Thursday Thoughts

I’ll have to think about this.

Thursday Thoughts
29 July 2021

Thursday is thought day, but what on earth am I thinking about? Well, yesterday I talked about open and closed imagery in poetry. I also talked about direct meaning and indirect meaning. So today’s thought is in Spanish and I have taken it from a poem of Federico García Lorca (1898-1936). “En la noche, platinoche, noche que noche nochera.” Sense and nonsense: what on earth does this mean? A literal translation gives us “in the night, silver-night, night which en-night-ens (more?) night”. Sense or nonsense? We shall find out. First, I would like you to read this article: https://moore.lib.unb.ca/Scholteach/platinoche.htm

Quite simply, the article discusses the difference between plain speech and poetic language. However, language has a tendency to simplify itself, to reduce itself downwards. Sentences become shorter. Ideas are simplified. Slogans replace thought. Emotion replaces reason. How and why this happens is a mystery, but I can assure you that it has happened throughout history. Just think of the breakdown from Classical Latin to Vulgar Latin to the various Romance Languages and Dialects that have replaced Latin in the areas where it used to be spoken. Break down, eliminate, simplify.

Thursday’s thoughts: why does this happen? How does it happen? Is it accidental? Is it deliberate? Should we follow meekly along and reduce our own thought and verbal processes? Should we just go gentle into that dark, but simplified, night? Should we resist? How can we resist? The answers to those questions will vary considerably. Each person who takes the time to read this will have a different set of reflections. That said, those answers are important, not just to each one of us as an individual, but also to us human beings as an inter-linked chain in society. All poets, all philosophers, all those who care about language, must reflect deeply on how they can preserve it, care for it, and make it mirror the depths, not of their own education, because not all of us privileged enough to be deeply educated, but our own intelligence. I have lived in places where people neither read nor write. It is so easy to dismiss them as ‘stupid’. I can assure you that they are not ‘stupid’ and to think of them is such is to ignore totally the oral tradition, the wisdom tradition, the cultural traditions from which these people come. We underestimate them at our peril.

What can we do? As poets, we can preserve the traditions and dignity of the depths of meaning, logical, emotional, sub-conscious, that is included in poetry. As writers, we can concentrate on using words with care and attention, of making our meaning clear, of elaborating our thoughts in such a way that others can follow them. As readers, we can look at inner structures, the deeper meaning of words, the emotional forces that try to persuade us, sometimes dishonestly, that this or that is best for us. As human beings we can extend our vocabularies, pay attention to words and their effects, and we can stand up for the linguistic and cultural traditions into which we were born, or in which we have chosen to live.

Now, always with your consent and permission, I will offer you the link to yesterday’s blog post https://rogermoorepoet.com/2021/07/28/22862/ Here you will find, if you choose to click on it, and it is always your choice, a discussion on meaning in language that will run parallel to this one.

International Book Day

23 April 1616 > 23 April 2021
International Book Day.

Today we celebrate the anniversary of the deaths of three great writers: el Inca Garcilasso de la Vega (Comentarios Reales, Peru), William Shakespeare (poetry and plays, England), and Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote and so much more, Spain).

Our hibiscus decided to issue its first official blossom of the year, just to help us all celebrate this day.

On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry

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On Re-reading Quevedo’s Poetry

Was that where my life went,
a spent candle trailing dark studies
among the packed lines of your poems?

And you, was your life gutted by that
same guttering candle by whose light you
scrawled your tight black spider rhymes?

Were they all meaningless, your insights
and my words? So few now know who
you were and what you represented
and I, your scholar, a mere shadow of your
shadow struggling in the straggling
light of a far-off continent, far from content
at knowing so much about you. Intent
I was on spreading light and the word
to a world that thinks the two of us absurd.

Our world is spinning on its edge, placed
on the perimeter of space, and going nowhere.
Specks of dust we sit and contemplate
the vastness of what exactly: our fortunes,
our spirits, our houses, our power, our lands?
Out there, in the vastness that surrounds us,
worlds without end will never know we existed.

Bleak and blank our names, our deeds, our status,
the statues they raise in our praise. And what of
our thoughts, those sparks of electricity
that link us lip to ear and mind to action
and each of our actions transformed by a dance
performed by circling planets that shape our wills?

Who programs that universe now? Who plays
what trivial games of snakes and ladders
in which we are the dots and dashes, pinballs
among a million trillion strings of flashing lights?

Where’s Home? (4)

What is he thinking?

Codes and Coding
Where’s Home? (4)
A continuing open letter to Jan Hull.

“Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world.” I wrote these words on March 23, 2020, on the 22nd day of our Covid-19 lockdown. Why recall this article now? Because Jan Hull talks about Nova Scotian conversational language codes in her book Where’s Home? and her ideas rang a bell and tugged at my memories. CFA, for example, and CBC, and my own invention WAH. Then there are her coffee shop codes of Tim Horton’s and her Burger codes of MacDonald’s, and I mustn’t forget her other small town talking codes of former times and newly named places, must of which are bewildering to the outsider, aka CFA.

Why codes and coding? A rhetorical question, of course. But codes and coding are the basic elements through which language transfers thought, our thoughts. What is a code? Well, we know all about Morse Code and the elaborate codes through which spies from all countries communicate their needs. A code is a way of converting language, changing it, making it available to those initiated in the code and unavailable to those who have not received such initiation. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

When I was travelling regularly to Spain for research in Spanish libraries, my first port of call was always the local barber shop. I did this for several reasons. In the first place, my Canadian haircut gave me away as a foreigner. This is the hairdresser’s code. The barber’s shop was always the centre of local gossip. Here, buzz words changed hands, politicians were discussed, all the local news was immediately available. Each of these items was a code, a code that made an insider (acceptable) versus an outsider (not to be spoken to). I remember, one summer in Madrid, not getting served in any bar or restaurant. Check haircut: okay. Check shoes: bought new Spanish pair. Check shirt, jacket, tie: all up to date. Inspect lucky customers who are being served … ah … they are all wearing a shiny brass pin showing the symbol of Madrid: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, as seen in La Puerta del Sol.

The next bar I entered saw me sporting El Oso y el Madroño in my lapel. Qué quiere el señor? Immediate service and with a smile. These are social codes, the codes that include the winks and nudges of the upper class, the secret handshakes and foot positions, the names dropped so gently and quietly that they never shatter when they hit the floor. There are also language codes. Northrop Frye wrote The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, a study of the mythology and structure of the Bible, and it was published in 1982. In this wonderful study, Frye showed how themes and language from the bible have influenced the structure of Western Literature, particularly that written in English. Within this code, names, themes, miracles, parables, psalms form a body of common knowledge available to all readers who are christian and whose first language is English.

But there are other codes. Think Courtly Love. Think Petracharism. Petrarch’s poetry, originally written in Italian, was widely imitated throughout Europe. Italian literature, Spanish, French, English, all dip into that code, as does Shakespeare among so many others. Think the Great Chain of Being. Shakespeare is incomprehensible in places unless you unlock this particular code. Think Platonism, NeoPlatonism, Stoicism, Existentialism … okay, so all this is academic, and I do not want to lose you in a sea of academia. So think NFL, think NBA, think NHL, think baseball, think cricket, think rugby, think darts, think all of the things we manipulate on a daily basis in our lives and think how they include some people (those who know and share our codes) and exclude others (those who are unaware of them). LBW, c&bc. A, b. B, st. A b. B, w, W, b, lb, lbw, dec., RSP … and think of the hand gestures that accompany them! You would have to be an ardent follower of the mysterious game of cricket, as I am, to immediately understand all those letters and signs.

This is a wonderful line of discussion. It follows along the lines of micro-language and macro-language. Macro-language is accessible to all who happen to speak that language. Micro-language in its multidinous forms incarnadine belongs ONLY to those who share the micro community, be it family, household, village, town, county, region … all that is closest and dearest to our micro-hearts.

When I was in Moncton (2015), at the Auberge Msgr. Henri Cormier, I spoke French on a daily basis. Being an academic and a linguist, I was fascinated by the levels of French that were spoken in that small community. Here are the levels I identified: (1) LFI, Le francais international, the central French language that I spoke and everyone understood. (2) Acadian, a beautiful language with regional variations, a different accent and rhythm, and some very different words and phrases. (3) Chiac, the mixed English-French used by the citizens of Moncton, whose wonderful poets are trying to get it established as a literary language. (4) Community French, five families from Paquetville were there and when they spoke among themselves about their home town, references, history, culture were all barriers to those who did not come from Paquetville. (5) Family Groups, and this is easy to understand, for all families have their in-jokes, their coded speech, their conversations that keep the outsider outside of the family group.

It is a fascinating study, that of coded languages, and I thank you, Jan, for re- opening it and reminding me of it.

Where’s Home?

Where’s Home?
by
Jan Fancy Hull

An Open Letter to Jan Hull

Right from the address on the envelope where you gifted me a knighthood, calling me Sir Roger, I was captivated by this package.

I opened it at the Beaver Pond in Mactaquac and started to read as Clare did her daily walk, widdershins round the pond. Alas, I missed the great blue heron flying. Ditto, the osprey and the kingfisher. I heard all about them later.

Only you, Jan, only you. You are truly unique. Your words jump off the page, lean across the table to me, and offer me bread and wine. I do hope that this book is the first of many. Your words brought tears to my eyes and hope to my heart.

So many themes that touched me deeply. The loss of language and culture: in this case, French and Gaelic, in my own case Welsh, a forbidden language when I was growing up. It is only now, at an advanced age, that I have started to learn it. What memories it brings back.

The sending of indigenous children to residential schools: in my own case, starting at age six, I was sent away to a series of boarding schools and never escaped until I was 18 years old. Good-bye family and culture: hello loneliness and solitude.

The enforcement of religion, top down, with the vicious punishments that accompanied doubt, unbelief, or non-acceptance. The brutal separation from family, with the whole experience of reintegration into a now-become-foreign world, relocation, loss of roots and culture, the difficulties of not belonging to the new communities.

There is a brighter side too, and I will get to that another day. Meanwhile, congratulations on this book, Jan. May it be the first of many and a delight and revelation to all.

Brân

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Brân

Golden in the starlight, moon carved mountains and valleys, taut the skin, treacherous to the touch.  Heavy he is, glowing. He and his children. We carry them to the dark beneath the trees. Locate the secret, sacred place. Dig deep, bury him with the hoard.
We all know the place. Have measured it with footsteps. None will reveal it. Not under torture. Rather our lives than darkness eternal.
My mother limps beside me. Back-bent and broken. A crone in the moonlight. She’s been here before. Much too often. That’s how she bore me. Caught by the heathen. Captured and taken and twenty times taken.
Me, the blond son. Son of sea-raiders. Not black like my brothers. But never forsaken.
Head of the household, her man rejected her. Called for the Druids with mistletoe and magic, herbs and fragrance, scourging their medicine.
She would not drink them. Said she would keep me. Her biggest baby. Blond. To take vengeance.
Behind us, the villa in flames, there in the distance. Smoke rises heavenwards. Blots out the stars. “We should have fought,” my brothers say. “You would be dead,” my mother replies.
Brân, the white crow. King Arthur revenant. I fly the land, my brothers behind me. Black-haired, black-feathered. Strong as the crow flies. We travel at night. Fast now and furious.
My long bow penetrates. Shatters oak shields. Kills at a distance. None can withstand it. Daylight finds us grouped in the forest. Close to the place where the dragon lies buried. Close to my mother, the place where she sleeps.
Oh yes, they hunt us. But they don’t dare find us. Swift is their fate if they come close. Frightened they are, feared by the finding, wordless and dumb at the swift ending.

Comment: It’s an ill-wind, they say, blows nobody any good. So, ipso facto, some good must come from even the worst of things. Maybe, like Charles Dickens, I should write: ‘These were the worst of times, these were the best of times.’ The worst, because we have been under lock down, first voluntary, then involuntary, and now voluntary again, for 83 days. The worst, because we know that many people are dying and that many, many more are suffering. The worst, because we see some people, who think they are above the law, flouting the law and getting away with it while putting other innocent people at risk. The best, because we have seen extraordinary sacrifices made by the humblest people, many of whom, shop clerks, garbage collectors, street cleaners, bus drivers, taxi drivers, nurses, care-workers, house cleaners, were seen, if they were seen at all, as cheap labor to be exploited. However, thanks to CV, we now see them for what they are: the keys to making our lives and our economies function. The best, because where precautions have been taken the death toll has dropped and so have the infections. The best, because once again, we are free to move around so much more. However, many of us, after so long, no longer want to.

For me, safely distanced among the trees in my ivory tower, these have also been the best of times. I have made many new friends online. I have restructured the ordering of my acquaintances. I have gone into my computer files and found things that I cannot even remember having written. One such is Brân, the white crow, who is said to be King Arthur, still alive, and flying everywhere, ready to protect his from the evils that beset them. I do not know when I wrote this piece. Nor do I remember where the ideas came from. In what secret fold of the mind were they born? I do not know. But I do know that I have seventeen manuscripts, many of them rediscovered during this Dickensian ‘best of times / worst of times’, and all of them awaiting publication. This one is from a 67 page manuscript called A Cambrian Chronicle. 67 pages … and I don’t remember writing any of them.

Applause

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Applause

All that I hear
around me:
the mixing and matching
of shingle and stone,
waves hissing,
grinding the beach down
as they move in and out.

Comment: We are surrounded by news, fake news, false news, and systematic deception. What can we now trust? I no longer know. But I do know that the above poem is not nihilistic. It expresses the reduction of applause and insubstantial glory to the minutiae of the daily doings of the natural world, in comparison to which we humans are nothing. “Look on my works ye mighty and despair” … hand gestures, smiles, thunderous applause from the chosen gathered to bear witness and paid to applaud, whatever the event. Alas, I cannot say it as well as Shelley. Here’s his Ozymandias (11 January 1818).

I met a traveler from an antique land
who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

and on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
the lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

 

 

 

With my angel

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… with my angel …

            … with my angel … face to face … the one I have carried within me since the day I was born … the black-one … winged like a crow … the one that hovers over me as I lie asleep … the one who wraps me in his feathered wings when I am alone and chilled by the world around me … the one who flaps with me on his back when I can walk no further … the one who creates the single set of footprints that plod their path through the badlands when I can walk no more …

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… ‘the truth’ my black angel says to me … I say ‘he’ but he is a powerful spirit, not sexed in anyway I know it … and yet I think of him as ‘he’ …awesome in the tiny reflection he sometimes allows me to glimpse of his power and glory … for, like Rilke, I could not bear meeting his whole angelic being face to face … as I cannot bear the sun, not by day, and not in eclipse … not even with smoked glass … when earthly values turn upside down and earth takes on a new reality … wild birds and bank swallows roosting at three in the afternoon … and that fierce heat draining from the summer sky … I remember it well … and the dog whimpering as a portion of the angel’s wing erased the sun until an umber midnight ruled … a simple phenomenon, the papers said … the moon coming between the earth and the sun …but magic … pure magic … to we who stood on the shore at Skinner’s Pond and sensed the majesty of the universe … more powerful than anything we could imagine … and the dog … taking no comfort from its human gods … whimpering at our feet …
… I saw a single feather floating down and knew my angel had placed himself between me and all that glory … to protect me … to save me from myself … and I saw that snowflake of an angel feather bleached from black to white by some small trick of the sunlight … and knowledge filled me … and for a moment I felt the glory … the magnificence … and there are no words for that slow filling up with want and desire as light filters from the sky and the body fills with darkness … and I was so afraid … afraid of myself … of where I had been … of where I was … of what I might return to … of my lost shadow … snipped from my heels …
… I don’t know how I heard my angel’s words … ‘the time of truth is upon you’ … ‘all you have ever been is behind you now’ … ‘naked you stand here on this shore … like the grains of sand on this beach … your days are numbered by the only one who counts’ … I heard the sound of roosting wings … but I heard and saw nothing more … I felt only midnight’s cold when the chill enters the body and the soul is sore afraid …
… ‘it is the law’ my angel said … I saw a second feather fall … ‘and the law says man must fail … his spirit must leave its mortal shell and fly back to the light’ … ‘blood will cease to flow … the heart will no longer beat … the spirit must accept and go’ … ‘do not assume… nobody knows what lies in wait’ … ‘blind acceptance … the only way … now …  in this twilight hour …  now when you are blind … only the blind shall receive the gift of sight’ … ‘all you have … your wife … your house … your car … your child … everything you think of as yours … I own … and on that day … I will claim it from you and take it for my own … now I can say no more’ …
… the sea-wind rose with a sigh and one by one night’s shadows fled … the moon’s brief circle sped from the sun … light returned, a drop at a time, sunshine flowing from a heavenly clepsydra filled with light …
… birds ceased to circle … a stray dog saw a sea-gull and chased it back to sea … and the sun … source of all goodness … was once again a golden coin floating in the sky …
… on my shoulder a feather perched … a whisper of warmth wrapped its protective cloak around my shoulders … for a moment, just a moment, I knew I was the apple of my angel’s eye … and I hoped and still hope that one day I might meet him again and understand …

Comment: An article on Marcus Aurelius in this morning’s paper made me think of this piece that I wrote, way back when, in the days when I was studying Francisco de Quevedo and the Neo-Stoic movement, courtesy of my good friend and colleague Henry Ettinghausen. “The day we were born we took our first steps on the road to death,” Quevedo wrote in one of his poems. With my angel is my own Neo-Neo-Stoic attempt to come face to face with that very personal reality, one which we all face, and to stare it down, eyeball to eyeball. Alas, in these troubled times, we must confront the knowledge that troubled times have been here before, that other generations have suffered them, and luckily, other generations have survived. We wouldn’t be here if they hadn’t. As another good friend, of mine Victor Hendricken, wrote on this blog just yesterday: “We continue to live on between inhale and exhale; we continue to live on between intake and exhaust, food and faeces. And in this time of self-isolation, we still abide by many of the same personal rules, including morning ablutions, setting and shutting off the alarm. Chin up, old boy. This too shall pass.” I found these words from Victor very comforting. With friendship, solid advice, and the ability to learn from those who have gone before us how to confront difficult times, this too shall pass.

Why?

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Why?

“Where are you going?” I ask again. “To see a man about a dog,” my father replies.  “Why?” I ask. “Hair of the dog,” his voice ghosts through the rapidly closing crack as the front door shuts behind him. “Why?” I cry out.

I recall the mud nest jammed tight against our garage roof. Tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open. Parent birds sit on a vantage point of electric cable, their beaks moving in silent encouragement. A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw, a small body thudding down a ladder of air to crash beak first on the concrete.

“Why?” I ask.

The age-old answer comes back to me. “Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.” The swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor, the weakening wing flaps, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs.

“Why?” I ask.”

Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye,” my grandfather says.

“Why?” I repeat. “I want to know why.” Silence hangs a question mark over the unsatisfied spaces of my questing mind.

Comment: A golden oldie. We would all like to know why. But there are no answers. Just riddles cast, like two trunk-less legs of stone, on the sands of time. Nothing beside remains. Yet still we ask the age old question? Why? And still we get the age old answer from the ageing masters who rule our childhood lives and teach us everything they know: “Because.”

Day 23 CV-19

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Day 23 CV-19
Codes and Coding

“Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world.” I wrote these words just yesterday [Day 22 CV-22]. The words are mine, but the idea belongs elsewhere. I have borrowed it and adopted it. I would willingly attribute it to a specific author, but I do not know who said it first. I offer my apologies to the to me unknown genius who first spoke these words.

Why codes and coding? A rhetorical question, of course. But codes and coding are the basic elements through which language transfers thought, our thoughts. What is a code? Well, we know all about Morse Code and the elaborate codes through which spies from all countries communicate their needs. A code is a way of converting language, changing it, making it available to those initiated in the code and unavailable to those who have not received such initiation. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

When I was travelling regularly to Spain for research in Spanish libraries, my first port of call was always the local barber shop. I did this for several reasons. In the first place, my Canadian haircut gave me away as a foreigner. This is the hairdresser’s code. The barber’s shop was always the centre of local gossip. Here, buzz words changed hands, politicians were discussed, all the local news was immediately available. Each of these items was a code, a code that made an insider (acceptable) versus an outsider (not to be spoken to). I remember, one summer in Madrid, not getting served in any bar or restaurant. Check haircut: okay. Check shoes: bought new pair. Check shirt, jacket, tie: all up to date. Inspect lucky customers … ah … they are all wearing a shiny brass pin showing the symbol of Madrid: El Oso y el Madroño, the bear and the strawberry tree, as seen in La Puerta del Sol.

The next bar I entered saw me sporting El Oso y el Madroño in my lapel. Qué quiere el señor? Immediate service and with a smile. These are social codes, the codes that include the winks and nudges of the upper class, the secret handshakes and foot positions, the names dropped so gently and quietly that they never shatter when they hit the floor. There are also language codes. Northrop Frye wrote The Great Code: The Bible and Literature, a study of the mythology and structure of the Bible was published in 1982. In this wonderful study, Frye showed how themes and language from the bible have influenced the structure of Western Literature, particularly that written in English. Within this code, names, themes, miracles, parables, psalms form a body of are common knowledge available to all readers who are christian and whose first language is English.

But there are other codes. Think Petracharism. Petrarch’s poetry, originally written in Italian, was widely imitated throughout Europe. Italian literature, Spanish, French, English, all dip into that code, as does Shakespeare among so many others. Think the Great Chain of Being. Shakespeare is incomprehensible in places unless you unlock this particular code. Think Platonism, Neo-Platonism, Stoicism, Existentialism … okay, so all this is academic, and I do not want to lose you in a sea of academia. So think NFL, think NBA, think NHL, think baseball, think cricket, think rugby, think darts, think all of the things we manipulate on a daily basis in our lives and think how they include some people (those who know and share our codes) and exclude others (those who are unaware of them). LBW, c&b,  c. A, b. B, st. A b. B, w, W, b, lb, dec., rsp …

This is a wonderful line of discussion. It follows along the lines of micro-language and macro-language. Macro-language is accessible to all who happen to speak that language. Micro-language in its multidinous forms incarnadine belongs ONLY to those who share the micro community, be it family, household, village, town, county, region … all that is closest and dearest to our micro-hearts.