The greatest painting in Britain shortlist

Only one of the six paintings I picked (the Hockney) got onto the final shortlist of ten. That shortlist in full:

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

The Hay Wain by John Constable

A Rake’s Progress III: The Orgy (1733-4) by William Hogarth

The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838 by Turner

The Baptism of Christ by Piero Della Francesca

The Bar at the Folies Bergere by Manet

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney

A lot of British paintings, not surprisingly. The only one that seems wildly out of its depth is the Madox Brown, which looks like a very ordinary piece of Victorian narrative painting to me. The van Eyck and the Turner are both paintings I considered picking – you certainly have to have something by Turner, the only question being which one. The Hay Wain is certainly a much better painting than its status as a piece of kitsch Englishiana would suggest, but I’ve never really connected to Constable, somehow. Sunflowers isn’t even the best painting by Van Gogh in the National Gallery. I’m not wild about the Manet – I said something earlier about the Impressionists not being at their best painting people; that may have been a bit sweeping, but I think this is a case in point. It’s attractive enough, but lacks the transcendant quality of the best Impressionist landscapes. The Hogarth is lively and entertaining, but those aren’t qualities I rate particularly highly in painting.

A couple of other observations. There are no paintings from between the C15th and C19th, which means no Vermeer, Velasquez, Rubens, Caravaggio, Titian, or Rembrandt for a start. And the only C20th painting is the Hockney, which means nothing abstract and nothing foreign. Britain isn’t especially rich in modern art – Tate Modern’s collection is distinctly patchy – but there are paintings by, for example, Picasso, Miro, Mondrian, Modigliani, Rothko, and Pollock. I suppose in a lot of cases there’s a sense that the very finest paintings by an artist are elsewhere; the Botticellis in the National are OK, but nothing to the ones in Florence, and similarly with Vermeer, Velasquez, Picasso, and Matisse. I would have thought the Rembrandts in the National might make the cut, though.

EDIT: Hogarth is C18th, of course. A better way of putting it might be: all the non-British paintings are either Renaissance or Impressionist.

Why ‘Heraclitean Fire’?

The title of the blog is from the Hopkins poem That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection.

I think Hopkins makes a good touchstone for what poetry can be. His work is difficult – both linguistically experimental and intellectually abstruse – but it is always trying to communicate something. He is nothing if not sincere. And he never stops making beautiful noises.


Stuckism came up in the context of the New Sincerity.

Certainly the manifesto provides parallels. The actual work turns out to be seriously disappointing. For a movement than emphasises authenticity and non-cleverness, the Stuckists seem to produce a lot of work which is jokey and shallow:

‘Dog and Cat Underwater’ – Wolf Howard

‘Two Wine Glasses Remembering that They Used To Be Very Fond Of Each Other’ – Charles Thomson

… or very image-conscious and referential. Paul Harvey, who actually looks like the pick of them in terms of producing attractive objects, does things like paintings of supermodels in the style of Alphonse Mucha. How much more PoMo can you get? He’s even done a Mucha-esque painting of a woman holding one of his own Mucha-esque paintings:

‘The Stuckists Punk Victorian’ – Paul Harvey

Others are just mediocre. Some rather clunky naive painting:

‘About Last Night’ – Philip Absolon

…some complete tat:

  • Post Category:Culture

Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz

In which I review books without actually having read them, based only on the titles. Starting with Kent Johnson’s Lyric Poetry After Auschwitz, which has been the buzz of the blogs recently.

The title is of course a quote, from (Google tells me) Theodore Adorno, who said that poetry after Auschwitz was ‘barbaric’ – though he also said that ‘literature must resist this verdict’.

So, we have a book of poetry which gets its title from a quote about poetry from a culture theorist. First deduction: this book is full of self-consciously intellectual poetry that isn’t afraid to approach its subject through a layer of heavy-handed irony.

In fact, there’s no way someone who would choose this title would be gauche enough to to use the phrase ‘lyric poetry’ in a straightforward way. It’s a further irony – the poems in the book are not in fact lyrics at all!

On the other hand, despite all the irony sloshing around the place, there are certain magic words that are too important to make light of, even for people who read cultural theorists. Theory fans are generally earnest about their politics anyway, but mentioning Auschwitz in the title means this a book of Very Serious Poetry.

The poet must have a Very Serious point to make – I’m guessing he thinks Auschwitz was a bad thing. He probably also draws in some more contemporary events as well, for topicality.

So we have non-lyrical (in fact, anti-lyrical) poetry about Auschwitz, Srebrenica, Iraq and so on. But it’s not just about the sadness of the human condition – no, it’s highly politicised. And it’s very aware of irony but has no sense of humour.

As you may have gathered, I hate this title. It’s aggressive, holier-than-thou, patronising, self-important and heavy-handed.

  • Post Category:Culture

tgpibp #6: Uccello

This is such an obvious choice that two people had chosen it by the end of the initial item on the Today programme announcing the poll. But I would have picked it anyway. Probably.

It’s usually called The Battle of San Romano, but according to the NG website the full title is Niccol

  • Post Category:Culture

tgpibp #5: Lichtenstein

Since the poll is not to find the best painting in a British collection, but the best-loved, I thought I’d mention the first favourite painting I remember having.

It’s the choice of a young boy – Whaam! by Roy Lichtenstein. It used to hang prominently in the old Tate (i.e. what’s now Tate Britain), before they split off the modern collection into a separate building. Somehow I don’t think my appreciation for it had anything to do with the semiotic interplay between pop culture and ‘Fine Art’. I just thought it was cool.

The text in the thought bubble is a bit hard to read at this scale, but I can still remember it by heart: “I pressed the fire control and ahead of me the rockets blazed through the sky”.

  • Post Category:Culture

tgpibp #4: Manet

The Execution of Maximilian is an Impressionist painting that seems to form a link between Caravaggio and Picasso. The Impressionists weren’t always at their best painting people, but this is an exception. I also think the fact it’s in fragments adds to the appeal, though I’d be hard-pressed to explain why.

  • Post Category:Culture

tgpibp #3: Hockney

I’ve been finding this paintings-choosing business a bit frustrating, because in the spirit of the poll, I’m limiting myself to paintings in British collections, and many of the finest paintings I’ve ever seen in London were in temporary exhibitions. So you’ll just have to imagine all the El Grecos and Matisses and Whistlers I’m not including here.

Anyway, on to Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney. I think Hockney is a genuinely great artist. He’s done a lot of stylistic flitting over the years, and not all his work is equally successful, but the best of it is fabulous. The use of light, colour and composition remind me of Vermeer – they have very different palettes and rather subject matters, with Hockney generally favouring exterior scenes, but they both produce paintings of everyday scenes that have a poised, luminous quality. I went for Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy, although if I wasn’t restricted to paintings in the UK I’d be tempted by various others including this one.

  • Post Category:Culture

tgpibp #2: Rembrandt

Another one from the National and another obvious choice. Self Portrait at the Age of 63 by Rembrandt. It’s so human. This isn’t the kind of thing people normally mean by ‘minimalist’ but I think it is a kind of minimalism. The best kind, perhaps.

  • Post Category:Culture

The Greatest Painting in Britain Poll #1: Holbein

The Greatest Painting in Britain Poll is being run by the National Gallery and the BBC to find the best-loved painting in a UK collection.

I’m using it as a reason to post some of my favourite paintings. No. 1: Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein the Younger, ca. 1527. It’s technically brilliant, it has cute animals in it, and it’s vaguely surreal. Why has this impassive-looking young woman been painted with a starling and squirrel? The colours don’t look quite right on either version I found. There’s a larger (but rather washed out) version where it’s easier to see what’s going on here.

  • Post Category:Culture

The New Hampshire Review

Seth Abramson has a post at his blog explaining the aesthetic basis for the new online poetry journal, The New Hampshire Review.

Specifically, he thinks that too many online publications are too gimmicky, too self-consciously ‘web’ and have lost touch with the qualities that make a good print journal. So no advertising, no Flash, no wacky layouts or un-navigable sitemap. The NHR is designed to showcase the content, not the ingenuity of the designers.

All those ambitions are admirable – although it’s worth pointing out that they are the ambitions of any good web designer. I don’t think its necessary to invoke the idea of ‘a print journal on the web’ to see the merits of clean design, a clear layout and an emphasis on the content.

More seriously, for me, the emphasis on ‘print’ virtues has lead them to produce a site which not only looks like a print journal but looks like an old-fashioned one. The painting on the front, the typeface of the title and the general look of the thing all make it seem decades out of date. It doesn’t need to be bleeding-edge design, but it could certainly afford to be a bit sharper, a bit less stodgy-looking.

I nearly posted a comment to that effect on his blog, but it seemed like rather tactless timing.

  • Post Category:Culture


I’ve been following the discussions about eclecticism (of taste, of anthologies) among the poblogs.

My initial reaction was that it was being intentionally divisive – in the Silliman mode of needing to denigrate the competition to justify yourself. But I just remembered how true it seemed when I once heard someone say “I just don’t understand how you can like both the Pre-Raphaelites and Vermeer”.

That’s a pair that means more to me than the ones KSM has come up with, which either involve poets whose work I don’t know very well, or jazz musicians. It would be an interesting game making up similar pairs, although I’m still uncertain whether people’s taste is as coherent and predictable as that.

A different question is whether one should embrace these divisions as an inevitable truth, or try and cultivate a broad appreciation of different work. You don’t want to be so open-minded that you blunt your critical faculties, but an insistence on the impossibility of eclecticism is likely to be self-fulfilling.

  • Post Category:Culture

Folk Archive

A couple of days ago I went to see an exhibition called Folk Archive at the Barbican.

That website includes lots of the exhibits but the pictures are annoyingly without all the contextual information that helps make sense of them.

It was an exhibition of contemporary British folk art, but that term was interpreted extremely broadly; the exhibition includes (some of these are photos rather than the actual object): trade union banners, graffiti, prison art, modified cars, costumes from traditional festivals, prostitute calling cards, sectarian murals, shop signs, painted false nails, football fanzines, protest placards, crop circles, sand castles, flower arrangements…

The sheer range of objects makes it hard to know what to say. Many of them were complete tat – unremarkable examples of mundane objects – but seeing them all together one did get a sense of a huge wealth of amateur, unofficial creativity. I enjoyed it and found it curiously cheering.

Some mad video of people running through the streets of Ottery St Mary carrying burning tar barrels on their shoulders to celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. And the Burry Man of South Queensferry. And other oddities. It made the modified car rallies and the Mods and Rockers reunion look like part of a long tradition.

  • Post Category:Culture

irony vs. self-awareness

Jonathan, Laurel and Emily have commented on whether it’s possible to write (read) a poem without a layer of irony.

What I find odd is a tendency to conflate irony with self-awareness. Self-awareness may be a necessary condition for irony, but I can’t see that they are the same thing.

I’m English and middle class, so I live among people for whom, in everyday life, sincerity is often a faux pas. Irony is the default mode of conversation in social situations. But that doesn’t mean you can’t turn it off.

  • Post Category:Culture

William Logan

Various people have commented on this in The New Criterion. Basically it’s Logan being rude about various famous US poets in an entertaining fashion – ‘Jorie Graham loves big ideas the way small boys like big trucks’ for example.

I thought this was quite ironic, though:

“Kooser wants a poetry anyone can read without shame and understand without labor, because he thinks poetry has too long been in the hands of poets who ‘go out of their way to make their poems difficult if not downright discouraging.’ This would come as a surprise to Shakespeare and Milton, Pope and Browning, and other poets who thought poetry was for those who loved it enough to spend time educating themselves—indeed, who felt that learning to read poems was itself an education. (Folks like Kooser want to render Shakespeare or the Bible in kitchen-sink English, without a difficulty or a discouragement in sight.)”

The basic point is a reasonable one, but since he mentions the Bible – the KJV is 70-90% (depending on which bit you look at) based on the translation of William Tyndale, someone who explicitly wanted to take scripture out of the hands of the educated elite and make it accessible to all. He said he wanted it to be understood by a ‘ploughboy’. Which seems pretty close to the Kooser philosophy.

Tyndale really deserves wider recognition as one of the greatest writers English has produced, but that’s another topic.

  • Post Category:Culture

Chapter 20 of ‘Crome Yellow’

Chapter 20 of ‘Crome Yellow’ by Aldous Huxley. A book I recommend.


Ivor was gone. Lounging behind the wind-screen in his yellow sedan he was whirling across rural England. Social and amorous engagements of the most urgent character called him from hall to baronial hall, from castle to castle, from Elizabethan manor- house to Georgian mansion, over the whole expanse of the kingdom. To-day in Somerset, to-morrow in Warwickshire, on Saturday in the West riding, by Tuesday morning in Argyll — Ivor never rested. The whole summer through, from the beginning of July till the end of September, he devoted himself to his engagements; he was a martyr to them. In the autumn he went back to London for a holiday. Crome had been a little incident, an evanescent bubble on the stream of his life; it belonged already to the past. By tea-time he would be at Gobley, and there would be Zenobia’s welcoming smile. And on Thursday morning — but that was a long, long way ahead. He would think of Thursday morning when Thursday morning arrived. Meanwhile there was Gobley, meanwhile Zenobia.

In the visitor’s book at Crome Ivor had left, according to his invariable custom in these cases, a poem. He had improvised it magisterially in the ten minutes preceding his departure. Denis and Mr. Scogan strolled back together from the gates of the courtyard, whence they had bidden their last farewells; on the writing-table in the hall they found the visitor’s book, open, and Ivor’s composition scarcely dry. Mr. Scogan read it aloud:

“The magic of those immemorial kings,
Who webbed enchantment on the bowls of night,
Sleeps in the soul of all created things;
In the blue sea, th’ Acroceraunian height,
In the eyed butterfly’s auricular wings
And orgied visions of the anchorite;
In all that singing flies and flying sings,
In rain, in pain, in delicate delight.
But much more magic, much more cogent spells
Weave here their wizardries about my soul.
Crome calls me like the voice of vesperal bells,
Haunts like a ghostly-peopled necropole.
Fate tears me hence. Hard fate! since far from Crome
My soul must weep, remembering its Home.”

“Very nice and tasteful and tactful,” said Mr. Scogan, when he had finished. “I am only troubled by the butterfly’s auricular wings. You have a first-hand knowledge of the workings of a poet’s mind, Denis; perhaps you can explain.”

“What could be simpler,” said Denis. “It’s a beautiful word, and Ivor wanted to say that the wings were golden.”

“You make it luminously clear.”

“One suffers so much,” Denis went on, “from the fact that beautiful words don’t always mean what they ought to mean. Recently, for example, I had a whole poem ruined, just because the word ‘carminative’ didn’t mean what it ought to have meant. Carminative — it’s admirable, isn’t it?”

“Admirable,” Mr. Scogan agreed. “And what does it mean?”

“It’s a word I’ve treasured from my earliest infancy,” said Denis, “treasured and loved. They used to give me cinnamon when I had a cold — quite useless, but not disagreeable. One poured it drop by drop out of narrow bottles, a golden liquor, fierce and fiery. On the label was a list of its virtues, and among other things it was described as being in the highest degree carminative. I adored the word. ‘Isn’t it carminative?’ I used to say to myself when I’d taken my dose. It seemed so wonderfully to describe that sensation of internal warmth, that glow, that — what shall I call it? — physical self-satisfaction which followed the drinking of cinnamon. Later, when I discovered alcohol, ‘carminative’ described for me that similar, but nobler, more spiritual glow which wine evokes not only in the body but in the soul as well. The carminative virtues of burgundy, of rum, of old brandy, of Lacryma Christi, of Marsala, of Aleatico, of stout, of gin, of champagne, of claret, of the raw new wine of this year’s Tuscan vintage — I compared them, I classified them. Marsala is rosily, downily carminative; gin pricks and refreshes while it warms. I had a whole table of carmination values. And now” — Denis spread out his hands, palms upwards, despairingly — “now I know what carminative really means.”

“Well, what DOES it mean?” asked Mr. Scogan, a little impatiently.

“Carminative,” said Denis, lingering lovingly over the syllables, “carminative. I imagined vaguely that it had something to do with carmen-carminis, still more vaguely with caro-carnis, and its derivations, like carnival and carnation. Carminative — there was the idea of singing and the idea of flesh, rose-coloured and warm, with a suggestion of the jollities of mi-Careme and the masked holidays of Venice. Carminative — the warmth, the glow, the interior ripeness were all in the word. Instead of which…”

“Do come to the point, my dear Denis,” protested Mr. Scogan. “Do come to the point.”

“Well, I wrote a poem the other day,” said Denis; “I wrote a poem about the effects of love.”

“Others have done the same before you,” said Mr. Scogan. “There is no need to be ashamed.”

“I was putting forward the notion,” Denis went on, “that the effects of love were often similar to the effects of wine, that Eros could intoxicate as well as Bacchus. Love, for example, is essentially carminative. It gives one the sense of warmth, the glow.

‘And passion carminative as wine…’

was what I wrote. Not only was the line elegantly sonorous; it was also, I flattered myself, very aptly compendiously expressive. Everything was in the word carminative — a detailed, exact foreground, an immense, indefinite hinterland of suggestion.

‘And passion carminative as wine…’

I was not ill-pleased. And then suddenly it occurred to me that I had never actually looked up the word in a dictionary. Carminative had grown up with me from the days of the cinnamon bottle. It had always been taken for granted. Carminative: for me the word was as rich in content as some tremendous, elaborate work of art; it was a complete landscape with figures.

‘And passion carminative as wine…’

It was the first time I had ever committed the word to writing, and all at once I felt I would like lexicographical authority for it. A small English-German dictionary was all I had at hand. I turned up C, ca, car, carm. There it was: ‘Carminative: windtreibend.’ Windtreibend!” he repeated. Mr. Scogan laughed. Denis shook his head. “Ah,” he said, “for me it was no laughing matter. For me it marked the end of a chapter, the death of something young and precious. There were the years — years of childhood and innocence — when I had believed that carminative meant — well, carminative. And now, before me lies the rest of my life — a day, perhaps, ten years, half a century, when I shall know that carminative means windtreibend.

‘Plus ne suis ce que j’ai ete
Et ne le saurai jamais etre.’

It is a realisation that makes one rather melancholy.”

“Carminative,” said Mr. Scogan thoughtfully.

“Carminative,” Denis repeated, and they were silent for a time. “Words,” said Denis at last, “words — I wonder if you can realise how much I love them. You are too much preoccupied with mere things and ideas and people to understand the full beauty of words. Your mind is not a literary mind. The spectacle of Mr. Gladstone finding thirty-four rhymes to the name ‘Margot’ seems to you rather pathetic than anything else. Mallarme’s envelopes with their versified addresses leave you cold, unless they leave you pitiful; you can’t see that

‘Apte a ne point te cabrer, hue!
Poste et j’ajouterai, dia!
Si tu ne fuis onze-bis Rue
Balzac, chez cet Heredia,’

is a little miracle.”

“You’re right,” said Mr. Scogan. “I can’t.”

“You don’t feel it to be magical?”


“That’s the test for the literary mind,” said Denis; “the feeling of magic, the sense that words have power. The technical, verbal part of literature is simply a development of magic. Words are man’s first and most grandiose invention. With language he created a whole new universe; what wonder if he loved words and attributed power to them! With fitted, harmonious words the magicians summoned rabbits out of empty hats and spirits from the elements. Their descendants, the literary men, still go on with the process, morticing their verbal formulas together, and, before the power of the finished spell, trembling with delight and awe. Rabbits out of empty hats? No, their spells are more subtly powerful, for they evoke emotions out of empty minds. Formulated by their art the most insipid statements become enormously significant. For example, I proffer the constatation, ‘Black ladders lack bladders.’ A self-evident truth, one on which it would not have been worth while to insist, had I chosen to formulate it in such words as ‘Black fire-escapes have no bladders,’ or, ‘Les echelles noires manquent de vessie.’ But since I put it as I do, ‘Black ladders lack bladders,’ it becomes, for all its self-evidence, significant, unforgettable, moving. The creation by word-power of something out of nothing — what is that but magic? And, I may add, what is that but literature? Half the world’s greatest poetry is simply ‘Les echelles noires manquent de vessie,’ translated into magic significance as, ‘Black ladders lack bladders.’ And you can’t appreciate words. I’m sorry for you.”

“A mental carminative,” said Mr. Scogan reflectively. “That’s what you need.”

  • Post Category:Culture

Let James rejoice with the Skuttle-Fish

From the strange and (sometimes) beautiful Jubilate Agno by Christopher Smart. Fragment B2 to be exact.


LET PETER rejoice with the MOON FISH who keeps up the life in the waters by night.
Let Andrew rejoice with the Whale, who is array’d in beauteous blue and is a combination of bulk and activity.
Let James rejoice with the Skuttle-Fish, who foils his foe by the effusion of his ink.
Let John rejoice with Nautilus who spreads his sail and plies his oar, and the Lord is his pilot.
Let Philip rejoice with Boca, which is a fish that can speak.
Let Bartholomew rejoice with the Eel, who is pure in proportion to where he is found and how he is used.
Let Thomas rejoice with the Sword-Fish, whose aim is perpetual and strength insuperable.
Let Matthew rejoice with Uranoscopus, whose eyes are lifted up to God.
Let James the less, rejoice with the Haddock, who brought the piece of money for the Lord and Peter.
Let Jude bless with the Bream, who is of melancholy from his depth and serenity.
Let Simon rejoice with the Sprat, who is pure and innumerable.
Let Matthias rejoice with the Flying-Fish, who has a part with the birds, and is sublimity in his conceit.
Let Stephen rejoice with Remora — The Lord remove all obstacles to his glory.
Let Paul rejoice with the Scale, who is pleasant and faithful!, like God’s good ENGLISHMAN.
Let Agrippa, which is Agricola, rejoice with Elops, who is a choice fish.
Let Joseph rejoice with the Turbut, whose capture makes the poor fisher-man sing.
Let Mary rejoice with the Maid — blessed be the name of the immaculate CONCEPTION.
Let John, the Baptist, rejoice with the Salmon — blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus for infant Baptism.
Let Mark rejoice with the Mullet, who is John Dore, God be gracious to him and his family.
Let Barnabus rejoice with the Herring — God be gracious to the Lord’s fishery.
Let Cleopas rejoice with the Mackerel, who cometh in a shoal after a leader.
Let Abiud of the Lord’s line rejoice with Murex, who is good and of a precious tincture.
Let Eliakim rejoice with the Shad, who is contemned in his abundance.
Let Azor rejoice with the Flounder, who is both of the sea and of the river,
Let Sadoc rejoice with the Bleak, who playeth upon the surface in the Sun.
Let Achim rejoice with the Miller’s Thumb, who is a delicious morsel for the water fowl.
Let Eliud rejoice with Cinaedus, who is a fish yellow all over.
Let Eleazar rejoice with the Grampus, who is a pompous spouter.
Let Matthan rejoice with the Shark, who is supported by multitudes of small value.
Let Jacob rejoice with the Gold Fish, who is an eye-trap.
Let Jairus rejoice with the Silver Fish, who is bright and lively.
Let Lazarus rejoice with Torpedo, who chills the life of the assailant through his staff.
Let Mary Magdalen rejoice with the Place, whose goodness and purity are of the Lord’s making.
Let Simon the leper rejoice with the Eel-pout, who is a rarity on account of his subtlety.
Let Alpheus rejoice with the Whiting, whom God hath bless’d in multitudes, and his days are as the days of PURIM.
Let Onesimus rejoice with the Cod — blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus for a miraculous draught of men.
Let Joses rejoice with the Sturgeon, who saw his maker in the body and obtained grace.
Let Theophilus rejoice with the Folio, who hath teeth, like the teeth of a saw.
Let Bartimeus rejoice with the Quaviver — God be gracious to the eyes of him, who prayeth for the blind.
Let CHRISTOPHER, who is Simon of Cyrene, rejoice with the Rough — God be gracious to the CAM and to DAVID CAM and his seed for ever.
Let Timeus rejoice with the Ling — God keep the English Sailors clear of French bribery.
Let Salome rejoice with the Mermaid, who hath the countenance and a portion of human reason.
Let Zacharias rejoice with the Gudgeon, who improves in his growth till he is mistaken.
Let Campanus rejoice with the Lobster — God be gracious to all the CAMPBELLs especially John.
Let Martha rejoice with the Skallop — the Lord revive the exercise and excellence of the Needle.
Let Mary rejoice with the Carp — the ponds of Fairlawn and the garden bless for the master.
Let Zebedee rejoice with the Tench — God accept the good son for his parents also.
Let Joseph of Arimathea rejoice with the Barbel — a good coffin and a tomb-stone without grudging!
Let Elizabeth rejoice with the Crab — it is good, at times, to go back.
Let Simeon rejoice with the Oyster, who hath the life without locomotion.
Let Jona rejoice with the Wilk — Wilks, Wilkie, and Wilkinson bless the name of the Lord Jesus.
Let Nicodemus rejoice with the Muscle, for so he hath provided for the poor.
Let Gamaliel rejoice with the Cockle — I will rejoice in the remembrance of mercy.
Let Agabus rejoice with the Smelt — The Lord make me serviceable to the HOWARDS.
Let Rhoda rejoice with the Sea-Cat, who is pleasantry and purity.
Let Elmodam rejoice with the Chubb, who is wary of the bait and thrives in his circumspection.
Let Jorim rejoice with the Roach — God bless my throat and keep me from things stranggled.
Let Addi rejoice with the Dace — It is good to angle with meditation.
Let Luke rejoice with the Trout — Blessed be Jesus in Aa, in Dee and in Isis.
Let Cosam rejoice with the Perch, who is a little tyrant, because he is not liable to that, which he inflicts.
Let Levi rejoice with the Pike — God be merciful to all dumb creatures in respect of pain.
Let Melchi rejoice with the Char, who cheweth the cud.
Let Joanna rejoice with the Anchovy — I beheld and lo! a great multitude!
Let Neri rejoice with the Keeling Fish, who is also called the Stock Fish.
Let Janna rejoice with the Pilchard — the Lord restore the seed of Abishai.
Let Esli rejoice with the Soal, who is flat and spackles for the increase of motion.
Let Nagge rejoice with the Perriwinkle — ‘for the rain it raineth every day.’
Let Anna rejoice with the Porpus, who is a joyous fish and of good omen.
Let Phanuel rejoice with the Shrimp, which is the childrens fishery.
Let Chuza rejoice with the Sea-Bear, who is full of sagacity and prank.
Let Susanna rejoice with the Lamprey, who is an eel with a title.
Let Candace rejoice with the Craw-fish — How hath the Christian minister renowned the Queen.
Let The Eunuch rejoice with the Thorn-Back — It is good to be discovered reading the BIBLE.
Let Simon the Pharisee rejoice with the Grigg — the Lord bring up Issachar and Dan.
Let Simon the converted Sorcerer rejoice with the Dab quoth Daniel.
Let Joanna, of the Lord’s line, rejoice with the Minnow, who is multiplied against the oppressor.
Let Jonas rejoice with the Sea-Devil, who hath a good name from his Maker.
Let Alexander rejoice with the Tunny — the worse the time the better the eternity.
Let Rufus rejoice with the Needle-fish, who is very good in his element.
Let Matthat rejoice with the Trumpet-fish — God revive the blowing of the TRUMPETS.
Let Mary, the mother of James, rejoice with the Sea-Mouse — it is good to be at peace.
Let Prochorus rejoice with Epodes, who is a kind of fish with Ovid who is at peace in the Lord.
Let Timotheus rejoice with the Dolphin, who is of benevolence.
Let Nicanor rejoice with the Skeat — Blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus in fish and in the Shewbread, which ought to be continually on the altar, now more than ever, and the want of it is the Abomination of Desolation spoken of by Daniel.
Let Timon rejoice with Crusion — The Shew-Bread in the first place is gratitude to God to shew who is bread, whence it is, and that there is enough and to spare.
Let Parmenas rejoice with the Mixon — Secondly it is to prevent the last extremity, for it is lawful that rejected hunger may take it.
Let Dorcas rejoice with Dracunculus — blessed be the name of the Lord Jesus in the Grotto.
Let Tychicus rejoice with Scolopendra, who quits himself of the hook by voiding his intrails.
Let Trophimus rejoice with the Sea-Horse, who shoud have been to Tychicus the father of Yorkshiremen.
Let Tryphena rejoice with Fluta — Saturday is the Sabbath for the mouth of God hath spoken it.
Let Tryphosa rejoice with Acarne — With such preparation the Lord’s Jubile is better kept.
Let Simon the Tanner rejoice with Alausa — Five days are sufficient for the purposes of husbandry.
Let Simeon Niger rejoice with the Loach — The blacks are the seed of Cain.
Let Lucius rejoice with Corias — Some of Cain’s seed was preserved in the loins of Ham at the flood.
Let Manaen rejoice with Donax. My DEGREE is good even here, in the Lord I have a better.
Let Sergius Paulus rejoice with Dentex — Blessed be the name Jesus for my teeth.
Let Silas rejoice with the Cabot — the philosophy of the times ev’n now is vain deceit.
Let Barsabas rejoice with Cammarus — Newton is ignorant for if a man consult not the WORD how should he understand the WORK? –
Let Lydia rejoice with Attilus — Blessed be the name of him which eat the fish and honey comb.
Let Jason rejoice with Alopecias, who is subtlety without offence.
Let Dionysius rejoice with Alabes who is peculiar to the Nile.
Let Damaris rejoice with Anthias — The fountain of the Nile is known to the Eastern people who drink it.
Let Apollos rejoice with Astacus, but St Paul is the Agent for England.
Let Justus rejoice with Crispus in a Salmon-Trout — the Lord look on the soul of Richard Atwood.
Let Crispus rejoice with Leviathan — God be gracious to the soul of HOBBES, who was no atheist, but a servant of Christ, and died in the Lord — I wronged him God forgive me.
Let Aquila rejoice with Beemoth who is Enoch no fish but a stupendous creeping Thing.
Let Priscilla rejoice with Cythera. As earth increases by Beemoth so the sea likewise enlarges.
Let Tyrannus rejoice with Cephalus who hath a great head.
Let Gaius rejoice with the Water-Tortoise — Paul and Tychicus were in England with Agricola my father.
Let Aristarchus rejoice with Cynoglossus — The Lord was at Glastonbury in the body and blessed the thorn.
Let Alexander rejoice with the Sea-Urchin — The Lord was at Bristol and blessed the waters there.
Let Sopater rejoice with Elacate — The waters of Bath were blessed by St Matthias.
Let Secundus rejoice with Echeneis who is the sea-lamprey.
Let Eutychus rejoice with Cnide — Fish and honeycomb are blessed to eat after a recovery. –
Let Mnason rejoice with Vulvula a sort of fish — Good words are of God, the cant from the Devil.
Let Claudius Lysias rejoice with Coracinus who is black and peculiar to Nile.
Let Bernice rejoice with Corophium which is a kind of crab.
Let Phebe rejoice with Echinometra who is a beautiful shellfish red and green.
Let Epenetus rejoice with Erythrinus who is red with a white belly.
Let Andronicus rejoice with Esox, the Lax, a great fish of the Rhine.
Let Junia rejoice with the Faber-Fish — Broil’d fish and honeycomb may be taken for the sacrament.
Let Amplias rejoice with Garus, who is a kind of Lobster.
Let Urbane rejoice with Glanis, who is a crafty fish who bites away the bait and saves himself.
Let Stachys rejoice with Glauciscus, who is good for Women’s milk.
Let Apelles rejoice with Glaucus — behold the seed of the brave and ingenious how they are saved!
Let Aristobulus rejoice with Glycymerides who is pure and sweet.
Let Herodion rejoice with Holothuria which are prickly fishes.
Let Narcissus rejoice with Hordeia — I will magnify the Lord who multiplied the fish.
Let Persis rejoice with Liparis — I will magnify the Lord who multiplied the barley loaves.
Let Rufus rejoice with Icthyocolla of whose skin a water-glue is made.
Let Asyncritus rejoice with Labrus who is a voracious fish.
Let Phlegon rejoice with the Sea-Lizard — Bless Jesus THOMAS BOWLBY and all the seed of Reuben.
Let Hermas rejoice with Lamyrus who is of things creeping in the sea.
Let Patrobas rejoice with Lepas, all shells are precious.
Let Hermes rejoice with Lepus, who is a venomous fish.
Let Philologus rejoice with Ligarius — shells are all parries to the adversary.
Let Julia rejoice with the Sleeve-Fish — Blessed be Jesus for all the TAYLERS.
Let Nereus rejoice with the Calamary — God give success to our fleets.
Let Olympas rejoice with the Sea-Lantern, which glows upon the waters.
Let Sosipater rejoice with Cornuta. There are fish for the Sea-Night-Birds that glow at bottom.
Let Lucius rejoice with the Cackrel Fish. God be gracious to JMs FLETCHER who has my tackling.
Let Tertius rejoice with Maia which is a kind of crab.
Let Erastus rejoice with Melandry which is the largest Tunny.
Let Quartus rejoice with Mena. God be gracious to the immortal soul of poor Carte, who was barbarously and cowardly murder’d — the Lord prevent the dealers in clandestine death.
Let Sosthenes rejoice with the Winkle — all shells like the parts of the body are good kept for those parts.
Let Chloe rejoice with the Limpin — There is a way to the terrestrial Paradise upon the knees.
Let Carpus rejoice with the Frog-Fish — A man cannot die upon his knees.
Let Stephanas rejoice with Mormyra who is a fish of divers colours.
Let Fortunatus rejoice with the Burret — it is good to be born when things are crossed.
Let Lois rejoice with the Angel-Fish — There is a fish that swims in the fluid Empyrean.
Let Achaicus rejoice with the Fat-Back — The Lord invites his fishers to the WEST INDIES.
Let Sylvanus rejoice with the Black-Fish — Oliver Cromwell himself was the murderer in the Mask.
Let Titus rejoice with Mys — O Tite siquid ego adjuero curamve levasso!
Let Euodias rejoice with Myrcus — There is a perfumed fish I will offer him for a sweet savour to the Lord.
Let Syntyche rejoice with Myax — There are shells in the earth which were left by the FLOOD.
Let Clement rejoice with Ophidion — There are shells again in earth at sympathy with those in sea.
Let Epaphroditus rejoice with Opthalmias — The Lord increase the Cambridge collection of fossils.
Let Epaphras rejoice with Orphus — God be gracious to the immortal soul of Dr Woodward.
Let Justus rejoice with Pagrus — God be gracious to the immortal soul of Dr Middleton.
Let Nymphas rejoice with Fagurus — God bless Charles Mason and all Trinity College.
Let Archippus rejoice with Nerita whose shell swimmeth.
Let Eunice rejoice with Oculata who is of the Lizard kind.
Let Onesephorus rejoice with Orca, who is a great fish.
Let Eubulus rejoice with Ostrum the scarlet — God be gracious to Gordon and Groat.
Let Pudens rejoice with Polypus — The Lord restore my virgin!
Let Linus rejoice with Ozsena who is a kind of Polype — God be gracious to Lyne and Anguish.
Let Claudia rejoice with Pascer — the purest creatures minister to wantoness by unthankfulness.
Let Artemas rejoice with Pastinaca who is a fish with a sting.
Let Zenas rejoice with Pecten — The Lord obliterate the laws of man!
Let Philemon rejoice with Pelagia — The laws and judgement are impudence and blindness.
Let Apphia rejoice with Pelamis — The Lord Jesus is man’s judgement.
Let Demetrius rejoice with Peloris, who is greatest of Shell-Fishes.
Let Antipas rejoice with Pentadactylus — A papist hath no sentiment God bless CHURCHILL.

  • Post Category:Culture

again with the quietude and perfidious albion

My quoting of Blake in response to Ron Silliman’s quoting of Whitman was of course spurious. The general trend of English poetry (and culture generally) is the important thing, not a few unusual individuals; and the English are certainly often suspicious of people who are intellectually, politically or religiously enthusiastic.

I think what bugs me about it, actually, is the whole business of tying poetry to nationhood. Silliman isn’t just describing trends; he’s taking one part of the poetry written in America and claiming it as the true American Poetry, and rejecting the rest of it as being American merely by unfortunate geographical coincidence. And the idea that Frost’s poetry is not American is just – well, silly.

And since the Avant/SoQ distinction is a very broadly applicable one (as it has to be, to cover 150 years of literature), why stop there? Just as Frost is, presumably, English, I guess André Breton must be American. I’m sure he’d have been thrilled to know it.

Silliman isn’t alone in this, of course – the folks on the other side of the fence do exactly the same thing. Both sides try and fight for some kind of notional ownership of American Poetry. I’m not, btw, making the familiar argument that Americans are parochial. I just think that fighting to establish the ideological purity of a nation’s art is an activity best left to dictators. By all means, let Ron Silliman and Ted Kooser knock seven shades of shit out each other in an attempt to decide who has the better recipe for poetry, but I can’t see why either of them need to wrap themselves in the flag to do it.

  • Post Category:Culture

War of the Worlds

I went to see War of the Worlds today.

I really enjoyed it. The plot is ludicrous (but blame H G Wells for that), and Spielberg can’t resist making the ending just a shade happier than necessary, but it was genuinely grim at times – there’s a real apocalyptic feel to it. An obvious comparison would be Independence Day, where the wiping out of a large chunk of the human race is played for laughs – let’s blow up the White House! And Sydney Opera House! WotW, although it’s essentially a summer blockbuster, treats the destruction with an underlying seriousness. In fact, it occurs to me now – once the alien attacks get going, I don’t think there’s a single joke or comic moment. Which is genuinely unusual.

Lots of people have pointed out that it’s a post 9-11 movie, and there are some direct references – Cruise comes in after the intial attack covered in white dust, and we see boards covered in photos and names of missing people. But it also feels like Spielberg has drawn on the experience of making Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. It often feels, in other words, like a war movie as much as a horror movie.

Having said that – it is a movie that sets out to scare you. Spielberg still knows how to ratchet up the tension and make you jump. One thing I noticed was that the kind of threat kept changing. He uses different scenarios (a chase, a race against time, a mob scene, hiding behind the furniture to avoid the monster) so that he’s trying to scare you in different ways, and the enemy never gets overfamiliarised. The decision to keep the focus very narrowly on Cruise and his family is a good one, too. It makes the atmosphere claustrophobic and you never feel the hero has any control of the situation.

A classy piece of work, and a reminder of just how talented Spielberg is.

  • Post Category:Culture

Blake and Silliman

Silliman’s ‘School of Quietude’ idea is annoying in so many ways, but as an English, I find it particularly tiresome that he blames anglophilia for the quietudinosity. Today Ron is marking the 150th anniversary of Whitman self-publishing Leaves of Grass. Go and read what he has to say, then come back and read the rest of this.

This is from a poem which was self-published (and indeed self-printed) 201 years ago by an English poet, and named after another even earlier English poet. It is of course Milton a Poem by William Blake:

Timbrels & violins sport round the Wine-presses; the little Seed;
The sportive Root. the Earth-worm, the gold Beetle: the wise Emmet;
Dance round the Wine-presses of Luvah: the Centipede is there:
The ground Spider with many eyes: the Mole clothed in velvet
The ambitious Spider in his sullen web; the lucky golden Spinner;
The Earwig armd: the tender Maggot emblem of immortality:
The Flea: Louse: Bug: the Tape-Worm: all the Armies of Disease:
Visible or invisible to the slothful vegetating Man.
The slow Slug: the Grasshopper that sings & laughs & drinks:
Winter comes, he folds his slender bones without a murmur.
The cruel Scorpion is there: the Gnat: Wasp: Hornet & the Honey Bee:
The Toad & venomous Newt; the Serpent clothd in gems & gold:
They throw off their gorgeous raiment: they rejoice with loud jubilee
Around the Wine-presses of Luvah. naked & drunk with wine.

There is the Nettle that stings with soft down; and there
The indignant Thistle: whose bitterness is bred in his milk:
Who feeds on contempt of his neighbour: there all the idle Weeds
That creep around the obscure places, shew their various limbs.
Naked in all their beauty dancing–round the Wine-presses.

But in the Wine-presses the Human grapes sing not, nor dance
They howl & writhe in shoals of torment; in fierce flames consuming,
In chains of iron & in dungeons circled with ceaseless fires.
In pits & dens & shades of death: in shapes of torment & woe.
The plates & screws & wracks & saws & cords & fires & cisterns
The cruel joys of Luvahs Daughters lacerating with knives
And whips their Victims & the deadly sport of Luvahs Sons.

The late poems of Blake are not, of course, typical of English poetry in the C19th. But then Leaves of Grass isn’t typical of C19th American poetry either. Another C19th English poem can be found here. That one’s not typical either.

  • Post Category:Culture

Live 8

Hurrah for Annie Lennox! Boo for Mariah Carey!

  • Post Category:Culture