Sunday, April 11, 2021

Prince Hat under the ground

There was once (a long, long time ago) a king who had three daughters, and they were all so fair that no fairer could be found, either near or far. And yet the youngest princess was the first of them, not just for her beauty but still more for her goodness and warm-heartedness. And so she came to be beloved by all the people, and the king himself loved her more than his other daughters. 

Now it happened one autumn day that there was a market in a town not very far from the king's palace, and the king himself meant to go there with his retinue. When he was about to set off, he asked his daughters what each would like as a gift from the market. At once the two eldest princesses began to list precious articles of every kind. One princess would have this, the other princess would have that. But the youngest princess asked for nothing. The king wondered at this, and he asked, would she too not like some little knick-knack or finery? She said that she already had more than enough of gold and precious things. But in the end she replied to the king's eager queries:

"I do know of one thing that I would gladly have, if I only dared ask for it!"

"What can it be?" asked the king. "Just name it, and if it lies within my power then you shall have it!"

"Well," said the princess, "I have heard people speak of the three singing leaves, and I would rather have them than anything else in the world."

Now the king smiled, because he thought that was a paltry request, and he said:

"Well, no-one can say that you're too demanding! To be honest I'd rather you asked me for a greater gift. But you shall have your wish, even if it costs me half my land and kingdom." 

And with that he took a hearty farewell of his daughters, jumped on his horse and rode off with his followers. 

Now when he got to the town where the market was being held, a crowd had gathered from all parts, and there were many foreign traders, who offered their goods for sale in the streets and squares. Thus there was no lack of gold, silver and other precious articles, all that one could wish for, and the king shopped liberally for his daughters. But though he went round all the booths and through all the booths, and asked shopmen both from the east lands and the west lands, there was no-one who knew anything about the three singing leaves that he had promised his youngest daughter. 

He was very sad about this, for he wished to give her the same joy as the others. But when there was no help for it and dusk was falling, he saddled his horse, gathered his men together and set off home in an ill humour.  



The beginning of Prins Hatt under jorden, a folktale collected in Småland (or possibly Blekinge) and first published in Svenska folksagor och äfventyr (1844-1849) by Gunnar Olof Hyltén-Cavallius and the expatriate George Stephens (who was born in Liverpool but lived most of his life in Sweden). 

We'll see how far I get with translating it. Maybe I'll end up doing the whole lot, like I did recently with Selma Lagerlöf's The Servant-Spirit . But it's quite an epic folktale, so I'm not promising. 

The opening couple of paragraphs made me think for a moment of the folklore bedrock that underlies King Lear

The closely related Norwegian tale East of the Sun and West of the Moon (Østenfor sol og vestenfor måne) appeared in Asbjørnsen and Moe's Norske Folkeeventyr (1843-44); this is the better-known version in the English-speaking world. It appeared in Andrew Lang's The Blue Fairy Book (1890). 

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Friday, April 09, 2021

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta)


Cardamine hirsuta. Frome, 31 March 2021.

A young Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta, Sw: Bergbräsma). A pretty sight at this time of year. It's a common weed and one that's very good to eat. It tastes like cress, unsurprisingly. You can eat all of a young plant like this, including the flowers and seedpods. (I'd put it right up there with young Smooth Sow-thistle as the top salad veg in the garden.)

It's very much a plant of Europe and North Africa. It doesn't get very far into Russia. It's native to southern and central Sweden but is only common round the coasts. ("Berg" in this case means "cliff".) I suppose the species struggles with a long winter freeze.

Cardamine hirsuta. Frome, 31 March 2021.

The flowers of Hairy Bittercress have four stamens. Its closest relatives, Wavy Bittercress (Cardamine flexuosa) and Narrow-leaved Bittercress (Cardamine impatiens), have six stamens.

These relatives aren't likely to appear in gardens, but some other white-flowered Brassicaceae do: Shepherd's Purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) has unique purse-like fruits; Common Whitlowgrass (Erophila verna) has split petals and short fruits; Thale Cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) has entire leaves. 

Not that it matters too much from the eating point of view|: all members of the Brassicaceae family are edible by humans. (They are more concerned with fighting off insects and other herbivores.)

Cardamine hirsuta. Frome, 31 March 2021.

As the plants grow older they elongate like this. Not quite so delicious, but still pretty good.

If you're want them out of your garden, you need to pull the Hairy Bittercress plants up when they're young. Like any self-respecting annual weed, Hairy Bittercress doesn't hang around when it comes to ripening seed. If you wait a week or two, all the seedpods will explode as soon as you grasp the plant, showering seeds everywhere. 

Repellently, the gardening advice on the RHS website still lists various weedkillers that can be used as an alternative to weeding. Apart from the evil effects of using such products -- why mince words? -- it's particularly pointless in this case, when the plants come out so easily. (If you did use weedkiller you'd surely want to pull up the dead plants anyway, not just leave them there, so what effort have you saved yourself?) 


Monday, April 05, 2021

Notes on August Strindberg's A Dream Play (1901)

The Daughter, the Portress and the star-pattern bed-spread

[Image source: Theater pictures by Magda Molin. From a 1947 production at the Malmö Stadsteater, directed by Olof Molander. The Daughter was played by Inga Tidblad and the Portress by Jullan Kindahl. The Swedish Wikipedia entry on Ett drömspel says "Which side of Strindberg is emphasized is a question of the director's choice; while the modernist abstract side was emphasized by Max Reinhardt, Olof Molander placed greater emphasis on the realistic aspects in his sets of A Dream Play." Ingmar Bergman considered Molander his greatest inspiration as a theatre director. Molander's Strindberg productions were celebrated for their deep psychological power. The drama critic Herbert Grevenius wrote that Molander was famously dictatorial and unhappy, with a sadistic streak. During each production he would victimize one of the company.]

This post reads the Swedish text alongside Edwin Björkman's translation. None of the texts I've consulted organize the play into numbered acts or scenes; and that seems to be an important aspect of the dramaturgy, even though late in the play one of Strindberg's own SDs refers back to "the first scene of the first act" . Anyway these notes are in sequence and I'm sure you'll find your way if you know the play.


Fonden föreställer molnkåpor liknande raserade skifferberg med slott och borgruiner

The background represents cloud banks that resemble corroding slate cliffs with ruins of castles and fortresses.

(Opening SD of the Prologue)

On 6 May 1901 Strindberg married for the third time, to the young actress Harriet Bosse. She walked out at the end of August after a quarrel, saying it was forever. Strindberg continued to write to her and she came back on October 5th. A Dream Play was written around this time. It was finished in November 1901, except for the scene with the coalheavers, added early in 1902. Later in 1902 the play was published.* 

But Strindberg made another addition in 1906, the verse Prologue. Bergman's TV version (see below) misses out the Prologue, except for a glimpse of this mysteriously powerful cloudscape. Then he jumps straight into the Daughter's conversation with the Glazier, like the 1902 text. 

A Dream Play was first performed in 1907, with Harriet Bosse playing the Daughter. She and Strindberg had been divorced since 1904 but they still retained some kind of relationship. 

fond = background. Useful vocabulary when reading stage directions!
raserade = rased, destroyed. 
skifferberg = shale or slate cliffs. 
slott and borg are more or less synonymous, the latter perhaps with more emphasis on the idea of a stronghold. 


Modren: Den Schweiziske Robinson . . .

The Mother: Swiss Family Robinson . . .

The book that the Officer damaged as a boy (and for which his brother was punished). The word schweiziske (=Swiss) adopts German spelling (Schweiz / schweizerisch) but with a Swedish ending.  


Det är synd om människorna!

Men are to be pitied.

(This is the Daughter's repeated comment, the play's leitmotiv. But it's not really a philosophical proposition. It's a much more homely expression in Swedish, unfortunately one for which English has no close equivalent. Poor mankind! or I'm so sorry for mankind! or It's so hard for mankind! (Or maybe humans or people ...) 

The word synd, outside this expression, means "sin" or "transgression". As here:

Dottern: Finns det icke angenäma plikter?
Advokaten: De bli angenäma när de äro uppfyllda . . .
Dottern: När de icke finnas mera . . . Plikt är således allt oangenämt! Vad är då det angenäma?
Advokaten: Det angenäma är synd.
Dottern: Synd?
Advokaten: Som skall straffas, ja! Har jag haft en angenäm dag och afton, så har jag helveteskval och ont samvete dagen efter.

The Daughter. Are there no pleasant duties?
The Lawyer. They become pleasant when they are done.
The Daughter. When they have ceased to exist—Duty is then something unpleasant. What is pleasant then?
The Lawyer. What is pleasant is sin.
The Daughter. Sin?
The Lawyer. Yes, something that has to be punished. If I have had a pleasant day or night, then I suffer infernal pangs and a bad conscience the next day.


Fonden  dras upp; nu synes en ny fond föreställande en gammal ruskig brandmur. Mitt i muren är en grind som öppnar till en gång, vilken mynnar ut i en grön ljus plats, där en kolossal blå stormhatt (Aconitum) synes. Till vänster vid grinden sitter Portvakterskan med en schal över huvud och axlar virkande på ett stjärntäcke. Till höger är en affischtavla som affischören rengör; bredvid honom står en sänkhåv med grön skaft. Längre bort till höger är en dörr med lufthål i form av en fyrväppling. Till vänster om grinden stär en smal lind med kolsvart stam och några ljusgröna löv; därinvid en källarglugg.

The background is raised and a new one revealed, showing an old, dilapidated party-wall. In the centre of it is a gate closing a passageway. This opens upon a green, sunlit space, where is seen a tremendous blue monk's-hood (aconite). To the left of the gate sits THE PORTRESS. Her head and shoulders are covered by a shawl, and she is crocheting at a bed-spread with a star-like pattern. To the right of the gate is a billboard, which THE BILLPOSTER is cleaning. Beside him stands a dipnet with a green pole. Further to the right is a door that has an air-hole shaped like a four-leaved clover. To the left of the gate stands a small linden tree with coal-black trunk and a few pale-green leaves. Near it is a small air-hole leading into a cellar.

In A Dream Play the dream-like quality extends to the staging. There's a doubling and splitting of properties as well as characters. The portress' shawl and star-patterned bed-spread seem somehow to be one thing, at least symbolically. The billposter's net seems later to split in two; he tells the Daughter that he has a sänkhåv (=sink-net) and also a green sump (=a corf: immersed basket or box for keeping live fish or crayfish). 

Brandmur A fire wall (intended to stop fire spreading from one building to another). The significance, visually, is that it's a mainly blank wall without windows or door openings.  

There is a gatekeeper's lodge (portvakterskans rum), which is mentioned in a later SD, when this scene transforms into the Lawyer's office. The lodge must be where the Officer goes to use the telephone, and where the Daughter withdraws to talk with the Billposter. Did Strindberg forget to mention it here, or is it to be identified with the mysterious källarglugg that the play never refers to again?

Stormhatt (=storm hat) is the normal name for monkshood. In this case it's probably a dream-like enlarged version of the popular garden plant Aconitum napellus known in Sweden as Äkta Stormhatt (=True Storm Hat). This is "True" as contrasted with the native plant of Scandinavian fells, Nordisk Stormhatt (=Nordic Storm Hat, Aconitum lycoctonum)

Fyrväppling -- Yes, it means a lucky clover leaf with four leaflets. Though actually the normal Swedish word used in naming clover species is klöver. Väppling is used in the names of other leguminous species like melilot and kidney vetch. 


Dottern: (böjer huvud mot bröstet) Icke de korta tonfallen, Axel!
The Daughter: (with bent head) Beware of the short accents, Axel!

That doesn't sound like English to me. A better translation would be "Not the sharp tone ..." or "Not the harsh tone ...". 


Fagervik / Skamsund
Fairhaven / Foulstrand

The Daughter and the Officer think they are going to Fairhaven, but arrive at Foulstrand instead -- the place of quarantine. (The scene shifts to Fairhaven later.)

The form of the two Swedish placenames is highly credible. (In fact there really are a couple of Fagerviks in Sweden).  Vik means a bay or inlet or cove. Sund means any sort of strait (same as the English word "sound", but less restricted in its application). In this case it evidently refers to the strait that separates the two locations). So, literally, the names mean "Fair Cove" and "Shame Sound". 

The pair of places also appear in Strindberg's collection of stories Fagervik och Skamsund (1902). Strindberg based them on two locations in the northern Stockholm archipelago:  Furusund [=Fagervik] was a fashionable seaside resort at the time, its buildings and roads given fancy Italian names like Monte Bello and Venezia. It had restaurants, theatres, bathing and sports equipment.

Just across the strait, Köpmanholm on Yxlan [=Skamsund] was far less developed and less scenic, its hillsides clear-felled and scorched as the play describes. Archipelago pilots and teetotallers lived quietly here. 

Strindberg first came to Furusund in summer 1899, and later hired the summer villa Isola Bella with Harriet Bosse. This exclusive villa had once been the quarantine hospital!  By now the quarantine station had moved -- though not to Köpmanholm, but further north, to the island of Fejan (it was used for travellers from Russia or Finland during cholera outbreaks). 

The Furusund resort attracted many foreign visitors from Russia and Germany. With the First World War it fell into rapid decline. During the Second World War Furusund was once again used as a quarantine station, this time for refugees. 


Inhabitants of Skamsund...

Karantänmästaren: Här bo de sjuka, däröver bo de friska!
Officern: Här äro väl bara fattiga då?
Karantänmästaren: Nej, mitt barn, här äro de rika! Se på den där på sträckbänken! Han har ätit för mycket gåslever med tryffel och druckit så mycket Bourgogne att fötterna gått i masur!
Officern: Masur?
Karantänmästaren: Han har fått masurfötter! . . . Och den där som ligger på guillotin; han har druckit Henessy så att ryggraden måste manglas ut!

Master of Quarantine: Here you find the sick; over there, the healthy.
The Officer: Nothing but poor folk on this side, I suppose.
Master of Quarantine: No, my boy, it is here you find the rich. Look at that one on the rack. He has stuffed himself with paté de foie gras and truffles and Burgundy until his feet have grown knotted.
The Officer: Knotted?
Master of Quarantine: Yes, he has a case of knotted feet. And that one who lies under the guillotine—he has swilled brandy so that his backbone has to be put through the mangle.

masur = an unusual growth form of birch (apparently genetic), also known as Karelian birch or curly birch, valued by woodcarvers for its mottled grain (somewhat resembling burl wood). SAOB doesn't record its use in a figurative sense, so it isn't surprising the Officer is rather confused. "Knotted" is perhaps a good translation. 

Pen-knife from my childhood, with masur birch handle

Henessy i.e. Jas Hennessy & Co, producers of >40% of the world's cognac, founded by the Irish Jacobite officer Richard Hennessy in 1765. 


The Poet's fondness for mud. 

Karantänmästaren: Nej, han håller sig alltid i de högsta rymderna,så att han får en hemlängtan efter gyttjan . . . det gör huden hård som på svinen, att välta sig i dyn. Sedan känner han icke bromsarnes stygn!

Master of Quarantine: No, he is roaming about the higher regions so much that he gets homesick for the mud—and wallowing in the mire makes the skin callous like that of a pig. Then he cannot feel the stings of the wasps.

dy another word for mud, ooze, sludge (gyttja), especially in swamps and morasses. 
broms is actually a horse-fly, a stinging insect well-known to all Swedish lake-bathers. Horse-flies frequent sunny spots and are attracted to wet skin. 
stygn is a variant form of styng or sting. (It also means a stitch made with a needle.) 


In Fingal's cave. In Swedish the song of the waves is a sound incantation. The English translation doesn't really hint at this. 

Dottern: Tyst! Vågorna sjunga.
(Reciterar vid svag musik.)
Det är vi, vi, vågorna,
som vagga vindarne
till vila!
Gröna vaggor, vi vågor.
Våta äro vi, och salta;
likna eldens lågor;
våta lågor äro vi.
Släckande, brännande,
tvättande, badande,
alstrande, avlande.
Vi, vi, vågorna,
som vagga vindarne
till vila!

The Daughter: Hush! Now the waves are singing.
(Recites to subdued music.)
We, we waves,
That are rocking the winds
To rest—
Green cradles, we waves!
Wet are we, and salty;
Leap like flames of fire—
Wet flames are we:
Burning, extinguishing;
Cleansing, replenishing;
Bearing, engendering.
We, we waves,
That are rocking the winds
To rest!

10. The scene with the four Deans/Dekaner.

Dekanus För Juridiska Fakultaten: Hör, hon väcker själv tvivel om vår auktoritet hos de unga, och så anklagar hon oss att väcka tvivel. Är det inte en brottslig handling, frågar jag alla rätt-tänkande?
Alla Rätt-tänkande: Jo, det är brottsligt.
Dekanus För Juridiska Fakultaten: Alla rätt-tänkande människor ha dömt dig! --  Gå i frid med din vinning! Eljes . . .
Dottern: Min vinning? -- Eljes? Eljes vad?

Dean of the Faculty of Jurisprudence: Listen to her—she herself is making the young question our authority, and then she charges us with sowing doubt. Is it not a criminal act, I ask all the right-minded?
All the Right-Minded: Yes, it is criminal.
Dean of the Faculty of Jurisprudence: All the right-minded have condemned you. Leave in peace with your lucre, or else——
The Daughter: My lucre? Or else? What else?

Vinning . It does mean "winning" or "profit" or "gain", but it tends to be used pejoratively, implying greed. Björkman's "lucre" captures that pejorative overtone.

Eljes = else, otherwise. More commonly annars or i annat fall.

Lordkanslern: Vill dottern vara god och säga oss vad hon menat med denna dörröppning?
Dottern: Nej, go vänner! Om jag sade't, skullen I icke tro't.
Dekanus För Medicinska Fakulteten: Där är ju intet. 
Dottern: Du sade't. -- Men du förstod det intet.
Dekanus För Medicinska Fakulteten: Det är bosch vad hon säger.
Alla: Bosch!

\Lord Chancellor: Will the Daughter please tell us what she meant by having this door opened?
The Daughter: No, friends. If I did, you would not believe me.
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine: Why, then, there is nothing there.
The Daughter: You have said it—but you have not understood.
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine: It is bosh, what she says!
All: Bosh!

I = old-style/high-style pronoun meaning "you" (plural or addressed to a superior). More or less equivalent to ni in modern Swedish. Curiously, just like the English pronoun "I", it's always capitalized. 

intet . The appositeness of the Daughter's response to the Dean isn't wholly translatable. The Dean says "There is then nothing" (intet = inget) and the Daughter responds "You said it -- but you have understood it not" (intet = icke, inte) -- with the underlying suggestion of  "understood it to be nothing" (intet = inget)

bosch = bosh, contemptible nonsense. Derived from Turkish; James Justinian Morier used it frequently in his novel Ayesha, The Maid of Kars (1834), and it became a fashionable word across Europe. 

Ingmar Bergman's 1963 TV version of Ett drömspel / A Dream Play, with English subtitles. I've read that he wasn't very happy with it, but I found it spellbinding. It's quite a faithful rendering; a far closer realization of the staging described by Strindberg than you're ever likely to witness in the theatre. 


* Here's the original text of Ett drömspel, as printed in 1902 (PDF):

It uses the spelling of Strindberg's time. The quotations in this post come from a text that uses the modern system of Swedish spelling  (first proposed in 1906, and adopted for official publications in 1912, the year of Strindberg's death).  

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Saturday, April 03, 2021

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'


Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Photos taken in my friends' garden. 'Kojo-no-mai' is a miniature cherry that has become very popular in today's small gardens. 

It's a variety of Prunus incisa, the Fuji Cherry. The name refers to the deeply incised teeth around the edge of the leaf. 

The Fuji Cherry, so named because of its abundance on the slopes of Fuji Yama, Japan, is ornamental in bloom, chiefly because of the persistent deep-red calyces.

Paul Russell, "Fuji or Mame Cherry" in The Oriental Flowering Cherries (US Depaterment of Agriculture Circular, 1934). 

It grows on the island of Honshū (historically known as Hondo), notably on the eastern slopes of Mount Fuji and also around Hakone Lake (=Lake Ashi). Wikipedia calls it a cultigen but I'm not sure on what basis.

The Fuji Cherry is also one of the parents of Prunus 'Umineko'.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'. Frome, 2 April 2021.


Friday, April 02, 2021

Prunus 'Umineko'

Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 3 April 2021.

This is Prunus 'Umineko' - the combination of single white flowers, red bud scales and calyx, and emerging fresh green leaves, is highly distinctive. So is the egg-shape of the crown, with all those ascending branches springing from near the base of the tree.  These are photos of several trees round the edge of the Homebase car-park.

P. 'Umineko'  is a natural cross, inadvertently raised by Collingwood Ingram in the 1920s, between two Japanese species P. incisa (Fuji Cherry) x P. speciosa (Oshima Cherry). 

Prunus 'Umineko' was "rare" when Alan Mitchell wrote Trees of Britain, but is now a common planting. Another cross of the same two species arose later in Holland and is known as 'Snow Goose'.

Collingwood gave it the Japanese name 'Umineko', which is often incorrectly said to mean sea-eagle. It is actually the Japanese name for the Black-tailed Gull (Larus crassirostris) of E. Asia, and it literally means "sea cat", referring to the cat-like call.   Collingwood envisaged the blossom as a flock of gulls. 


Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 3 April 2021.

[The long deep-red calyces resemble the parent Prunus incisa (Fuji Cherry); compare them with those on the popular garden miniature Prunus incisa 'Kojo-no-mai'.]

Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 3 April 2021.

Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 3 April 2021.

Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 3 April 2021.


A young Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 1 April 2021.

A young plant, labelled "Prunus Umirako", a name unknown to the internet, so I'll put that down as a mishearing.

A young Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 1 April 2021.

A young Prunus 'Umineko'. Frome, 1 April 2021.


Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica)


Berries of Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica). Frome, 28 January 2021.

Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica) is native to Japan, Korea and China. It was introduced into Britain in 1783, and became very popular in gardens from about 1850, especially in variegated forms.

Since the introduction of the male Aucuba from Japan this genus of hardy evergreens has become one of the most popular and useful of our ornamental shrubs. For many years this genus was represented in this country by only one variety -- the variegated Aucuba japonica -- a female kind.  . . .  The introduction of the male Aucuba not only resulted in giving the means for producing new and improved varieties, but it also gave the easy power to clothe the female plant with crops of crimson-coloured berries. Thus additional beauty was given to our old favourite, the Aucuba japonica . . .

(The berries are very bitter and somewhat toxic.) 

The Aucuba was popular because it required little maintenance, grew happily in shade (even dry shade), and in polluted air. 

It will also grow well within the smoky preecincts of large towns, and for planting in city gardens and squares, this Aucuba will endure the worst atmosphere in the very heart of London itself, suffering no more injury than the plane tree and the chrysanthemum -- two more of the best subjects for growth in the city . . .
It requires an effort of the historical imagination to understand the Victorians' enthusiasm for gloomy combinations of Aucubas and cypresses and yews and Euonymus and box. Perhaps the key sentence is : the Aucubas are "most useful subjects for relieving the bare and cheerless appearance of beds after the removal of the bedding plants. . ." In that chillier tubercular era, gardeners were above all trying to muffle the bleakness of Britain's natural winter landscape.
The same article tells us that Aucubas are easily grown from seed (i.e. planting the berries), but this method tends to produce a preponderance of male plants. 

Wikipedia says that the leaf variegation is caused by the Aucuba bacilliform virus (Aucuba ringspot virus). That's a confusion of two different things. The variegation is genetic, appearing on fresh healthy leaves. The Aucuba ringspot virus was first reported in 1980 in Japan (but has now spread to New Zealand and the UK). It causes yellow ringspots and mosaic symptoms (yellow veins, mottling, stunting, curling).  

Berries of Japanese Laurel (Aucuba japonica). Frome, 28 January 2021

Aucuba japonica (an unvariegated form). Sussex, 9 March 2021.

Aucuba japonica (an unvariegated form). Sussex, 9 March 2021.

New buds and leaves of Aucuba japonica. Frome, 2 April 2021.

Thursday, April 01, 2021

in pale-green snow-storms

I've been reading some stories by Stephen Crane (1871-1900) and struggling with them a bit. He's of the generation of Joseph Conrad (b. 1857) and Rudyard Kipling (b. 1865) and he reminds me of them in some ways, especially Kipling. 

Swaggering Pete loomed like a golden sun to Maggie.

In the Bowery, Pete took Maggie 

to see plays in which the dazzling heroine was rescued from the palatial home of her treacherous guardian by the hero with the beautiful sentiments. The latter spent most of his time out at soak in pale-green snow-storms, busy with a nickel-plated revolver rescuing aged strangers from villains. 
   Maggie lost herself in sympathy with the wanderers swooning in snow-storms beneath happy-hued church windows, while a choir within sang 'Joy to the World'. To Maggie and the rest of the audience this was transcendental realism. Joy always within, and they, like the actor, inevitably without. Viewing it, they hugged themselves in ecstatic pity of their imagined or real condition.
   The girl thought that the arrogance and granite-heartedness of the magnate of the play was very accurately drawn. She echoed the maledictions that the occupants of the gallery showered on this individual when his lines compelled him to expose his extreme selfishness.
   Shady persons in the audience revolted from the pictured villainy of the drama. With untiring zeal they hissed vice and applauded virtue. Unmistakably bad men evinced an apparently sincere admiration for virtue. The loud gallery was overwhelmingly with the unfortunate and the oppressed. 

(Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Chapter 8)

Crane at any rate wasn't going to be sentimental. These stories -- Maggie, "The Monster", "The Blue Hotel", have pitiable victims but decline any sympathy or admiration. Maggie has no character to speak of. Henry Johnson, the black hostler who saves the doctor's son from the fire at the price of his face (in The Monster), is reductively ridiculed*. The disturbed Swede in "The Blue Hotel" gives no sympathy to others and the narrator gives none to him; the story focusses mainly on the insincerity and self-interest of those who do try to give him any sympathy. 


* I found these two essays informative:

Stanley Wertheim, "Unraveling the Humanist: Stephen Crane and Ethnic Minorities" in American Literary Realism Vol 30 No 3 (1998), pp. 65-75.

 John Cleman, "Blunders of Virtue: The Problem of Race in Stephen Crane's 'The Monster'" in American Literary Realism Vol 34 No 2 (2002), pp. 119-134.

When Crane wrote about African Americans he strung together satirical racial stereotypes. The racism was genuine, but I get the impression he toned it up not down. He wanted to affront northern do-gooders, and he had a horror of sentimentality. (His attitudes to the Jews, the Irish and the Mexicans were equally "of his time".)


Crane's style was a problem for me, too. There's an archness about his successes. A lumbering, in Maggie, in the narrator's flowery prose that deliberately contrasts with the language of the protagonists (refusing sympathy with them). The section I've quoted has several instances of fluffed effects, but you can't detach them from the insights. The description of the melodrama goes on a bit too long after I stopped quoting, too. 

The contrast is also a source of comedy. For instance, of the group of snowballing boys in "His New Mittens", 

They explained vociferously that it was proper for the soldiers always to thrash the Indians. The little boys did not pretend to deny the truth of this argument; they confined themselves to the simple statement that, in that case, they wished to be soldiers. 

The narrator uses the language of the official inquiry, comically different from what must have been said. Perhaps there's a justification for the jocular orotundity, in this earlier sentence: "Being a boy himself, he did not understand boys at all." Perhaps it's only professionals (white, protestant, male) who are capable of understanding these other categories of being. But then this claim and the educated, literary style may also be ironic in the other direction, an assertion of the limitations of the educated classes' high-minded attempts to understand what is so different from them. 


And yet, both Maggie and The Monster have the shape of narratives driven by social reform, while at the same time casting satiric doubt on the validity of middle-class do-gooding. 


Somehow a simple embrace of anti-sentimentality feels just as cheap as the sentimentality it reacts against.

But it can be a bracing switchback. In The Monster Martha Goodwin is introduced (chapter 19) as a wrong-headed domestic tyrant with strong views on political matters (Crane implies that it's ridiculous for her to have any political views at all). At the same time the story acknowledges the basic injustice of her position as domestic help for her married sister. When she defies the conventional judgments of her friends and what "the whole town" thinks about Dr Trescott,  I start to warm to Martha Goodwin. "I'd have knocked that miserable Jake Winter's head off." But does Martha just instinctively enjoy the idea of physical violence, or is she perhaps instinctively contrarian? Either way her social defiance is momentary at best. The women's conversation veers off immediately into gossip about neighbours moving house. That's the sort of thing women are really more interested in, Crane implies. Chapter 22 ends in blank triviality. Is it the women who are being mocked, or the reader? E.g. for thinking that there really is a right and wrong in relation to Dr Trescott's actions, a juicy moral discussion to be had? Crane's story posits the strong possibility that all moral discussion is futile and false, people just behave as they can't help and others react as they can't help. 

I read the 1896 revised edition of Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. The original 1893 version is available here:

published by Trent Editions (2000) with a valuable introduction and notes by Christopher Gair.

The girl, Maggie, blossomed in a mud puddle. She grew to be a most rare and wonderful production of a tenement district, a pretty girl.

Yet Maggie is another faceless protagonist, like Henry after the accident. (Crane tends to avoid describing the permanent features of people's faces; just the expressions they perform, and in Maggie's case not even that.)  Chapter 17 describes "a girl of the painted cohorts" on a rainy evening, crossing town and going down to the river, but it's teasingly left open whether this is Maggie or not. Most probably it is, and on the night of her death (announced two chapters later). In the 1896 edition the suggestion is death by suicide, though suicidal purpose doesn't seem too consistent with her still attempting to ply her trade en route. In the 1893 edition there's an additional encounter with a hideous and sinister man who (unlike the others in the chapter) is interested in following, so the suggestion is that Maggie dies by male violence. But the point of the chapter, anyway, is the lack of individuality. This could be any street girl on the Lower East Side. 


[Stephen Crane's Maggie surely had a great influence on Hubert Selby Jr's Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964). The profane and limited language, creatively rendered. The prolonged street violence and home violence. This chapter made me think of the last few days of TraLaLa.]

The other Crane stories I read were "Twelve O'Clock", "Moonlight on the Snow", "Manacled" and "An Illusion in Red and White". 

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Thursday, March 25, 2021

Scott and American violence


The Lost Cause, 1868 painting by Henry Mosler

[Image source: Wikimedia . The painting is in the Johnson collection, Spartanburg SC. ]

[These notes previously appeared at the end of my post on Sir Walter Scott's 1829 novel Anne of Geierstein, but they're not specifically about that novel and I've decided they're better in a separate post. The hinge paragraph appears in both.]


. . . At around the same date Anne of Geierstein may have had another and more dire influence. The Ku Klux Klan (formed 1865) may have based some of the details of their operation  on descriptions of the secret court of the Holy Vehme, ultimately from Goethe but most likely taken from this very novel. (For example the black cloaks and hoods; the white cloaks came later.) This at any rate was the theory put forward by James Taft Hadfield (PMLA, Vol 37 No 4 (Dec 1922), pp. 735-739):

Forty years later Thomas Dixon Jr, in The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan (1905), invented the detail of the Klan's burning crosses, apparently basing it on the Gaelic crann-tara, which he probably knew from Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake. Subsequently, the reviving Klan adopted Dixon's idea. 

Scott's novels were certainly popular reading in the southern states. That was the context of Mark Twain's "wreck of the Walter Scott" in Huckleberry Finn and his subsequent onslaught in Life on the Mississippi (1883). He thought Scott had done "measureless harm", amounting, almost, to causing the US Civil War. But the passage deserves to be read in full. (I include a bit of outlying context here, but not all of it: the chapter starts by musing on Mardi Gras.) 

Against the crimes of the French Revolution and of Bonaparte may be set two compensating benefactions: the Revolution broke the chains of the ancien regime and of the Church, and made of a nation of abject slaves a nation of freemen; and Bonaparte instituted the setting of merit above birth, and also so completely stripped the divinity from royalty, that whereas crowned heads in Europe were gods before, they are only men, since, and can never be gods again, but only figureheads, and answerable for their acts like common clay. Such benefactions as these compensate the temporary harm which Bonaparte and the Revolution did, and leave the world in debt to them for these great and permanent services to liberty, humanity, and progress.
   Then comes Sir Walter Scott with his enchantments, and by his single might checks this wave of progress, and even turns it back; sets the world in love with dreams and phantoms; with decayed and swinish forms of religion; with decayed and degraded systems of government; with the sillinesses and emptinesses, sham grandeurs, sham gauds, and sham chivalries of a brainless and worthless long-vanished society. He did measureless harm; more real and lasting harm, perhaps, than any other individual that ever wrote. Most of the world has now outlived good part of these harms, though by no means all of them; but in our South they flourish pretty forcefully still. Not so forcefully as half a generation ago, perhaps, but still forcefully. There, the genuine and wholesome civilization of the nineteenth century is curiously confused and commingled with the Walter Scott Middle-Age sham civilization; and so you have practical, common-sense, progressive ideas, and progressive works; mixed up with the duel, the inflated speech, and the jejune romanticism of an absurd past that is dead, and out of charity ought to be buried. But for the Sir Walter disease, the character of the Southerner—or Southron, according to Sir Walter's starchier way of phrasing it—would be wholly modern, in place of modern and medieval mixed, and the South would be fully a generation further advanced than it is. It was Sir Walter that made every gentleman in the South a Major or a Colonel, or a General or a Judge, before the war; and it was he, also, that made these gentlemen value these bogus decorations. For it was he that created rank and caste down there, and also reverence for rank and caste, and pride and pleasure in them. Enough is laid on slavery, without fathering upon it these creations and contributions of Sir Walter.
   Sir Walter had so large a hand in making Southern character, as it existed before the war, that he is in great measure responsible for the war. It seems a little harsh toward a dead man to say that we never should have had any war but for Sir Walter; and yet something of a plausible argument might, perhaps, be made in support of that wild proposition. The Southerner of the American Revolution owned slaves; so did the Southerner of the Civil War: but the former resembles the latter as an Englishman resembles a Frenchman. The change of character can be traced rather more easily to Sir Walter's influence than to that of any other thing or person. 
   One may observe, by one or two signs, how deeply that influence penetrated, and how strongly it holds. If one take up a Northern or Southern literary periodical of forty or fifty years ago, he will find it filled with wordy, windy, flowery 'eloquence,' romanticism, sentimentality—all imitated from Sir Walter, and sufficiently badly done, too—innocent travesties of his style and methods, in fact. This sort of literature being the fashion in both sections of the country, there was opportunity for the fairest competition; and as a consequence, the South was able to show as many well-known literary names, proportioned to population, as the North could. 
   But a change has come, and there is no opportunity now for a fair competition between North and South. For the North has thrown out that old inflated style, whereas the Southern writer still clings to it—clings to it and has a restricted market for his wares, as a consequence. There is as much literary talent in the South, now, as ever there was, of course; but its work can gain but slight currency under present conditions; the authors write for the past, not the present; they use obsolete forms, and a dead language. But when a Southerner of genius writes modern English, his book goes upon crutches no longer, but upon wings; and they carry it swiftly all about America and England, and through the great English reprint publishing houses of Germany—as witness the experience of Mr. Cable and Uncle Remus, two of the very few Southern authors who do not write in the Southern style. Instead of three or four widely-known literary names, the South ought to have a dozen or two—and will have them when Sir Walter's time is out. 
   A curious exemplification of the power of a single book for good or harm is shown in the effects wrought by 'Don Quixote' and those wrought by 'Ivanhoe.' The first swept the world's admiration for the medieval chivalry-silliness out of existence; and the other restored it. As far as our South is concerned, the good work done by Cervantes is pretty nearly a dead letter, so effectually has Scott's pernicious work undermined it.

(Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi, end of Chapter 46)

Twain was more concerned, I suppose, with modern American culture than with a dead author who was rapidly going out of fashion. He said nothing about Scott's own many critiques of chivalry and romance, but I suppose these critiques are always nuanced; the underlying respect for rank in Scott's books is undeniable. Twain's allegation of Scott's deep influence on the culture of southern aristocracy seems to lack foundation. Scott was popular in both the northern and southern states, but he wasn't taken very seriously as an author (Henry James' comments on Scott give a flavour). 

Except by Mark Twain. There was something about Scott -- and about the Civil War too -- that never ceased to bother him. 

(I'm taking that information from Susan Manning's "Did Mark Twain bring down the temple on Scott's shoulders?" an illuminating essay in Special relationships: Anglo-American affinities and antagonisms 1854-1936 (Manchester University Press, 2012):  )

Here he is, ill in bed in 1903:

To Brander Matthews, in New York:

NEW YORK CITY, May 4, '03. DEAR BRANDER, -- I haven't been out of my bed for four weeks, but -- well, I have been reading, a good deal, and it occurs to me to ask you to sit down, some time or other when you have 8 or 9 months to spare, and jot me down a certain few literary particulars for my help and elevation. Your time need not be thrown away, for at your further leisure you can make Colombian lectures out of the results and do your students a good turn.

1. Are there in Sir Walter's novels passages done in good English -- English which is neither slovenly or involved?

2. Are there passages whose English is not poor and thin and commonplace, but is of a quality above that?

3. Are there passages which burn with real fire -- not punk, fox-fire, make believe?

4. Has he heroes and heroines who are not cads and cadesses?

5. Has he personages whose acts and talk correspond with their characters as described by him?

6. Has he heroes and heroines whom the reader admires, admires, and knows why?

7. Has he funny characters that are funny, and humorous passages that are humorous?

8. Does he ever chain the reader's interest, and make him reluctant to lay the book down?

9. Are there pages where he ceases from posing, ceases from admiring the placid flood and flow of his own dilutions, ceases from being artificial, and is for a time, long or short, recognizably sincere and in earnest?

10. Did he know how to write English, and didn't do it because he didn't want to?

11. Did he use the right word only when he couldn't think of another one, or did he run so much to wrong because he didn't know the right one when he saw it?

13. Can you read him? and keep your respect for him? Of course a person could in his day -- an era of sentimentality and sloppy romantics -- but land! can a body do it today?

Brander, I lie here dying, slowly dying, under the blight of Sir Walter. I have read the first volume of Rob Roy, and as far as chapter XIX of Guy Mannering, and I can no longer hold my head up nor take my nourishment. Lord, it's all so juvenile! so artificial, so shoddy; and such wax figures and skeletons and spectres. Interest? Why, it is impossible to feel an interest in these bloodless shams, these milk-and-water humbugs. And oh, the poverty of the invention! Not poverty in inventing situations, but poverty in furnishing reasons for them. Sir Walter usually gives himself away when he arranges for a situation -- elaborates, and elaborates, and elaborates, till if you live to get to it you don't believe in it when it happens.

I can't find the rest of Rob Roy, I can't stand any more Mannering -- I do not know just what to do, but I will reflect, and not quit this great study rashly. He was great, in his day, and to his proper audience; and so was God in Jewish times, for that matter, but why should either of them rank high now? And do they? -- honest, now, do they? Dam'd if I believe it.  . . .

RIVERDALE, May 8,'03 . DEAR BRANDER, -- I'm still in bed, but the days have lost their dulness since I broke into Sir Walter and lost my temper. I finished Guy Mannering -- that curious, curious book, with its mob of squalid shadows jabbering around a single flesh-and-blood being -- Dinmont; a book crazily put together out of the very refuse of the romance-artist's stage properties -- finished it and took up Quentin Durward, and finished that.

It was like leaving the dead to mingle with the living: it was like withdrawing from the infant class in the College of journalism to sit under the lectures in English literature in Columbia University.

I wonder who wrote Quentin Durward? Yrs ever MARK.


I wonder if Twain originated what seems to have become a long-lasting meme: reading Scott caused American violence. In Stephen Crane's Wild West story "Moonlight on the Snow" (1900), the gambler Larpent shoots a man who calls him a cheat, then:

He sat down to read, his hand falling familiarly upon an old copy of Scott's Fair Maid of Perth

Maybe Hadfield's Ku Klux Klan theory is also influenced by that meme. 

And perhaps the influence is still floating around. Reading on Wikipedia about a protracted wave of killings in Kentucky and West Virginia (roughly from the 1840s through 1870s), I saw the suggestion that Scottish and Irish settlers had imported a tendency to violence within honour culture and that the killings were considered feuds because of the influence of Scott and Shakespeare. 


I don't know what I think of all this, but I do see another connection. Scott's idea of reconciling past conflicts involved securing his nation's unity by safely admitting and celebrating, in highly romanticized form, the values of the losing side: e.g. in Waverley the Jacobite cause and the Highland clans that supported it. The losing side are given a cultural cachet in order to compensate for being superseded in the real world. 

You can probably see where I'm going with this, because that's exactly what happened with the romanticizing of the South after the Civil War, sometimes referred to as "The Lost Cause of the Confederacy". This romanticizing was an attempt by the losers to alleviate the trauma of losing, but it was countenanced and even encouraged by the victors, because it did reconcile white southerners to forgetting about secession and feeling part of a united nation, proudly contributing their distinctive culture and sense of romantic nostalgia. The long-term influence of that romanticizing is obvious in the movies, e.g. Gone With the Wind, and can't be excluded from e.g. the subsequent flourishing of southern literature (Faulkner et al) or the birth of rock'n'roll (largely in the Deep South). As a myth its influence continued to resonate through (white) music in subsequent decades, an irresistibly potent iconography, whether we think of The Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down", or Randy Newman's "Rednecks" (the Lost Cause cleverly affirmed in a song you can badge anti-racist), or the whole sub-genre of Southern Rock, or R.E.M's Fables of the Reconstruction, or Nick Cave's immersion in mythical southern Gothic, or... well, so much more. The problem is, national reconciliation is only one side of that story. In e.g. Thomas Dixon Jr and D.W. Griffith, the myth of the Lost Cause, apart from its distortedly romantic idea of the antebellum South (complete with beneficent plantations of happy slaves) was explicitly linked to racist beliefs and fears and to a philosophy of white supremacism. It opened a path to segregation, the disenfranchisement of black votes across the whole of the Deep South, the revival of the Ku Klux Klan, spates of lynchings . . . And even aside from that, the Lost Cause, if it was a reconciliatory myth that bonded whites, did so by explicitly understating/excluding the perspective of African Americans. In a resonant 2009 article for The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about why, for him, a song like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" could only ever be prejudged as "the blues of Pharoah". Unlike (what he then proceeds to quote), the chaplain Garland H. White's inspiring records of black soldiers entering Richmond, Va. in 1865, the freeing of thousands from the slave pens, the joyful re-uniting of families . . .  

This is almost too big a subject to come back from it to Scott without a sense of bathos. But anyway, it demonstrates that a Scott-like romanticizing of the past can inflame as well as reconcile, and it can also exclude. 

Sunday, March 21, 2021

immesurable divisions?

Anemone nemorosa. Frome, 19 March 2021.

When we poetry readers move between different poems, there's a kind of leakage across our readings, they're not insulated. I came from thinking about Sir John Davies' 1599 poem Nosce Teipsum, a philosophical account of the soul, and my questions about the distinctness of personal identity seemed to proceed uninterrupted into the dramatically modern turbulence of what I picked up next:  

Place :
                Is a
                    in the means of

                A singlular
               locale [isn't/it?]

                                                    Are numbers of years spent
                                                    to account for :
               [opt out
               or into :]
                                                        divisions ?
That which is rent from one

In this movement

a cultural-linguistic
                                                   name     home
                                                   plane     schlept car
                                                   shipped to walk
                                                                                      --and then
locate the "exile" in "reconciliation"
of frontiers and calculable numbers
of words available in each of her tongues
un-cross-stitched from what one was / is          

the average
               stamp thumped on a block of papers
               declares her                        Hearing
                                                                          is in
                                           a quieter tone:       this
place of all echoes
                                           the palimpsestic

This is the beginning of the first of a group of five poems by Jennifer K. Dick in the anthology women: poetry: migration ed. Jane Joritz-Nakagawa (theenk Books, 2017). My thoughts still ran on Sir John Davies' soul: is it both single and singular, or does it only appear single by being singular ("singlular")? Or single by virtue of appearing to be only in one place; but are places meaningfully distinct from the soul's perspective? 

But tonight I read the poem more as about migration, about humans in different places. (Jennifer K. Dick was born in Iowa and lives in Mulhouse (France).)

But still, there's a questioning of singleness and demarcation that's deeply ingrained in this text. Words aren't just words, they are activated words. They are constantly being marked as quotations, italicized, capitalized, parenthesized, question-marked, energetically spaced across the line, creatively misspelled, multilingual, and conversing with each other by meaning (meant, means), rhyming (meant, spent, rent) or partial repetition (schlept, shipped; exile, reconcile). Stop jogging my elbow while I'm trying to read! That's what I imagine a traditional reader protesting (and I still have that traditional reader buried inside somewhere). This writing interrupts the flow, it asks us how the word reached us, about intention and control. It says that words conceal as well as reveal. That after all reality is outside the words, we might need to look past them and not just through them. 

The quotations are from a book by Erín Mouré, so Jennifer's poems are building on a practice that´s already inclined to multivocality and multilingualism. Like when we build two towers of bricks and then try to put one on top of the other. It courts a collapse of what separates one from another or inside from outside. Which is a recurrent image in her poems. As here in the fourth poem,  

the lost, regurgitated sandstorm
grit on windowless windowsill

a poem that considers ruined buildings and Alzheimers and "wherein our particulars vanish..". 


Sure, you left the newspaper articles, fragments of
windows to be replaced, the beige sawdust coating the blackened
broken cement, the shattered café front.

from What holds the body, in a section that considers explosions as well as balancing on a tightrope (Sourced from here: ).

Some say that the first fundamental of primitive life was the cell wall. Only when there's separation can life exist, evolve, create. And that's how most of us think, most of the time. To write a poem you start with a new page or empty screen, you paint on a blank canvas, you make dinner when you've wiped down the sides, you begin to build a home by laying down a clean foundation. This is poetry that wonders what's at stake in these ideas of infection and apartheid, and whether we can think it differently. 

There's a good amount of Jennifer's poetry available online, and a good list on her website. Or rather, two lists:

Poems in French: 


I'm currently reading the long extract from Enclosure here:

I'm not sure if it's part of ENCLOSURES (2007), or part of Lilith: a novel in fragments (2019), or neither. It's grounded on Ovid's Echo and Narcissus: echoes and reflections and eyes. Here are two extracts:

She is within her                       a repetition,                       a mirror, silvered-over

                             surfacing,                       mirage

leaden,                                     lead,                                     to be leading

                                               Some part or point of
voice bleeding                          over,                                     into paper
                             scratches                against,                     she scrapes

This is like a gasp
                             she says
                                                She wants to say
                                                                                            to be saying


A sleight for stored eyes        a staff to unsever her deprived by thankless Athens
In her mind's lyre            in the wind's mire opposed to the twilight of her trial        perceptive
Rail        immediate        redolent        mind her eye or vigilance kept contagion
if this were catching     she should advise he keep a sharp        look heed ahead out the
mischievous signs "o mine tie, thine..." tapered to, knotted        were she but one-sighed or
willowlike a cypress-Cyclops mounting with aramisapians—if time should prove to be
so sure as seeking with half a fly-on-the-wall      peek though the needle      spin
her waifish body suddenly perceived heavily-handed         as a camel's two-thump inability
to pass through eyeing the spire of the storm         screen-hurricane periphery
casting a sheep's, a glad, an open   


aramisapians -- transforming Arimaspians, a legendary one-eyed tribe of northern Scythia. 


Two poems by Jennifer K. Dick on Jerome Rothenberg's Poems and Poetics blog. "Boundary" and "Timber Hitch" are from an in-progress project called Shelf Break that uses a lot of nautical terms. (Somewhat ironically for an Iowan, as she notes.)

Here's section 2 of "Timber Hitch": 

median of misconceptions
mesopelagic tropical
amoebic dysentery
diatribe or troubled
spindly motors,
mortar, cracks,
fissures, figments
glint atop the gangway
gate or plate
schlepped up on
deck the
chained the
hauled the
cratered cargo
ruinporn ornamentation
a lapsus
“next to baroque mermaids”                                DA, 58

["DA, 58" references a quote from a translation of Demosthenes Agrafiotis.]


But now those mermaids and the troubled Mmms of that opening are drifting this post and me off to another kind of mermaid, another melting of separation, the half-shark half-human Girl of Lisa Samuels' Tender Girl (Dusie, 2015). This current debate about definition and singleness has many aspects and many contributors.  

In the following extract Girl has found some books/barques.

Having decided, Girl moved there. She was clawed in time with barque masks. She collects herself for a while, herself several damp examples leaning on the pulpit by the end of the rented hall, and she would give them up next time she felt herself leaving town. But the hall was comforting, it was renewable and unlikely, her slapping feet from one end to the next. 

The hot wine drunk down her throat. To be alone and yet populated with exemplars was an aim she was learning to adopt alongside books with lists of names, one anchored to the next and the next, one heaving according to time, another according to license or locale, another simple alphabetic comforting. She had these by her strange eating, piece by piece, piled thin. The sniffing of the skins of the books taught her how to think and speak here. 

(Tender Girl, p. 46)

Anemone nemorosa. Frome, 19 March 2021.

Wood Anemone (Anemone nemorosa, Sw: Vitsippa). Throughout most of the British Isles (our only native Anemone). Throughout southern half of Sweden and more sporadically up to Jämtland. It also grows a long way up the Norwegian coast, about as far as Bodø. Anemone = windflower. Nemorosa = of the woods, shady places. 

The Swedish name Vitsippa means White Sippa. "Sippa" is a Swedish flower-name given to various attractive Anemone/Hepatica/Pulsatilla species in the Ranunculaceae, and also to the unrelated Dryas octopetala ("Fjällsippa") in the Rosaceae. The others are: 

Blåsippa (Blue Sippa): Hepatica or Liverleaf, Hepatica nobilis. Beloved early spring flower in most of Sweden. Not in British Isles except as garden escape. 
Gulsippa (Yellow Sippa): Yellow Anemone, Anemone ranunculoides. Uncommon from Skåne to Jämtland. Not in British Isles except as rare garden escape.
Tovsippa: (Tuft Sippa) Anemone sylvestris. Big white flowers, rare on Gotland and Öland. Not in British Isles.
Nipsippa: (River-erosion-sandbank Sippa) Pulsatilla patens. Rare in Gotland and Ångermanland. Not in British Isles. It occurs across Russia to Kamschatka and also in NW America (ssp. multifida).
Mosippa (Sand-heath Sippa): Pale Pasqueflower, Pulsatilla vernalis. Uncommon from Skåne to Jämtland. Not in British Isles.
Fältsippa (Field Sippa): Pulsatilla pratensis. Rare in S. and E. Sweden to Uppland. Not in British Isles.
Backsippa (Hill Sippa): Pasqueflower, Pulsatilla vulgaris. Uncommon from Skåne to Uppland, formerly more common. Uncommon in S. England, mostly Cotswolds/Chilterns.
Fjällsippa (Mountain Sippa): Mountain Avens, Dryas octopetala. Local in the fells, Jämtland and north. Very local in northern British Isles (e.g. the Burren, N. Wales, Scotland). 

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