26 September 2017

Bad Art and Bad Manners

Norman MacCaig, at about the 7 minute mark in the film A Man in My Position:
Interviewer: Lucidity, is this an important word for you?

MacCaig: I think it is, very much so. I don't mind a poem being difficult, if the poem is about a thing that is difficult to say. But if a poem seems to me willfully obscure, or obscure because the man has not got his mind clear about what he is writing about, then, to use a phrase I have used before, I consider it to be not only bad art, but bad manners, because poetry is surely a communication.
A related post: A Fool's Trick

21 September 2017

Witnesses to Destruction

Camille Mauclair, Henri Le Sidaner (Paris: Georges Petit & Henri Floury, 1928), pp. 174-175 (from the draft of my soon-to-be-published translation):
Mechanization requires intrusive changes, and every day it destroys irreplaceable cultural landmarks. We watch as a sly vandalism spoils and deadens everything with the exasperating consent of an indifferent public. Speculators lay waste to the forests, and where there was once a cluster of trees worthy of the painter Théodore Rousseau we now find a sawmill in the midst of an empty plain. The heirs to the old country estates are unable to keep up with the crushing taxes and are selling up and parcelling off their land: housing developers will use it to erect twenty ridiculous and commonplace boxes. The factory's chimney and turbines disgrace and defile the lovely river. The village church falls into disrepair, and the local wiseacres look forward to the day this “temple of superstition” collapses. Every day, somewhere, a porch or an arch is pulled down. The soft, thatched roof is proscribed. Cement and corrugated steel, convenient and hideous, take the place of stone and slate. The merchant cartel plunders the countryside, removing its furnishings and period ornaments and replacing them with modern junk. Provincial talent creates masterpieces, but it is pushed aside in favour of trends from Paris that are Parisian in name alone. Thanks to poor regional education, it will be impossible to rebuild things once people realize the terrible mistake they made when they threw it all away. The decent and sensible French have resisted tenaciously, but the domestic and religious attitudes that were suited to this old way of life are still under harsh attack. We are indeed witnesses to destruction: it will continue for a long while yet, but it is only a matter of time. Whatever regret or disgust we may feel, it is our right and duty as artists to struggle for these places and this society as our forefathers did for theirs: to preserve them in pictures, to honour their beauty, and to show how much we loved them.
Henri Le Sidaner, Clair de lune à Gerberoy (1904)

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20 September 2017

A Fart in the Wind

Atticus Greene Haygood,  Jack-Knife and Brambles (Nashville: Publishing House of the M. E. Church, South: 1894), pp. 144-145:
No writer makes the world shake; but an egotist thinks he can, and the anticipation makes him delirious with delight. And he believes it does shake; to borrow a characterization of a panic-hunting person from a witty friend, "he mistakes the rumblings of his own bowels for the premonitions of an earthquake."

19 September 2017

The Gate of Sorrow

Carl Hilty, Happiness, tr. Francis Greenwood Peabody (New York: Macmillan, 1903), pp. 121-122:
Suffering, then, lies on the road to life, and one must expect to meet it if he would be happy. Many a person, when he sees this lion in his path, turns about and contents himself with something less than happiness. And yet it is also true, as experience teaches, that in our misfortunes, as in our enjoyments, imagination greatly outruns reality. Our pain is seldom as great as our imagination pictures it. Sorrow is often the gate which opens into great happiness. Thus the true life calls for a certain severity of dealing, as if one should say to himself: "You may like to do this thing, or you may not like to do it, but you must do it"; and true education rests on these two foundation stones, love of truth and courage for the right. Without them, education is worthless.
For the German see Hilty's Glück, Vol. I (Frauenfeld: Huber & Co., 1907), pp. 209-210.

A related post:

15 September 2017

A Prayer for England

George Borrow, The Bible in Spain (London: J. M. Dent & Co., 1907), pp. 459-460:
O England! long, long may it be ere the sun of thy glory sink beneath the wave of darkness! Though gloomy and portentous clouds are now gathering rapidly around thee, still, still may it please the Almighty to disperse them, and to grant thee a futurity longer in duration and still brighter in renown than thy past! Or if thy doom be at hand, may that doom be a noble one, and worthy of her who has been styled the Old Queen of the waters! May thou sink, if thou dost sink, amidst blood and flame, with a mighty noise, causing more than one nation to participate in thy downfall! Of all fates, may it please the Lord to preserve thee from a disgraceful and a slow decay; becoming, ere extinct, a scorn and a mockery for those self-same foes who now, though they envy and abhor thee, still fear thee, nay, even against their will, honour and respect thee.

Arouse thee, whilst yet there is time, and prepare thee for the combat of life and death! Cast from thee the foul scurf which now encrusts thy robust limbs, which deadens their force, and makes them heavy and powerless! Cast from thee thy false philosophers, who would fain decry what, next to the love of God, has hitherto been deemed most sacred, the love of the mother land!

13 September 2017

All Leading to Dark Passages

John Keats, letter to John Hamilton Reynolds (May 3rd, 1818), Letters of John Keats to his Family and Friends, ed. Sidney Colvin (London: Macmillan and Co., 1891), p. 107-108:
I compare human life to a large Mansion of Many apartments, two of which I can only describe, the doors of the rest being as yet shut upon me — The first we step into we call the infant or thoughtless Chamber, in which we remain as long as we do not think — We remain there a long while, and notwithstanding the doors of the second Chamber remain wide open, showing a bright appearance, we care not to hasten to it; but are at length imperceptibly impelled by the awakening of the thinking principle within us we no sooner get into the second Chamber, which I shall call the Chamber of Maiden-Thought, than we become intoxicated with the light and the atmosphere, we see nothing but pleasant wonders, and think of delaying there for ever in delight: However among the effects this breathing is father of is that tremendous one of sharpening one's vision into the heart and nature of Man — of convincing one's nerves that the world is full of Misery and Heartbreak, Pain, Sickness, and oppression — whereby this Chamber of Maiden Thought becomes gradually darkened, and at the same time, on all sides of it, many doors are set open — but all dark — all leading to dark passages — We see not the balance of good and evil — we are in a mist — we are now in that state — We feel the "burden of the Mystery."

8 September 2017

Silly and Shiftless

Friedrich Nietzsche, The Dawn of Day, tr. J. M. Kennedy, in The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche, Vol. 9 (New York: Macmillan, 1911), p. 257:
§280

CHILDLIKE — Those who live like children — those who do not have to struggle for their daily bread, and do not think that their actions have any ultimate signification — remain childlike.
The original, from Vol. 10 of the Musarion edition, p. 230:
Kindlich. — Wer lebt wie die Kinder — also nicht um sein Brod kämpft und nicht glaubt, dass seinen Handlungen eine endgültige Bedeutung zukomme — bleibt kindlich.

6 September 2017

Baudelaire in Brussels

An exposition on Charles Baudelaire opens at the Brussels City Museum tomorrow:
Between swear words and insults, the exhibition offers visitors the opportunity to discover 1860s Brussels as seen through the eyes of Baudelaire, their guide. This was the Brussels of the waning years of Leopold I's reign, of the Senne, of black soap, and of the first photographs. To soften the dark outlook of the author, special guests – some of whom were Baudelaire's friends or acquaintances, such as Nadar, Victor Hugo, the Stevens brothers, Camille Lemonnier, Georges Barral – complement the portrait drawn of the town.
Portrait of Baudelaire by Félix Vallotton (1902)

They are selling my translation of Five Days in Brussels with Charles Baudelaire  in the museum shop, so if you visit don't forget to pick up copies for all your friends and family. The book is also available on Amazon.

1 September 2017

The Value of a Noble, Inspiriting Text

Arthur Conan Doyle, Through the Magic Door  (London: Smith, Elder & Co., 1907), pp. 17-18:
This is one of the things which human society has not yet understood—the value of a noble, inspiriting text. When it does we shall meet them everywhere engraved on appropriate places, and our progress through the streets will be brightened and ennobled by one continual series of beautiful mental impulses and images, reflected into our souls from the printed thoughts which meet our eyes. To think that we should walk with empty, listless minds while all this splendid material is running to waste. I do not mean mere Scriptural texts, for they do not bear the same meaning to all, though what human creature can fail to be spurred onwards by "Work while it is day, for the night cometh when no man can work." But I mean those beautiful thoughts—who can say that they are uninspired thoughts?—which may be gathered from a hundred authors to match a hundred uses. A fine thought in fine language is a most precious jewel, and should not be hid away, but be exposed for use and ornament.