Monday, February 26, 2018

surprises of Trowbridge

The Albany Palace, now a Wetherspoons pub in Trowbridge

I've lived near to Trowbridge (Wiltshire) for 27 years, and I've visited the town hundreds of times, but it was only yesterday, while having dinner at a Spoons pub in the town centre,  that I learnt that the poet George Crabbe was rector of Trowbridge from 1814 until his death in 1832. 

I had thought of Crabbe only as a Suffolk poet.  He was 60 when he took up the position in Trowbridge. His great collection Tales had been published two years earlier, but he was still active as a poet for the next few years. (The story is that he wrote beneath a mulberry in the rectory garden -- I think the mulberry may still be there.)  From 1820 onwards, however, he was afflicted by severe neuralgias that weren't conducive to writing poetry.

In May 1816 he wrote Flirtation -- A Dialogue, whih was published only after his death. In 1819 he published his last major collection Tales from the Hall. He was a popular poet and remained involved with the literary world. He was friends with Scott, Rogers, Wordsworth, Baillie, Bowles and Campbell among others. Indeed everyone (Austen, Byron...) seemed to admire Crabbe. Perhaps his admirable poetry seemed too old-fashioned to be viewed in the light of competition.

I was disappointed to find that Crabbe's poems aren't yet available online in text format. They are in Google Books (e.g. the 8-volume edition of 1835) but there's no easy cutting and pasting available to me.

In Flirtation Celia, anticipating the return after five years of her naval lover, discusses with her friend Delia how she intends to explain away, should Charles have heard about them, a number of colourful flirtations with other gentlemen. One of the gentlemen in question is Delia's own brother.

(Delia.) ... But for my Brother -- night and morn were you
Together found, th'inseparable two,
Far from the haunts of vulgar prying men --
In the old abbey -- in the lonely glen --
In the beech wood -- within the quarry made
By hands long dead -- within the silent glade,
Where the moon gleams upon the spring that flows
By the grey willows as they stand in rows --
Shall I proceed? there's not a quiet spot
In all the parish where the pair were not,
Oft watch'd, oft seen.  You must not so despise
This weighty charge -- Now, what will you devise?

Celia. -- "Her brother! What, Sir? Jealous of a child!
"A friend's relation! Why, the man is wild --
"A boy not yet at college! Come, this proves
"Some truth in you! This is a freak of Love's:
"I must forgive it, though I know not how
"A thing so very simple to allow.
"Pray, if I meet my cousin's little boy,
"And take a kiss, would that your peace annoy?
"But I remember Delia -- yet to give
"A thought to this is folly, as I live --
"But I remember Delia made her prayer
"That I would try and give the Boy an air;
"Yet awkward he, for all the pains we took --
"A bookish boy, his pleasure is his book;
"And since the lad is grown to man's estate,
"We never speak -- Your bookish Youth I hate."

Delia. -- Right! and he cannot tell, with all his art,
Our father's will compell'd you both to part.

Celia. -- Nay, this is needless --

A local history display in the Albany Palace, Trowbridge

Tales from the Hall is virtually a full-blown novel in verse. Here's a well-known passage that I didn't have to copy out myself. Young Henry, though engaged to be married, has been fooling about with the servant girl Fanny. It turns out, however, that this has been observed by the steward of the house, who stands to Fanny in loco parentis. There follows an excruciating interview in which Henry discovers how entangled he has become. The  best-known lines, however, describe his distressed view of the landscape the following morning.

‘AN ORPHAN maid—your patience! you shall have

Your time to speak; I now attention crave—
Fanny, dear girl! has in my spouse and me
Friends of a kind we wish our friends to be,
None of the poorest—nay, sir, no reply,       
You shall not need—and we are born to die;
And one yet crawls on earth, of whom, I say,
That what he has he cannot take away:
Her mother’s father, one who has a store
Of this world’s goods and always looks for more;        
But, next his money, loves the girl at heart,
And she will have it when they come to part.’
  ‘Sir,’ said the youth, his terrors all awake,
‘Hear me, I pray, I beg—for mercy’s sake!
Sir, were the secrets of my soul confessed,        
Would you admit the truths that I protest
Are such—your pardon—’
                        ‘Pardon! good my friend,

I not alone will pardon, I commend;
Think you that I have no remembrance left
Of youthful love and Cupid’s cunning theft?        
How nymphs will listen when their swains persuade,
How hearts are gained and how exchange is made?
Come, sir, your hand—’
                        ‘In mercy hear me now!’

‘I cannot hear you, time will not allow:
You know my station, what on me depends,        
For ever needed—but we part as friends;
And here comes one who will the whole explain,
My better self—and we shall meet again:’
‘Sir, I entreat—’
                ‘Then be entreaty made

To her, a woman, one you may persuade;        
A little teasing, but she will comply,
And loves her niece too fondly to deny.’
‘O! he is mad, and miserable I!’
Exclaimed the youth; ‘but let me now collect
My scatter’d thoughts; I something must effect.’        
Hurrying she came—‘Now what has he confessed,
Ere I could come to set your heart at rest?
What! he has grieved you! Yet he too approves
The thing! but man will tease you, if he loves.
But now for business: tell me, did you think        
That we should always at your meetings wink?
Think you, you walked unseen? There are who bring
To me all secrets—O you wicked thing!
Poor Fanny! now I think I see her blush,
All red and rosy, when I beat the bush;        
And “Hide your secret,”—said I, “if you dare!”
So out it came like an affrightened hare.
“Miss!” said I, gravely: and the trembling maid
Pleased me at heart to see her so afraid;
And then she wept,—now, do remember this,        
Never to chide her when she does amiss;
For she is tender as the callow bird,
And cannot bear to have her temper stirred;—
“Fanny,” I said, then whispered her the name,
And caused such looks—yes, yours are just the same;        
But hear my story—When your love was known
For this our child—she is in fact our own—
Then, first debating, we agreed at last
To seek my Lord and tell him what had passed.’
‘To tell the Earl?’
                    ‘Yes truly, and why not?
And then together we contrived our plot.’
‘Eternal God!’
                ‘Nay be not so surprised,—

In all the matter we were well advised;
We saw my Lord, and Lady Jane was there,
And said to Johnson—‘Johnson, take a chair.’        
True we are servants in a certain way,
But in the higher places so are they;
We are obeyed in ours and they in theirs obey—
So Johnson bowed, for that was right and fit,
And had no scruple with the Earl to sit—        
Why look you so impatient while I tell
What they debated? You must like it well.’

*        *        *        *        *

  That evening all in fond discourse was spent
When the sad lover to his chamber went,
To think on what had passed, to grieve and to repent.        
Early he rose, and looked with many a sigh
On the red light that filled the eastern sky;
Oft had he stood before, alert and gay,
To hail the glories of the new-born day:
But now dejected, languid, listless, low,       
He saw the wind upon the water blow,
And the cold stream curled onward as the gale
From the pine hill blew harshly down the dale;
On the right side the youth a wood surveyed,
With all its dark intensity of shade;
Where the rough wind alone was heard to move,
In this, the pause of nature and of love,
When now the young are reared, and when the old,
Lost to the tie grow negligent and cold—
Far to the left he saw the huts of men,        
Half hid in mist, that hung upon the fen;
Before him swallows gathering for the sea,
Took their short flights and twittered on the lea;
And near the bean-sheaf stood, the harvest done,
And slowly blackened in the sickly sun;        
All these were sad in nature, or they took
Sadness from time, the likeness of his look,
And of his mind—he pondered for a while,
Then met his Fanny with a borrowed smile.

Trowbridge local history display in the Albany Palace 


Thursday, February 22, 2018

where is a city

Prologue: Without History

..But because of the shared dynamic of the history we lack, the history of existence and non-existence which affects us equally, heats us and bequeaths to us the sense of physicality that is so palpable and quick, because of these and other reasons to do with interiority and exteriority, significance and non-significance, we feel at home here. And yet we feel a sense of exile. ...

This is the next Ken Edwards book I've got round to reading, following eight + six and a book with no name .

Down With Beauty was published in 2013, in the "Narrative Series" of Reality Street's latter years, which, unless it's only my perception, has been much neglected.

To confuse matters, the 2013 publication contains not only the new text Down with Beauty but the slightly older text Nostalgia for Unknown Cities, which was originally published separately (Reality Street, 2007).

Review by Andy Brown in Stride Magazine:
Review by Richard Parker in Shearsman Magazine:

Nostalgia for Unknown Cities

This text was reviewed in various places when it first came out.  

Brother Paul / Paul A. Green's review in Culture Court is outstanding:


One of the fun things to do with Nostalgia for Unknown Cities, though in a way it feels really wrong, is to try and identify the six unnamed cities that its six sections are about.  Five of them are reasonably straightforward (though I was pleased when I found the grain elevators) but the unpunctuated "City Break" has defeated me, and may be a sort of melange of cities rather than one city in particular.

The text mentions "a fountain again a statue of a lady being pulled along by lions".

That sounds like the very impressive Cybele fountain in Madrid. 

But my general feeling while I was reading "City Break" was more central-European.

nobody showed up so you had to get out of here there's nowhere to go you consulted the map so conveniently provided by the tourist board in association with the chamber of commerce here's Konrad Adenauer street there's Winston Churchill boulevard and General Charles de Gaulle place which is not called that any more but in any case none of this was marked on the map...

According to Google Maps there's no Calle Konrad Adenauer in  Madrid, though there is a Plazuela Konrad Adenauer in Salamanca.  What about Tübingen? It has a Konrad Adenauer Straße. So do Frankfurt and Köln. But Winston Churchill studied for three years at Tübingen, so maybe...?. However Gibraltar's main arterial route is called Winston Churchill Avenue. Oh dear, are we picking up cross-chapter interference now?

Cybele fountain, Madrid


Friday, February 16, 2018

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

Hazel understorey at Hagbourne Copse, Swindon

Corylus avellana (En: Hazel, Sw/No/Dn: Hassel, Fi: Pähkinäpensas, Ge: Haselnuß, Du: Hazelnoot, Fr: Noisetier / Coudrier , Sp: Avellano, Po: Aveleira, It: Nocciola,  Pl: Leszczyna, Cz: Líska, We: Collen, Ir: Coll)

Hazel (Corylus avellana), female flower above, male below

Hazels can't self-pollenate, apparently, but I can't imagine that's much of an issue. When do you ever see a lone hazel?

I feel I want to say "hazel tree", but few hazels measure up to the normal definition of a tree as having a single bole that's at least a meter or two in height.

But William Wordsworth, in "The Green Linnet" (composed in the orchard at Town-End, Grasmere, in 1803) felt no such reserve.

Amid yon tuft of hazel trees,
That twinkle to the gusty breeze,
Behold him perched in ecstasies,
Yet seeming still to hover;

This is in May, when broad-leaved trees twinkle as the lighter undersides of the leaves are exposed. 

But because of the winter catkins, Jan-Feb is the time of year when you're most likely to notice just how much hazel there is. You'd think we'd be knee-deep in cob-nuts come autumn, yet that isn't what happens. Many hazel individuals produce few or no nuts, as far as I can see.

Hence the child William's exhilaration was about his newly discovered hazel grove being both fruitful and unplundered --- until now. 

Then up I rose,
And dragged to earth both branch and bough, with crash
And merciless ravage: and the shady nook
Of hazels, and the green and mossy bower,
Deformed and sullied, patiently gave up
Their quiet being:

(William Wordsworth, "Nutting" )

Some hazel individuals, I've noticed, seem to produce no male catkins. Nevertheless hazel is predominantly monoecious (male and female flowers on same individual), as my useless photos show.

Hazel sheen on regenerating coppice

If outside and in need of magickal protection quickly draw a circle around yourself with a hazel branch.

The loveliest thing about hazel, I think, is the grey-brown bark with its subtle silvery gleam. Seeing it, you can believe in the distant relationship of hazels (Corylus) with birches (Betula). It's one of those things you need to experience, you can't really capture it on a photograph. At any rate, I can't.

It's a good few years from when a child first learns to count to when they learn about their first irrational number - Pi, most likely. But a few years later the same child, if they carry on being interested in maths, learns that there are actually a whole lot more irrational numbers than there are rational numbers. (Infinitely more, in fact.)

I think it might be the same with the things you can't capture on a photograph: they're actually most of what there is.

If you have a wood-burning stove, hazel is a good but fast-burning wood. The wood can be used for small diameter carving and turning, but is best if it's been grown in a sheltered spot. Wind can cause splits and twisted grain.

Here's an attempt at a tiny anthology of hazel (contributions welcome!).

Hazel shares our European world as a partner -- in particular the same broad lowland bits that the bulk of humans inhabit, though the extracts from Scott's Lady of the Lake show that hazel is also an important presence in upland Britain. Hazel's culture and ours are quite intertwined. It's predominantly a working relationship.

A ship these hands have built, in ev'ry part
Carv'd, rigg'd, and painted, with the nicest art;
The ridgy sides are black with pitchy store,
From stem to stern 'tis twice ten inches o'er.
The lofy mast, a straight, smooth hazel fram'd,
The tackling silk, the Charming Sally nam'd; ...

(from Anna Laetitia Barbauld, "A School Eclogue")

Older bark on mature coppice

    The stag at eve had drunk his fill,
     Where danced the moon on Monan's rill,
     And deep his midnight lair had made
     In lone Glenartney's hazel shade;
     But when the sun his beacon red
     Had kindled on Benvoirlich's head,
     The deep-mouthed bloodhound's heavy bay
     Resounded up the rocky way,
     And faint, from farther distance borne,
     Were heard the clanging hoof and horn.   (Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, Canto First ("The Chase"), St. I.)

  Here eglantine embalmed the air,
     Hawthorn and hazel mingled there;
     The primrose pale and violet flower
     Found in each clift a narrow bower;
(Ibid., St XII)

 And now, to issue from the glen,
     No pathway meets the wanderer's ken,
     Unless he climb with footing nice
     A far-projecting precipice.
     The broom's tough roots his ladder made,
     The hazel saplings lent their aid;
     And thus an airy point he won,
     Where, gleaming with the setting sun,
     One burnished sheet of living gold,
     Loch Katrine lay ...
(Ibid., St XIV)

  Mig finner ingen,
      ingen jag finner.
Alm, hägg, och hassel blomstra för vind.
   Jag ler åt alla,
      alla åt mig le.
Alm, hägg och hassel, lönn, sälg och lind,
    blomstra för vind,
    buga för vind
Ett vet jag bättre än klänga och springa
Det är att sjunga här under lind.

[Nobody finds me, I find nobody:
Elm, cherry and hazel bloom in the wind.
I laugh at all, all laugh at me.
Elm, cherry and hazel, maple, sallow and lind.
bloom in the wind, bow in the wind.
One thing I like better than climbing and springing:
that is to sing here under the lind.]

(from Carl Jonas Love Almqvist, "Tintomaras sång".  He responded with disarming frankness to those who pointed out that the named trees are not all early flowerers.)

I steal by lawns and grassy plots, I slide by hazel covers; ...
(Tennyson, "The Brook")

med og uden Kjerne, dog til Tidsfordriv,
plukkede af min henvisnede Livs-Busk,
Henrik Wergeland.

(Book title, by Henrik Wergeland, 1845. Translation: Hazelnuts, with and without kernels, written as a pastime, gathered from my own bush of life, by Henrik Wergeland, Christiania.)

"Tomorrow," he continued, half amused, half thoughtful, "I know whose white brows will be knit, and whose red lips will pout. Well, they shall have their turn: but blue eyes are not always in season; hazel eyes, like hazel nuts, have their season also."
(Christina Rosetti, "The Lost Titian")

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,....
(beginning of W.B. Yeats, "The Song of Wandering Aengus") 

Male catkins

               .......and the never-dry,
Rough, long grasses keep white with frost
At the hilltop by the finger-post;
The smoke of the traveller’s-joy is puffed
Over hawthorn berry and hazel tuft.
I read the sign. Which way shall I go?
A voice says: You would not have doubted so
At twenty. Another voice gentle with scorn
Says: At twenty you wished you had never been born.
(from Edward Thomas, "The Sign-post")

When the black herds of the rain were grazing,
In the gap of the pure cold wind
And the watery hazes of the hazel
Brought her into my mind ...
(from Austin Clarke, "The Lost Heifer")

Regenerating hazel coppices

Like a yowdendrift so’s I couldna read
The words cut oot i’ the stane
Had the fug o’ fame
An’ history’s hazelraw
No’ yirdit thaim.

[ snow driven by wind, so I couldn't have read
the words cut on the stone
even if the moss of fame
and history's lichen
hadn't buried them.]

(from Hugh MacDiarmid, "The Eemis Stane". In the Dictionary of the Scots Language "Hazelraw" is said to be specifically the epiphytic lichen Lobaria pulmonaria , named for growing on hazels, but that doesn't fit very well with the poet's image of it growing on stone.)

Docking and grading now until after dark
In the green field or fold, there was too much work
For the mind to wander, though the robin wove
In the young hazel a sweet tale of love.
(from R.S. Thomas, The Airy Tomb)

övergivenhetens vind! ett slags tecken för ingen! en sådan hassel är du!

from the poem "Late hazel" by Gennadiy Aygi (Chuvash-Russian poet, 1934 - 2006), quoted by Katarina Frostenson in Tre vägar.

Mature hazel coppice among standards

Bark on young growth

Hazel (Corylus avellana), female flowers above, male below

[The "green linnet" William admired in the orchard in 1803 was the bird now usually called a greenfinch (Chloris chloris). According to Wikipedia "The song contains a lot of trilling twitters interspersed with wheezes, and the male has a 'butterfly' display flight".]

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Thursday, February 15, 2018

Peter Philpott, continued....

Pine needles and drinks can on a step

There's some typically searching thoughts about Peter Philpott's Wound Scar Memories by Peter Riley in the course of a long essay in the Fortnightly Review from last July.

[This is rather a challenge to my attempt to move away from using anaphoric surnames. In this case I'll use PR for the reviewer, reserving Peter for the author.]

The essay as a whole is, I think, PR's most persuasive and elaborate attempt to articulate his longstanding rejection of the alternative/mainstream binary, and is full of detail and insight. But where I found myself most in demurral was on the topic of Wound Scar Memories, in which he finds a diehard Cantabrigian rejection of society, language and subject, which isn't the way I read it at all.  His review makes the book sound impenetrable, which it isn't; and he's oddly impervious to the drift of the argument, apparently ignoring such straightforward help as appears e.g. on the back cover of the book.  All poetry is difficult, no doubt; but here the difficulty lies far more in realizing the implications of what's being said than in the rebarbativeness of the saying.

I was, as you can see, already thinking about this poem:

13. what & who are we asking questions about here?

can we imagine this as spring now?
slow bubbling up of green &
the birds definitely pairing for their futures

what will it be like when we live different
can we be other than what we are
-- except we aren't, we're doing & changing
                           brisk, not yet decay

who'd believe we might win out against the rich
                       their armed thugs & their lawyers
                       tame poets, politicians, publicists
                       their planners & all their aspirants
                       -- not to is what is unbelievable & crushes
                       condemns to fantasy & bestial rage
                       not to believe in our future condemns
                                                                   unmakes us
                                                                   unravels the texts
                                                                   of all our lives

                       we are what we're becoming aren't we?

-- or not
               drowned & calcifying
               in the deep blue green
               the arid eye of pity

(Hedge of utterance, 13)

Hedge of utterance is the third sequence in the book, and by this stage we've moved quite a long way from the more regular sonnet-like appearance of the early poems in the first sequence Fragments of vulgar things.  Nevertheless, a hint of sonnetry (that most clinging of perfumes) remains, even here.

PR quotes the four lines beginning "who'd believe we might win out" as one of his examples of "familiar.. outbursts of rage against the 'ruling elite'..." and comments:

Not that these passages might not be an entirely inaccurate account of what’s happening in this kingdom at present, but everything about the tone is “the same old stuff”, the same hyperbolic rhetoric, after 50 years of poetical rant to no effect.

But that pays no attention to what these lines are doing in a poem that, characteristically, switches direction several times. Beginning with spring, the meditation moves on to other transformations and to life as a process of becoming.  The political wish is chiefly here for its sense of the odds being stacked against us; a political wish that has all the hallmarks of the unbelievable; preparing for the poet's paradoxical claim that "not to [sc. believe] is what is unbelievable". Hope, at this euphoric moment in the poem, is seen as intrinsic to our existence. But this euphoria switches suddenly to the contemplation of failure, recalling (from the book's opening sequence) the image of the dry Vaucluse well-head and its arid eye of pity.  This rapid sequence of thought and emotion is much more a philosophical poem than a political poem; though of course the poet would rather live in a world that isn't commandeered by the unprincipled, as we all would. But actually I feel "philosophical poem" is wrong too, because it suggests a heaviness quite at odds with this realtime bubble in language.

As for the rich, their armed thugs, etc., there's generality here; because the point isn't the specific targets or situations but to evince -- precisely -- the familiar , that is, shared, rage and desire -- the same old stuff.


That calcified wellspring is a key element in the book, and it points two ways (or perhaps more). In the introduction to the first sequence, Peter tells us:  "When we visited, at the conclusion of an unusually hot & dry summer for Provence, there was no lively watersource, but a rockbound turquoise pool marking the deep sump ... But the river ran merrily on out of the rocky drift through its gorge, regardless of its lack of a climactic wellspring ..."  

I get the impression, though, that the quietness of the source is usual in winter and summer, contrasting with turbulence in autumn and spring. ]

No matter. For author and reader, the important thing is the mystery, the sense of contradiction. The wellspring looks inactive, a deathly dry image, yet somehow the river is still flowing.  Ultimately there's a connection with the deep scepticism about origins in Peter's closing essay about Dark Age history. We may promote a myth of pure origin, but the process of becoming is continuous and mysterious.  

The image lurks in all three of the book's sequences. In the poem I've quoted, it's half-hidden in the opening lines about spring -- or a spring in spring? Then it emerges more starkly at the end of the poem: as that "arid eye of pity", perhaps impotent, or mocking, or monastic... 

The source of the Sorgue at Vaucluse, at low level in summer

[Image source: . Photo by Philipp Hertzog. ]

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

passionate in the 1590s

The passionate shepherd Silvius (Russ Stimmel) woos Phoebe (Raymonde Moyon)

[Image source: . A still from the Mountain Play Association's 1920 production of As You Like It . Since 1913 they've produced one play a year at the outdoor amphitheatre on Mt Tamalpais (Marin County, California).]

These days, it's become an advertising cliché: such a cliché, indeed, that the big boys (why are they boys?) have long since relinquished it to smaller commercial outfits:

We are passionate about great coffee / customer service / inexpensive home insurance / our luxury doughnuts / gambler satisfaction / ....

In short, a pathetic attempt to present a corporate as a bunch of happy mates who only live to serve you; and besides are afflicted by deep moral integrity and impersonal desire to create a world in which their marvellous product is available to all, instead of inferior brands.

[Generally this would come under OED passionate adj. and n. 3a, "ardently enthusiastic"]


Passion is one of the "big words" in English, a word with a complicated and culturally important history.

What I'm curious about is some things about it in the 1590s-1600s. I'll list some materials first, then try to pull a few thoughts together at the end.


'Poor forlorn Proteus, passionate Proteus,
To the sweet Julia:'  (Two Gentlemen of Verona I.2) (1591 ish)

Titus Andronicus III.2 (1593 ish)
 (Titus.) Marcus, unknit that sorrow-wreathen knot:
Thy niece and I, poor creatures, want our hands,
And cannot passionate our tenfold grief
With folded arms.

"The Passionate Shepherd to his Love" (poem by Marlowe, written before 1593, published 1599 with this title, but an incomplete text, in The Passionate Pilgrim (see below) ; a better text was published in England's Helicon (1600)).

Sonnet 20 (1592?)
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;

(nb, the only occurrence of the word in Shakespeare's  Sonnets)

Marie Magdalen's Love: a Solemne Passion of the Sovles Love, by Nicholas Breton (1595)
Two works published together; perhaps only the second (a devotional poem) is Breton's, the first being a Catholic work while all evidence is that Breton was a strong Anglican.

Francis Meres, in Palladis Tamia  (1598), names Breton as one of those "most passionate among us to bewail and bemoan the perplexities of love..."

As You Like It II.4 (1599)

Rosalind. Jove, Jove! this shepherd's passion
Is much upon my fashion.

Henry V (1599) II.2

Free from gross passion or of mirth or anger,

The Passionate Pilgrim (unauthorized anthology published by Jaggard in 1599 and ascribed to "W. Shakespeare", though only five of the twenty poems are his)

Hamlet  (1600) II.2
(Hamlet). We'll have a speech straight. Come, give us a
taste of your quality. Come, a passionate speech.  

(Hamlet). ...What's Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have?

III.2  (S.D.) The Queen returns, finds the King dead, and makes
passionate action.

(Player King). What to ourselves in passion we propose,
The passion ending, doth the purpose lose.
The violence of either grief or joy
Their own enactures with themselves destroy.

"A Doleful Passion", "A Testament Upon the Passion", "An Extreme Passion", titles of poems in Nicholas Breton's Melancholike Humours (1600)

 "A Solemn Fancy", from the same collection, ends:

And Death shall only tell
My froward fortune's fashion,
That nearest unto hell
Was found the Lover's passion.

"A Solemn Conceit", from the same collection, has these lines:

Is there pleasure in Love's passion?
Why then is it so unpleasing?
Heart and spirit both diseasing,
Where the wits are out of fashion.

"An Unhappy, Solemn, Jesting Curse", from the same collection, has these lines, exemplifying Breton's incessant punning on "patience" and "passions":

To thee, that cast, or will not, bend thy will
   To use thy gifts, all gracious in their nature;
To Patience' good, and not to Passion's ill,
   And mayst, and wilt not be, a blessed creature.

Ben Jonson's prefatory poem to Melancholike Humours , in praise of Breton's work, begins:

Thou that wouldst finde the habit of true passion,
And see a minde attir'd in perfect straines ....

[It's not relevant to this note, but I noticed that Breton's "An Epitaph Upon Poet Spenser" includes the line "Farewell, Art of Poetry...". Had Breton seen Spenser's lost discourse, mentioned in the Harvey Letters, on The English Poet?]

"The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage" (1604)
This famous poem is still sometimes attributed to Sir Walter Raleigh (though it cannot have been written, as was once thought, while awaiting execution in 1618).

The Passionate Shepheard, or The Shepheares Love: set downe in Passions to his Shepherdesse Aglaia (Nicholas Breton, 1604)
It included such poems as "A Solemne Long Enduring Passion" (some of which appears in Paul Keegan's Penguin Anthology).


It's not exactly a matter of changes in meaning, since all the main meanings (strong or immoderate emotion, fury, love, sexual longing, ardent enthusiasm, zeal) already existed in 1590 and probably long before. 

In general, we are talking about a mental transport. There is consensus that passion may refer to a  wide range of different emotions (as the Player King says, "the violence of either grief or joy").

[What didn't yet exist, seemingly, was "passion"  as euphemism for sexual activity and excitement (e.g. those tabloid  "nights of passion", "passion-wagon", etc).]

It's evident from the above  (Marlowe, Jaggard, "Raleigh" and above all Breton) that "passion" was popular in poem-titles.  "Passion" or "passionate" in titles acted as a kind of advertising (hmm, that theme again). Violent displays of feeling draw an audience, like sex and violence in movies.

But Shakespeare, in a classic instance of show-not-tell, pretty much barred the word "passion" from within the text of his passionate poems. Passion, he realized, does not tend to name itself. Indeed lack of self-awareness is one of the main features that unites all its different meanings.

In Shakespeare's plays, on the other hand, "passion" makes frequent appearances. Nearly always, it refers to someone else's passion. One character, that is, comments on another's outburst. Often with a sense of reproof --- don't be so impassioned, listen to reason.  (Passion and reason tend to be opposed.)  Few characters refer to passion in relation to themselves.

One who does is Hamlet, frustrated at his inability to muster the kind of passion needed to sweep to his revenge, when he sees that the player can put it on at will. Hamlet begins to perceive passion as something performed, an outward show. Many of the usages above include the idea of a "display of passion".  And as the Titus quote shows, sometimes the uppermost meaning is a physical display. Titus asks Marcus, who has a full complement of limbs, to perform the anguished gestures of passion on behalf of his lopped brother and niece. Such gestures, I suppose, as the Player Queen (in Hamlet) performs during the dumb-show.
Still, that emphasis on physical gesture was perhaps specially marked in the theatre, where the externalizing of emotion is an essential convention of the dramatic form:  inner emotions are invisible to the audience, so Shakespeare's characters are apt to be highly rhetorical and histrionic, they don't hide their feelings. And this is not just practicality, it's -- as we said above -- exactly what audiences want to see.

So "my passion" in Shakespeare's Sonnet 20 might refer to the Sonnets as a whole and mean, not just Shakespeare's love but a display of love, a dramatic performance, a literary form...

Breton, with a knack for turning words like "passion" and "solemne" into commodities, didn't share the reserve of Shakespeare, Marlowe and Raleigh when it came to referring to "passion" within the text of his poems. He does so frequently, exploiting the tempting rhyme with "fashion", sundry alliterative chains and the potential pun with "patience". In consequence, Breton's poems, though fresh, jolly and diverting, are more about passion than immersed in it (pace Francis Meres).

The same can be said of his religious poems, of which Eva March Tappan in her valuable 1898 introduction to Breton commented: "At the thought of death Southwell gazes with rapturous longing into the heaven that opens before him; Gascoigne, with his overflowing vitality, flinches and fears; Breton leisurely sentimentalizes. Breton knows nothing of the rhapsodies of the mystic, nothing of the spiritual conflicts of Saint Augustine, nothing of the higher selfishness of Thomas à Kempis; but he is a simple, true-hearted, conscientious man, who means to do his best,  and is sincerely sorry when he fails."

Breton's pastoral poems are his best-known these days, but he was mainly a religious writer. Raleigh's poem is religious, too. (Jaggard's anthology sounds religious, but it isn't.) Though passion in Shakespeare's usage tends to be contrasted with reason, other writers felt that passion was appropriate to a religious poem.
Some of this might be down to the influence of religious language, e.g. "The Passion of Christ", where the word translates late Latin passio, meaning "suffering".  This is what Breton means in his titles "The Countess of Penbrook's Passion" and  "A Testament Upon the Passion", but the latter poem is placed right in the midst of other poems that are concerned with passion in its secular senses.  The religious meaning of "passion" is not the meaning in the title "The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage" nor in Breton's title "A Solemn Passion of the Soul's Love". (I suppose "passion" in this context basically means an effusion of devotional feeling.)


Given the paucity of information about Nicholas Breton online (or texts of his poems), I found this extract from the DNB useful:,_Nicholas_(DNB00)

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Monday, February 05, 2018

Alex La Guma broadcast

Alex and Blanche La Guma on their wedding day in 1954

[Image source:]

Alex La Guma was born in 2 Rogers Street, District Six.

Lindsay Johns' tribute to Alex La Guma (1925 - 1985), was broadcast yesterday on Radio 3. It's available to listen to for the next however many days.

Lots on Walk In the Night, and some decent thoughts on The Stone Country and In the Fog of the Season's End. (Time of the Butcherbird doesn't get a mention.)

Kudos to the politically conservative Lindsay Johns for his out-and-out admiration for La Guma, even though La Guma was a communist. It leads to quite an interesting dialogue with Alex's widow Blanche about how the La Gumas squared their own fight for basic freedoms in South Africa with support for regimes elsewhere who eroded individual liberty. And I like the way he includes an interview with another early associate of La Guma's who bluntly dismisses Johns' own notion of La Guma's balancing of aesthetic and political values.

I'm not that crazy about the "black Dickens" tag (surely La Guma is a big enough writer to just be himself?) and it's perhaps an unfortunate necessity of popular broadcasting that the presentation is structured around La Guma's present-day reputation (i.e. Why on earth isn't he better known?) rather than his life and his novels.

(Worldwide I'd say La Guma is pretty well-known. The broadcast does contain some interesting speculations on why La Guma isn't as well known in S. Africa as he might be. One of them being contemporary disparagement of realism. Another that his books were banned in South Africa until the end of apartheid, by which time he was dead.)

If you miss out on the broadcast, you can read my La Guma posts instead  :) , but don't imagine they're any substitute...

A Walk in the Night

Time of the Butcherbird

Blanche La Guma's autobiography In the Dark with my Dress on Fire (2010, with Martin Klammer) looks well worth a read. ...

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Friday, February 02, 2018

Inside the Micaelas' with Fortunata

Being used to rising at nine or ten in the morning, it was excruciating for the sinner to get up at the crack of dawn every day in the convent. At five o'clock, Sor Antonia was already ringing her way into the dormitories with a bell that shattered the poor sleepers' eardrums. Rising early was one of the best disciplinary and educational methods the nuns used, and staying up late was a bad habit they fought vigorously, as if it were as noxious to the soul as it was to the body. Because of this, the night watch-nun patrolled the dormitories at different hours of the night, and if she caught any whispering, she dealt out extremely severe punishments.

The work varied in nature, and was sometimes rough. The religious teachers took special care to subdue vice-ridden types or fiery tempers by exhausting them, thus mortifying the flesh and ennobling the spirit. Delicate tasks, such as sewing and embroidery (for which there was a special workroom), were the least appealing to Fortunata, who was hardly fond of needlework and whose fingers were very clumsy. She was happier when she was ordered to wash, polish the tile floors, clean the windowpanes, or do other jobs suited to scrub maids. She was bored to death when they had her sit and sew nametags on clothes. Another duty she liked was being kitchenmaid for the nun who was cook; it was amazing to see how she scrubbed and polished all the copper and crockery — better and faster than two or three of the most diligent inmates.

Considerable vigor and vigilance characterized the nuns' handling of the inmates' relationships, regardless of whether they were Filomenas or Josefinas. The nuns were sharp sentries when it came to supervising budding friendships and couples that formed as a result of mutual fondness. The veteran inmates whose submissiveness was known were instructed to accompany those new inmates who were considered suspect. There were some who were not allowed to speak to their companions except in the main group during recess.

In spite of the severity exercised in preventing intimate couples or groups, there were always sly violations of the rule. It was impossible in a group of forty or fifty women to prevent two or three of them from getting together to talk when they were able to meet during their duties. One Saturday morning Sor Natividad, who was the mother superior (alias the withered-looking one), ordered Fortunata to polish the tile floor of the visiting room. Sor Natividad was from a northern province and was extremely zealous about the care of the convent; she always kept it as clean as a whistle, and if she saw a speck of dust or any other kind of dirt, she became frenetic and shrieked for all she was worth, as if a great calamity had befallen the world or original sin had been committed anew. Whoever obeyed her fanatical doctrine of cleanliness she pampered and favored, whereas she hurled awful curses at whoever prevaricated, even venially, in that closed morality of hers.

(from Benito Pérez Galdós, Fortunata y Jacinta (1886 - 1887) trans. Agnes Moncy Gullón.)


The point about Sor Natividad coming from a northern province is that, in Spain as elsewhere in Europe, the north is associated with high standards and work ethic, contrasting with a poorer and dirtier, but often happier, south.

Fortunata has agreed to enter the convent as one of the "Filomenas". These are fallen women seeking to reform their lives. The "Josefinas", on the other hand, are well-born girls sent for finishing education -- often by their step-parents as a pretext for getting them out of the home. Naturally the two groups aren't allowed to meet each other.

This perhaps is a common-or-garden page of Fortunata, but it shows a lot of what makes Galdós so excellent; his good nature, his unflagging capacity to describe things as they are.  What stands out here is the way his account of the convent unfolds, compellingly yet casually, through a process of switching to and fro; for example between needlework and cleaning and needlework and cleaning; or between the topics of manual work and the nuns' discipline. The interleaving, combined with unobvious paragraph-breaks, generates a mimesis of life and movement.  This particular habit is unlike either Dickens or Zola, it's all his own. A kind of conversational art. Galdós gives us the whole working convent all at once; a more carefully ordered presentation would give it us piece by piece, treating each topic fully before moving on to the next. But Galdós leaves his juggling balls hanging in mid-air, and when he switches away from a topic we're never sure if he's finished with it or not. Usually, he hasn't. (The material about keeping the Filomenas from chatting with each other is a preparation for the shattering incursion of Mauricia La Dura into Fortunata's convent existence.)

What does come from Dickens (and Balzac too, maybe) is the slight larger-than-life quality of Sor Natividad. Galdós's masterpiece still has tints of the good-natured, somewhat old-fashioned quality of Trafalgar and its followers. Her over-reaction to a speck of dust ("as if original sin had been committed anew") is possibly a Galdosian invention and possibly a Spanish proverbialism; it's often hard for an outsider to tell. But wherever it came from this is not just a joke, it's a beautifully searching idea about the obsession with cleanliness.

But behind every page of Fortunata, even this one, is a feeling of pain, as it slowly unfolds its tragedy of an uneducated working girl.


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