Kyoto 1996

March 19, 2004 | Comments (0)

A Curious Drama

"We witnessed a curious drama when the Nepalese came to gather honey. The Tibetan government has officially forbidden Tibetans to take honey, because their religion does not allow them to deprive animals of their food. However, here, as in most other places, people like to circumvent the law, and so the Tibetans, including the bönpos, allow the Nepalese to have the honey they collect, and then buy it back from them.

This honey taking is a very risky adventure as the bees hide the honeycomb under the projecting rocks of deep ravines. Long bamboo ladders are dropped, down which men climb sometimes two or three hundred feet, swinging free in the air. Below them flows the Kosi and if the rope which holds the ladder breaks it means certain death for them. They use smoke balls to keep the angry bees away as the men collect the honeycomb, which is hoisted up in containers by a second rope. A condition of the success of this operation is perfect and well-rehearsed combination, as the sound of shouts or whistles is lost in the roar of the river below. On this occasion eleven men worked for a week in the ravine, and the price at which they sold the honey had no relation to the risks they ran. I much regretted that I had no ciné-camera with which to take a picture of this dramatic scene."

Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet (1953)

March 17, 2004 in Apiary | Comments (0)

Some Iambics

To wish to be a despot, ' to hunger after tyranny,' as the Greek phrase had it, marks in our day an uncultivated mind. A person who so wishes cannot have weighed what Butler calls the 'doubtfulness things are involved in.' To be sure you are right, to impose your will or wish to impose it with violence upon others, -- to see your own ideas vividly and fixedly, and to be tormented till you can apply them in life and practice, not to like to hear the opinions of others, to be unable to sit down and weigh the truth they have, are but crude states of intellect in our present civilisation. We know, at least, that facts are many; that progress is complicated; that burning ideas (such as young men have) are mostly false and always incomplete. The notion of a far-seeing and despotic statesman, who can lay down plans for ages yet unborn, is a fancy generated by the pride of the human intellect to which facts give no support.

Walter Bagehot, The English Constitution (1867)

The Greek phrase to which he refers are likely some lines of Archilochus, perhaps the earliest use of the word "tyranny."

Οὔ μοι τὰ Γύγεω τοῦ πολυχρύσου,
οὐδ᾽ εἷλέ πώ με ζῆλος, οὐδ᾽ ἀγαίομαι
θεῶν ἔργα, μεγάλης δ᾽ οὐκ ἐρέω τυραννίδος·
ἀπόπροθεν γάρ ἐστιν ὀφθαλμῶν ἐμῶν.

These golden matters
Of Gyges and his treasuries
Are no concern of mine.
Jealousy has no power over me,
Nor do I envy a god his work,
And I don't burn to rule.
Such things have no
Fascination for my eyes.

J.M. Edmonds, Greek Elegy and Iambus vol. II (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1979). Translation by Guy Davenport in 7 Greeks (New York: New Directions Books, 1995). The Greek should look like Greek. Please comment if it doesn't display correctly.

March 13, 2004 | Comments (0)

an ancient Avro

His flaggy wings, when forth he did display,
Were like two sayles, in which the hollow wynd
Is gathered full, and worketh speedy way:
And eke the pennes, that did his pineons bynd,
Were like mayne-yardes with flying canvas lynd;
With which whenas him list the ayre to beat,
And there by force unwonted passage fynd,
The clouds before him fledd for terror great,
And all the heavens stood still amazed with his threat.

Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

March 13, 2004 | Comments (0)


The hope of philosophy was to create a tranquillity so stable that the world could not assail it. This stability will always turn out to be a madness or obsession or brutal indifference to the world. Philosophy is rather the self-mastery that frees one enough--of laziness, selfishness, rage, jealousy, and such failures of spirit--to help others, write for others draw for others, be friends.....
Guy Davenport. "Journal I," in The Hunter Gracchus. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint, 1996. Previously published in Antaeus.

March 12, 2004 | Comments (0)


We were looking in some old boxes and found a volume, Tu Fu: Selected Poems, a souvenir from a couple of years spent in Hong Kong two decades ago. (We sometimes enjoy making ourself sound ancient.)

Written for the Scholar Wei
Our lives have been lived in different worlds;
Yet this night we come together,
Talking while the lamplight lasts;
Once we were young together, but the days
Have gone so fast, and now the hair on our temples
Has changed to white;
We speak of old friends now gone; a chance
Has brought me to you; when we parted
Twenty years ago, you had not married, now
You have a troupe of sons and daughters,
Big to small; they were so kind
To me, asking me where I came from, glad
I am their father's friend; without waiting
For more words bringing wine, going out
Into the rain to cut fresh vegetables to put
With my bowl of hot millet; and you say
How difficult it has been for us to meet,
Drinking ten toasts to me, one after another,
Yet we do not get drunk, inspired by
The warmth of your affection;
And tomorrow hills and valleys
Will separate us again, and we will each return
To our own affairs.

Tu Fu [712-770 A.D.]: Selected Poems. Compiled by Feng Chih. Translated by Rewi Alley. (Hong Kong: The Commercial Press, 1962.) The website Chinese Poems has a nice selection of poems of the Tang and Song dynasties, including "Written for the Scholar Wei". The poems are displayed in Chinese, with a Pinyin (romanized) version, a word-for-word crib, and a literal translation. Learning Chinese is still on my to-do list. Third time's a charm?

March 10, 2004 | Comments (0)


"On April 30, 1859, Charles Dickens launched his new journal All the Year Round. On the first page of that first issue, chapters one and two of Dicken's newest novel A Tale of Two Cities began to appear. Over the next 31 weeks, the installments of A Tale of Two Cities captured the attention of the reading public in England and America, and did just what their author had hoped: created popular enthusiasm for the new periodical. As Dickens released the novel--in "teaspoons" as he joked to Carlyle-- the popularity of his novel and his new periodical grew. By the time the final number of the A Tale of Two Cities was released, in November, 1859, the readership of All the Year Round had grown to over 100,000."

Thanks to the Stanford Discovering Dickens Project we're re-enacting a little of that serial excitement, reading A Tale of Two Cities in teaspoons as facsimiles of the 1859 journal arrive in our mailbox each Friday. We're halfway through the novel (apologies for not being more timely) but you can still sign up, and pdfs are available for the numbers already published.

Breakfast Serial:
We're also following daily installments of the Oráculo Manual y Arte de Prudencia of Baltasar Grácian y Morales (1647), which you may have seen in bookstores as the Art of Worldly Wisdom, here in Spanish and Curculio's English translation. While we are there we usually check out Curculio's daily dose of Ambrose Bierce's Write It Right. Also, the Ghost Stories of Montague Rhodes James.

March 7, 2004 | Comments (0)


Aneurin Bevan, Welsh statesman, In Place of Fear (1952), talking about the student of politics:

He must also be on his guard against the old words, for the words persist when the reality that lay behind them has changed. It is inherent in our intellectual activity that we seek to imprison reality in our description of it. Soon, long before we realize it, it is we who become the prisoners of the description. From that point on, our ideas degenerate into a kind of folklore which we pass to each other, fondly thinking we are still talking of the reality around us.
The Bevan page linked above comes courtesy of the link-rich Spartacus site.

March 7, 2004 | Comments (0)

Slow Reading


You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There were plenty of persons whom the text calls
Daimonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, the bedeviled (as for "the possessed"
It's no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print and screens,
Rarely engaging in arts and literature.
But the Gospel parable remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which, exasperated by such a sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.
Czeslaw Milosz, Bells in Winter (1978)

March 3, 2004 | Comments (0)

Wych Elm

From Ezra Pound's La Fraisne (1909):

I wrapped my tears in an ellum leaf
And left them under a stone...

There is a neighborhood of Dallas, Texas, known as "Deep Ellum" from the late 19th century pronunciation of its major thoroughfare, Elm Street. It is now an arts and entertainment district.

Pound's poem can be found in the collection "Personæ: The Shorter Poems of Ezra Pound. -- A revised edition prepared by Lea Baechler and A. Walton Litz." (New Directions, 1990.) "La Fraisne" is prefaced in some editions with a note, "Scene: The Ash Wood of Malvern." Fraisne = mod. French Frêne (Latin Fraxinus, English Ash). All of the trees mentioned in the poem are found in the Malvern Hills.

March 3, 2004 | Comments (1)