Friday, September 18, 2020



Disgust.. at words
at news stories
culture, the obsessions of people,
nations and names....
The tribe.

I've heard too many lies as lies now, I don't hear the truth in them.

Then even the lies are lied about.

A hundred leaves ... So why one, bigger than the rest?
When representation cannot be ceded?
Would Haavikko know?

My life, not much lived: projected in giant letters across the crowns of the forest. That can't be right.

Sir Cyril Radcliffe. August 1947.

Dry verge peppered with vole holes...
Rain... which window?
We sit at four stacked tables...
Alphonse Daudet, poète.
The dogs played in the lorry park, 
One coming to lick the sardine tins.
The wasp who carved off a ball of tuna paté.

I touch you
Jump on me

The girl cartwheels 
She sings with the programme, flicks channel
Eats something
Jumps on her sister
Squeals laughter
Mum scolding

Toddler's big round eyes,
Loving to walk on the pavement
In the way again
Wide arcs, spurts, dashes

The children don't know it yet
But the magic thing isn't technology it's us.

When they were really young they did know: people, animals, snow.

The blind in the caravan doesn't hold, it flies up. Suddenly remember the blinds in the cottage bedroom where my sis and I used to sleep. I was in my teens. The wooden bear, the guitar, the tape recorder. Lying awake, waiting for the mosquito to land on my chest. Or when our grandmother slept there too, her snoring.

The church bell tolls its data into the minds of the inhabitants: seven, eight. . .

But the storks, nesting in the north shade above the bell, are completely untroubled.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium)


Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium). Frome, 10 September 2020.

Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium, Sw: Vildpersilja), growing where we usually see it: an opportunistic weed in and around towns, with a special liking for the foot of walls. It's common but I never see it in huge numbers. And it never gets much bigger than this: about 50cm.

For such an unloved plant it's remarkably good at hanging in there (though for reasons that are unclear it may have declined at the limit of its range in the far NW British Isles). It's very poisonous, and could be confused with edible herbs such as parsley and coriander, so it's caused more than its fair share of mischief over the years.

It is the only species in its genus, an annual or biennial that's native to most of Europe and a bit further east (though it hardly gets into the Iberian peninsula). The name Aethusa refers, according to Den virtuella floran, to the shining surface of the leaves, whose rather dark green is a good clue from a distance. As ever, I wonder how a plant with such a liking for cultivated ground managed to get by before man came along; was it where animals burrowed, or in places where the ground was naturally disturbed, such as landslips and crumbling clifftops? 

Aethusa cynapium: hairless hollow stem. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Aethusa cynapium: immature fruits. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Flowers of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Flowers of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Perhaps Linnaeus' Aethusa seemed like a shining name because she was a daughter of one of the Pleiades.

Aethusa: Daughter of Poseidon by the Pleiad Alcyone; bore Eleuther by Apollo.

Pausanias 9.20.1 (re Tanagra in Boeotia): "The people of Tanagra say that their founder was Poemander, the son of Chaeresilaus, the son of Iasius, the son of Eleuther, who, they say, was the son of Apollo by Aethusa, the daughter of Poseidon."

Young leaves and budding umbel of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

Aethusa cynapium is valued by homoeopaths: in the literature the key visual image is a baby violently sicking up mother's milk but this can also relate to troubles with other human transactions, e.g. a psychopathological decision to refrain from communication with other people. The Aethusa type is typically fond of animals instead. Cf. George Vithoulkas:

Hanging bracteoles on opening umbel of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.

The best ID feature is the distinctive hanging bracteoles that you see on emerging umbels. ("Bracteoles" hang off the secondary umbels. Aethusa has no "bracts" i.e. similar growth at base of primary umbel.)

These bracteoles protect the emerging umbel but have no use later and stop growing. Thus they are relatively unnoticeable on a fully open umbel (see below). 

The less noticeable bracteoles on fully open umbel of Aethusa cynapium. Frome, 10 September 2020.


-- Parnassus with Crassus sounds good.


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Sunday, September 13, 2020

17-28 april 2013

Laura pronounces pennies like "penn-ease" and I pronounce it like "penn-iz"

Laura playing Classic Words Plus(1), with chocolate fingers -- and an onion, (for her next meal)(2) -- in the corner of McDonalds -- with sudden arctic breezes -- hair escaping from under her hat -- lacquer-style scarf, faded blue SuperDry hoodie, blue/grey velvet trim

R1 V4 B4 C3 A1 T1 E1

fawn Hi-Tec boots -- beige fleece pea-green gloves, converted to fingerless -- apportioning a drib from the second tea (3) -- Monopoly draws to a close, all those duplicate Piccadillys (4) -- triple word score:

S1 C3 A1 R1 T1

1 Scrabble on the phone, basically
2 shopping items
3 i.e. we are sharing, she's pouring some into my cup
4 annual McDonalds promotion

Marion DR tomorrow. I went to Shaw Village at lunchtime & took bad pictures of the avenue of cherries, which were just coming out. Maybe they are Sargent cherry. 

Listening to Anna Karenina in the car. Many years ago I began to read it, when I was mad about Dostoyevsky, Goncharov, Gogol. . . I couldn't get on with Tolstoy then. Now it is overwhelming.

Interspersed with Paul Woolford (Leeds DJ) Lab04 & Grizzly Bear Ventakimest from Kyli's CD collection

Marina View Hotel b&b 16-22 May 10 15 (1214)

for it made to me upwards
Silence surging
it's a herd going by
bouncing their heavy locks
the surge of some final weight
through a starting line --
but silently, the kiss of glasses,
30, bos, musk-ox.
trucks in the snow, almost --
yes -- the momentum --
I recognized 
Ted Hay
the amiable Ted
walking without a gaze
in the mist, a steer, him
on his horizon -- could one
play dice here?

Apr 21. Lots a dandelions suddenly mingling with lots of celandine. McDs inTrowb. Went to B&G
look at chimeneas to burn things in the garden. Marion DR this morning. Mir's got job in Stockholm. Played Jay's keyboard. Laughed and cried over videos. Bought a new hard drive. Read a short story called "Cockfosters" by Helen Simpson (in Guardian collection) -- very, er, very. Philippa's bloke the only appealing character (Don't read it to find out). Adam Richards didn't get back to me about deleting his snapshots, I couldn't move the Psilogic servers. We went to Matalan, where Laura has vouchers, but it was me who found something -- new swimming trunks (grey hibiscus pattern) & new shorts - blue orange white pale tartan interweave (check). Then to Subway for lunch. Then home to book HOL IN DUBAI :) which wasn't straight forward but it's done. And before that, we're going to St Ives. "Custard, comma, cream", a lady elucidates, looking at the menu. 

I watched him, though I don't know why. I didn't know, I mean. He was a big man with startling blonde hair, like the killer in From Russia with Love, or like Boris Johnson -- he was too far away to know what he really looked like. He was toiling through an endless vast wood. Perhaps he was not toiling but moving briskly. But from this distance he appeared to be moving with agonizing slowness, like the hand of a clock or the orbit of Saturn. The good thing was that I could look away for a while but when my eyes were drawn back, as they always were, to the same spot I'd seen him last time, I didn't need to search around for long. There or thereabouts his blonde head was alive in the forest, like a pale small slug in a forest of kale, toiling at his impossible task as if nothing should ever end or come to any outcome. He moved through the trees. He was in an open part of the forest. The forest unknit itself to reveal him. But did it reveal him, really. He was so far off, this figure, that to be honest I couldn't be sure he was a man. I told myself that a person alone in the forest was most likely male. (Was it true, though?) I believe that I was already, at this early moment, beginning to identify the figure with myself. Sometimes he was what I wanted to be. Then he strolled through the glade with an erect easy stride, pleasantly aware of & enjoying the smells & sounds of the forest. But when I supposed him toiling, astray, bored, dog-tired & shivering, -- then, too, I knew him to be something real escaped from myself, something that within was always there & had a claim on my identity. I thought, at first, that he could not have come from very far off. Though I couldn't see it, I supposed he had some kind of cabin, or maybe had parked a car beside a forest track that was hidden in a fold of the slopes. Many folk walk a few steps into the woods. They go to pick berries, find mushrooms, or to get a view, or they take a dog to sniff around at the interesting things that may be found in their immediate vicinity. Or they go to muse, commune with nature, or to mourn someone or to experience the feelings of love or jealousy or anxiety in the peace & quiet of the woods. But you don't have to penetrate very far to find peace  & quiet; and, of course, these casual visitors are mostly along the edge of the forest, where it encounters the river or the ribbon of farmland or the little red cottages and the dusty roads to lake shores. But the blonde man was in the very heart of the immense woodland 

A spoiled cat drinks no milk.
A bird in the hand is worth two cats.
You can take a car to water.
A spoiled cat spills the silver lining.
Don't spoil a cat with milk.
Ever cloud has a silver cat.
Cats are just for Christmas.
Chaos in my wake
            wake in my chaos

Song by Laura beside the River Hayle

Thank you mighty thermos-maker
You are always there for a rest-taker
And when I stretch out my weary limbs
You give me a thermos instead of Pimms
But no, I AM grateful,
I do not find it hateful,
I just get used to all the things
my wondrous thermos-maker brings

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

the bright uncounted Pow'rs

I've become rather obsessed recently with the poetry of William Collins (1721 - 1759). It began with seeing this epigraph to Chapter III of Scott's Anne of Geierstein (1829):

Cursed be the gold and silver, which persuade
Weak man to follow far fatiguing trade.
The lily, peace, outshines the silver store,
And life is dearer than the golden ore.
Yet money tempts us o'er the desert brown,
To every distant mart and wealthy town.
                                                  Hassan, or the Camel-driver.

This comes from the second of Collins' early Persian Eclogues. The poem starts out like this:

SCENE, the Desart. TIME, MID-DAY.

In silent Horror o'er the Desart-Waste
The Driver Hassan with his Camels past.
One Cruise of Water on his Back he bore,
And his light Scrip contain'd a scanty Store:
A Fan of painted Feathers in his Hand,
To guard his shaded Face from scorching Sand.
The sultry Sun had gain'd the middle Sky,
And not a Tree, and not an Herb was nigh.
The Beasts, with Pain, their dusty Way pursue,
Shrill roar'd the Winds, and dreary was the View!
With desp'rate Sorrow wild th' affrighted Man
Thrice sigh'd, thrice strook his Breast, and thus began:
Sad was the Hour, and luckless was the Day,
When first from Schiraz' Walls I bent my Way.

William Collins was born in Chichester, the son of a hatter. He is said to have written the four Persian Eclogues while still at Winchester College, but they were not published until 1742 when he was at Oxford. The idea of transplanting the classical eclogue into exotic settings was a novel one, and these simple attractive poems were popular. 

What followed, in Collins' brief active career as a poet, made significantly more radical demands on the reader. 

The Band, as Fairy Legends say,
Was wove on that creating Day,
When He, who call'd with Thought to Birth
Yon tented Sky, this laughing Earth,
And drest with Springs and Forests tall,
And pour'd the Main engirting all,
Long by the lov'd Enthusiast woo'd,
Himself in some Diviner Mood,
Retiring, sate with her alone,
And plac'd her on his Saphire Throne,
The whiles, the vaulted Shrine around,
Seraphic Wires were heard to sound,
Now sublimest Triumph swelling,
Now on Love and Mercy dwelling;
And she, from out the veiling Cloud,
Breath'd her magic Notes aloud:
And Thou, Thou rich-hair'd Youth of Morn,
And all thy subject Life was born!
The dang'rous Passions kept aloof,
Far from the sainted growing Woof:
But near it sat Ecstatic Wonder,
List'ning the deep applauding Thunder:
And Truth, in sunny Vest array'd,
By whose the Tarsel's Eyes were made;
All the shad'wy Tribes of Mind
In braided Dance their Murmurs join'd,
And all the bright uncounted Pow'rs,
Who feed on Heav'n's ambrosial Flow'rs.
Where is the Bard, whose Soul can now
Its high presuming Hopes avow?
Where He who thinks, with Rapture blind,
This hallow'd Work for Him design'd?

(the Epode, or strictly Mesode, the second of the three sections making up Collins' Ode on the Poetical Character)

Collins' poetic world is an extreme one. His idea of the poet is not so much a maker or an artist with a social dimension, as a rare visionary concerned with heaven. Milton is his model. 

But the manner of the poetry is Collins' own: the incessant imagery and allegory, the allusions, inversions and condensations that often leave us wondering who and where and what we're talking about, but euphoric with the elevation and feeling like a new door of perception has been opened, even unhinged. (This is where the obsessional bit comes in.) 

Band, Woof: Compared to Florimel's girdle of chastity (Faerie Queene IV.5), this is Fancy's "Cest", bestowed by her on the true poet. This section describes its creation. 
He: God.
The lov'd Enthusiast, her, she: Fancy, the image-making power.
Thou rich-hair'd Youth of Morn: the Poetical Character itself.
Tarsel: Strictly any male falcon, but perhaps meaning an eagle (traditionally supposed to be able to gaze directly at the sun). 

[I was helped by these Jstor articles:

Patricia Meyer Spacks, "Collins' Imagery" (Studies in Philology, 1965)

Gerald A. Kirk, "Collins' Love Poem: 'Ode on the Poetical Character'" (South Central Review, 1984)

Casey Finch, "Immediacy in the Odes of William Collins" (Eighteenth-Century Studies, 1987)


William Collins' poems, in the enormous and valuable database of "Spenserians" by David Hill Radcliffe at Virginia Tech. Each poem is accompanied by a great selection of contemporary and later commentary. 

Also revelatory is to see Collins' most dazzling poems in their original context: the remarkable collection Odes on Several Descriptive and Allegoric Subjects (1746), edited here for Renascence Editions (University of Oregon) by Risa S. Bear: 

At the time this collection was regarded as a failure, much criticized for its eccentricities. Samuel Johnson was certainly not an admirer, but he had a personal regard for its author. The brief and moving Life of Collins appears in his Lives of the Poets (1781): 

. . . . His poems are the productions of a mind not deficient in fire, nor unfurnished with knowledge either of books or life, but somewhat obstructed in its progress by deviation in quest of mistaken beauties. 
     His morals were pure, and his opinions pious; in a long continuance of poverty, and long habits of dissipation, it cannot be expected that any character should be exactly uniform.  There is a degree of want by which the freedom of agency is almost destroyed; and long association with fortuitous companions will at last relax the strictness of truth, and abate the fervour of sincerity.  That this man, wise and virtuous as he was, passed always unentangled through the snares of life, it would be prejudice and temerity to affirm; but it may be said that at least he preserved the source of action unpolluted, that his principles were never shaken, that his distinctions of right and wrong were never confounded, and that his faults had nothing of malignity or design, but proceeded from some unexpected pressure, or casual temptation.
    The latter part of his life cannot be remembered but with pity and sadness.  He languished some years under that depression of mind which enchains the faculties without destroying them, and leaves reason the knowledge of right without the power of pursuing it.  These clouds which he perceived gathering on his intellect he endeavoured to disperse by travel, and passed into France; but found himself constrained to yield to his malady, and returned.  He was for some time confined in a house of lunatics, and afterwards retired to the care of his sister in Chichester, where death, in 1756, came to his relief.
    After his return from France, the writer of this character paid him a visit at Islington, where he was waiting for his sister, whom he had directed to meet him.  There was then nothing of disorder discernible in his mind by any but himself; but he had withdrawn from study, and travelled with no other book than an English Testament, such as children carry to the school.  When his friend took it into his hand, out of curiosity to see what companion a man of letters had chosen, ‘I have but one book,’ said Collins, ‘but that is the best.’”

Collins' last major poem was An Ode on the Popular Superstitions of the Highlands of Scotland, Considered as the Subject of Poetry

Here he argues for the intrinsic worth of traditional legends and superstitions as material for the poet; though they aren't true in the narrow sense, yet rehearsing them releases images that invoke a deeper truth. This is a more concrete and moderate elaboration of the high-pitched ideas about Fancy in the Ode on the Poetical Character (and see also the Ode to Fear). Here's the second stanza:

There must thou wake perforce thy Doric quill,
'Tis Fancy's land to which thou sett'st thy feet;
Where still, 'tis said, the fairy people meet
Beneath each birken shade on mead or hill.
There each trim lass that skims the milky store,
To the swart tribes their creamy bowl allots;
By night they sip it round the cottage-door,
While airy minstrels warble jocund notes.
There every herd, by sad experience, knows
How, wing'd with fate, their elf-shot arrows fly;
When the sick ewe her summer food foregoes,
Or, stretch'd on earth, the heart-smit heifers lie.
Such airy beings awe th' untutor'd swain:
Nor thou, though learn'd, his homelier thoughts neglect;
Let thy sweet muse the rural faith sustain:
These are the themes of simple, sure effect,
That add new conquests to her boundless reign,
And fill, with double force, her heart-commanding strain.

swart tribes: brownies. Traditionally each house or farm had only a single brownie. Compare the lines in Milton's L'Allegro about the "drudging goblin". Collins seems to reduce the household spirits in size and to enjoy the picture of them sipping communally from a single dish. 

And here's the twelfth stanza:

In scenes like these, which, daring to depart
From sober truth, are still to nature true,
And call forth fresh delight to Fancy's view,
Th' heroic muse employ'd her TASSO'S art!
How have I trembled, when at TANCRED'S stroke,
In gushing blood the gaping cypress pour'd;
When each live plant with mortal accents spoke,
And the wild blast upheav'd the vanish'd sword!
How have I sat, when pip'd the pensive wind,
To hear his harp by British FAIRFAX strung.
Prevailing poet, whose undoubting mind
Believ'd the magic wonders which he sung!
Hence at each sound imagination glows;
Hence his warm lay with softest sweetness flows;
Melting it flows, pure, numerous, strong and clear,
And fills th' impassion'd heart, and wins th' harmonious ear.

Fairfax: Edward Fairfax, translator of Tasso. 

Johnson mentioned the poem as lost, but this jogged the memory of Alexander Carlyle, who rediscovered the manuscript among the papers of a friend of John Home (the poem's dedicatee). The poem was read at the Literary Club of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1784. The manuscript contains several lacunae.

Text, preserving the lacunae: 

Text, as printed by the Royal Society in 1788 ("Transactions Edition"), completed by Alexander Carlyle (a few words) and Henry Mackenzie (St 5 and first half of St 6):

"Verax's" 1788 version ("Anonymous Edition"), claiming to restore Collins' original, but rejected by scholars as a forgery (especially after Walter C. Bronson's edition of 1898). 

This last is most interesting for its interpolated Stanza Five:

To monarchs dear, some hundred miles astray,
Oft have they seen Fate give the fatal blow!
The Seer, in Sky, shriek'd as the blood did flow,
When headless Charles warm on the scaffold lay!
As Boreas threw his young Aurora forth,
In the first year of the first George's reign,
And battles rag'd in welkin of the North,
They mourn'd in air, fell Rebellion, slain!
And as, of late, they joy'd in Preston's fight,
Saw at sad Falkirk, all their hopes near crown'd!
They rav'd! divining, thro' their Second Sight,
Pale, red Culloden, where these hopes were drown'd!
Illustrious William! Britain's guardian name!
One William sav'd us from a tyrant's stroke;
He, for a sceptre, gain'd heroic fame,
But thou, more glorious, Slavery's chain hast broke,
To reign a private man, and bow to Freedom's yoke!

Aurora: There is some truth behind this, but I'm not sure what it is. Some earlier editions incorrectly state that the aurora borealis was never mentioned before 1716, so cannot have existed. However I've also read that between 1621 (Galileo) and 1716 (Halley) there were very few sightings of the Northern Lights. If this was true there may be some connection with the "Maunder Minimum" (low sunspot activity in 1645-1715) and/or with the coldest period of the "Little Ice Age" (1650 onwards). But other sources say that there was no lack of auroral activity during this period. 
Illustrious William: William, Duke of Cumberland (1721 - 1765), youngest son of George II. The victor of Culloden, also known as "Butcher Cumberland" for the harshness of his reprisals. Compared in the subsequent lines to William III (1650 - 1702). "Verax" was apparently a partisan anti-Stuart. 

This version does remind us that when Collins wrote the poem in 1749, his Highland topic was likely to evoke thoughts of Culloden. The victory had been widely celebrated in England. 

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Friday, September 04, 2020

he will not meddle

". . . yonder over the glen soar the birds of prey, who are to feast on his young blood.—But I will see him once more," exclaimed the miserable parent, as the huge carrion vulture floated past him on the thick air,—

We're in the Swiss Alps, c. 1472. Philipson's son, inching along a precipice, has dislodged a gigantic boulder. He has luckily escaped death, but is scared out of his wits.  

An incident, in itself trifling, added to the distress occasioned by this alienation of his powers. All living things in the neighbourhood had, as might be supposed, been startled by the tremendous fall to which his progress had given occasion. Flights of owls, bats, and other birds of darkness, compelled to betake themselves to the air, had lost no time in returning into their bowers of ivy, or the harbour afforded them by the rifts and holes of the neighbouring rocks. One of this ill-omened flight chanced to be a lammer-geier, or Alpine vulture, a bird larger and more voracious than the eagle himself, and which Arthur had not been accustomed to see, or at least to look upon closely. With the instinct of most birds of prey, it is the custom of this creature, when gorged with food, to assume some station of inaccessible security, and there remain stationary and motionless for days together, till the work of digestion has been accomplished, and activity returns with the pressure of appetite. Disturbed from such a state of repose, one of these terrific birds had risen from the ravine to which the species gives its name, and having circled unwillingly round, with a ghastly scream and a flagging wing, it had sunk down upon the pinnacle of a crag, not four yards from the tree in which Arthur held his precarious station. Although still in some degree stupefied by torpor, it seemed encouraged by the motionless state of the young man to suppose him dead, or dying, and sat there and gazed at him, without displaying any of that apprehension which the fiercest animals usually entertain from the vicinity of man.
    As Arthur, endeavouring to shake off the incapacitating effects of his panic fear, raised his eyes to look gradually and cautiously around, he encountered those of the voracious and obscene bird, whose head and neck denuded of feathers, her eyes surrounded by an iris of an orange-tawny colour, and a position more horizontal than erect, distinguished her as much from the noble carriage and graceful proportions of the eagle, as those of the lion place him in the ranks of creation above the gaunt, ravenous, grisly, yet dastard wolf. 
    As if arrested by a charm, the eyes of young Philipson remained bent on this ill-omened and ill-favoured bird, without his having the power to remove them. The apprehension of dangers, ideal as well as real, weighed upon his weakened mind, disabled as it was by the circumstances of his situation. The near approach of a creature, not more loathsome to the human race than averse to come within their reach, seemed as ominous as it was unusual. Why did it gaze on him with such glaring earnestness, projecting its disgusting form, as if presently to alight upon his person? The foul bird, was she the demon of the place to which her name referred? and did she come to exult that an intruder on her haunts seemed involved amid their perils, with little hope or chance of deliverance? Or was it a native vulture of the rocks, whose sagacity foresaw that the rash traveller was soon destined to become its victim? Could the creature, whose senses are said to be so acute, argue from circumstances the stranger's approaching death, and wait, like a raven or hooded crow by a dying sheep, for the earliest opportunity to commence her ravenous banquet? Was he doomed to feel its beak and talons before his heart's blood should cease to beat? Had he already lost the dignity of humanity, the awe which the being formed in the image of his Maker inspires into all inferior creatures?
    Apprehensions so painful served more than all that reason could suggest to renew in some degree the elasticity of the young man's mind. By waving his handkerchief, using, however, the greatest precaution in his movements, he succeeded in scaring the vulture from his vicinity. It rose from its resting-place, screaming harshly and dolefully, and sailed on its expanded pinions to seek a place of more undisturbed repose, while the adventurous traveller felt a sensible pleasure at being relieved of its disgusting presence.

(Sir Walter Scott, Anne of Geierstein (1829), Ch 2)

Scott's natural history, in this case wholly derived from his library, was none too accurate. Scott and his hero, like other northern Europeans, believed that this "disgusting" bird (the Bearded Vulture, Gypaetus barbatus) fed on fresh carrion and even attacked livestock (hence the name "Lämmergeier" -- Lamb-Vulture). 

Sa'di of Shiraz knew better: 

One of the vizirs was displaced, and withdrew into a fraternity of dervishes, whose blessed society made its impression upon him and afforded consolation to his mind. The king was again favorably disposed towards him, and offered his reinstatement in office; but he consented not, and said, “With the wise it is deemed preferable to be out of office than to remain in place. — Such as sat within the cell of retirement blunted the teeth of dogs, and shut the mouths of mankind; they destroyed their writings, and broke their writing reeds, and escaped the lash and venom of the critics.” — The king answered: “At all events I require a prudent and able man, who is capable of managing the state affairs of my kingdom.” The ex-minister said: “The criterion, O sire, of a wise and competent man is that he will not meddle with such like matters. — The homayi, or phoenix, is honored above all other birds because it feeds on bones, and injures no living creature.” 

(Sa'di, Gulistan (1258), Chapter I, section 15)

In medieval Persia the homa (Bearded Vulture) was a bird of good omen. It was bad luck to kill it, and good luck if you were crossed by its shadow. 

It specializes in processing bones (especially of large ungulates) and gains nearly all its nutrition from bone marrow. It requires vast, arid, and normally mountainous terrain. 

Bearded Vulture (Gypaetus barbatus)

[Image source: . Photograph by Sonja Krueger.]

Valerius Maximus (fl. early 1st century CE) recounted this legend of the death of Aeschylus in Sicily, 458 BCE):

Aeschylus did not meet a willing death, but it is worth mentioning because of its novelty. As he was leaving the walls where he was staying in Italy, he stopped in a sunny spot. An eagle who was flying above him carrying a tortoise was tricked by his shining skull—for he had no hair—and it dropped it on him as if he were a stone so that it might eat the flesh from the broken shell. By that strike, the origin and font of a better type of tragedy was extinct.

(Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium, IX. 12)

Probably this story was based on observations of Bearded Vultures, who commonly drop heavy bones (and sometimes tortoises) from great heights. 

As a result of such prejudicial attitudes as Scott registers, the species was much persecuted and had become extinct in the Alps by the early twentieth century, though it still survived in the Pyrenees. (Since 1987 it has been successfully reintroduced to the Alps.)

Gypaetus barbatus is native to large parts of Asia, Africa and Europe but individuals are few and the species is increasingly under threat. In some places farmers apply poison to animal corpses in the hope of killing the predators of their stock; instead they kill the innocent vultures. 


More information in this lively article by Matt Simon:

In July 2020, a Bearded Vulture set up temporary home on a cliff edge in the Peak District:

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Sunday, August 30, 2020

been houses


Fragmenting cloud. Frome, 20 August 2020.

5 ≈ Sentimental Education

I step inland
been houses
all look fact.

                            The                              calculated
              solitude                                   mythology was my thing.

Aptly                very evidently the
lounge around       history
This written vocabulary offended
                                    the time as if
                                                              "differentiation" meant
seventh was ok.
                  Some friends come to a strange circular show to sing
                        Right sides and differently shake the horn.

Dropped out before         exactly stories
   in the field beside collecting leaves, loving doing                    dancing at
Zelda's           to              yes:
                              with us for a gosh.
                                   That fall,                         beck
              before everything over the ridge the golden
                   male               was                         my first poem.

(the opening of "Sentimental Education", from Lisa Samuels' Anti M (Chax Press, 2013).)

Nonetheless, any attempt to explicate the work as a whole according to some "higher order" of meaning, such as narrative or character, is doomed to sophistry, if not overt incoherence. The new sentence is a decidedly contextual object. (from Ron Silliman, "The New Sentence" (1977).)

The writing in Anti M can't be precisely retrofitted to Silliman's "new sentence", but it's pretty close. The new sentence isn't new any more, it has crisscrossed the world for fifty years (and I wonder if it was ever quite as circumscribed as in Silliman's narrative, quite as firmly located in the prose poem and the Bay Area). Nevertheless the new sentence still causes new variations of trouble, and that's the idea.

Anti M isn't a memoir and it would be unrewarding for anyone fan of memoirs to try and read it as one, but nor can the background shapes of memoir be entirely discarded. In the page I've quoted, the bare "education" of the section title bulks large: history, written vocabulary, collecting leaves, the organized singing and dancing, the phrase "Dropped out". By the end of this extract the idea of early stirrings of sentiment is becoming more relevant.

Silliman's insight about "contextual" has two almost contradictory implications. The glass half empty one is that you can't weigh any single sentence until you've absorbed the whole book: and I do feel the pressure of that, I know I have to read it all (more than once, probably). The glass half full implication is that when a page glints, that glint is real. You can even hold it still and inspect it, a bit. 

I'm just going to talk about the first sentence:

I step inland
been houses
all look fact.

It's an arresting one, and very different from what follows it, both in terms of layout and its internally torqued syntax. It's also in the present tense, while the next sentences switch to the past tense. So thinking about that shadow-memoir, you could imagine that behind this sentence lies a bit of baldly functional metatextual commentary, like "I resume my narrative".  I step inland .... away from the coastline of the present, into the past of .... been houses  .... houses of the past, house that have been, or houses where I've been .... . And by similar broad interpretation you could take all look fact as an epistemological remark on the material of our memories, their uniform assertion of factualness disturbed by our occasional discovery that some of our early memories are demonstrably and inexplicably wide of the mark, and by our suspicion of the inherent implausibility in some of the others.

But this is already becoming an unbalanced commentary, over-dignifying the referential aspect of the sentence and clamping down on what Silliman calls "syllogistic movement". And the movement here is intent, isn't it? Even fierce? (Doesn't the reader, seeking to impose a more regular syntax, hear a whisper that the "houses all look fucked"?)

The section "Sentimental Education" ends with another sentence in this same anomalous form: 

This kind of why allows
for holding
fascism so follow.

This one almost rhymes. How fascism grows, what it grazes on. (And between "allows" and "follow" there lurks another acquiescent word, "fallow".) 

These two book-end sentences are unexpected. None of the other eight sections has them. They have hard outlines, and surely they draw attention to the aspects of darkness and frustration in the anti-memoir between. Their tendency, I'm thinking, is to dissolve the separation of adult spheres and children's spheres, to discover a deeper recognition of community across human age-groups. Like, We're all dealing with the same stuff . . .

A ripe fig exciting the local insects. Frome, 20 August 2020. 

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Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas)


Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas). Frome, 25 August 2020.

Cornelian Cherry (Cornus mas)... Native to southern Europe (including most of France). Introduced to the British Isles back in the 16th century and sometimes found in the wild. 

Here, it's part of a fairly recent planting in a Frome public space (known as "the Dippy"), where it grows alongside the native shrub Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). 

The two relatives look a bit similar, but are easily distinguished in spring (Cornelian Cherry has yellow flowers, Dogwood has white flowers) and at berry time (Cornelian Cherry has big red berries, Dogwood has small black ones). 

The elongated "cherries" of Cornus mas are edible. Most of the berries shown in these photos would still taste a bit sour. When truly ripe they turn a deeper shade of red. They are then a fresh-tasting, rather delicious berry containing an elongated stone, attractively patterned with four veins. (If you pick an unripe one, take it indoors and it'll be ripe in a few hours.)

(But do check you've got the right tree! You don't want to be eating e.g. the berries of Aucuba japonica, which are extremely bitter and also somewhat toxic.)

In southern Europe the fruit is much used for jams, in liqueurs, etc. 

Older sources say that the fruit rarely ripens in the UK. But the warmer climate is changing that, and I've seen plenty of fruit in the two summers since I noticed these trees. 

Cornus mas is the cornel (cornum) of classical poetry. It appears as a food:

On wildings and on strawberries they fed;
Cornels and bramble-berries gave the rest . . .

(Ovid's description of the Golden Age, see Metamorphoses I.105)

Autumnal cornels next in order serv'd
In lees of wine well pickled, and preserv'd . . .

(Philemon and Baucis, see Metamorphoses 8.668)

And it also appears as the traditional wood used for spear-shafts:

whether with strong arm you hurl the pliant shaft, your gallant arm draws my regard upon itself, or whether you grasp the broad-headed cornel hunting-spear. 

(Phaedra to Hippolytus, see Heroides 4.83)

[The wood of Cornus mas is exceptionally dense and hard, useful for the shafts of tools and weapons. It sinks in water.]

The names Cornelius and Cornelia derive from the senior Roman patrician family, the Cornelii. I'd like to think they took their family name from this tree, just as, according to Pliny, the Fabii took theirs from the bean faba. But I've not found anyone else suggesting this. 

Dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). Swindon, 27 August 2020.

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Friday, August 21, 2020

that the idle day sees idly riding

John Gray, lithograph by Reginald Savage, c. 1896

Here's a portrait I saw at Tate Britain (known to my generation as the Tate Gallery), when Kyli took me to the Aubrey Beardsley exhibition last Tuesday: it was in the room about Beardsley's circle. John Gray (1866 - 1934) was a friend of Beardsley and Wilde. He was from a working-class family in Bethnal Green, left school at thirteen to apprentice as a metal-worker at the Woolwich Arsenal, and self-educated through evening classes.

His first collection was Silverpoint (1893), containing sixteen original poems and thirteen translations from Verlaine, Rimbaud, Mallarmé and Baudelaire.

Here's one of his own poems from the collection:

To Robert Harborough Sherard

Forth into the warm darkness faring wide —
More silent momently the silent quay —
Towards where the ranks of boats rock to the tide,
Muffling their plaintive gurgling jealously.

With gentle nodding of her gracious snout,
One greets her master till he step aboard:
She flaps her wings impatient to get out;
She runs to plunder, straining every cord.

Full-winged and stealthy like a bird of prey,
All tense the muscles of her seemly flanks;
She, the coy creature that the idle day
Sees idly riding in the idle ranks.

Backward and forth, over the chosen ground,
Like a young horse, she drags the heavy trawl
Content; or speeds her rapturous course unbound,
And passing fishers through the darkness call,

Deep greeting, in the jargon of the sea.
Haul upon haul, flounders and soles and dabs,
And phosphorescent animalculae,
Sand, sea drift, weeds, thousands of worthless crabs.

Darkling upon the mud the fishes grope,
Cautious to stir, staring with jewel eyes;
Dogs of the sea, the savage congers mope,
Winding their sulky march meander-wise.

Suddenly all is light and life and flight,
Upon the sandy bottom, agate strewn.
The fishers mumble, waiting till the night
Urge on the clouds, and cover up the moon.

A poem that fortuitously recalls another that I admired recently, by the presumably unrelated Australian poet Robert Gray.

This isn't the most typical John Gray poem. But its evocation of the boat that appears idle to mundanely idle eyes, concealing a  history of stupendously energetic night-time labour in extraordinary worlds, seems profoundly telling about the aspirations of himself and his friends.

Aubrey Beardsley (1872 - 1898), from a higher-status but impoverished family, diagnosed with TB at the age of 7 (his father and grandfather were TB victims too), was perhaps the most remarkable instance of the enormous labours performed by the pallid aesthetic flaneurs, his vast output the work of just six years. 

Aubrey Beardsley, Withered Spring

An early picture by Beardsley, perhaps reflecting on his own TB and its inevitable outcome.

Aubrey Beardsley, self-portrait as art editor of The Yellow Book (1894)

Aubrey Beardsley was a wide-ranging connoisseur of music and literature. He had supposed he would be a poet until his gifts took him in a different direction, and he did bequeath us this delightful poem, written in Dieppe in summer 1895.


Along the path that skirts the wood,
        The three musicians wend their way,
Pleased with their thoughts, each other’s mood,
        Franz Himmel’s latest roundelay,
The morning’s work, a new-found theme, their breakfast and the summer day.

One’s a soprano, lightly frocked
        In cool, white muslin that just shows
Her brown silk stockings gaily clocked,
        Plump arms and elbows tipped with rose,
And frills of petticoats and things, and outlines as the warm wind blows.

Beside her a slim, gracious boy
        Hastens to mend her tresses’ fall,
And dies her favour to enjoy,
        And dies for réclame and recall
At Paris and St. Petersburg, Vienna and St. James’s Hall.

The third’s a Polish Pianist
        With big engagements everywhere,
A light heart and an iron wrist,
        And shocks and shoals of yellow hair,
And fingers that can trill on sixths and fill beginners with despair.

The three musicians stroll along
        And pluck the ears of ripened corn,
Break into odds and ends of song,
        And mock the woods with Siegfried’s horn,
And fill the air with Gluck, and fill the tweeded tourist’s soul with scorn.

The Polish genius lags behind,
        And, with some poppies in his hand,
Picks out the strings and wood and wind
        Of an imaginary band,
Enchanted that for once his men obey his beat and understand.

The charming cantatrice reclines
        And rests a moment where she sees
Her chateau’s roof that hotly shines
        Amid the dusky summer trees,
And fans herself, half shuts her eyes, and smooths the frock about her knees.

The gracious boy is at her feet,
        And weighs his courage with his chance;
His fears soon melt in noon-day heat.
        The tourist gives a furious glance,
Red as his guide-book grows, moves on, and offers up a prayer for France.


[Franz Himmel is either a fictional composer or a very obscure one!]

Aubrey Beardsley, portrait by Jacques-Émile Blanche, at Dieppe in summer 1895

Kyli matching this orange and black room, based on Beardsley's decor of 114 Cambridge St, Pimlico (just near the Tate), the house he bought with his sister Mabel. The choice of orange may have been influenced by the famous panegyric in Huysmans' À rebours.

Kyli and Francesco being artists, they took even longer to get round the exhibition than I did: Beardsley's work is a bounteous source of ideas and techniques.

Of course we all had to wear our muzzles (as Laura calls them). This display of public obedience, like the lumbering right-mindedness of the exhibition commentary, the appropriate warnings around Lysistrata, etc (segregated in a room you could opt not to pass through), all formed a rather ironic contrast with the transgressive intent of the work we had come to see.

By the time we'd finished, the exhaustion of scrutinizing tiny art was compounded by oxygen starvation. We snatched heady breaths of the fresh air of Pimlico and headed euphorically for the nearest pub. 

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Thursday, August 20, 2020


 En la isla en que detiene su esquife el argonauta
del inmortal Ensueño, donde la eterna pauta
de las eternas liras se escucha: -- Isla de Oro
en que el tritón erige su caracol sonoro
y la sirena blanca va a ver el sol --, un día
se oye un tropel vibrante de fuerza y de harmonia.

Son los Centauros . . .

On the island where docks the skiff of the argonaut,
he of the immortal illusion, where the eternal guiding
of the eternal lyres is heard, -- the Isle of Gold,
on which the Triton raises his sonorous sea-shell,
and the white siren comes out to see the sun --, one day
is heard a thundering troop of force and of harmony.

It is the centaurs . . .


Callada las bocinas a los tritones gratas,
calladas las strenas de labios escarlatas,
los carrillos de Eolo desinflados, digamos
junto al laurel ilustre de florecidos ramos
la gloria inmarcesible de las Musas hermosas
y el triunfo del terrible misterio de las cosas. . . .


Stilled the pleasant horns of the tritons,
stilled the strains of the scarlet lips,
the cheeks of Aeolus deflated, let us speak
as one of the illustrious laurel of flowering branches,
the unfading glory of the beautiful Muses
and the triumph of the terrible mystery of things . . .

(from "Coloquio de los centauros" by Rubén Dario, Nicaraguan poet, 1867 - 1916)

[My text had a misprint: juto for junto. I toyed with the possible meaning "Jute" (Germanic colonist of Kent), and the possible meaning "Xuthus" (mythological brother of a different Aeolus), before finally doing the sensible thing and comparing online texts.]

Here's the original 1896 publication, with illustrations!


In the days which are now called the good days, although in reality they were very bad ones for a good many people, the greatest discovery of a great century was made, namely, that one could live more cheaply and better on other people's money than on the results of one's own efforts. Many, a great many, people had taken advantage of the discovery, and as no patent law protected it, it was not surprising that Levi should be anxious to profit by it, too, more particularly as he had no money himself and no inclination to work for a family which was not his own. He, therefore, put on his best suit one day and called on his uncle Smith.

"Oh, indeed! You have an idea," said Smith, "Let's hear it! It's a good thing to have ideas!"

"I have been thinking of floating a joint stock company."

"Very good. Aaron will be treasurer, Simon secretary, Isaac cashier, and the other boys book-keepers; it's a good idea! Go on! What sort of a company is it going to be?"

"I'm thinking of a marine insurance society."

"Indeed! So far so good; everybody has to insure his property when he goes on a voyage. But your idea?"

"This is my idea."

"I don't think much of it. We have the big society 'Neptune.' It's a good society. Yours would have to be better if you intend to compete with it. What would be the novelty in your society?"

"Oh! I understand! I should reduce the premiums and all the patrons of the 'Neptune' would come to me."

"That's better! Very well, then, the prospectus which I would print would begin in this way: 'As the crying need of reducing the marine insurance premiums has long been felt, and it is only owing to the want of competition that it has not yet been done, we, the undersigned, beg to invite the public to take up shares in the new society.... What name?"


"Triton? What sort of a chap was he?"

"He was a sea-god."

"All right, Triton. It will make a good poster! You can order it from Ranch in Berlin, and we will reproduce it in my almanac 'Our Country.' Now for the undersigned. First, of course, my name. We must have big, well-sounding names. Give me the official almanac."

Smith turned over the leaves for some time.

"A marine insurance company must have a naval officer of high rank. Let me see! An admiral."

(From August Strindberg (1849 - 1912),  The Red Room, Chapter XII, translation by Ellie Schleussner.)

It's a great chapter, a crash course in setting up a fraudulent company (Dickens readers will recall the Anglo-Bengalee), expressed with the snappy satirical joyousness that The Red Room abounds in. But I'm afraid Strindberg's choice of first names for Levi and his relatives was quite intentional. He was anti-Semitic, most of the time. (Eric Bentley characterizes Strindberg's anti-Semitism as "opportunistic and petty" -- more like Chopin's than Wagner's; but that's not mollifying.)

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Sunday, August 16, 2020


Urmia City

[Image source: .]

Gence is further than here,
Its lawns padded with flowers.
    Love’s death is an act of god,
Parting from love is torture.

Burdan uzaq Gəncədir,
Güllər pəncə-pəncədir.
    Ölüm tanrı işidir,
Ayrılıq içkəncədir.

The moon rose but sank in pools,
Your face looks like just a moon.
    My youth days sank one by one,
Without you, my sky has no moon!

Ay doğdu düşdü çaya,
Camalın bənzər aya.
    Cavan ömrüm cürüdü,
Günləri saya-saya.

Gence : Second largest city in the Republic of Azerbaijan (North Azerbaijan).

These are two of the ten bayatis that I published a few days ago on Intercapillary Space:

The English translations are by my friend Yashar Toghay. Yashar is also a hydrological engineer. (One of his long-standing concerns has been the ecological problems of Lake Urmia, in the heart of the Azerbaijani homeland.)

The bayati is a popular short poetic form in Azerbaijani literature, resembling tanka or sijo or the limerick in that it has a social role and is often composed by ordinary people with no pretension to being poets. 

The four lines are structurally two couplets and the rhyme scheme is aaba, both features that resemble the rubāʿī form of classical Persian poetry (used e.g. by Rūmī and in the poems traditionally attributed to Omar Khayyam).  Other analogies might be the Turkish murabba' and the Turkic tuyugh, both quatrain forms. 

Saturday, August 15, 2020

By Mourning


Beams of light pierced the thunderheads, stratocumulus. (p. 19)

Strange things that happen when reading Richard Makin's Mourning. I'd already chosen this image, and the book duly coughed up the caption. 

Your life, little girl, is an empty page
that men will want to write on . . .

I sometimes think of that Oscar Hammerstein lyric while I'm reading Richard Makin's prose. I'm conscious of the temptation to decorate these pristine pages with my own apophthegms. This, of course, is one of them.


I'm always striving to retain as few books as possible, so the continuing presence on my shelves of the bulky Dwelling (2011) and the somewhat less bulky Mourning (2015) means something. 

I'm now quite resigned to the fact that I will probably never read these books all through, there'll be pages I never open. But the days come, now and then, when they are exactly the books I reach for. 

It happens like this. As ever, I'm in the middle of reading a couple of dozen substantial books (some of them, I've been supposedly reading for five or ten years); one is uppermost (it's currently Victoria Glendinning's Trollope), the others lie beneath it, or back on the shelves, or on Kindle, but I haven't forgotten them, they're still ongoing projects. However, on this day I feel I want a break from Trollope and from all the rest too, I feel a bit bored by them.

Well, some poems perhaps? No, I'm not quite in the mood for short poems either. I want to immerse in a writing that has the space and grandeur, the world, the being-there, the three-dimensionality of a big book. It would suit me to dive into a novel by an author I've never read before. But that would mean, God forbid, adding yet another entry to the long list of books I'm currently supposedly reading. The solution, then, is to dive instead into a book I can't pretend I'll ever read. I'll never get to the bottom of Mourning. I'll visit it. It's a landscape.

I can't remember. We're just below the hospitality hoax at the riverend. By then I was sold: low ebb of gravity hence had already the vision. The things that hatched out of the eggs resembled lizards. 

(Mourning, p. 1)

The opening words. Mid scene: memory is patchy, context is patchy. There's an urgency to it ("We're just below") yet this is qualified by the word "hoax". Riverend ... rivers end at the coast. Is the sea itself the "hospitality hoax", an empty place, a place with nothing to drink? (The way land drifters always end up down at the coast, and then lodge there.)

There's an urgency, yet the action is always misplaced. Something that already happened (like the vision), or seems to have happened but was forgotten, or belongs to a different order of reality (like those eggs).

Further down the first page, the text confides:

It was a sense of grey I desired -- the neutral -- as if all spark of animus had bleached from the world, leaving it fallow, at peace. She pronounced the word to rhyme.

That word "animus" -- evidently used to mean spirit or animation, but evidently also aware of meaning enmity or animosity -- .... That's the kind of artistry that grips me in Makin's books. (To be frank, I struggle to feel excited about most experimental prose. But this is quite a different kettle of fish.)

Flick to the final page, and the confidence is taken up again. 

Grey equals the neutral, counter-spirit -- the ocean in mourning -- chain-mail, the landing-craft, caterpillar tracks in oily sand: an invasion. From beneath the ridge she hurls stones at his sex.
    Set above the tympanum of the temple is a sculpted ornament: bucranium.
    Ejaculation under u.v. light.

(Mourning, p. 254)

The grey, the bleached counter-spirit, remains evidently vivid with animus. That's both a spiritual apprehension about the inseparableness of seemingly opposing principles, and a source of the text's endless deflating comedy, its sarcasms and despairs:

On the second page, Icarus plummets to earth at 9.8 meters per second per second. Later, he asks his partner, Did you see me when I passed the house?

Also on the second page, a biographical note begins: I began my philosophical career under the influence.

And the whole story is overhung with romantic, maritime scenery. 

Unfallow. A sack of salt sea birds. The day's work is never quite over -- wings are plucked by the light of a tilly lamp, well past midnight. 

(Mourning, p. 2)

Perfect for the reader who, this evening, doesn't want to make a start on Conrad or Hugo or Copperfield . . . 

But this reminds me, Richard Makin's texts are noticeably parsimonious with names. It's like a landscape, there's a silence about it. The visitor, like a rambler, can dig deeper, but meaning isn't laid out on a plate. And when I come back from the trip, as I'm doing here, the shells may no longer retain the significance they seemed to have when I stuffed them into my pockets. Here they are anyway:


Fylfot. One turned counter-clockwise, probably from a misunderstanding. (p. 14)

Term for a left-facing swastika, commonly used in Anglo-Saxon and medieval art. (But sometimes also used of right-facing swastikas, or more generally to refer to non-Nazi swastikas.)

Ones upon a time there was a statue of  a prince and he had emeralds for eyes and a rubie on his sword   . . . (p. 15)

A variant on Oscar Wilde's story "The Happy Prince" (.... both reverent and malicious?)

Sursum corda, get up off the floor  (p. 17)

From the third-century Anaphora or Eucharistic prayer in the Mass: Lift up your hearts.

I do everything by numbers: there are four ember-days, one in each quarter, hour upon hour of fasting and absinthe -- a circuit, from around. (p. 23)

In the western liturgical calendar, each season has three nearly successive ember days (a Wednesday, Friday and Saturday), set aside for fasting and prayer.

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