Friday, December 22, 2006

The Ballad of the Imam and the Shah

(An Old Persian Legend)

to C. E. H.

It started with a stabbing at a well
Below the minarets of Isfahan.
The widow took her son to see them kill
The officer who'd murdered her old man.
The child looked up and saw the hangman's work --
The man who'd killed his father swinging high,
The mother said: 'My child, now be at peace.
The wolf has had the fruits of all his crime.'

From felony to felony to crime
From robbery to robbery to loss
From calumny to calumny to spite
From rivalry to rivalry to zeal

All this was many centuries ago --
The kind of thing that couldn't happen now --
When Persia was the empire of the Shah
And many were the furrows on his brow.
The peacock the symbol of his throne
And many were the jewels and its eyes
And many were the prisons in the land
And many were the torturers and spies.

From tyranny to tyranny to war
From dynasty to dynasty to hate
From villainy to villainy to death
From policy to policy to grave

The child grew up a clever sort of chap
And he became a mullah, like his dad --
Spent many years in exile and disgrace
Because he told the world the Shah was bad.
'Believe in God,' he said, 'believe in me.
Believe me when I tell you who I am.
Now chop the arm of wickedness away.
Hear what I say, I am the great Imam.'

From heresy to heresy to fire
From clerisy to clerisy to fear
From litany to litany to sword
From fallacy to fallacy to wrong

And so the Shah was forced to flee abroad.
The Imam was the ruler in his place.
He started killing everyone he could
To make up for the years of his discgrace.
And when there were no enemies at home
He sent his men to Babylon to fight.
And when he'd lost an army in that way
He knew what God was telling him was right.

From poverty to poverty to wrath
From agony to agony to doubt
From malady to malady to shame
From misery to misery to fight

He sent the little children out to war.
They went out with his portrait in their hands.
The desert and the marshes filled with blood.
The mothers heard the news in Isfahan.
Now Babylon is buried under dirt.
Persepolis is peeping through the sand.
The child who saw his father's killer killed
Has slaughtered half the children in the land.

From felony
to robbery
to calumny
to rivalry
to tyranny
to dynasty
to villainy
to policy
to heresy
to clerisy
to litany
to fallacy
to poverty
to agony
to malady
to misery --

The song is yours. Arrange it as you will.
Remember where each word fits in the line
And every combination will be true
And every permutation will be fine:

From policy to felony to fear
From litany to heresy to fire
From villainy to tyranny to war
From tyranny to dynasty to shame

From poverty to malady to grave
From malady to agony to spite
From agony to misery to hate
From misery to policy to fight!

-- James Fenton

The Christmas blog of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Possibility

The lizard on the wall, engrossed,
The sudden silence from the wood
Are telling me that I have lost
The possibility of good.

I know this flower is beautiful
And yesterday it seemed to be,
It opened like a crimson hand.
It was not beautiful to me.

I know that work is beautiful.
It is a boon. It is a good.
Unless my working were a way
Of squandering my solitude.

And solitude was beautiful
When i was sure that I was strong.
I thought it was a medium
In which to grow, but I was wrong.

The jays are swearing in the wood.
The lizard moves with ugly speed.
The flower closes like a fist.
The possibility recedes.

by James Fenton

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The City

You said: "I'll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart -like something dead- lies buried.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I've spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally."

You won't find a new country, won't find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You'll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighbourhoods, turn grey in these same houses.
You'll always end up in this city. Don't hope for things elsewhere:
there's no ship for you, there's no road.
Now that you've wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you've destroyed it everywhere in the world.

Constantine P. Cavafy

via languagehat

Friday, September 08, 2006

Rising Five

"I'm rising five" he said
"Not four" and the little coils of hair
Un-clicked themselves upon his head.
His spectacles, brimful of eyes to stare
At me and the meadow, reflected cones of light
Above his toffee-buckled cheeks. He'd been alive
Fifty-six months or perhaps a week more;
Not four
But rising five.

Around him in the field, the cells of spring
Bubbled and doubled; buds unbuttoned; shoot
And stem shook out the creases from their frills,
And every tree was swilled with green.
It was the season after blossoming,
Before the forming of the fruit:
Not May
But rising June.

And in the sky
The dust dissected the tangential light:
Not day
But rising night;
Not now
But rising soon.

The new buds push the old leaves from the bough.
We drop our youth behind us like a boy
Throwing away his toffee-wrappers. We never see the flower,
But only the fruit in the flower; never the fruit,
But only the rot in the fruit. We look for the marriage bed
In the baby's cradle; we look for the grave in the bed;
Not living
But rising dead.

Norman Nicholson

From here

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Yes! Yes! Yes!

"The fourth volume of my four-volume novel Aegypt is going to see print at last. It will be published by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link's Small Beer Press in hardcover. The title is:

Endless Things
and it will have an epigraph as follows:

"But then,” I said, by now a little distraught, “would we have only to eat again from the Tree of Knowledge, in order to fall back into the state of innocence?”
“Of course,” he answered. “That is the last chapter of the history of the world.”

— Heinrich von Kleist, On the Marionette Theatre

Publication date -- SPRING 2007. I am delighted at this. All those who have been waiting for the appearance of this volume with eager interest, then impatience, then irritation, then waning interest, then vague resignation, should herald its arrival (and I mean all two dozen of you! Names will be taken!) by immediately rushing out and buying Small Beer Press books of every description.

Labor is also underway to bring back into print the earlier three volumes; that will happen. Watch this space.

from the blog of John Crowley.

Friday, June 09, 2006

In The Year 200 B.C

"Alexander, son of Philip, and the Greeks except the Lacedaimonians..."

We can very well imagine
how completely indifferent the Spartans would have been
to this inscription. "Except the Lacedaimonians"--
naturally. The Spartans weren't to be led
and ordered around
like precious servants. Besides,
they wouldn't have thought a pan-Hellenic expedition
without a Spartan king in command
was to be taken very seriously.
Of course, then, "except the Lacedaimonians."

That's certainly one point of view. Quite understandable.

So, "except the Lacedaimonians" at Granikos,
then at Issus, then in the decisive battle
where the terrible army
the Persians mustered at Arbela was wiped out:
it set out for victory from Arbela, and was wiped out.

And from this marvellous pan-Hellenic expedition,
triumphant, brilliant in every way,
celebrated on all sides, glorified
incomparable, we emerged:
the great new Hellenic world.

We the Alexandrians, the Antiochians,
the Selefkians, and the countless
other Greeks of Egypt and Syria,
and those in Media, and Persia, and all the rest:
with our far-flung supremacy,
our flexible policy of judicious integration,
and our Common Greek Language
which we carried as far as Bactria, as far as the Indians.

How can one talk about Lacedaimonians now!

Constantine P. Cavafy

More about Cavafy here.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Kingdom of Rain - The The with Sinead O'Connor

Tell me what youre thinking baby
Your hearts beating faster than mine
And I know somethings going on in your life
In your life.. in your life

You were the girl I wanted to cry with
You were the girl I wanted to die with

And you were the boy who turned into the man
Broke my heart and let go off my hand

Our bed is empty, the fire is out
And all the love weve got to give has all spurted out
Theres no more blood and no more pain
In our kingdom of rain

You think you know about life
You think you know about love
But when you put your hands inside me
It doesnt even feel like Im being touched, and

You were the boy I wanted to cry with
You were the boy I wanted to die with

Youve moved further from my side, year by year,
While still making love dutifully sincere

But as silent as the car lights that move across this room
As cold as our bodies silhouetted by the moon
And I would lie awake and wonder
Is it just me or this the way love is supposed to be?

Tell me what you told him baby
My hearts beating out of time with my mind
And I know somethings going wrong in our lives

I just wanted somebody to caress, this damsel in distress
I just wanted somebody to undress, this damsel in distress
I just wanted somebody to bless, this damsel in distress
I just wanted somebody to possess, this young girl

Our bed is empty, the fire is out
And all the love weve got to give has all spurted out
Theres no more blood and no more pain
In our kingdom of rain


The Cloud of Unknowing - Chapter Five

AND if ever thou shalt come to this cloud and dwell and work therein as I bid thee, thee behoveth as this cloud of unknowing is above thee, betwixt thee and thy God, right so put a cloud of forgetting beneath thee; betwixt thee and all the creatures that ever be made. Thee thinketh, peradventure, that thou art full far from God because that this cloud of unknowing is betwixt thee and thy God: but surely, an it be well conceived, thou art well further from Him when thou hast no cloud of forgetting betwixt thee and all the 86 creatures that ever be made. As oft as I say, all the creatures that ever be made, as oft I mean not only the creatures themselves, but also all the works and the conditions of the same creatures. I take out not one creature, whether they be bodily creatures or ghostly, nor yet any condition or work of any creature, whether they be good or evil: but shortly to say, all should be hid under the cloud of forgetting in this case.

For although it be full profitable sometime to think of certain conditions and deeds of some certain special creatures, nevertheless yet in this work it profiteth little or nought. For why? Memory or thinking of any creature that ever God made, or of any of their deeds either, it is a manner of ghostly light: for the eye of thy soul is opened on it and even fixed thereupon, as the eye of a shooter is upon the prick that he shooteth to. And one thing I tell thee, that all thing that thou thinketh 87 upon, it is above thee for the time, and betwixt thee and thy God: and insomuch thou art the further from God, that aught is in thy mind but only God.

Yea! and, if it be courteous and seemly to say, in this work it profiteth little or nought to think of the kindness or the worthiness of God, nor on our Lady, nor on the saints or angels in heaven, nor yet on the joys in heaven: that is to say, with a special beholding to them, as thou wouldest by that beholding feed and increase thy purpose. I trow that on nowise it should help in this case and in this work. For although it be good to think upon the kindness of God, and to love Him and praise Him for it, yet it is far better to think upon the naked being of Him, and to love Him and praise Him for Himself.

Monday, May 15, 2006

TV Theme Songs

Really, absolutely extraordinary!

I'm astonished at some of the stuff they have here, although it probably won't seem as amazing to you unless you're British and over 35 years old.

Bagpuss! (stop motion animated kids show)

Citizen Smith! (the comical misadventures of the Trotskyist Tooting Peoples Front)

Sapphire and Steel! ("All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Trans-uranic heavy elements may not be used where there is life.")

Do yourselves a favour and download White Horses - it's beautiful.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

A Real Man

When I was 12 I wanted to be a real man — an old man with a beard, sitting at a table with a huge book full of wisdom. And what did society hold up to me for my admiration? A golfer, a boxer, a man who ran quickly; a soldier, a lawyer, a tycoon; a motorist, a pop star; a footballer. Into what kind of madhouse had I been born? And what have I become? A child, witlessly pouring out whatever enters my head. I am a madman and people gather to listen to me make a fool of myself. I am not a role model. This is my protection and security. I still long for the table and the book, the smell of an old man and an old book; the afternoon light fading.

Ivor Cutler — from South American Bookworms.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Varnishing Day

"[Turner’s work was] a grey picture, beautiful but true, but with no positive colour in any part of it. Constable’s ‘Waterloo’ seemed as if painted with liquid gold and silver, and Turner came several times into the room while [Constable] was heightening with vermilion and lake the decorations and flags of the city barges. Turner stood behind him looking from the ‘Waterloo’ to his own picture, and at last brought his palette from the great room where he was touching another picture, and putting a round daub of red lead, somewhat bigger than a shilling, on his grey sea, went away without saying a word. The intensity of the red lead, made more vivid by the coolness of his picture, caused even the vermilion and lake of Constable to look weak. [C.R. Leslie] came into the room just as Turner left. ‘He has been here,’ Constable said, ‘and fired a gun.’ . . . The great man did not come again into the room for a day and a half; and then, in the last moments that were allowed for painting, he glazed the scarlet seal he had put on his picture, and shaped it into a buoy."

John Gage via Earth and other unlikely worlds

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Expert Judgement on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

* This place is a message... and part of a system of messages... pay attention to it!

* Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

* This place is not a place of highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here.

* What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

* The danger is in a particular location... it increases toward a center... the center of danger is here... of a particular size and shape, and below us.

* The danger is still present, in your time, as it was in ours.

* The danger is to the body, and it can kill.

* The form of the danger is an emanation of energy.

* The danger is unleashed only if you substantially disturb this place physically. This place is best shunned and left uninhabited.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

How US-Style EU Jingoism Might Sound

Hey, this is Europe. We took it from nobody; we won it from the bare soil that the ice left. The bones of our ancestors, and the stones of their works, are everywhere. Our liberties were won in wars and revolutions so terrible that we do not fear our governors: they fear us. Our children giggle and eat ice-cream in the palaces of past rulers. We snap our fingers at kings. We laugh at popes. When we have built up tyrants, we have brought them down.

And we have nuclear - fucking - weapons.

by Ken MacCleod

Friday, May 05, 2006

The Blue Nile - The Downtown Lights

The neon's and the cigarettes
Rented rooms and rented cars
The crowded streets, the empty bars
Chimney tops and trumpets
The golden lights, the loving prayers
The coloured shoes, the empty trains
I'm tired of crying on the stairs
The downtown lights

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Persian Version

Truth-loving Persians do not dwell upon
The trivial skirmish fought near Marathon.
As for the Greek theatrical tradition
Which represents that summer's expedition
Not as a mere reconnaisance in force
By three brigades of foot and one of horse
(Their left flank covered by some obsolete
Light craft detached from the main Persian fleet)
But as a grandiose, ill-starred attempt
To conquer Greece - they treat it with contempt;
And only incidentally refute
Major Greek claims, by stressing what repute
The Persian monarch and the Persian nation
Won by this salutary demonstration:
Despite a strong defence and adverse weather
All arms combined magnificently together.
-- Robert Graves

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Canto 116

I have brought the great ball of crystal;
............................Who can lift it?
Can you enter the great acorn of light?
..............But the beauty is not the madness
Tho' my errors and wrecks lie about me.
And I am not a demigod,
I cannot make it cohere.
(Canto 116)
Ezra Pound

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Holy Sonnet XIV: Batter My Heart

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

John Donne,