wind or weather
When Youth and I lived in 't together.

Flowers are lovely! Love is flower-like;
Friendship is a sheltering tree;
O the joys, that came down shower-like,
Of Friendship, Love, and Liberty,
      Ere I was old!
Ere I was old? Ah, woful Ere,
Which tells me, Youth 's no longer here!
O Youth! for years so many and sweet,
'Tis known that thou and I were one;
I'll think it but a fond conceit —
It cannot be that thou art gone!
Thy vesper-bell hath not yet toll'd —
And thou wert aye a masker bold!
What strange disguise hast now put on,
To make believe that thou art gone?
I see these locks in silvery slips,
This drooping gait, this alter'd size:
But springtide blossoms on thy lips,
And tears take sunshine from thine eyes!
Life is but thought: so think I will
That Youth and I are housemates still.

Dewdrops are the gems of morning,
But the tears of mournful eve!
Where no hope is, life 's a warning
That only serves to make us grieve,
      When we are old!

That only serves to make us grieve
With oft and tedious taking-leave,
Like some poor nigh-related guest
That may not rudely be dismist.
Yet hath outstay'd his welcome while,
And tells the jest without the smile.

Mayor Dave's blog

Today a member of my family made a Facebook link to a blog post by the Mayor of Madison, Wisconsin. The post says the city needs to sustain the professional reporting of its one remaining printed newspaper. Here's an extract:
So, here's a modest proposal. Charge me. Please charge me. Why is it that I should expect to pay for news delivered on paper, but not expect to pay for the same story I read online? It costs something to hire reporters and editors and why shouldn't I, as a consumer of the news, pay for some of that cost?

So first and foremost, charge me. Second, charge me twice. Competition is a good thing. The blending of our two daily newspapers into one is not a healthy thing. When I see a Cap Times byline in the State Journal I wonder what that means. I know who wrote it, but who edited it? And what does it mean for competition between the papers? Are reporters tripping over one another to break a story or are they sleepily cooperating?

I'd rather not have just one daily news outlet. It would be better for democracy if there were a bunch. So, I'll pay to subscribe to both "papers" as long as both are hiring good reporters and competing against each other. I'm betting that for all the scrutiny and tough questions and pure aggravation that professional journalists present me with, in the long-run I'm better off with a well-informed constituency. And whether or not I am personally better off as a mayor, I know democracy itself depends on it.
The post is interesting for a few reasons. First it seems to me to be unusual for a politician to welcome competitive news gathering since it surely results (as the post suggests) in competition to uncover real or supposed dirt in city hall. And then it seems unusual because he's not discussing any government policy; he's giving a personal opinion; no more. Further, the tone is conversational. The post has nothing in common with the self-promoting literature that it seems most politicians send out via mail, press releases, and whatever means they can capture.

The mayor's other posts are similarly informal, but their topics vary greatly. Some record local events in which he's participated, each with what seems to me to be a genuinely self-deprecating charm. For example: a bowling contest between the mayor's office and city council and a fundrasising event called Men Who Cook. Others explain his position on legislative initiatives; for example one on the city's purchase of hybrid buses and another on fast-tracking proposals for federal stimulus money.

I thought it might be interesting to see whether other mayors blogged so effectively and with such a light touch. A Google search reveals that while there are quite a few mayor blogs, almost none are as interesting and personable. Most are stiffly official, written either in passive or third-person voice. Some are blatantly boosterish. One or two are more like wikis than blogs, with the mayor responding to contributions sent by constituents. The only one that seems to approach Mayor Dave's from Madison is Mayor Joe Curtatone's in Somerville, Massachusetts.

My search turned up no mayor blogs at all from my own local jurisdictions; just a couple from county council members (here and here).

Here are links to some of the blogs I came across:

Here's a smattering of mayor-blog images. The last one shows Mayor Dave.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

others could not, that night

Downhill I came, hungry, and yet not starved,
Cold, yet had heat within me that was proof
Against the North wind; tired, yet so that rest
Had seemed the sweetest thing under a roof.

Then at the inn I had food, fire, and rest,
Knowing how hungry, cold, and tired was I.
All of the night was quite barred out except
An owl’s cry, a most melancholy cry.

Shaken out long and clear upon the hill
No merry note, nor cause of merriment,
But one telling me plain what I escaped
And others could not, that night, as in I went.

And salted was my food, and my repose,
Salted and sobered too, by the bird’s voice
Speaking for all who lay under the stars,
Soldiers and poor, unable to rejoice.
This is 'The Owl' by Edward Thomas, from the Collected Poems (Selwyn & Blount, 1920). It is the 29th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

It was written after World War I, somberly.

{Edward Thomas from the First World War Poetry Digital Archive}

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971).

Collected poems, by Edward Thomas (Selwyn & Blount, 1920)

The Edward Thomas Collection, First World War Poetry Digital Archive

Edward Thomas 1878-1917 entry on enotes.com

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

an exceptional man

When I was in graduate school a history professor named G. Peter Browne convinced me that George Orwell was an exceptional crafter of prose. Until then I'd only known his work as assigned reading; hadn't really considered that his writing might be not just significant, but good. I wrote a brief appreciation of GPB a few years ago.

I've probably now read nine tenths of the Orwell that's available in print — quite a bit of reading — and am currently finishing vol. 2 of the collected essays, journalism, and letters. It's full of his distaste for the left-wing intellectuals of his time whom he thought to lack consistency, conscience, or common decency. He accused them of indulging in opposition for opposition's sake and of willful blindness to the horrendous wrongs done by the Soviet regime they idolized. It's also full of his visceral dislike the class system and the stubborn stupidities of the upper-class social and political establishment. He believed that the events of the 1930s and the years of World War II would bring about a peaceful revolution, one that would establish a humane socialism and what later would come to be called the welfare state.

He condemned wrong-headed beliefs but not the people who held them. He wrote public criticisms of the writings of his friends, but nurtured those friendships nonetheless. He deplored propaganda, but -- without compromising his beliefs -- worked side by side with propagandists at the BBC through much of WWII. He carefully distinguished between the politics and the literary worth of men like T.S. Eliot, Rudyard Kipling, and Mark Twain. He was openly critical of writings by men whose beliefs he shared. He was passionate in believing that all the resources of the nation needed to be harnessed in order to overcome the aggression of Nazi Germany and other totalitarian states. Yet he could write a review of Hitler's Mein Kampf in which he empathized with those who looked up to him.*. He did not romanticize or idolize working class people as did many of his contemporaries; did not claim for them greater acuity than they, on the whole, possessed; and — far from envisioning a dictatorship of the proletariat — believed that the gradual merging of the middle and working classes was not a bad thing.

An article in last Sunday's Times (of London) speaks to one side of his complex nature: George Orwell's son speaks for the first time about his father, John Carey talks to George Orwell's son (Richard Blair, The Sunday Times, March 15, 2009).

This extract from his diary shows the importance to him of factual accuracy, freedom from bombast, and plainspokeness. But, more than that, it shows a side of himself that he shared with many of his compatriots: a composure, self-confidence, and pluck.
War-time Diary: 8 April 1941

Have just read The Battle of Britain, the MOI's best best-seller (there was so great a run on it that copies were unprocurable for some days). ... I suppose it is not as bad as it might be, but seeing that it is being translated into many languages and will undoubtedly be read all over the world — it is the first official account, at any rate in English, of the first great air battle in history — it is a pity that they did not have the sense to avoid the propagandist note altogether. ... For the sake of the bit of cheer-up that this pamphlet will accomplish in England, they throw away the chance of producing something that would be accepted all over the world as a standard authority and used to counteract German lies.

But what chiefly impresses me when reading The Battle of Britain and looking up the corresponding dates in this diary, is the way in which "epic" events never seem very important at the time. Actually I have a number of vivid memories of the day the Germans broke through and fired the docks (I think it must have been the 7th September), but mostly of trivial things. ... Sheltering in a doorway in Piccadilly from falling shrapnel, just as one might shelter from a cloudburst. ... Then sitting in Connolly's top-floor flat and watching the enormous fires beyond St Paul's, and the great plume of smoke from an oil drum somewhere down the river, and Hugh Slater sitting in the window and saying, "It's just like Madrid — quite nostalgic." The only person suitably impressed was Connolly, who took us up to the roof and, after gazing for some time at the fires, said "It's the end of capitalism. It's a judgement on us." I didn't feel this to be so, but was chiefly struck by the size and beauty of the flames. That night I was woken up by the explosions and actually went out into the street see if the fires were still alight — as a matter of fact it was almost as bright as day, even in the N.W. quarter — but still didn't feel as though any important historical event were happening. Afterwards, when the attempt to conquer England by air bombardment had evidently been abandoned, I said to Fyvel, "That was Trafalgar. Now there's Austerliz," but I hadn't seen this analogy at the time. ...
People mentioned in this entry:

Cyril Connolly school friend, New Statesman, Horizon

Humphrey Slater, painter, author, and ex-Communist. Involved in anti-Nazi politics in Berlin in the early 'thirties. Went to Spain as political journalist and fought for the Republicans 1936-8, becoming Chief of Operations in the International Brigade. Helped Tom Wintringham to found Osterley Park training centre for the Home Guard in 1940. Edited Polemic (1945-7) to which Orwell contributed several pieces. (note in Collected Essays..)

T.R. (Tosco) Fyvel, born in Switzerland in 1907 and educated in England, he was, like Orwell, a writer, journalist and broadcaster. The two became friends in 1940.

{Diary entry for March 14, 1942; click to view full size}

{George Orwell at his Remington from Literary Geniuses and Their Vintage Typewriters. Click to view full size; source: poetichome.com}

{Click to view full size}

This interesting image needs some explaining. It comes from the home page of the British Security Service, MI5, and it shows Orwell's war years passport photo. The Security Service had a file on him, as the page explains. It's hardly credible that the police thought him a Communist, unless they made no distinction among Communists, socialists, anarchists, and left-liberals. Orwell believed that many in power were simply ignorant; that is, not just uninformed, but willfully so: stupid.
File ref KV 2/2699

This slim Security Service file on journalist and author Eric Blair, alias George Orwell, shows that while his left-wing views attracted the Service's attention, no action was taken against him. It is clear, however, that he continued to arouse suspicions, particularly with the police, that he might be a Communist. The file reveals that the Service took action to counter these views.

The file essentially consists of reports of Orwell's activities between 1929 and his death in 1952. It gives some insight into Orwell's financial position while in Paris and includes a 1929 MI6 report to the Special Branch on his activities there, and various subsequent Special Branch reports. One of these by police Sergeant Ewing, from January 1942 (serial 7a), asserts that: "This man has advanced Communist views, and several of his Indian friends say that they have often seen him at Communist meetings. He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours." A Service officer rang Ewing's Inspector to challenge this view (minute 9). Wartime enquiries as to Orwell and his wife's suitability for employment as a journalist and with the Ministry of Food were all approved. It is of some interest to note the part Orwell's answers to a published Left magazine survey had in convincing the Service that Orwell should not be considered a Communist. The file includes a copy of Orwell's passport papers and original passport photographs.
The Service was inadequately prepared for the massive increase in work that came with the onset of war. It had far too few staff to deal with its new responsibilities. At the end of 1938, the Service had only 30 officers and another 103 secretaries and registry staff.

These problems meant that, when war was declared, a flood of reports, vetting requests and enquiries overwhelmed the Security Service. During the second quarter of 1940, the Service received an average of 8,200 vetting requests each week. The Service also had to contend with fears of a "Fifth Column" of Nazi sympathizers in Britain working to prepare the ground for a German invasion. This resulted in thousands of reports of suspected enemy activity, each of which had to be investigated.

The problem rapidly worsened with the introduction of internment (imprisonment without trial). Within the first six months of the war, 64,000 citizens of Germany, Austria and Italy resident in the UK had to undergo security interviews to confirm that they were "friendly aliens". In addition, suspected British Nazi sympathisers such as Sir Oswald Mosley were imprisoned to guard against the threat of domestic subversion.

The security file says: "He dresses in a bohemian fashion both at his office and in his leisure hours." His friend Fyvel described him as "a very tall, thin man with a long, thin, haggard face, with deep-set blue eyes, a poor, small mousatche and deep lines etched in grooves down his face."


*From Review of Mein Kampf: "I should like to put it on record that I have never been able to dislike Hitler. Ever since he came to power — till then, like nearly everyone, I had been deceived into thinking that he did not matter — I have reflected that I would certainly kill him if I could get within reach of him, but that I could feel no personal animosity. The fact is that there is something deeply appealing about him." Hitler's photograph shows "a pathetic, dog-like face, the face of a man suffering under intolerable wrongs. In a rather more manly way it reproduces the expression of innumerable pictures of Christ crucified."

Some sources:

The collected essays, journalism, and letters of George Orwell, edited by Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (New York, Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968)

The battle of Britain, August-October 1940. An Air ministry record of the great days from 8th August- 31st October, 1940., by Great Britain. Air Ministry. (Great Britain. Ministry of Information, London, H.M. Stationery Office, 1941). Alternative citation.

shadow of daisy cast upon stone

Ss fair, so sweet, withal so sensitive,
Would that the little Flowers were born to live,
Conscious of half the pleasure which they give;

That to this mountain-daisy's self were known
The beauty of its star-shaped shadow, thrown
On the smooth surface of this naked stone!

And what if hence a bold desire should mount
High as the Sun, that he could take account
Of all that issues from his glorious fount!

So might he ken how by his sovereign aid
These delicate companionships are made;
And how he rules the pomp of light and shade;

And were the Sister-power that shines by night
So privileged, what a countenance of delight
Would through the clouds break forth on human sight!

Fond fancies! wheresoe'er shall turn thine eye
On earth, air, ocean, or the starry sky,
Converse with Nature in pure sympathy;

All vain desires, all lawless wishes quelled,
Be Thou to love and praise alike impelled,
Whatever boon is granted or withheld.
This is an untitled poem by Wordsworth known as "So fair, so sweet." It is poem LXII in the section, 'Poems of Sentiment and Reflection' of the Poetical Works (London, 1917) and it is the 28th poem that T.E. Lawrence wrote out in Minorities, his pocket book of blank pages.

Wordsworth wrote this in 1844, very late in life. It has characteristic subject matter but its technique is unusual for him. Lawrence was not generally fond of Wordsworth's verse, assigning to him, more than Keats, 'a congenital inability to write a good poem' and he left no clues why this one mattered to him. My guess is that he liked the sound and meaning of 'converse with Nature in pure sympathy' and 'whatever boon is granted or whithheld.'

Two modern editors, E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire, tell us:
The incident which gave rise to the composition of this poem has been recorded by several persons. R. P. Graves recalls the walk to Longrigg Tarn with W., Professor Archer Butler, Sir William Hamilton, and Julius C. Hare: "The splendour of a July noon surrounded us, and lit up the landscape with the Langdale Pikes soaring above, and the bright Tarn shining beneath; and when the poet's eyes were satisfied with their feast on the beauties familiar to them, they sought relief in the search, to them a happy vital habit, for new beauty in the flower-enamelled turf at his feet. There his attention was arrested by a fair smooth stone, of the size of an ostrich's egg, seeming to imbed at its centre, and at the same time to display a dark star-shaped fossil of most distinct outline. Upon closer inspection this proved to be the shadow of a daisy projected upon it with extraordinary precision by the intense light of an almost vertical sun. The poet drew the attention of the rest of the party to the minute but beautiful phenomenon, and gave expression at the time to thoughts suggested by it." And on Sept. 14, 1844, J. C. Hare wrote to W.: "One of the brightest days in those happy three weeks was that on which we accompanied you to Loughrigg Tarn; for that walk bore its part in ripening our previous friendship, if I may not call it our fraternal affection, into something still dearer and better; nor shall I ever forget your stopping and drawing our attention to the exquisitely pencilled shadow the daisy cast upon a neighbouring stone. I remember saying at the time 'We shall have a sonnet upon it,' and this probably has been fulfilled, I rejoice to learn, save that, instead of the sonnet, you have adopted a new form of verse, that is, new, I believe, in your writings, in composing the beautiful triplets you have had the kindness to send.

Some sources:

Minorities, by T E Lawrence; ed. by Jeremy Wilson (London, Cape, 1971)

The Poems of William Wordsworth (1893)

William Wordsworth, The Poetical Works, ed. E. de Selincourt and Helen Darbishire (5 vols, Oxford, 1940-49; rev. 1952-59).

Monday, March 23, 2009

Fannie Merritt Farmer

Fannie Farmer was born on this day 152 years ago. Her famous cookbook first appeared in 1896. The 12th edition was my father's favorite. That was the last one edited by her daughter Cora, Cora's son, Herbert, and his wife, Wilma Lord Perkins. Sometime during the 1980s he bought himself a copy of the 12th ed. revised, and that turned out to be a mistake. It was the first to be edited by someone outside the family — Marion Cunningham — and it lacked or badly revised his favorite recipes. Unfortunately he had given away his old copy by the time he realized the error.

{The one on bottom left is the one that fooled my Dad.}

{Fannie Farmer; source: a page on famous women at Rice Univ.}

{Marion Cunningham; photo by her publisher}

Fannie Farmer entry in wikipedia