You have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator

From Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, ch.6 in A Voyage to Brobdingnag:

His majesty, in another audience, was at the pains to recapitulate the sum of all I had spoken [regarding England]; compared the questions he made with the answers I had given; then taking me into his hands, and stroking me gently, delivered himself in these words, which I shall never forget, nor the manner he spoke them in: “My little friend Grildrig, you have made a most admirable panegyric upon your country; you have clearly proved, that ignorance, idleness, and vice, are the proper ingredients for qualifying a legislator; that laws are best explained, interpreted, and applied, by those whose interest and abilities lie in perverting, confounding, and eluding them. I observe among you some lines of an institution, which, in its original, might have been tolerable, but these half erased, and the rest wholly blurred and blotted by corruptions. It does not appear, from all you have said, how any one perfection is required toward the procurement of any one station among you; much less, that men are ennobled on account of their virtue; that priests are advanced for their piety or learning; soldiers, for their conduct or valour; judges, for their integrity; senators, for the love of their country; or counsellors for their wisdom. As for yourself,” continued the king, “who have spent the greatest part of your life in travelling, I am well disposed to hope you may hitherto have escaped many vices of your country. But by what I have gathered from your own relation, and the answers I have with much pains wrung and extorted from you, I cannot but conclude the bulk of your natives to be the most pernicious race of little odious vermin that nature ever suffered to crawl upon the surface of the earth.”

A maelstrom terrifying for the last reason one might have expected

From Malcolm Lowry’s Lunar Caustic, a mostly finished – but Lowry never really stopped rewriting anything – novella of an alcoholic’s detox period in New York’s Bellevue Hospital. An introductory essay in the original Jonathan Cape edition explains that “Lunar Caustic was to have been a major segment in The Voyage That Never Ends, a sequence of seven novels that Lowry planned round the central work, Under the Volcano. He saw the projected cycle as a modern Divine Comedy, with the ultimate goal Hell and redemption. Lunar Caustic, he once said, was only Purgatory” (incidentally, Gogol had the same intention with Dead Souls). As to the title – lunar caustic was the term for silver nitrate fused into sticks and applied to tissue for, among other things, cauterizing wounds.

He had the curious feeling that he had made a sort of descent into the maelstrom, a maelstrom terrifying for the last reason one might have expected: that there was about it sometimes just this loathsome, patient calm.

My God, he thought suddenly, why am I here, in this doleful place? And without quite knowing how this had come about, he felt that he had voyaged downward to the foul core of his world; here was the true meaning underneath all the loud inflamed words, the squealing headlines, the arrogant years. But here too, equally, he thought, looking at the doctor, was perhaps the cure, the wisdom and vision, more patient still … And goodness was here too — he glanced at his two friends —yes, by what miracle did it come about that compassion and love were here too?

And he wondered if the doctor ever asked himself what point there was in adjusting poor lunatics to a mischievous world over which merely more subtle lunatics exerted almost supreme hegemony, where neurotic behaviour was the rule, and there was nothing but hypocrisy to answer the flames of evil, which might be the flames of judgment, which were already scorching nearer and nearer …

A side thought since Lowry so loved Moby Dick and the main character of this story had even made a pilgrimage to Melville’s house – Melville uses ‘maelstrom’ four times in the novel, once of a sailing landmark of sorts (the Norway Maelstrom) and three times of a whale’s diving/movement (in ch. 54, 73, and 134). And this calm center of a maelstrom is to me reminiscent of ch 87 – The Grand Armada – when Ishmael and crew find themselves pulled during a chase into the center of a herd of whales;

It had been next to impossible to dart these drugged-harpoons, were it not that as we advanced into the herd, our whale’s way greatly diminished; moreover, that as we went still further and further from the circumference of commotion, the direful disorders seemed waning. So that when at last the jerking harpoon drew out, and the towing whale sideways vanished; then, with the tapering force of his parting momentum, we glided between two whales into the innermost heart of the shoal, as if from some mountain torrent we had slid into a serene valley lake. Here the storms in the roaring glens between the outermost whales, were heard but not felt. In this central expanse the sea presented that smooth satin-like surface, called a sleek, produced by the subtle moisture thrown off by the whale in his more quiet moods. Yes, we were now in that enchanted calm which they say lurks at the heart of every commotion. And still in the distracted distance we beheld the tumults of the outer concentric circles, and saw successive pods of whales, eight or ten in each, swiftly going round and round, like multiplied spans of horses in a ring; and so closely shoulder to shoulder, that a Titanic circus-rider might easily have over-arched the middle ones, and so have gone round on their backs. Owing to the density of the crowd of reposing whales, more immediately surrounding the embayed axis of the herd, no possible chance of escape was at present afforded us. We must watch for a breach in the living wall that hemmed us in; the wall that had only admitted us in order to shut us up. Keeping at the centre of the lake, we were occasionally visited by small tame cows and calves; the women and children of this routed host.

Now, inclusive of the occasional wide intervals between the revolving outer circles, and inclusive of the spaces between the various pods in any one of those circles, the entire area at this juncture, embraced by the whole multitude, must have contained at least two or three square miles. At any rate—though indeed such a test at such a time might be deceptive—spoutings might be discovered from our low boat that seemed playing up almost from the rim of the horizon. I mention this circumstance, because, as if the cows and calves had been purposely locked up in this innermost fold; and as if the wide extent of the herd had hitherto prevented them from learning the precise cause of its stopping; or, possibly, being so young, unsophisticated, and every way innocent and inexperienced; however it may have been, these smaller whales—now and then visiting our becalmed boat from the margin of the lake—evinced a wondrous fearlessness and confidence, or else a still becharmed panic which it was impossible not to marvel at. Like household dogs they came snuffling round us, right up to our gunwales, and touching them; till it almost seemed that some spell had suddenly domesticated them. Queequeg patted their foreheads; Starbuck scratched their backs with his lance; but fearful of the consequences, for the time refrained from darting it.

But far beneath this wondrous world upon the surface, another and still stranger world met our eyes as we gazed over the side. For, suspended in those watery vaults, floated the forms of the nursing mothers of the whales, and those that by their enormous girth seemed shortly to become mothers. The lake, as I have hinted, was to a considerable depth exceedingly transparent; and as human infants while suckling will calmly and fixedly gaze away from the breast, as if leading two different lives at the time; and while yet drawing mortal nourishment, be still spiritually feasting upon some unearthly reminiscence;—even so did the young of these whales seem looking up towards us, but not at us, as if we were but a bit of Gulfweed in their new-born sight. Floating on their sides, the mothers also seemed quietly eyeing us. One of these little infants, that from certain queer tokens seemed hardly a day old, might have measured some fourteen feet in length, and some six feet in girth. He was a little frisky; though as yet his body seemed scarce yet recovered from that irksome position it had so lately occupied in the maternal reticule; where, tail to head, and all ready for the final spring, the unborn whale lies bent like a Tartar’s bow. The delicate side-fins, and the palms of his flukes, still freshly retained the plaited crumpled appearance of a baby’s ears newly arrived from foreign parts.
…..
And thus, though surrounded by circle upon circle of consternations and affrights, did these inscrutable creatures at the centre freely and fearlessly indulge in all peaceful concernments; yea, serenely revelled in dalliance and delight. But even so, amid the tornadoed Atlantic of my being, do I myself still for ever centrally disport in mute calm; and while ponderous planets of unwaning woe revolve round me, deep down and deep inland there I still bathe me in eternal mildness of joy.

But, by all above, these blenches gave my heart another youth

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 110 followed by a survey of ‘blench’ that I started on to satisfy an intuition about the multivalence of its use here – that it is first read as a condensed repetition of ‘I have looked on truth askance and strangely’ (definition 2 of the noun below) but then acquires from the line that follows (‘and worse essays’) a second sense close to definition 1, ‘the deception/trickery of philandering.’ This morphing sense allows the central lines 7-8 to better pivot from start to end focus. I don’t think I really got there – largely for lack of commitment to sifting Shakespeare’s uses of the verb form – but it was a nice autumn stroll and something was learned regardless.

Alas, ’tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gored mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new.
Most true it is that I have looked on truth 5
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays proved thee my best of love.
Now all is done, have what shall have no end:
Mine appetite I never more will grind 10
On newer proof, to try an older friend,
A god in love, to whom I am confined.
Then give me welcome, next my heaven the best,
Even to thy pure and most most loving breast.

Blench is a curious word. Shakespeare uses the verb from which it is derived five times but this noun form only here. The OED gives two definitions for the noun – 1)A trick, stratagem (with examples dating from 1250-1400) and 2)A turning of the eyes aside, a side glance (with this passage as the single attestation). More is said of the verb but the paragraph etymology concludes with humility – that ‘little can be done at present except to exhibit the senses actually found in use.’:

Etymology: A word or series of words of very obscure history. Sense 1 is evidently < Old English blęncan to deceive, cheat = Old Norse blekkja ( < blenkja ) to impose upon, which point to a Germanic type *blankjan , assumed to be the causative of a strong *blinkan blink v.; but, as no trace of the latter occurs in early times, the origin of blęncan is thus left uncertain. The northern form was blenk v. The sense-development is involved, from confusion of blenk and blink , of blench and blanch , probably also of the past tense blent with blent , past tense of blend v.1, and other causes: little can be done at present except to exhibit the senses actually found in use.

6 sense are then proposed

1. transitive. To deceive, cheat. Obsolete.
a1000—c1175
2.
a. intransitive. To start aside, so as to elude anything; to swerve, ‘shy’; to flinch, shrink, give way. a1250—1876
†b. Of a ship: To turn or heel over. Obsolete. a1300—a1300
3. transitive. To elude, avoid, shirk; to flinch from; to blink. a1663—1822
†4. transitive. To turn aside or away (the eyes). Obsolete. c1400—c1400
†5. transitive. To disconcert, foil, put out, turn aside. Cf. blenk v. 4. Obsolete. 1485—a1640
6. intransitive. Of the eyes: To lose firmness of glance, to flinch, quail.

Shakespeares other uses:

Hamlet 2.2
For murther, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ, I’ll have these Players
Play something like the murther of my father
Before mine uncle. I’ll observe his looks;
I’ll tent him to the quick. If he but blench,
I know my course.

Measure for Measure 4.5 (cited by the OED for 2a) –
The matter being afoot, keep your instruction,
And hold you ever to our special drift;
Though sometimes you do blench from this to that,
As cause doth minister.

Troilus and Cressida 1.1 –
Pandarus. Ay, to the leavening; but here’s yet in the word
‘hereafter’ the kneading, the making of the cake, the
heating of the oven and the baking; nay, you must
stay the cooling too, or you may chance to burn your lips.

Troilus. Patience herself, what goddess e’er she be,
Doth lesser blench at sufferance than I do.
At Priam’s royal table do I sit;

Troilus and Cressida 2.2 –
I take to-day a wife, and my election
Is led on in the conduct of my will;
My will enkindled by mine eyes and ears,
Two traded pilots ‘twixt the dangerous shores
Of will and judgment: how may I avoid,
Although my will distaste what it elected,
The wife I chose? there can be no evasion
To blench from this and to stand firm by honour:

A Winter’s Tale 1.2 –
Dost think I am so muddy, so unsettled,
To appoint myself in this vexation, sully
The purity and whiteness of my sheets,
Which to preserve is sleep, which being spotted
Is goads, thorns, nettles, tails of wasps,
Give scandal to the blood o’ the prince my son,
Who I do think is mine and love as mine,
Without ripe moving to’t? Would I do this?
Could man so blench?


Perhaps in death when the dust is dust, we will be forever this undecipherable root

Alguien / Someone from Borges’ El Otro, El Mismo / The Self and the Other, in the W.S. Merwin translation. At bottom is the commentary from Obras Completas Edicion Critica (v.2 pg 562) quoting Guillermo Sucre’s Borges, el poeta explanation of the poem’s ‘antigua inocencia‘ (pg. 130 there, my translation).

SOMEONE
A man worn down by time,
a man who does not even expect death
(the proofs of death are statistics
and everyone runs the risk
of being the first immortal),
a man who has learned to express thanks
for the days’ modest alms:
sleep, routine, the taste of water,
an unsuspected etymology,
a Latin or Saxon verse,
the memory of a woman who left him
thirty years ago now
whom he can call to mind without bitterness,
a man who is aware that the present
is both future and oblivion,
a man who has betrayed
and has been betrayed,
may feel suddenly, when crossing the street,
a mysterious happiness
not coming from the side of hope
but from an ancient innocence,
from his own root or from some diffused god.

He knows better than to look at it closely,
for there are reasons more terrible than tigers
which will prove to him
that wretchedness is his duty,
but he accepts humbly
this felicity, this glimmer.

Perhaps in death when the dust
is dust, we will be forever
this undecipherable root,
from which will grow forever,
serene or horrible,
our solitary heaven or hell.


ALGUIEN
Un hombre trabajado por el tiempo,
un hombre que ni siquiera espera la muerte
(las pruebas de la muerte son estadísticas
y nadie hay que no corra el albur
de ser el primer inmortal),
un hombre que ha aprendido a agradecer
las modestas limosnas de los días:
el sueño, la rutina, el sabor del agua,
una no sospechada etimología,
un verso latino o sajón,
la memoria de una mujer que lo ha abandonado
hace ya tantos años
que hoy puede recordarla sin amargura,
un hombre que no ignora que el presente
ya es el porvenir y el olvido,
un hombre que ha sido desleal
y con el que fueron desleales,
puede sentir de pronto, al cruzar la calle,
una misteriosa felicidad
que no viene del lado de la esperanza
sino de una antigua inocencia,
de su propia raíz o de un dios disperso.

Sabe que no debe mirarla de cerca,
porque hay razones más terribles que tigres
que le demostrarán su obligación
de ser un desdichado,
pero humildemente recibe
esa felicidad, esa ráfaga.

Quizá en la muerte para siempre seremos,
cuando el polvo sea polvo,
esa indescifrable raíz,
de la cual para siempre crecerá,
ecuánime o atroz,
nuestro solitario cielo o infierno.

The ancient innocence is “the return, not only to his past but to his own origin, to that dimension where evocation is identified with invention, where memory is nourished on oblivion; still more: where oblivion is the non-being that is a form of being. For this reason, at the end of the poem, Borges intuits that this innocence (the “undecipherable root”) will not arise except from death; death, not as negation, but as true revelation of the identity of time

I have tried to provide the reader with, so to speak, an improvised memory

From the opening pages of Proust’s preface to his translation of John Ruskin’s Bible of Amiens. This translation is from the Yale press On Reading Ruskin. The French is available here

To read only one book by an author is to see that author only once. True, in a single conversation with someone we can discern particular traits. But it is only through repeated encounters in varied circumstances that we can recognize these traits as characteristic and essential . For a writer, for a musician, or for a painter, this variation of circumstances that enables us to discern, by a sort of experimentation, the permanent features of character is found in the variety of the works themselves. We meet again in a second book, in another painting, the peculiarities which we might have thought the first time belonged to the subject matter as much as to the writer or the painter himself. By comparing different works, we distinguish common traits which, taken together, reveal the moral character of the artist.

When several portraits by Rembrandt, painted from different models, are gathered in a room, we are immediately struck by what is common to all of them, what constitutes the very features of the Rembrandt face. By inserting a footnote to the text of The Bible of Amiens each time this text evoked, through even remote analogies, the recollection of other works of Ruskin, and by translating in the note the passage which had come to my mind, I have tried to put the reader in the position of one who would not find himself in Ruskin’s presence for the first time but who, having had previous conversations with Ruskin, would be able to recognize in his words what is permanent and fundamental in him. Thus I have tried to provide the reader with ,so to speak, an improvised memory in which I have arranged recollections of other works of Ruskin-a kind of sounding board against which the words of The Bible of Amiens will be able to ring more deeply by awakening fraternal echoes. But these echoes will undoubtedly not correspond to the words of The Bible of Amiens, as they penetrate a memory which is itself composed of horizons generally hidden from our sight and whose various distances our life itself has measured day by day. In order to come into focus with the present word whose resemblance evoked them, these echoes will not have to go through the gentle resistance of that interposed atmosphere which is the span of our life and all the poetry of memory.

Fundamentally, the first part of every critic’s task should be to help the reader appreciate these special traits by drawing his attention to similar traits that enable him to recognize them as the essential features of the genius of a writer.

If the critic is aware of this and has helped others to awareness, his function is almost fulfilled. Ifhe has not perceived it, he can write all the books in the world on Ruskin: the Man, the Writer, the Prophet, the Artist, the Influence of his Thought, the Errors of his Doctrine, and all these works may perhaps reach a very high level of excellence, but skirt the subject. They may exalt the reputation of the critic but, as regards the true understanding of the work, they will be of less value than the exact perception of a correct nuance, however insignificant it might seem.

The manure that has fallen on the barren soil of my dry wits

From chapter 12 of the second part of Don Quixote:

“That’s a fine comparison,” said Sancho, “though not so new that I haven’t heard it many times before, like the one about chess: as long as the game lasts, each piece has its particular rank and position, but when the game’s over they’re mixed and jumbled and thrown together in a bag, just the way life is tossed into the grave.”

“Every day, Sancho,” said Don Quixote, “you are becoming less simple and more intelligent.”

“Yes, some of your grace’s intelligence has to stick to me,” responded Sancho, “for lands that are barren and dry on their own can produce good fruits if you spread manure on them and till them; I mean to say that your grace’s conversation has been the manure that has fallen on the barren soil of my dry wits; the time I have served you and talked to you has been the tilling; and so I hope to produce fruits that are a blessing and do not go to seed or stray from the paths of good cultivation that your grace has made in my parched understanding.”


— ¡Brava comparación! —dijo Sancho—, aunque no tan nueva que yo no la haya oído muchas y diversas veces, como aquella del juego del ajedrez, que, mientras dura el juego, cada pieza tiene su particular oficio; y, en acabándose el juego, todas se mezclan, juntan y barajan, y dan con ellas en una bolsa, que es como dar con la vida en la sepultura.

— Cada día, Sancho —dijo don Quijote—, te vas haciendo menos simple y más discreto.

— Sí, que algo se me ha de pegar de la discreción de vuestra merced — respondió Sancho—; que las tierras que de suyo son estériles y secas, estercolándolas y cultivándolas, vienen a dar buenos frutos: quiero decir que la conversación de vuestra merced ha sido el estiércol que sobre la estéril tierra de mi seco ingenio ha caído; la cultivación, el tiempo que ha que le sirvo y comunico; y con esto espero de dar frutos de mí que sean de bendición, tales, que no desdigan ni deslicen de los senderos de la buena crianza que vuesa merced ha hecho en el agostado entendimiento mío.

Four Old English riddles

Numbers 44, 47, 73, and 85 from The Exeter Book, in Michael Alexander’s translation from The Earliest English Poems (and following W.S. Mackie’s numbering). His introduction to this section is also worth repeating so it is given in part beneath the riddles. (Proposed) solutions are at the bottom.

44.
Swings by his thigh a thing most magical!
Below the belt, beneath the folds
of his clothes it hangs, a hole in its front end,
stiff-set & stout, but swivels about.

Levelling the head of this hanging instrument,
its wielder hoists his hem above the knee:
it is his will to fill a well-known hole
that it fits fully when at full length.

He has often filled it before. Now he fills it again.

47.
I heard of a wonder, of words moth-eaten;
that is a strange thing, I thought, weird
that a man’s song be swallowed by a worm,
his binded sentences, his bedside standy-by
rustled in the night – and the robber-guest
not one white the wiser for the words he had mumbled.

73.
I was in one hour an ashen crone
a fair-faced man, a fresh girl,
floated on foam, flew with birds,
under the wave dived, dead among fish,
and walked upon land a living soul.

85.
Many were met, men of discretion
wisdom and wit, when in there walked ….

Two ears it had, and one eye solo,
two feet and twelve hundred heads,
back, belly, a brace of hands
a pair of sides and shoulders and arms
and one neck. Name, please.

From Alexander’s introduction:

It will be remembered that in Genesis ‘ the Lord God, having formed out of the ground all the beasts of the earth and all the fowls of the air brought them to Adam to see what he would call them: for whatsoever Adam called any living creature the same is its name.’ This is literally true, for from this primordial Naming all modem nouns and hence the language we speak are descended. Language is the chief means o f human communication, and it is the gift of language that distinguishes us from the beasts. The novelty of the riddle is that by making a beast speak or depriving it of its name we render it unrecognizable. The subject of the riddle, animal, vegetable, or mineral, usurps the human prerogative of speech, and, naturally enough, takes a non-human point of view. The effect of this is a dislocation of perspective similar to that achieved in the modem theatre by the device known as alienation: a good riddle puzzles and can even be mildly frightening, simply because we do not know what it is that is speaking. The feeling o f bafflement grows when we are confronted by a riddle to which no solution has been found. The effect of being asked a riddle by someone who lived eleven hundred years ago is already disconcerting; but not to know the answer is frankly embarrassing. The riddle surprises by presenting the familiar through a non-anthropomorphic lens: the result is strange and beautiful, or delightful, or simply pathetic, but it almost always has the special, rather odd, intensity peculiar to the form.
People in Anglo-Saxon times, living uncomfortably close to the natural world, were well aware that though creation is inarticulate it is animate, and that every created thing, every wiht, had its own personality. Though the forces of earth, air, and water were not regularly propitiated or invoked, an awareness of the old methods of sympathetic identification seems to have lingered on, by habit and instinct, in the arts, and certainly in the art of poetry, as is clearly shown by the few charms that remain, corrupt though their texts may be.
The riddle is a sophisticated and harmless form of invocation by imitation : the essence of it is that the poet, by an act of imaginative identification to which Vernon Lee gave the name ‘empathy,’ assumes the personality o f some created thing – an animal, a plant, a natural force. Some element o f impersonation is involved in any creative act, but by performing this particular ventriloquism the poet extends and diversifies our understanding of – or at least our acquaintance with – the noumenous natural world , of whose life, or even existence, modern men arc becoming progressively more unaware. This operation is salutary, and may be said to have a religious value.

And solutions:
44. a key
47. a bookworm
73. unknown (Alexander proposes a Siren). Here’s commentary from Paull Franklin Baum’s Anglo-Saxon Riddles of the Exeter book:

One guess is Siren; another Water. If the latter, one would rather say Rain: a gentle shower, a heavy downpour, in the sea its natural form (its life) is lost; a little imagination can see it as hail walking on the ground. A third solution is offered by Mrs. von Erhardt-Siebold (Medium Ævum xv [1946], 48–54), comparing Frag. 117 of Empedocles:

Once I was a young man, maiden,
plant, bird, and mute fish cast ashore.

This, of course, is not a riddle, but an expression of cyclic metamorphosis. Just how an Anglo-Saxon came to know Empedocles is not clear.

85. a one-eyed garlic seller

And wandered off, bearing a winter sadness over the weft of waves …

Two versions of the Old English The Wanderer. The first – given in full – is Michael Alexander’s from his Earliest English Poems (which was later reprinted in a Penguin edition, though I haven’t seen it to check for changes). It is here for comparison, representing the more straightforward traditional translation. The second – given in part only because I don’t feel like typing 120 lines – is Christopher Patton’s from his Curious Masonry: Three Translations from the Anglo-Saxon. I found it by chance this morning and immediately liked his work on this (which he renders literally as The EarthWalker), The Seafarer, and The Ruin better than any other efforts I’ve seen. He has a site here with posts about this plus a more recent translation of several other Old English works (Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book).

The italicized lines from Alexander’s version are what I’ve given at bottom in Patton’s.

The Wanderer
Who liveth alone longeth for mercy,
Maker’s mercy. Though he must traverse
tracts of sea, sick at heart,
trouble with oars ice-cold waters,
the ways of exile – Wierd is set fast.

Thus spoke such a ‘grasshopper, old griefs in his mind,
cold slaughters, the death of dear kinsmen:

‘Alone am I driven each day before daybreak
to give my cares utterance.
None are there now among the living
to whom I dare declare me throughly,
tell my heart’s thought. Too truly I know
it is in a man no mean virtue
that he keep close his heart’s chest,
hold his thought-hoard, think as he may.

No weary mind may stand against Wierd
nor may a wrecked will work new hope;
wherefore, most often, those eager for fame
bind the dark mood fast in their breasts.

So must I also curb my mind,
cut off from country, from kind far distant,
by cares overworn, bind it in fetters;
this since, long ago, the ground’s shroud
enwrapped my gold-friend. Wretched I went thence,
winter-wearied, over the waves’ bound;
dreary I sought hall of a gold-giver,
where far or near I might find
him who in meadhall might take heed o f me,
furnish comfort to a man friendless,
win me with cheer.
He knows who makes trial

how harsh and bitter is care for companion
to him who hath few friends to shield him.
Track ever taketh him, never the torqued gold,
not earthly glory, but cold heart’s cave.
He minds him of hall-men, of treasure-giving,
how in his youth his gold-friend
gave him to feast. Fallen all this joy.

He knows this who is forced to forgo his lord’s,
his friend’s counsels, to lack them for long:
oft sorrow and sleep, banded together,
come to bind the lone outcast;
he thinks in his heart then that he his lord
claspeth and kisseth, and on knee layeth
hand and head, as he had at otherwhiles
in days now gone, when he enjoyed the gift-stool

Awakeneth after this friendless man,
seeth before him fallow waves,
seabirds bathing, broading out feathers,
snow and hail swirl, hoar-frost falling.
Then all the heavier his heart’s wounds,
sore for his loved lord. Sorrow freshens.

Remembered kinsmen press through his mind;
he singeth out gladly, scanneth eagerly
men from the same hearth. They swim away.
Sailors’ ghosts bring not many
known songs there. Care grows fresh
in him who shall send forth too often
over locked waves his weary spirit.

Therefore I may not think, throughout this world,
why cloud cometh not on my mind
when I think over all the life of earls,
how at a stroke they have given up hall,
mood-proud thanes. So this middle earth
each of all days ageth and falleth.’

Wherefore no man grows wise without he have
his share of winters.
A wise man holds out;
he is not too hot-hearted, nor too hasty in speech,
nor too weak a warrior, not wanting in fore-thought,
nor too greedy of goods, nor too glad, nor too mild,
nor ever too eager to boast, ere he knows alL

A man should forbear boastmaking
until his fierce mind fully knows
which w ay his spleen shall expend itself.

A wise man may grasp how ghastly it shall be
when all this world ’s wealth standeth waste,
even as now , in many places, over the earth
walls stand, wind-beaten,
hung with hoar-frost; ruined habitations.
The wine-halls crumble; their wielders lie
bereft of bliss, the band all fallen
proud by the wall. War took off some,
carried them on their course hence; one a bird bore
over the high sea; one the hoar wolf
dealt to death; one his drear-cheeked
earl stretched in an earthen trench.

The Maker of men hath so marred this dwelling
that human laughter is not heard about it
and idle stand these old giant-works.
A man who on these walls wisely looked
who sounded deeply this dark life
would think back to the blood spilt here,
weigh it in his wit. His word would be this:
‘ Where is that horse now ? Where are those men? Where is
the hoard-sharer?
Where is the house of the feast? Where is the hall’s uproar?

Alas, bright cup! Alas, burnished fighter!
Alas, proud prince! How that time has passed,
dark under night’s helm, as though it never had been!

There stands in the stead of staunch thanes
a towering wall wrought with worm-shapes;
the earls are off-taken by the ash-spear’s point,
that thirsty weapon. Their Wierd is glorious.

Storms break on the stone hillside,
the ground bound by driving sleet,
winter’s wrath. Then wanness cometh,
night’s shade spreadeth, sendeth from north
the rough hail to harry mankind.

In the earth-realm all is crossed;
Wierd’s will changeth the world.
Wealth is lent us, friends arc lent us,
man is lent, kin is lent;
all this earth’s frame shall stand empty.’

So spoke the sage in his heart; he sat apart in thought.
Good is he who keeps faith: nor should care too fast
be out o f a man’s breast before he first know the cure:
a warrior fights on bravely. Well is it for him who seeks
forgiveness,
the Heavenly Father’s solace, in whom all our fastness stands

And starting around line 40 in Patton’s, covering the italicized section above:

Even so, and wretched with sorrow,
far from homeland and noble kinsman,
I have bound heart and mind in chains,
since years ago I covered a goldfriend
in the dark of earth and wandered off,
bearing a winter sadness over the weft
of waves, seeking, homesick, near or
far, some patron who knew my people,
who might in meadhall offer to comfort
a friendless wanderer, to draw him out,
delight him. Sorrow, all know who know,
is cruel companion to the one who holds
none dear, and none hold so. For him no
ring of wrought gold, nor earthly glory,
but an icy heart at the hearth of exile.
Sometimes he calls to mind hallfriends
of his youth, the giving of gifts, feasts
where his gracious patron would lavish
favours on all of them. Joy is a ruin.

As anyone knows who must go long
without the word of his beloved lord.
Then sorrow and sleep together bind
the wretched solitary, in his dream
he embraces and kisses his dear lord
once more, lays in his lap his head
and hands, as once he did in days
gone by, kneeling at the high seat.
Then the friendless one awakens,
sees the fallow waves before him,
seabirds splaying feathers, bathing
as snow falls shot through with hail,
the heart’s wounds are heavier now,
raw with a longing for loved ones
long departed. His sorrow deepens
when remembered kin pass through
his mind, as singing he greets them,
gazing on them in joy as they fly
away, floating spirits that bear no
familiar voices, as sorrow deepens,
to one who sends, across the weft
of waves, a weary spirit after them.

I cannot see, for all the world, why
my mind does not go dark entirely
when I think how the lives of men
give way abruptly, they leave the hall
bold warriors. The great earth itself
falls and decays each day, and no man
may be wise who has not passed many
winters on it…..

And beauty making beautiful old rhyme

Shakespeare’s Sonnet 106:

When in the chronicle of wasted time
I see descriptions of the fairest wights,
And beauty making beautiful old rhyme,
In praise of ladies dead and lovely knights,
Then, in the blazon of sweet beauty’s best,
Of hand, of foot, of lip, of eye, of brow,
I see their antique pen would have expressed
Even such a beauty as you master now.
So all their praises are but prophecies
Of this our time, all you prefiguring;
And for they looked but with divining eyes,
They had not skill enough your worth to sing:
For we, which now behold these present days,
Have eyes to wonder, but lack tongues to praise.

Multiple editors note similarities with Samuel Daniel‘s sonnet 46 but past the surface alignment of the openings I don’t much see it. And even the opening seems to move in two different directions – Daniel using a light priamel to launch a future-looking perspective, Shakespeare staying with the past and imagining how it looks forward to its future/his present.

Let others sing of knights and paladins
In aged accents and untimely words;
Paint shadows in imaginary lines
Which well the reach of their high wits records:
But I must sing of thee, and those fair eyes
Authentic shall my verse in time to come,
When yet th’ unborn shall say, “Lo where she lies
Whose beauty made him speak that else was dumb.”
These are the arks, the trophies I erect,
That fortify thy name against old age;
And these thy sacred virtues must protect
Against the dark, and time’s consuming rage.
Though th’ error of my youth they shall discover,
Suffice they show I liv’d and was thy lover.

Art is that Ithaca of green eternity, not of marvels

From Borges’ El Hacedor / The Maker. The English translation is W.S. Merwin’s from, most recently, the Viking Selected Poems Borges collection. Merwin truly does pop up in the widest range of places.

Ars Poetica
To look at the river made of time and water
and to remember that time is another river,
to know that we lose ourselves like the river
and that faces pass by like the water.

To feel that wakefulness is another sleep
that dreams of not dreaming and that
the death that our flesh fears is that
death that comes every night,
which is called sleep.

To see in the day or the year a symbol
of the days of man and his years;
to turn the insult of the years
into a music, a murmur and a symbol.

To see sleep in death, in the sunset
a sad gold, such is poetry
that is immortal and poor. Poetry
returns like the dawn and the sunset.

At times in the evenings a face
looks at us from the depths of a mirror;
Art should be like that mirror
that reveals to us our own face.

They say that Ulysses, sick of marvels,
cried tears of love at the sight of his Ithaca
green and modest. Art is that Ithaca
of green eternity, not of marvels.

It is also like the endless river
that flows and remains and mirrors the same
inconstant Heraclitus, who is the same
and is another, like the endless river.


Arte Poética
Mirar el río hecho de tiempo y agua
y recordar que el tiempo es otro río,
saber que nos perdemos como el río
y que los rostros pasan como el agua.

Sentir que la vigilia es otro sueño
que sueña no soñar y que la muerte
que teme nuestra carne es esa muerte
de cada noche, que se llama sueño.

Ver en el día o en el año un símbolo
de los días del hombre y de sus años,
convertir el ultraje de los años
en una música, un rumor y un símbolo,

ver en la muerte el sueño, en el ocaso
un triste oro, tal es la poesía
que es inmortal y pobre. La poesía
vuelve como la aurora y el ocaso.

A veces en las tardes una cara
nos mira desde el fondo de un espejo;
el arte debe ser como ese espejo
que nos revela nuestra propia cara.

Cuentan que Ulises, harto de prodigios,
lloró de amor al divisar su Itaca
verde y humilde. El arte es esa Itaca
de verde eternidad, no de prodigios.

También es como el río interminable
que pasa y queda y es cristal de un mismo
Heráclito inconstante, que es el mismo
y es otro, como el río interminable.