Showing posts from June, 2015

Plato: Apology - Socrates' Defense

How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made me forget who I was - such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one of them which quite amazed me; - I mean when they told you to be upon your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this, unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying, they have hardly uttered a word, or not more than a word, of truth; but you shall hear from me the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner, in a set oration duly o…

Sappho: One Girl

I Like the sweet apple which reddens upon the topmost bough, Atop on the topmost twig, — which the pluckers forgot, somehow, — Forget it not, nay; but got it not, for none could get it till now.
                               II Like the wild hyacinth flower which on the hills is found, Which the passing feet of the shepherds for ever tear and wound, Until the purple blossom is trodden in the ground.

Edmund Spenser: Of this worlds Theatre in which we stay

Of this worlds Theatre in which we stay, My love lyke the Spectator ydly sits Beholding me that all the pageants play, Disguysing diversly my troubled wits. Sometimes I joy when glad occasion fits, And mask in myrth lyke to a Comedy: Soone after when my joy to sorrow flits, I waile and make my woes a Tragedy. Yet she beholding me with constant eye, Delights not in my merth nor rues my smart: But when I laugh she mocks, and when I cry She laughes, and hardens evermore her hart. What then can move her? if not merth nor mone, She is no woman, but a sencelesse stone.
Amoretti LIV

Thomas Bernhard, the Alienator

For the sympathetic Anglophone charged with reviewing newly translated texts by the Austrian playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard, the task is a paradoxically onerous one. Put aside the near certainty that Bernhard would have disparaged anything you might say about his work — not just disparaged it, but attacked it with an acid-tongued rant that eviscerated your words, your intellect and your pathetic petit-bourgeois existence. You still have to deal with the almost overwhelming ambition, common to Bernhard fans, to correct his woeful stature in the English-speaking world, as well as the equally oppressive realization that opportunities for doing so are fast running out.

The 21 years since Bernhard died after a lifelong battle with tuberculosis have witnessed a slow but steady trickle of translations, including Old Masters, The Loser and Extinction, which, with Woodcutters, form a loose tetralogy (or, in the formulation of the Bernhard scholar Gitta Honegger, a classical trilogy to …

Constantine P. Cavafy: Waiting For The Barbarians

-What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

The barbarians are due here today.-Why isn't anything going on in the senate?
Why are the senators sitting there without legislating?

Because the barbarians are coming today.
What's the point of senators making laws now?
Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.-Why did our emperor get up so early,
and why is he sitting enthroned at the city's main gate,
in state, wearing the crown?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and the emperor's waiting to receive their leader.
He's even got a scroll to give him,
loaded with titles, with imposing names.-Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today
wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas?
Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts,
rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds?
Why are they carrying elegant canes
beautifully worked in silver and gold?

Because the barbarians are coming today
and things like that dazzle the barbarians.-Why don't o…

Playing Elizabeth's Tune : William Byrd


Philip Sidney: Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust

Leave me, O Love, which reachest but to dust; And thou, my mind, aspire to higher things; Grow rich in that which never taketh rust; Whatever fades but fading pleasure brings. Draw in thy beams and humble all thy might To that sweet yoke where lasting freedoms be; Which breaks the clouds and opens forth the light, That both doth shine and give us sight to see. O take fast hold; let that light be thy guide In this small course which birth draws out to death, And think how evil becometh him to slide, Who seeketh heav'n, and comes of heav'nly breath. Then farewell, world; thy uttermost I see: Eternal Love, maintain thy life in me.

Francis Bacon: Of Love

The stage is more beholding to love, than the life of man. For as to the stage, love is ever matter of comedies, and now and then of tragedies; but in life it doth much mischief; sometimes like a siren, sometimes like a fury. You may observe that amongst all the great and worthy persons (whereof the memory remaineth, either ancient or recent) there is not one that hath been transported to the mad degree of love: which shows that great spirits and great business do keep out this weak passion. You must except nevertheless Marcus Antonius, the half partner of the empire of Rome, and Appius Claudius, the decemvir and lawgiver; whereof the former was indeed a voluptuous man, and inordinate; but the latter was an austere and wise man: and therefore it seems (though rarely) that love can find entrance not only into an open heart, but also into a heart well fortified, if watch be not well kept. It is a poor saying of Epicurus, Satis magnum alter alteri theatrum sumus [Each is to another a the…

Undoing Time: The Life and Work of Samuel Beckett

For Samuel Beckett, hindsight was the mode of true insight. That Time, written in English between June 1974 and August 1975, and first performed at the Royal Court on 20 May 1976, is one of the best dramatisations of his vision of being human. Like all his work, the play is founded, at some distance, in his own life experience, but it is framed, in every sense, in the language of the creative process. This time, unusually, the vision is a happy one, and its representation goes forward with pleasing ease. For Beckett, life was a matter of doing time, while writing was a way of undoing it - a process of transformation by which writer, written, and listeners enter together into a different understanding of not what, but how it is to be human. Mid-stage, high up, off-centre, is the old white face of the Listener, who is also his own Author, surrounded by a flare of long white hair. His eyes are open, and his breathing is steady and audible. Three voices, all his own, address him in turn, a…

The Love of Her Life - The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares

Elizabeth Bishop -- in person and in her poetry -- was wry, discreet and a little peculiar. A Vassar girl and a disciple of Marianne Moore, Bishop rejected the confessional, politicized bent of her contemporaries. (She refused even to be included in anthologies of women's poetry.) Shunted about unhappily as a child, Bishop chose as her theme displacement, and as her aesthetic self-abnegation: a sometimes arid neutrality, the opposite of attention seeking. How stunning, then, to learn that the love of Bishop's life was a swaggering Brazilian woman, the aristocratic self-trained architect Lota de Macedo Soares. A bold and funny self-promoter, Soares spearheaded the development of Parque do Flamengo, an elaborate public park in the center of Rio de Janeiro. There was a fairy-tale intensity to the women's romance, which began when Soares nursed Bishop back to health during what was intended to be a brief visit to Brazil. Instead, Bishop stayed on, and the couple nested happily t…

Sir John Davies: To The Rose



AYE of the Garden, Queene of flowres,
ove's cup wherein he nectar powres,
ngendered first of nectar ;
weet nurse-child of the Spring's young howres,
nd Beautie's faire character.

est iewell that the Earth doth weare,
uen when the braue young sunne draws neare,
o her hot Loue pretending ;
imselfe likewise like forme doth beare,
t rising and descending.

ose of the Queene of Loue belou'd ;
ngland's great Kings diuinely mou'd,
ave Roses in their banner ;
t shewed that Beautie's Rose indeed,
ow in this age should them succeed,
nd raigne in more sweet manner.

Franz Kafka’s badly healed wounds

Prague, mid-1880s. A young boy has been keeping his parents awake by repeatedly asking for water; exasperated, his father picks him up and carries him to the communal balcony (or Pawlatsche), where the child is left for a while, dressed only in his nightshirt.

This episode forms the dramatic climax of Franz Kafka’s “Brief an den Vater” (“Letter to his Father”), a lengthy epistle in which the thirty-six-year-old writer takes stock of his relationship with his father, Hermann. As cases of child mistreatment go, the incident is certainly harmless; indeed, Kafka concedes that Hermann used physical punishment only sparingly. The threat of violence, however, was ubiquitous, and the Pawlatsche episode embodied this traumatic sense of exposure: “For years to come I suffered agonies when I imagined how this giant man, my father, the ultimate authority, would come, for practically no reason, and carry me from my bed to thePawlatsche at night, and that I was such a nothing to him”. The charge, th…

What to Make of Heidegger in 2015

NEARLY 40 YEARS AFTER HIS DEATH, the philosopher Martin Heidegger continues to influence philosophers, political theorists, and intellectuals across a broad diversity of fields. Leo Strauss and Herbert Marcuse in the United States; major figures in European radical Marxism (such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Gianni Vattimo); Japanese thinkers as Count Kuki Shuzo and Keiji Nishitani; renowned architects, filmmaker, and novelists such as Daniel Libeskind, Terrence Malick, and Tom McCarthy have carefully studied and were deeply influenced by the German thinker’s analysis of human existence and his critique of modern hyper-technological rationalism. Few would deny that Heidegger is one of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of his death. Yet he will not be commemorated in the way many of his disciples, such as Hannah Arendt, Richard Rorty, and Jacques Derrida, have been. Evidence that Heidegger at one time was a member of the Nazi party has…

Thomas Tallis: 'Spem in Alium’

Spem in alium (Latin for "Hope in any other") is a 40-part Renaissance motet by Thomas Tallis, composed in c. 1570 for eight choirs of five voices each, widely considered to be the greatest piece of English early music and one of the greatest choral works ever composed.[citation needed] Along with Tallis's Lamentations, H. B. Collins described it in 1929 as Tallis's "crowning achievement".

Take a look at Classic FM’s Hall of Fame, and there among the poll of listeners’ favourite classical pieces you’ll find a surprise. Coming in at number 89, just ahead of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and only just behind Albinoni’s Adagio, is Thomas Tallis’s sacred vocal work Spem in Alium Nunquam Habui – “I have no other hope (than God)”. Why should an immensely complex piece in a dead language have struck such a chord? Part of the reason is the current vogue for spiritual music, which has sent CDs of chants by Spanish monks and The Priests soaring up the album charts. But ther…

The Young T.S. Eliot

IF IT IS TRUE that the child is father to the man, then no poet disavowed his paternity as successfully as T.S. Eliot ’10, A.M. ’11, Litt.D. ’47. Looking at the severe, bespectacled face of the elderly poet on the cover of his Complete Poems and Plays, it is hard to imagine that he was ever young. By the time he died in 1965, Eliot had achieved a position of almost papal authority in the world of literature, confirmed by the award of the Nobel Prize in 1948. Generations of readers grew up revering not just his broken, haunting poetry, but his magisterial criticism, in which he revolutionized the canon of English poetry with serene confidence.

In a sense, the role of “the elder statesman”—the title of one of his verse plays—was one for which Eliot had been rehearsing his whole life. His first great poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” was written mostly in 1911, when he was 22 years old, yet it is preoccupied with debility: “I grow old…I grow old…/I shall wear the bottoms of my …

Thomas Wyatt: 'Whoso List to Hunt, I Know Where Is An Hind

Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
Yet may I by no means my wearied mind
Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore
Fainting I follow. I leave off therefore,
Sithens in a net I seek to hold the wind.
Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt,
As well as I may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain
There is written, her fair neck round about:
Noli me tangere, for Caesar’s I am,
And wild for to hold, though I seem tame.

“I want to be the Irish Nietzsche”: what the Übermensch meant to Bernard Shaw

“The difficulty now is to get rid of me,” Friedrich Nietzsche wrote to his friend Georg Brandes in the late 1880s. And Shaw would have agreed. In Shavian style, he liked to use Nietzsche’s name but to distance himself from the one or two translations of Nietzsche’s books he had read. After he wrote his “comedy and philosophy” Man and Superman early in the 20th century, a number of critics, including his friend William Archer and also G K Chesterton, assumed that Shaw was a disciple of Nietzsche. It is true that in his letters and prefaces he was using Nietzsche’s name quite freely. He did so partly because he believed that British culture was becoming too backward and inward-looking. To change this internal focus he championed what was new and foreign in philosophy and the arts. In his art criticism he praised Whistler; in his theatre criticism he blew the trumpet for Ibsen, Chekhov and later Strindberg. And he devoted much of his music criticism to Wagner, with whom Nietzsche had quar…

The triumph of spirit - William Wordsworth

As a child, William Wordsworth imagined he heard the moorlands breathing down his neck; he rowed in panic when he thought a cliff was pursuing him across moonlit water; and once, when he found himself on the hills east of Penrith Beacon, beside a gibbet where a murderer had been executed, the place and its associations were enough to send him fleeing in terror to the beacon summit. Every childhood has its share of such uncanny moments. Nowadays, however, it is easy to underestimate the originality and confidence of a writer who came to consciousness in the far-from-child-centred 18th century and then managed to force a way through its literary conventions and its established modes of understanding: by intuition and introspection he recognised that such moments were not only the foundation of his sensibility, but the clue to his fulfilled identity. By his late 20s, Wordsworth knew this one big truth, and during the next 10 years he kept developing its implications with intense excitement…