And painted the backs of our Shakespeare

From George Grossmith’s Diary of a Nobody. This is one of the more delicate absurdities bestowed by the author on Mr. Pooter:

“April 26.—Got some more red enamel paint (red, to my mind, being the best colour), and painted the coal-scuttle, and the backs of our Shakspeare, the binding of which had almost worn out.”

Making my minde to smell my fatall day / Yet sugring the suspicion

Life by George Herbert:

I made a posie, while the day ran by:

Here will I smell my remnant out, and tie

My life within this band.

But time did becken to the flowers, and they

By noon most cunningly did steal away

And wither’d in my hand.

My hand was next to them, and then my heart:

I took, without more thinking, in good part

Times gentle admonition:

Who did so sweetly deaths sad taste convey

Making my minde to smell my fatall day;

Yet sugring the suspicion.

Farewell deare flowers, sweetly your time ye spent,

Fit, while ye liv’d, for smell or ornament,

And after death for cures.

I follow straight without complaints or grief,

Since if my sent be good, I care not, if

It be as short as yours

My very breath disowned in nights of study

From Yvor Winters: Selected Poems

Dark Spring

My mother
Foresaw deaths
And walked among
Withered rose,
The earthy blossoms.

My very breath
In nights of study,
And page by page
I came on spring.

The rats run on the roof,
These words come hard—-
Sadder than cockcrow
In a dreamless, earthen sleep.
The Christ, eternal
In the scented cold; my love,
Her hand on the sill
White, as if out of earth;
And spring, the sleep of the dead.

Putting on the corslet

Reminds me of English ‘tie one on’ which I’ve learned in the last few minutes has a disputed origin.  I thought there was an even closer idiom – ‘lace one up’ – but either I’m inventing it or it’s in another language.

477 Schol. Ar. Ach. 1133a (p. 141 Wilson)

διὰ τὸ θερμαίνειν οὖν τὸ στῆθος


λέγουσι τὸ μεθύειν καὶ <ἀκρο>θώρακας τοὺς ἀκρομεθύσους ἐκάλουν. κέχρηται δὲ τῇ λέξει καὶ Ἀνακρέων. ἐστὶ δὲ Ἀττική.

cf. Sud. Θ 441 (ii 724 Adler), Zonar. 1068s.

477 Scholiast on Aristophanes, Acharnians

So since being drunk heats the breast they call it

putting on the corslet;

and they used to call the slightly drunk ‘top-corsleted’. Anacreon uses the expression, and it is Attic.

A Turtle, a Horse, and a Courtesan Walk into a Bar

And all in the same way

Homeric Hymn to Hermes lines 25-28:

Ἑρμῆς τοι πρώτιστα χέλυν τεκτήνατ᾽ ἀοιδόν:
ἥ ῥά οἱ ἀντεβόλησεν ἐπ᾽ αὐλείῃσι θύρῃσι
βοσκομένη προπάροιθε δόμων ἐριθηλέα ποίην,
σαῦλα ποσὶν βαίνουσα:

For it was Hermes who first made the tortoise a singer. The creature fell in his way at the courtyard gate, where it was feeding on the rich grass before the dwelling, waddling along. (Hugh Evelyn-White translation)

Hermes it was who first crafted the singing tortoise. He encountered it at the yard entrance as it grazed on the lush grass in front of the dwelling, sidling along on its legs. (M.L. West translation)

Semonides 18 :

Etymologicum Genuinum

διασαυλούμενος: putting on airs and having an affected manner . . . from σαῦλος which means effeminate and haughty. Cf. Semonides in iambics:

with mincing gait and arched neck like a horse’s

διασαυλούμενος· ἁβρυνόμενος καὶ διαθρυπτόμενος . . . παρὰ τὸν σαῦλον τὸν τρυφερὸν καὶ γαῦρον. Σιμωνίδης ἐν ἰάμβοις·

καὶ σαῦλα βαίνων ἵππος ὣς †κορωνίτης. (David Campbell translation)

Anacreon 168:

Διονύσου σαῦλαι Βασσαρίδες

The hip-swaying Bassarids of Dionysus (David Campbell translation)

In night, when colors all to black are cast

From Fulke Greville’s Caelica – Sonnet 100.  I have the John Williams English Renaissance Poetry anthology where he modernizes the spellings but I enjoyed the direction of Greville’s later poems enough that I’ve got a Thom Gunn edited selection on the way now, hopefully with the added flavor of original spellings.

A bit Bauhaus-y this one.

In night, when colors all to black are cast,

Distinction lost, or gone down with the light,

The eye, a watch to inward senses placed,

Not seeing, yet still having power of sight,

Gives vain alarums to the inward sense,

Where fear, stirred up with witty tyranny,

Confounds all powers, and through self-offense

Doth forge and raise impossibility,

Such as in thick depriving darknesses

Proper reflections of the error be,

And images of self-confusednesses,

Which hurt imaginations only see:–

And from this nothing seen, tell news of devils,

Which but expressions be of inward evils.

All our pride is but a jest

In the Percival Vivian edition of Thomas Campion this appears as the final entry in the first Book of Airs with no question of attribution, but Walter Davis’ 1967 edition places that whole collection under the category of ‘Doubtful Poems.’

Whether men doe laugh or weepe,
Whether they doe wake or sleepe,
Whether they die yoong or olde,
Whether they feele heate or colde,
There is, underneath the sunne,
Nothing in true earnest done.

All our pride is but a jest;
None are worst, and none are best;
Griefe, and joy, and hope, and feare
Play their Pageants every where:
Vaine opinion all doth sway,
And the world is but a play.

Powers above in cloudes doe sit,
Mocking our poore apish wit
That so lamely, with such state,
Their high glorie imitate:

No ill can be felt but paine,
And that happie men disdaine.

If one’s work is to give pleasure it must have its inspiration in happiness

From the letters of Pliny the Younger (book 8, number 19)

C. Plinius Maximo Suo S.

Et gaudium mihi et solacium in litteris, nihilque tam laetum quod his laetius, tam triste quod non per has minus triste. Itaque et infirmitate uxoris et meorum periculo, quorundam vero etiam morte turbatus, ad unicum doloris levamentum studia confugi, quae praestant ut adversa magis intellegam sed patientius feram.

Est autem mihi moris, quod sum daturus in manus hominum, ante amicorum iudicio examinare, in primis tuo. Proinde si quando, nunc intende libro quem cum hac epistula accipies, quia vereor ne ipse ut tristis parum intenderim. Imperare enim dolori ut scriberem potui; ut vacuo animo laetoque, non potui. Porro ut ex studiis gaudium sic studia hilaritate proveniunt. Vale

To Maximus

Literature is both my joy and my comfort: it can add to every happiness and there is no sorrow it cannot console. So worried as I am by my wife’s ill-health and the sickness in my household and death of some of my servants, I have taken refuge in my work, the only distraction I have in my misery. It may make me more conscious of my troubles, but helps me to bear them with patience.

It is, however, my habit to test everything I propose to submit to the general public by the judgement of my friends, especially your own. Will you then give your attention to the book you will receive with this letter, now as never before? I fear my distress will have impaired my own concentration, for I could control my feelings enough to write, but not to write freely and happily, and if one’s work is to give pleasure it must have its inspiration in happiness.


I know what’s right, but I don’t do it

Aiming for a structured existence in quarantine has led to 5am Sanskrit training most mornings.  Yesterday’s review of verb classes included this quote from the Pandava Gita (57):

जानामि धर्मं न च मे प्रवृत्ति-
र्जानामि पापं न च मे निवृत्तिः

I know what’s right, but I don’t do it.
I know what’s wrong, but I don’t stop

which plagued me with an echo of others until I remembered a very partial previous list I made a while back I see the better … Ovid, Petrarch, and Foscolo

Wealth and wisdom are for mortals ever irresistible

Theognis 1157-1160, text from the Loeb Greek Elegiac Poetry.

πλοῦτος καὶ σοφίη θνητοῖς ἀμαχώτατοι αἰεί·
οὔτε γὰρ ἂν πλούτου θυμὸν ὑπερκορέσαις·
ὣς δ᾿ αὔτως σοφίην ὁ σοφώτατος οὐκ ἀποφεύγει,
ἀλλ᾿ ἔραται, θυμὸν δ᾿ οὐ δύναται τελέσαι.

Wealth and cleverness are ever most difficult for mortals to conquer; for you cannot glut your desire for wealth. Similarly the cleverest man does not shun (more) cleverness, but craves it and cannot satisfy his desire.

The editor, Gerber, glosses σοφίη – which he translates as ‘cleverness’ – with the alternative ‘wisdom.’  Given Theognis’ 6th century dates, I’m curious what prompted him to take what I think of as the 5th century post-sophistic meaning – the negatively connoted ‘cleverness’ – over the older traditional neutral->positive wisdom. 

The poem is less striking in thought and progression if σοφίη – ‘cleverness’ – enters as a term with the same potential ambivalence as wealth.  I instead read the first line as a jarring claim, a setting parallel (in one aspect) of two traditionally separate (even sometimes directly opposed) concepts – the ambivalent πλοῦτος and the praiseworthy σοφίη.  The second line, addressed to the first term πλοῦτος, posits by implication the nature of that connection – man’s insatiability.  The third, now adding the second term σοφίη, completes that alignment.  The first and third lines connect in pulling from martial imagery (ἀμαχώτατοι, ἀποφεύγει), the second and fourth in the language of sensuality and excess (ὑπερκορέσαις, ἔραται).  κορέννῡμι in Homer is used most often with food and wine – as in οἴνοιο κορεσσάμενος καὶ ἐδωδῆς (Il. 19.167) – and its always lurking possibility for excess is pulled to the fore here by Theognis’ prefix ὑπερ.  This same sense of overpowering excess appears in ἔραται in the fourth line – whose senses I am too lazy to gloss.  Finally, the repetition in those lines of θυμὸν – that alongside πλοῦτος and σοφίη is the only term to appear more than once – reveals the core unification point of πλοῦτος and σοφίη, something like the zone of their impact and intersection – man’s unfillable spirit.  

Things I have been too lazy to touch here – the significant switch from 2nd to 3rd person between lines 2 and 3 and Gerber’s unjustified ‘(more)’ in line 3.  I offer my translation instead.

πλοῦτος καὶ σοφίη θνητοῖς ἀμαχώτατοι αἰεί·
οὔτε γὰρ ἂν πλούτου θυμὸν ὑπερκορέσαις·
ὣς δ᾿ αὔτως σοφίην ὁ σοφώτατος οὐκ ἀποφεύγει,
ἀλλ᾿ ἔραται, θυμὸν δ᾿ οὐ δύναται τελέσαι.

Wealth and wisdom are for mortals ever irresistible;
For as you cannot glut your desire for wealth.
So too the wisest man does not flee from wisdom,
but longs for it, and cannot put an end to his desire.