25 March 2008

from Gaudy Night, chapter 14 (Dorothy L. Sayers)

He was, in fact, a pretty punter to watch, easy in action and quite remarkably quick. They picked their way at surprising speed down the crowded and tortuous stream until, in the narrow reach above the ferry, they were checked by another punt, which was clumsily revolving in mid-stream and cramming a couple of canoes rather dangerously against the bank.

'Before you come on this water,' cried Wimsey, thrusing the offenders off with his heel and staring offensively at the youth in charge (a stringy young man, naked to the waist and shrimp-pink with the sun) 'you should learn the rule of the river. Those canoes have the right of way. And if you can't handle a pole better than that, I recommend you to retire up the back-water and stay there till you know what God gave you feet for.'

Whereat a middle-aged man, whose punt was moored a little way farther on, turned his head sharply and cried in ringing tones:

'Good lord! Wimsey of Balliol!'

'Well, well, well,' said his lordship, abandoning the pink youth, and ranging up alongside the punt. 'Peake of Brasenose, by all that's holy. What brings you here?'

'Dash it,' said Mr. Peake, 'I live here. What brings you here is more to the point. You haven't met my wife - Lord Peter Wimsey, my dear - the cricket blue, you know. The rest is my family.'

He waved his hand vaguely over a collection of assorted offspring.

'Oh, I thought I'd look the old place up,' said Peter, when the introductions were completed all round. 'I've got a nephew here and all that. What are you doing? Tutor? Fellow? Lecturer?'

'Oh, I coach people. A dog's life, a dog's life. Dear me! A lot of water has flowed under Folly Bridge since we last met. But I'd have known your voice anywhere. The moment I heard those arrogant, off-hand, go-to-blazes tones I said, "Wimsey of Balliol." Wasn't I right?'

Wimsey shipped the pole and sat down.

'Have pity, old son, have pity! Let the dead bury their dead.'

'You know,' said Mr. Peake to the world at large, 'when we were up together - shocking long time ago that is - never mind! If anyone got landed with a country cousin or an American visitor who asked, as these people will, "What is this thing called the Oxford manner?" we used to take 'em round and show 'em Wimsey of Balliol. He fitted in very handily between St. John's Gardens and the Martyrs' Memorial.'

'But suppose he wasn't there, or wouldn't perform?'

'That catastrophe never occurred. One never failed to find Wimsey of Balliol planted in the centre of the quad and laying down the law with exquisite insolence to somebody.'

Wimsey put his head between his hands.

from The Organ in Ampleforth Abbey (L.S. Barnard)

But a tuba, however fine, is a tuba among many: the trompetta argentea on the other hand, is in a class by itself. Lodged in the small arch high above the altar, it is an astounding piece of voicing, a trumpet of unexampled colour, power and brilliance. It is a special stop for special occasions. It is right for fanfares on great festal days: it would be in the worst taste to use it much, or often, or as an ordinary organ stop. But it is a thrilling sound! And it seems to throw the real organ tone into sharp relief: after a fanfare on the trompetta, the chorus work proper sounds doubly grand.

'Loveliest of trees' (A.E. Housman)

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

17 March 2008

Odes 2.7 (Horace, trans. adapted from David West)

o saepe mecum tempus in ultimum
deducte Bruto militiae duce,
quis te redonauit Quiritem
dis patriis Italoque caelo,

Pompei, meorum prime sodalium,
cum quo morantem saepe diem mero
fregi, coronatus nitentis
malobathro Syrio capillos?

tecum Philippos et celerem fugam
sensi relicta non bene parmula,
cum fracta uirtus et minaces
turpe solum tetigere mento;

sed me per hostis Mercurius celer
denso pauentem sustulit aere,
te rursus in bellum resorbens
unda fretis tulit aestuosis.

ergo obligatam redde Ioui dapem
longaque fessum militia latus
depone sub lauru mea, nec
parce cadis tibi destinatis.

obliuioso leuia Massico
ciboria exple, funde capacibus
unguenta de conchis. quis udo
deproperare apio coronas

curatue myrto? quem Venus arbitrum
dicet bibendi? non ego sanius
bacchabor Edonis: recepto
dulce mihi furere est amico.

You, who've often been led to the edge
of doom with me, with Brutus in command -
who has made you a Roman again
under ancestral gods and Italian skies,

Pompeius, first of my friends,
with whom I often broke into the delaying day
with neat wine, garlanded and hair gleaming
with Syrian malobathrum?

With you I knew Philippi and swift flight,
leaving, unfortunately, my little shield behind,
when virtue broke, and blusterers touched
the dirty earth with their chins.

But swift Mercury carried me off in a dense mist
through the enemy (as I panicked);
while a wave sucked you back into war
and carried you along in a boiling sea.

So pay to Jupiter the feast you promised,
and lay down your body, exhausted with lengthy
soldiering, under my laurel tree, and have no mercy
on the casks of wine reserved for you.

Fill up the polished cups with Massic
for forgetfulness; pour perfumes
from capacious shells. Who should be running
for garlands of damp celery

and myrtle? Whom will Venus name as ruler
of the drinking? I shall run no less wild
than the Edonians. My friend is back.
What joy to go mad!

13 March 2008

from the Conclusion to The Renaissance (Walter Pater)

To regard all things and principles of things as inconstant modes of fashions has more and more become the tendency of modern thought. Let us begin with that which is without - our physical life. Fix upon it in one of its more exquisite intervals, the moment, for instance, of delicious recoil from the flood of water in summer heat. What is the whole physical life in that moment but a combination of natural elements to which science gives their names? But those elements, phosphorus and lime and delicate fibres, are present not in the human body alone: we detect them in places most remote from it. Our physical life is a perpetual motion of them - the passage of the blood, the waste and repairing of the lenses of the eye, the modification of the tissues of the brain under every ray of light and sound - processes which science reduces to simpler and more elementary forces. Like the elements of which we are composed, the action of these forces extends beyond us: it rusts iron and ripens corn. Far out on every side of us those elements are broadcast, driven in many currents; and birth and gesture and death and the springing of violets from the grave are but a few out of ten thousand resultant combinations. That clear, perpetual outline of face and limb is but an image of ours, under which we group them - a design in a web, the actual threads of which pass out beyond it. This at least of flame-like our life has, that it is but the concurrence, renewed from moment to moment, of forces parting sooner or later on their ways.

Or if we begin with the inward world of thought and feeling, the whirlpool is still more rapid, the flame more eager and devouring. There it is no longer the gradual darkening of the eye, the gradual fading of colour from the wall - movements of the shore-side, where the water flows down indeed, though in apparent rest - but the race of the mid-stream, a drift of momentary acts of sight and passion and thought. At first sight experience seems to bury us under a flood of external objects, pressing upon us with a sharp and importunate reality, calling us out of ourselves in a thousand forms of action. But when reflexion begins to play upon those objects they are dissipated under its influence; the cohesive force seems suspended like some trick of magic; each object is loosed into a group of impressions - colour, odour, texture - in the mind of the observer. And if we continue to dwell in thought on this world, not of objects in the solidity with which language invests them, but of impressions, unstable, flickering, inconsistent, which burn and are extinguished with our consciousness of them, it contracts still further: the whole scope of observation is dwarfed into the narrow chamber of the individual mind. Experience, already reduced to a group of impressions, is ringed round for each one of us by that thick wall of personality through which no real voice has ever pierced on its way to us, or from us to that which we can only conjecture to be without. Every one of those impressions is the impression of the individual in his isolation, each mind keeping as a solitary prisoner its own dream of a world. Analysis goes a step further still, and assures us that those impresssions of the individual mind to which, for each one of us, experience dwindles down, are in perpetual flight; that each of them is limited by time, and that as time is infinitely divisible, each of them is infinitely divisible also; all that is actual in it being a single moment, gone while we try to apprehend it, of which it may ever be more truly said that it has ceased to be than that it is. To such a tremulous wisp constantly re-forming itself on the stream, to a single sharp impression, with a sense in it, a relic more or less fleeting, of such moments gone by, what is real in our life fines itself down. It is with this movement, with the passage and dissolution of impressions, images, sensations, that analysis leaves off - that continual vanishing away, that strange, perpetual, weaving and unweaving of ourselves.