It seem obvious to me that knowledge of oneself (such as it is) is entirely different in kind from knowledge of others (such as it is). We naturally presume that in general, other people have insides much like our own in their general proportions, though the furniture may be quite different. Perhaps a cross-species analogy may make this clearer. Some dogs prefer chasing birds, others gather sticks, but all have some hankering of that kind, with perhaps an obsessive quality. That is furniture. Some breeds hanker more — collies are the intellectuals of the canine world, with a neurotic edge; terriers or greyhounds simply cannot abide the sight of their prey animals, and are born with a mission to kill and dismember. But poodles and spaniels are scatterbrains. These might be differences in “general proportions”, or the internal architecture of what is still probably much the same mental space, breed being a construct perhaps more than skin deep, but still, only tens of generations deep. But we can’t see inside. If I try to come up with a self-description, probably it is abstracted from the history of my interactions with others, and my own thumbnail sketch of my character might be as surprising to them as my sense of what those interactions were like. That has little to do with what it feels like to be me — rather, it is an accounting I might give of myself, perhaps to a hostile audience. By contrast, if I try to name the qualities of others deeply known, as it feels they are (we must mean something when we say we know someone well or less well), the list may depend what side of bed I got out of this morning, or how frank I am inclined to be. Other people are intractable. Our sense of who they are is often not analytical; but when the enumeration begins, it is almost always to blame, occasionally to praise. The esteem we owe our familiars is a feeling situated within a shared story; or it is just a wordless intimacy: there you are. I think I have written here before about the fierce joy of sitting at your desk, and after some time, hearing a breathy sigh from below. Your dog belongs at your side, and he appears there like a ghost, without any words at all, in his rightful estate.When I was married, I never saw the point of talking about “the relationship”; and no good ever came of doing so. This is an attitude so typical of Brazilian men that the women of Apipucos have abbreviated the dreaded activity to its initials: DR: discutir a relação. By convention, marriage is considered our most intimate relationship, but it is surely impossible to survive living at such close quarters for so long without veils. The terms in which such conversations are commonly held are like a thousandfold impoverished version of the literary examination of human interiors, so the question of how those spaces truly are constituted, and what we can discern in them (by triangulation perhaps, as from Plato’s cave) becomes all the more acute. If your model is drawn from magazines and agony aunts, the dice are loaded. I have been spending a lot of time recently with my mother, which is what prompted these rough thoughts. In one sense, we know one another better than anyone; but also, not at all. What is knowledge? Is asking that like Pilate asking what is truth? Maybe what is needful is not knowledge, but simply love.

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Well, I just broke my rule against Wikipedia, but it saved me from a strange mistake. The “sorites paradox” is the fallacy of the heap: if you remove one grain of sand at a time from a heap, at what point does it cease to be a heap? On the other hand, how many hairs may a man have, before he ceases to be bald? Thersites is a bald man; or at least, partly bald (Wikipedia again).

There is a connection with the question of “things” versus “stuff”: a heap is a discrete entity. Consider the example of dog turds: quantity is not important. If the dog does it all in one go, you have one turd; if he moves in the middle, you have two. Or bottles (or indeed, glasses) of wine, which contain “stuff”, and can be counted. What about clouds, though? Is the difference between two clouds the clear blue sky that separates them? We know that they are formed of droplets of water vapour, and clouds are the result of an interaction between humidity and air temperature, leading to condensation; but one drop does not make a cloud.

Considering this set of puzzles within the history of philosophy, there is an affinity with the paradoxes of the Eleatics, too; and Parmenides. Aristotle’s solution to the problem of how you can have things that both persist and change, and also, how things can come to be and cease to be, is the thoroughly weird concept of “substance”. Kant turns it round and makes things an artifact of how they must of necessity be perceived. That is so oversimplified it can hardly be correct, but let it stand as an indication that there is a broader context within the forward motion of intellectual history. Some time in a library is needed.

The connection I hoped to make when I jotted “Thersites”, and a familiar name, in my journal was with my post here recently about the excluded middle. Seeing things in black and white is about how one draws a line through a continuum. One example where we don’t seem to feel the general need to do so is height. There are, to be sure, tall people and short people, but most people are neither particularly short nor particularly tall. We can easily determine that one person is taller or shorter than another, but most of us are in the middle. When I was at school, my mother once took me to task for saying a boy in my class was short, because how could I tell, given we were all still growing? Surely it makes no difference, though, because we were still a cohort showing variation that would probably have made a nice bell curve. A class of schoolchildren is a living, breathing exemplar of standard deviation. As a question of psychology or perception, it might be the case that either short or tall people have to diverge more from the mean in order to be perceived as such, but that is not salient, and would be quite hard to study. Maybe tall or short people are more inclined to perceive height in a skewed way, too; but I couldn’t guess which way round that might work.

Yet it seems to be very difficult to transfer this intuitive understanding to other domains, as for example with risk. We would like both risk and uncertainty about it to be zero, and that translates pretty directly into a cluster of unreasonable beliefs. It is, indeed, to ask the impossible.

The question at the back of my mind (or which ought to have been there) is where these pithy bulletins fit in. The NYRB piece I mentioned gives a sampling of stylistic tics, such as Woolf’s “ecstatic tendency to set off adverbs in pairs” and Elizabeth Hardwick’s “love of trebling adjectives, and sometimes hitching an adverb to the last one, so that her prose appears to increase in precision exponentially in the short space of a sentence”. I’m not sure whether she minds because rhetoric is dishonest, persuasive beyond the merits of the thought it clothes, or if it is just that she thinks these are badly done. The conclusion of her essay though is that the “skillful cultivation of style” is a more apt device than “spectacular personhood”.

I don’t think my writing here plays the game of teasing self-revelation. Clearly, I have some sort of life of my own, and there are things in it that trouble me, but I don’t think the uninformed reader would get far trying to anatomise my actual person. And there are oodles of style, though it is not engaging. The purpose it serves is to build a bridge between my personal outrage, which is of no broader interest, and something that corresponds to it in the wider world, while avoiding Scylla and Charybdis: the confessional mode, and fogeyish pontification.

Poetry walks a similar tightrope. The words are a mask, but there is a “subject” behind them, that speaks to the readerly subject, whovever she may be, of things the muses can transmute into something held in common.

This morning, I read Berryman’s Dream Song 8 (q.v.) and couldn’t help but think of the unravelling of the senescent mind; but the language is portable, and must have had some other occasion in the poet’s own world. Knowing what it was probably wouldn’t in this case be particularly illuminating.

Many years ago where I worked, we got some American interns, who sent “personal statements” in advance. One opened with the sentence “My favourite colour is green, and I don’t like tomatoes”. There is a piece in a recent NYRB by Merve Emre on the “personal essay”. One thinks, perhaps, of Jenny Diski, for whom I used to have a soft spot; but I’ve never really warmed to Joan Didion and the rest. Emre quotes Adorno in condemnation of “a form whose suspiciousness of false profundity does not protect it from turning into slick superficiality”. As ever, I would love to see that in German, no doubt without that jangling echo. Adorno, like Walter Benjamin, is all style; style, like poetry, is all but lost in translation. Emre turns to Benjamin to outline the familiar story of the invention of the bourgeois subject somewhere towards the middle of the C19th. For Benjamin, “the private individual, who in the office has to deal with reality, needs the domestic interior to sustain him in his illusions …” Emre sees the personal essay as the heir to those elegant interiors with their whimsically expressive objets, a flaunting of “personality” rather than character. Many aspects of the internet play a comparable role in curating a self-image, simulacra of authenticity; again, this is a well-worn thought, Facebook as mantelpiece. What I did not know is the origins of the American institution of the personal statement as part of the university admissions process: in other countries, it may be considered useful to mention briefly having been captain of the football team, or that you play the harp, but the whole aim there is to display a fully-fledged personality, of the right kind. It seems this requirement was introduced because of antisemitism, to favour WASPs who had been to the right schools, and so could strike the right pose. More than that, since the purpose of education is to serve capitalism, “learning how to game the system was only a sign of the system’s success at shaping applicants’ behaviour”. I can certainly remember at school being repulsed by the suggestion that the school should claim any insight or rights over my “character”, but that made me all the better a bourgeois individualist; in the States, that attitude might well have cost me my Ivy League place, if merited on academic performance alone. Another example is internet dating. Yes, I too once put my toe in that water … and what else is it about but striking the right attitude? Reliable without being dull … someone with depths that promise to resonate. How could that be anything other than a performance, abstracted into a hundred words?

Hostility — both heuristic, and aesthetic — to Innerlichkeit skates on thin ice. One thinks of the Romans, Pliny the Younger, for example, or Cicero: ‘O Romam fortunatam me consule natam’ — ! How can we imagine their inner lives? How is that combination of vanity and unintended self-revelation possible? Still, it was possible, must have been, it is recorded in manuscripts; it is temerarious to assert that they had no insides, just because we cannot enter them. Common sense says: people have always been much the same, underneath. Nonetheless, there was a shift; you see it, in music, with Mozart and Beethoven. It is music to fit the heroic melancholy of the bourgeois in his salon; and there is grandeur in it, that perhaps in future men may not understand as we do.

The question is acute and pressing for me, because over the past year and more, I have been unable to listen to such music. It is as though I had been cast out of the fine house, where the cognoscenti gather on Thursdays to hear quartets. The precious space is still there, but it burns me, as light drives out a vampire. In the same way, I cannot meditate, it is like taking a dip in boiling water. Meditation may well be another folly of the age, self-soothing quietism; be that as it may, the trick no longer works. The question is, have the scales fallen from my eyes, have I seen the light, or is this a kind of darkness?

Today though, I do not know why or how, I heard Beethoven’s quartet op. 18 no. 6 on the radio, and was just able to bear it. I don’t know what to make of the trope that subjectivity is a construct of the Zeitgeist, but what I am pretty sure of is that inner space can’t be fenced off from what’s going on in the street outside. Quietism doesn’t work. There is a terrible smugness in twitching the net curtains and peering out, and wryly shaking one’s head at the folly in the world. We are not immune, because we have net curtains. All are fools together. But does it follow that the singing soul of that music is a beguiling phantasm? I cannot help feeling, still, it is the most true thing there is.

The law of the excluded middle may be succinctly stated as

A v -A

that is, either A or not A, where ‘A’ stands for some proposition such as ‘Socrates is mortal’. That should be in a nice chunky font with the correct symbols. The devil is in the ‘or’, and the one logicians usually mean is the exclusive or: you can’t have it both ways. Socrates took the hemlock, and died. QED.

Beginning students of logic commonly find this hard to digest. It is a poor representation of the way we usually think and argue. When it comes to mortal questions (to borrow from Thomas Nagel’s title), we tend to see in black and white. Either something is wrong or it is right; a person is a man or a woman; a person is black or white. Our world is made up of structural oppositions: the raw and the cooked. The black that excludes every shade of grey doesn’t even exist. It doesn’t help to say that it emits no photons. For the Chinese, this is a calligraphic axiom, or aphorism: black writing on white paper.

I have recently encountered my own philistine impatience with the dry preoccupations of analytic philosophy anew in Oswald Wiener, whose vituperative and obscene novel, with an English translation in the works, takes aim at Wittgenstein, both early and late. Perhaps the nub of the frustration is the sense that philosophy has become scholastic, turning away from all important problems. I’m no philosopher, but the other way to see this is that philosophy north of the English Channel, starting with Kant, is deflationary. That’s a term with a specific epistemological Sitz im Leben, but I take it as emblematic of a certain humility, expressed in Kant’s metaphor of the Wohnhaus, reason’s homely abode (I can’t remember whether this comes in the Preface or the Introduction to the first Critique). It’s no good answering those large questions if the foundations are unsound. That being recognised, there is an obligation to avoid pronouncing on them. There was nothing humble, though, about the tone of voice in which that was first asserted at Oxford a century ago.

Much of the basis on which we lead our lives is false, but we require those fictions to live at all, just as Hume said he needed faith to drink a glass of water. How, for example, can we ever trust another person? To do so relies on a presumption of good faith, or perhaps simply goodness, that invites refutation by experience, and calls for the blind eye. The world is grey, but we must pretend it is black and white to make it intelligible.

The origin of the idea of structural oppositions lies with Saussure: phonology is the logic of the sounds in a language according to the distinctions it deems to be salient, in order that man may speak intelligibly. This is especially clear when it comes to vowels, which are formed by positioning tongue and jaw across a continuum of available space. A is not A in proportion as it matches certain criteria (for example, if the tongue is a certain number of millimetres from the palate) but by virtue of not being E. The line between them is an indistinct border region that is in fact unfenced. The native speaker (barring interference from surrounding consonants, always present, but we must avert our gaze from it) aims for the middle of the correct region, but achieves idiomatic fluency not by hitting one spot, but by staying as far away from the edges as may be. This is different from playing the violin, but it feels the same: it’s very hard as a foreigner to get it right, but effortless for those born to it. The temptation (to take a different example) is to fudge the distinction between long and short by aiming at the border, but you must articulate it with conviction (as in Italian, or Finnish, or for that matter, Latin); this is hidden from English speakers because distinctions of length generally coexist with differences of quality.

Language spoken idiomatically gives an impression of well-tempered rightness, with everything in its place, like a familiar domestic setting. Moving to the higher level of (I suppose) syntax shows how much fiction is woven into that sense. If one attempts to accurately transcribe recorded speech, it disintegrates into a concatenation of false starts and mumbles. There is no single level of accurate transcription, as opposed to the tidied up version. When linguists make such transcriptions, the level of detail will depend on their purpose. Anyone who has tried it with a tape recorder knows just how hard that is.

A squirrel just raced across my lawn, and probably up a tree, a perfect sine wave rippling through it as its mode of locomotion in the horizontal plane. That is its nature, one thing visible to us that it knows superlatively well; as the spider weaves her web, and as we do the sort of thing I have been trying to write about. Dogs can see it too, and it commonly enrages them: that sinuosity cries out to be expunged, if only it could be caught before the tree. Sometimes when I am cycling I almost run over a squirrel, transfixed by frisky indecision.

But the world is not structured like a language; we are. There is blindness in that, and it cannot be cured by philosophy averting its gaze.

Early on, my doctoral supervisor returned a draft to me with a red line through an entire section, headed “Methodological considerations”. We didn’t discuss it, but I took him to mean: just do it, and cut out the huffing and puffing. In another institution I won’t name, I experienced the opposite, more usual approach. There is meant to be an Aristotelian inevitability to the marriage of theory, method and matter, rigorously demonstrated. The result is generally uncontroversial and pedestrian. Jim did give us his thoughts on creative method, though — a slightly different question. Some plan in outline, others write “generatively”, that is, they just start writing and knock it into shape as they go.

I have what should probably be called a journal, with its origins in the diary I kept as a young man. At some point I lost the sense that what I wrote about my own life was sufficiently honest or penetrating to be worth the trouble, but I have sporadically continued to write about things of the kind that also appear here. My only readers are accidental ones, but nonetheless, these thoughts are more lucidly expressed, and mean to be more engaging, than what I put down for my own eyes alone, which are losing their acuity. Certain preoccupations return, indeed, with roots in my own unremarkable life. An intellectual focus itself tends towards objectivity, or generality. If medicine “doesn’t work”, that isn’t a complaint about my own doctor.

But these posts are like light that catches one face of a crystal; they fall short of making up a whole. Recently I dipped into Leopardi’s notebook, the Zibaldone, meant for his own use alone, which is still quite discursive; and interesting for its detail. He believed, following Locke, that the mind’s capacity for talent is a unitary quality, no different in the mathematician or the poet; so one could with application become the other, and might just as well have turned out a musician. The key is the capacity to form habits. This may not be a fair account of his theory; but you don’t have to agree with it to delight in the fine observation and psychological persuasiveness of the examples he gives. Then on the next page, he is talking about Horace’s style, or the derivation of Italian dialect words.

What struck me is the examples are meant to support the theory, and yet they don’t have any power to unsettle it; it just sits on top, like a cut glass chandelier illuminating the furniture below. But Leopardi isn’t dogmatic, on the contrary, his mind sparkles with freshness and independence. This is both an example of my own theory, and perhaps of the dangers of theories. Our rational justifications for things such as social practices (slavery, democracy, witchcraft trials) just sit on top. It’s a commonplace that modern medicine works because of its sound empirical basis. We have thrown out leeches along with the four humours. Smoking, like masturbation, is bad for you (doctors used to recommend it, less than a century ago). I hardly need to spell it out.

The trouble is that I can’t. All this, put together into an argument, is not even original; though I dare say it puts me in company I wouldn’t gladly choose. All that remains is misanthropy: we are such stupid, cruel creatures. To put it another way, though hardly with more optimism: rationality may be rare to vanishing, but it is still our cardinal moral obligation.

Memory is the mother of the Muses. The ancient world bequeathed to the Middle Ages the legacy of mnemotechnic. These methods seem arid and laborious to us; it must have been the printing press that did for them. When you learn something by heart, you make it your own. But there are vestiges: times tables, amo amas amat. Music would be quite inconceivable without impregnating the fingers with memory. The Chinese must still learn characters by their thousands. On that base stands literature and civilisation.

The Person from Porlock interrupted — was it Coleridge? I can’t remember — writing about Kubla Khan, and by the time his tedious business was done, inspiration was banished. I think there’s a poem by Browning about it. Porlock is the evil twin of serendipity. The muse will not come out when bidden, but can be tamed with regularity, like a cat with saucers of milk. You must give her good store.

The Person from Porlock yesterday was a meteorogical interruption to regularity. Because of the rain yesterday afternoon, I did not go to the library and my books; therefore, I put off posting here till after lunch. And it was gone. It would have been good, I promise.

There is a silver lining, perhaps. If I can work those rough thoughts up into something, it may be more substantial. They are intriguing, like the fragments of Stesichorus. For example: “medicine — doesn’t work”. Indeed not, but I don’t think that was what I meant.

Showing my working: the spur of this post was in the notes on this bit of Theocritus:

... αἴ κά μοι τὺ φίλος τὸν ἐφίμερον ὕμνον ἀείσῃς.
κοὔτί τυ κερτομέω. πόταγ᾽ ὦγαθέ: τὰν γὰρ ἀοιδὰν
οὔτί πη εἰς ᾿Αίδαν γε τὸν ἐκλελάθοντα φυλαξεῖς.

The shepherd will give Thyrsis the fine cup he has just described, if (ai ka) he sings his fine song about Daphnis. Don’t mess me about, come on; you can’t take the song with you to Hades, who drives out memory. The loss of memory would be a particularly apt, or cruel, punishment for a singer or poet.

I’ve spent an hour or two in the afternoons loafing in the Bodleian, which is to say, I’ve read thirty or forty lines of Theocritus, with middling confidence I know roughly what it means; by the way, that’s why you should never use translations: confidence will be higher, but that’s all. There is no substitute for the schoolboy method, not because it has a sobering and salutary effect on confidence, but because it is the thorny path to a richer sense of understanding as hard-won; strait is the gate. Loafing, because that’s a sluggard’s portion, and I have of course spent most of the time skimming through books on Hellenistic poetry — not a frivolous distraction, though I may be putting the cart before the horse, because it makes all the difference how you take things; or rather, the ultimate purpose of this immersion, should I pursue it, is not to extract the sense from the text by torturing it with a dictionary, but to arrive at some feeling of its “effect”. I wrote the other day that the poetry of the period is “highly literary” or some such nonsense; that question may be summed up in the remark of one critic that while the scholars of the past (till some date in the C19th, presumably) had praised Theocritus for his fetching portrait of authentic rusticity, it was only the poet’s consummate skill that made such a reading possible. Where a pre-war Australian commentator took the fine feelings of certain erotic passages as proof of the poet’s high morals, now they are recognised as pastiche of archaic originals, the important question being how much they add, to earn their keep in the canon. Some time in the sixties, it became fashionable to understand the rough country ways of bucolic in tension with Epicurean high-mindedness — whether to undercut it, or as its foil. And lately, scholars feel the crushing weight of what has been lost, both contemporary verse that may have been less highly wrought, and archaic models whose looming presence can just about be discerned, hovering over the shoulders of the text like an iceberg on a foggy night, making it impossible to come to any firm understanding of what the authors of the Hellenistic period were up to, beyond the assertion that it was something. The thought that this scholarly culture, materially expressed in the technology of the library at Alexandria, only came into existence because the descendants of Alexander’s generals thought patronising the arts would improve their thuggish image, explains the resonance of the literature of the period in the time of Augustus, who also faced a problem of legitimacy, to which his answer was Maecenas.

I am being a little unkind; these are not unreasonable things to bring to bear on texts that have surely lost some of their ability to speak for themselves. But I am reminded of something said to me recently by a friend in a gallery: maybe it is better to just look at the paintings, and as it were sink or swim. That isn’t a philistine attitude; at least, not necessarily. And it is increasingly apparent to me (with age) how much curation (perhaps, then, criticism too) simply brings to bear the passing preoccupations of the time on work that one imagines casting them off with an Olympian shrug of the shoulders.

There is, perhaps, another danger too (meting out a further turn of the screw of philological despair). There are good grounds for attributing certain preoccupations or ideas to their Zeitgeist, as with Epicureanism and Stoicism. In much the same way, when we try to think about certain questions that provoke musing and pontification, we naturally reach for what is in the air, with a satisfying feeling of having been rational and cerebral, when in fact in every age and time, that gesture, that little upward stretch, that simian flourish, is a nostrum for stilling thought, with its attendant discomfort.

The question of Epicureanism and eros is pertinent to Theocritus; my flippant survey above of the literature is meant to provoke at least a provisional tolerance of not taking any particular view. There is something unsatisfactory to the modern mind in the rumination of the period on reducing suffering. We might perhaps say that one who is not prepared to risk, and even entertain suffering will not really live. In a quotation I can’t now find, Lucretius counselled as a cure for love emptying one’s seed with “any old” (quaeque) partner — presumably, a prostitute; get it out of your system, as it were. Memory or understanding may not serve, but my point is the exasperation provoked by that sort of stuff. (I will go back to the library, and look it up, and cite chapter and verse in a comment below). If we now reach out into the air from our armchair, the word “relationship” is likely to be conjured up, the advance guard to a host of prim platitudes about how love should properly flourish. If I can roll my eyes at them, why not the Greeks, at the self-help of their day?

C.S. Lewis, in his book The Discarded Image, provides a literary history of the cosmological furniture of the middle ages, richly present still in Shakespeare and Milton — those celestial spheres. Anyone disposed to expatiate on the constitution of the universe had ready to hand a richly-stocked imaginarium, and people were probably on the whole content to believe that something on those lines was roughly right. But as Lewis says, great men such as Michelangelo were the exception; they knew it was just flimmery, because they really thought about “the nature of things”. We can’t all be Michelangelo, but God equipped us with shoulders that we might shrug them.

I took it into my head the other day to dip my toe in Theocritus’ spring, with a view then to tackling Virgil’s Eclogues. Hellinistic poetry is very self-consciously literary — so it would not be like reading Homer as a precursor to the Aeneid. Theocritus’ eclectic use of dialect creates a very different texture from what those who learned Greek at school may be used to, and it looks like a tough nut to crack. Here are the opening lines of Idyll I:

῾Αδύ τι τὸ ψιθύρισμα καὶ ἁ πίτυς αἰπόλε τήνα,
ἃ ποτὶ ταῖς παγαῖσι μελίσδεται, ἁδὺ δὲ καὶ τὺ
συρίσδες: μετὰ Πᾶνα τὸ δεύτερον ἆθλον ἀποισῇ.
αἴ κα τῆνος ἕλῃ κεραὸν τράγον, αἶγα τὺ λαψῇ.
αἴ κα δ᾽ αἶγα λάβῃ τῆνος γέρας, ἐς τὲ καταρρεῖ
ἁ χίμαρος: χιμάρῳ δὲ καλὸν κρέας, ἕστέ κ᾽ ἀμέλξῃς.

This isn’t quite the same text I was reading yesterday in the library, for example, what looks like a dative in line 6 turns into a Doric genitive, without its iota subscript. More importantly, the comma in line two might be omitted or placed one word earlier — all punctuation is the editor’s. For the reader whose Greek may be rustier still than my own, it may help to consider that almost any alpha, if long (which scanning the hexameters will reveal) might be an eta in Attic; the first word is an example. And then, the second person pronoun has tau, like Latin, for Attic sigma. I think the second word is the dative of that, but the internet translates “something sweet”, and the internet may be right; but it is less vivid.

I suppose at this point I should attempt translation:

That’s a sweet whispering music, shepherd, from the pine over there by the lochans, and you, too, play sweetly on the pipes; you will take the second prize after Pan. If (αἴ κα) he chooses the horned he-goat, you will take the female, or if he takes her as his prize, you will get the kid; her flesh is fine, till you milk (cognate!) her.

Less recent editions put the comma in line 2 after the verb, and understand a relative clause with the pine as the subject; but then we need a verb for ψιθύρισμα, whispering. The reader can supply an implied συρίσδει, echoing the verb at the beginning of line 3, which coalesces with μελίσδεται, also third person singular and with the same effective sense, or a sense of “musical whispering” that partakes of both: turning a clumsy repetition into elegant balance, at the cost of grammatical difficulty that would puzzle the head of any schoolboy.

More recent editions remove or displace the comma to create an apposition, allowing the verb to take whispering as its subject: “the pine tree, that one by the water” (the alpha is then printed without an accent). The whole thing is a bit … looser, and at the same time, less complicated.

But then … ah, the pleasure of browsing in a decent library, with ten different commentaries to compare … the wheel turns a little further, and someone sums up the whole matter as a case of “syntactic ambiguity”. Yes, I thought, that’s right! Just as the Greeks knew all those words for different goats (with sheep to follow, in the shepherd’s reply starting in line 7) they understood their own language without parsing it. It’s a good heuristic for the schoolboy: first find the subject, then the verb, and then the rest “should fall into place”. But only as a first approximation.

This is an off-topic post, for my own benefit as an aide-memoire, but also anybody else who might find it useful.

Flashcards such as Anki, and many others, employ spaced repetition to learn information such as vocabulary. The basic idea is the more you get an item right, the less frequently it is reviewed. Computers are obviously well-suited to doing this, and the technology recorded here is more or less out of date. I am learning Gregg shorthand (in fits and starts, I’m afraid) and it’s a bit of a faff to get the glyphs into the virtual ecosystem. So for this purpose, I have created some hand-made cards. Archie Barnes created VOLATS for his students of Chinese at Durham. Those learning that language face a herculean labour of memorisation. Here without further ado is the handout he made to describe the system, itself salvaged and recorded for posterity by the author of the site www.earthcallingdavid.com, which has in turn vanished; but today I came across a reference to it on a Chinese learning forum, with a link to the Wayback Machine.

It’s still technically in copyright, but I don’t think Archie Barnes would mind. He is the author of the marvellous book “Chinese through Poetry” which teaches classical Chinese from scratch, without assuming a knowledge of the contemporary language, briefly described here:

https://web.archive.org/web/20060614215124/http://www.archiebarnes.com/

With sporadic regularity, I read a poem early in the day, after recording my dreams; it’s the skeleton of a writer’s routine. My darling these months has been John Berryman. Berryman, so I was once told, used to write a draft first thing each morning, then put a sheet of glass over the paper. After half an hour or so he would decide if it was a keeper, or not; and perhaps scrawl some second thoughts on it; then he began drinking bourbon. That has the feel of an apocryphal story, that might have been invented by Suetonius to discredit one of the Twelve Caesars. Here is Dream Song 74:

Henry hates the world. What the world to Henry
did will not bear thought.
Feeling no pain,
Henry stabbed his arm and wrote a letter
explaining how bad it had been
in this world.

Old yellow, in a gown
might have made a difference, 'these lower beauties',
and chartreuse could have mattered

'Kyoto, Toledo,
Benares -- the holy cities --
and Cambridge shimmering do not make up
for, well, the horror of unlove,
nor south from Paris driving in the Spring
to Siena and on ...'

Pulling together Henry, somber Henry
woofed at things.
Spry disappointments of men
and vicing adorable children
miserable women, Henry mastered, Henry
tasting all the secret bits of life.

The poem will resonate in different ways for each reader: my Cambridge is not the same as his, but it does shimmer, and its winters are bitter, too. I can’t parse ‘old yellow’ — is it that kitschy film about a boy’s dog that the bad dad wants to shoot? — and a bit like Pound, beauteous pregnant pieces of finery are woven into the text like an embroidered section in a wedding dress (or ‘gown’), luminous amidst the plain white. This is different from the way I learned to read poetry, cutting my teeth on Horace: humanist philology pretends to arrive at stable meanings, delivering sense out of obscurity and, of course, textual corruption. It is like a crossword puzzle, if the crossword is a bad pun that makes you groan, and poetry breathes the esprit of the salons: there is that moment of illumination, the arrival of definitive understanding. I have read little poetry in proportion to prose, because the instability underfoot — as in this fine song — left me bristly and intolerant. Once, in Cambridge, we reflected on a talismanic graffito on a bridge over the Cam, with just that magical indeterminacy. Much the same goes for the jagged syntax (other passages bristle with it more), which makes us taste the words more richly, in a way that may be quite different for each reader. Traction begins to engage when you read your way into the poet’s voice; at least, so it has been for me, as certain tics become familiar, and affection displaces irritation. Rather than things falling into place, it’s like making a new friend.

Neil Gaiman first came to my attention as the author (with Terry Pratchett) of Good Omens, on which the television series of the same title is based (a second batch is on the way). That’s a Miltonic tale, and so is The Sandman, but it has more flounce and visual flair — a fantastical landscape where CGI brings the imaginative freedom of the comic strip to the small screen. There is also a talking crow.

Stories that take place on the plane of Gods break the narrative frame of fiction. If anything goes, outsize happenings are cheap. X-Men started a long run of bombastic cinema (though the ones with Patrick Stewart in are not bad). At this point might begin a disquisition on the roots of imaginative decline in cultural apocalypse, but the reader knows that’s not my style. Last night I watched episode five of Sandman, which besides its scarlet beauty encased a cameo of psychological realism to match anything in Hemingway or Chechov. A mortal has Morpheus’ ruby, which bestows on its keeper kindred morphological powers (I can’t grasp the backstory of the larger frame); with it he seeks to change the world by bringing truth to it. While he sits in a diner with the talisman glowing in his hand, the hidden truths of the couples who frequent it tear their relationships and lives apart. As the tenor of each situation hardens and the mask is torn off, the characters lurch into uncivil torment, like Yugoslavia.

This is not realist narrative; events don’t unfurl and crumble like that in the real world (though such a story could be framed, the tipping-point into divorce or adultery, perhaps); but the relationships, caught in the amber of the possibility of their undoing, are seen sharp and true.

I once began a fiction with the Devil as a character, but I didn’t see the trick of it, which is to allow the Miltonic cosmology without troubling with its underpinnings, and explore the human world it creates.

The devil, like Hume, plays billiards.

Mark Holloway, in his biography of Norman Douglas, makes the following observation:

It is a mark of Douglas’ lively intelligence (as distinct from his intellectual ability) that he seldom failed to learn the lessons that he felt were suited to his temperament …

As a young man, Douglas was a keen amateur naturalist. Just before leaving school he met the eminent zoologist Franz Leydig, who made just such a formative impression on him:

What I liked about his books and pamphlets was not so much his minute histological researches, clear-cut description, and the admirable drawings done by himself; it was something else; his a s i d e s, his footnotes to the text, his generalisations. He would indulge in an excursus of “historical and critical remarks” on some species and even go into details about those artists who have successfully reproduced its shape; he would open up unexpected vistas, citing copiously from authorities old and new. This extensive documentation testified not only to wide reading, but to a wide outlook. His suggestiveness is what attracted me to Leydig. He was no ordinary Professor; he was something more comprehensive, more human.

quoted in Holloway, p. 64

Holloway adds that

It was Leydig’s strong emphasis on individuality that impressed Norman most. He was interested in differences of character between animals of the same species, and observed them among his dogs and among his pet birds and reptiles. He thought individuality should be fostered and not repressed …

and counselled Douglas against university for that reason, though himself a professor.

As Holloway says, this “suggestiveness” is a hallmark of Douglas’s style, the broad outlook, the “quality of continual reference to the greater world beyond the immediate subject”. That is the individual cast of his mind, even when he turned to diverse subject-matter.

All this brought to mind my aperçu that stupidity is a moral failing. The aphorism loses its pointe by tedious explanation, but the distinction above is obviously pertinent. I would add that the salient characteristic of a lively intelligence, as it unfolds and flourishes over time and circumstance, is a sympathy for its own individuality. There is an affinity between those whose casts of mind are distinctive, which does not lie in mutual similarity, but distance from the herd. It can be recognised, and should be fostered, in children, who are apt to have it knocked or smothered out of them.

Alban Berg was the most lyrical of the serialists; so says the NYRB, and I thought of my real enjoyment in Wozzeck, even though “that sort of thing” is not generally my cup of tea. Berg seems to have understood dissonance as an ornament rather than a programme. He wrote that dissonances

give music and love, friendship and nature their true worth, and really everything that has any life — even sensuality itself.

Alban Berg, apud NYRB

When modernism is programmatic, its harshness and difficulty presumably have the ambition of being more honest, and more penetrating, in response to a world which, while probably no bleaker than any other age, wears its darkness on its sleeve. Such are the times and the individual artist cannot fight it: all our works are salted with the uncanny, whether liberally, or with discretion. Those pulls are tediously familiar (another “wrong question”), and Berg’s words (though I would like to see them in German) show a way to get away from them. I was reminded of the words of a friend, whose parents — especially an infuriating but kindly mother — died several years ago.

He proposed to me (or hit upon while speaking) a shift in perspective over the difficulty that inheres in all intimate relationships: rather than loving the person despite their flaws, in the end, perhaps you love them for their flaws. I had thought of it differently: that we are charitable, though not blindly so, to those we love, and overlook their faults, out of humility as well as devotion. That’s a maxim hard enough in itself. The better you know someone, the closer you are, the more chances for friction. Sartre is supposed to have said “Hell is other people”, though again, I would like to see it in French; the encroaching misanthropy I wrote about a few days ago perhaps drinks from the same poisoned well. When I think of my friend’s mother, whom I knew well — as an honorary member of the family — I desperately wanted her to put aside her compulsion to outdo Elizabeth David in the kitchen, and write, as she had been unable to since having her children. In the end, her need for someone to feed extended to the local seagulls and pigeons, a hypertrophy of the same generous disposition which led her to take me under her wing, decades before. There was no overlooking it. She cared about words and sentences, and she taught me to care about food, too; which at bottom is about caring for the comfort of others, with no English meanness. I raise my glass to her.

There is a line in the text of the Dies Irae about being dragged before the throne of judgement, something like “reus cogor ante thronum”. The Latin word means both the accused, and guilty, with no distinction. We are inclined to think the whole of justice lies in the difference; and even the ducking-stool purported to reveal the truth. In English law, mens rea is one of the elements required to establish guilt (along with the corpus delicti, as it were the smoking gun). It immediately occurs to me to wonder, what about manslaughter as opposed to murder; you’d better not hire me as a lawyer. In most times and places, once the wheels of justice start to grind, they are likely to turn you to mincemeat. There’s no smoke without fire. Mud sticks. Even in these enlightened times, to a considerable extent, it’s still the case. Once you start to dig, something unsavoury will turn up. Perhaps the best mark of a more civilised approach to justice is a presumption in favour of leaving people alone, unless there are pressing grounds to begin turning over stones, looking for worms. If you look at it like this, judicial torture starts to seem more comprehensible. The thumbscrew and the rack are like instruments of exorcism.

So much by way of preamble. We speak of someone ‘living a lie’: perhaps they’re in the closet, or a secret agent. The truth lives just beneath the deceiving surface. Once the question has been raised, the disguise is likely to become leaky, like the false skin of the alien Body Snatchers. The whole trick of leading a double life is to avoid suspicion. But what if they’re falsely accused, and the lie is slander? The more you protest, the more you sound as though you protest too much, impaled on the forensic steel of someone else’s question. And after all, in some accounts, Joseph found Potiphar’s wife comely.

More broadly, I mean to suggest that every situation, every life, exists on the cusp between different lights in which it may be seen. Such ambiguity is the cutting edge of fiction — there has to be an open question, else it’ll be a mere morality tale — as can be seen more crudely in the cinematographic cliché of the murder mystery, where the same events are presented several times, according to competing accounts. In life, the abyss on either side of the path we tread only comes to conscious awareness when something has gone wrong, but we subsist in a balanced tension. It is on the way we take that we will be judged, and that is the foundational humanistic premise of fiction, that it matters, and we can choose. Punishment and reward need not be in the hereafter. We hold our life in our hands, with every breath.

The nineteenth-century poet William Johnson Cory is remembered chiefly for this translation from Callimachus, which I include for anyone not familiar with it:

 They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
 They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
 I wept, as I remembered, how often you and I
 Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

 And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
 A handful of grey ashes, long long ago at rest,
 Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
 For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

That must surely count as one of the great poems of the English language. I stumbled on Cory at a tangent while reading on the lawn. Here is another by him, not so fine, but with a similar elegiac zest for life, if I may be allowed the oxymoron:

     Mimnermus in Church

     You promise heavens free from strife,
     Pure truth, and perfect change of will;
     But sweet, sweet is this human life,
     So sweet, I fain would breathe it still;
     Your chilly stars I can forego,
     This warm kind world is all I know.

     You say there is no substance here,
     One great reality above:
     Back from that void I shrink in fear,
     And child-like hide myself in love:
     Show me what angels feel. Till then,
     I cling, a mere weak man, to men.

     You bid me lift my mean desires
     From faltering lips and fitful veins
     To sexless souls, ideal quires,
     Unwearied voices, wordless strains:
     My mind with fonder welcome owns
     One dear dead friend's remembered tones.

     Forsooth the present we must give
     To that which cannot pass away;
     All beauteous things for which we live
     By laws of time and space decay.
     But oh, the very reason why
     I clasp them, is because they die.

Mimnermus, I did not know, is an early Greek poet whose work is almost completely lost. But there is this:

τίς δὲ βίος, τί δὲ τερπνὸν ἄτερ χρυσῆς Ἀφροδίτης;
τεθναίην, ὅτε μοι μηκέτι ταῦτα μέλοι,
κρυπταδίη φιλότης καὶ μείλιχα δῶρα καὶ εὐνή·
οἷ’ ἥβης ἄνθεα γίγνεται ἁρπαλέα
ἀνδράσιν ἠδὲ γυναιξίν· ἐπεὶ δ’ ὀδυνηρὸν ἐπέλθῃ
γῆρας, ὅ τ’ αἰσχρὸν ὁμῶς καὶ καλὸν ἄνδρα τιθεῖ,
αἰεί μιν φρένας ἀμφὶ κακαὶ τείρουσι μέριμναι,
οὐδ’ αὐγὰς προσορῶν τέρπεται ἠελίου,
ἀλλ’ ἐχθρὸς μὲν παισίν, ἀτίμαστος δὲ γυναιξίν·
οὕτως ἀργαλέον γῆρας ἔθηκε θεός.

The following version, lacking Cory’s grace, gives the sense, more or less; found on Wikipedia:

What is life, what is sweet, if it is missing golden Aphrodite?
Death would be better by far than to live with no time for
Amorous assignations and the gift of tenderness and bedrooms,
All of those things that give youth all of its coveted bloom,
Both for men and for women. But when there arrives the vexatiousness
Of old age, even good looks alter to unsightliness
And the heart wears away under the endlessness of its anxieties:
There is no joy anymore then in the light of the sun;
In children there is found hate and in women there is found no respect.
So difficult has old age been made for us all by God!

The translation of the penultimate line is euphemistic, or ignorant of Greek ways; and the more literal sense of ‘even good looks’ is that age, the leveller, reduces the ugly and the handsome man to the same state.

For good measure, here are some fine words by Cory on the purpose of education:

At school you are engaged not so much in acquiring knowledge as in making mental efforts under criticism. A certain amount of knowledge you can indeed with average faculties acquire so as to retain; nor need you regret the hours you spent on much that is forgotten, for the shadow of lost knowledge at least protects you from many illusions. But you go to a great school not so much for knowledge as for arts and habits; for the habit of attention, for the art of expression, for the art of assuming at a moment’s notice a new intellectual position, for the art of entering quickly into another person’s thoughts, for the habit of submitting to censure and refutation, for the art of indicating assent or dissent in graduated terms, for the habit of regarding minute points of accuracy, for the art of working out what is possible in a given time, for taste, for discrimination, for mental courage, and for mental soberness.

Wikipedia

There must be nearly as many Kants as there are serious readers of the philosopher. I belong to the katechoumenoi: I am a convert, and I believe there are not many such. Kant, especially in the first Critique, offers a system, and I think he says that the whole edifice must fall if any fault be found in it. In English-speaking countries where the analytical tradition dominates, it is customary to raid those crumbling, though perhaps still imposing ruins for their masonry; that is, the arguments stand on their merits, which are suspect, and have value iff they are sound. ‘Kantians’ are like the followers of Freud, each to his own school and improved system. Kleist famously shot himself because of the despair provoked by reading the Critique of Pure Reason, but (it is generally accepted) he got it wrong. It’s a difficult book.

Possible readings can perhaps be divided into three regions (like Gaul): empiricist, rationalist, and idealist, in other words, they cover the entire terrain of philosophy. I’m not well-versed in the reception of Kant after the eighteenth century, but idealist reworkings of Kant seem to cover most of the nineteenth century in Germany. I’m in the empiricist camp, seeing his entire purpose as having been to close the door on such speculations; and I find the building imposing, unmoved by any cracks or gaps. But when I think of ‘Kantianism’ today, it’s figures like Chomsky and Stephen Pinker that come to mind. They would perhaps not claim to be followers of Kant, but the influence is clear though with a different emphasis from the original.

I am no philosopher, and my original encounter with Kant was as an intellectual historian. It’s got to be illuminating to place any thinker against his context, see what he was reacting to, and how he understood his own contribution. The Preface to the first Critique, with its metaphor of the ‘Wohnhaus’, or humble abode of reason, is actually pretty clear. We can kill idle speculation dead by keeping our feet on the ground. If what we know comes from the evidence of our senses, we can’t say either way how the universe began or whether there is a God. (Such questions were still dynamite, so had to be skirted around). The problem with this was Hume, who had argued that you couldn’t make much sense of the world, in particular, it was not possible to establish causation. Surely it should be possible to explain a bit more than that, without letting the mediaeval fancies back in? Kant’s innovation was to argue that experience of anything at all is only possible if it is structured in various ways (most notably through causation): otherwise nothing makes sense. That explanation would probably attract red ink in an undergraduate essay, but it is not my aim to offer a lucid summary; there is no substitute for reading Kant at first hand. The argument has the same structure as that of the second Critique: if experience is possible at all it must have this shape; if there is morality it must be internally consistent, else it would not be morality, therefore it must unfold to contain justice, equality and so on, with a certain cut of the sails that is distinctively Kantian.

Kant was thinking of human beings, but I think his argument applies to Martians, and spiders, too: this is what experience as such must be like. The contemporary rationalists believe that our modes of thought are hardwired, and therefore species-specific. Clearly, our sense organs have certain limitations (a range of wavelengths for both sound and vision, for instance) and there is some flesh-and-blood plumbing in there to make sense of it all. But I would like to believe the Martians must do very much the same thing by other means, unknown to us.

And so finally I come to my point, just a speculative trifle. All this favours the sense of sight. On the whole, the other senses are much blunter instruments. The sense of touch (divided perhaps into proprioception, pain, temperature, sexual sensation, etc) tells more about our own body, and only indirectly anything external; and maybe taste and smell are a bit like this too. But what about hearing? I don’t mean that we can hear, say, certain sounds that speak of the burn rushing through the glen, though it is immediately interesting that what those sounds convey naturally falls into visual shape. Through our ears comes language, and with it a set of beliefs, attitudes, dispositions, and social capacities we can no more shake off than the urge to duck when a cricket ball comes at us.

There is a body of theological argument that we imbibe faith with the mother’s milk of human kindness. I bristle and can feel my readers bristling at the very thought, because of the obvious problems of relativism and authority. But what if there were a Kantian bootstrapping argument, that there must be — what? Some form of social order? Some sense of ‘self’ and ‘other’ and a mode of communication between them, or at least recognition? Some body of shared beliefs, perhaps amounting to ‘culture’? It being possible for these to be more or less elaborate, with perhaps a canonical minimum case (the mating behaviour of the praying mantis)? Just as there must be things, perhaps, there must be social objects, which in turn must satisfy some criteria to be capable of functioning as such? Like: continuity of identity through time despite change? A presumption of trustworthiness? Having an opaque ‘inside’ that must be mediated to the world through deliberate utterance? The mantis would never copulate if it were unable to conceal its final intentions.

It certainly seems to be the case that Robinson Crusoe can’t exist without Friday. A man on a desert island, without language or intercourse, in some sense ceases to exist as a human being. A more mundane but frequent example is lonely old people driven mad by isolation. Perhaps this is something that is a matter of degree: social exclusion, due to class (McJobs), or a stigmatised identity (ex-cons), diminishes and brutalises the individual.

Here is what looks like a good account of the central ‘move’ on Kant’s part:

https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-hume-causality/

I was convinced despair was one of the seven, but the internet, on the whole, disagrees. That’ll teach me to break my rule here against Wikipedia. We can’t in any case readily inhabit the outlook of a truly religious age, with only God’s shadow left to us. There is a difference between despair and depression, for example; but what to make of it is up for grabs. The latter term undermines the attitude by casting it as a sickness — indeed, an affect rather than an attitude. My topic then (whatever Aquinas would have thought) is a considered view of the world, not a mere feeling about it, and how this might be morally wrong, in much the same way that I hold stupidity to be a moral failing, not sustainable as a concept except on those terms, that is, as being a choice.

To see this moral dimension, it may help to consider that an aspect of despair is misanthropy. If we abandon faith in human goodness, we are actually breaking faith with our more hopeful fellow men. The difficulty here is that what is supposed to save us from such despair is faith in God, who alone possesses the transcendent goodness to raise us up out of the mire. That thought is not enough to conjure the absent deity into existence.

Contemplating the world, from its most intimate manifestation in the life shared in common with those dear to us to its mendacious Zeitgeist, the grand stage of war, pestilence and tyranny — in microcosm and macrocosm — I see no light. And I see that as a personal failing, though I can do nothing for it. If that seems unreasonably harsh, it may help to recast the failure as a collective one, since macrocosm and microcosm are of a piece.

I have remembered the third kind of tree: the stemma of a manuscript tradition. Apart from odd scraps of papyrus preserved in their many thousands at a rubbish dump in Oxyrhinchus and other Egyptian sites, all of classical literature has come down to us in copies of copies. The mediaeval scribes made mistakes — slips of the pen — which cumulatively made the text unintelligible in places; they then might hazard a guess as to the true reading (conjecture). Humanist scholars made a science of trying to reconstruct the Urtext by constructing a family tree of manuscripts. The tension between fidelity to the reading and trying to make sense of it is just as much present in these more rigorous approaches. Later scholars had the advantage of access to manuscripts preserved throughout Europe, whereas a monastic scribe could at best correct a poor text against a better one. As with the search for the Ursprache behind its descendent languages, the prize was to regain past glories since marred by decay and corruption. The Bible itself was a text with a tradition, and therein lay a can of worms that wreaked havoc in the end.

In the case of Darwin’s tree of life, the ideological pull, which those with any sense resist, is to favour the leaves rather than the root of the tree.

I have been trying to read Lao Zi through the dark mirror of translations. The gnomic original is apparently very obscure, even by the standards of classical Chinese. I don’t know the subject well enough to comment on the manuscript tradition, but my impression is there is not really scope to construct stemmata. There are a lot of woolly and fanciful versions that barely deserve to be called translations, and it’s hard to choose. I have been using two, Ursula LeGuin’s version, which is a distillation of many others, and Arther Waley’s, which is less readable, but takes a philological approach reassuring to any classicist. In particular, he sees Lao Zi engaging with philosophical debates of his time, and will enclose a line or phrase in quotation marks; what follows is the comment. Here is a snatch of XX:

The saying 'what others avoid I too must avoid'
How false and superficial it is!

And here is LeGuin’s version:

What the people fear
Must be feared
Oh desolation!
Not yet, not yet has it reached its limit!

Waley explains the maxim as a sort of “when in Rome” principle, that the Taoist cannot go along with. This seems illuminating — it gives one something to hold on to, trying to make sense of the text; though he does point out that “the sense of these lines is very doubtful”.

However, there is a twist. Between the publication of the two versions, a very old text (‘Ma Wang Tui’) of the Tao Te Ching was discovered. This is perhaps as remarkable a discovery as if Heraclitus’s book were to turn up at Oxyrhinchus. It is older, but that doesn’t mean it is the ancestor of today’s text; it must be an uncle rather than a parent. The Ma Wang Tui’s reading here is “A person whom everyone fears ought to be feared”; and this tells against Waley’s interpretation.

Just as with cruxes in classical texts, there’s a strange dance between the feeling of not having got to the bottom of the matter, and the riddling nature of the original, whatever it said, that each reader must puzzle out. Nonetheless, you feel you know the text better for grappling with it.

Without further ado:

There sat down, once, a thing on Henry's heart
só heavy, if he had a hundred years
& more, & weeping, sleepless, in all them time
Henry could not make good.
Starts again always in Henry's ears
the little cough somewhere, an odour, a chime.

And there is another thing he has in mind
like a grave Sienese face a thousand years
would fail to blur the still profiled reproach of.  Ghastly,
with open eyes, he attends, blind.
All the bells say: too late.  This is not for tears;
thinking.

But never did Henry, as he thought he did,
end anyone and hacks her body up
and hide the pieces, where they may be found.
He knows: he went over everyone, & nobody's missing.
Often he reckons, in the dawn, them up.
Nobody is ever missing.

John Berryman

Dream Song 29

As people say in Brazil: sem comentários.