Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Paean to the Equinox

Hail Equinox!  Emblem of an equal King,
whose balance-pan lies level ‘neath the oak
where his hands  with open palms dispense
plain justice, to earl and churl alike.

Now doth the husbandman  fête Harvest-Home,
from sheavèd grain   bakes celebrating loaves,
and with sweet rising smoke salutes
the prospect of the fall of autumn leaves.

E’en as our Maker  sundered dark from light,
in one proportion, when the World began,
so too the equinoctial Judge sits throned,
and equably  divides the day from night.

Praise Him! whose broad hand shaped us out of clay,
and like the Equinox, parts night from day.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Ontological discontinuity (at the nether end)

As was known to all until perhaps the 18th century (when certain mechanists would strive to deny it, as do certain homunculi  even in our own day), there is an ontological discontinuity between Man and Beast; a matter touched upon here.  But what is the case, within the order of the Beasts;  or indeed, between the least of these, and the mere madness of atoms?

We have  from time to time  penned odd little poems, or perplexing parables,  which in fact do seek to glimpse that phase-change, from random atoms  to the least of God’s creatures -- the infinum of the scala naturae.  For a representative sample, try this:

For the full roster of such things, here:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Huthi: How to Pronounce it

Having improbably broken out of their northwest-Yemen fastnesses, first to overrun Yemen itself, a previously obscure Zaydi tribal formation  has now captured world headlines and are all over the airwaves.   It’s still early days, and two pronunciations are vying for mastery, one correct and one a mispronunciation.  The correct pronunciation is: 


with the voiceless version of the interdental fricative th,  thus rhyming with toothy.  (Were it the voiced version of our ambiguous digraph th, it would rhyme with smoothie.)  Some broadcasters are mispronouncing it HOO-tee;  this post is an effort to strangle that in the cradle.   (We earlier offered the same service w.r.t.  ISIS vs ISIL;  in that case, the changeling won out.)

This interdental fricative phoneme is not especially common among the better-known world languages, but Arabic in fact has it in both voiced and voiceless versions, respectively spelled  ذ   and   ث  .  The latter appears in the Yemeni name حوثي.

The French language lacks both of these, and the h sound as well (of which last Arabic is richly supplied with two phonemically distinct versions, a breathy and a ‘strong’ or pharyngealized);  hence they are reduced to bleating   “oo-tee”.  But you wouldn’t want to sound like that, now would you.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019


On the occasion of a new biography of Donald Barthelme, who once appealed to my undergraduate taste, Louis Menand considers whether that author should be considered a Modernist or a Postmodernist;   and adds an acute discussion of the ambiguity of the prefix “post-” in such employment.   In the first, “Mission Accomplished” sense, “being postmodernist just means that we can never be pre-modernist again.”   In the snootier “epitaph” or “we’re so over that” sense, “being postmodernist means that we can never be modernist again.”
As for the original project of the Modernists (as, Picasso, Joyce), “they did it by shifting interest from the what to the how of art,  from the things represented in a painting or novel  to the business of representation itself.
[The New Yorker, 23 Feb 2009, p. 68]

As in other cases of such self-consciously trendy, navel-gazing devolutions,  the gambit was not original.  In Curtius’ chapter on the post-Classical period in Greece,

The materials and implements necessary for writing  now also became worthy of a poet’s art.  We have epigrams on the writing tablet; on the wax with which it is covered; on the calamus;  as well as a threat to the boring beetle, “enemy of the Muses”.
[Ernst Curtius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages (1948), p. 306]

From thence  it is but a few steps down to exhibiting urinals in museums (thus Duchamps), or penning an ode to a chamber-pot, as in Gide’s accurately titled Les Faux-Monnayeurs:

La Vase Nocturne

Quiconque à quarante ans    n’a pas d’hémorroïdes …

Monday, September 2, 2019

Hidden glimpses

Brandenburg Gate monostich

He could make out the lorries on the eastern side  through the waving veils of rain.
-- Tim Powers, Declare (2001), p.  267

Foggy mini-monostich

… mists  in the middle distance…
-- Tim Powers, Declare (2001), p. 483

Friday, August 30, 2019

Labor Day indeed

The human year needs public holidays, each with its own import, to give structure to the cycle of experience, the way a body needs a skeleton, which would else be a flabby blob.  The traditional Church is rich in these;  we in the secular world need cherish what few we’ve got.

For long, the Labor Day weekend served as a sort of Mardi Gras, marking the end of the lotus months of summer, a last family fling before knuckling down to to the autumnal duties of work and school.   That role has been undermined by lobbies that, in many places, have contrived to start up the school year prematurely.   (In our area, thus jumping the gun  proved especially pointless, as we've had a streak of sultry weather, and some classes had to be cancelled on that account.) Kudos to the governor of Maryland for putting a stop to that.

[re-posted from 2016]

For the roster of our posts concerning public holidays, click here.
For labor matters, here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

In Stir

Jailtime means waiting.
Waiting for morning,
then waiting for night;    wanting to eat,
waiting for visitors   and begging for sleep.

-- Susan Stern, With the Weathermen (1975).

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Wardrobe Malfunction

Wardrobe Malfunction,
Then and Now

With a waist and with a side
White as Hebe's, when her zone
Slipt its golden clasp, and down
Fell her kirtle to her feet,
While she held the goblet sweet
And Jove grew languid.

-- Keats