15 August 2018

A Yellow, Talkative Serpent

Charles Baudelaire, "L'Avertisseur," The Flowers of Evil, tr. Edna St. Vincent Millay (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1936):
No man that's worthy of the name
But in his helpless heart alive
Harbors a yellow, talkative
Serpent, he cannot hush nor tame.

Gaze if you like into the eyes
Of dryads... Just before you drown,
The Fang says, "You've a date in town."

Beget your children, plant your trees,
Chisel your marble, build your song...
The Fang says, "Well, — it's not for long."

Hope — if you're hopeful — or despair;
Nothing's to hinder you; but hark! —
Always the hissing head is there,
The insupportable remark.

Lord Leighton, An Athlete Wrestling with a Python (1877)

Tout homme digne de ce nom
A dans le coeur un Serpent jaune,
Installé comme sur un trône,
Qui, s'il dit: «Je veux,» répond: «Non!»

Plonge tes yeux dans les yeux fixes
Des Satyresses ou des Nixes,
La Dent dit: «Pense à ton devoir!»

Fais des enfants, plante des arbres,
Polis des vers, sculpte des marbres,
La Dent dit: «Vivras-tu ce soir?»

Quoi qu'il ébauche ou qu'il espère,
L'homme ne vit pas un moment
Sans subir l'avertissement
De l'insupportable Vipère.

13 August 2018

Philip Surrey

Philip Surrey (1910-1990), quoted on the National Gallery of Canada web site:
Each individual is alone, cut off. Each wonders how others cope with life. A work of art is a particularly complex statement, valuable because it is packed with meaning... like icebergs, four-fifths of our personalities lie below the surface; of the fifth that shows, only part can be expressed in conversation. The only effective outlet for all deeper feelings and thoughts is art.
Philip Surrey, The French Novel  (1944)
(Art Gallery of Alberta)

9 August 2018

Why Be Ashamed?

Epictetus, Discourses, Book III, Chapter XXVI, tr. George Long (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1904), p. 288:
Is that shameful to you which is not your own act, that of which you are not the cause, that which has come to you by accident, as a headache, as a fever? If your parents were poor, and left their property to others, and if while they live, they do not help you at all, is this shameful to you? Is this what you learned with the philosophers? Did you never hear that the thing which is shameful ought to be blamed, and that which is blamable is worthy of blame? Whom do you blame for an act which is not his own, which he did not do himself? Did you then make your father such as he is, or is it in your power to improve him? Is this power given to you? Well then, ought you to wish the things which are not given to you, or to be ashamed if you do not obtain them? And have you also been accustomed while you were studying philosophy to look to others and to hope for nothing from yourself? Lament then and groan and eat with fear that you may not have food to-morrow. Tremble about your poor slaves lest they steal, lest they run away, lest they die. So live, and continue to live, you who in name only have approached philosophy, and have disgraced its theorems as far as you can by showing them to be useless and unprofitable to those who take them up; you, who have never sought constancy, freedom from perturbation, and from passions; you who have not sought any person for the sake of this object, but many for the sake of syllogisms; you who have never thoroughly examined any of these appearances by yourself, Am I able to bear, or am I not able to bear? What remains for me to do?

Paul Thumann, The Three Fates (late 1800s)
The frontispiece in Appleton's edition of the Discourses

1 August 2018

31 July 2018

Hapless Ages

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), pp. 12-13:
But what of those decadent ages in which no Ideal either grows or blossoms? When Belief and Loyalty have passed away, and only the cant and false echo of them remains; and all Solemnity has become Pageantry; and the Creed of persons in authority has become one of two things: an Imbecility or a Macchiavelism? Alas, of these ages World-History can take no notice; they have to become compressed more and more, and finally suppressed in the Annals of Mankind; blotted out as spurious,—which indeed they are. Hapless ages: wherein, if ever in any, it is an unhappiness to be born. To be born, and to learn only, by every tradition and example, that God's Universe is Belial's and a Lie; and 'the Supreme Quack' the hierarch of men! In which mournfulest faith, nevertheless, do we not see whole generations (two, and sometimes even three successively) live, what they call living; and vanish,—without chance of reappearance?

29 July 2018

Continual Endeavour and Endurance

Thomas Carlyle, The French Revolution, Vol. I (London: George Bell and Sons, 1902), p. 62:
Man is not what one calls a happy animal; his appetite for sweet victual is so enormous. How, in this wild Universe, which storms in on him, infinite, vague-menacing, shall poor man find, say not happiness, but existence, and footing to stand on, if it be not by girding himself together for continual endeavour and endurance? Woe, if in his heart there dwelt no devout Faith; if the word Duty had lost its meaning for him!

25 July 2018

Nie Wieder Bruderkrieg

Philip Gibbs, Realities of War (London: Heinemann, 1920), p. 441:
If Christianity has no restraining influence upon the brutal instincts of those who profess and follow its faith, then surely it is time the world abandoned so ineffective a creed and turned to other laws likely to have more influence on human relationships. That, brutally, is the argument of the thinking world against the clergy of all nations who all claimed to be acting according to the justice of God and the spirit of Christ [during the First World War]. It is a powerful argument, for the simple mind, rejecting casuistry, cuts straight to the appalling contrast between Christian profession and Christian practice, and says, "Here, in this war, there was no conflict between one faith and another, but a murderous death-struggle between many nations holding the same faith, preaching the same Gospel, and claiming the same God as their protector. Let us seek some better truth than that hypocrisy! Let us, if need be, in honesty, get back to the savage worship of national gods, the Ju-ju of the Tribe."
John Singer Sargent, Gassed (1919)

19 July 2018

Something Definite

Willibrord Verkade, Yesterdays of an Artist-Monk, tr. John Stoddard (New York: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1930), p. 66:
Sometimes the poet Paul Verlaine likewise made his appearance there [at the Café Voltaire]. He was a tall figure, with a neglected exterior. His head resembled that of a Silenus. He usually fell into a controversy almost immediately with some exponent of symbolism, for this designation he could not endure. It was to him too vague and misty. “What then does it really mean, this symbolism, symbolism?” one heard him ask over and over again. “Nothing, absolutely nothing,” he would continue; “now I am a degenerate, and that is at least something definite, I am a degenerate.” People let him talk. The poor man had at that time fallen already very low, even mentally.

Eugène Carrière, Paul Verlaine (1891)

13 July 2018

Stoicism on the Subway

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 5.27, tr. Gerald H. Rendall (London: Macmillan, 1914), p. 36:
Do you get angry at rank armpits? or at foul breath? What would be the good? Mouth, armpits are what they are, and being so, the given effluvia must result. — 'Yes, but nature has given man reason, man can comprehend and understand what offends!' — 'Very good! Ergo you too have reason; use your moral reason to move his; show him his error, admonish him. If he attends, you will amend him; no need for anger — you are not a ranter, or a whore.'

10 July 2018


Robert Louis Stevenson, "Forest Notes," Essays of Travel (London: Chatto & Windus, 1905), pp. 170-171:
It is the great moral spa; this forest without a fountain is itself the great fountain of Juventius.  It is the best place in the world to bring an old sorrow that has been a long while your friend and enemy; and if, like Béranger’s your gaiety has run away from home and left open the door for sorrow to come in, of all covers in Europe, it is here you may expect to find the truant hid.  With every hour you change.  The air penetrates through your clothes, and nestles to your living body.  You love exercise and slumber, long fasting and full meals.  You forget all your scruples and live a while in peace and freedom, and for the moment only.  For here, all is absent that can stimulate to moral feeling.  Such people as you see may be old, or toil-worn, or sorry; but you see them framed in the forest, like figures on a painted canvas; and for you, they are not people in any living and kindly sense.  You forget the grim contrariety of interests.  You forget the narrow lane where all men jostle together in unchivalrous contention, and the kennel, deep and unclean, that gapes on either hand for the defeated.  Life is simple enough, it seems, and the very idea of sacrifice becomes like a mad fancy out of a last night’s dream.

Théodore Rousseau, A Tree in Fontainebleau Forest (c. 1840)