AN UNCOMMON THOUGHT

"The real trick to life is not to be in the know, but to be in the mystery."
-Fred Alan Wolf

20 February 2019

Marvelous.


The full moon, well risen in a cloudless eastern sky, covered the high solitude with its light. We are not conscious of daylight as that which displaces darkness. Daylight, even when the sun is clear of clouds, seems to us simply the natural condition of the earth and air. When we think of the downs, we think of the downs in daylight, as with think of a rabbit with its fur on. Stubbs may have envisaged the skeleton inside the horse, but most of us do not: and we do not usually envisage the downs without daylight, even though the light is not a part of the down itself as the hide is part of the horse itself. We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again. Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight. Water is necessary to us, but a waterfall is not. Where it is to be found it is something extra, a beautiful ornament. We need daylight and to that extent it us utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need. When it comes, it serves no necessity. It transforms. It falls upon the banks and the grass, separating one long blade from another; turning a drift of brown, frosted leaves from a single heap to innumerable flashing fragments; or glimmering lengthways along wet twigs as though light itself were ductile. Its long beams pour, white and sharp, between the trunks of trees, their clarity fading as they recede into the powdery, misty distance of beech woods at night. In moonlight, two acres of coarse bent grass, undulant and ankle deep, tumbled and rough as a horse's mane, appear like a bay of waves, all shadowy troughs and hollows. The growth is so thick and matted that event the wind does not move it, but it is the moonlight that seems to confer stillness upon it. We do not take moonlight for granted. It is like snow, or like the dew on a July morning. It does not reveal but changes what it covers. And its low intensity---so much lower than that of daylight---makes us conscious that it is something added to the down, to give it, for only a little time, a singular and marvelous quality that we should admire while we can, for soon it will be gone again.

Richard Adams

Story.


Winter is a long, open time. The nights are as dark as the end of the world. 

The elk that you glimpse in the summer, those at the forest edge, are survivors of winter, only the strongest. You see one just before dusk that summer, standing at the perimeter of the meadow so it can step back to the forest and vanish. You can’t help imagining the still, frozen nights behind it, so cold that the slightest motion is monumental. I have found their bodies, half drifted over in snow, no sign of animal attack or injury. Just toppled over one night with ice working into their lungs. You wouldn’t want to stand outside for more than a few minutes in that kind of weather. If you lived through only one of those winters the way this elk has, you would write books about it. You would become a shaman. You would be forever changed. That elk from the winter stands there on the summer evening, watching from beside the forest. It keeps its story to itself. 

Craig Childs

John Prine, "You Got Gold"

Happy birthday, Adams.

Adams, Long's Peak, 1942


Ansel Adams was born on this day in 1902.

How high your awareness level is determines how much meaning you get from your world.  Art is both the taking and giving of beauty; the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plane of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relations of these. 

Ansel Adams

Magnitude.


For 24 years, literary scholar Robert Alter has been working on a new translation of the Hebrew Bible and — "this may shock some of your listeners," he warns — he's been working on it by hand.

"I'm very particular — I write on narrow-lined paper and I have a Cross mechanical pencil," he says.

The result is a three-volume set — a translation with commentary — that runs over 3,000 pages.

Working solo for so long on a project of this magnitude can take its toll, he says: "If you keep going verse by verse, looking at the commentary and wrestling with difficult words and so forth, you can get a little batty."

Alter says it was the "very high level of artistry" in the language of the Bible that drew him to the massive undertaking. "The existing English versions simply didn't do justice to the literary beauty of the Hebrew," he says.

CONNECT

More.

Astonished.

Hollyer, John Ruskin, 1871


Ruskin was a man of intense contradictions. Like a fish, he said, it is healthiest to swim against the stream. He described himself mostly as a Conservative, but many of his ideas were socialist in outlook. He believed in hierarchy but also that the rich had a responsibility to protect the poor. He had a privileged background but gave away much of his wealth, reflecting in his autobiography that “it was probably much happier to live in a small house, and have Warwick Castle to be astonished at, than to live in Warwick Castle and have nothing to be astonished at”.

Through his many books, Ruskin influenced the tastes of his generation, championing artists who were until then little known in England. While he was moved by Turner’s paintings, he was “utterly crushed to the earth” by the genius of the Venetian artist Tintoretto. Ruskin’s publications sparked fresh interest in Italian art and particularly Venetian Gothic architecture. He made numerous prints and drawings, fearing that, if he did not, Venice might vanish undocumented like “a lump of sugar in hot tea”. 

Indeed, Ruskin was not only an astute critic but a talented artist in his own right. He likened the “strong instinct” he felt to draw to the instinct to eat and drink. Drawings of gooseberry blossom and ragwort, mountains and clouds, minerals and birds, including an exquisite sulphur-crested cockatoo he sketched at the zoo, line the walls of the London exhibition. Art, he believed, should reflect nature.

But what made Ruskin so unusual was that he was eager to pass his skills down not only to men like himself but to everyone. He was apparently as at ease teaching members of the Working Men’s College in London, where he was "wildly popular", as he was the students of Oxford, where he was elected Slade Professor of Fine Art in 1869. Hundreds turned out to his lectures, which he would deliver with fascinating props, such as model feathers 10 times their actual size.

Genesis, "Duke's Travels/Duke's End"

Hope.


ARS POETICA

I have always aspired to a more spacious form
that would be free from the claims of poetry or prose
and would let us understand each other without exposing
the author or reader to sublime agonies.

In the very essence of poetry there is something indecent:
a thing is brought forth which we didn’t know we had in us,
so we blink our eyes, as if a tiger had sprung out
and stood in the light, lashing his tail.

That’s why poetry is rightly said to be dictated by a daimonion,
though its an exaggeration to maintain that he must be an angel.
It’s hard to guess where that pride of poets comes from,
when so often they’re put to shame by the disclosure of their frailty.

What reasonable man would like to be a city of demons,
who behave as if they were at home, speak in many tongues,
and who, not satisfied with stealing his lips or hand,
work at changing his destiny for their convenience?

It’s true that what is morbid is highly valued today,
and so you may think that I am only joking
or that I’ve devised just one more means
of praising Art with the help of irony.

There was a time when only wise books were read
helping us to bear our pain and misery.
This, after all, is not quite the same
as leafing through a thousand works fresh from psychiatric clinics.

And yet the world is different from what it seems to be
and we are other than how we see ourselves in our ravings.
People therefore preserve silent integrity
thus earning the respect of their relatives and neighbors.

The purpose of poetry is to remind us
how difficult it is to remain just one person,
for our house is open, there are no keys in the doors,
and invisible guests come in and out at will.

What I’m saying here is not, I agree, poetry,
as poems should be written rarely and reluctantly,
under unbearable duress and only with the hope
that good spirits, not evil ones, choose us for their instrument.

Czeslaw Milosz

Correa de Arauxo, "Tres Glosas Sobre Todo el Munde en General"

Jordi Savall performs with Arianna Savall and Rolf Lislevand ...

Settle.


Thank you, Wrath of Gnon.

Saving.

The Public Voice Salon with Harold Bloom in a discussion called "Saving Literature" ...

Excellent.

An excellent album ...

Heart.


When you have a poem by heart, you possess it more truly and more strangely than you do your own dwelling place, because the poem possesses you.  My religion is the appreciation of high literature. Shakespeare is the summit.

Harold Bloom

Technique.


Technique is the proof of your seriousness.

Wallace Stevens

Again.


The end of days is upon us.

Charpentier, Te Deum in D major, H 146

Jordi Savall directs the Capella Reial de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations ...

Last.

Oehme, Procession in the Fog, 1828


The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains,- 
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns? 

Is not the Vision He, tho' He be not that which He seems? 
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams? 

Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb, 
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him? 

Dark is the world to thee; thyself art the reason why, 
For is He not all but thou, that hast power to feel "I am I"? 

Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom, 
Making Him broken gleams and a stifled splendour and gloom. 

Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet- 
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet. 

God is law, say the wise; O soul, and let us rejoice, 
For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet His voice. 

Law is God, say some; no God at all, says the fool, 
For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool; 

And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see; 
But if we could see and hear, this Vision-were it not He? 

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Decisions.


A human being is not one thing among others; things determine each other, but man is ultimately self-determining. What he becomes -- within the limits of endowment and environment-- he has made out of himself. In the concentration camps, for example, in this living laboratory and on this testing ground, we watched and witnessed some of our comrades behave like swine while others behaved like saints. Man has both potentialities within himself; which one is actualized depends on decisions not on conditions.

Viktor Frankl

19 February 2019

John Prine, "Egg & Daughter Nite, Lincoln Nebraska, 1967 (Crazy Bone)"

Emptied.


It went many years, 
But at last came a knock, 
And I thought of the door 
With no lock to lock. 

I blew out the light, 
I tip-toed the floor, 
And raised both hands 
In prayer to the door. 

But the knock came again 
My window was wide; 
I climbed on the sill 
And descended outside. 

Back over the sill 
I bade a "Come in" 
To whoever the knock 
At the door may have been. 

So at a knock 
I emptied my cage 
To hide in the world 
And alter with age.

Robert Frost

Wander.

Exquisite.


O darling room, my heart's delight,
Dear room, the apple of my sight,
With thy two couches soft and white,
There is no room so exquisite,
No little room so warm and bright,
Wherein to read, wherein to write.

For I the Nonnenwerth have seen,
And Oberwinter's vineyards green,
Musical Lurlei; and between
The hills to Bingen have I been,
Bingen in Darmstadt, where the Rhene
Curves towards Mentz, a woody scene.

Yet never did there meet my sight,
In any town, to left or right,
A little room so exquisite,
With two such couches soft and white;
Not any room so warm and bright,
Wherein to read, wherein to write.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Ray Stevens, "Everything is Beautiful"

18 February 2019

Happy birthday, Stegner.


Wallace Stegner was born on this day in 1909.

It is the beginning of wisdom when you recognize that the best you can do is choose which rules you want to live by, and it's persistent and aggravated imbecility to pretend you can live without any.  Wisdom is knowing what you have to accept.

Wallace Stegner

David Gilmour, "The Blue"

Fleming.


An argument for the Interditch if there ever was one ... three hours of BookTV's In-Depth with historian Thomas Fleming ... HERE.

The best untold story of the Revolution is Anthony Wayne’s victory at Fallen Timbers in 1794. I – and others – consider this the last battle of the Revolution. It put an end to the British plot to arm the Indians and drive the Americans east of the Appalachians. When Washington asked Congress to pass a resolution congratulating Mad Anthony, the Jeffersonian-dominated solons said they did not think it was proper for the august Congress to praise a general of the American regular army. It’s a marvelous glimpse of Jeffersonian hostility to a standing army – and the kind of problems Washington confronted as president. He calmly replied that he was unbothered by Congress’s decision. The President of the United States would thank General Wayne, on his own.

Thomas Fleming

Prussian-style.

Earl, Major General Friedrich Wilhelm Augustus, Baron von Steuben, 1786



“Baron Steuben has arrived at camp,” Washington wrote soon after. “He appears to be much of a gentleman, and as far as I have had an opportunity of judging, a man of military knowledge and acquainted with the world.” Washington’s confidence in von Steuben grew quickly. Within two weeks, he made the baron acting inspector general and asked him to examine the Continental Army’s condition.

“What [Steuben] discovered was nothing less than appalling,” wrote Fleming in Washington’s Secret War. “He was confronting a wrecked army. A less courageous (or less bankrupt) man would have quit on the spot.” Unlike the American forces in New York, who had beaten the British at Saratoga in fall 1777, the army in Pennsylvania had suffered a series of defeats. When they lost the Battle of Brandywine in September 1777, the British had seized Philadelphia. Now—following common military practice of the era—they had camped for the winter. But Valley Forge, their winter quarters, was nearly as punishing as battle: hastily built huts, cruel temperatures, scarce food.

The baron found soldiers without uniforms, rusted muskets without bayonets, companies with men missing and unaccounted for. Short enlistments meant constant turnover and little order. Regiment sizes varied wildly. Different officers used different military drill manuals, leading to chaos when their units tried to work together. If the army had to fight on short notice, von Steuben warned Washington, he might find himself commanding one-third of the men he thought he had. The army had to get into better shape before fighting resumed in the spring.

So, von Steuben put the entire army through Prussian-style drills, starting with a model company of 100 men. He taught them how to reload their muskets quickly after firing, charge with a bayonet and march in compact columns instead of miles-long lines. Meanwhile, he wrote detailed lists of officers’ duties, giving them more responsibility than in English systems.

Soldiers gaped at the sight of a German nobleman, in a French-style black beaver hat, drilling poorly clothed troops. Though von Steuben raged and cursed in a garbled mixture of French, English, and German, his instructions and presence began to build morale. “If anything, the curses contributed to Steuben’s reputation as an exotic character who was good for a laugh now and then,” wrote Fleming.


Breaking down The Baron's Blue Book, HERE.

"Building the Continental Army," HERE.

Technique.


Technique is the proof of your seriousness.

Wallace Stevens

Hang.

Work.


Grant.


No guru.  No method.  No teacher.


No laptop.  No cellphone.  No Alexa.  

Getting mind-work done.

Thanks, Kurt.

John Prine, "I Ain't Hurtin' Nobody"

Perfectly crafted popular hit songs never use the wrong rhyme
You'd think that waitress could get my order right the first time

16 February 2019

Sanctum.


The hard routine is primarily an exercise in mental toughness. As such, it is vital to grasp the component of psychology that permeates the hard routine. In any rigorous endeavor, the bedrock for success lies in the mindset of the individual. I am reminded of the story popular in the business world about burning boats. Alexander the Great, when he sailed into Asia, disembarked his infantry and then set his entire navy ablaze in the harbor. The only way home meant a march across land and through the enemy: victory or death. Total commitment. A potent psychological shift occurs when the possibility of giving up disintegrates into ashes. The hard routine grants the willing participant entry into a hard sanctum located in a lucid place of the mind, free of the “soft” psychological distractions and habits that can hinder sustained changes in action. In short, it boils down to denial of self-indulgence.

The principles of setting up a hard routine are simple. Following them is too, but it takes total commitment. 
  1. Recognize that there is a benefit to not getting everything you want. 
  2. Understand that mental toughness is born of adversity; that it will atrophy if not consistently engaged; and that it carries over to everything you do. 
  3. Objectively scrutinize one or a handful of things in your life that you think you need but could actually do without. 
  4. Deny yourself those things for a specified period of time.

15 February 2019

Long.


I stood beside a hill
Smooth with new-laid snow,
A single star looked out
From the cold evening glow.

There was no other creature
That saw what I could see--
I stood and watched the evening star
As long as it watched me.

Sara Teasdale

Whitey Morgan, "Just Got Paid"

WOO-HOO!  HAPPY FRIDAY!

Shining.


SIX SIGNIFICANT LANDSCAPES

I
An old man sits
In the shadow of a pine tree
In China.
He sees larkspur,
Blue and white,
At the edge of the shadow,
Move in the wind.
His beard moves in the wind.
The pine tree moves in the wind.
Thus water flows
Over weeds.

II
The night is of the colour
Of a woman’s arm:
Night, the female,
Obscure,
Fragrant and supple,
Conceals herself.
A pool shines,
Like a bracelet
Shaken in a dance.

III
I measure myself
Against a tall tree.
I find that I am much taller,
For I reach right up to the sun,
With my eye;
And I reach to the shore of the sea
With my ear.
Nevertheless, I dislike
The way ants crawl
In and out of my shadow.

IV
When my dream was near the moon,
The white folds of its gown
Filled with yellow light.
The soles of its feet
Grew red.
Its hair filled
With certain blue crystallizations
From stars,
Not far off.

V
Not all the knives of the lamp-posts,
Nor the chisels of the long streets,
Nor the mallets of the domes
And high towers,
Can carve
What one star can carve,
Shining through the grape-leaves.

VI
Rationalists, wearing square hats,
Think, in square rooms,
Looking at the floor,
Looking at the ceiling.
They confine themselves
To right-angled triangles.
If they tried rhomboids,
Cones, waving lines, ellipses–
As, for example, the ellipse of the half-moon–
Rationalists would wear sombreros.

Wallace Stevens

Humbling.


The study of history is a powerful antidote to contemporary arrogance. It is humbling to discover how many of our glib assumptions, which seem to us novel and plausible, have been tested before, not once but many times and in innumerable guises; and discovered to be, at great human cost, wholly false.

Paul Johnson

Thank you, Kurt.

Happy birthday, Praetorius.


Michale Praetorius was born on this day in 1571.

I Cavalieri del Cornetto performs "Le Ballet des Coqs" ...


Bless.

Paradise.


I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.

Jorge Luis Borges

14 February 2019

Blest.


To HIS MISTRESS GOING to BED

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy, 
Until I labour, I in labour lie. 
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight, 
Is tir’d with standing though he never fight. 
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s Zone glistering, 
But a far fairer world encompassing. 
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear, 
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there. 
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime, 
Tells me from you, that now it is bed time. 
Off with that happy busk, which I envy, 
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh. 
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals, 
As when from flowery meads th’hill’s shadow steals. 
Off with that wiry Coronet and shew 
The hairy Diadem which on you doth grow: 
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread 
In this love’s hallow’d temple, this soft bed. 
In such white robes, heaven’s Angels used to be 
Received by men; Thou Angel bringst with thee 
A heaven like Mahomet’s Paradise; and though 
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know, 
By this these Angels from an evil sprite, 
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright. 
    Licence my roving hands, and let them go, 
Before, behind, between, above, below. 
O my America! my new-found-land, 
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man mann’d, 
My Mine of precious stones, My Empirie, 
How blest am I in this discovering thee! 
To enter in these bonds, is to be free; 
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be. 
    Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee, 
As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be, 
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use 
Are like Atlanta’s balls, cast in men’s views, 
That when a fool’s eye lighteth on a Gem, 
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them. 
Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made 
For lay-men, are all women thus array’d; 
Themselves are mystic books, which only we 
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify) 
Must see reveal’d. Then since that I may know; 
As liberally, as to a Midwife, shew 
Thy self: cast all, yea, this white linen hence, 
There is no penance due to innocence. 
    To teach thee, I am naked first; why then 
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

John Donne

Wash.

13 February 2019

Well-tuned.


Now winter nights enlarge
The number of their hours,
And clouds their storms discharge
Upon the airy towers.
Let now the chimneys blaze
And cups o'erflow with wine;
Let well-tuned words amaze
With harmony divine.
Now yellow waxen lights
Shall wait on honey love,
While youthful revels, masques, and courtly sights
Sleep's leaden spells remove.

This time doth well dispense

With lovers' long discourse;
Much speech hath some defence,
Though beauty no remorse.
All do not all things well;
Some measures comely tread,
Some knotted riddles tell,
Some poems smoothly read.
The summer hath his joys,
And winter his delights;
Though love and all his pleasures are but toys,
They shorten tedious nights.

Thomas Campion

12 February 2019

Beethoven, Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93

The Chamber Orchestra of Europe performs, under Nikolaus Harnoncourt ...

Happy birthday, Lincoln.

Gardner, Abraham Lincoln, 1863


Abraham Lincoln was born on this day in 1809.

The democracy of to-day hold the liberty of one man to be absolutely nothing, when in conflict with another man's right of property. Republicans, on the contrary, are for both the man and the dollar; but in cases of conflict, the man before the dollar.

I remember once being much amused at seeing two partially intoxicated men engage in a fight with their great-coats on, which fight, after a long, and rather harmless contest, ended in each having fought himself out of his own coat, and into that of the other. If the two leading parties of this day are really identical with the two in the days of Jefferson and Adams, they have perfomed the same feat as the two drunken men.

But soberly, it is now no child's play to save the principles of Jefferson from total overthrow in this nation.

One would start with great confidence that he could convince any sane child that the simpler propositions of Euclid are true; but, nevertheless, he would fail, utterly, with one who should deny the definitions and axioms. The principles of Jefferson are the definitions and axioms of free society.

And yet they are denied and evaded, with no small show of success.

One dashingly calls them "glittering generalities"; another bluntly calls them "self evident lies"; and still others insidiously argue that they apply only to "superior races."

These expressions, differing in form, are identical in object and effect--the supplanting the principles of free government, and restoring those of classification, caste, and legitimacy. They would delight a convocation of crowned heads, plotting against the people. They are the van-guard--the miners, and sappers--of returning despotism.

We must repulse them, or they will subjugate us.

This is a world of compensations; and he who would be no slave, must consent to have no slave. Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it.

All honor to Jefferson--to the man who, in the concrete pressure of a struggle for national independence by a single people, had the coolness, forecast, and capacity to introduce into a merely revolutionary document, an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times, and so to embalm it there, that to-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.

Abraham Lincoln, letter to Henry L. Pierce et al., 1859

CONNECT

Thanks to Kurt for finding the wonderful photograph.

11 February 2019

Worshiped.


The dusk rapidly deepened; the glades grew dark; the crackling of the fire and the wash of little waves along the rocky lake shore were the only sounds audible. The wind had dropped with the sun, and in all that vast world of branches nothing stirred. Any moment, it seemed, the woodland gods, who are to be worshiped in silence and loneliness, might stretch their mighty and terrific outlines among the trees.

Algernon Blackwood, from The Wendigo

Respecting.

Mr. Rotten on respecting musical lineage and the danger of diluting the lessons of history ...


Sitting in a room, alone, listening to a CD is to be lonely. Sitting in a room alone with an LP crackling away, or sitting next to the turntable listening to a song at a time via 7-inch single is enjoying the sublime state of solitude.

Henry Rollins

Gotta.