I love the Real when I love my dreams

Two of Fernando Pessoa’s poems written in English, from the Penguin anthology A little Larger Than the Entire Universe

Epigram
“I love my dreams,” I said, a winter morn,
To the pract ical man, and he, in scorn,
Replied: ” I am no slave of the Ideal,
But, as all men of sense, I love the Real.”
Poor fool, mistaking all this is and seems!
I love the Real when I love my dreams.
[1906]


A Temple
I have built my temple – wall and face –
Outside the idea of space,
Complex-built as a full-rigged ship;
I made its walls of my fears,
Its turrets many of weird thoughts and tears –
And that strange temple, thus unfurled
Like a death’s-head flag, that like a whip
Stinging around my soul is curled,
Is far more real than the world.
[August 1907]

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still above the staggering girl …

W.B. Yeat’s Leda and the Swan, a line of which appears in Phillip K Dick’s short story Out in the Garden (below):

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

And Dick’s story – where the duck’s name, Sir Francis, is presumably a play on Sir Francis Drake and a drake as mature male duck.

“Sweetheart,” Nye said to her, “look who’s here. You remember Tom Lindquist, don’t you?”
Peggy looked up quickly. “Tommy Lindquist!” she exclaimed. “How are you? How nice it is to see you.”
“Thanks.” Lindquist shuffled a little in pleasure. “How have you been, Peg? I see you have a friend.”
“A friend?”
“Sir Francis. That’s his name, isn’t it?”
Peggy laughed. “Oh, Sir Francis.” She reached down and smoothed the duck’s feathers. Sir Francis went on searching out spiders from the grass. “Yes, he’s a very good friend of mine. But won’t you sit down? How long are you staying?”
“He won’t be here very long,” her husband said. “He’s driving through to New York on some kind of business.”
“That’s right,” Lindquist said. “Say, you certainly have a wonderful garden here, Peggy. I remember you always wanted a nice garden, with lots of birds and flowers.”
“It is lovely,” Peggy said. “We’re out here all the time.”
“We?”
“Sir Francis and myself.”
“They spend a lot of time together,” Robert Nye said. “Cigarette?” He held out his pack to Lindquist. “No?” Nye lit one for himself. “Personally, I can’t see anything in ducks, but I never was much on flowers and nature.”
“Robert stays indoors and works on his articles,” Peggy said. “Sit down, Tommy.” She picked up the duck and put him on her lap. “Sit here, beside us.”
“Oh, no,” Lindquist said. “This is fine.”
He became silent, looking down at Peggy and all the flowers, the grass, the silent duck. A faint breeze moved through the rows of iris behind the tree, purple and white iris. No one spoke. The garden was very cool and quiet. Lindquist sighed.
“What is it?” Peggy said.
“You know, all this reminds me of a poem.” Lindquist rubbed his forehead. “Something by Yeats, I think.”
“Yes, the garden is like that,” Peggy said. “Very much like poetry.”
Lindquist concentrated. “I know!” he said, laughing. “It’s you and Sir Francis, of course. You and Sir Francis sitting there. ‘Leda and the Swan’.”
Peggy frowned. “Do I—”
“The swan was Zeus,” Lindquist said. “Zeus took the shape of a swan to get near Leda while she was bathing. He—uh—made love to her in the shape of a swan. Helen of Troy was born—because of that, you see. The daughter of Zeus and Leda. How does it go … ‘A sudden blow: the great wings beating still above the staggering girl’—”
He stopped. Peggy was staring up at him, her face blazing. Suddenly she leaped up, pushing the duck from her path. She was trembling with anger.
“What is it?” Robert said. “What’s wrong?”
“How dare you!” Peggy said to Lindquist. She turned and walked off quickly.
Robert ran after her, catching hold of her arm. “But what’s the matter? What’s wrong? That’s just poetry!”
She pulled away. “Let me go.”
He had never seen her so angry. Her face had become like ivory, her eyes like two stones. “But Peg—”
She looked up at him. “Robert,” she said, “I am going to have a baby.”
“What!”
She nodded. “I was going to tell you tonight. He knows.” Her lips curled. “He knows. That’s why he said it. Robert, make him leave! Please make him go!”
Nye nodded mechanically. “Sure, Peg. Sure. But—it’s true? Really true? You’re really going to have a baby?” He put his arms around her. “But that’s wonderful! Sweetheart, that’s marvelous. I never heard anything so marvelous. My golly! For heaven’s sake. It’s the most marvelous thing I ever heard.”
He led her back toward the seat, his arm around her. Suddenly his foot struck something soft, something that leaped and hissed in rage. Sir Francis waddled away, half-flying, his beak snapping in fury.
“Tom!” Robert shouted. “Listen to this. Listen to something. Can I tell him, Peg? Is it all right?”
Sir Francis hissed furiously after him, but in the excitement no one noticed him, not at all.

I can’t help recalling Bartolomeo Ammanati’s Leda and the Swan in the Bargello.

That is beyond my sights

Another healthy-minded fragment of Archilochus, recorded by Plutarch in his On Tranquility of Mind (10.470b-c):

Accordingly, since they always lack what is beyond them, they are never grateful for what befits their station.

“The possessions of Gyges1 rich in gold are of no concern to me, not yet have I been seized with jealousy of him, I do not envy the deeds of the gods, and I have no love of tyranny. That is beyond my sights.”


εἶθ᾿ οὕτως ἀεὶ τῶν ὑπὲρ ἑαυτοὺς ἐνδεεῖς ὄντες οὐδέποτε τοῖς καθ᾿ ἑαυτοὺς χάριν ἔχουσιν.

οὔ μοι τὰ Γύγεω τοῦ πολυχρύσου μέλει,
οὐδ᾿ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος, οὐδ᾿ ἀγαίομαι
θεῶν ἔργα, μεγάλης δ᾿ οὐκ ἐρέω τυραννίδος·
ἀπόπροθεν γάρ ἐστιν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐμῶν.

It may seem a pedantic distinction but the Greek of ‘beyond my sights’ feels somehow stronger to me – it is more like ‘far from my eyes.’

The ways of wisdom are steep (σοφίαι μέν αἰπειναί)

A phrase from the end of Pindar’s Olympian 9 (104-108) that I always find more striking than I probably should and am now trying to justify to myself as worth the interest.

for some paths
are longer than others,
and no single training will develop
us all. The ways of wisdom
are steep …

ἐντὶ γὰρ ἄλλαι
ὁδῶν ὁδοὶ περαίτεραι,
μία δ᾿ οὐχ ἅπαντας ἄμμε θρέψει
μελέτα· σοφίαι μέν
αἰπειναί …

αἰπεινός is an adjective related to the far more common αἰπύς, both meaning something like ‘high, steep, sheer’. The full definitions of αἰπύς from Liddell Scott and Cunliffe’s Homeric Dictionary are below but, in short form, the word mostly appears in Epic and Lyric and the primary use is with cities, hills, and anything physically high up. An extended use later develops that allows application to what I’ll term vertiginous abstracts – death, darkness, anger, trickery, and toil (though you could probably argue for death as a transitional usage, its poetic conception ranging between a physical presence and a personified notion).

LSJ:

αἰπύς, εῖα, ύ, Ep. and Lyr. Adj., rare in Trag.,

high and steep, in Hom. mostly of cities on rocky heights, esp. of Troy, Od. 3.485, al.; of hills, Il. 2.603; later of the sky, αἰθήρ B. 3.36; οὐρανός S. Aj. 845; on high, ποδῶν αἰ. ἰωή Hes. Th. 682; ἁψαμένη βρόχον αἰπύν hanging high, Od. 11.278.

metaph., sheer, utter, αἰ. ὄλεθρος freq. in Hom., death being regarded as the plunge from a high precipice; φόνος αἰ. Od. 4.843; θάνατος Pi. O. 10(11).42; σκότος utter darkness, Id. Fr. 228; of passions, etc., αἰ. χόλος towering wrath, Il. 15.223; δόλος αἰ. h.Merc. 66, Hes. Th. 589; αἰπυτάτη σοφίη AP 11.354 (Agath.); arduous, πόνος Il. 11.601, 16.651; αἰπύ οἱ ἐσσεῖται ʼtwill be hard work for him, 13.317.

Cunliffe:

αἰπύς -εῖα, -ύ.

Steep, sheer: ὄρος Il. 2.603. Cf. Il. 2.811, 829, Il. 5.367, 868, Il. 11.711, Il. 15.84: αἰπεῖα εἰς ἅλα πέτρη (running sheer down into the sea) Od. 3.293. Cf. Od. 3.287, Od. 4.514, Od. 19.431. Applied to walls Il. 6.327, Il. 11.181: Od. 14.472. Of a noose, hung from on high Od. 11.278.
Of cities, set on a steep Il. 2.538, Il. 9.668, Il. 15.71: Od. 3.485, Od. 10.81, Od. 15.193.

Fig., difficult, hard.In impers. construction : αἰπύ οἱ ἐσσεῖται Il. 13.317. Of ὄλεθρος (thought of as a precipice or gulf), sheer, utter Il. 6.57, Il. 10.371, Il. 11.174, 441, Il. 12.345, 358, Il. 13.773, Il. 14.99, 507=Il. 16.283, Il. 16.859, Il. 17.155, 244, Il. 18.129: Od. 1.11, 37, Od. 5.305, Od. 9.286, 303, Od. 12.287, 446, Od. 17.47, Od. 22.28, 43, 67. Sim. of φόνος Il. 17.365: Od. 4.843, Od. 16.379. Of the toil and moil of war, hard, daunting Il. 11.601, Il. 16.651. Of wrath, towering Il. 15.223.

The less common αἰπεινός shows only the first use in Homer – the physical application. Again, Cunliffe:

αἰπεινός -ή, -όν[αἰπύς.]

Steep, sheer: Μυκάλης κάρηνα Il. 2.869. Cf. Il. 20.58: Od. 6.123. Rocky, rugged: Καλυδῶνι Il. 13.217, Il. 14.116.
Of cities, set on a steep Il. 2.573, Il. 6.35, Il. 9.419 = 686, Il. 13.773, Il. 15.215, 257, 558, Il. 17.328.

But then in Pindar’s four uses of αἰπεινός, two are figurative applications. One (Nemean 5.32) is explicable through comparison with the extended uses of αἰπύς seen in Hesiod’s Theogony (589) at the presentation of Pandora and the Homeric Hymn to Hermes (66). First Hesiod:

θαῦμα δ᾽ ἔχ᾽ ἀθανάτους τε θεοὺς θνητούς τ᾽ ἀνθρώπους,
ὡς εἶδον δόλον αἰπύν, ἀμήχανον ἀνθρώποισιν.

And wonder took hold of the deathless gods and mortal men when they saw that which was sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.

And then Hermes:

ἆλτο κατὰ σκοπιὴν εὐώδεος ἐκ μεγάροιο
ὁρμαίνων δόλον αἰπὺν ἐνὶ φρεσίν, οἶά τε φῶτες
φηληταὶ διέπουσι μελαίνης νυκτὸς ἐν ὥρῃ.

[He] sprang from the sweet-smelling hall to a watch-place, pondering sheer trickery in his heart —deeds such as knavish folk pursue in the dark night-time;

The context of both scenes is the realm of subterfuge. Pandora is intended as an inescapable (ἀμήχανον) evil slipped in amongst men. Hermes – who coincidentally leaps to a watching place (σκοπιὴ) to do so – makes thieving plans. The same context is activated below in Pindar’s telling of Hippolyta attempting to persuade her husband to ambush Peleus. I bold the relevant phrases but the main point is that we have here only the extended, metaphorical use. There is no element of the physical:

And, after a prelude
to Zeus, they first sang of august Thetis
and Peleus, telling how elegant Hippolyta, Cretheus’
daughter, sought to snare him by a trick, after she
persuaded her husband, overseer of the Magnesians,
to be an accomplice through her elaborate designs:
she put together a falsely fabricated tale,
claiming that in Acastus’ own marriage bed
he was trying to gain her wifely
love. But the opposite was true, for again and again
with all her heart she begged him beguilingly.
But her precipitous words provoked his anger,
and he immediately rejected the wife,

αἱ δὲ πρώτιστον μὲν ὕμνησαν Διὸς ἀρχόμεναι σεμνὰν Θέτιν
Πηλέα θ᾿, ὥς τέ νιν ἁβρὰΚρηθεῒς Ἱππολύτα δόλῳ πεδᾶσαι
ἤθελε ξυνᾶνα Μαγνήτων σκοπόν
πείσαισ᾿ ἀκοίταν ποικίλοις βουλεύμασιν,
ψεύσταν δὲ ποιητὸν συνέπαξε λόγον,
ὡς ἦρα νυμφείας ἐπείρα κεῖνος ἐν λέκτροις Ἀκάστου

εὐνᾶς· τὸ δ᾿ ἐναντίον ἔσκεν· πολλὰ γάρ νιν παντὶθυμῷ
παρφαμένα λιτάνευεν. τοῖο δ᾿ ὀργὰν κνίζον αἰπεινοὶ λόγοι·
εὐθὺς δ᾿ ἀπανάνατο νύμφαν,

(As an aside, I would add here the consideration that there’s a second or alternate influence on this use in Pindar – that αἰπεινοὶ in ‘τοῖο δ᾿ ὀργὰν κνίζον αἰπεινοὶ λόγοι’ is a transferred modifier, the background idea being ‘but her words provoked his precipitous anger.’ This sense would draw from the metaphorical application of αἰπύς to passions.)

Coming at last back to launching point in Olympian 9:

for some paths
are longer than others,
and no single training will develop
us all. The ways of wisdom
are steep …

ἐντὶ γὰρ ἄλλαι
ὁδῶν ὁδοὶ περαίτεραι,
μία δ᾿ οὐχ ἅπαντας ἄμμε θρέψει
μελέτα· σοφίαι μέν
αἰπειναί …

There is an easy near parallel to this thought flow in Hesiod’s Works and Days (286-292):

σοὶ δ᾽ ἐγὼ ἐσθλὰ νοέων ἐρέω, μέγα νήπιε Πέρση.
τὴν μέν τοι κακότητα καὶ ἰλαδὸν ἔστιν ἑλέσθαι
ῥηιδίως: λείη μὲν ὁδός, μάλα δ᾽ ἐγγύθι ναίει:
τῆς δ᾽ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι: μακρὸς δὲ καὶ ὄρθιος οἶμος ἐς αὐτὴν
καὶ τρηχὺς τὸ πρῶτον: ἐπὴν δ᾽ εἰς ἄκρον ἵκηται,
ῥηιδίη δὴ ἔπειτα πέλει, χαλεπή περ ἐοῦσα.

To you, foolish Perses, I will speak good sense. Badness can be got easily and in shoals; the road to her is smooth, and she lives very near us. But between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows; long and steep is the path that leads to her, and it is rough at the first; but when a man has reached the top, then is she easy to reach, though before that she was hard.

Substitute Pindar’s σοφίαι for Hesiod’s ἀρετή (goodness, excellence – more), αἰπειναί for ὄρθιος (straight up, steep – more), and ὁδοὶ for οἶμος ( way, road – more) and you’re in the same region of folk wisdom. But what you get different with Pindar is typical of his construction generally – a marked condensing of thought alongside a heightened intensity. He manages the effect here through a unique (in surviving work) use of αἰπεινός that forces activation of both its physical and metaphorical senses – basically I read his σοφίαι μέν αἰπειναί as pulling together the entirety of Hesiod’s
τῆς δ᾽ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν / ἀθάνατοι: μακρὸς δὲ καὶ ὄρθιος οἶμος ἐς αὐτὴν. It hits not just the physical difficulty of ὄρθιος οἶμος but also – calling in the metaphorical use of αἰπύς – the attendant psychic strain of τῆς δ᾽ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν ἀθάνατοι (between us and Goodness the gods have placed the sweat of our brows). Wisdom here is difficult to reach like an elevated city or cliff and daunting to encounter/overcome like death, treachery, and the darker passions.

Truly a path longer than others.



What do I care about that shield?

A fragment of Archilochus, recorded by Plutarch in Ancient Customs of the Spartans (34.239b):

When the poet Archilochus arrived in Sparta, they drove him out at once, because they learned that in his poetry he had said that it was better to throw away one’s arms than to be killed:

Some Saian exults in my shield which I left—a faultless weapon—beside a bush against my will. But I saved myself. What do I care about that shield? To hell with it! I’ll get one that’s just as good another time.


Ἀρχίλοχον τὸν ποιητὴν ἐν Λακεδαίμονι γενόμενον αὐτῆς ὥρας ἐδίωξαν, διότι ἐπέγνωσαν αὐτὸν πεποιηκότα ὡς κρεῖττόν ἐστιν ἀποβαλεῖν τὰ ὅπλα ἢ ἀποθανεῖν·

ἀσπίδι μὲν Σαΐων τις ἀγάλλεται, ἣν παρὰ θάμνῳ,
ἔντος ἀμώμητον, κάλλιπον οὐκ ἐθέλων·
αὐτὸν δ᾿ ἐξεσάωσα. τί μοι μέλει ἀσπὶς ἐκείνη;
ἐρρέτω· ἐξαῦτις κτήσομαι οὐ κακίω.

Where once the great king of the gods showered the city with snows of gold

From Pindar’s Olympian 7 (24-52), for Diagoras of Rhodes, winner of boxing in 464. Often Pindar is just pretty and no other point is needed.

But about the minds of humans hang
numberless errors, and it is impossible to discover
what now and also in the end is best to happen to a man.
Thus it is that the founder of this land once struck
Alcmene’s bastard brother Licymnius
with a staff of hard olive in Tiryns
when he came from Midea’s chambers and killed him
in a fit of anger. Disturbances of the mind
lead astray even a wise man. He went to the god for an oracle,
and from the fragrant inner sanctum of his temple
the golden-haired god
told him to sail from the shore of Lerna
straight to the seagirt pasture,
where once the great king of the gods showered
the city with snows of gold,
when, by the skills of Hephaestus
with the stroke of a bronze-forged axe,
Athena sprang forth on the top of her father’s head
and shouted a prodigious battle cry,
and Heaven shuddered at her, and mother Earth.
At that time Hyperion’s son, divine bringer of light
to mortals, charged his dear children
to observe the obligation that was to come,
that they might be the first to build for the goddess
an altar in full view, and by making
a sacred sacrifice might cheer the hearts of the father
and his daughter of the thundering spear. Reverence
for one who has foresight plants excellence and its joys in humans,
but without warning some cloud of forgetfulness comes upon them
and wrests the straight path of affairs
from their minds.
Thus it was that they made their ascent without taking
the seed of blazing flame, and with fireless sacrifices
they made a sanctuary on the acropolis.
He [Zeus] brought a yellow cloud and upon them
rained gold in abundance; but the Gray-eyed Goddess
herself gave them every kind of skill to surpass mortals
with their superlative handiwork.
Their streets bore works of art in the likeness of beings
that lived and moved, and great was their fame.


ἀμφὶ δ᾽ ἀνθρώπων φρασὶν ἀμπλακίαι
ἀναρίθμητοι κρέμανται: τοῦτο δ᾽ ἀμάχανον εὑρεῖν,
ὅ τι νῦν ἐν καὶ τελευτᾷ φέρτατον ἀνδρὶ τυχεῖν.
καὶ γὰρ Ἀλκμήνας κασίγνητον νόθον
σκάπτῳ θένων
σκληρᾶς ἐλαίας ἔκταν᾽ ἐν Τίρυνθι Λικύμνιον ἐλθόντ᾽ ἐκ θαλάμων Μιδέας
τᾶσδέ ποτε χθονὸς οἰκιστὴρ χολωθείς. αἱ δὲ φρενῶν ταραχαὶ
παρέπλαγξαν καὶ σοφόν. μαντεύσατο δ᾽ ἐς θεὸν ἐλθών.
τῷ μὲν ὁ Χρυσοκόμας εὐώδεος ἐξ ἀδύτου ναῶν πλόον
εἶπε Λερναίας ἀπ᾽ ἀκτᾶς εὐθὺν ἐς ἀμφιθάλασσον νομόν,
ἔνθα ποτὲ βρέχε θεῶν βασιλεὺς ὁ μέγας χρυσέαις νιφάδεσσι πόλιν,
ἁνίχ᾽ Ἁφαίστου τέχναισιν
χαλκελάτῳ πελέκει πατέρος Αθαναία κορυφὰν κατ᾽ ἄκραν
ἀνορούσαισ᾽ ἀλάλαξεν ὑπερμάκει βοᾷ:
Οὐρανὸς δ᾽ ἔφριξέ νιν καὶ Γαῖα μάτηρ.
τότε καὶ φαυσίμβροτος δαίμων Ὑπεριονίδας
μέλλον ἔντειλεν φυλάξασθαι χρέος
παισὶν φίλοις,
ὡς ἂν θεᾷ πρῶτοι κτίσαιεν βωμὸν ἐναργέα, καὶ σεμνὰν θυσίαν θέμενοι
πατρί τε θυμὸν ἰάναιεν κόρᾳ τ᾽ ἐγχειβρόμῳ. ἐν δ᾽ ἀρετὰν
ἔβαλεν καὶ χάρματ᾽ ἀνθρώποισι Προμαθέος Αἰδώς:
ἐπὶ μὰν βαίνει τε καὶ λάθας ἀτέκμαρτα νέφος,
καὶ παρέλκει πραγμάτων ὀρθὰν ὁδὸν
ἔξω φρενῶν.
καὶ τοὶ γὰρ αἰθοίσας ἔχοντες σπέρμ᾽ ἀνέβαν φλογὸς οὔ: τεῦξαν δ᾽ ἀπύροις ἱεροῖς
ἄλσος ἐν ἀκροπόλει: κείνοις ὁ μὲν ξανθὰν ἀγαγὼν νεφέλαν
πολὺν ὗσε χρυσόν: αὐτὰ δέ σφισιν ὤπασε τέχναν
πᾶσαν ἐπιχθονίων Γλαυκῶπις ἀριστοπόνοις χερσὶ κρατεῖν.
ἔργα δὲ ζωοῖσιν ἑρπόντεσσί θ᾽ ὁμοῖα κέλευθοι φέρον:
ἦν δὲ κλέος βαθύ.

Learners who are boisterous and long-winded are like a pair of crows that cry in vain

From Pindar’s Olympian 2 (82-88):

…I have many swift arrows
under my arm
in their quiver
that speak to those who understand, but for the whole subject, they need
interpreters. Wise is he who knows many things
by nature, whereas learners who are boisterous
and long-winded are like a pair of crows that cry in vain
against the divine bird of Zeus.


… πολλά μοι ὑπ᾿
ἀγκῶνος ὠκέα βέλη
ἔνδον ἐντὶ φαρέτρας
φωνάεντα συνετοῖσιν· ἐς δὲ τὸ πὰν ἑρμανέων
χατίζει. σοφὸς ὁ πολλὰ εἰδὼς φυᾷ·
μαθόντες δὲ λάβροι
παγγλωσσίᾳ κόρακες ὣς ἄκραντα γαρύετον

Διὸς πρὸς ὄρνιχα θεῖον·

A scholia adds:

κόρακες· . . .αἰνίττεται Βακχυλίδην καὶ Σιμωνίδην, ἑαυτὸν λέγων ἀετόν, κόρακας δὲ τοὺς ἀντιτέχνους

Crows – he makes a riddling reference to Bacchylides and Simonides, calling himself an eagle and his rivals crows.

But that’s the sort of thing scholiasts always add.

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to do

Portia from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice (1.2):

If to do were as easy as to know what were good to
do, chapels had been churches and poor men’s
cottages princes’ palaces. It is a good divine that
follows his own instructions: I can easier teach
twenty what were good to be done, than be one of the
twenty to follow mine own teaching. The brain may
devise laws for the blood, but a hot temper leaps
o’er a cold decree – such a hare is madness the
youth, to skip o’er the meshes of good counsel the
cripple.

Related to I see the better … Ovid, Petrarch, and Foscolo and I know what’s right, but I don’t do it.

That is the scientific method

A rather sharp observation just possibly applicable to many academics, from Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. The speaking character has an affected issue with his -r’s.

Hardin remained silent for a short while. Then he said, “When did Lameth write his book?”

 “Oh — I should say about eight hundwed yeahs ago. Of cohse, he has based it lahgely on the pwevious wuhk of Gleen.”

 “Then why rely on him? Why not go to Arcturus and study the remains for yourself?”

 Lord Dorwin raised his eyebrows and took a pinch of snuff hurriedly. “Why, whatevah foah, my deah fellow?”

 “To get the information firsthand, of course.”

 “But wheah’s the necessity? It seems an uncommonly woundabout and hopelessly wigmawolish method of getting anywheahs. Look heah, now, I’ve got the wuhks of all the old mastahs — the gweat ahchaeologists of the past. I wigh them against each othah — balance the disagweements — analyze the conflicting statements — decide which is pwobably cowwect — and come to a conclusion. That is the scientific method. At least” — patronizingly –”as I see it. How insuffewably cwude it would be to go to Ahctuwus, oah to Sol, foah instance, and blundah about, when the old mastahs have covahed the gwound so much moah effectually than we could possibly hope to do.”

 Hardin murmured politely, “I see.”

It’s a song. Or a riddle. It’s sorrow.

From Christopher Patton’s Unlikeness Is Us: Fourteen from the Exeter Book. I’d been so impressed a few months back with Patton’s translations of Anglo-Saxon in Curious Masonry (post here) that I’d bought this sequel-expansion right away – but then, in flightiness, failed to open it until yesterday. Patton is considerably more aggressive than most in his translations and since I can’t find a decent way of including his 7 pages of justifying notes here, I’m hoping that Craig Williamson’s more ‘normal’ rendering from his Complete Old English Poems can serve as something like anchoring comparison.

Her Case
It’s a song. Or a riddle. It’s sorrow.
I will lay it out for you, the disorder
I went through as a young woman;
it’s not in the past, nor just for now,
I am always in the dark of this bind,
that started when my lord went off
from home over seaplay; each dawn
me wondering what land he was in.

Then I went to seek and serve him –
bereft of husband, miserable wretch-
his family started to think it through,
in secret, how to divide us, some way
that we should live two worlds apart,
with me here wanting, and him there.

My lord’s told me to hold hard here.
I’ve few friends at this patch of earth.
Few to love, and my thoughts are sad.

When I found a man as fitted as he
was – out of luck, and melancholy,
hoard-thoughted, murder-minded,
our hearts were giddy as we swore
we’d not be parted except by death
– nothing else – that’s been turned
round now thought, as if it’d never
been, our friendship. Near and far
I endure my heartfriend’s hatred.
He said to me, wait in these woods,
under this oak, in an earthhollow.
It’s a hall of old soil. I am all desire.

The hills are high here, valleys dim,
sharp thorns guard the enclosure,
a joyless berth. Often I’m caught
in rage at his going. Earthfriends
live and love in their beds, alone
I dawn in the earth under an oak
alone, abiding the summer’s long
day, bereaved, banished, weeping
for thoughts that give me no rest –

and the desire that seized this life?
that young man, though sad inside
and hard of mind, must bear himself
cheerfully as he suffers breastcares,
endless swarms of sorrow. Whether
all the world’s joys are his, or he sits
in guilt at the hill’s stone foot, rimed
by storm, a tired lord surrounded by
water, in some drear hall abides my
fried. And often he brings to mind
a kindlier hearth – woe to that one
who lives to long for what he loved.

And Williamson:

The Wife’s Lament
I tell this story from my grasp of sorrow—
I tear this song from a clutch of grief.
My stretch of misery from birth to bed rest
Has been unending, no more than now.
My mind wanders—my heart hurts.

My husband, my lord, left hearth and home,
Crossing the sea- road, the clash of waves.
My heart heaved each dawn, not knowing
Where in the world my lord had gone.

I followed, wandering a wretched road,
Seeking some service, knowing my need
For a sheltering home. I fled from woe.

His cruel kinsmen began to plot,
Scheming in secret to split us apart.
They forced us to live like exiles
Wretched, distant lives. Now I lie with longing.

My lord commanded me to live here
Where I have few friends, little love,
And no sense of home. Now my heart mourns.

I had found the best man for me,
My husband and companion, hiding his mind,
Closing his heart, bound in torment,
Brooding on murder beneath a gentle bearing.

How often we promised each other at night
Th at nothing would part us except death.
But fate is twisted—everything’s turned.
Our love is undone, our closeness uncoupled.
The web of our wedding is unwoven.

Something now seems as if it never was—
Our friendship together. Far and near,
I must suffer the feud of my dear lord’s brooding.

I was forced to live in a cold earth- cave,
Under an oak tree in an unhappy wood.
My earth-house is old. I lie with longing.

Here are steep hills and gloomy valleys,
Dark hideouts under twisted briars,
Bitter homes without joy. My lord’s leaving
Seizes my mind, harrows my heart.

Somewhere friends share a lover’s bed,
Couples clinging to their closeness at dawn,
While I sing each morning’s sorrow
Outside my earth-cave, under my oak tree,
Where I spend the summer- long day,
Mourning my exile, the cares of my heart,
Th e wandering of my tormented mind.
My spirit cannot rest, my heart be healed,
My mind be free from this life’s longing.

A young man must surely wake at dawn
With hard-edged sadness in his lonely heart.
He must brook misery beneath a gentle bearing
While he suffers his own stretch of sorrow,
Endless and undoing. May he look for joy
In an empty bed, exiled also in an alien land—
So that my friend sits under stone cliffs,
Pelted by storms, stranded by waves,
Chilled to the bone in his cruel hall.
In the comfort of cold, the embrace of anguish,
He may remember a kinder hearth and home.
Woe waits for the lover who lies longing.