On Translating Dante

             .....e nos podrèm entendre 
            Facilament, qu'es mon parlar roman 
            Parier coma lo tieu, e de comprendre 
            Ton òc ò lo francés amé mon sì 
            Non es esfòrç que non pòsqui entreprendre
            — Voice of Dante in Renat Toscano's Lo Grand Viatge,  

    I have read Dante, off and on, for about ten years. I have often thought about translating the Commedia. But the Commedia is so overtranslated, unlike certain other works which English-speakers don't even know about. Hell there are whole literatures (like this one, or this one or this one) whose existence is generally unknown. Why bother with Dante the Overtranslated, when I could be translating things that English-speakers can't already read?

   Turns out the answer is: to see what I can do with it.

   You'd think I'd go for the Inferno. But, seriously, everybody does the Inferno. It is the easiest of the three books, and also the weakest, though the first three cantos are great. I'd go so far as to say that nearly half of the Inferno is basically a virtuosic waste of the reader's time and of Dante's talent.

    So, there I was, nel mezzo del camin della mia giornata, trying to take my mind off of things I had to do. For spits and tickles, I sat down and tried my hand at the opening of the Purgatorio. Then I found myself translating more. Before I realized it, mi ritrovai per un viluppo. I had translated half the damn canto, while formulating ideas about how to translate the Commedia. Cercai una maglia rotta nella rette, e balzai fuori! Onward to canto's end. Eventually I did more, and did another of the Paradiso, and succumbed to the temptation to try my hand at Canto I of the Inferno. I also have incomplete draft translations of three cantos from the Paradiso in my files. Colpa è di chi m'ha destinato al foco. 

Lasso! Avviene elli a persona? 

    The answer is yes. The Commedia has been translated into English a ton. A metric fuckton, in fact. Sometimes even a metrical fuckton. There are at least 60 different English translations of it to my knowledge, and that is just the complete translations of all three books. Those who have produced complete English translations of at least one of the books (most often the Inferno) number well over a hundred. Those who have translated a complete canto into English may be impossible to count, numerosi come le arene del mare.

    In fact, the Commedia has been translated more into English than into any other language. I am not quite sure why this is. But part of it probably has to do with the fact that English-speaking Protestants and Anglicans were late in warming up to Dante's blend of classical mythology and Catholic theology. The Inferno was thus much more brand spanking new.

    Another reason I think is that the Commedia is in some respects harder to translate into English than some other languages. The terza rima, which was by no means always easy for Dante to square off in Italian, doesn't come easily to English translators. Most English pentameter is moreover blank verse, in which Dante's habit of end-stopping can feel clunky.

    Getting down to brass tacks, what would I bring to this frankly overcrowded and sometimes overrated table?

    Dante used the techniques of versification he inherited, including scrambled syntax and deletion of word-final vowels (a tactic probably adopted by imitation of Occitan verse where post-tonic vowels are much rarer.) His prosody can also be "rude" by later standards, and he sometimes plays loose with linesHe is not always polished or refined in the manner of a Petrarch. When the occasion calls for it, he is just as capable of delivering a versified Italian version of the Lord's Prayer as he is of using words like merda "shit" (Inf. XVIII) and culo "arse" (Inf. XXI). Before he was condemned to eternal worship in the deepest circle of the Italian canon, his style was considered borderline barbarous by some later poets, not least because he veered between "high" and "low" at will. The translator should feel free to follow Dante in this.

   A reputation as a pioneer of unaffected and plainspoken vernacularity has been pasted onto Dante like a feelgood bumper sticker slapped onto the ass of an embalmed corpse. To be sure, it makes him an appealing figure in an era when poetry (especially English-language poetry) is subjected to much corporal punishment if it tries to put on airs.
   This reputation would have likely struck Dante himself as bizarre and maybe a little insulting. Especially when applied to the Commedia, where the language gets progressively odder as you go along. The notion that he was "revolutionary in writing in the contemporary vernacular" has repeatedly been seized on in ways that make people strive for contemporaneity and readability and plainspokenness every which way. But he was not at all unusual in using the vernacular for high poetry. He was unusual in treating a classically-informed theological epic in it. Few others in his day would have dared have Virgil speak in lyric vernacular as a fictional character.

   He also did unusual things not just with the vernacular, but to it.

   While the Commedia uses lots of paired down, colloquial language and (in the Inferno) occasionally obscenity, it is far from being the "natural" language of anybody's speech, even at the level of vocabulary.
   In some parts, particularly the Paradiso, Dante seems to be straining to make the language unhuman. He coins a great many words (somewhere between two and five hundred, depending on how you count) of which a number caught on and survive today. When an Italian reads the Commedia today, they may not notice all the neologisms, because they have since been adopted into normative Italian. A great example is the verb inurbarsi "to enter a city, to get citied" coined in the Purgatorio, which took on a life of its own in Italian and today has developed the semantically extended sense of "to become refined, to lose one's rustic manners." Other famous Dantean coinages  include trasumanare "to go beyond the human, to transhumanate" and contrapasso "an ironic punishment which fits the sin, a counterpass, a contrapoise" (or as I would translate it: a splayback.)  The Commedia contains many even odder coinages like inluiarsi "to go into him, to be inhimmed" and intuarsi "to go into you, to inyouate, to be inyoued." The mountain of Purgatory "dis-lakes itself" (si dislaga) and "dis-evils" (dismala) those who climb it. Pasiphae, when she climbs into the mock-cow in a fit of godwrought lust, sins by "embeasting herself" (imbestiarsi). In Hell, Virgil refuses to "pulchrify" (appulcrare) beggars, and a simoniac pope speaks of another who goes "simonizing" (simoneggiare). There are even greek-inspired neologisms such as teodia (theody) from "theos" (god) apparently patterned off of salmodia (psalmody.) The proportion of neologisms in the Paradiso is at least twice that of the other two books. As Dante slowly enheavens himself, language itself grows unworlded to express hereafterthoughts.
   Dante also uses existing words in esoteric or otherwise odd ways (e.g. in Purg. XXVI where "mortale" is used as a noun to refer to the mortal fleshly part of the self).

   With Dante, it seems to me an English translator should be willing to avail themself not only of all the English that exists, but also of some English that doesn't exist.

   Aut inveniam viam aut faciam.

   Many of Dante's lines are contorted in a way that would not disgrace even the most recherché of Elizabethan sonneteers. There are even some lines (e.g. "Farotti ben di me volere scemo") where the syntax is so scrambled and elliptical that commentators are still in disagreement as to how to parse them even if the general meaning is clear.
   The distortions of syntax in which a medieval Italian, Spanish or French poet will freely indulge, but which are forbidden to the English translator, are rather on par with the kind found in Milton's Paradise Lost. For example:

...So Satan spake, and him Beelzebub
Thus answer'd. Leader of those Armies bright,
Which but th' Onmipotent none could have foiled....

A milder form may be found in Jennifer Lawrence's lines from "Doubt Not" written in the 1920s:

...That I would never leave a barren plain 
The forest dewed with what we know as love
Was true when true it was. I say again
I love thee, and I will be on the move
And afterward from out my bullseyed heart
Pluck out boy Cupid's most innocuous dart. 

   Milton didn't actually talk like this anymore than you do. We accept this kind of thing in Milton, because circles of literary arbitration are forever populated by souls too cultured, or just too cowardly, to suggest that such a great poet's work is vitiated by mere syntactic scrambling. Likewise, we have been trained — through the repeated thought-terminating injunctions of experto crede that often prevail in matters of artistic taste — to remember that it is "unnatural" when we are faced with anything written after WWII. De gustibus non est...ah booshit. The incoherence of such an aesthetic is obvious from the unfavorable reaction a polished Elizabethan sonnet will earn from the reader if you tell them it was written last week, and from the favorable reaction you can earn by writing in Elizabethan English so long as you credit your work to some obscure contemporary of Shakespeare.
   The same goes mutatis mutandis for other elements of the traditional English poetic register which  are so out of favor with present audiences that their use would hinder more than help any translator whom the reader knows to be operating in the here and now, such as the thou/you distinction,  contractions like 'neath, e'er, o'erta'en, 'twas, lexical items such as twain and inflections such as third person -eth. While 'twas, 'tis and twain were actually part of living English until some time in the 1700s, even Shakespeare probably didn't actually use the pronoun thou unless he was versifying or praying (though it does survive, increasingly vestigially, in some non-standard varieties of English. Listen to I Predict A Riot by the Yorkshire band Kaiser Chiefs, and you'll hear it used quite naturally in the second line, rhymed as it happens with a very colloquial British word.) What's more, forms such as ta'en have hardly ever been a part of anybody's real speech anymore than Miltonic syntax. Like the Occcitanoid apocope of cammin, correr, mar in Dante's lyric Italian (instead of the cammino, correre, mare which he would have used in probably all but the most rapid of speech) they came into existence mainly as an aid to poets. Today they are eschewed as poeticizing artificiality by people who do an impressive job of convincing themselves that they are something other than that in Milton.
   The contemporary prejudice of the reader on this point cannot be ignored. The reader cannot be expected to know better (anymore than could the critics who once fulminated against Whitman for not using rhyme and meter.) The 20th century, which plenished the Anglophone poet so many useful and sorely needed new tools, has for better and for worse smeared this particular implement with pathogenic shit. (Yet each man kills the thing he loves...) Today, as with any other superstition when it is widely shared, one must humor people on this, at least to some extent. Despite my instinct to use "all of the English that exists" this particular part of the language would cause more problems than it could possibly solve. So while I have allowed myself free rein (and sometimes even free reign) with neologisms, particularly when it comes to concepts relating to the afterlife, I decided to make very sparing and light use of syntactic scrambling in translating Dante (just as in translating other medieval Romance poetry), and have allowed myself no recourse to the traditional poetic register except in those few cases where it seemed outright moronic not to do so. You're welcome.

   Another point of order for me as an English translator of Dante is to respect the terza rima and do it in a way that adds to the poem rather than subtracting from it. When it comes to translating Dante, there is a long, labored and ludicrous tradition of insisting that terza rima is impossible (or prohibitively difficult) to pull off in English. One finds the same excuse offered up by English translators of other rhyming poets, even when translating French rhymed couplets, where — as Pope or Dryden will show — this is actually pretty easy to do in English. Even when English verse is translated into Italian, rhymes are very often not duplicated. The real reason is that the translator just doesn't want to bother with rhyme. I think sometimes the the translator has little experience writing rhymed verse of their own in English, and therefore is incapable of doing it in translation. Poets who are able to write in rhymed metrical verse in English, such as Richard Wilbur, John Ciardi, Dick Davis and William Jay Smith are quite able and often eager to do so when they translate. (Though notably, Eugenio Montale in translating English verse into Italian often doesn't bother with it.) An honest and respectable position would be "it's hard for me to do, and I have other priorities in what I want to bring out to the reader." But it is simply a face-saving move for the translator to tell their readers and themself that "English just doesn't allow" a certain practice, rather than admit to a personal inability.

As to terza rima, witness the opening of Shelley's famous poem:

    O wild West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being, 
    Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead 
    Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing, 
    Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red, 
    Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou, 
    Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed 
    The winged seeds, where they lie cold and low, 
    Each like a corpse within its grave, until 
    Thine azure sister of the Spring shall blow 
    Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill 
    (Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air) 
    With living hues and odours plain and hill....

    The idea that English is uniquely rhyme-poor is true only in the sense that it has fewer rhymes which would satisfy Italian or French (or Chinese or Persian) definitions of "true" rhyme. It is true that Italian contains many more rhyming words than English, but this simply means that repeated rhymes may be more acceptable in English than for Dante's Italian. English inflectional morphemes very rarely can produce rhymes the way they can in Italian or Russian. In English such morphemes don't carry stress, and so inflectional rhymes are possible only when secondary stress falls on -ing or -es (e.g. rhymes like Dante's intrai/abandonai/trovai where the rhyme depends on identical verb inflection would be on par with entering/abandoning/harrowing.) Still, even traditional poetic English permits itself various approximate rhymes (like Shelley's thou/low/blow above which didn't rhyme in his pronunciation anymore than they do in yours.)
    Nobody who has so much as glanced at Spenser's Faerie Queene or Byron's Don Juan can be forgiven for maintaining the idea that English doesn't have the rhymestock to handle terza rima in a long epic. In these works, the stanza requires either three or four lines to have the same rhyme sound.

    One of the problems with replicating Dantean terza rima has not to do with the difficulty of finding rhymes, but with the way English speakers react to them. Dante often uses "stunt rhymes" which call attention to themselves by their sheer ingenuity. In English, this kind of thing is traditionally restricted to comic verse as in William Cole's

On my boat on lake Cayuga
I have a horn that goes Ay-ooogah...


The once was a Bishop of Birmingham
Who rogered young boys while confirming 'em.
To comply with his wont
They'd bend over the font
As he pumped his episcopal sperm in 'em.

   Dante on the other hand uses stunt rhymes as a virtuosic display. Many of his neologisms are rhyme-words confected for that purpose. I see no reason not to follow Dante, and break with English tradition, on this. Readers who can't handle e.g. Gomorrah rhyming with bore her and the neologism Phantasmagora are advised to look elsewhere.
   In the Commedia, Dante also often uses Latinate forms, or words that in his own day were quite archaic, in order to supply the rhyme. He may use a word like schife at line-end in ways that make it unclear whether he means the verb schifare "loathe, abhore" or simply a rhyme-wrenched form of schivare "to flee."

   The anonymous author of one of the earliest surviving commentaries on the Commedia, one of the very few commentators who seem to have known Dante personally, relates:
Io scrittore udii dire a Dante, che mai rima nol trasse a dire altro che quello ch'avea in suo proponimento; ma ch'elli molte e spesse volte facea li vocaboli dire nelle sue rime altro che quello, ch'erano appo gli altri dicitori usati di sprimere
(I heard Dante say that the need to find a rhyme never forced him to say anything other than what he had intended to say, but that he often made the words in rhyme position say different things than what other poets used them to express.)   
    If sufficient occasional latitude is allowed with rhyme, and if the translator is willing to make the kind of effort which Dante deserves in any case, terza rima is quite doable. If Dante occasionally reached a bit in Italian for rhymes, why shouldn't English reach more often and farther?

    Once in a long while, Dante allows himself glaringly imperfect rhymes, some by "Sicilian" precedent and some by sheer license, which later generations found unacceptable. In the Commedia, -olto rhymes with -orto-esse with -isse, -omo with -umo etc. Dante's versification also generally allows for imperfect rhymes between open and closed o and e, rhyming e.g. cuore [kwɔ:re] with amore [amo:re] and questa [kwe:sta] with testa [tɛ:sta]. It is rather like allowing rhymes between English bate/met or coat/thought. This property of Italian poetry is masked by the writing system which doesn't distinguish between such vowels on the page, and I suspect that part of the illusion of Italian rhymes always being perfect (like the illusion that Italian orthography is perfectly phonemic or phonetic) is because many non-Italians consume the language more in written than in spoken form.

    I use imperfect rhymes of various types — orders of magnitude more than Dante did — and make no bones about it. I use rhymes drawn from different dialects of English. I also play loose with English versification. Unbending iambs are neither necessary nor desirable in a poem like this in modern English for a modern audience. The regularity of rhyme allows for a little loosening of the pentameter anyway. I take the iambic pulse as a base, but the only strict requirement is that each line have five identifiable beats.

Thou Shalt Have No Other Gosh

"In monotheism the sacred is concentrated in one omnipotent and omniscient entity, whereas in polytheism it is diffused over a wide range of beings, places, objects, practices and human personnel. In reality there is both some seepage in most monotheisms, with saints and shrines and the like tending to proliferate, and some telescoping on the part of many polytheisms, with one god often being preferred above others. But the difference between the two is real and substantial. Firstly, in pre-modern societies that had not secularised public life and relegated religion to the private domain, monotheism is by nature intolerant and intransigent. For there to be only one true God all the rest must be impotent frauds, and those who worship them are not just in error, but damned, and should be fought or at the very least shunned. If you believe in many gods, however, there is no reason to be hostile to gods not your own, nor any bar to paying them and their faithful your respects. ‘When you enter a village, swear by its god’, as the old Arabian proverb goes. Secondly, the words of a unique omnipotent God must needs be the absolute Truth, in the light of which its recipients should therefore regulate their lives and interpret their world. Polytheism, on the other hand, is neither so unitary nor so coherent. It is rather a variegated worldview, one capable of eliciting a rich and subtle range of meanings from a multi-faceted reality, one desirous of understanding and influencing the many and varied ways the natural world impinges upon us."
-From "Arabia and the Arabs" by Robert G. Hoyland, p. 139

De Natura Peiorum

Christians have historically had one literary disadvantage against Roman Polytheists. To be a Christian — a good one anyway — it has until recently been broadly held that one must believe at least certain parts of Christian mythology to be true. (Not all Christians do or ever have, to be sure.) Greek and Roman polytheists of the 1st centuries BC and AD, though, suffered no such problem, and were free to take their mythologies less seriously and more creatively.

Romans of the late Republic and early Empire had no dearth of myths that they genuinely entertained as true, such as that of Romulus and Remus. It was a deeply superstitious society in many respects. Most believed in the supernatural to one degree or another, and even skeptics like Cicero set great social value on religious observance and ritual.

But many of the mythological trappings of Roman literature were myths almost as much to Romans as they are to us. The divine council, where gods behave like human beings (complete with having different rooms on Olympus where they hide, consort, conspire, screw each other, screw with each other, screw each other over, and act screwy with each other) is a Greek idea, probably much inspired by the Divine Councils of Near Eastern religions. Much else of the lore-store we associate with "Roman Mythology" was not widely believed in either. The "world-stream" Ōceanus encircling all the world (personified as a Titan) was not just false but obviously so to Romans of the day who knew, no less than you do, that the earth was spherical. During Rome's classical period, very few, in Greek or Latin, had entertained a flat earth cosmology for half a millennium or so. One such person is Lucretius, who found a spherical earth preposterous mostly because he had no idea what gravity was. (St. John Chrysostom, when he claimed that one could not be a Christian unless one believed in a flat earth, was committing a rank embarrassment for a literate Greek speaker.)

Nor did Romans seem to see much reason to care about such things. Not exactly. As a rule, religion for Romans was of social, not psychological or philosophical, importance. What you believed was not so important as what you did, whom you did it with, and whom you did it for. This is why Judaism could be tolerated more easily than Christianity once it caught on, and why Druids in particular were hunted down and persecuted not for beliefs about the cosmos but for having supposedly incited people to disobey the Senate.

This idea was inherited and — with some qualifications — maintained by many Christian emperors before Justinian. Rulers such as Constantine seem also to have cared less about the contents of anybody's head than about public ritual and public speech.

Suffice it to say that the idea of Roman "pagans" stubbornly clinging to their childish beliefs in childish gods who sit on a mountain somewhere is a Christian conceit. Intellectuals such as Cicero opined that only children and ignoramuses actually believed that these things and beings were literally real. There is all sorts of evidence of wide-spread skepticism, or agnosis, about the reality of the place the Greeks called Hades. Later sources are on record insisting on the metaphorical or monistically symbolic nature of mythological accounts. This was not so much a problem for Romans, for whom matters of what we call "faith" (a non-concept for Mediterranean polytheists) did not form the basis for social order or morality.

Traditional Greek lore did, though, form an appealing backdrop for literature and the visual arts. It is above all else here — in art forms patronized and practiced by an often quite skeptical elite — that celestial matters are taken over most fully from the Greece of five centuries earlier, and where Roman gods are most fully identified with Greek ones (or behave in other ways irreconcilable with Roman religion). This is not all that strange. Most English-speakers no longer believe in magic, werwolves, vampires, witchcraft, dragons, mermaids, haunted houses, fairies, gnomes, elves or unicorns either, and yet happily make and watch movies set in worlds where these things are real, just as they enjoy films about zombies, voodoo, genies and other fantastical or supernatural elements unknown to them until recently. Myths that many English-speakers still believe, or want to believe, are another matter. It is a truism of Near Eastern Archaeology that the Jewish Exodus out of Egypt and Joshua's conquest of Canaan are about as historical as King Arthur or Robin Hood. But piety still dictates considerable restraint when portraying such things.

It is in literature that Mars, equated with Ares, is an irascible war-god who takes pleasure in stirring shit up. This literary figmentation Virgil could call "impius Mars" in the end of his first Georgic. The Mars of Roman religion had a wild side to be sure, but was always more friend than faux. Though the equation of Mars with Ares did give the former a warlike aspect, this made him less a god of combat and gore than of what Americans would call Homeland Security and National Defense, and whether he was real or not was respectable as a personal matter of agnosis.

Translation all Fiqh'd Up

"Early discussions of the translation of the Qur’an related to the need to preach God’s revelation to non-Arabs, who, upon accepting Islam, could not be expected to perform the ritual prayer in Arabic. The jurist Abū Ḥanīfa (d. 150/767) seems to have permitted the recitation of the Qur’an in a foreign translation in performing ritual prayer for those Muslims who were not competent in the language. There is some discussion as to whether this was an absolute permission that was granted or just a temporary measure until the new Muslim acquired enough Arabic to be able to recite the Qur’an in its original language, but it seems that Abū Ḥanīfa may have given this license without qualification, in other words, as an absolute permission. This permission, in its absolute form, implies that the form of the revelation in Arabic is detachable from its content, wherein the miraculous nature of the Qur’an lies. By breaking the form-content duality in the Qur’an, Abū Ḥanīfa, in effect, seems to say that a translation of the content of the Qur’an would result in a kind of Qur’an, although primacy, we assume, continues to reside in the Qur’an in the Arabic language. Some of Abu Hanifa’s followers – for example, al-Sarkhasi (d. 483/1090) – restricted the license given by Abū Ḥanīfa, making it a temporary one, so as to avoid the above implication, while others persisted in legalising the original ruling – for example, al-Kasani (d. 587/1191).
Most Sunni jurists, however, led by al-Shāfiˁī (d. 204/820), rejected Abū Ḥanīfa’s view on using translations of the Qur’an in ritual prayer, to the extent that al-Shāfiˁī is reported to have given a dispensation to those who do not know the Qur’an in its Arabic form to pray without reciting it. At the basis of this rejection lies the dissolution of the duality of form and content in Abū Ḥanīfa’s theology, which duality is considered by al-Shāfiˁī as an integral part of the challenge (taḥaddī) that God issued to the Arabs to produce even one chapter in the like of the Qur’an. The form-content duality is, therefore, at the very core of the inimitability of the Qur’an principle: rejecting it would be tantamount to rejecting its inimitability and, therefore, the miraculous nature of the revelation that it underpins in Islamic theology. 
If a translation of the Qur’an is to be treated as the Qur’an, the inimitability principle would be spectacularly breached in a way that makes the challenge (taḥaddī) almost meaningless....
...Scholars who argued against the (un)translatability of the Qur’an were driven by doctrinal considerations, including the fear that if treated as Qur’ans, the translations would become the basis of legal rulings. The idea that these translations will break the indissoluble bond between form and content is related to this fear, but, as is evident from the discussion above, it is also clear that these translations challenge the principle of inimitability in relation to its doctrinal and language-centred meanings in a manner which would, at least indirectly, impinge on the synchronic and diachronic symbolic
loadings of the language... If so, the discussion of (un)translatability is not merely a discussion about doctrine, but also an ideological one, in which the language-identity link is involved, even though this link may exist deep below the surface of the debate on (un)translatability and inimitability. "
— Yasir Suleiman "Arabic in the Fray: Language Ideology and Cultural Politics"

Eating Pasta Al Dante

Having now finished reading Dante's Commedia twice, I feel about Dante a little bit like he seems to have felt about Virgil. I respect it, I value it, I enjoy it, but it can only take one so far. The retrograde mental universe makes it ultimately irredeemable beyond a certain point. All the valiant hermeneutics of modern commentators cannot save it, anymore than Beatrice could've saved Virgil. He had it in him to transcend the narrow spheres of his Christianity, and at times comes so close to doing just that. He almost half wants to. But even in Inferno IV or Purgatorio I or Paradiso XIX, he never quite manages. He never quite breaks through Heaven's man-made ceiling, and so damns himself to the Limbo of the Virtuous Enthralled. It is only by going down there that one can meet him, and the only way out is by descending into the Catholicism's hellish soteriology, and facing the hybrid Angeldemons that populate the bowels of a Paradise he very nearly condemned himself to.

Of Political Parties and their Partying Members

There is a diverse and in combination uncomfortable assortment of things which can be and have been said about Al Franken's resignation.

The US is again going through that sordidly cyclical, not to say cynical, moment where it re-re-discovers yet again and for the very first time that sexual harassment and sexual assault of the vulnerable by the powerful are a problem worthy of a bit more than a "man that's fucked up" before resuming dinner. It is heartening at the very least that politicians in the Democratic party in particular can be made credibly to fear that the things offensively euphemized as “sexual misconduct” might come with “consequences.” It is neither surprising nor heartening to read so many people — whose possession of eyes, a brain and a functioning internet connection deprives them of any excuse short of pity — tacitly implying or stating outright that the Democratic party has any kind of “moral high ground” on matters like this. Higher moral aspirations, just maybe. But moral high ground? Hang on just a cotton-pickin' minute.

My experience has been that among those cheering Al Franken's resignation there are many — mostly men I note — who get annoyed or even a bit paroxysmal if you mention in passing that other beloved ones have nasty closet skeletons. Not just Trump or other loathables.

Trump’s past sexual violence is as obvious, shameless and flamboyantly nasty as everything else about him. It should come as no surprise to anyone who has read much about his pre-political life. But Justice for Victims is as much a cynical ploy as it is a mawkish cliché.

The charges, or "allegations" as we are supposed to call them when politicians are involved, brought by aggrieved women against Trump are almost certainly true based on the available facts. But this is not the only reason, or the main reason, why they are so readily believed and broadcast by so many of the cogs in a Democratic Party machine which would disgrace Rube Goldberg only by its disrepair. They are unabashed and comfortable believing them and calling for legal action (at which I hope they succeed,  by the way) because it's good for the team with which they ally themselves and whose guiding interests they allow themselves to see as mostly consonant with their own. Anyone who has taken Psych 101 can tell you why that alone makes something easier to believe.

Unlike the fact, say, that the woman who lost a presidential race against Trump is married to a serial rapist to whose predations she spent years as both accessory and accomplice. Back in the day many of the same individuals leapt to the defense of their party's Member in the Oval Office. No matter how many non-consenting women that Member may or may not have thrust itself at or into.

Modern PR has the frightening power to grace hideous people with its greatest triumph: the transcendent success of having one's words and actions judged by one's reputation, rather than the reverse. Give a man a reputation as an early riser, as Twain wrote, and that man can sleep till noon. But the news cycle, given enough money, manipulation and time, gives the impression of being able to turn the most suppurating Philoctetes into Achilles in any but the most hardened and hostile mind. This is a whole other cause for concern in an era when figuring out for oneself what to believe and disbelieve in any story has become so challenging that many people can be forgiven if they give up trying. Be thankful, at least, that Trump himself hasn't the ability or restraint to manipulate it nearly as effectively as a far more self-disciplined ogre might have.

Rapist Bill and Accomplice Hillary enjoyed nigh-unassailable status for some time with their party, particularly its elders, and the name Clinton was for almost a decade touted as a byword and synonym for all that our tarnished excuse for a republic is supposed to stand for. In many ways, Clinton's America made Trump's America possible. As people both on the left and the right pointed out more and more of the nasty rot underneath, as the list of women groped, bitten, forced open, shamed, slandered and bullied by the party's most prominent Member got credibly longer, the party-line glorifications got louder, as did the denunciations of those guilty of inconvenient honesty. Even when they were attacking Clinton from the left, they were bashed as snitches and right-wing ratfinks. Why doesn't this kind of thing put more people on their guard in our ailing nation? I almost wish I didn't want to know.

I myself and a good many others, when we pointed out the considerable evidence of Hillary Clinton's complicity in his crimes during her recent end-run for president, got accused of doing the "work of the right." When a person says that there is something deeply wrong with a country in which voters are faced with a choice between a Serial Rapist and a Serial Rapist's willing accomplice, anyone whose response is "the real problem is people like you pointing this out" is in fact confirming the broader implications of the original charge. Gotcha politics of the kind in which a few embarrassing statements in the past are dredged up as ammunition are par for the sordid course, and everyone more or less accepts this whether they realize it or not. But willingness to be an accessory to violence against other people, and an accomplice in concealing same, simply out of self-interest is a bit more than that. That this sort of thing could be tolerated at all by a political party, which brands itself as standing for women and for the powerless wronged by the powerful, is unshakably a sign of corruption in the broadest sense of the word.

Moral High Ground? Democrats? Please. Pfft. 

Layers of Wordplay in a line of Al-Mutanabbi

I just realized that when the poet Al-Mutanabbī says هَلِ الحَدَثُ الحَمراءُ تَعرِفُ لوْنَها ("Does Al-Hadath the Red know her color?") he may be indulging in triplicate wordplay.

In Modern Literary Arabic, and in various Arabic vernaculars, there are a number of terms used for pale-skinned foreigners, ranging from the benevolent to the insulting. One of them is plain ابيض "white" calqued off of European usage.
In Classical and Medieval Arabic the term used for non-Arabs, especially Persians, Greeks or "Franks" who were seen as being of lighter complexion, was actually احمر "Red". (Greeks in particular could also be بنو اصفر "Yellowsons, Sons of the Yellow" usually in a demeaning fashion).
كل اسود منهم واحمر (All the blacks and reds among them) = "Every one of them, Arab and not". A saying attributed to Muhammad in Islamic mythology has it that "بُعِثْتُ إِلَى الأَحْمَرِ وَالأَسْوَدِ " (I was sent to the red and the black) of which the most straightforward interpretation is "to all mankind, Arab and not." The form Al-Ḥamrā' can be used as a collective term for "foreigners." What I just learned is that it could also refer to emancipated slaves.

Al-Hadath Al-Ḥamrā' "Red Hadath" is the traditional appellation of the city. For Al-Mutanabbi, it was previously a "red" (foreign, Greek) city because it was in the hold of the Byzantines, which it no longer is. It is now "red" (emancipated from slavery) now that Lord Realmsword (Sayfu l-Dawla) has relieved her of Byzantine hold. Despite her traditional appellation, she may not even know that she is red in one sense, and was red in the other, so completely has she now been redeemed to her proper place under Islamdom.

Alien Nation

There is something smelly about Science Fiction shows using clashes of different sentient species as a metaphor for race or ethnicity or culture in order to talk about how "we" (whoever this "we" is) deal with The Other™. Race is an ideology. It is not biological. Nor are ethnicity and cultural difference. The idea that racial or ethnic conflict exist because people just have trouble with "Those Who Look Differently" is a cretinous absurdity that ought to disgrace even a college activist. The implication, or assumption, behind much of this genre of putatively socially aware storytelling in Science Fiction is that these differences are much more essential than they are in fact. The culture producing this stuff seems to take as a matter of pious faith that the way to "get beyond differences" is by obsessing over them, taking for granted their fixity. So much so that different biological species seem sensical as a metaphor for different groups of humans. It lends itself particularly well to tales of people expressing their "essential nature" in categorical terms. 

Language learning is not an intellectual activity.

Language learning is not an intellectual activity. Insofar as a learner treats a language as a puzzle to be solved, instead of a set of habits to be learned as automatic reactions, he is wasting his time and failing to learn the language. The "concepts" that any adult has are simply the meanings that he connects to the words of his native language. They serve only as stumbling-blocks in the way of his learning another language. The only way to clear the road for learning another language, with its inevitably different structure and meanings, is to disregard and forget as much as possible the words and meanings of one's native language.

— Robert A. Hall "Language and Superstition" 


So what if men try harder than a blade
To read the news affecting to give rigor?
Who thinks a few more fact-floods make us bigger
People? We simply are what we have made

Manifest. Now he who lay in the glade
With his love far from battle, can be bought
Or else bound by a bandage round the rot
Of wounded thought. And then the fusillade.

Some god forgot to tell the clock to stop
Before sunrise. Somebody read the news
And shot himself. Somebody called a cop
Before remembering there was no use

Play-acting. For we are what we have made
And we were good at fashioning a blade. 

Nomine Fucking Patris

I would find the Church Fathers fascinating, if I could tolerate them in any but small doses. John Chrysostom is sometimes as much a thug as he is a thinker. Augustine often comes across as an asshole, an emotionally abusive bully, and a philistine frightened by the power of other people's imaginations. Tertullian has an outright sadistic side to him as transparent as the barrier he imagines between heaven and hell. Jerome is like G.K. Chesterton: a brilliant mind gone very bad. And in Eusebius' sick attack against Jews for the alleged crime of deicide, I hear the incipient rumblings of European anti-semitism.

Neither Time Nor Season

Now, you can say that I've grown bitter but of this you may be sure
The rich have got their channels in the bedrooms of the poor
And there's a mighty judgment coming, but I may be wrong
You see, you hear these funny voices in the Tower of Song
— Leonard Cohen

Why did rhyme and meter grow so displeasing, offputting or simply invisible to so many Anglophone literary intellectuals over the course of the 20th century?

Put simply: they are liked by the wrong people, and by too many people. It is not a matter of conservatism vs innovation, or freedom vs regulation. Not really. It is a matter of elite values; elite disdain for popular verse forms, and (in the 21st century) elite attachment to an increasingly irrelevant print culture. Our literati don't usually take modern rhymed verse as seriously, because the masses enjoy rhyme too much. Even the Neo-Formalists, in trying (with some partial success) to reintroduce patterned prosody and rhyme to contemporary elite verse and print culture, had to take pains to avoid many of the other traits of popular verse.

Best say something about popular verse in English, which is badly misunderstood in a way so commonplace as to pass for common sense. Literary intellectuals like to think, and like even more to bemoan, that the masses have no appetite for poetry and well-turned lays. "Poetry is a dying art" is a cliché. A conspicuously false one.

Popular verse in contemporary English tends to be sung, or performed to musical or percussive accompaniment. We usually call it song or music, even (as is often the case with rap) when there isn't much singing involved. We just do not call it poetry. We do not even call it literature. The elite Anglophone response to Bob Dylan's Nobel win is an excellent example of how distasteful, distressing and insulting our literati find the very idea. One wonders how they would square this with the literatus' readiness to admit that Hafiz, Sappho or Bernard de Ventadorn are of course literature.

To this it may be objected that most contemporary popular verse in English is bad or mediocre. This is true but also irrelevant. Most poetry in contemporary elite forms is also bad or mediocre. Most poetry throughout history has not been of enduring resonance or relevance. Sometimes there are circumstances that favor better or more versecraft, and sometimes there are not. But that is a different matter altogether.

There is no intrinsic reason why popular verse, or song lyric, should be rhymed. Ancient Greek, Roman and Israelite song (popular and not) was unrhymed. But English popular verse, sung or spoken, has mostly been rhymed for the past thousand years.

It is sometimes said that English is especially rhyme-poor, that it is therefore too hard to write rhymed verse well in English (and unreasonably hard to translate verse well into rhymed English.) This is not true. If it were, anyone who made this objection ought to treat English popular verse as a formal miracle. It's true that "perfect rhymes" like fellatio/Horatio, Niagra/Viagra, penis/Venus, fistula/Vistula, death/breath or even sea/me/tree/etc are not as readily available as in French or Persian or Chinese. The reasons for this need not detain us here. But popular verse in English is rhymed and metrical all the same, as has much elite verse before the early 20th century. Strophic verse like Don McLean's "Miss American Pie" has no trouble rhyming. English is not as effortlessly easy to rhyme in as French (though the rhyme requirements of English have never been nearly as exacting as they have been in literary French.) But it is not intrinsically rhyme-resistant. And it did not suddenly become harder to rhyme ca. 1950. Rather, elite verse mostly abandoned a practice, and its practitioners mostly lost a skill, that popular verse retained.

In fact, as it stands, the techniques used to produce rhyme in contemporary English popular verse are by almost any standard more inventive, flexible and rife with untapped potential than the rhymes familiar from a Norton Anthology. One popular poet rhymes music/wounded, ready/sent me, boredom/reward them, heavens/weapons, baby/station in a single poem composed in accentual pentameters (these rhymes alternate with a single -in rhyme throughout.) Why is this kind of rhyming not admitted into elite verse forms in English? Why do we not translate rhymed poetry from other languages with this kind of rhyming into English?

Take a more extreme example. Another popular poet, again in a single composition, rhymes aimed/sprays/stays/days, hair/wear, office/problems, government/loving it/dumping it, squirts of piss/words exist/suburban kids/turbulence, hooked right in/looked like them, America/Erica/Character. 

Assonance is not "intrinsically" more appropriate to song or popular lyric. In other literatures (e.g. Medieval Irish, Old French, Modern Spanish, and even at times Dutch) it has been the vehicle for all kinds of literary composition from epic verse to hymnody to erudite panegyric to surreal love lyric. This is no shock to anyone who reads Neruda or Lorca in Spanish.

Literary intellectuals in English sometimes call this "off-rhyme." But it is not the kind of off-rhyme most favored in literary verse. Poetry in literary verse that uses "off rhyme" is more likely to employ consonance. Often, as in the verse of Seamus Heaney or in Robert Pinsky's translation of Dante's Inferno, nothing but the final consonant of a word need be repeated to qualify as rhyme. This has the effect of making the patterning easy enough to see on the page, but hard to detect with the ear, producing a kind of sound-repetition that is as unlike the rhymes of popular verse as anything imaginable. I think this is precisely why consonance is the kind of off-rhyme most congenial to elite poetics in English today.

It is no surprise that modern English literati do not often know how to dance on their prosodic feet, and do not care to learn. How can they dance, when they can't even hear the music anymore?

Vulgar Latin

"Vulgar Latin" is not a real thing.

Many features of Romance had their origins in high-register usage rather than that of the vulgus. Pre-Romance features which originated among the educated include adverbial -mente, a future formed with inf. + habēre and the suppletion of the monosyllabic forms of īre with corresponding forms from vādere.

Anyone who has been alive in a literate society knows that it is common for the uneducated to imitate the speech of the educated. That features presaging Romance have been almost exclusively sought in, or attributed to, basilectal "uneducated" usage says much about philological prejudices regarding Latin vis-à-vis Romance.

Furthermore, while it is often possible to tell what was going on in speech beneath the surface of the literary language, it is a mistake to attribute such features exclusively to the speech of the uneducated. As speakers of Arabic, Hindi, Urdu, Welsh, Tamil and Finnish know well, there is no reason why an educated speaker might not write one thing but say another. Americans of all social classes use "to be like" in the sense "to say" but few will use it in writing except in the most informal contexts such as text messaging.

There is no reason at all to think that Emperor Hadrian had much use for the inflected passive when grumbling about the weather. 

Look Alive, Soul

In Hadrian's death poem (animula vagula blandula) addressed to his departing soul there is a line whose full resonance may lie in a pun recoverable via historical philology:

Quae nunc abībis in loca
(Into what regions will you [my soul] now pass?)

The crux of the wordplay is abībis. In the Latin of Hadrian's day, b and v had merged in intervocalic position. This would make abībis "you will pass" a near-homonym for the (colloquial?) form advīvis "you survive, you go on to live." It might also make nunc abībis "you now will pass" almost identical in pronunciation to nunquam vīvis "you never reside."

Speculum Principis

هان اى دل عبرت بين از ديده نظر كن هان

Now. Wake up, heart. Reflect on what you see.
You warning-heeding, beating, beaten thing,
Get up. The red bleeds on the flag. So sing
For hard-striped and star-chambered Liberty

About what shines from sea to whining sea.
The gun beneath the balding eagle's wing
Is rising in us. Come the blast of Spring
Morale can bloom more than morality.

Reflect on mirrored things. With blood and beating
You are to live. Cute rhetors will try cheating
You from the pulpit as the gore and puss
Flood out Her light. And then put out the light
Verse of an age. I know it isn't right.
We weren't born for an age like this. Who was?

He Imagines a Her

A face from a car window, a portrait’s eye,
The voice of a wrong number, the quick grin
Snatched into hindsight from a passer-by
And how that lady held her violin
Imply Her for a wink of time and pass
Into the field of anybody's guess.
Not as a monk sees heaven stained in glass
Nor Isis making love from ripped god-flesh
Beside some bitch who was the night’s best beast
He wakes and gropes with hands around Not Her.
Dawn comes a summer ruffian from the east
And time prepares him like a prisoner.
Song of the crowd, of wintry flower and sun,
He must discern Her in the unison.

Just one Iota of the Yod in יהוד

An early Greek poet with an interesting non-Greek name is Ananios or Ananias from the 6th century BC, of whose work a few definite fragments are preserved by Athenaeus. Some of the poems attributed to Hipponax may also in fact be his. If parsed as Greek, the name Ananias would mean "pain-free" or something of the sort. But, apparently, it does not occur elsewhere as a Greek name.

Elsewhere when men are called Ananias in Greek, such as in the Septuagint, in Strabo, in the New Testament and in Josephus, it is is as a rendering of the Semitic names Ḥananyāh "Yahweh is Gracious" and ˁAnanyāh (variously interpretable as "Protected by Yahweh", "Yahweh's Cloud" or "Slave of Yahweh".)

Semitic names were commonplace throughout the ancient Mediterranean, and the names of slaves and artisans attest to much ethnic mixing in the Greek-speaking world as elsewhere. But Semitic names with "Yah(weh)" as a theophoric element would by this time have been prominent only among one group.

It seems to me that this Ananias may well have been a Jew. It would make him by far the earliest Jew recorded in Greece, and one of the earliest whose existence is recorded in non-Jewish sources.

Ex Sacro Crescat Excrementum

G.K. Chesterton is invaluable. I learned much from him, seeing what a cultivated mind produces when fertilized with nightsoil. Both as a luminous demonstrator of the sorts of sloppy thinking one ought to avoid, and as a cautionary example of what such thought-rot can do to a fruitful brain, he is without peer. No pen before his had carved such lapidary prose monuments to the degeneracy of a good mind gone bad. 

Speaking the Queen's Welsh

The fact that Prince Charles learned Welsh, and has even given speeches in the language, has not done much to mollify the common disdain of the Welsh for the English Crown. Admittedly, hatred for Prince Charles is a good thing to have, and often a sign of clear thinking.

But there is a curious fact whose implications, because counter-intuitive and somewhat at odds with many self-conceptions, are rarely considered by anybody except historians. Namely, that Queen Elizabeth I of England, the Elizabeth of Elizabethan Fame, was very much in favor of the Irish and Welsh languages.

She personally funded the production of an Irish typeface to facilitate the printing and dissemination of an Irish translation of the Bible, and was the driving force behind the act of Parliament that made the first Welsh Bible translation possible.

She in essence ordered Welsh Bishops to have a Welsh Bible, a Welsh Book of Common Prayer, and a Welsh administration of the sacraments in every Welsh-speaking parish by 1 March 1567, and commissioned the production of texts to meet this suddenly mandated need. The resulting Welsh Bible was arguably a superior translation to any English Bible then in existence, produced as it was just half a century after after the first translation of the Bible into Modern English, and half a century before the King James Bible was even a gleam in the eye of Elizabeth's successor James I. Without Elizabeth's insistence on vernacularity, the Welsh Bible and Prayer Books produced by William Salesbury and William Morgan would not have had much of a market, let alone funding. The Welsh Bible in particular was initially so big and expensive that every parish only got one. It would be another half century before personal copies of the Welsh Bible were available.

Elizabeth did, as a practical matter, think the Irish and Welsh should also learn English, but her aim was to ease them into bilingualism, not to supplant one with the other. She was keen on having English text available alongside Irish and Welsh.

Given her religious politics, one might say this was a rather cynical matter. It is usually portrayed as such. It definitely served her self-interest mightily. It was aimed squarely at stomping out popish use of Latin in the British Isles. She probably got quite a few jollies out of pissing off counterreformationists. Which is not a bad way to get your jollies, all things considered.

Now, I hate royalty on general principle, as I hate any and all hereditary systems of government. So I'm not the sort inclined to cut any monarch any slack. But it's worth considering a few things.

First, anti-Latin policies in Early Modern Europe frequently had the effect of suppressing regional languages by imposing the language of the Crown or the State at the expense of everything else, Latin and not. This is how things played out in places like Cornwall and Occitania. When backed by a centralized state's forceful strong-arming and strong force of arms, it was brutally effective. Elizabeth did not really have to make provisions for regional languages in order to give the finger to Latin worship.

While Elizabeth's main goal may have been monarchic self-interest, her political shrewdness on its own doesn't really explain other things. Elizabeth was eager to learn, and like many other Tudor women had literally the best education money could buy an Englishwoman. She also would have easily understood that Britain was plenty big enough for more than one language. I can't be sure, but she may well have been the most multilingual monarch England has ever had. She is known to have spoken at least English, Italian, Spanish, French, Greek and Latin. Some of these she spoke and read far better than she could write them. (Her spoken French was reported to be quite fluent, but her secret letters to the Duke of Anjou, which for obvious reasons couldn't be proofed or drafted by anyone else, are written in a crabbed and awkward French full of unidiomatic phrasing. This is unsurprising. When you have a corps of diplomatic functionaries and secretaries to draft correspondence for you, you only need to write things yourself on rare or personal occasions.)

More strikingly, there is good reason to believe Elizabeth also learned at least some Welsh from her lady-in-waiting Blanche Parry, who came from a family of Welsh-speaking (and highly Welsh-literate) gentry. Parry was also involved in getting the Welsh Bible project underway.

Elizabeth was interested in learning Irish, too, a language for which there were at that time no learning materials for non-natives. Whether she made much progress in the language nobody will ever know. But she did commission Christopher Nugent, the Baron of Delvin, a bilingual Anglo-Irish nobleman, to write something up for her to help get the basics of the language. He did so. The result was the Queen's Irish Primer, a little booklet roughly equivalent to today's Lonely Planet guides for tourists: a phrasebook and word list plus a basic outline of the grammar. This was the first known written attempt to explain the Irish language to an adult learner, and it was produced at the personal behest of the English crown.

The final point is the sheer importance of the Welsh Bible. This can't be overstated. Vernacular Bible translations in Early Modern Europe seem to have functioned a bit like health insurance for languages. Once the Bible was available in a language, that language's long-term prospects were much higher. A Bible Translation offered not only the prestige of a written form, but something that speakers would be motivated to read and reread. Even under conditions of oppressive language policy, anybody trying to take people's Bibles might be vulnerable to theological objections or at least arouse great religious opprobrium.

The Welsh Bible was even more important than most other Early Modern Bible translations. Many have credited the widespread use of William Morgan's Welsh Bible as the major and even determining factor in the fate of Welsh-language literacy and culture. It would not surprise me if in 200 years, Welsh is the only Celtic language still alive. Welsh would definitely not be in this enviable position were it not for the fact that churches in Welsh-speaking areas were, and doggedly remained, free to conduct their parochial and spiritual affairs in Welsh.

It's worth comparing the fate of Welsh to that of the other Brythonic language under the English crown: Cornish. Cornish was brutally suppressed by Elizabeth's father, King Henry VIII, who in an attempt to root out the Latin liturgy, was content to have English enforced in Cornwall at swordpoint, rather than bother subsidizing the regional vernacular language. With the crushing of the Prayer Book Rebellion, use of Cornish in worship, or any official capacity, came with great risk. It was a risk that few were interested in taking. Within a century, the last known monolingual Cornish speaker, Chesten Marchant, was dead. The century after that saw the death of the last known fluent native speaker who was able to write in the language, the famous Dolly Pentraeth. In the 19th century, though there were a few people who still spoke Cornish still, they were very hard even for well-meaning antiquarian scholars to find. Generally Englishmen no longer knew what Cornish was, and did not recognize it on the rare occasion that they heard it. Mostly evidence of continued Cornish use takes the form of puzzled descriptions, such as a reference to some kind of bizarre-sounding non-English spoken by a few illiterate miners from Falmouth. And in 1914 came the death of one John Mann, the last person known to have spoken Cornish as a child. On his deathbed, Mann could remember only a few words and phrases of the language he grew up speaking. Despite great antiquarian interest in the language throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, Cornish was dead by the time revival attempts got under way.

All through this, Welsh was still holding its own. Despite a few fairly dicey decades, when prospects for its future were not at all certain, Welsh would ultimately survive the oppressive language ideologies and language policies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today in Wales, ability to speak the language is enough of a social asset that learning it is often part of upward mobility in English-speaking areas. This is thanks in large part to the continuing robustness of Welsh-medium Methodist churches which were able to provide not only an alternative source of literacy outside the English school system, but a strong spiritual identification with the language. It's a lot harder to get somebody to abandon their native language when they talk to God in it. Welsh also had a thriving literature written in a standardized register based largely on the language of Morgans' Bible. Although hymnography often tends to quash talent rather than nurture it, Welsh-language hymnography was the medium of quite a few brilliant poets, such as Ann Griffiths, whose work was preserved in oral tradition before being fixed in writing.

On the other hand, the Bible wasn't translated into Cornish in its entirety until 2011, as part of the  language-resurrection movement.

It's a supreme irony that the (relatively) good prospects for the Welsh language owe a great deal to the shrewdness, temperament and intellectual disposition of an English Monarch whose main goal was to consolidate her power.



With thanks to T.H. Parry Williams

Do I care for America? Well, I do and I don't.
That question's a trap you spring. And, well, I won't.

It's a nice enough place, from sea to rising sea,
Whose people don't know how to love it. Land of the fee,

The hypocrite, the hipster, the toil-turned hand,
The heritage we pretend to understand,

And it happens that I was born here. As for the races
(Black, white and electoral) the disgraces

Impress far more than song and spacious skies,
Or the ego of Rushmore's mountain majesties.

And I've stomached quite enough of the hullabaloo
Of kneejerk Nothings making much ado

Beneath blue sky in whose light the foul claws
Are digging up the bones of the grey Lost Cause.

Can I leave? To get some space form rhetorical muck,
I'll take a walk through my town, mind all amok,

And here I am. The library. School. Signs of DANGER:
CONSTRUCTION. Places that taught me to be a stranger

Are where I am from. In between sky and earth
There are many berths but never a second birth.

And there's that wind as I come to the old play-hill
And the sound of race-myths looting the people's will.

I'm getting pretty woozy. I sit in the park
And a dead dream starts back beating in a heart

Wrapped in that starstruck banner. So it is,
God damn it. I can't just walk away from this.