Sunday, July 24, 2016


The Scholar's Special Duty

Gilbert Murray (1866-1957), Tradition and Progress (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922), p. 18:
Proceeding on these lines we see that the Scholar's special duty is to turn the written signs in which old poetry or philosophy is now enshrined back into living thought or feeling. He must so understand as to re-live.

Saturday, July 23, 2016


Oral Examination

Shane Leslie, Memoir of John Edward Courtenay Bodley (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930), pp. 13-14:
It is pleasant to record that Oxford did not leave him without some knowledge of Scripture and even a slight prejudice in favour of Christianity, as anecdotes were left to prove. When up for his viva voce at Oxford he was asked to say a few words on Balaam's death. He paused for a moment trying to remember any details of the holy man's demise, and then in broken tones replied that the circumstances of Balaam's death were so painful that he preferred not to refer to them.
Hat tip: Ian Jackson.


Praise of Athens

Euripides, Medea 824-845 (tr David Kovacs):
From ancient times the sons of Erechtheus have been favored; they are children of the blessed gods sprung from a holy land never pillaged by the enemy. They feed on wisdom most glorious, always stepping gracefully through the bright air, where once, it is said, the nine Pierian Muses gave birth to fair-haired Harmonia.

Men celebrate in song how Aphrodite, filling her pail at the streams of the fair-flowing Cephisus, blew down upon the land temperate and sweet breezes. And ever dressing her hair with a fragrant chaplet of roses she sends the Loves to sit at Wisdom's side, joint workers in every kind of excellence.

Ἐρεχθεΐδαι τὸ παλαιὸν ὄλβιοι
καὶ θεῶν παῖδες μακάρων, ἱερᾶς        825
χώρας ἀπορθήτου τ᾿ ἄπο, φερβόμενοι
κλεινοτάταν σοφίαν, αἰεὶ διὰ λαμπροτάτου
βαίνοντες ἁβρῶς αἰθέρος, ἔνθα ποθ᾿ ἁγνὰς        830
ἐννέα Πιερίδας Μούσας λέγουσι
ξανθὰν Ἁρμονίαν φυτεῦσαι·

τοῦ καλλινάου τ᾿ ἐπὶ Κηφισοῦ ῥοαῖς        835
τὰν Κύπριν κλῄζουσιν ἀφυσσαμέναν
χώρας καταπνεῦσαι μετρίους ἀνέμων
ἀέρας ἡδυπνόους· αἰεὶ δ᾿ ἐπιβαλλομέναν        840
χαίταισιν εὐώδη ῥοδέων πλόκον ἀνθέων
τᾷ Σοφίᾳ παρέδρους πέμπειν Ἔρωτας,
παντοίας ἀρετᾶς ξυνεργούς. 845
In my copy of Euripides, Cyclops. Alcestis. Medea. Edited and translated by David Kovacs (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 373, καλλινάου is not translated ("filling her pail at the streams of the Cephisus") but this omission is repaired in the digital Loeb Classical Library version ("the fair-flowing Cephisus").

Euripides, Medea. The Text Edited with Introduction and Commentary by Denys L. Page (1938; rpt. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971) is of course excellent throughout, but the commentary on these lines (pp. 131-134) is especially illuminating, e.g. (summing up at 134):
The structure of these two stanzas is remarkably artistic, not only in language (αἰεὶ διὰ λαμπροτάτου corresponds to αἰεὶ δ᾿ ἐπιβαλλομέναν), but also in thought. As we have seen, Erechtheus leads easily, through the two versions of his origin, to the thought of the land as inviolate and of the people as divinely born: Attic wit and Attic climate are naturally connected: Harmonia suggested the transition to her mother Aphrodite: Kephisos, like Erechtheus, was an ancestor of the Athenian people: the Harmony of the Nine Muses provoked the conception of Excellence as the harmony of the passions and the understanding.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Too Much Fat

D.S. Carne-Ross (1921-2010), Instaurations: Essays in and out of Literature, Pindar to Pound (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1979), p. 235:
And there is too much fat on our library shelves. Certainly there would be less time for reading, out there in the woods, and fewer books to read. But then those who still read now read far too much—reading, often, as a defense against the surrounding society. And we spend too much time on the wrong kind of books, the books—too numerous to absorb and rapidly becoming too expensive to buy—that one must at least have looked at in order to keep up. What a relief if the whole parastructure of commentary and critique and much of what passes for scholarship were to fall away into silence: a silence out of which the few, primary, texts could speak.


Alcinous the Meat-Tray

Adela Marion Adam, in Proceedings of the Classical Association 9 (1912) 22:
I should like to relate a little anecdote of a small class of three little girls, whose average age was 11. These children were in a wild state of delight over beginning Greek; after a few months of some easy stories they made a dash for Homer; they turned me out of the room; they would not have me; they wished to track everything down in Liddell and Scott for themselves; and they did so with considerable success. Their mistakes afforded them even more joy than their success, especially their furious hunt over the meaning of Ἀλκίνοε κρεῖον, which came out as 'Alcinous the meat-tray.' They knew it was not the right translation; but it gave them satisfaction in the right one when they heard it.
Related posts:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016


Study Abroad

Propertius 3.21 (tr. G.P. Goold):
I am constrained to embark on distant travel to learned Athens, that the long journey may free me from oppressive love, for my passion for my sweetheart grows steadily with looking at her: love itself provides its chief source of sustenance. I have tried all means of escape in any quarter: but on every side the god is there in person to assail me. But she receives me hardly ever or just once after many snubs: or if she comes to me, she sleeps fully dressed on the edge of the bed.

There is only one remedy: if I travel to another land, love will be as far from my mind as Cynthia from my eyes. Up now, my friends, and launch a ship upon the sea, and draw lots in pairs for places at the oars, and hoist to the mast-top the fair-omened sails: already the breeze speeds the mariner over his watery path. Farewell, ye towers of Rome, and farewell, friends, and you, sweetheart, however you have treated me, farewell!

So now I shall sail as a new guest of the Adriatic, and now be forced to approach with prayer the gods of the roaring waves. Then when my yacht has crossed the Ionian and rested its weary sails in the calm waters at Lechaeum, for what remains of the journey, hasten ye, my feet, to endure the toil, where the Isthmus beats back either sea from the land. Then when the shores of Piraeus' haven receive me, I shall ascend the long arms of Theseus' Way.

There I will begin to improve my mind in Plato's Academy or in the garden of sage Epicurus; or I will pursue the study of language, the weapon of Demosthenes, and savour the wit of elegant Menander; or at least painted panels will ensnare my eyes, or works of art wrought in ivory or, better, in bronze. Both the passage of time and the sea's far-sundering will ease the wounds that linger in my silent breast: or if I die, it will be naturally and not laid low by a shameful love: in either case the day of my death will bring me no dishonour.

Magnum iter ad doctas proficisci cogor Athenas
    ut me longa gravi solvat amore via.
crescit enim assidue spectando cura puellae:
    ipse alimenta sibi maxima praebet amor.
omnia sunt temptata mihi, quacumque fugari        5
    posset: at ex omni me premit ipse deus.
vix tamen aut semel admittit, cum saepe negarit:
    seu venit, extremo dormit amicta toro.

unum erit auxilium: mutatis Cynthia terris
    quantum oculis, animo tam procul ibit amor.        10
nunc agite, o socii, propellite in aequora navem,
    remorumque pares ducite sorte vices,
iungiteque extremo felicia lintea malo:
    iam liquidum nautis aura secundat iter.
Romanae turres et vos valeatis, amici,        15
    qualiscumque mihi tuque, puella, vale!

ergo ego nunc rudis Hadriaci vehar aequoris hospes,
    cogar et undisonos nunc prece adire deos.
deinde per Ionium vectus cum fessa Lechaeo
    sedarit placida vela phaselus aqua,        20
quod superest, sufferre, pedes, properate laborem,
    Isthmos qua terris arcet utrumque mare.
inde ubi Piraei capient me litora portus,
    scandam ego Theseae bracchia longa viae.

illic vel stadiis animum emendare Platonis        25
    incipiam aut hortis, docte Epicure, tuis;
persequar aut studium linguae, Demosthenis arma,
    libaboque tuos, culte Menandre, sales;
aut certe tabulae capient mea lumina pictae,
    sive ebore exactae, seu magis aere, manus.        30
et spatia annorum et longa intervalla profundi
    lenibunt tacito vulnera nostra sinu:
seu moriar, fato, non turpi fractus amore:
    aeque erit illa mihi mortis honesta dies.

6 posset Richards: possit Ω
8 amicta Scaliger: amica Ω
25 stadiis Fonteine, Broekhuyzen: studiis Ω
28 libaboque Suringar: librorumque Ω; culte Heinsius: docte Ω



Dear Mike,

I thought you might enjoy this anecdote. It's from Michele Feo's Persone: Da Nausicaa a Adriano Soffri (Florence, Il Grandevetro, 2012), vol. 2, p.556. He cites his source as Schmidt's Die Faszination lateinischer Verskunst. Rede anläßlich des 65. Geburtstags von Franco Munari gehalten am 8.2.1985, Berlin 1985, p.1. Unfortunately neither I nor UC Berkeley own that volume.
Raccontò una volta Paul Gerhard Schmidt la storia di un filologo tedesco dell'età di Goethe, geniale e bizzarro, Karl Reisig, che, dopo essersi spremuto il cervello per dare un senso a un passo corrotto di autore classico, quando finalmente trovò la soluzione, corse a prendere la tromba, aprì la finestra dello studio e si diede a suonare lo strumento per annunciare l'evento ai concittadini.

Paul Gerhard Schmidt once told the tale of a brilliant and eccentric German philologist from the time of Goethe, Karl Reisig, who, having wracked his brains to make sense of a corrupt passage in a classical author, when he finally arrived at the solution, rushed to get his trumpet, opened the window of his study, and began to play the instrument to announce the event to his neighbors.
As ever,

Ian [Jackson]

Cf. Hermann Paldamus, Narratio de Carolo Reisigio Thuringo (Greifswald: C.A. Koch, 1839), p. 23:
Audivique ipsum quum diceret Ienae sibi morem fuisse, ubi per noctem litteris vacans aliquid sibi invenisse visus esset, id ut fenestra aperta buccinae clangore vicinis quasi indicaret.
Ienae = at Jena, where Reisig (1792-1829) taught.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016


Our Best Acquaintance

Thomas Sheridan (1687-1738), "To the Dean, When in England, in 1726," lines 5-14, in The Poems of Thomas Sheridan, ed. Robert Hogan (Newark: University of Delaware Press, 1994), pp. 163-164 (at 163):
While you are trudging London town,
I'm strolling Dublin up and down;
While you converse with lords and dukes,
I have their betters here, my books:
Fixed in an elbow-chair at ease,
I choose companions as I please.
I'd rather have one single shelf
Than all my friends, except yourself;
For, after all that can be said,
Our best acquaintance are the dead.


Henry Wild

William Dunn Macray, Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A.D. 1598-A.D. 1867 (London: Rivingtons, 1868), pp. 141-142 (anno 1715):
A learned tailor of Norwich was in this year recommended by Dr. Tanner, then Chancellor of Norwich Cathedral, for the Janitor's place in the Library should it be vacant. Although but a journeyman tailor of thirty years of age, who had been taught nothing but English in his childhood, Henry Wild had contrived within seven years to master seven languages, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Chaldee, Syriac, Arabic and Persian, to which Tanner adds, in another letter to Dr. Rawlinson, Samaritan and Ethiopic. The application appears to have been unsuccessful so far as the holding office in the Library was concerned; but Wild found some employment in the Library for a time in the translating and copying Oriental MSS1. He removed to London about 1720, and died in the following year, as we learn from an entry in Hearne's MS. Diary, (xcii. 128-9,) under date of Oct. 29, 1721, where we read:—

'About a fortnight since died in London Mr. Henry Wild, commonly called, the Arabick Taylour. I have more than once mentioned him formerly. He was by profession a taylour of Norwich, and was a married man. But having a strange inclination to languages, by a prodigious industry he obtain'd a very considerable knowledge in many, without any help or assistance from others. He understood Arabick perfectly well, and transcrib'd, very fairly, much from Bodley, being patroniz'd by that most eminent physician, Dr. Rich. Mead. He died of a feaver, aged about 39. He was about a considerable work, viz. a history of the old Arabian physicians, from an Arabick MS. in Bodley. The MS. was wholly transcrib'd by him a year agoe, but what progress he had made for the press I know not.'

1 Letters by Eminent Persons, i. 271, 300. [On p. 270 for Turner, read Tanner.]
Z.A., "Extraordinary Life of Mr Henry Wild," The Gentleman's Magazine (March 1755) 105-106:
Mr Henry Wild, professor of the oriental languages, was born in the city of Norwich, and educated there at a grammar school, and almost fitted for the university; but his friends wanting fortune and interest to maintain him there, bound him an apprentice to a taylor, with whom he served out the term of seven years; after which he worked as a journeyman seven years more. About the end of the last seven years, he was seized with a fever and ague, which held him two or three years, and reduced him at last so low, as to disable him from working at his trade. In this situation, he amused himself with some old books of controversial divinity, wherein he found great stress laid on the Hebrew original of several texts of scripture. Tho' he had almost lost his school learning, his curiosity, and strong desire of knowledge, excited him to attempt to make himself master of it. He was obliged at first to make use of an English Hebrew grammar and lexicon, but by degrees he recovered the language he had learnt at school. As his health was re-established, he divided his time between the business of his profession, and his studies, which last employed the greatest part of his nights. Thus self taught and assisted only by his own great genius, by dint of continual application, and almost unparallelled industry, he added the knowledge of all, or the much greater part of the oriental languages, to that of the Hebrew. But still he laboured in obscurity, till at length he was accidentally discover'd to the world.

The late worthy Dr. Prideaux, dean of Norwich, a name justly celebrated in the learned world, was offered some Arabic MSS. in parchment, by a bookseller of that city. But whether he thought the price demanded was too great, or whether he expected, as few would buy them, the bookseller would be obliged to lower his price, he left them on his hands. Soon after Mr Wild heard of them, and purchased them. Some weeks after, the dean called at the shop, and enquired for the MSS. but was informed they were sold. Chagrined at his disappointment, he asked the name and profession of the person who had bought them. On his being told he was a taylor; Run instantly, said the dean, in a passion, and fetch them, if they are not cut in pieces to make measures. He was soon relieved from his fears, by Mr Wild's appearance with the MSS. He enquir'd whether he would part with them, but was answered in the negative. The dean hastily asked what he did with them? he replied he read them. He was desired to read, which he did; he was then bid to render a passage or two into English, which he did readily and exactly. Amazed at this, the dean partly at his own expence, partly by a subscription, raised among persons, whose inclinations led them to this kind of learning, sent him to Oxon, where, tho' he was never a member of the university, he was by the dean's interest admitted to the Bodleian library, and employed for some years in translating, or making extracts out of, oriental MSS.—Thus he bid adieu to his needle.

About 1718 I found him at Oxon, and learned Hebrew of him; but do not recollect how long he had been there before. He was there known by the name of the Arabian taylor. All the hours that the library was open, he constantly attended; when it was shut, he employed most of his leisure time in teaching the oriental languages to young gentlemen, at the moderate price of half a guinea a language, except for the Arabic, for which, as I remember, he had a guinea.

About 1720 he removed to London, where he spent the remainder of his life, under the patronage of the famous Dr Mead; there I saw him at the latter end of 1721. When he died I know not, but in 1734 his translation, out of the Arabic, of Al-Mesra, or Mahomet's journey to Heaven, was publish'd: In the dedication, which was addressed to Mr Mackrel of Norwich, it is said to be a posthumous work. It is the only piece of his that ever was printed, and I have heard him read it in MS.

When I knew him he seemed to be about 40, tho his sedentary and studious way of life might make him look older than he really was. His person was thin and meagre, his stature moderately tall, and his air and walk had all the little particularities observed in persons of his profession. His memory was extraordinary. His pupils frequently invited him to spend an evening with them, when he would often entertain us with long and curious details out of the Roman, Greek, and Arabic histories. His morals were good: He was addicted to no vice, was sober and temperate modest and diffident of himself, without any tincture of conceitedness or vanity. In his lectures he would frequently observe to us, that such an idiom in Hebrew, resembled one in Latin or Greek; then he would make a pause, and seem to recal his words, and ask us, whether it were not so? This caused a suspicion, which will be after mentioned, that it was done to conceal his real profession.

So much merit and industry met with little reward, and procured him a subsistence not much better than what his trade might have produced; as I remember, his subscriptions amounted to no more than 20 or 30l. per annum. That part of learning which he excelled in, was cultivated and encouraged by few. Unfortunately for him, the Rev. Mr Gagnier, a French gentleman, skilled in the oriental tongues, was in possession of all the favours the university could bestow in this way, for he was recommended by the heads of houses to instruct young gentlemen, and employed by the professors of those languages to read publick lectures in their absence.

Such uncommon attainments in a person, who made so mean an appearance, led some to suspect that he was a Jesuit under this disguise. These suspicions were heightened by his modesty and diffidence, his affecting sometimes to talk of foreign cities and countries, his frequenting the university church only, where by way of exercise the sermons treat more of speculative and controversial points, than practical ones. But these suspicions were without any other foundation; for after I left the university, I lived in a family, where I met with a woman who was a native and inhabitant of Norwich, who came there on a visit. I took this opportunity of making many enquiries about him. She confirmed many of the particulars before mentioned, and assured me that she knew him from a child, that he was born and bred up in the city, and never heard or knew he was absent from it any considerable time, till his removal to Oxon.

The memory of so extraordinary a person, who was so striking an example of diligence and industry, deserves to be perpetuated. Such an attempt is an act of justice due to such merit, and cannot but be of service to the world. I heartily wish that these imperfect memoirs may induce one of his fellow citizens to correct, improve, and compleat them, especially since the late Rev. Mr Blomfield, in his history of the city of Norwich, if I remember right, takes no notice of a man, who did honour to the place of his nativity, and his country.
See also D.M. Dunlop, "The 'Arabian Tailor', Henry Wild," Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London 19.3 (1957) 579-581.

From Jim O'Donnell:
A learned tailor of Norwich
Began with but trifling knowledge
    But soon he learned Greek
    And other tongues eke
Without ever going to college.

Monday, July 18, 2016


Excess and Moderation in Love

Euripides, Medea 627-641 (tr. David Kovacs):
Loves that come to us in excess bring no good name or goodness to men. If Aphrodite comes in moderation, no other goddess brings such happiness. Never, O goddess, may you smear with desire one of your ineluctable arrows and let it fly against my heart from your golden bow!

May moderation attend me, fairest gift of the gods! May dread Aphrodite never cast contentious wrath and insatiate quarreling upon me and madden my heart with love for a stranger's bed! But may she honor marriages that are peaceful and wisely determine whom we are to wed!

ἔρωτες ὑπὲρ μὲν ἄγαν
ἐλθόντες οὐκ εὐδοξίαν
οὐδ᾿ ἀρετὰν παρέδωκαν
ἀνδράσιν· εἰ δ᾿ ἅλις ἔλθοι        630
Κύπρις, οὐκ ἄλλα θεὸς εὔχαρις οὕτως.
μήποτ᾿, ὦ δέσποιν᾿, ἐπ᾿ ἐμοὶ χρυσέων τόξων ἀφείης
ἱμέρῳ χρίσασ᾿ ἄφυκτον οἰστόν.

στέργοι δέ με σωφροσύνα,        635
δώρημα κάλλιστον θεῶν·
μηδέ ποτ᾿ ἀμφιλόγους ὀρ-
γὰς ἀκόρεστά τε νείκη
θυμὸν ἐκπλήξασ᾿ ἑτέροις ἐπὶ λέκτροις
προσβάλοι δεινὰ Κύπρις, ἀπτολέμους δ᾿ εὐνὰς σεβίζουσ᾿        640
ὀξύφρων κρίνοι λέχη γυναικῶν.
Euripides, Iphigenia at Aulis 543-557 (tr. David Kovacs):
Blessed are they who with moderation
and self-control where the goddess is concerned
share in the couch of Aphrodite,
experiencing the calm absence
of mad passion's sting. In love
twofold are the arrows of pleasure
golden-haired Eros sets on his bowstring,
the one to give us a blessed fate,
the other to confound our life.
I forbid him, O Cypris most lovely,
to come to my bedchamber!
May my joy be moderate,
my desires godly,
may I have a share in Aphrodite
but send her away when she is excessive!

μάκαρες οἳ μετρίας θεοῦ
μετά τε σωφροσύνας μετέ-
σχον λέκτρων Ἀφροδίτας,        545
γαλανείᾳ χρησάμενοι
μανιάδων οἴστρων· ὅθι δὴ
δίδυμ᾿ Ἔρως ὁ χρυσοκόμας
τόξ᾿ ἐντείνεται χαρίτων,
τὸ μὲν ἐπ᾿ εὐαίωνι πότμῳ,        550
τὸ δ᾿ ἐπὶ συγχύσει βιοτᾶς.
ἀπενέπω νιν ἁμετέρων,
ὦ Κύπρι καλλίστα, θαλάμων.
εἴη δέ μοι μετρία
μὲν χάρις, πόθοι δ᾿ ὅσιοι,        555
καὶ μετέχοιμι τᾶς Ἀφροδί-
τας, πολλὰν δ᾿ ἀποθείμαν.


Difficulty of Pindar

Hugh Lloyd-Jones (1922-2009), "Modern Interpretation of Pindar: The Second Pythian and Seventh Nemean Odes," Journal of Hellenic Studies 93 (1973) 109-137 (at 114):
People fail to appreciate Pindar not only because they find him not to be progressive, but because they find him difficult. He is indeed difficult, but the nature of the difficulty is not always appreciated. His style and language present grave problems; but they are hardly as difficult as those of Sophocles, who is confidently read by many people who will not dare tackle Pindar. That would be the case even if Pindar's text were as corrupt as that of Sophocles, whereas in fact it is a good deal better preserved. The source of many of the greatest difficulties is not the language itself, nor the corruption of the text, but the conventions of the genre and the sometimes abrupt transitions from one topic to another which these entail. Many readers who can see the beauty of Pindar's style and language find it hard to read a Pindaric poem as a whole. We need to be taught how to read Pindar not only in the sense of how to construe him, but in that of how to view each poem and each section of each poem in the light of the tradition to which it belongs; and in this few books written in English are of much help to us.


Busy People

Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742-1799), ‎Waste Books, K 125 (my translation):
The people who never have time accomplish the least.

Die Leute, die niemals Zeit haben, tun am wenigsten.


The Global Economy

Roger Scruton, News from Somewhere: On Settling (London: Continuum, 2004), p. 159:
Advocates of the global economy argue that it is an inevitable development of the capitalist system, and that it will spread freedom, prosperity and democracy around the globe. Much intellectual effort is wasted on such half-baked predictions, which are usually not predictions at all, but intentions in the minds of maniacs. By pretending to predict when you are really deciding, you exonerate yourself from blame. You describe your purpose as 'inevitable', `irreversible', a part of 'progress'. Anyone who resists is 'anachronistic', 'reactionary', a victim of 'nostalgia'. It was in such unsettling language that the revolutions of the twentieth century were sold to their gullible consumers, and the 1000-year Reich and the socialist millennium notwithstanding, people go on mouthing this trash and go on believing it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016



John Muir (1838-1914), Steep Trails (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1918), p. 104:
The great wilds of our country, once held to be boundless and inexhaustible, are being rapidly invaded and overrun in every direction, and everything destructible in them is being destroyed. How far destruction may go it is not easy to guess. Every landscape, low and high, seems doomed to be trampled and harried.


A Bird in the Hand

Demetrius of Phalerum, fragment 116B Fortenbaugh–Schütrumpf, preserved in Athenaeus 6.233e (tr. S. Douglas Olson, with his note):
People often spend what they have in hand to get what they cannot see, and fail to get what they intended, but throw away what they had, so that their bad luck resembles a riddle.80

80 A reference to the riddle posed to Homer by unsuccessful fishermen at Vita Herodot. 499 (OCT Homer vol. V p. 215 Allen): "We got rid of everything we caught, and we've brought with us everything we didn't catch." The solution is "Lice".

πολλάκις καταναλώσαντες τὰ φανερὰ τῶν ἀδήλων ἕνεκα ἃ μὲν ἔμελλον οὐκ ἔλαβον, ἃ δ᾿ εἶχον ἀπέβαλον ὥσπερ αἰνίγματος τρόπον ἀτυχοῦντες.


Nature Writing

V. Sackville-West (1892-1962), Country Notes (London: Michael Joseph Ltd, 1939), pp. 75-76:
I do try to set down on paper as simply and directly as possible the feelings by which I am moved. It is a hard thing to do; hard not to appear either exaggerated or mawkish, precious or inexact. It is very difficult indeed to write about nature and the natural processes without getting bogged in morasses of sentimental language. It is difficult for any honest writer to express his feelings in a way which will convince himself, let alone his readers, of his original sincerity; and if it is hard enough to be starkly honest towards ourselves even in our own private thoughts, to arrive without embellishment or gloss at what we really mean, the writer alone knows how far harder it is to be faithful on paper. Something comes between the writer and his pen; the passionate feeling, the urgency to record, emerge as a blob of ink, a smudge, a decoration. As Orlando discovered, green in nature is one thing, green in literature another. Thus if I set down that I have to-day seen apple-blossom strewn by wind on grass, I am stating a fact, and if I should happen to re-read my own words in future years (which is unlikely) they will probably recall that vision, as fresh and bright in memory as on that morning in the month of May. If, on the other hand, I start to expand my statement, in the hope of evoking a similar vision in the mind's eye of another, I shall immediately find myself drawn into semi-falsities, into truth wrapped round with untruth; I shall immediately begin to search for what the apple-blossom was 'like'; I shall find confetti or snowflakes as a convenient comparison; I shall hit on the word shell-pink to express the delicacy, the papery delicacy of the scattered petals; I shall begin to 'write'; but really, if I can be sufficiently severe with myself, I shall put my pen through all those blobs of ink, those wordy words, and cut myself back to the short phrase about apple-blossom strewn by wind on grass. It ought to be evocative enough, without amplification; but such is the impuissance of the human mind that it requires expansion before the experience of one person can be communicated to another. Or, at any rate, it requires a magic which mere prose is unable to provide. This is where poetry comes in; where poetry is, or should be, so far more evocative, more suggestive, than prose. Prose is a poor thing, a poor inadequate thing, compared with poetry which says so much more in shorter time.

Writing is indeed a strange and difficult profession.


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