Friday, November 24, 2017

Red maple

I moved to a new neighbourhood in Swindon a couple of weeks back, and immediately got interested in this small crimson-looking tree.  (Photos from 15th November 2017).

It's obviously a kind of maple, and the best match for the leaf shape that I could find is Red Maple (Acer rubrum). 

This is a big tree from eastern North America with an upright habit. In fact it's now the commonest tree in the north-eastern USA, but it was a lot less common when European settlers arrived. This is because they started to control the wildfires, which worked in favour of Red Maple (deep-rooted trees like hickories and oak can survive wildfires, but shallow-rooted trees like the Red Maple cannot).

Apart from Red Maple, it's also known as Swamp Maple, Water Maple, and Soft Maple. The latter is comparative: the timber is a bit softer than some other maples, but it's still very much a hardwood.

In Britain, horitculturalists seem to call it Canadian Maple. This is a bit surprising as the maple leaf on the Canadian flag, introduced in 1965,  is often said to be Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum). (In fact the design was stylized and not based on any species in particular).

There are garden cultivars grown in the UK including "Brandywine", "Red Sunset", "October Glory" and "Schlesingeri", but all the images I've seen look more upright than this one. A dazzling sight in mid-November, anyhow.

The leaves a are highly toxic to horses, apparently.

The leaves fell a week later. This photo is from 22nd November 2017. 

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Thursday, November 23, 2017

thinking again about Cymbeline

Emma Fielding as Imogen, in an RSC production from 2003

[Image source:]

Cymbeline was one of the last plays that Shakespeare wrote on his own. More than that is difficult to assert.  Shakespeare may have been working on The Winter's Tale, Cymbeline, and The Tempest all at the same time.

Pericles, that very seminal play, had been performed in early 1608. It was a big hit, much to Jonson's annoyance (he called it a "mouldy tale"). You can understand that Shakespeare might have decided to write more plays in the same vein. 

But there was a delay.

London always had a low background level of plague, but sometimes the level rose. The London playhouses had to close if the level of plague went above 30 dead (or possibly 40 dead) per week. Now, for 17 months, from July 1608 to January 1610, the level was above 50.

Finally performances resumed. We have records of Macbeth and Othello being played at the Globe in April 1610.  Coriolanus, Shakespeare's final tragedy, is a difficult play to date but the consensus is for 1608-09 with, we can speculate, a first performance in early 1610. (There's no record of any such performance, but some 1610 sources, such as Jonson's Epicoene, seem to allude to Coriolanus.)

Then in July 1610 the plague levels rose again, so there was another closure of six months until early 1611. The earliest known performances of Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale come from May 1611. The Tempest was played at court that November (in all likelihood, there had been earlier public performances).

[ Info from Leeds Barroll, "Shakespeare and the Second Blackfriars Theater" in Shakespeare Studies 33 (2005). ]

The main thing that stands out about the years 1607-1611 is that Shakespeare's productivity dropped by half. For the previous 15 years he had averaged  two plays per year, but in these five years he wrote only five plays. And this trend continued, with just the three Fletcher collaborations in the years 1612-1614. We can only speculate about the reasons for the slowdown.


What's clear is that the five plays have close links with each other. The scenes of greatest emotional intensity are connected by a general theme of "secular salvation", particularly figured by family reconciliations. It's secular salvation because the protagonist receives it in this life, not for eternity. Generally speaking the protagonist who receives salvation is male and the agent or agents of salvation are female. This is all far too schematic, but let's spell it out anyway.

All of the plays take place in pre-Christian or never-never type places and times, where the gods are only pagan. The salvations figured in the plays have no explicit Christian trappings. (All the odder, in The Tempest, where Naples and names like Sebastian and Ferdinand clearly proclaim a context of Christendom.)

The theme began to become prominent for Shakespeare, perhaps, with King Lear ... with the crazed king's reunion with Cordelia, with her "No cause, no cause" (IV.7). Lear's salvation is short-lived, of course, but he does have it, and it's not meaningless even if heartbreak soon follows; a Lear in which the king was never reconciled with Cordelia at all would have been even darker. At this moment his own behaviour to his daughter, the misunderstandings of the past, are all forgiven, he receives what he could never expect, he can redeem the past.

The emotional heart of Pericles is the miraculous reunion with his daughter Marina. Mouldy tale or not, the drama is intensely moving at this point.  And in the climax of The Winter's Tale Leontes is reunited first with his daughter Perdita and then, even more miraculously, with his wife Hermione. (Both believed long since dead.)

In a way these scenes achieve their deep poignancy because, in our heart of hearts, we feel that such complete redemption of the past is something that doesn't happen in real life. People who act like Leontes don't get a second chance. And yet the dream flickers, it's there, sometimes in life incredibly good things do happen, we can sometimes begin again, at least a bit....  So the contemplation of these secular salvations doesn't actually feel like escapism but like being exposed to deeps within our own hearts, to irredeemable losses that we mostly keep stoppered up. It's a serious matter.

Coriolanus partakes in the theme too. But in this case it isn't so much salvation experienced as salvation earned, when Coriolanus saves the city of Rome at the expense of his own life. Once more the secular salvation is connected with a family meeting, with his wife and mother.

So what about Cymbeline? Here the king is indeed reunited with his daughter, and also his two sons, lost some twenty years earlier. Regarding these sons, we're never told the details of how Belarius came to be falsely accused of treason (which led to the kidnap) and to what extent it may have been Cymbeline's fault, and it's all so long ago that the king shows no sense of missing his sons.  There's a coolness about all this compared to the high-intensity scenes I've been discussing in the other plays. We are told (by the Gentleman in the opening scene) that the king suffers from the falling out with Imogen, but it's only late in the play that the king himself says anything of the kind. On her part Imogen seems to regard her father as not much more than a nuisance; she's entirely focussed on her husband Posthumus. And it's to Posthumus that the theme of secular salvation now applies. He believes he's caused his wife Imogen's death in the madness of jealousy (like Leontes), and he longs only to die. Then she's there...  (He doesn't recognize her, and knocks her down.).  Imogen likewise believed that her husband was dead, but Shakespeare doesn't develop her feelings in the same way as Posthumus. (In fact, she seems to recover from her bloodstained access of grief with remarkable speed, at the end of IV.2) So it's almost a double salvation of husband and wife here, but Posthumus is definitely the major recipient. 

The Tempest doesn't, of course, fit so patly into this scheme. Certainly, Alonso is reunited with the son who he thought was dead. But The Tempest's emotional centre is more dispersed. In particular, it's dispersed to the early scene recounting when Prospero and Miranda escaped Naples together, and each is the other's salvation. At the end of the play the theme returns in Prospero's speech to the audience, where he asks for salvation in the form of a fair journey to Naples (or, it may be, New Place).


But. The errors of fitting one play to the shape of another.  These reflections centre us on the famous reunion:

  IMOGEN. Why did you throw your wedded lady from you?
    Think that you are upon a rock, and now
    Throw me again. [Embracing him]
  POSTHUMUS. Hang there like fruit, my soul,
    Till the tree die!

But Cymbeline, that "flamboyant oddity" as Donald Mackenzie puts it, can't be contained by this theme. Characteristically, the play carries on for another 300 rather less interesting lines, during which both Imogen and Posthumus have plenty to say.

Posthumus' salvation cannot have quite the same poignancy as Pericles' or Leontes', because of the drastically shorter timescale.

Fruit is not really supposed to hang on a tree forever, it's meant to fall.  So Posthumus' line can be seen as limiting Imogen's potential, but the main point is that Posthumus's life will be fruitful so long as Imogen is with him. Indeed that Imogen really is his soul.


Placing the emphasis on Posthumus likewise brings centrally the brilliant scenes of the wager with Jachimo and the latter's apparent victory.

But at the same time, these scenes remind us how Cymbeline is weirdly full of echoes from other plays. In these scenes it's Othello. Jachimo plays the role of Iago. Posthumus becomes crazed with jealousy in a minor reprise of Othello. Imogen, missing her bracelet and imagining the consequences, is reprising Desdemona and the whole business with the handkerchief.

But, especially characteristic of Cymbeline, the echoes are from a wide range of very different plays. In the scene about the tribute, we seem to back in the territory of Henry V  or King John. Cloten is a reprise of Demetrius and Chiron in Titus Andronicus. Here, as in The Tempest, Shakespeare brings back the theme of rape, untouched since the early days of Two Gentlemen of Verona and Titus.

Our sense is of a flamboyant play, yes, but a mixture. Does Cymbeline ever reveal its own character, or does its identity only subsist in being a unique blend?

The Tempest, likewise "an echo-chamber of Shakespearian motifs" (Stephen Greenblatt), still manages to be itself...

It's interesting that these reprises, in both Cymbeline and The Tempest,  are always on a reduced scale compared with the original. Jachimo, for instance, compared to Iago is smaller, does less harm, is less disturbing, and has far less lines. The theme of rape comes back in a few lines and allusions, but there is no actual rape (as in Titus), and no imminent threat of rape on stage (as, momentarily, in TGV). Leontes' fourteen years of purgatory become reduced to Alonso's three hours...

There's a sense of the author shuffling through a stack of old photographs, without lingering on any of them for very long. The other image from modern technology that keeps occurring to me is a flickering screen.

Guiderius (Kenji Urai), Cymbeline (Kohtaloh Yoshida), Arviragus (Satoru Kawaguchi) in a 2012 Ninagawa production at the Barbican

[Image source:]


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

the Cross-in-Hand

The Cross-in-Hand, Gore Hill, Batcombe, Dorset -- late spring
[Image source: . Photograph by Nigel Mykura.]

"I think I must leave you now," he remarked, as they drew near to this spot. "I have to preach at Abbot's-Cernel at six this evening, and my way lies across to the right from here. And you upset me somewhat too, Tessy—I cannot, will not, say why. I must go away and get strength. … How is it that you speak so fluently now? Who has taught you such good English?"
"I have learnt things in my troubles," she said evasively.
"What troubles have you had?"
She told him of the first one—the only one that related to him.
D'Urberville was struck mute. "I knew nothing of this till now!" he next murmured. "Why didn't you write to me when you felt your trouble coming on?"
She did not reply; and he broke the silence by adding: "Well—you will see me again."
"No," she answered. "Do not again come near me!"
"I will think. But before we part come here." He stepped up to the pillar. "This was once a Holy Cross. Relics are not in my creed; but I fear you at moments—far more than you need fear me at present; and to lessen my fear, put your hand upon that stone hand, and swear that you will never tempt me—by your charms or ways."
"Good God—how can you ask what is so unnecessary! All that is furthest from my thought!"
"Yes—but swear it."
Tess, half frightened, gave way to his importunity; placed her hand upon the stone and swore.
"I am sorry you are not a believer," he continued; "that some unbeliever should have got hold of you and unsettled your mind. But no more now. At home at least I can pray for you; and I will; and who knows what may not happen? I'm off. Goodbye!"

[A short while after they part, Tess meets a solitary shepherd.]

"What is the meaning of that old stone I have passed?" she asked of him. "Was it ever a Holy Cross?"
"Cross—no; 'twer not a cross! 'Tis a thing of ill-omen, Miss. It was put up in wuld times by the relations of a malefactor who was tortured there by nailing his hand to a post and afterwards hung. The bones lie underneath. They say he sold his soul to the devil, and that he walks at times."

(from Tess of the D'Urbervilles,  Chapter XLV)

Some stories say that there was the shape of a hand carved on the stone. Apparently there is none there now (though I seem to make one out in the late summer photo by Trevor).

The Cross-in-Hand, winter

[Image source:,_Dorset]

Above, John Simpson's three-minute film of visiting the Cross-in-Hand.


Elisabeth Bletsoe's Landscape from a Dream (2008) contains, among other astounding and complex poems, one called "Cross-in-Hand". It begins, perhaps, with Tess's working hand. I'll quote that opening, up to the first of the prose annotations, just to give a sense (though by no means a complete one) of how far the poem opens out.  The poem is also about a walk from Cerne Abbas (Hardy's Abbot's Cerne) to Evershot (Hardy's Evershead); the walk would have passed the Cross-in-Hand about midway. It becomes, also, about other resonances in the touch of old stones and the simples of the field (Bletsoe drawing on her homeoepathic interests). But the violation meted out to Tess is figured through the whole poem.

no slack-twister I, see
my work-strong arms; gloves
    thick as a warrior's &
a rope of hair like a ship's cable

polishing grain against my side
my bones become milk:
see how the stalks
                              imitate me
moving in the wind's electric spindle

working the ricks, binding
               sheaves to me, the
wrist's bare skin scarified by
stubble &
                     the rain's arrows

To orient: to bring into clearly understood relations, to determine how one stands. Quincunxial signs I thread long by; A's magic well, church, folly, trendle, sky-notch. Beak through stone, the one who tracks me, and the other for whom I wait. High Stoy, Dogbury Hill wave a fringe of dark, concentrate the toxin rape-fields, xanthin and arsenic-yellow. One field flares and then another, under the wheel of cloud. Drunk on rare pollens I would dance on this floor of lights, finger-hoops of earth spraying, apricot-coloured and friable. Serrated with pig-huts, dry as a kex. To study the architectonics of hogweed. To unpack the poppy-bud of its outraged silk, corolla visibly hurt to the end of its days. 

I torce the necks of wounded gamebirds,
shock of come-apart cervicals .... 


High Stoy and Dogbury Hill are other eminences near to Gore Hill. (Hardy mentions them at the beginning of Ch II of Tess.)

Here's another piece I wrote about this poetry collection:

[Image not reproduced here; waiting for permission]

Photo from late summer, with wild marjoram at the foot of the stone.

Cross-in-Hand, early spring

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Friday, November 17, 2017

More to say

Apologies to regular readers. The blog is being severely impacted by soul-destroying labour on my TEFL end-of-course assignment.  I've gone soft when it comes to this kind of thing.


Our "English" family came together at our house at Christmas. We lived upstairs in an old oast-house. Out in the weald, the hop-fields were grey and an empty forest of poles, the ducks flew around the pond shrieking.

A day or two before, here came my grandmother on the bus, with her small brown suitcase and her presents wrapped in re-used wrapping paper. We went out into the garden with my mother and cut sprigs of holly with plenty of red berries on them.

Here too came my great-aunt, once a receptionist in Harley Street, and still with a certain brisk city air about her. She learnt to drive late in life, but not very well, and it was a relief when her small DAF automatic came through the winding lanes and chugged up against the garden gate without actually hitting it.

I and my sister --- I still had only one in those days --- had been taken Christmas shopping in Tunbridge Wells.

On Christmas Eve we had our "Swedish" Christmas, and then we opened the presents sent from Sundsvall. We sat around the tree, decorated with straw goats and straw tomtegubbar, and we also admired the snowy scene that my father set up on a bookshelf, where the figurines of priest and skiing angel and crib and bearded dwarf and horse-drawn sledge gathered together on a lumpy terrain of cotton wool. We ate herrings, boiled potatoes, and Christmas ham. At some point my mother would put the Swedish long-dance on the gramophone. It was a high-tempo medley beginning with Nu är det jul igen and proceeding through various other Christmas favourites. We joined hands in a chain and flew uproariously through every room in the house.

On Christmas Day we had the "English" Christmas: a proper roast, but more often a capon than a turkey. Just before dinner (it was really a sort of late lunch), the adults watched the Queen's Speech. My sister and I were, of course, more interested in examining the bright parcels under the tree and trying to guess what they might contain.

We never had cranberry sauce.*  We would have lingonberry sauce (sent over from Sweden), or my mum's home-made grape "jelly", rather delicious but runny. (The oast-house had an ornamental grapevine on its west wall.) 

In those days the family still kept up a pretence of drinking alcohol, something that no-one particularly liked, but considered an essential part of any celebratory meal. I learnt to let the red wine "breathe".

My sister and I were allowed wine with water. Often there was an adult conversation about how it was good to introduce children to alcohol early, so it lost its mystique. It certainly worked in our case, we drink about two units a year.

At the time, however, we were most enthusiastic. The most reluctant wine-drinker, even more reluctant than my mother, was my grandmother. But this was not because it was alcohol. My grandmother was always reluctant, even ungracious, when she was offered any kind of treat. Eventually she gave in.  I observed her behaviour closely, understanding that she was a much better person than the rest of us. Even today, I still have difficulty accepting a gift graciously.

Then we had Christmas pudding. My dad made "brandy butter" by whisking up butter in a dish with brandy. He also poured brandy over the pudding and set light to it, so that it flickered with blue flames when brought to the table. Inside the pudding he placed verious silver threepennies and other silver trinkets in the shape of wedding-bells or money-bags. Then he tried to ensure that everyone got a trinket in their slice of "pud". The trinket told your fortune. Now and then someone would choke or break their teeth on a trinket.

After dinner we went for a walk down the rutted lane between grey farmlands, the dog scampering ahead of us just as if it had no concept of Christmas, had not overeaten nor drunk wine, and this was merely another brilliant day.

Even so, the dog was not neglected at Christmas. My mother always bought it a new squeaky toy, and it was a joy for us the first time the dog made the toy squeak.


*This was down to a sort of naive anti-Americanism.

We regarded "American" cranberries as very inferior to "true" cranberries, i.e. Swedish lingonberries (Vaccinium vitis-idaea).  So far as the flavour is concerned, I still prefer lingon for meat dishes, it's much less sweet than cranberry. But our facts were wrong, because lingonberries are not cranberries, that is, they do not belong to the distinct cranberry subsection of Vaccinium. (There is a European cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccus), a tiny shrub that grows on the surface of bogs, but how it compares in flavour to American cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon)  I don't know, and I should think it's impossible to harvest commercially, the fruit yield would be far too low.  European emigrants learned from Native Americans to harvest American cranberries, around 1550.

In the same chauvinistic vein we regarded American blueberries (Vaccinium corymbosum etc) as extremely inferior to "true" blueberries, i.e. Swedish blåbär (Vaccinium myrtillus, known as bilberries or whortleberries in English). Once again, we had our facts wrong. European bilberries do not belong to the blueberry subsection of Vaccinium. Both kinds of berry are excellent but they are very different.  Bilberries are great for jams and pies, but fresh bilberries can only be used on a domestic scale, they do not keep well and the juice is extremely staining.  Fresh blueberries (now so ubiquitous, but a rare sight in Britain twenty years ago) proved to be a splendid, robust and versatile fruit. And they've deservedly stormed the pantheon of international supermarket fruits, to the great benefit of all our healths.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Västra Bunnerstöten

[Image source:]

If you are at Storulvån STF hostel, and you can tear your eyes away from the enticing destinations to the SW, but instead look towards the east across the river Handölån, you'll see the Bunnerfjällen massif, lying south of the big lake Annsjön, and north-east of the Tjallingdalen valley, and west of Vålådalen.

It's a rarely visited area, and none of the major walking routes go near it. There are several summits of which the highest is Västra Bunnerstöten, though it has had other names in the past (1,554m or 1,545m according to other sources).

The map and the pages below come from Sven Kilander's 1955 book Kärlväxterna övre gränser på fjäll i sydvästra Jämtland ("Upper Limits of Vascular Plants on Mountains of South-Western Jämtland") (Acta Phytogeographica Suecica 35). The whole book can be accessed using the link above. It includes a summary in English (pp. 183-189).

Kilander went there four times, on 18-19 July 1943,  2 Aug 1949, 20-22 July 1950 and 24-26 August 1951. Unlike Abrahamsson (see below), he was lucky with the weather.

V Bunnerstöten is a somewhat lower mountain than those in the Sylarna and Helags massifs but near the summit it just creeps into the high alpine category, Kilander considers (p. 80).

Kilander investigated some 25 mountains in the area.  Many, perhaps most, of his height records come from Stora Helagstöten, a higher and more southerly mountain than V Bunnerstöten. (As Kilander admits, the Sylarna group might have produced more records if it hadn't been so forbiddingly precipitous.)

A few species, however, grew highest on V Bunnerstöten:

Lycopodium annotinum (Interrupted Clubmoss)
Asplenium viride (Green Spleenwort)
Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine. The specimen was 7 cm tall, and dead at the top)
Hierochloë odorata (Holy-grass)
Carex atrata x norvegica  (Black Alpine Sedge x Close-headed Alpine Sedge)
Carex glacialis (Glacier Sedge)
Arctystaphylos uva-ursi (Bearberry)

On his last day on the mountain Kilander noticed traces of a serpentine outcrop, but didn't have time to investigate properly; the demands of this unusual geology, high in toxic metals and with a high percentage of magnesium to calcium, can produce an interesting flora. Here he found the rare Cerastium alpinum var. glabrum   (now called ssp. glabratum) along with Viscaria alpina.
The highest record for Equisetum pratense (Shade Horsetail) was on the neighbouring summit Östra Bunnerstöten, outside Kilander's study area but re-confirmed from Smith's record of 1920.


Tore Abrahamsson went to Bunnerfjällen too, as he recounts in his 1992 book Okända Fjäll (Unknown Mountains). His visit began on 7th September, and the weather was mostly awful, but he took some gloomily impressive photographs.

The composer Wilhelm Peterson-Berger passed along its flank in 1906, accompanying a topographical expedition from Handöl to Ljungdalen. Abrahamsson quotes a couple of lyrics from Peterson-Berger's early choral work  En Fjällfärd  (P-B wrote the words himself) -- see below.  Abrahamsson also quotes from the opening page of the book in his own backpack, Mörkrets hjärta by Joseph Conrad. An excellent book to read, I imagine, as darkness closed in on the tumbledown shelter beside the Bunnersjöarna (a pair of plateau lakes to the north of the area shown in the map).

Here's some very bad photos of photos from Tore Abrahamsson's book.

Bunnersjöarna: twin plateau lakes on the Bunnerfjällen massif

Västra Bunnertjärnen, a tarn just north of the summit of Västra Bunnerstöten

The pass between Sitäntja and Västra Bunnerstöten, with Tjallingklumpen in the background.

Bunnerfjällen, from Annsjön

Here's three of the songs from En Fjällfärd :

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Friday, November 10, 2017

Maynard Mack (1909 - 2001)

Maynard Mack

[Image source:]

Maynard Mack was a professor at Yale, born in Michigan. Mostly remembered as an Alexander Pope scholar, but he was interested in Shakespeare too, and I've been reading him on Shakespeare's tragedies.

Samuel Johnson, it's said, never read a book through. I begin to recognize this behaviour in my own life. Increasingly my contacts with authors are  becoming more fleeting, usually far less than a whole book. In this case, it's a paper from 1960, "The Jacobean Shakespeare: Some Observations on the Construction of the Tragedies", which was included as an appendix to the Signet Othello that I picked up in a charity shop yesterday lunchtime. (Edition by Alvin Kernan, another Yale academic; it was published in 1963.)

Mack writes about patterns that the tragedies have in common.

The hyperbolic tendencies of the hero(es). "Comic overstatement aims at being preposterous. Tragic overstatement aspires to be believed."

The hero's down-to-earth foil (Horatio, Kent, Iago, Enobarbus, Menenius, Mercutio, Cassius).

Or, say, Desdemona talking to Emilia. "The alabaster innocence of Desdemona's world shines out beside the crumpled bedsitters of Emilia's --  ... but the two languages never, essentially, commune -- and, for this reason, the dialogue they hold can never be finally adjudicated."

Dramatization of the conflict between the values of the individual ( integrity, to be oneself) and the values of the social ( accommodation to existing circumstance, to survive).

Mack also writes about "indirections": ways in which one part of the action mirrors another, or one character's words are seen to illuminate another. So that Edgar and Gloucester and the Fool, all speaking for themselves, yet somehow illuminate Lear too. Likewise the three sons Fortinbras, Laertes and Hamlet illuminate each other.

Mirrorings: Bianca's appearances shedding light on Othello's dimming view of Desdemona.

Mirror scenes: the opening scenes and what they introduce about the field of action of the rest of the play. Hamlet (mystery, solving), Othello (manipulation), Lear (hierarchical nature, bestial nature), Antony and Cleopatra (the great debates of lovers).

Symbolic entrances and exits: the emblematic deaths that tell us about someone else's experience: John of Gaunt, Mamillius, Eros.

Motifs:  the three Poisonings in Hamlet Act I, Act III, Act V: Claudius' corruption of an entire society.

The transforming journeys (Hamlet to England, Macbeth's re-visit to the Witches, or Lear and Gloucester to Dover).

The cycle of change in which the hero becomes the hero's antithesis: the perfect, accomplished courtier Hamlet becomes obscene and cruel and dithering; the supremely self-possessed Othello raves, rolls around, and hits out;  the majestic Lear becomes a deranged wanderer; These transformations reveal, however, a potential that always lay within them.

The madnesses of the tragic heroes. But let's hear some of Mack's own words:

"Moreover, both he [Lear] and Hamlet can be privileged in madness to say things -- Hamlet about the corruption of human nature, and Lear about the corruption of the Jacobean social system (and by extension about all social systems whatever), which Shakespeare could hardly have risked apart from this license. Doubtless one of the anguishes of being a great artist is that you cannot tell people what they and you and your common institutions are really like --- when viewed absolutely -- without being dismissed as insane. To communicate at all, you must acknowledge the opposing voice, and it is as deeply rooted in your own nature as in your audience's. "

Their madness is like Cassandra's. [It] "contains both punishment and insight. She is doomed to know, by a consciousness that moves to measures outside our normal space and time; she is doomed never to be believed, because those to whom she speaks can hear only the opposing voice. With the language of the god Apollo sounding in her brain, and the incredulity of her fellow mortals ringing in her ears, she makes an ideal emblem of the predicament of the Shakespearean tragic hero, caught as he is between the absolute and the expedient."

Mack's essay leads up to the proposal that Jacobean drama (meaning Webster as well as Shakespeare) is obsessed with acts of self-will , especially when the agents are "stripped to their naked humanity and mortality, and torn loose from accustomed moorings". He suggests this obsession was premonitory of the upheavals and conflicts of the coming century. 


Many illuminations, then. I find something deeply attractive in the essay, though I'm hard-pressed to put my finger on it.  The prose-style is workmanlike but not particularly elegant or breathtaking. Perhaps it has something to do with the essay coming out of a past era, with the natural interest attached to reading something that nobody reads any more. It's also the kind of work that I steadfastly neglected back in 1976 when I began my degree studies in Eng Lit , when Mack and Frye and Brooks and Abrams and all the others might well have been my daily bread .... but I usually preferred reading more Lit  -- more plays, more poems --  rather than getting a handle on the critical conversation of my own time. Only now, it seems, do I begin to feel curious about the person behind the eminent name... What did they look like, who were they? 

Mack's bigger assertions don't seem especially persuasive -- about Jacobean drama, for instance: you want to ask, What about Jonson, What about Philaster? If the tragedians' debate about self-will was so socially urgent, how did it come to be displaced by tragicomedy and masque?

And then, you remember the stark differences between the plays. Mack recognizes those stark differences, as who could not,  but his essay purposely looks for common patterns. Fair enough, but take this matter of madness, for instance. Othello behaves as madly as any other of the tragic heroes, but his madness seems especially un-Cassandra-like. It intuits nothing -- nothing true, that is -- , but, on the contrary, comes before us expressly in the form of delusion, error, utter blindness.

And again, concerning self-will, our primary sense of Othello is how, on the contray, he's bent to someone else's will...

The themes of multi-culturalism, ethnicity, xenophobia, that bulk so large in the Othello criticism of today, and in my own reading of it, are completely absent from Mack's account. (Though one pauses at the choice of "alabaster" to describe Desdemona's innocence.)  In the context of his own times there's nothing in the least unusual about this. It's remarkable, considering that, how much the play says to him, and how much he can tell us us about it.

Maybe this is what I find attractive about his essay, a feeling of being in such sure-footed company, of someone who knows every scene so well, whose quotations are always apposite, who sees no need to limit himself to only one aspect (imagery, or plot, or performance, for instance); who's always intelligent, agreeable, never perverse. With such people, you find that you can forgive a great deal.

Maynard Mack (possibly in 1942?)

[Image source:]

I was surprised - maybe I shouldn't have been, but I was -  how few on-line pics there are of such an eminent scholar.  These three are the only ones I could find.

Maynard Mack

[Image source:]

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Thursday, November 09, 2017

The streetlamp

Contained, as you we cast off, the water and hunger must be, be content;
when we stood at the sometimes the weather was bad 

they were frightened the beating gate
and called security. our coats and babies,
yellow eyes and  we named set prayer beards...

unfathomed request, not respect

but copies it

wrappings more searching, already a prince dancing

Yes, our eyes grew to that squat pulpit swallow the cave, the salt sea, the hunger.

irregular flask

My friends of then,  the cast-off skins of our days, I wish...
you would have sung mories no long a trouble to their eyes!

that I believed, a country



Friday, November 03, 2017

Penguin Modern Poets 19 Ashbery Harwood Raworth

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Sad thing, to think that in the past couple of years all three of the poets who appeared in this influential volume have died, most recently John Ashbery.

The volume catches their output to date in the year 1971.  By that time Ashbery and Lee Harwood had already delivered in spades;  some of their best poems are here. My perception is that Tom Raworth, the most formally radical of the three, was still feeling for the right kind of space, and the Raworth poems here are opening gambits.

Comparatively speaking. But opening the book at random, with 5 minutes to spare while waiting for a Linux engineer, lets enjoy this opening of a Raworth poem:

There Are Lime-Trees in Leaf on the Promenade
                           (for Ed & Helene)

the blossom blows
                                across the step
no moon.          night, the curtain moves

we had come back from seeing one friend in the week
they celebrated the twentieth anniversary of victory, fireworks
parades.         and all across the town the signs the french
people are not your allies mr johnson          who were
then, the old photographs.           garlanded the tanks with
flowers now
                    a poison        we came
separately home

the children were there
covered with pink blossoms like burned men         taking
the things they laughed
                                   at the strange coins, tickets.           ran
around the house pointing up at the plane then
the only noise

there can be no dedication         all things in their way
are          the actual scars      tension.            the feeling
of isolation.           love
for me in one way is waiting for it to end

- - - - - - 


Re line 3, I couldn't help being struck by reading, the next day, in Laurie Duggan's No Particular Place to Go,

My poetry -- a life watching curtains flutter.

 ("Lives of the Poets")

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Thursday, November 02, 2017


Grocery shop in the Edgeware Road

[Image source: Photo by Adrian Scottow.]

Here's the beginning and end of Laurie Duggan's "Autumn Journal".

gulls caught in early light over rooftops

yellow sky


one red fox, several deer

the length of the King's Wood


mud and twigs

cracked acorns on a wet road


- - - -

smoke turns to fog

moonrise south of Gravesend


rough winds

wrong equinox

The characteristic generous, indifferent, allusion in the title:  LD's poem does have some quiet conversation with MacNeice's eve-of-war meditations. But the differences are marked. For example,  this autumn journal consists of 14 lines, instead of 24 cantos. Macneice's poem covered about 4 months in 1938. There's a hint of a smile in just how brief LD's Autumn Journal is. What's happening in our news media, then? The silence hums with that unvoiced commentary. Yet isn't this poem, too, in some accord with what Macneice says in his introductory note, "Nor am I attempting to offer what so many people now demand from poets -- a final verdict or a balanced judgment".

The poetic is one in which the integrity of the real world is specifically not "captured" in the words, it is not immanent in the words. Yet it feels very present For, example, the poem uses no verbs of  movement, yet looking past the text we're aware of  movement.  The gulls, for example, are flying and wheeling and gliding. How do I know? The poem doesn't say that. But I see them.

You can read the poem in a few seconds. The asterisks, however, are there to tell us that its seven annotations are spaced far apart, in place and probably in time.  Its horizons are large, it's a big page.

The length of the King's Wood is also quite a long way: it's one of the largest woodlands in E. Kent. Placed next to the deer, it suggests a chase, vistas opening, canopy thinning.

The second allusion is to Shakespeare's Sonnet 18: Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May .  The springtime of that poem explains why now is the "wrong" equinox.  But then isn't the autumnal equinox always the wrong equinox. Yet the trans-seasonal "rough winds" are, in a way, reassuring of larger cycles.

It was in a park in Bexhill-on-Sea, last Saturday morning, that I encountered the cracked acorns. (Moving between the ash-dominant scarplands of the upper and lower Jurassic, well, I don't seem to spend a lot of time with oak trees and am always struck by them when I visit other parts of the country.)

Only some of the acorns were cracked. This was more about cycling and trampling than the pulverization of trucks.

Pedunculate Oak. Some of the acorns were really big. I picked up the fattest and juiciest and bunged it into the pocket of my hoodie. Then I forgot about it until, very late last night, after luminous dinner at a Lebanese restaurant on the Edgeware Road, and several hours of train and coach into provincial darkness,  I was settling down in the van, and I heard the sound of something rolling along the foot-well then plunking onto the step.

The Indo-European root for "acorn" is very ancient; it meant fruit of various sorts. Words from the same root turn up in Celtic languages, referring to sloes and plums. Preparing acorns for human food is not straightforward, but it's possible. The tannins must be leached off, boiling with five changes of water. But potentially it's worth it in survival terms, because this is an abundant source of starch and fat, things that most easily-foraged foods tend to be lacking in.


"moonrise south of Gravesend".

This could, I suppose, mean a moonrise witnessed while standing somewhere to the south of Gravesend;  and if so, that's not particularly interesting, except for confirming that the poem reports from a number of different locations. 

 The alternative and I think more natural interpretation is that, from where the observer is standing, the moon appears to rise to the southward of Gravesend. 

Let's think a bit about this.

Moonrise, we all know, takes place in the east -- approximately. In the UK moonrises vary between nearly NE (e.g. a full moon in midwinter) and nearly SE (e.g. a full moon in midsummer).

The observer would need to be seeing the lights of Gravesend on or near the eastern horizon. Not necessarily due east, but definitely easterly. It wouldn't make much sense to say the moonrise was "south" of Gravesend if Gravesend itself lay far to the north (or the south, for that matter).

Positioned thus, the observer might witness the moon come up to the south of  an eastward-lying Gravesend. The moonrise isn't, I suppose, very far to the south, or why would you mention Gravesend at all?

The observer would need to be quite a long way off, so that the lights of Gravesend appeared as a localized cluster (or smudge), something you could refer to in relation to the moon.

On the other hand, if you were a very long way to the west then Gravesend wouldn't be distinguishable from the lights of other nearby conurbations.

My imagination takes me to a viewpoint somewhere on the high ground south of Swanscombe. A motorist on the A2 eastbound -- yes, that might do it.

People usually notice moonrises when the moon is (more or less) a full moon, rising in the early evening. A full moon at the autumnal equinox would rise due east. If you were standing, let's say, on Castle Hill, then it would appear to come up just to the south of Gravesend. Though (to quote Ashbery) this is just one example.

The magical power of four words!


Since Ashbery' s "These Lacustrine Cities" has swept into view, I can't neglect the opportunity to recommend Norman Finkelstein's interesting reading of that poem (The Utopian Moment in Contemporary American Poetry (2nd edn 1993), p. 62ff.).

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Wednesday, November 01, 2017

the Dickens fleet

Cullimore Group: the Jarvis Lorry

The Cullimore group are a Stroud-based family-owned firm in roads and aggregates. They are currently busy about the Chippenham by-pass, hence this note.  Each of the distinctive bottle-green lorries carries a name on the driver's door. Nothing unusual there, but in this case, the first name I spotted was "Poll Sweedlepipe" and the next "Vincent Crummles". Moreton C. Cullimore, the company patriarch, was a Dickens fan who began the custom of naming his vehicles during the early 1940s, when the green livery had to be abandoned due to wartime shortages. "The tradition survives today; all Cullimore vehicles, large and small, and even the individual items of plant, proudly display their Dickensian names. Some names are of course particularly appropriate: OliverTwist could be nothing other than a truck mixer, while well-placed confidence saw the ready-mix plant at Netherhills christened Great Expectations when it was opened nearly 30 years ago."  The names of the trucks, likewise, often have a certain appropriateness to their function as work vehicles.

I can't tell you how I thirst to re-read Dickens. For today, however, just ten minutes and an indulgent visit to some of the characters that are named on the Cullimore cabs. It's a visit that emphasizes some of the deep folklore connections that continue to exist between Dickens and the working lives of ordinary people.


‘Colonel Bulder, Mrs. Colonel Bulder, and Miss Bulder,’ were the next arrivals.
‘Head of the garrison,’ said the stranger, in reply to Mr. Tupman’s inquiring look.
Miss Bulder was warmly welcomed by the Misses Clubber; the greeting between Mrs. Colonel Bulder and Lady Clubber was of the most affectionate description; Colonel Bulder and Sir Thomas Clubber exchanged snuff-boxes, and looked very much like a pair of Alexander Selkirks—‘Monarchs of all they surveyed.’   (Pickwick Papers)

Mr. Pickwick saluted the count with all the reverence due to so great a man, and the count drew forth a set of tablets.
‘What you say, Mrs. Hunt?’ inquired the count, smiling graciously on the gratified Mrs. Leo Hunter, ‘Pig Vig or Big Vig—what you call—lawyer—eh? I see—that is it. Big Vig’—and the count was proceeding to enter Mr. Pickwick in his tablets, as a gentleman of the long robe, who derived his name from the profession to which he belonged, when Mrs. Leo Hunter interposed.
‘No, no, count,’ said the lady, ‘Pick-wick.’
‘Ah, ah, I see,’ replied the count. ‘Peek—christian name; Weeks—surname; good, ver good. Peek Weeks. How you do, Weeks?’
‘Quite well, I thank you,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, with all his usual affability. ‘Have you been long in England?’
‘Long—ver long time—fortnight—more.’
‘Do you stay here long?’
‘One week.’
‘You will have enough to do,’ said Mr. Pickwick smiling, ‘to gather all the materials you want in that time.’
‘Eh, they are gathered,’ said the count.
‘Indeed!’ said Mr. Pickwick.
‘They are here,’ added the count, tapping his forehead significantly. ‘Large book at home—full of notes—music, picture, science, potry, poltic; all tings.’ (Pickwick Papers)


Mr. Vincent Crummles received Nicholas with an inclination of the head, something between the courtesy of a Roman emperor and the nod of a pot companion; and bade the landlord shut the door and begone.
‘There’s a picture,’ said Mr. Crummles, motioning Nicholas not to advance and spoil it. ‘The little ‘un has him; if the big ‘un doesn’t knock under, in three seconds, he’s a dead man. Do that again, boys.’
The two combatants went to work afresh, and chopped away until the swords emitted a shower of sparks: to the great satisfaction of Mr. Crummles, who appeared to consider this a very great point indeed. The engagement commenced with about two hundred chops administered by the short sailor and the tall sailor alternately, without producing any particular result, until the short sailor was chopped down on one knee; but this was nothing to him, for he worked himself about on the one knee with the assistance of his left hand, and fought most desperately until the tall sailor chopped his sword out of his grasp. Now, the inference was, that the short sailor, reduced to this extremity, would give in at once and cry quarter, but, instead of that, he all of a sudden drew a large pistol from his belt and presented it at the face of the tall sailor, who was so overcome at this (not expecting it) that he let the short sailor pick up his sword and begin again. Then, the chopping recommenced, and a variety of fancy chops were administered on both sides; such as chops dealt with the left hand, and under the leg, and over the right shoulder, and over the left; and when the short sailor made a vigorous cut at the tall sailor’s legs, which would have shaved them clean off if it had taken effect, the tall sailor jumped over the short sailor’s sword, wherefore to balance the matter, and make it all fair, the tall sailor administered the same cut, and the short sailor jumped over his sword. After this, there was a good deal of dodging about, and hitching up of the inexpressibles in the absence of braces, and then the short sailor (who was the moral character evidently, for he always had the best of it) made a violent demonstration and closed with the tall sailor, who, after a few unavailing struggles, went down, and expired in great torture as the short sailor put his foot upon his breast, and bored a hole in him through and through.
‘That’ll be a double encore if you take care, boys,’ said Mr. Crummles. ‘You had better get your wind now and change your clothes.’ (Nicholas Nickelby)


It has been remarked that Mr Pecksniff was a moral man. So he was. Perhaps there never was a more moral man than Mr Pecksniff, especially in his conversation and correspondence. It was once said of him by a homely admirer, that he had a Fortunatus’s purse of good sentiments in his inside. In this particular he was like the girl in the fairy tale, except that if they were not actual diamonds which fell from his lips, they were the very brightest paste, and shone prodigiously. He was a most exemplary man; fuller of virtuous precept than a copy book. Some people likened him to a direction-post, which is always telling the way to a place, and never goes there; but these were his enemies, the shadows cast by his brightness; that was all. His very throat was moral. You saw a good deal of it. You looked over a very low fence of white cravat (whereof no man had ever beheld the tie for he fastened it behind), and there it lay, a valley between two jutting heights of collar, serene and whiskerless before you. It seemed to say, on the part of Mr Pecksniff, ‘There is no deception, ladies and gentlemen, all is peace, a holy calm pervades me.’ So did his hair, just grizzled with an iron-grey which was all brushed off his forehead, and stood bolt upright, or slightly drooped in kindred action with his heavy eyelids. So did his person, which was sleek though free from corpulency. So did his manner, which was soft and oily. In a word, even his plain black suit, and state of widower and dangling double eye-glass, all tended to the same purpose, and cried aloud, ‘Behold the moral Pecksniff!’
The brazen plate upon the door (which being Mr Pecksniff’s, could not lie) bore this inscription, ‘PECKSNIFF, ARCHITECT,’ to which Mr Pecksniff, on his cards of business, added, AND LAND SURVEYOR.’ In one sense, and only one, he may be said to have been a Land Surveyor on a pretty large scale, as an extensive prospect lay stretched out before the windows of his house. Of his architectural doings, nothing was clearly known, except that he had never designed or built anything; but it was generally understood that his knowledge of the science was almost awful in its profundity. (Martin Chuzzlewit)


The laws of sympathy between beards and birds, and the secret source of that attraction which frequently impels a shaver of the one to be a dealer in the other, are questions for the subtle reasoning of scientific bodies; not the less so, because their investigation would seem calculated to lead to no particular result. It is enough to know that the artist who had the honour of entertaining Mrs Gamp as his first-floor lodger, united the two pursuits of barbering and bird-fancying; and that it was not an original idea of his, but one in which he had, dispersed about the by-streets and suburbs of the town, a host of rivals.
The name of the householder was Paul Sweedlepipe. But he was commonly called Poll Sweedlepipe; and was not uncommonly believed to have been so christened, among his friends and neighbours.
With the exception of the staircase, and his lodger’s private apartment, Poll Sweedlepipe’s house was one great bird’s nest. Gamecocks resided in the kitchen; pheasants wasted the brightness of their golden plumage on the garret; bantams roosted in the cellar; owls had possession of the bedroom; and specimens of all the smaller fry of birds chirrupped and twittered in the shop. The staircase was sacred to rabbits. There in hutches of all shapes and kinds, made from old packing-cases, boxes, drawers, and tea-chests, they increased in a prodigious degree, and contributed their share towards that complicated whiff which, quite impartially, and without distinction of persons, saluted every nose that was put into Sweedlepipe’s easy shaving-shop. (Martin Chuzzlewit)


The Ghost stopped at a certain warehouse door, and asked Scrooge if he knew it. ``Know it!'' said Scrooge. ``Was I apprenticed here!'' They went in. At sight of an old gentleman in a Welch wig, sitting behind such a high desk, that if he had been two inches taller he must have knocked his head against the ceiling, Scrooge cried in great excitement: ``Why, it's old Fezziwig! Bless his heart; it's Fezziwig alive again!'' Old Fezziwig laid down his pen, and looked up at the clock, which pointed to the hour of seven. He rubbed his hands; adjusted his capacious waistcoat; laughed all over himself, from his shows to his organ of benevolence; and called out in a comfortable, oily, rich, fat, jovial voice: ``Yo ho, there! Ebenezer! Dick!'' Scrooge's former self, now grown a young man, came briskly in, accompanied by his fellow-'prentice. (A Christmas Carol)


The coffee-room had no other occupant, that forenoon, than the gentleman in brown. His breakfast-table was drawn before the fire, and as he sat, with its light shining on him, waiting for the meal, he sat so still, that he might have been sitting for his portrait.
Very orderly and methodical he looked, with a hand on each knee, and a loud watch ticking a sonorous sermon under his flapped waist-coat, as though it pitted its gravity and longevity against the levity and evanescence of the brisk fire. He had a good leg, and was a little vain of it, for his brown stockings fitted sleek and close, and were of a fine texture; his shoes and buckles, too, though plain, were trim. He wore an odd little sleek crisp flaxen wig, setting very close to his head: which wig, it is to be presumed, was made of hair, but which looked far more as though it were spun from filaments of silk or glass. His linen, though not of a fineness in accordance with his stockings, was as white as the tops of the waves that broke upon the neighbouring beach, or the specks of sail that glinted in the sunlight far at sea. A face habitually suppressed and quieted, was still lighted up under the quaint wig by a pair of moist bright eyes that it must have cost their owner, in years gone by, some pains to drill to the composed and reserved expression of Tellson’s Bank. He had a healthy colour in his cheeks, and his face, though lined, bore few traces of anxiety. But, perhaps the confidential bachelor clerks in Tellson’s Bank were principally occupied with the cares of other people; and perhaps second-hand cares, like second-hand clothes, come easily off and on.
Completing his resemblance to a man who was sitting for his portrait, Mr. Lorry dropped off to sleep. The arrival of his breakfast roused him, and he said to the drawer, as he moved his chair to it:
“I wish accommodation prepared for a young lady who may come here at any time to-day. She may ask for Mr. Jarvis Lorry, or she may only ask for a gentleman from Tellson’s Bank. Please to let me know.”
“Yes, sir. Tellson’s Bank in London, sir?”
“Yes, sir. We have oftentimes the honour to entertain your gentlemen in their travelling backwards and forwards betwixt London and Paris, sir. A vast deal of travelling, sir, in Tellson and Company’s House.”
“Yes. We are quite a French House, as well as an English one.”
“Yes, sir. Not much in the habit of such travelling yourself, I think, sir?”(A Tale of Two Cities)


Mr. Stryver, a man of little more than thirty, but looking twenty years older than he was, stout, loud, red, bluff, and free from any drawback of delicacy, had a pushing way of shouldering himself (morally and physically) into companies and conversations, that argued well for his shouldering his way up in life.
He still had his wig and gown on, and he said, squaring himself at his late client to that degree that he squeezed the innocent Mr. Lorry clean out of the group: “I am glad to have brought you off with honour, Mr. Darnay. It was an infamous prosecution, grossly infamous; but not the less likely to succeed on that account.”
“You have laid me under an obligation to you for life—in two senses,” said his late client, taking his hand.
“I have done my best for you, Mr. Darnay; and my best is as good as another man’s, I believe.”
It clearly being incumbent on some one to say, “Much better,” Mr. Lorry said it; perhaps not quite disinterestedly, but with the interested object of squeezing himself back again.
“You think so?” said Mr. Stryver. “Well! you have been present all day, and you ought to know. You are a man of business, too.”
“And as such,” quoth Mr. Lorry, whom the counsel learned in the law had now shouldered back into the group, just as he had previously shouldered him out of it—“as such I will appeal to Doctor Manette, to break up this conference and order us all to our homes. Miss Lucie looks ill, Mr. Darnay has had a terrible day, we are worn out.”
“Speak for yourself, Mr. Lorry,” said Stryver; “I have a night’s work to do yet. Speak for yourself.” (A Tale of Two Cities)


Monday, October 30, 2017


A medley for Monday, I think.

1. From a brochure for exclusive holidays in rural Andalucia (aimed, I venture, at the elderly and wealthy), and run by the extended A-- family.

The A-- wives are the inpiration behind the delicious food for which they have become known producing just the right balance of lightness and quantity. Their husbands' appreciation of good wine ensures variety, quality and a plentiful supply!

Is it just me, or do others too find the words "wife" and "husband" somewhat bizarre? "Partner", sure, but what are those other words about?  Will I be expected to teach this old-fashioned vocabulary in TEFL? (Obviously yes, but I cannot say these are exactly everyday terms in my own part of the world, it will be rather like teaching "commissionaire" or "docking clerk" or "seamstress".)

2. Biscuiterie de l'Abbaye: Galettes des Vikings au Sarrasin.  A packet of bisuits I picked up at a motorway services in Normandy.

[Image source: , which also notes: En mémoire du Moulin de la Porte à Lonlay l'Abbaye, autrefois spécialisé dans la mouture du sarrasin, est né un délicieux biscuit, sur lequel figure le célèbre drakkar des Vikings.]

So "sarrasin" is buckwheat. Even in 2010, France's production was exceeded only by China, Russia and Ukraine. Nevertheless, France is a net importer. Buckwheat growing is said to have declined with the arrival of chemical fertilizers, which boosted the productivity of true grain crops. Unlike them, Buckwheat is not a grass but a plant in the sorrel family, originating in Sichuan. (On this and other matters I found the French Wikipedia entry more persuasive than the English one.) Buckwheat retains an association with Brittany, but also Normandy, Augergne etc. It can grow on poor soils and the cycle from seed-time to harvest is only three months.

The French name "Sarrasin" also means "Saracen" and this may reflect a  popular memory (true or not) of the plant being introduced from Morocco.

"Drakkar" (a word known to the English-speaking world only as the "pour homme" cologne Drakkar Noir) is the French word for a Viking long-ship, specifically the Old Norse drekar, the kind with a dragon or snake carved on the prow. Though this has become the iconic image of a Viking long-ship, the drekar is known only from descriptions in Norse sagas; no archaeological remains have ever been found.

Normandy is so-called in reference to the Scandinavian colonization of the 9th-11th centuries. (Or rather Anglo-Scandinavian, since many came from the Danelaw.) The duchy of Normandy came into existence as a forced royal concession to the Viking leadership.  On the evidence of names most of the Vikings who came to Normandy were Danes.


3. With which slender connection, onto a symphony I've been listening to recently, Carl Nielsen's No. 4, titled Det uudslukkelige : "The Inextinguishable".

I quote Neilsen's further interesting remarks from a Guardian article by Tom Service (these come from Gerhardt Lynge's program note of 1/4/1938).

"Music is Life. As soon as even a single note sounds in the air or through space, it is result of life and movement; that is why music (and the dance) are the more immediate expressions of the will to life.

"The symphony evokes the most primal sources of life and the wellspring of the life-feeling; that is, what lies behind all human, animal and plant life, as we perceive or live it. It is not a musical, programme-like account of the development of a life within a limited stretch of time and space, but an un-programme-like dip right down to the layers of the emotional life that are still half-chaotic and wholly elementary. In other words the opposite of all programme music, despite the fact that this sounds like a programme.

"The symphony is not something with a thought-content, except insofar as the structuring of the various sections and the ordering of the musical material are the fruit of deliberation by the composer in the same way as when an engineer sets up dykes and sluices for the water during a flood. It is in a way a completely thoughtless expression of what make the birds cry, the animals roar, bleat, run and fight, and humans moan, groan exult and shout without any explanation. The symphony does not describe all this, but the basic emotion that lies beneath all this. Music can do just this, it is its most profound quality, its true domain … because, by simply being itself, it has performed its task. For it is life, whereas the other arts only represent and paraphrase life. Life is indomitable and inextinguishable; the struggle, the wrestling, the generation and the wasting away go on today as yesterday, tomorrow as today, and everything returns. Once more: music is life, and like it inextinguishable." et uprogrammæssigt Greb helt ned i de Lag af Følelselivet, som endnu er halvt-kaotiske og helt-elementære. Altsaa det modsatte af al Programmusik, till Trods for at dette lyder som et Program.

Symfonien er ikke et Tankeindhold, uden for saa vidt som Bygningen af de forskellige Afsnit og Ordningen af det musikalske Stof jo er Frugten af en Omtanke fra Komponistens side paa samme Maade, som naar en Ingeniør sætter Diger og Sluser for Vandet under en Oversømmelse. Den er paa en Maade et fuldkommen tankeløst Udtryk for det, der bringer Fuglene til at skrige, Dyrene til at brøle, bræge, løbe og kæmpe, og Menneskene til at jamre, stønne, juble og raabe uden al Forklaring. ...


Nielsen's 4th symphony "The Inextinguishable" came out in 1916.  It was a pretty brilliant time for Nordic symphonies. Sibelius had completed the first version of his 5th (fp 1915), but would continue to revise it for another three years. Stenhammar's marvellous 2nd was completed in 1915. Peterson-Berger's 3rd ("Same Ätnam") appeared in 1915 and Atterbeg's 3rd ("Västkustbilder") in 1916; their best symphonies, and both of them highly programmatic.

The Nordic countries had managed to stay out of the world war, until Finland's civil war of 1918 in the wake of the Russian Revolution. There was plenty of indirect impact, and the War and its unprecendented horrors was anxiously discussed, but Nordic neutrality was steadfast so far as the conflict between Allies and Central Powers was concerned.


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