Monday, March 18, 2013

Where are those splendid horses?

Autobiography of Giuseppe Garibaldi, tr. A. Werner (London: Walter Smith and Innes, 1889) pp 31-32.
Who can conceive the feelings awakened in the heart of a buccaneer of twenty-five by his first sight of that untamed nature?  To-day--December 20, 1871--bending with stiffened limbs over the fire, I recall with emotion those scenes of the past, when life seemed to smile on me, in the presence of the most magnificent spectacle I ever beheld.  I for my part am old and worn.  Where are those splendid horses?  Where are the bulls, the antelopes, the ostriches, which beautified and enlivened those pleasant hills?  Their descendants, no doubt, still roam over those fertile pastures, and will do so, till steam and iron come to increase the riches of the soil, but destroy those marvelous scenes of nature.
 Related Posts: Shocking Ugliness, Stupid Hurry, and Slavish Uniformity,  All My Ghosts

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Credulity, Part One

Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum, tr. William Weaver (Harcourt, 1989), p. 49:

I believe that what we become depends on what our fathers teach us at odd moments, when they aren't trying to teach us.  We are formed by little scraps of wisdom.  When I was ten, I asked my parents to subscribe to a weekly magazine that was publishing comic-strip versions of the great classics of literature.  My father, not because he was stingy, but because he was suspicious of comic strips, tried to beg off.  "The purpose of this magazine," I pontificated, quoting the ad, "is to educate the reader in an entertaining way."  "The purpose of your magazine," my father replied without looking up from his paper, "is the purpose of every magazine: to sell as many copies as it can."
That day, I began to be incredulous.
Or, rather, I regretted having been credulous.  I regretted having allowed myself to be borne away by a passion of the mind.  Such is credulity.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

All My Ghosts

A few years ago I read a poem on the blog Laudator Temporis Acti.  The poem is by August von Platen, with a translation by one Eric Sams.  Hardly a day passes for me without a thought of its lines.
Der Strom, der neben mir verrauschte, wo ist er nun?
Der Vogel, dessen Lied ich lauschte, wo ist er nun?
Wo ist die Rose, die die Freundin am Herzen trug?
Und jener Kuß, der mich berauschte, wo ist er nun?
Und jener Mensch, der ich gewesen, und den ich längst
Mit einem andern Ich vertauschte, wo ist er nun?
The river whose sound faded past me, where is it now?
The bird whose song I listened to, where is it now? 
Where is the rose that my love wore at her breast, 
And that kiss which enraptured me, where is it now? 
And that man I once was and whom I long ago 
Exchanged for another self, where is he now?
Borges tells us that 'poetry is the encounter of the reader with the book, the discovery of the book.'  In such an encounter we might glimpse our own reflection, and perhaps in our mind's eye we gaze wistfully upon some half-vanished memory or some unfulfilled intention.  And with this pang of recognition stalk the ghosts of all the men we could have been had we only chosen to be them.
But then, all our lives we postpone everything that can be postponed; perhaps we all have the certainty, deep inside, that we are immortal and that sooner or later every man will do everything, know all there is to know.  (Jorge Luis Borges, Funes, His Memory, tr. Andrew Hurley)