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A funny quote, and a terrifying one

From The Royal Hunt in Eurasian History, on the training of cheetahs for hunting. After finding the prey, they unleash the cheetah (very funny fact: the cheetah rode on the same horse as his handler, sitting on the back) and set their

head toward the Prey; if he sees it, he gives a shriek, leaps down, falls on the Beast, and pulls it down; if he missed it he is commonly discouraged, and stops; the Master goes to him, comforts him, makes much of him, and tells him it is not his Fault, and that he had not been set directly before the Beast. They say he [the cat] understands that Excuse, and is satisfied with it.

Anybody who ever owned a cat will recognize the situation.

And from Eliot's The Dry Salvages:

The bone's prayer to Death its God. Only the hardly, barely prayable
Prayer of the one Annunciation.

As usual, Eliot's theology is terrifying (and insane for any self-professed Catholic). Death its God is bleak in a relatively naive way, but Prayer of the one Annunciation in that context is starkly existentialist, even and more so because it's not secular.

The more I reread Four Quartets, the more interesting I find it.


After centuries of looking for a philosophically principled and rationally designed universal language, the species seems to have decided that our common language would be rooted on the now ubiquitously understood concepts of okay and fuck you, and that's beautiful.

[...] and I tell you it is an inspiriting thing to be alive and trying to write English.

From Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch's On the Art of Writing

I love the word choices here, particularly trying. It's always a tussle, sometimes playful, sometimes, it feels, to the death. Quoth Eliot,

Words strain,
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still.

I think I've quoted those lines before; they get me every time I reread them.


I love e. e. cumming's poetry, so much that most of the (few) poems I've memorized are his. Paradoxically, this means that I have more opportunity to have small mistakes when recalling his poems than anybody else's. And, perhaps as a sign of terminal hubris, I've realized I do prefer them the way I remember them (which is probably why I remember them that way).

To be specific, I remember this verse of since feeling is first

we are for each other: then
laugh, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph


we are for each other: laugh,
, leaning back in my arms
for life's not a paragraph

I don't know. It just sounds better to my ears, and I've never been able to convince my memory that it's not the right version.

The other one is from in time of daffodils:

and in a mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

which to me just has to be

and in that mystery to be
(when time from time shall set us free)
forgetting me, remember me.

In this case (I think) not because of how it sounds, but because of what it says. Death is not a mystery to be when time from time shall set us free, it's that mystery to be when time from time shall set us free. You don't need, it doesn't make sense, to describe it, you're pointing to it, and the reference is unequivocal.

Of course, I'm not claiming that these are better in any universal sense, and I wouldn't expect everybody, most people, or anybody else to prefer them, but this is how it plays out to me.


algorithm angels

These are the Pharoah's life & death guys. These are his guys of life & death, the certainty of making his decisions bursts from their skin every second & every second of that second, like: knowledge! brass reflections! water! white of eye & pure smiles of delight of children! These guys are the full beauty of the Pharoah's decision made. You may die but it will be the perfect call. You may live & it will be the perfect call. Everyone is happier when they pass. Everyone is happier, meeting those guys in the market place. Their tread–light, active, gracile, musical–is a measure. They know the date of birth, they know–within one glowing week, give or take a percentage not even the Pharoah can calculate–the day of death. Some things can not be known, & they glint with the mischief of admitting that. The corner of their eye glints with the delight of the mischief of the residue that can't be known. No one knows when they die, those angel guys, & they keep that residue of laughter all their days. They are the guys of the Pharoah who lives in the dark in the pyramid, in the liquid actuarial core of all the things of the world.

(...) The liquid actuarial core of all the things of the world. My god, what a phrase. If somebody wrote a paean of and warning about contemporary financial technology (and these days everything is financial technology), they could do much worse than to use it as a title, and the whole text as a frontispiece.


Not nice, but good imaginery

There are many dead in the brutish desert
who lie uneasy
among the scrub in this landscape of half-wit
stunted ill-will. For the dead land is insatiate
and necrophilous. The sand is blowing about still.

— Hamish Henderson, Elegies for the dead in Cyrenaica (fragment)

The context of the poems to which this fragment belongs is the North African desert theater of WWII; not the worst of them, of course, but still, of course, hellish enough, and the landscape was as much part of this as the combat itself. I read it as part of the pdf version of the lecture The Natures of War.


From Wikipedia's daily email

The tides are in our veins, we still mirror the stars, life is your child, but there is in me

Older and harder than life and more impartial, the eye that watched before there was an ocean.

Robinson Jeffers, "Continent's End" in Tamar and Other Poems (1924)


I don't know what I could add to this

Mezzo Cammin

Half of my life is gone, and I have let
The years slip from me and have not fulfilled
The aspiration of my youth, to build
Some tower of song with lofty parapet.
Not indolence, nor pleasure, nor the fret
Of restless passions that would not be stilled,
But sorrow, and a care that almost killed,
Kept me from what I may accomplish yet;
Though, half-way up the hill, I see the Past
Lying beneath me with its sounds and sights,–
A city in the twilight dim and vast,
With smoking roofs, soft bells, and gleaming lights,–
And hear above me on the autumnal blast
The cataract of Death far thundering from the heights.

— Longfellow

(from here)


Some poems from Pinsky

From the Childhood of JesusCollapse )

Winning (the last section of Tennis)Collapse )

Also recommended, the short story Jesus and Isolt.


Emily Dickinson

by Linda Pastan

We think of her hidden in a white dress
among the folded linens and sachets
of well kept cupboards, or just out of sight
sending jellies and notes with no address
to all the wondering Amherst neighbors.
Eccentric as New England weather
the stiff wind of her mind, stinging or gentle,
blew two half imagined lovers off.
Yet legend won't explain the sheer sanity
of vision, the serious mischief
of language, the economy of pain.

The last three lines are the best description I have seen of her poetry.


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