Ithaka

by

C.P. Cavafy.

As you set out for Ithaka,

hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery.

angry Poseidon — don’t be afraid of them:

you never find things like that on your way

as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,

as long as a rare excitement

stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops,

wild Poseidon — you won’t encounter them

unless you bring them along inside your soul,

unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when —

with what pleasure, what joy —

you enter harbors you’re seeing for the first time;

may you stop at Phoenician trading stations

to buy fine things,

mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,

sensual perfume of every kind,

as many sensual perfumes as you can;

and may you visit many Egyptian cities

to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

But don’t hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years

so you’re old by the time you reach the island,

wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,

not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,

you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

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Passing the Turing Test

In my lifelong effort to pass the Turing test I have developed a few techniques. I often great strangers with ‘What do you think?’ It is a subtle compliment. How many people’s thoughts are actually worth hearing? It is an invitation to a conversation more interesting than the weather.

It is, however, generally a failure. The most common response is ‘I don’t think?’ or ‘They don’t pay me to think.’ This demands a reply. ‘No one pays you for the best things in life.’ is too clumsy. After a bit of work I settled on a reply.

When I am told ‘I never think.’ I widen my eyes and say in as impressed voice as I can muster: ‘Are you a Senator?’

I stand mute

P1000340Piano

D.H. Lawrence

Softly, in the dusk, a woman is singing to me;
Taking me back down the vista of years, till I see
A child sitting under the piano, in the boom of the tingling strings
And pressing the small, poised feet of a mother who smiles as she sings.
In spite of myself, the insidious mastery of song
Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
And hymns in the cosy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.
So now it is vain for the singer to burst into clamour
With the great black piano appassionato. The glamour
Of childish days is upon me, my manhood is cast
Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past.

Fire, Fleet, & Candlelight

The Lyke Wake Dirge

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.

When thou from hence away art past,
Every nighte and alle,
To Whinny-muir thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gavest hosen and shoon,
Every nighte and alle,
Sit thee down and put them on;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If hosen and shoon thou ne’er gav’st nane
Every nighte and alle,
The whinnes sall prick thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.

From Whinny-muir whence thou may’st pass,
Every nighte and alle,
To Brig o’ Dread thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gav’st silver and gold,
Every nighte and alle,
At t’ Brig o’ Dread thou’lt find foothold,
And Christe receive thy saule.

But if silver and gold thou never gav’st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
Down thou tumblest to Hell flame,
And Christe receive thy saule.

From Brig o’ Dread whence thou may’st pass,

Every nighte and alle,
To Purgatory fire thou com’st at last;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If ever thou gav’st meat or drink,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire sall never make thee shrink;
And Christe receive thy saule.

If meat or drink thou ne’er gav’st nane,
Every nighte and alle,
The fire will burn thee to the bare bane;
And Christe receive thy saule.

This ae nighte, this ae nighte,
Every nighte and alle,
Fire and fleet and candle-lighte,
And Christe receive thy saule.


I have been busy with my own family problems for a few months. Yesterday Jerry Pournelle died. He was a wise, irascible man and a talented writer.  His departure bereaves me in ways I do not wish to express.

 

May We Resurrect a Literary Genre

 

In ‘Downton Abbey’ there was a reference to the White Feather Girls. That was a famous hypocrisy. Lovely young girls would go up to men out of uniform and offer a symbol of cowardice. There was no quick, cogent response to these idiots. One fellow was hounded as a poltroon because he was out of uniform and obviously prime military material. He was. He was in formal dress on the way to the Queen to receive an award for valor in battle. Against such humorless passion there is little one can do. I humbly suggest the formal curse.

To a white feather lady I would say, ‘May you get your desire. May we join a war in which we have no national interest. May we lose a generation of young men for no purpose. We will pour our sons’ blood like water upon the sand. You and your generation of women will grow old with no men or offspring. May the loss of all credibility in the leaders you choose to enter this war cause the collapse of an entire culture and the Renaissance Civilization and a century of political chaos.’

This is a sort of judo based on assuming the success of their desires. If I fight one in the grip of passions I inspire not thought but a redoubling of his argument. If I support his passion, then he must try to decide how to fulfill his passion.

To an Arab who desires the whole world to submit to the Dar al Islam I say, ‘May your conquest of Europe go as well as your conquest of Persia. The chronic dyspepsia of Persia has split Islam in twain and caused a millennium of civil war. May you conquer the most advanced and heretical area of the world, and then try to control it when it is a full fledged islamic state. May you enjoy trying to impose the burka on the French and the Germans.’

May you clean your history of Confederate generals, and all other triggering thoughts. May the memory of Robert E. Lee and the terrible war in which he fought vanish from an Orwellian history. May all the painful lessons we have learned pass from mind so we may be forced to learn them again. May we be unaware that, even in the darkest hours, gallantry and nobility may shine from the least likely places and causes, and that we once learned to heal, and to grow, and to overcome, and to progress to greater things.’

New Sorts of Comedy

We recently had a special election here in Montana, and I learned a new joke. I was talking to an acquaintance who is an arrogant and evangelical atheist. The preliminary results of the election came on.

Turn it off. It will jinx it!’

What does this evangelical atheist fear? Will the god he denies listen to him and punish him. If one believes not in the supernatural, then what will jinx him? An atheist either believes in the cold equations and hard statistics, or he is worshiping a god that is strange to him.

What is as funny as a superstitious atheist? Oh, and he buys lottery tickets.

I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” But don’t mess with my luck!

Well I was parked next to a Subaru. It was a PZEV. A Partial Zero Emission Vehicle. Does anyone even listen to what they say?

I have a Chinese friend. She is Buddhist, but was married to an American Christian. She is a lovely woman, but her English is still atrocious. Much of her English she learned from her late husband. It always cracks me up when a frustrated Buddhist shouts out ‘Jesus Christ!’

– – – –

I apologize for the lack of posts. My family has been going through some medical travails.

The recent election in Montana has made at least national news. It is not the sort of thing about which I post, but if anyone is actually interested, just leave a question.

There Is Yet A World Beyond Our Petty Concerns

The World is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us: late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste to our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;

The Winds that will be howling at all hours,

And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;

For this, for everything, we are out of tune;

It moves us not. – Great God! I’d rather be

A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;

So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,

Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;

Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;

Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

– William Wordsworth [1770-1850]