The year was 1951, and Britain’s slump after the war was hitting hard. It was made worse by major problems in the British-Persian oil agreement: BP was in a fix, one of many to come.

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Dylan Thomas, impecunious as ever, had a track record by then of documentary film and filmscript work. He has always ready for more work, more money.
And so, for five weeks from January 1951, he and a film crew et al, decamped to Persia as then was, to create a piece promoting BP.

What follows are extracts from a meeting with Dylan Thomas in Persia. It is quite a read in its entirety. See:


Apologies in advance for any infringements, but this is a story well worth the telling.


I was now among these casual friends when Mr Abu-Saeedi introduced me, in English, to the English man and him to me, in Persian and said “this is Mr Thomas who writes poetry in English and now he is here to write the script of an educational film.” It was obvious why he introduced him to me in Persian.
I said in English “pleased to meet you”, and shook his hand. I didn’t have anything else to say, so I  sat quietly like the others – waiting to see what would happen. I thought, how wasteful it was to drag me here from my home to sit here, not knowing what to say or do! I thought this was not right – such an awkward silence, so I said “I was told that you write poetry?” He nodded his head and said “that’s right”, but said it in a way that implied “what else should I do?” I said, “is your name Thomas?” He simply nodded his head and said “that’s right.”
I said, “Are you a relation of Daylon Thomas?”
He said, “Dylan”, correcting my pronunciation, and added “I am Dylan Thomas!”
I was, at first, taken aback but soon realised that although his face was puffed up and had lost some of his youthfulness, it was the same face I had seen as a younger man, then minus the effects of beer drinking. I had first come across his poetry about three years previously in Horizon. I loved the sound and the music of his precise words, especially when recited aloud. I enjoyed his easy flowing speech, his sensitivity, his searching vision and well-chosen meanings. I liked his quick arrow-like images which were soothing and connected to the nerves. His sparkling words, like meteors or shooting stars at night, were quick and hurried, while at the same time they were both sharp and comforting. I had read and admired him and his poetry with so much passion that I had learned some of the poems by heart and now that, surprised and puzzled, I saw him sitting in front of me, I was taken aback and was looking at him, suddenly I started reciting a few lines of one of his poems in English:
The hand that signed the paper felled a city; Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath, Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country; These five kings did a king to death.
It was his turn now to be taken aback and stare at me with bright penetrating eyes, full of mute questions. You could interpret his looks however you wanted! I didn’t know what he wanted or what he thought of me reciting his own poetry? His looks made me regret my action, so I said “I am sorry”, but I didn’t know what I was sorry for? Had I shocked him, in this strange place? I knew he had written better poems, and I remembered some of them but (I didn’t know why) unconsciously, I chose to recite that one. Perhaps I thought this one was better fitted to my political leanings. His look was surprised and puzzled as well as showing signs of both gratification and irritation, which quickly and quietly gave way to acceptance of what had just happened – something which was harmless but perhaps opportune.  Meanwhile I heard Hallat’s voice saying something which I didn’t catch or understand. At this my colleagues started laughing. “Why are you laughing?”, I asked. The  answer I got again took the form of collective laughter. I said “ Please don’t laugh, it is not right, our Guest might think you are mocking him?”


The barman came to take our orders. He (Thomas) wanted beer so I ordered McEwans for him which is made from roasted barley in Scotland and is brown (coffee-coloured). He was in deep thought but no longer had that puzzled and depressed look which he had in the office. He asked “In which country is Shiraz?”
I said “this country.”
He said “This one – Persia?”
I said “In fact today’s Shiraz was the capital of the original Persia in Herodotus’ History and for the Greeks. Geographically is not far from here but its history goes back a very along time.”
The bar attendant brought the beer quickly. Only a few of his customers were left and his shift had finished and it was time for him to go home. Thomas lifted his glass, tasted the beer then drank a gulp.
He asked “When was the Norman invasion?”
It was obvious from the tone of his voice, he wasn’t testing me. He was asking. I thought a little  – I couldn’t remember the exact date so I said “I think in 1066 or perhaps 1044, around that time anyway.”
He had stretched out his legs side by side and had laid his hands on his stomach, and this time he asked “When was Chaucer?”
I couldn’t remember that at all. I was ignorant of the dates of both his birth and death. I hadn’t even read anything by Chaucer, I only knew he existed and whatever I had seen by him did not correspond to present day English. Again I thought his question was not to examine me but he was simply asking. I said “Two or three hundred years after Hafiz.”
He asked “When did he die?”
I said “Hafiz?”
He said “Hafiz?”
I added “The best of all the poets. We call him the poet of the unseen world,”
He said “I haven’t heard of him.”
I thought to myself, hearing about a poet is not relevant to knowing one.
He asked “where did he come from?”
I said “Shiraz, the same Shiraz.”
“Did he drink the same wine?” There was a kind slyness in his voice.
I said “all the time, without a break.”
“That much!” he said, “Wasn’t he a Moslem?”
“He knew the Koran by heart. In fact his name means somebody who knows the Koran by heart. A big feat, ha!”
He said “and he also drank constantly?”
I said “Perhaps not constantly, but without a doubt he drank, and sometimes when he couldn’t find any wine– this I don’t believe, he drunk the dregs from the bottom of an earthen barrel.”
“An earthen barrel?”, he said.
“Earthen barrels or vats are used here to produce wine in.”
I understood why he was puzzled, so I said, “We don’t have wooden barrels here. We make wine in earthen ones.”
“It does not have the taste or the smell of the Oak but it is protected from the heat. It is not customary to make barrels from Oak. There are very few Oak trees here, if any at all , but we have an abundance of earthen clay. We are from the earth, isn’t that so?”
He said “Interesting!”
I said “Everything is made of clay, wherever you travel here you see the houses are made of clay and mud bricks. We have a narrow strip of jungle by the side of the Caspian Sea – the rest is deserts, mountains and stones. Building with mud is a lot easier than building with stones despite having a lot of stony mountains. From the time of Alexander onwards there are no houses, palaces or temples made of stones here. They are all made of clay – baked or not. We come from the earth and go back to the earth and there is nothing left of us when we go. That’s how it is, isn’t it?”
“Interesting!” His bright eyes showed that it wasn’t from politeness that he said this.
I said “the same Hafiz says “This natural layout and the field are my royal hall,” and “The sky is my hat.” I translated these quickly and haphazardly and not in very good English. I said “I am sorry – with my broken English and not put into a good form it doesn’t sound like poetry!”
He nodded his head and said “It doesn’t matter.” He was consoling me.


He said “In any case, words are our tools! Anyway, it was extraordinary.”
I wanted to say how nice it was that he had replaced ‘interesting’ with ‘extraordinary’ but instead I  said “but ‘good’ is more relevant to the poet’s time, his feelings and imagination and pairing the words with their specific beats and sounds that sometimes it rises to an unparalleled and powerful level – becomes unique.”
He said “Abstraction?”
I answered “Up to a certain point.”
He asked “Music?”
I didn’t understand, so I asked ”What do you mean?”
He said “The human voice instead of a musical instrument.”
He said “I mean pronunciation of the words instead of melody (tune) and song.”
I said “Not to that extent, but sometimes close to it. To the extent that words and their pairing, notwithstanding their rapture (mood, ecstasy), still have meaning, although very often they struggle. With primitive feelings it is natural that they should struggle more in meaning.”
He said “My intention is a more serious form of abstraction – to take the word to a place, for example like Bach does in music.”
I said “I haven’t heard anything by Bach.”
He was taken aback and with surprise said “No?”
I said “No, except for a short piece.”
He said “He (Bach) wrote one thousand and thirty pieces of work.”
It was as if he was chiding me emphatically for not knowing Bach.
I said “That many? Why so much?”
He said “Some of them are 3-4 hours long.” The colour of reproach was in his voice. Again with surprise he said “No?”
I said “I said no, except for one. I have a record. It only takes 3-4 minutes. It is the sound track of the film Fantasia.” Then I added “There is a lot of music that many people haven’t heard at all, isn’t that so?”
He said “Yes.” It was as if because he’d forgiven me, that he was agreeing with me. Perhaps he understood I was referring to a lot of things that he himself hadn’t heard.
I said “Anyway music is essentially an abstraction.”
He nodded his head meaning ‘perhaps’ or ‘it is’, but it seemed that his mind was elsewhere.
I said “In singing, in between the verses and words we say del ay del (heart-o-heart), and jaanam, janaam (my love, my love) to give substance to the sound.” Then I translated these two phrases and asked him “Is this abstraction? Did you mean this?”
He nodded his head meaning ‘perhaps’ or it is ‘possible’ or perhaps ‘you exaggerate’ or ‘it is meaningless.’
I said “It’s closer to abstraction but not in the way you meant it. Perhaps it cannot be achieved with words at all.”
He said “They tried to do it, or like in paintings.”
I said “Poems close to abstraction are a kind of painting in Persian, even when the description is real. In our paintings from classical times, there has never been an attempt to paint the real. With the word ‘painting’ the whole panorama (perspective) has become an abstraction.  But the arrangement of the words is essential in poetry. The arrangement of the original work has, in itself, become an abstraction which we call verse. They can even be called poetry.” I wasn’t asking that they can be called poetry.
He said “It depends, why not? They say it’s possible, not always, but it is possible – not completely – up to a certain extent.”
I said “In any case, abstraction existed in some of our paintings. There has never been an attempt to paint realistically. Religious prohibition also prevented it.”
He said “Religious prohibition against painting also exists in the Torah.”
I said “Some of our religious laws are very like those in the Torah.”
He said “They say it all comes from God.”
I said “They say it all comes from God.”
Again he stared at me sharply. We laughed.
I said “From where and with what reason, the Gods in different religions are not the same. One has seven or eight arms, one has a son, one is born and not born -alone”.
He said “Being alone is more correct. His hands are free no matter how many he has”.
It was later, much later that I understood what he meant. I said “But it is more difficult”. He looked at me and smiled, nodded his head and said “It is more beautiful. It needs more beauty, It creates.”
I said “Being alone or having many hands?”
He laughed and said “Not creating similar but creating correctly needs more beauty.”
I said “It needs explanation. In our paintings, the trees, flowers, grass, mountains, houses, birds, clouds, dragons and images of not only humans are all distinguished by their colours. Colours are not realistic either. Language is used in this way. Everything in our paintings is unlike the reality of objects. They are not similar either.”
He said “Hell!”
It was sudden. It made me laugh. I liked it. I didn’t say anything.
He said “It is a new creation. Why should it be similar? Anything which exists, exists anyway. Why imitate it? A new creation. A second creation – new. Made unique by sweeping away the unnecessary extras. Reaching the truth. With two, three dimensions creating more. It’s a personal vision of imagination and substance . A vision of understanding and pure feeling. Personal, intimate, unique”.

And Persia – what an incredibly long and cultured history!






Posted: September 9, 2018 in Chat
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In the beginning was silence.
Ok, waves smashed on rocks long ago eroded, and great winds whipped trees out. Avalanches roared.
When the great Silures climbed out of stifling swamps, the hectic seas, they grew up and developed into monstrous beings among the plenty of the lands, and all those sounds around them.
And so, when eventually their small hunting area became scarce of game, they needed wider ranges.
They noticed the sounds around, noticed how it was the louder and more fierce sounds, made them all run, leave empty grounds. And the louder better. And so,
‘Rumble, ruMBLE, CRASH, CRASH!’ they roared.
It worked, the others fled. Was that an avalanche? Was there a storm coming?
The new hunting ground was theirs.

Of course, other Silures had developed these tricks long ago, though some were only just catching-on. Was there one progenitor of tactics, trickery? You could say it was the most idle, or arrogant, the most selfish, unpopular, most ignorant, the bullies of the groups, tried this out. All to different degrees of effectiveness.
And so a competitiveness developed between them; each marshalled their weaker siblings and those who hung around for the pickings.

In the beginning was… relative… silence.
It was when the apes came down from the trees…. This happened wherever there was a long period of bad years, of droughts, fires, and the trees died a long way back. It happened everywhere the new weather patterns created from scrub and forest, bare pasture and grasslands.

The apes were crammed into smaller areas – they needed space. And also, they were curious. Their times of plenty, in the distant past, left them hungry, with a hunger they could not recognise, and nothing could assuage. Maybe if they searched in these lands, so antithetical to their natures, they could find the lost things.

And they chittered and chattered as they went, bonding their groups across the distances of the plains, deep in the grasses.

Who was it copied whom? Did the animals pick up on this new noise coming into their lands? And was this how bird calls began, imitating the morning calls of the roving bands, and the evening calls to rest? Or did the upright apes copy the new noises of birds, animals, they found themselves amongst? Then they could lure them to a sense of safety. Catch them.
Or was that for their own protection: the trickery and tactics of the Silures coming down to them in remote genetic patterns? Or was it that if they could imitate those around them, blend in, then maybe they’d be accepted?

But times, climates, terrains, change, and with them, the needs and requirements. Isolated groups sang morning bird calls to each other, becoming broken phrases, snatches of sound. A questioning note took on a certain gesture; an angry growl became a sneer.
– Echo-ing that which was inside themselves, as they clung to each other in their groups, as they passed through the dangerous places.

And cockerels copied the morning songs of the incomers. And when they themselves had long forgotten those songs, or even the state of mind, peace, appreciation, they drew those songs from, the cockerels remembered their own variations.
To try and retain some sense of wonder, some parts in the incomers grew religions from the ashes of those long forgotten camp fires.
Morning songs were now echoed in the calls summoning all to minarets, meetings, sacrifices. And the clicks of language, consonantal songs, were in the tocsin, the curfew sounds of night.

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Published by L’Association, Paris, France. 2005
Jonathon Cape, 2009

Epileptic was originally published in six volumes by L’Ascension de Haut Mal, 1996-2004.
The first three volumes translated into English by Kim Thompson, and published as a single volume by L’Association, Paris, France, 2002.

Epileptic is a graphic novel, and an easy match for any quality purely-text work. Notice that ‘novel’ as opposed to ‘text’, above?
Epileptic is not a novel, but it is a graphic work. It is an account of an illness.
It is an account of the expanding universe that illness creates. It is the biography of Jean-Christophe’s epilepsy.
There is plenty of text, from quoting Gerard de Nerval, and Pessoa, to the fin de sicele books David gets into: Meyrinck et al.
So, who is Jean-Christophe?

There were three children: Jean-Christophe, the eldest, then Pierre-Francois, then a couple of year gap, and Florence was born. They lived in Orleans, France. Ordinary kids, children of teachers. From an early age Pierre-Francois, later David, became obsessed with Genghiz Khan. They all embroidered in the telling each other’s bed-time stories, to create wonderful adventures.
Great battle scenes dominated Pierre-Francois; he drew in great detail from an early age.
Then one day out of the blue, Jean-Christophe had a seizure.

And so it began, the great and endless round of doctors.
Medicine, in those days, early to mid 1960s, did not seem to have that much to offer to epilepsy patients. His seizures became more frequent, and severe.
One surgeon advocated expanding his brain with air in order to see structures and abnormalities better. Then surgery to remove part. He would not be whole again, of course, but….
Sounds barbaric to us, now. But was that any worse than, say, the splitting of the hemispheres of the brain in order to control and isolate the spread of a seizure?
See Spasm, by Lauren Slater.

Epilepsy is not just a matter of loss of physical and mental control, in public, anywhere, at any time. It also carries the burden of increasing deterioration of ability to rationalise, concentrate, remember. The medication plays its part, of course.
And here we begin to see how much epilepsy takes.
Michael B sees/draws it as a huge, multifaceted and shape-shifting monster.

Alternative regimes were becoming available at the time. His parents seized on these like drowning people. Macrobiotics – ok, they try a commune, run by an older Japanese man. David B sees/draws him as a great benign cat.
Satire makes a very welcome addition to the telling: Your child draws very violent images, they accuse.
Oh, they’re samurai, that’s alright.

And humour:
Later on, his cartooning tutor says, Your images are disturbing. And why do you not draw ears?
He fought against it, but in the end drew ears.
Hm, they’re even more disturbing with ears.

There is sadness in the background of other’s lives too. The man who took over the commune when the Japanese leader left later committed suicide with his son. He had failed at everything, even being a macrobiotic guru.

The round of spiritualists, quack doctors, quack healers, is saddening.
Both parents teach, and Jean-Christophe cannot be left at home. The only alternative is to keep packing him off to board at clinics, centers. The impact of this on him is an unknown quality and quality, that explodes later.

His once youthful and spritely father is exasperated: Jean-Christophe is reading Mein Kampf. Can you not find anything better? he asks. It’s a great book, he responds.
Michael B knows he’s doing it on purpose, challenging, as all children, especially eldest children, do. And just as David gloried in the battles of Gengiz Khan, so Jean-Christophe clung to the defeated but not gone, fascistic past. But surely it was to something that gave the impression of being strong, seemingly stable, that he was seeking out. And also something to get back at people with, the people he saw as having failed him.

Both were fighting with the monster in their lives, in their family, and what it had done to them, and was continuing to do. It transformed itself, constantly; most of the time they could see only aspects of it.

Nature and nurture. How much was inherent – the violent tendencies ( though they are no worse than any of kid), for instance. The author asks how much had Jean-Christophe used his epilepsy in order to avoid dealing with the world.
Many times Jean-Christophe suggests work he would like to do, only to be slapped down: You’re ill. How could you manage?
The (unrealistic?) suggestions, and the negative responses are all part of the world the illness has created, and how it alters the perceptions of the family which lives there.

The impact on them all was terrible. They stayed together; they had that strength. But that toll is what the book is all about.

This is a very hard-won book: it articulates a lifetime of hurt and confusion, of medical misuse, and deliberate sponging on their pain by quack healers.

David (That name is too Jewish, an older relative tellingly said) was wanting to start his own family, and so was urged to broach the subject of inherited epilepsy, with his mother. The mountain of self-hurt and self-recrimination this opened the door onto, was terrible. All over again.


I was holding a woman as she had an ‘episode’, on the local bus. Others embarrassedly tried to give her back her purse that had gone on the floor. They thought she was lucid enough to understand this gesture.
Or were they just shut-out, and unable to empathise?
It was our stop. I got up, but she was too confused, still. Should I have helped her? She got off a little later – the bus stopped for her. Should I have walked her home?
How much independence did she need? And how, when, and how much help, support?
Is there an etiquette?
No, but there is humanity.

Sometimes the medical profession, medical terminology, can seem to overrule human response.
We see illness, not someone in trouble.

See also:

Mark Beyer:


Lynda Barry:

Harald Harada – they don’t make them like that any more.
Born 1015, died 1066.
His real name was Harald Sigurdsson, son of a king of Norway. He ascended the throne himself in 1047.

In 1030 he fought on the battle of Stiklestad, aged 15. It didn’t go well for him, and the contending forces of Danish king Cnut the Great drove him and his retinue into exile. He didn’t take this easily, and later in life made darned sure he got back at them, claiming kingship of Denmark, as well as Norway.
It must have been that period he earned that epithet Harada, that is, hard ruler.

Before this though, is when he really had the time of his life.

Exile meant travelling through Russia – in those days consisting of principalities ruled over by separate princes, kings. The heart of old Russia in those days was Kiev. And that’s where he headed.

He was a king’s son, he was used to privilege and the companionship of princes and the relatively affluent.

Travelling as an exile was not exactly comfortable, or was his company always what he was used to. So, he headed for the princes and kings. And they welcomed him!

If he followed the Viking paths down the rivers, most importantly the Volga, the Don, then there was the place. Why do I say this? Well, Yaroslav’s wife Ingegerd was a distant relative of Harald. She was a Swedish princess married to a Kiev King.

In Kiev he spend some time as captain of the warriors of Yaroslav the Wise. He rode many campaigns with them. Most probably against the Polovetsians, a nomadic people from Siberia, who had settled in what we now know as the Ukraine. For more on the Polovetsians, see The Song of the Campaign of Igor.

By 1034 he was in Byzantium, once again pestering the kings and princes. He became a Commander of the famous Varangian Guard, until 1042.

The story was, he had developed a habit of dipping his hand into the treasury; at one point he was imprisoned because of this. He had to leave Byzantium under cover of night: he had requested permission to leave, but was refused. So he ended up back in Kiev. It was here he married Elisabeth, Yaroslav’s daughter. His poem to Elisabeth has been suggested as the origin of The Lament of Yaroslavna, in the Song of Igor’s Campaign.
His campaigns were reputedly wide ranging, taking him into the Middle-East, even as far as Iraq in some chronicles.

They returned to Norway, where he promptly set about claiming for himself the throne. There followed a period of fierce settlements amongst old enemies and detractors.

By 1066 we find him leading a force against Harold of England. They engaged forces at Stamford Bridge. From what we know of this battle, he was killed – an arrow in the throat? And then English Harold had to tramp down with his forces to Hastings, way down in Kent, for himself, an arrow in the eye. And the rest, they say, is history.

It is interesting to note the dates here; I know, dates are the bane of history.

It’s just somewhere to hang the structure to see it better. When you’re talking about a life it’s just not chronological – we have lapses, go back a step or two, sometimes (if we’re lucky) race ahead, or more often than not have long periods of fallow: all over the place; any idea of chronology is crazy.

It’s just a device for ordering stuff in retrospect.

In this case they reveal to us a bit more of the man, and of the expectations, and mindset of the time he lived in.

Born 1015, in Norway – we don’t know where as such – but he was a part of the Norwegian ruling elite. His father Sigurd Syr was second husband to Asta Gundbrandsdattar. Why is this important – the form of his mother’s name became synonymous with Icelandic formations after the Settlement. Her first marriage resulted in the birth of Olaf, later St Olaf, king from 1025 to 1028.

It was after this the Norwegian throne was claimed by the Danish king, Cnut the Great. Yes, that’s right, That King Cnut, the one who also claimed the English throne.

The next date is 1030, the battle of Stiklestad, one of the most famous battles in Norway. It happened around Trondheim. Harald sided with his half brother Olaf against local claimants for the throne.

Oh, by the way – he was 15 at the time. Accounts say he acquitted himself well. He came from the battle honoured, but injured. It was thought best, safest, ‘to live in exile’.
His exile also entailed his retinue as a regal claimant.

1031 he had made it to Kiev: aged 16.
His reputation as a fighter travelled with him; so much so that he was taken by Yaroslav the Wise. His wife, as mentioned, was a relation of Harald’s from Sweden.
He was involved in many campaigns here – against Poland, Estonians… there were many factional squabbles. He learned his trade, improved his craft.

1034 and he appeared in Byzantium, where was eventually appointed commander of the Varangian Guard. They were an elite force, and bodyguards to the Emperor. They were and remained a predominantly Scandinavian group amongst the Byzantines. The Guard began as a group of mercenaries paid to protect Byzantine interests.
the Byzantine Empress Theodora valued their valour, if not their table manners.

It is possible his campaigns took him as far as the Euphrates (Iraq), and even Jerusalem.
A Greek book of 1070s, Kekaumenos’ Strategikon recorded him winning favours from the Emperor.
It was some time after this he was imprisoned by the new Emperor, and his powerful wife Zoe. There is some suggestion he dipped into the treasury coffers.

William of Malmesbury, as well as Saxo Grammaticus, all have their pennyworth to add – but it was all hearsay.

The new Emperor was not popular, and insurrections broke out – whether Harald was released to lead the fight back, is not clear.
What is clear is that, when in 1042 he requested permission to leave Byzantium he was refused.
And so he had to sneak away at night, with his loyal companions And back to Kiev.

By 1047 he was married, back in Norway, and ascended the throne.
Payback time for Denmark. Only, it didn’t quite end up like that. It did end up in a lifelong truce.

So, if he could not claim Cnut’s Denmark, he looked to England, Cnut’s other realm.


Let’s take the instance of the great town of Hedeby near Schleswig. Quite a lot has been unearthed about the town, but one significant period stands out. The period of the 1050s. Why? One source has it: ‘A thick layer of ash and charcoal in the central area represents the final destruction of the town just before 1050. Whether this fire was accidental or… by… Harald Hard-ruler… is unclear. This was the end of Hedeby…’

Submit, or be smashed.

Tostig Godwinson, who was the brother of Harold Godwinson, king of England, persuaded our Harald that he had a decent claim to the English throne. Brothers, eh! Can’t live with them, can’t trust them out of your sight!

September 1066, and the Harolds (well, HarAld, and HarOld) met outside York. The first battle at Fulford went well for HarAld, but it seems it made him complaisant. The later one at Stamford Bridge finished him.

And HarAld was killed. He was 51.
According to Snorri Sturlson he was buried at Mary Church, Trondheim. A huge stone now commemorates his burial place.

Even that age is a little old and grizzled, for some. Still, that was one life lived to the full.

A little like the old curse: May you live in interesting times. It’s usually a disaster for the people trying to get by; always someone trying to make them part of his big scheme for power. And he was one of those.


Within all this busy life, the to-ing and fro-ing, the slicing, riding, chopping and disemboweling, our Harald could also turn a well-crafted verse when he had to.

This was, of course, one of the expected skills of the courtier; and it seems Harald had it in bucketfuls.

One source has it that the verse of this region and period was considered inferior to the Eddic, skaldic, verse, because it is thought ‘artificial’, even, ‘convoluted’.





T S Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land,’ section IV ‘Death By Water’, consisting of just ten lines, seems to consist of three short sections.

 Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,
Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.
A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell
He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.
Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward.
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome as and tall as you.

Ten lines, in this case, can also give two sections of five lines. This arrangement is important.
It is possible to be read as to have been composed in corresponding parts. It begins and ends:
Phlebas the Phoenician, a fortnight dead,……………………..
Consider Phlebas, who was once handsome as and tall as you.

So, we have opening, and ending, and then also a central section, or hinge:
……………………………………….. A current under sea
Picked his bones in whispers. As he rose and fell/

He passed the stages of his age and youth
Entering the whirlpool.

So, we have what could almost be a chiasmus, each line and a half paralleling the other line and a half.

Surrounding this central section we have, firstly,

Forgot the cry of gulls, and the deep sea swell
And the profit and loss.

and lastly:
                                                      Gentile or Jew
O you who turn the wheel and look to windward,

That gives opening and closing  correspondences, first section central-surround, central hinge, second section central-surround, and closing part.

The form gives suggestion of overall chiasmic structuring. Line length mirrors the arguments being presented.

If this is so, and it is strongly suggestive that this is the intended structure, then this  makes us read an unfortunate correspondence between ‘(…) the profit and loss.’(line 3) and ‘Gentile or Jew’(line 8).
The former is inclusive, the latter exclusive.
As a deliberate paralleling of lines 3 and 8 – indeed, the page layout emphasises the phrases – are we to read an anti-Semitic slur intended there?

In the former section of ‘Death by Water’, the first section of the poem (lines 1-3) is epitomized in this descriptive phrase; the latter third (lines 8-10) is an appeal to the reader, who may be Protestant Western Europe and New World, or Semitic and Old World – whoever it is that takes civilisation forward.
In this I would like to think are included Einstein, and Neils Bohr: the General Theory of Relativity, and the Quantum Theory.

Implicit here also in ‘once was’ is a progressive concept of civilisation and growth of  humankind away from middle-eastern religious roots, Judaism, and towards Western reason (- and non-autocratic Anglicanism?). The end-rhyme claims a relationship between Jew and you, that addressee being both contemporary reader, and Old World culture. The two terms are again in exclusive and inclusive arrangements emphasising the survival of one, but not both.
The earlier rhyme pair swell and fell state a sense of, if not cyclic (Vico-esque?), then organic growth and fall of civilizations that this last rhyme pair predicate.

The centre of the piece is the balancing of phrases ‘As he rose and fell/ He passed the stages of age and youth’ (lines 9 and 10) which gives a janus-like sense of descent of age to youth, and the life-review that is the accepted experience of death. The section ends as it begins with vocative appeal to the hearer/ reader as in the ‘Greek Anthology’.

We notice also the ‘current under the sea’ of half-line 4 is balanced with ‘(…) the whirlpool’ of half-line 7 each framing the central section of the piece. The ‘cry of gulls’ and ‘who look to windward’ are paralleled here, as are ‘the deep sea swell’ with ‘you who turn the wheel’. We sense a metaphysical mariner at work, a conflation of the wheel of fate, and a will that steers, that rises above and beyond the world.

If the form of this short example from ‘The Waste Land’ is certainly chiasmic, it not a ring – there is no tri-partite construction, the central section is a straight change from first half to second ABCCBA. Ring structure has ABCDCBA.

– The English sentence structure, of subject-predicate, has possibilities as another base-chiasmic scheme. It is not by any means a universal language structure, however. There are examples of chiasmic use in languages not structured in this way.


Excerpted arguments are from my study: Gifts of Rings and Gold, An Introduction to Chiasmic Text Structures.

Sorry Mister

Posted: August 12, 2018 in Chat
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We broke the door of the weather
Sorry mister, we were just playin wiv our toys
loved the stink of the engines, the endless noise
then everyone wanted one, girls as well as boys
sorry mister

We lost the instructions on caring for each other
Sorry mister. The dog ate it; laptop crashed; it was there
then wasn’t. We rounded up what we knew, made a square
couldn’t remember if that’s what was meant, or where.
Sorry mister.



Posted: August 5, 2018 in Chat
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It may have been the angle of the sun over roofs –
it may have been a case of right place at right time –

it definitely was a moment out of time on a hot street.100_1186