Posts Tagged ‘culture’

Prayer for Rain

Posted: August 25, 2022 in Chat
Tags: , ,

pour Barbara Auzou

Prayer for Rain, by The Cure

from Welsh poet Henry Vaughan’s poem, THE WORLD. Henry Vaughan (17 April 1621 – 23 April 1695)

The World


I saw Eternity the other night, 
Like a great ring of pure and endless light, 
All calm, as it was bright; 
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years, 
Driv’n by the spheres 
Like a vast shadow mov’d; in which the world 
And all her train were hurl’d. 
The doting lover in his quaintest strain 
Did there complain; 
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights, 
Wit’s sour delights, 
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure, 
Yet his dear treasure 
All scatter’d lay, while he his eyes did pour 
Upon a flow’r. 

Le monde

Par Henry Vaughan
J’ai vu Eternity l’autre soir ,
Comme un grand anneau de lumière pure et sans fin ,
Tout calme, comme c’était clair ;
Et rond en dessous , le temps en heures, jours, années ,
Poussé par les sphères
Comme une vaste ombre en mouvement ; dans lequel le monde
Et tout son train a été lancé .
L’amant passionné dans sa souche la plus pittoresque
S’est-il plaint ?
Près de lui, son luth, sa fantaisie et ses envolées ,
Avec ses délices acides ,
Avec des gants et des nœuds , les pièges stupides du plaisir ,
Pourtant son cher trésor
Tout s’était éparpillé , tandis que ses yeux se déversaient
Sur une fleur .

estratto de Il Mondo
di Henry Vaughan

Ho visto l’eternità l’altra notte,
Come un grande anello di luce pura e senza fine,
Tutto calmo, com’era luminoso;
E intorno ad esso, il tempo in ore, giorni, anni,
Spinto dalle sfere
Come una vasta ombra si mosse; in cui il mondo
E tutto il suo treno fu scagliato.
L’amante premuroso nella sua versione più pittoresca
Ci si lamentava;
Vicino a lui, il suo liuto, la sua fantasia e i suoi voli,
Le delizie aspre dello spirito,
Con guanti e nodi, le sciocche insidie del piacere,
Eppure il suo caro tesoro
Tutto sparpagliato, mentre lui i suoi occhi si riversavano
Su un fiore.


(To John Gawsworth)

The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet—and breaks the heart.

This tale, of a couple of battles in 1185, was purportedly written in the years shortly after the battles. Internal evidence points to an origin shortly following the actual events. The manuscript, however, was not discovered until documents from the monastery of St Saviour in Yaroslavl’ turned up in 1788-92. Amongst them was this text.

The only trouble is that this original perished in a fire at the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The text we now have is a copy – one of several were made for prominent people of the period. The most famous is the copy made for the Empress Catherine the Great. There are one or two textual areas that lack clarity, however.

Nevertheless it is a great piece of work.

It is a relatively short piece of work: the copy I am using has only twenty-two pages of text – many notes, invaluable footnotes and an excellent introduction (and translation by Robert C Howes).  All in included the Tale consists of 747 lines of verse.

There is a translation by Vladimir Nabokov also available.


Like many such campaigns it does not stand up as a particularly heroic one. But then, are not the majority of traditional songs of loss, upset, distress? The minor key, the lyricism of distress: these seem to be the memorable elements of western culture. I would extend that… but then, upon reconsideration what hasn’t western culture touched, affected, in some way? You have to look long and hard to find the unalloyed element in any cultural records.

Take the Tale of Igor – we have elements here from Byzantium, and, if certain studies prove correct, as they seem to be, also a healthy dose of Scandinavian influence.

Also, take the Polovetsians – who the campaign is against; they were Eurasian nomads, who influenced the cultures of Hungary, Bulgaria and the Balkans. They allied themselves at one point with the Kimchak, a Turkic people. The mix must have been quite potent: blue-eyed, blond haired nomads supposedly originating from southern Siberia/ east China areas. And smaller, dark-haired Turkic peoples.

The Tale is as follows:

Chapter 1 

                  – the narrator asks: should this be a song of sorrow?

He calls upon the traditional bard of the Russian Kiev peoples, Boyan, and asks how he would have done it in his songs of the early years of princely wars.

The Polovetsian wars had a long history.

Chapter 2 – Igor Prepares for the Campaign

The narrator continues his debate about how Boyan would have done it. There are two openings he thinks Boyan would have used:

It is a storm that carries the falcon across the broad plains;

Flocks of ravens flee to the Great Don


Horses neigh beyond the Sula;

Glory rings out in Kiev.

Trumpets blare in Novgorod:

Banners flutter in Putivl’.

And Igor waits his dear brother Vsevolod.

These are the old fashioned ways, he seems to say.

Chapter 3 The Campaign Begins

Igors’ younger brother Vsevolod, the Wild Ox, suggested the campaign to Igor. He responded affirmatively. Vsevolod’s own men, he said, were bristling and ready; Igor mustered his men; but celestial omens were bad, dark hid the sun.

He refused to heed them.

They approached the River Don, and Igor husbanded his troops like a mother bird. There are many animal similes, but, more touching, there is also wide use of the folk image of the helpful animals, of the rivers, and the earth, that help.

Chapter 4: First Day of Battle. A Night of Rest and Another Battle.

It was their fifth day out and then they encountered the enemy.

Igor’s men sowed the field… with their arrows.

This first encounter was a victory; they carried off slaves, and booty by the bucket full.

They captured all the symbols of honour, the horse-tail whisk etc etc

On the second engagement, though the Polovetians had martialled themselves better. Igor was surrounded. He saw his brother fighting valiantly.

And the narration breaks off.

Chapter 5: Memory of the Wars of Oleg Styatoslavich 

This is an important chapter: it gives the context for the Campaign. Oleg was an ancestor of Igor – and that is important. There were two cousins amongst the many local prices ruling the regions of Kiev Russia: Oleg, and Vladimir.

Oleg was a warrior, the instigator of the wars with the Polovetsians. Vladimir became the peacemaker; his reputation as the epitome of the Christian Prince held high for centuries.

Under Oleg and Boris, however, the stability of the region broke down, civil war became rife:

And then throughout the Russian Land,

Seldom did the plowmen

Shout to one another.

But often did the crows caw,

Dividing among themselves the corpses.

And the jackdaws would speak with their own tongue,

As they flew out after prey.

Chapter 6: The Defeat of the Russians and the Great Sorrow of the Russian Land

The battle lasted from morning to evening, from evening to morning.

On the third day the banners of Igor fell.

But this wasn’t just the loss of a fight, it was the loss of men whose place in the community was vital; and the ones left behind in the centres of Russia were too old to take up the burden of ruling again. In-fighting became common once more, brother trying to oust brother.

Obida (wrong, injustice, offence) has risen up

In the army of the grandson of Dazhbog(Polovetsian ancestor)

As a maiden she stepped forth

Into the Troyan land;

With her swan’s wings

She splashed the Blue Sea by the Don

….banished the times that were fat

Igor had awakened the evil that their father Svyatoslav

The awesome Grand Prince of Kiev,

Had lulled by his might

The tragedy was that Svyatoslav had won renown for himself and his people from the Greeks, Germans, Venetians, Moravians. And now all that was now in peril.

Chapter 7: Dream of Svyatoslav and his Talk with the Boyars

Igor’s father awoke from a dream, which he told to his Boyars: he was being dressed in his funeral robes by Polovetsians; he was placed in his tomb.

The Boyars passed it off as a dream of grief at the loss of Igor.

But now shame has replaced glory

And thundering violence has stunned freedom


On the River Kayala

Darkness shrouded the light.

And the Polovetsians spread

   Across the Russian Land

Like a brood of leopards

Chapter 8: The Golden Word of Syvatoslav and His Appeals for Princely Unity

It begins with a lament for Igor and Vsevolod.

What follows this, however, are reprimands for the neighbour princes who did not respond to the call, did nothing to help the campaign: fourteen princes are chided in turn by the Grand Prince Syvaloslav.

This leads directly into

Chapter 9: The Song of Vselav

Vselov was a hero of old who stirred up the country in his attempts to seize Kiev and Novgorod for himself. His campaigns were many, and chequered. This chapter balances the previous chapter with war campaign against wise ruling throughout each these periods.

Chapter 10: The Lament of Yaroslavna

This is a thoroughly delightful piece – apart from the subject matter. Yaroslavna was Igor’s (second) wife. The Lament takes the form of four apostrophes of natural elements, the ‘mightiest natural forces of the Russian Land’.

At dawn she calls on the cuckoo in flight to help her

                  she calls on the wind

                  she calls on the river Dneiper

                  she calls on the sun

Chapter 11: Igor’s Escape

A Polovetsian, Ovlar, helped Igor escape his capture. Once again there is a call on the animals and elements to help: the ermine of the rushes to hide him; the white duck of the water; the grey wolf; the falcon. He is hidden by the mist.

But Gzak and Konchak pursue him. The river Donets addresses Igor, helps him as a golden-eye duck on the water, as a seagull on the waves, as a black duck in the winds.

Where, in history of these campaigns the border river Stugna had drowned Prince Rostislav, it helped Igor.

Although Igor got away they still had his son captive. What should they do with him? They resolve to marry him to one of theirs, thereby bridging their conflicts.

Chapter 12: Final Praise for Igor and his Men

Here all shame at their stirring up terrible times for Russia are forgotten as Igor is welcomed home – not as a conquering hero so much, but as a true prince of Russia, bringing peace again. For, the bards of old said: what is the head without the body; or the body without its head? 

One important sub-theme in the Tale is that of the narrator. He starts off very much to the fore telling us what he intends for the telling of the tale. Similarly he ends up in the last chapter telling us about the old bards again, how they would have handled the Tale, and by implication connecting himself to their tradition.

The question he is putting us is: how is he going to do it differently from the old bards? And the answer is crucial: with the impartiality of his position – he can extol the deeds of the warriors, but he can also, through the Grand Prince, bring out the shame over glory of their deeds, the dangers to the community of their deeds. This is the central chapter, the turn in the tale. It is crucial because it ties in both ends, as well as the reason of the change of mood of the piece.

The narrator gives us the Tale, but also deconstructs the tale.

Put like that it makes this sound like a modern forgery, at the least. But no, many narrators of tales draw attention to themselves; writers of epics include themselves and their (mostly pecuniary) plight within the text. We see this in Chaucer, the poems of Dunbar; it is subtly done in Beowulf where the very artificial structuring of the story is his usp, unique selling point. Because all these are the bard’s/narrator’s selling points to their patrons, or future patrons.


There is a part in the early chapter where, when talking of the old bard Boyan, the narrator says he would be, darting as a nightingale about the tree of thought/ flying in your mind against the clouds,/ as you wove a song of glory….(ll 40-42).

This had me wondering – there is a great deal of bird imagery in the piece, but, this one: darting as a nightingale about the tree of thought –could this be an equivalent of a memory system in use? 

This tree of thoughthas all its connotations with Yggdrasil. The identity of Boyans and his bard companion Khodyna, have been speculated upon, and it is suggested that there could well be old Viking roots here. These rivers were their trade roots. But also the Lament of Yaroslavnahas a close resemblance to a piece composed by a Viking bard in Byzantium previously to this. Whether this Lament is based on that, or by the same person…..

The squirrel that runs up and down Yddrasil, between Hel, and Asgard – could this be an ancestor?

This tree of thought, though: we know old shamanic practices amongst the nomadic tribes, the central Siberian hunters, used the tree as the path into the other world, to be climbed to find answers and visions for their people. 

Could this tree be the repository of all the knowledge: memories, songs, tales etc etc, of one’s people? That the tree mirrors the growth and strength and health of a people; it also shows which offshoots are healthy, and which have failed. To look at a tree, assess a tree, would be to ‘read’ it, to be able to discern the environmental impact on it. 

A tree as a body of remembered, cultural, icons.

The rags on the wishing tree; the votives on the healing tree.

From the garden of Eden, to Golgotha.

The Einstein of science-fiction, according to some.

2021 marks the centenary of his birth, 1921.
The Polish Parliament declared 2021 Stanisław Lem Year. (Wikiław_Lem)

He was born in Lwow, then Poland, a much disputed region, now part of the Ukraine, as Lviv, and of a Jewish family. 
Religion, however did not play much of a part in their lives. He said himself, later, for moral reasons … the world appears to me to be put together in such a painful way that I prefer to believe that it was not created … intentionally…ław_Lem

And who could argue with that.

It’s not what religion meant to them, but what others made it mean for them.
He survived the War on forged papers. Wiki tells us : During that time, Lem earned a living as a car mechanic and welder,[11] and occasionally stole munitions from storehouses (to which he had access as an employee of a German company) to pass them on to the Polish resistance.[19] (ław_Lem)

Under Soviet rule he managed a full medical education, only to find the sight of blood…. 
He was a polyglot, a language devourer, and educationally hungry, devouring fields of knowledge outside of medicine – which, he knew, would land him a life-time service in Army medical corps.

He became an expert in early AI studies, and what Wiki terms ‘the sociology of science’
His own web page writes of 
Such staggering polymathic curiosity over such a vast range of material, all of it explored with lucidity and charm


Stanislaw Lem?
Think of the film, Solaris (the 1972 one, not the later travesty) directed by Andrei Tarkovsky.
His books have a sophistication that a great many sci-fi novels do not. Even the Strugatsky brothers fail, there. 

His opinion of American writers was mostly scathing. He excepted Philip K Dick – although, stylistically Philip K Dicks’ books were/are ‘not good’. I used to sigh with exasperation when opening one yet-to-read: the turgidity of language, as he felt his way through to admittedly, unknowns, the un-thought of.
Now, writers like Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, of the period he was most active in his writing of science fiction, had intelligence, style. I’m sure readers could come up with many writers that I am myself unfamiliar – it is such a huge field of writing.

It is amazing how much Lem got right, or even predicted. This ranges across artificial intelligence, the theory of search engines (he called it “ariadnology”), bionics, virtual reality (“phantomatics”), technological singularity and nanotechnology.

Simon Ings “New Scientist”

Ok, so let’s distinguish here, between ‘hard’ sci-fi, and ‘soft’.
Stanislaw Lem could well be called the Einstein of ‘hard’ science-fi – his imagination works mostly on material aspects, structures, developments.

So, I have only just launched myself into one of his first published books, Return From the Stars, (1966).
So as not to Spoil too much, let me just give a brief synopsis so far: our narrator has just returned from a ten year space mission, to find that one hundred and twenty seven years have elapsed on Earth.
And things have changed. Drastically.

After a debriefing and up-dating session at the Luna Space Centre we encounter him as he returns to Earth for the first time.
We encounter the term Betrization. It is a process all undergo at birth, and prevents the worst kinds of behaviour. No one can kill another. The same for animals.
How and who does the aggressive work, then? Robots, naturally.
But what are the other implications of this process? A world without aggression of any kind?

It is quite a thick book, and I am only just beginning.
Don’t hold your breath, but read it and the others yourselves.

For the period, mid 1960s, in Eastern Europe, the imagining, detailing – everything has been thought through – are astounding.
Wiki tells us: Translating his works is difficult due to Lem’s elaborate neologisms and idiomatic wordplay. 

As ‘soft’ sci-fi, the sci-fi of people, you could say, he falls behind. In this book are racial and gender stereotypes to make our contemporary toes curl a little.
He tries; he delves into the sociology of cities, mass societies. He constantly tries with psychological changes, developments, but he does not shift perspectives sufficiently to truly tangle with the issues.


How did Stanislaw Lem cope under the Cold War regimes?
He worked in the sciences, and wrote such astoundingly well-researched science-research books. As well as his science fiction – they got under the censor radar by not openly challenging the system (he wrote very early works in line with Socialist Realism that he later castigated), and were considered unimportant by the system.
By the time of the 1980s Solidarity Protests and consequent Martial Law, he and his family were able to move to West Berlin, then Vienna. They returned to Poland in 1988.
He had also toured the West, lecturing in America, England, Europe, enough to get a feel of the rancid redundancy of the much vaunted Capitalist systems.

Philip K Dick stated that Stanislaw Lem was dubious, the name a pseudonym for a collection of people. I suspect he was picking up here on the man’s wide range of interests and activities, his achievements in various fields.

In his later years he concentrated mainly on science-based projects, books, and what was termed ‘futurology’. The New Scientist quotation, above, gives good grounding for that.

His science Fiction books – in no particular order:

His Master’s Voice
Mortal Engines
Return From the Stars
Tales of Pirx the Pilot
The Cyberiad
The Invincible
The Star Diaries

He also wrote a collection of Reviews and Introductions for Non-Existent Books, and crime novels, one without a murderer, as well as copious science books.

He died in his eighties, in 2006, his wife ten years later.
Like many writers who started pre-information era proper he did not use a computer; he bought his son an early Apple, but that’s as far as he went.
He was also dubious about the internet; it swallowed you up in low-grade information, he stated.

Very early one morning in the late 1880s two young men were trying, with a little difficulty, to make their home. They found themselves walking along the misty banks of the Seine. They were carrying on an animated but rather fractured conversation that had started up earlier that evening. In the distance they saw another man making as to circuitously pass them by.
This was difficult, due the staggering motion of their own walk.

The younger of the two hailed the man, Monsieur! Monsieur! The man looked over, a little reluctantly, Yes? He replied, What is it?

But what on earth can bring a honourable man like yourself out into the early morning, like this?

As you see from my uniform, monsieur, I work for Customs and Excise. It is my job to be out this early.

No, no, sir, what I see when I look at you, sir, is an artist, an artist I say!

You mistake me, sir; I know nothing of painting.

No, unmistakably an artist, sir. I see it in you.

I have never painted in my life.

It is written all over you, sir. Believe me, I know of these things. You, sir, are unmistakably, and without doubt an artist. And I would wager, a very fine one too!

The man hesitated, a look of confusion passing over his face. Then out of it, as a sun rising through the mists on the Seine, he smiled, amazed: Do you know, sir, I do think you are right! Indeed I do think you may be so! Your name, sir?

Jarry. Alfred Jarry, the younger man replied. And you, my dear man?

Rousseau, sir. Henri Rousseau.

Well, la douanieur, I expect to see your name everywhere from this day forth. Au revoir!

Ah, the legends of old Paris!

Here’s another Jarry one.

Here he resolved not to buck the system, that would be counter-productive, but to adhere to the rules as closely as humanly possible. He still ended up on report constantly.

One time when instructed to sweep the barracks square as a consequence of some misdemeanor, he was found still standing to attention, broom over shoulder, some time later. When asked to account for himself and his dereliction of duty, his reply was, I was ordered to sweep the square, sir. I was not told in which direction.

Laval barracks.
Jarry had spent some years of his childhood in Laval. And oddly enough Henri Rousseau was born there also. Is it possible Jarry recognised the accent? Is that part of the back-story?

There are many more types of poetic expression than the personal lyric. The lyric has become predominant at the present time because of political and ideological factors: we look to the self as the source and sole repository of values; we value personal experience as the only trustable source of knowledge of the world.

The idea and ideal of community has been tugged from beneath us; likewise the ideal of a sense of futurity, of progress, to be replaced by an all-encompassing political climate where our lives seem wholly regulated by bodies of authority. Lecturer Peter Middleton quotes Julia Kristeva to effect here: “… capitalism has isolated us, in ‘islands of discourse’.” (i.e. from John Donne’s “No man (one) is an island” to the Thatcherite statement that there is no such thing as society. We may hate it as it is, but we do have to deal with it).
And who knows how to deal with the Big Society notion, at one point broken – a toy? a piece of machinery? – at another, the country as a private business in need of saving (- from everyone else?).

Christensen mostly used the playful, highly mathematical writing experiments of the French experimental OuLiPo group.
Although not a signed-up member, it can be seen that she uses many of their techniques. The most decisive are the use of strict mathematical superstructures, and insistence upon quality of sound. OuLiPo was a movement originally based around the writer Raymond Queneau, and incorporated George Perec (Life: A User’s Manual, and A Void, a novel that, when written in French only used words that do not contain the letter ‘e’). Queneau was a mathematician, and so the group tended to use highly complex mathematical structures for their writing.

One of the many listed OuLiPo experiments is that of using multiple perspectives to explore a given situation. One published example of this is B S Johnson’s novel, House Mother Normal (1971), which offers a perspective per chapter from each of the members of a nursing home, in explaining (or not) the event of the story. You cannot but wonder about Robert Browning’s The Ring and the Book (1860), where the members of a court case each give their evidence, full of conflicting events, asides, and all the riches of the personalities involved. OuLiPo does acknowledge predecessors, designating them “anticipatory plagiarists” (: Mind Performance Hacks). One OuLiPo virtue is a mischievous sense of humour.

Christensen’s Watersteps (2001) takes us through five Roman piazzas, each with a fountain, and the same red car. There are eight similar ‘classes’ each with five ‘sections’, one for each piazza; and each ‘class’ has five components. This is a rigorous math.

Seamus Heaney’s Seeing Things sequence of four lots of twelve poems, each of twelve lines in length, also points to a possible OuLiPo construction. Why twelve? Is twelve an expression of completion? We have to ask these things, because they have an intended significance.
Most recently we now have poems created upon use of the mathematical concept of pi called Pilish – or “piems” – where the number of letters of successive words is determined by pi.

All these ‘experiments’ are only unofficially recognised aspects of rhetoric, an expanded, up-dated use of age-old techniques of persuasion (can we read that ‘persuasion’ as marketing, advertising?).

The Fibonacci mathematical system was ideal for OuLiPo purposes. The Fibonacci sequence runs: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21…. where each number is the sum of the two previous numbers. The implications of this system, first devised by a Cardinal soon to be Pope, are astounding, both for mathematics, and physics.

In Alphabet the repeated phrase of paragraph 1:
apricot trees exist, apricot trees exist
mirrors the first two numbers of Fibonacci – 1 and 1. The system begins with 1 repeated, and so here the phrase is similarly repeated. It is also a numerical device of implication; where 1 is a prime number; it is also the main focus of a network of negative and positive numerical sequences, of decimals and fractions: 1 is never 1, it is the consequence of its positioning, and it is that that is evoked here. The reiteration of the clause emphases 1’s position in the matrix of math. As in the Fibonacci sequence we do not begin with 1 but with 0, in effect on the blank page preceding.

We are also required to read here that apricot stones carry a poisonous pit. As we begin with the beginning: A, and a new myth of creation, we are also required to read here that within the first creation is the means of its end. Or maybe not so equivalent: maybe, just that a degree of toxicity is necessary for life. And also, that, like the mark of Cain, is a part of creation from the very beginning.

By combining number with alphabet, Christensen is taking us back to the earliest use of languages, Sumerian, Attic Greek, but with a more modern twist.

With paragraph 2 we have:
bracken exists; and blackberries,blackberries;
bromine exists; and hydrogen, hydrogen.

Already on a linguistic level we have an incantatory pattern forming. On the chemical level we now have bromine and hydrogen. Bromine, like hydrogen, is potentially lethal. As, indeed, are the seeds of bracken. This new pastoral suggestion now allows us a reading that suggests an early, a volatile, Precambrian period in our scientific creation myth. We now have three levels of reading: of the text, of chemistry, and botany. If we accept the time scale, four levels: botany, chemistry, textual, and time.

As a reviewer notes: “The useless abundance of bracken, succulent berries — and corrosive bromide: the unbalanced mix all around us. Hydrogen seems, here, almost safe, but the “bomb” suffix is not long in coming.”
Alphabet was written during the 1970s, a period that lived under and reacted to, above all else, the possibility of immanent nuclear war, the atomic bomb.

With 3/C we get:
cicadas exist; chicory, chromium,
citrus trees; cicadas exist;
cicadas, cedars, cypresses, the cerebellum

The levels expand: arboriculture, botany, chemistry, entomology, physiology: from basic classifications, to subclassifications. We move from Platonic forms, through Aristotelian classification, to our modern forms of knowledge. And zeroing in from the macrocosm to the microcosm, from the external world to the brain’s inner world, as source and site of knowledge, intelligence: self consciousness as the self’s consciousness.

Following the Fibonacci/alphabetical systems through the book we arrive at N, with six hundred and ten lines. Mathematically ‘n’ can be any number.

So far in the poem sequence, we have moved from basic forms to gradually emerge into a world of killing, the hydrogen bomb, pain. It must be remembered that mathematics is the vehicle of proof for the sciences. And the sciences, as amply illustrated by Leonardo da Vinci’s Renaissance work on armaments, capable of application to many and varied fields of human activity both peaceful and not.

With 5-E (eight lines) we also get, delightfully (in the Danish the predominant consonant is E, which also ushers in a dominant alliterating pattern):

early fall exists; aftertaste, afterthought;
seclusion and angels exist;
widows and elk exist; every detail exists; memory, memory’s light;
afterglow exists; oaks, elms, junipers, soreness, loneliness
eider ducks; spiders, and vinegar
exist, and the future, the future.

With 13-M and 14-N we arrive at actual times, with dates:
morning June twentieth……..evening June
sixteenth….morning June twenty-sixth.

To get here we travel through excerpts from lives, suggestions of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus, and:

in mid-November, a season
when all human dreams are the same,
a uniform, blotted out history
like that of a sun-dried stone

a couple of mute parents stand there,
a dog, and some children run around,
an arrival they try to imagine
as water that’s raised to my mouth

I lay sleeping inside my hotel room;
:from ‘12/L’

These are the stories we have inside ourselves we cannot always make sense of, but continue to pick over in our isolated moments.

‘13/M’ begins with:

metal, the ore in the mountains, exists
and then explores the hidden or covered things:
darkness in mine shafts, milk not let down
from mothers’ breasts, an ingrown dread where

whisperings exist, whisperings exist
the cells’ oldest, fondest collusion

consider this market, consider this import
and export of fathers, half bullies
half tortured soldiers, consider…..


layered light, as if behind
layers in a fresco the snow
on the mountains, its shapes……..

13 also replicates the Fibonacci numbering in stanza lengths. We have five, eight, then thirteen line stanzas, and then followed by new sets. The interweaving of themes and items from earlier sections tie-in here; we once again come across bromine, but applied differently, and apricot trees: their applications multiply and evoke moments from a life, from an ideal of living. The fabric grows wonderfully rich and rewarding, full of complex patternings.

Where the lyric concentrates images, their reverberations, networks of associations, within as small a compass as possible, Inger Christensen, especially in her earlier work It – of which Alphabet is in some ways an admitted response – schematises rather than concentrates. Structurally it is very strictly arranged into three sections whose line count is, in the original, very tightly controlled: each line of Prologos has sixty-six characters in the original; Prologos has eight sections.

The body of the book, Logos, consists of three sections: Stage, Action, Text each of which has eight sub-sections: symmetries/ transitivities/ continuities/ connectivities/ variabilities/ extensions/ integrities/ universalities.

These subsections “attempt to analyse and categorise the words that language’s use to show relationship… as applying to the network of relationships… writing builds up as it goes along “ ( Ann Carson, from Introduction). All this in no way lessens the effectiveness of expression, but allows the playout of implications to be fully explicit. The intent of It is to be a ‘philosophical and political exploration of the nature of language, perception, and reality.’

If there is a reference in this work to The Book of the It, a precursor to Freudian psychoanalytical explorations, by George Groddeck, I suspect it has been subsumed and overridden early on.

It must be noted that the Fibonacci system deals also with the proof of the Golden Mean.
Christensen exhibited a growing concern with ecological matters, as evident in her Butterfly Valley: Requiem. This sequence is a series of conventional sonnets, the last line acting as the opening line of the following sonnet in traditional style. The last sonnet of the sequence, sonnet fifteen, consists of all opening/closing lines. This sequence perhaps represents her approach to that Golden Mean.

Charles Lock and Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, in their Guardian obituary notice, noted of Butterfly Valley: Requiem ‘the division of… 14 lines having been recognised in the Renaissance as akin to “the golden ratio“.

Can we read Christensen’s major works as working towards this great ideal, this universal; of the possibility of the concept of ultimate meaning in all the apparent randomness of the world?

Are the images Christensen uses purely random? And do we mean by that ‘mathematically random’? Is it random in the way that creation appears to be random? Is there such a thing as random? All these questions are implied by the system she uses. She requires a response from the reader: for her writing is part of a two-way process.

We may have lost all sense of security, safety; Inger Christensen here posits the possibility of a higher sense of stability, of a grand working towards/unravelling of, a nontheistic scheme of things of which we are all a part of; in effect, where we are perhaps the instruments of the process.

New Directions, the American publishers, are currently republishing her work. Her earlier three books were recently re-issued as one, and well-worth reading: Light, Grass, and Letter In April. See:

They are also to publish a collection of her essays, The Condition of Secrecy, in 2019.
New Direction also publish one of her novels, Azorno:

whilst The Painted Room, is published by the Harvill Press:

An earlier non-fiction book, The Meaning of Metafiction, is still available through Amazon:


When you review a film, this film, say, a whole load of considerations crop up.
Is this film as good/bad/indifferent as the last one in the series (I have come to hate that term ‘franchise’)?
Is this film as good/bad/indifferent as the last film I saw?
Is this film as good as what I think of as good?
Have I seen enough/sufficient films to make a judgement?

I enjoyed the film.

I did not enjoy the last one, Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them. Why? Because of the fantastic beasts, those yucky cgi embarrassments.
In this film they were dangerous, threatening; an encounter with one of them would have been life-changing.

And I am having problems with Eddie Redmayne’s Newt Scamander character. A lot of people are rooting for him, but I cringe at the mumbling, bashful, Hollywood-idea Englishman he portrays. He seems to be part-modelled on Hugh Grant’s character in Notting Hill.

American film and Tv uses very strange English stereotypes. There’s currently a TV series, Sleepy Hollow, whose previews have two main characters talking this odd English. They pronounce the first syllable of their words, then swallow the last bit, and it’s all spoken/gabbled so quickly. The result is a kind of upper-class patois. I’ve never heard it in real life.

 – The Simpsons have done some superb send-ups of English people: all yellowed snuggle-teeth, with long thin noses, and this kind of purring voice – almost Kenneth Williams. –

We all could do with a recap on who’s-who in the film, so:

There seems to be a big back-lash against Johnny Depp, at the moment. I cannot fault him as Grindlewald. There is comment that the character is still waiting to be fleshed out in the films.
But then, a lot of people rate Jude Law as the younger Dumbledore. It didn’t work for me.

And I would love to have seen/known more about Bunty, Newt Scamander’s London assistant.

So, what of Queenie? I read her as coming apart, mentally. She was vulnerable in then first film, here she rapidly losing control. Even so, the defection at the end? How was that built to?

To cut a long list of problems short – as you can see, there are holes in the film. Huge holes.
Blame the writer!
Not on your life – J K Rowling works very hard to keep the integrity of the script, and the screen portrayal. There are just those who can override her decisions. But she keeps on pushing where many would turn away in disgust.

If you want a good idea of how the ‘finished’ film has been mangled, then follow this link:

The site is a treasure-trove of information, speculation, deep research, invaluable insights. I heartily recommend it.

I’d certainly go see the film again, though.
Maybe in 3D this time,  what do you think!

Menno Wigman, the Dutch poet, is dead.

Ok, he died in February this year.
He was aged 51. He had been diagnosed with Loffler’s (I cannot get the  a to umlaut!) syndrome. Of only forty reported cases in the world, he was one.
‘How come I manage to go running around with it?’ he’d said.

He was born in 1966, in Santpoort, The Netherlands. He eventually relocated to Amsterdam in the eighties. Drummer for a punk band; self-published early poems. His drive and commitment to his work was consuming.
From 2012 to 2014 he became Amsterdam’s own Poet Laureate.

In 2016 the excellent Arc Publications ( brought out Menno’s selected poems, WINDOW-CLEANER SEES PAINTINGS. It is Number 40, of Arc’s Visible Poets series, and translated by David Colmer.

The first poem in the book, from his first book, All Cities Stink in the Summer, 1997, opens:
Ik zag de grootste geesten van mijn generatie…. translated as
I saw the best minds of my generation….

Yep, we start of with a bang, quoting Allen Ginsburg. The tone is low-key, enervated. In sonnet-form, it ends :
They came too late. Their promise unredeemed.
   The cities gleamed as black as caviar.

And whose last line gives the title of his next book.
More and more his models, his emotional brothers, became Charles Baudelaire, Jules Laforgue, poets of that period, the ‘dark Romantics.’. He described the appeal as that of recognising with them that one lived in the ‘end time.’ A fascination with a falling-off, then, that went hand-in-hand with the revelation of the riches in the here-and-now.

The poem that first caught my attention was Misunderstanding, from the next book. It starts:

This will not be an upbeat poem. And why
I’d even let the secret slip’s a mystery to me….

We’re straight into liminal regions, places where nothing is as it seems, not certain, but part of the flux of one’s being.

But no, I was wrong – the first poem of his that caught me was In Conclusion:
I know the melancholy of copy centres…

Technically he was very much a poet of steady, driving rhythms, strong metres. He used sonnet forms, pantoum (Hotel Night), half-rhyme, assonance.
‘You write poetry with a drum-kit in your head,’ another writer had commented.
It’s how to convey this layered interlacing was David Colman’s challenge. He gives in his introduction illustrations of the original sound and rhythm structure of lines, and his equivalences to these. This is priceless.


Menno Wigman also wrote as part of the Lonely Funerals scheme (see my last posting).
There are several pieces here from the scheme, and they reveal a lot about the way he worked, wrote, felt, hoped… was.

Beside Mrs P’s Council Coffin, begins:

Is she asleep? She is. After eighty-three years
of combing her hair three hundred and sixty-five
days a year, of walking to the shops and back….

He ushers us into an intimacy with her life, the personal and mundane; an identification with people as they show themselves to us. That is, the ordinary, that constitutes most of our lives, like it or not. It is our mastery or not, partial or fluctuating control, of the ordinary gives us our kudos, our tags, our recognisable social factors.
The last verse veers away from any demeaning sentimentality, any further diminishing of Mrs P as a person, the one lying dead there, in that plain council coffin:

…. Call it tragedy, rhythm, rhyme –
time, that dirty carnivore, ensures an end
   that stinks. But she’s asleep at last, asleep.
So cover her up, make sure her weary feet
          don’t need to tread the streets again.

What I especially appreciate about this verse is the range, how it veers from the reality of death, the dead body, to the humanity we shared and continue to share with her. That ability to shift register I applaud. And listen to its sound patterns: David Colmer gives good indications, even in this extract I quote, how the poems work to the ear.
In another Lonely Funerals poem, we see something altogether different:

Earth, Don’t Be Hard (this from his last collection, in 2016)

Earth, a virtuous body has now arrived.
A royal sun rose in it once,
its eyes shone brightly like a long July,
a breath of mellow twilight filled its lungs,
a spellbound moon traversed its breast.

He knew himself dying at this point. But if you need uplifting poetry, words to gladden and celebrate, here it is, this is it.

The palms of its hands felt water and stroked pets.
The soles of its feet kissed beaches and rocks. Insight.
A strange insight formed in its head, its tongue
grew sharp, its fingers found the fists they held,
it fought for bread and money, love and light.

Notice that ‘its‘ – there’s no ease of relationship; the sense of self has sharpened, become individualised, rather than considered a social statistic.

You can read an awful lot of books about it.
You can even written your own. Earth, don’t be hard
on this man who had at least a hundred keys,
but not a map or a compass for this blind path,
and now has come to spend his first night here.

His control of the change of register by this time was masterful: from the quiddity, the detail that could be mockery, of ‘the hundred keys,’ we go straight to the common fate, the all-end, to all our own blind endings on that same path to that first night in the grave.

– I don’t think Menno would mind me saying how that last line reminds me of that moment in the film, The Hunger, with Catherine Deneauve and David Bowie, when he was laid the first time among the ones who had gone before him, in that attic among the coffins: ‘Be gentle with him on his first night,’ she said tenderly to them. –

How well do you know the poetry of Jules Laforgue?
Let us consider this early poem, The  First Night.
It begins:

Here comes Evening, sweet to the old lecher…

It is the last verse, though, I call you to:

I imagine myself in the heart of the graveyard, and I put myself in their place, and I enter the coffins of those who are about to spend their first night here.
(plain prose translation by Graham Dunstan Martin, 1998, for Penguin Books).

This does not distract from Menno’s poem, but enhances. Jules Laforgue’s poem is almost flippant, it has the bravura of youth (he did not live long enough to outgrow it), but he given gravitas. It is interesting to see how that has been done.

Jules Laforgue was greatly enamoured of Schopenhauer, but his greatest love was Hartmann. With him he found a fellow-in-arms against the bourgeois world. Hartmann ( created a distance, rather than empathy – though acknowledging that the two positions are intertwined, co-dependent.
It is here that I think Menno’s ‘it‘ (above) was found, his love-hate relationship with life, the world.

So, how do Menno’s poems work? I mentioned above his extensive use of metre and regular forms. For him metre and rhythm are what pulls the reader through the poem. Not following the sense, the argument.
This is important.
For Menno Wigman this was his secret, and on this he worked all his short life. There was an lot of ‘attitude’ in those early poems – Jules Laforgue, at times, seems all ‘attitude’ – but he matured into a compassionate writer.


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.