Saturday, July 22, 2017

Poems in their kind


Oct. 10, 1858. The simplest and most lumpish fungus has a peculiar interest for us, compared with a mere mass of earth, because it is so obviously organic and related to ourselves, however remote. It is the expression of an idea, growth according to a law, matter not dormant, not raw, but inspired, appropriated by spirit. If I take up a handful of earth, however separately interesting the particles may be, their relation to one another appears to be that of mere juxtaposition generally. I might have thrown them together thus. But the humblest fungus betrays a life akin to my own. It is a successful poem in its kind. There is suggested something superior to any particle of matter in the idea or mind which uses and arranges the particles.

— Henry David Thoreau, Journal

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Sibyl's Testament


Pausanias (Book X in Peter Levi's edition) mentions a sibyl named Herophile who prophesied at various sanctuaries, including those at Samos, Delphi, and the Alexandria near Troy (not to be confused with the more famous Egyptian one). In the last she was temple-keeper to Apollo Smintheus — the name means, or was interpreted to mean, Apollo of the Mice — and after her death the following epitaph was inscribed in stone above her remains. (Phoibos — Φοῖβος — is Apollo.)
I Sibylla, Phoibos's wise woman,
am hidden under a stone monument:
I was a speaking virgin but voiceless
in this manacle by the strength of fate.
I lie close to the Nymphs and to Hermes:
I have not lost my sovereignty.
An earlier and more pedestrian translation of the epitaph reads: "Here hidden by stone sepulchre I lie, Apollo's fate-pronouncing Sibyl I, a vocal maiden once but now for ever dumb, here placed by all-powerful fate, and I lie near the Nymphs and Hermes, in this part of Apollo's realm."

In one of his copious footnotes Peter Levi tells us that the Sanctuary of Apollo Smintheus was identified in 1853 and excavated in 1866. "The bronze votive mice associated with this sanctuary turn up from time to time."

Monday, July 17, 2017

Naima



Today is the fiftieth anniversary of the death of John Coltrane. Richard Williams has a brief appreciation at The Blue Moment. Below is a track from Giant Steps (1959).

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Liu Xiaobo



The Chinese critic and activist Liu Xiaobo has died. A related New York Times article by Chris Buckley reflects on the bleak prospects for democracy and free expression in China. With authoritarianism of various stripes firmly entrenched in Russia, Turkey, Hungary, the Philippines, and elsewhere, and the lack of interest in human rights issues shown by our own current administration, the optimistic days of 1989 now seem very distant. Never forget.

Here is the full text of Charter 08.

Also in today's obituaries is one for Irina Ratushinskaya, former Soviet-era political prisoner and author of a fine memoir, Grey Is the Color of Hope.