Ignorance

How do you know but ev’ry Bird that cuts the airy way,
Is an immense world of delight, clos’d by your senses five?
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

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Photo by Aveline

Crammed in the confined cabin of our senses
How can we humans know infinity?
We move within our limited defences,
Attempt in vain to chart eternity.

What arrogance that claims to seek for knowledge
Or understanding of the vast beyond,
One tiny glimpse outside our goldfish bowl
Into the endless universal pond.

Our selfish drives determine and degrade us
And meanwhile conflict rules within our bounds.
The peace pervading heaven must evade us
Till altruism triumphs and abounds.

Escape the ego, silence inward chatter,
And focus on the things that really matter.

Remorse

Remorse is more than regret. Remorse is the wish to turn back the clock and do it right this time. One thing I might do differently if I had the chance would be to treat nature with a little more respect.

I came across an old photo this morning, and it triggered memories of the chalet we rented forty-odd years ago, primarily as a weekend getaway from Geneva and as an opportunity for some winter sports, chiefly cross-country skiing and a bit of sledging. Our first encounter with the place was in the summer.  It had lain empty for several years, and nature was in the process of reclaiming  the land around it. We were townies, insensitive and opposed to chaos. After our well-intentioned vandalism, we suddenly became aware of what we had destroyed. God’s gardens are the best!

I wrote this in 1977. (By the way, this is my 600th post!)

Tidying up

When we arrived
The chalet was asleep:
Had drawn a curtain of larches

Close around, closed tight
All windows, shutters, doors,
Pulled the meadow up over the garden,
Tucked itself into the long grass and yarrow,
And was settled deep in its summer slumber.

Peaceful and undisturbed
It lay in its innocent wilderness bed,
And we thought
It looked neglected, overgrown.
(Hyper-urbanization blinds us to the instinct
That recognises raw beauty

In a natural state
And murmurs: “Let it be.”)

Overcome by the urge to tidy things up
And suburbanize
We gustily set to
To wake it up out of its languor,
And jerk it out of its dream,
Flung open the shutters and windows and doors
Let in the air and the sun and the flies,
And laid into the overgrowth with sickle and scythe.

We slashed down the long grass,
Bay willow herb, cow parsley, buttercups,
Harebells, daisies, Queen Anne’s lace,
Forget-me-nots and all the other
Unwelcome weeds,
Ravaging the peace with sharp steel blades,
Frightening the frogs,
Dainty gold-green creatures that leapt in panic
Up the tree trunks
Into the stream
Anywhere
Away from the menacing swish of the blade.

We disturbed the lizards and voles,
Scared away the tom-tits and finches,
Besieged the snails
Taking refuge inside their eggshell forts,
Stepped unwittingly on slugs too slow to flee,
Destroyed all their little world
And let the sunshine strike
Onto the grass roots and the moss,
Drying the grass and flowers to hay
While the horseflies and mosquitoes
(An undisciplined but kamikaze airforce)
Bombarded us at our work.

Some battles they did win,
When the sun was on their side, at noon,
And we had scars to show
When we paused to rest,
But in the end the victory was ours
When we came back to the attack
With spray gun reinforcements.

So when we left
The chalet had been shaken from its torpor
The bewildered wilderness had vanished
Vanquished
Into a neat and tidy garden:
And not a creature stirred.

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With the relief of winter
The garden heaved a sigh
And slid back into sleep.

Perspectives

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When I gaze into the sun
Half veiled by a cloud
Mayhap its full
Round shining spreads out into a coloured ring
Like the glory around the throne
Of the Christ figure in Mistra.

When I fly above the clouds
I can also see that glory.
Beneath me, opposite the sun,
The same ring lies in the clouds,
My shadow resting in its centre.

When I fly through rain
While the sun is breaking through the clouds
I see the great rainbow
That I know so well from the Earth,
But now I see it as a full circle.

I flew a lot in my youth
And this truth has stayed with me all my life:
The rainbow is a full circle
And we see only half of it
Because the Earth is too close.

This has stayed with me:
All clouds are brilliant white;
Dark clouds are only clouds in shadow
But above every dark cloud there is light.

Jörg Zink

I have mentioned Jörg Zink before, here and here . This is another of my translations of one of his poems. For more information on Mistra, click here.

We all know about the clouds’ silver linings, but did you know that the rainbow is really a circle and not just an arc? Too often, the things of earth just get in the way and prevent us from seeing so many lovely truths.

Exploring That Rabbit Hole Again …

Whoo-hoo! Sliding down that rabbit warren again, and picking at etymologies like itchy pimples!

It started with “cousin”. I have hundreds of them, first, second and several times removed. I wanted to know the exact definition, and where the English word came from. Well, I never realized anyone could be so specific in the degrees of consanguinity.  Having studied Latin at school aeons ago, I remembered only pater, mater (mother and father), frater, soror (brother, sister) avus, ava and avunculus (grandfather, grandmother and uncle).

However, the following Roman family round-up made my eyes water! My informative website says of the word Cousin:

early 13c., “a collateral blood relative more remote than a brother or sister” (mid-12c. as a surname), from Old French cosin “nephew; kinsman; cousin” (12c., Modern French cousin), from Latin consobrinus “cousin,” originally “mother’s sister’s son,” from assimilated form of com “with, together” (see com-) + sobrinus (earlier *sosrinos) “cousin on mother’s side,” from soror (genitive sororis) “sister” (see sister).

Specific modern usage, “the son or daughter of an uncle or aunt,” is attested by c. 1300, but throughout Middle English the word also was used of grandchildren, godchildren, etc. Extended sense of “closely related thing” is from late 14c.

Italian cugino, Danish kusine, Polish kuzyn also are from French. German vetter is from Old High German fetiro “uncle,” perhaps on the notion of “child of uncle.” Words for cousin tend to drift to “nephew” on the notion of “father’s nephew.”

Many IE languages (including Irish, Sanskrit, Slavic, and some of the Germanic tongues) have or had separate words for some or all of the eight possible “cousin” relationships, such as Latin, which along with consobrinus had consobrina “mother’s sister’s daughter,” patruelis “father’s brother’s son,” atruelis “mother’s brother’s son,” amitinus “father’s sister’s son,” etc. Old English distinguished fæderan sunu “father’s brother’s son,” modrigan sunu “mother’s sister’s son,” etc.

Used familiarly as a term of address since early 15c., especially in Cornwall. Phrase kissing cousin is a Southern U.S. expression, 1940s, apparently denoting “those close enough to be kissed in salutation;” Kentish cousin (1796) is an old British term for “distant relative.” For cousin german “first cousin” (early 14c.) see german (adj.).

(Do follow those links – it’s fascinating!!)

OK,  so let’s look at some other relatives. The word uncle is clearly straight from avunculus and in English avuncular is still used, but there’s more:

late 13c., from Old French oncle, from Latin avunculus “mother’s brother” (“father’s brother” was patruus), literally “little grandfather,” diminutive of avus “grandfather,” from PIE root *awo-“grandfather, adult male relative other than one’s father” (source also of Armenian hav “grandfather,” Hittite huhhas “grandfather,” Lithuanian avynas “maternal uncle,” Old Church Slavonic uji “uncle,” Welsh ewythr “uncle”). Boutkan, however, says “the root probably denoted members of the family of the mother.” 

Replaced Old English eam (usually maternal; paternal uncle was fædera), which represents the Germanic form of the same root (source also of Dutch oom “uncle, grandfather, brother-in-law,” Old High German oheim “maternal uncle, son of a sister” German Ohm “uncle,” Old Norse afi“grandfather”).

Also from French are German, Danish, Swedish onkel. As a familiar title of address to an old man, attested by 1793; in the U.S. South, especially “a kindly title for a worthy old negro” [Century Dictionary]. First record of Dutch uncle (and his blunt, stern, benevolent advice) is from 1838; Welsh uncle (1747) was the male first cousin of one’s parent. To say uncle as a sign of submission in a fight is North American, attested from 1909, of uncertain signification.

So Uncles appear generally in a positive light. Now what about aunt? She’s a mixed blessing:

1300, from Anglo-French aunte, Old French ante (Modern French tante, from a 13c. variant), from Latin amita “paternal aunt” diminutive of *amma a baby-talk word for “mother” (source also of Greek amma “mother,” Old Norse amma “grandmother,” Middle Irish ammait “old hag,” Hebrew em, Arabic umm “mother”).

Extended senses include “an old woman, a gossip” (1580s); “a procuress” (1670s); and “any benevolent woman,” in American English, where auntie was recorded since c. 1790 as “a term often used in accosting elderly women.” The French word also has become the word for “aunt” in Dutch, German (Tante), and Danish.

Swedish has retained the original Germanic (and Indo-European) custom of distinguishing aunts by separate terms derived from “father’s sister” (faster) and “mother’s sister” (moster). The Old English equivalents were faðu and modrige. In Latin, too, the formal word for “aunt on mother’s side” was matertera. Some languages have a separate term for aunts-in-law as opposed to blood relations.

I heaved a sigh of relief that I didn’t grow up speaking one of those languages, and having to distinguish the bloodlines of all my aunts, uncles and cousins!

From families to orphans. Now that is a strange-looking word, and although I knew that it’s orphelin in French, that didn’t really help. Did you know that etymologically, orphans are linked to robots? (Just click on the word robot in the excerpt below.) Seems they have been exploited forever.

Here we go – and look out for the goblins!

orphan (n.)

1300, from Late Latin orphanus “parentless child” (source of Old French orfeno, Italian orfano), from Greek orphanos “orphaned, without parents, fatherless,” literally “deprived,” from orphos “bereft,” from PIE *orbho- “bereft of father,” also “deprived of free status,” from root *orbh- “to change allegiance, to pass from one status to another” (source also of Hittite harb- “change allegiance,” Latin orbus “bereft,” Sanskrit arbhah “weak, child,” Armenian orb “orphan,” Old Irish orbe “heir,” Old Church Slavonic rabu “slave,” rabota “servitude” (see robot), Gothic arbja, German erbe, Old English ierfa “heir,” Old High German arabeit, German Arbeit “work,” Old Frisian arbed, Old English earfoð “hardship, suffering, trouble”). As an adjective from late 15c.

The Little Orphan Annie U.S. newspaper comic strip created by Harold Gray (1894-1968) debuted in 1924 in the New York “Daily News.” Earlier it was the name (as Little Orphant Annie) of the character in James Whitcomb Riley’s 1885 poem, originally titled “Elf Child”:

LITTLE Orphant Annie’s come to our house to stay,

An’ wash the cups an’ saucers up, an’ brush the crumbs away,

An’ shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

 

Birthday Tribute

I don’t have a huge following on my blogs – you are basically the same trusty few who comment regularly and one or two people who say shyly to me, “I read your blog sometimes.” And I say once more that I’m very grateful to you for your feedback and support, expressed or silent. At least I know I’m not talking to myself.

How surprised I was yesterday when WordPress suddenly notified me that my Nelly Sachs website was getting more traffic than usual. I looked at my stats and my jaw dropped. Almost 10,000 views, just under 5,000 visitors! Was it Holocaust Memorial Day? I checked – no, that’s in January. Then a message popped into my mailbox and all was explained. It gave me a link to http://isupdate.com/google-doodle-celebrates-nazi-germany-survivor-nelly-sachs-cnet/ and I realized that 10 December was Nelly Sachs’ 127th birthday.

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I was very touched that this was being commemorated and a bit overwhelmed to see that so many people had followed the link to my translation of O die Schornsteine (O the Chimneys). This is probably the most accessible of Sachs’ poems, but I was very pleased to find that several people had moved on to other pages, and left comments there (mostly complimentary). By the end of the day my site had been visited by over 12,000 people and there were more than 20,000 views.

Considering the millions of people still classed as refugees (which is fast beoming a dirty word) I feel it fitting to link here to two of Nelly Sachs’ many poems on the subject of displaced persons.

https://nellysachsenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/chorus-of-the-wanderers/
and
https://nellysachsenglish.wordpress.com/2013/04/29/203/

 

 

Old Age

Old age pounces
Out of the blue
Like a cat
A panther
Waiting in ambush
As you plod on your absent-minded way
From decade to decade
Unaware of the sudden predator
That downs you
With the swipe of a vicious paw
Full of claws.

IF –
If you had only

But no,
Too late…

Domestic Dragon

The dragon beneath the carpet
Beneath the floorboards
Beneath the foundations
Of the house
Was tamed into submission

Docile as a dormouse
Transformed
By a new name
Harnessed to our service

The Romans called him
Hypocaust
We say
Geothermal power
And his cubs
Have become
Underfloor heating.

But the dragon
Is still a dragon
Lurking
Below the basement
In the unplumbed
Bowels of the
Earth.

Do not believe your dragon
Is house-trained
Until you’ve been
Inside his den.