February 2009


And the lost heart stiffens and rejoices
In the lost lilac and the lost sea voices
And the weak spirit quickens to rebel
For the bent golden-rod and the lost sea smell
Quickens to recover
The cry of quail and the whirling plover
And the blind eye creates
The empty forms between the ivory gates
And smell renews the salt savour of the sandy earth

And God said
Prophesy to the wind, to the wind only for only
The wind will listen.

…from Ash Wednesday
–T.S. Eliot

Advertisements

The righteous smile pleasantly;
and give a sincere and friendly greeting.
It’s a warm and peaceful feeling
to know you have forgiven.

Sinners
run to embrace you
with tears in their eyes:
tears of joy and gratitude,
that you have accepted their forgiveness,
as if it was you forgiving them.

Incidentally,
although God is righteous:
this is how He forgives.

‘oud player, Anouar Brahem.

I only have one album: “Le pas du chat noir”, but I like it very much. If I wasn’t broke, I would buy all his albums!

I used to hear it at Fassih’s place, very often: every time, I would say: “Wow! this is great! What is it?”

Always it was the same. I never remembered: he would laugh…

A very beautiful blend of Arabic and Jazz music, with a sublime ‘French café’ flavour (coloured in particular by some very charming and unusual accordion playing): very peaceful and spiritual. There are several available to buy (or listen to a sample) on iTunes.

Most people drown in coastal waters
within sight of familiar land.

Out in the wild ocean:
you swim, you fight, you hold on;
you find you have the resources
and maybe
you live.

So close to safety:
with lunch and beach towels almost within reach;
with a surprised look,
and an upraised hand
you descend
with hardly a struggle.

Of things unseen how canst thou deem aright,
Then answered the righteous Artegall,
Sith thou misdeem’st so much of things in sight?
What though the sea with waves continual
Do eat the earth, it is no more at all:
Nor is the earth the less, or loseth ought,
For whatsoever from one place doth fall,
Is with the tide unto another brought:
For there is nothing lost, that may be found, if sought.

Edmund Spenser
“The Faerie Queene”

“The arrows fit exactly into the wounds they have made.”
– Franz Kafka

TO A MOUSE,

–Robert Burns

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

pronounced:
Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, teem’rous beestie,
oo, whah ‘ a pahnic’s in thy breestie!
Thou need nah start awah sae heesty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chahse thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!
Modern English:
Small, sneaky, trembling, frightened animal
Oh what panic’s in your breast (ie. heart)
You don’t need to run away so quickly
With such noises (bicker and brattle are Scots words for particular noises)
I would be loath to (would hate to) run and chase you
With murdering spade

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

pronounced:
I’m trooly sawrry man’s dominyin
Has brawken nature’s social yunyin,
An’ justifies that ill opinyin,
Which makes thee stahtle
At me, thy puur earth-born compahnion,
An’ fellow-mahtal!
Modern English:
I’m truly sorry man’s dominion (human society)
Has broken nature’s social union, (i.e. Man should live at peace with nature)
And justifies that ill opinion, (ill opinion: bad opinion)
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal! (mortal: who will die, as opposed to ‘immortal’)

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
And never miss’t!

pronounced:
I doot nah, whyles, but thou may theeve;
Whah then? puur beestie, thou maun leeve!
A daimen icker in a thrave
’S a smah requeest:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
And never meess’t!
Modern English:
I doubt not (ie. “I don’t doubt”), sometimes, but you may thieve (steal)
What then? Poor animal, you must live!
A rare ear (of wheat) in a thrave (24 sheaves (bundles))
Is a small request
I’ll get a blessing with what’s left
And never miss it

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin;
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin’!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’,
Baith snell and keen!

pronounced:
Thah wee bit hoosie, too, in roo‘in;
Its silly wah’s the win’s are stroo‘in’!
An’ naething, noo, to big a noo ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’,
Bahth snell and keen!
Modern English:
Your little house, too, in ruin
Its flimsy walls the winds are strewing (throwing about)
And nothing now to build a new one
Of green winter grass
And bleak December winds ensuing (coming soon)
Both severe and sharp!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
‘Till, crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

pronounced:
Thou sah the feelds laid bah an’ wahste,
An’ weery winter comin’ fahst,
An’ cawzie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
‘Till, crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.
Modern English:
You saw the fields bare and empty
And weary Winter coming fast
Cozy (warm and comfortable) here beneath the blast (blasting winds)
You thought to dwell (to live)
‘Till crash the cruel plough-blade passed
Out through your cell (ie. small room, eg a Monk’s cell)

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

pronounced:
That wee bit heep o’ leeves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mawny a weery nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for ah‘ thy tribble,
But hoose or hahld,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cawld!
Modern English:
That little pile of leaves and stubble
Has cost you many a weary nibble (nibble: to chew)
Now you’re turned out, for all your trouble (effort and hard work)
Without house or home
To endure the winter’s sleety rain (sleet: icy rain, ie. rain and hail)
And cold hoarfrost (frozen rain or dew)

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
For promis’d joy.

pronounced:
But, Moosie, thou art naw thy leyn,
In provin’ foresight may be veyn:
The best laid schemes o’ mees an’ meen,
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but greef and peyn,
For promis’d joy.
Modern English:
But little Mouse, you are not alone
In proving foresight may be vain (vain: useless, without effect)
The best prepared plans of mice and men
Often go awry (awry: wrong direction, or all wrong)
And leave us nothing but grief and pain
For promised joy.

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear.

pronounced:
Still thou art bleyst, compar’d wi’ me!
The present awnly toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my ee,
On prospects drear!
An’ faward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ feer.
Modern English:
Still you are blessed, compared with me
The present (time) only affects you:
But, Oh, I backward cast my eye (look back into the past)
On prospects drear (sad things that have happened)
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess, and fear.

Here’s the whole poem, without notes:

TO A MOUSE, Robert Burns

ON TURNING HER UP IN HER NEST WITH THE PLOUGH,
NOVEMBER, 1785.

[This beautiful poem was imagined while the poet was holding the plough, on the farm of Mossgiel: the field is still pointed out: and a man called Blane is still living, who says he was gaudsman (leading the plough animals) to the bard at the time, and chased the mouse with the plough-pettle, for which he was rebuked by his young master, who inquired what harm the poor mouse had done him. In the night that followed, Burns awoke his gaudsman, who was in the same bed with him, recited the poem as it now stands, and said, “What think you of our mouse now?”]

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin’, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
’S a sma’ request:
I’ll get a blessin’ wi’ the lave,
And never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin;
Its silly wa’s the win’s are strewin’!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin’,
Baith snell and keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin’ fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
‘Till, crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men,
Gang aft a-gley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain,
For promis’d joy.

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e,
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear.


This poem is written in Scots. Scots was once a language of its own — the language of the other Anglo-Saxon nation, Scotland: there used to be two Anglo-Saxon languages, just as there are now multiple but closely-related Scandinavian languages. When Scotland was united with England, Scots was, in a sense, ‘adopted’ as an English dialect.

Robert Burns (’the Bard’ as the Scottish call him), wrote such beautiful poetry and songs, that he is almost single-handedly responsible for the survival of Scots, because, although the Scottish now speak English (with Scottish idioms and accent) the Scots language survives very strongly even as far away as New Zealand.

Scots is very musical language. Like Italian, there is a small set of vowel sounds that are used very frequently, giving a charming sing-song effect to spoken Scots.

ee — a long ee, as in free

oo — as in Winnie-the-Pooh

ah — as in after, but drawn out.

aw — as in tall, but more drawn-out.

uu — a sound in between pure and hoop.

ey — as in enter, but drawn out and exaggerated.

Finally, of course, there the famous Scottish ‘rolled R’. It takes a lot of practice!

The effect of these vowels is enchanting. The famous line: “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley,” becomes:

The best-laid scheems of mees and meen
Gang aft a-gley.

and:

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!

is pronounced:

I doot nah, whyles, but thou may theeve;
Whah then? puur beestie, thou maun leeve!

The effect, when spoken well, is magical and moving.

Burns, like William Blake, is one of the great figures in English Romanticism. This poem is a wonderful example of the Romantic spirit: he feels pity and love for the small and weak: the mouse. (“tim’rous beestie”). Like a child, he identifies himself with the animal; like a philosopher, he recognises the weakness and frailty of all life in the face of the uncertainty of the Cosmos.

NB. ‘Beastie’ is an affectionate ‘diminutive’ of beast (animal) — like ‘dog’ and ‘doggy’ – but in Scots, diminutives like this are not considered infantile or childish.

Next Page »