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Posts Tagged ‘poetry

“It is necessary to keep one’s compass in one’s eyes”*…

 

rose1

 

A “compass rose” is a graphic device found on maps and nautical charts (as well as on the faces of compasses and some monuments) that displays the orientation of the cardinal directions (north, east, south, and west) and their intermediate points.

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And as these examples from the collection of the The American Geographical Society Library demonstrate, they can also be fascinating– and beautiful– graphic elements in their own right.

See more at the AGSL’s Compass Rose Flickr page.  Browse the Library’s full digital collection here.

* Michelangelo

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As we find our way, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

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Petrarch

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“The nice thing about doing a crossword puzzle is, you know there is a solution”*…

 

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Crossword Puzzle with Lady in Black Coat, Paulina Olowska, 2014

 

When I began to research the history of crosswords for my recent book on the subject, I was sort of shocked to discover that they weren’t invented until 1913. The puzzle seemed so deeply ingrained in our lives that I figured it must have been around for centuries—I envisioned the empress Livia in the famous garden room in her villa, serenely filling in her cruciverborum each morning­­. But in reality, the crossword is a recent invention, born out of desperation. Editor Arthur Wynne at the New York World needed something to fill space in the Christmas edition of his paper’s FUN supplement, so he took advantage of new technology that could print blank grids cheaply and created a diamond-shaped set of boxes, with clues to fill in the blanks, smack in the center of FUN. Nearly overnight, the “Word-Cross Puzzle” went from a space-filling ploy to the most popular feature of the page.

Still, the crossword didn’t arise from nowhere. Ever since we’ve had language, we’ve played games with words. Crosswords are the Punnett square of two long-standing strands of word puzzles: word squares, which demand visual logic to understand the puzzle but aren’t necessarily using deliberate deception; and riddles, which use wordplay to misdirect the solver but don’t necessarily have any kind of graphic component to work through…

Adrienne Raphel (@AdrienneRaphel) offers “A Brief History of Word Games.”

[TotH to MK]

* Stephen Sondheim

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As we fill in the blanks, we might send epigrammatic birthday greetings to Alfred Edward (A.E.) Housman; he was born on this date in 1859.  A classicist and poet, he is probably best remembered for his lyrical poetry, perhaps most notably for his  cycle A Shropshire Lad.

Alfred_Edward_Housman.jpeg source

It is also the birthday (1874) of another poet, the combative Robert Frost.

 

Written by LW

March 26, 2020 at 7:02 am

“All you really need to know for the moment is that the universe is a lot more complicated than you might think, even if you start from a position of thinking it’s pretty damn complicated in the first place”*…

 

UniverseShape_LedeFullWidth

 

When you gaze out at the night sky, space seems to extend forever in all directions. That’s our mental model for the universe, but it’s not necessarily correct. There was a time, after all, when everyone thought the Earth was flat, because our planet’s curvature was too subtle to detect and a spherical Earth was unfathomable.

Today, we know the Earth is shaped like a sphere. But most of us give little thought to the shape of the universe. Just as the sphere offered an alternative to a flat Earth, other three-dimensional shapes offer alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space.

We can ask two separate but interrelated questions about the shape of the universe. One is about its geometry: the fine-grained local measurements of things like angles and areas. The other is about its topology: how these local pieces are stitched together into an overarching shape.

Cosmological evidence suggests that the part of the universe we can see is smooth and homogeneous, at least approximately. The local fabric of space looks much the same at every point and in every direction. Only three geometries fit this description: flat, spherical and hyperbolic…

Alternatives to “ordinary” infinite space: “What Is the Geometry of the Universe?

* Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

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As we tinker with topology, we might recall that it was on this date in 1811 that Percy Bysshe Shelley was expelled from the University of Oxford for publishing the pamphlet The Necessity of Atheism.  Shelley, of course, went on to become a celebrated lyric poet and one of the leaders of the English Romantic movement… one who had a confident (if not to say exalted) sense of his role in society:

Poets are the hierophants of an unapprehended inspiration; the mirrors of the gigantic shadows which futurity casts upon the present; the words which express what they understand not; the trumpets which sing to battle, and feel not what they inspire; the influence which is moved not, but moves. Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.

220px-Percy_Bysshe_Shelley_by_Alfred_Clint source

 

“When wombats do inspire/I strike my disused lyre”*…

 

Wombat

Rossetti mourning his wombat

 

“‘The Wombat,’ Dante Gabriel Rossetti wrote in 1869, ‘is a Joy, a Triumph, a Delight, a Madness!’ Rossetti’s house at 16 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea had a large garden, which, shortly after he was widowed, he began to stock with wild animals. He acquired, among other beasts, wallabies, kangaroos, a raccoon and a zebu. He looked into the possibility of keeping an African elephant but concluded that at £400 it was unreasonably priced. He bought a toucan, which he trained to ride a llama. But, above all, he loved wombats…

It isn’t difficult to understand Rossetti’s devotion. Wombats are deceptive; they are swifter than they look, braver than they look, tougher than they look. Outwardly, they are sweet-faced and rotund. The earliest recorded description of the wombat came from a settler, John Price, in 1798, on a visit to New South Wales. Price wrote that it was ‘an animal about twenty inches high, with short legs and a thick body with a large head, round ears, and very small eyes; is very fat, and has much the appearance of a badger.’ The description implies only limited familiarity with badgers; in fact, a wombat looks somewhere between a capybara, a koala and a bear cub.

Despite the fact that they do not look streamlined, a wombat can run at up to 25 miles an hour, and maintain that speed for 90 seconds. The fastest recorded human footspeed was Usain Bolt’s 100m sprint in 2009, in which he hit a speed of 27.8 mph but maintained it for just 1.61 seconds, suggesting that a wombat could readily outrun him. They can also fell a grown man, and have the capacity to attack backwards, crushing a predator against the walls of their dens with the hard cartilage of their rumps. The shattered skulls of foxes have been found in wombat burrows…

Katherine Rundell urges us to “Consider the Wombat.”

* Christina Rossetti  (Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sister)

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As we ponder pets, we might wish an elfish Happy Birthday to John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, who was born on this date in 1892.  A philologist and professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford, Tolkein is better known for the series of books of which he said “my work has escaped from my control, and I have produced a monster: an immensely long, complex, rather bitter, and rather terrifying romance, quite unfit for children (if fit for anybody).”

(Tolkein’s friend and fellow Inkling, C.S. Lewis, when told by Tolkien of a new character with which he was populating The Lord of the Rings, reputedly replied “Not another f—ing dwarf!”)

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Bust of Tolkien in the chapel of his alma mater, Exeter College, Oxford. He was later a don down the street, at Merton College

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“No light, but rather darkness visible”*…

 

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Satan Presiding at the Infernal Council (Book II, line 1), from John Martin’s epic set of illustrations for Paradise Lost, 1827

 

I begin with sound. I read Paradise Lost not only with my eyes, but also with my mouth. I was lucky enough to study Books I and II for A level many years ago, and to do so in a small class whose teacher, Miss Enid Jones, had the clear-eyed and old-fashioned idea that we would get a good sense of the poem if, before we did anything else to it, we read it aloud. So we took it in turns, in that sixth-form classroom in Ysgol Ardudwy, on the flat land below the Harlech Castle, to stumble and mutter and gabble our way through it all, while Miss Jones sat with arms comfortably folded on her desk, patiently helping us with pronunciation, but not encumbering us with meaning…

The experience of reading poetry aloud when you don’t fully understand it is a curious and complicated one. It’s like suddenly discovering that you can play the organ. Rolling swells and peals of sound, powerful rhythms and rich harmonies are at your command; and as you utter them you begin to realise that the sound you’re releasing from the words as you speak is part of the reason they’re there. The sound is part of the meaning and that part only comes alive when you speak it. So at this stage it doesn’t matter that you don’t fully understand everything: you’re already far closer to the poem than someone who sits there in silence looking up meanings and references and making assiduous notes…

John Milton’s Paradise Lost has been many things to many people — a Christian epic, a comment on the English Civil War, the epitome of poetic ambiguity — but it is first of all a pleasure to read.  Drawing on sources as varied as Wordsworth, Hitchcock, and Conan Doyle, author Philip Pullman (the author of many wonderful volumes, but most relevantly here, the His Dark Materials [Golden Compass] trilogy and the Book of Dust novels currently underway) considers the sonic beauty and expert storytelling of Milton’s masterpiece, and the shaping influence it has had on his own work: “The Sound and the Story: Exploring the World of Paradise Lost.

* Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1

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As we contemplate the celestial, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol— a novella he’d written over the prior six weeks– was formally published; it had been released to book stores and the public two days later.  The first run of 6,000 copies sold out by Christmas Eve, and the book continued to sell well through twenty-four editions in its original form.

Cover of the first edition

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Written by LW

December 19, 2019 at 1:01 am

“If thou thou’st him some thrice, it will not be amiss”*…

 

You

 

‘You’ is the fourteenth most frequently used word in the English language, following closely behind its fellow pronouns ‘it’ at number eight and ‘I’ at number eleven:

The fact that you follows closely behind I in popularity is probably attributable to its being an eight-way word: both subject and object, both singular and plural, and both formal and familiar. The all-purpose second person is an unusual feature of English, as middle-schoolers realize when they start taking French, Spanish, or, especially German, which offers a choice of seven different singular versions of you. It’s relatively new in our language. In early modern English, beginning  in the late fifteenth century, thou, thee and thy were singular forms for the subjective, objective and possessive, and ye, you and your were plural. In the 1500s and 1600s, ye and then the thou/thee/thy forms, faded away, to be replaced by the all-purpose you. But approaches to this second person were interesting in this period of flux. David Crystal writes in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of English that by Shakespeare’s time, you “was used by people of lower rank or status to those above them (such as ordinary people to nobles, children to parents, servants to masters, nobles to the monarch), and was also the standard way for the upper classes to talk to each other. … By contrast, thou/thee were used by people of higher rank to those beneath them, and by the lower classes to each other; also in elevated poetic style, in addressing God, and in talking to witches, ghosts and other supernatural  beings.” The OED cites a 1675 quotation: “No Man will You God but will use the pronoun Thou to him.”

“Needless to say, this ambiguity and variability were gold in the hand of a writer like Shakespeare, and he played with it endlessly, sometimes having a character switch modes of address within a speech to indicate a change in attitude.” [see the title of this post, for example]…

More of this excerpt from Ben Yagoda’s When You Catch an Adjective, Kill It: The Parts of Speech, for Better and/or Worse  at “You.”

[Via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Sir Toby Belch to Sir Andrew Aguecheek, in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night

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As we muse on modes of address, we might send elegantly phrased and eclectic birthday greetings to Persian polymath Omar Khayyam; the philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, epigrammatist, and poet was born on this date in 1048. While he’s probably best known to English-speakers as a poet, via Edward FitzGerald’s famous translation of (what he called) the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Fitzgerald’s attribution of the book’s poetry to Omar (as opposed to the aphorisms and other quotes in the volume) is now questionable to many scholars (who believe those verses to be by several different Persian authors).

In any case, Omar was unquestionably one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period.  He is the author of one of the most important treatises on algebra written before modern times, the Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra, which includes a geometric method for solving cubic equations by intersecting a hyperbola with a circle.  His astronomical observations contributed to the reform of the Persian calendar.  And he made important contributions to mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology and Islamic theology.

 source

 

 

Written by LW

May 15, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Life without industry is guilt; industry without art is brutality”*…

 

People walk past the Egyptian Theatre along Main Street before the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City

 

It is often said that art feeds the soul. But culture and the arts also fuel the economy directly: The arts contribute more than $800 billion a year to U.S. economic output, amounting to more than 4 percent of GDP.

That figure is based on detailed data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the Department of Commerce) and the National Endowment for the Arts, summarized in a report released earlier this month.The report tracks the aggregate performance of 35 key arts-and-culture fields, including broadcasting, movies, streaming, publishing, the performing arts, arts-related retail, and more…

chart

The contribution of culture and art to the U.S. economy is bigger than the economic output of Sweden or Switzerland; learn more at “The Economic Power of American Arts and Culture.”

* John Ruskin

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As we see to our souls, we might spare a pining thought for Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca); it was on this date in 1327, after he’d given up his vocation as a priest, that he first set eyes on “Laura” in the church of Sainte-Claire d’Avignon– an encounter that awoke in him a passion that spawned the 366 poems in Il Canzoniere (“Song Book”).

Considered by many to have been “the Father of Humanism,” and reputed to have coined the term “Renaissance,” Petrarch was most famous in his time for his paeans to his idealized lover (who was, many scholars believe, Laura de Noves, the wife of Hugues de Sade).  But Petrarch’s more fundamental and lasting contribution to culture came via Pietro Bembo who created the model for the modern Italian language in the 16th century largely based on the works of Petrarch (and to a lesser degree, those of Dante and Boccaccio).

Laura de Noves died on this date in 1348.

Lura de Noves

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Petrarch

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Written by LW

April 6, 2019 at 1:01 am

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