A trip to Flathead Lake in Montana (the largest lake west of the Mississippi) inspires many thoughts. The season is ending, the tourists are going home, the kids to school, and all too soon, I am back to work.
White on blue
Standing on the shore of Flathead Lake,
I spy a solitary sailboat
Spreading her white sails to the breeze and the water
Oh, my heart aches to be there,
I long to be gone
A speck of white
Where the blue of the lake meets the blue of the sky
Long do I gaze while the boat disappears
When the cold wind kicks up, and
With a sharp tug on my pants
My sons says to me,
Why are we here?
Un grain de blanc en bleu
Au bord de la rive de Flathead Lake
Je regarde un bateau à voile
Diffuser ses voiles blanches à la brise et à l’eau
Oh, mon cœur a mal à être là,
J’aimerais être parti
Un point de blanc
Où le bleu du lac rencontre le bleu du ciel
Long je regarde pendant que le bateau disparaît
Lorsque le vent froid se lance, et
Il y a un pistolet sur mon pantalon
Pourquoi sommes-nous ici, me dit-il mon fils?
I am not one to wish for much, money have I not, I dream of simple things, good books, quiet summer days, being alone, or with somebody who understands these things, and finding none, I scream.
Je ne souhaite pas beaucoup, l’argent n’ai-je pas, je rêve de choses simples, de bons livres, de tranquilles journées d’été, d’être seul ou avec quelqu’un qui comprend ces choses, et en ne trouvant personne, je crie.
Funny is the thought that had I money, louder would I scream.
Ich bin ein kleines Kind und Geld habe ich nicht. Darum, ich bin nicht einer um viel zu wünschen, ich träume von einfachen Dingen, ruhigen Sommertagen, Bäume zu klettern, um die Welt zu sehen, allein oder mit jemandem, der diese Dinge versteht und keine findet, schreie ich.
Prologue to the Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer: Modern English, French, and original Middle English,
English did not become modern until William Shakespeare and the King James translation of the Bible, a fact that will surprise many “modern” high school English students.
When April with its sweet showers
Hath pierced the drought of March to its root,
And bathed every vein in such liquor
By which virtue engenders the flower;
When the West Wind also with his sweet breath,
Has inspired In every woodland and field
The tender crops, and the young sun
Has half its course within the sign of Aries run,
And small fowls make melody,
That sleep all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them in their hearts),
Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
And pilgrims to seek strange shores,
To distant shrines, known in sundry lands;
And specially from every shire’s end
Of England to Canterbury wind their way,
The holy blessed martyr to seek
Who helped them when they were sick.
When I was a little boy the joke was told,
Q: Why did Peter throw the butter out the window?
A: To see the butterfly.
It is a joke that works in English but not in French, since butterfly in French is papillon.
Language barriers are large but none so great as that observed by the Welsh and English cleric Matthew Henry, There are none so deaf and none so blind, as they who refuse to see and will not listen.
Quand avril avec ses douces douches
La sécheresse de mars à sa racine a percé ,
Et a baigné toutes les veines dans une telle liqueur
Par quoi la vertu engendre la fleur;
Quand le Vent de l’Ouest aussi avec son doux souffle,
A inspiré dans tous les bois et champs
Les plantes tendres et le jeune soleil
A couru la moitié du cours en Bélier,
Et les petites volailles chante la mélodie,
Qui dormir toute la nuit avec l’œil ouvert
(Donc la nature les pique dans leurs coeurs),
Ensuite, les gens souhaitaient faire des pèlerinages,
Et les pèlerins cherchent des rivages étranges,
Aux sanctuaires lointains, connus dans les terres diverses;
Et surtout depuis la fin de chaque cours
De l’Angleterre à Canterbury se promène,
Le saint béni martyr à chercher
Qui les a aidés quand ils étaient malades.
Geoffrey Chaucer (1343 – 25 October 1400) is the grand daddy of English literature. Thank God he wrote in the vernacular and not in Latin as had been the custom. English is the most polyglot of languages and one may observe in Chaucer’s English bits of French, German, and Latin sprinkled throughout.
If one looks at the words of Chaucer and then listens to the sound, much of the meaning will become clear.
Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licour
Of which vertu engendred is the flour,
Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
Hath in the Ram his halve cours yronne,
And smale foweles maken melodye,
That slepen al the nyght with open ye
(so priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
And palmeres for to seken straunge strondes,
To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
And specially from every shires ende
Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
That hem hath holpen whan that they were seeke.
Lost in Translation
Even the most literal of translations can be deceiving. That is a good thing for it means that Google Translate will forever require human intervention to determine the meaning of the words.
Listen is an active verb and if you don’t know what that means you haven’t been listening.
We do not know from a casual reading of The Prologue that the “ram” refers to Aries and the sign of the Zodiac that coincides with spring. Zephirius (Zepher) is the West Wind personified. The word priketh (prick) is a double entendre. Palmeres are those who carry the palm, a custom Roman Catholics continue to observe on Palm Sunday.
Otherwise, I try to stay true to the path Chaucer has taken. There are other translations. Mine is as literally as possible. Better to listen and learn.
The woods are not quiet. It seems still and quiet because the sounds are different from the noise of the city. Listen and you will hear the rambling creek as it chatters with the stones, the birds up above darting in and out the branches, the squirrels in the leaves, all talking about the strange being:
Who shouldn’t be where he is but is.
There is no reason
My car to walk
Down a shady path
Do I need a reason to walk?
Underneath the trees
And talk to the babbling brook
It could be spring or fall
It matters not at all
But to get away
And look and listen
For nothing at all
For birds that sing
For squirrels that scamper
And announce the coming
Of a strange being
Who doesn’t belong
Out in the woods
Look at the beauty
Of a path in the woods
Meandering left and right
Lit by the light of the sun
Through the towering trees
On a dusty old path of memories
Like my scatterbrained thoughts
That go nowhere
But straight to my heart
Alors pourquoi les Français aiment-ils à dire, “On ne change pas”?
“Le monde déteste le changement, mais c’est la seule chose qui a apporté des progrès.”Charles Kettering.
“The world hates change, yet it is the only thing that [brings] progress.” Moreover, the only thing we can’t change is change itself, for it is inevitable in the progress of life. And what is this thing we call change? It is not something we can touch, though it can be felt. It can not be seen with the naked eye, but must be sensed. Change is the process of moving from moment to moment and then measuring the difference.
Quand les mensonges deviennent la vérité, et la perception devient la réalité, tout est perdu.
We are on the other side of the election. Donald J. Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. Much will be said about this election, about perception and reality, the role of the media, the place of the common man, populism, etc., etc..
Pas de platitudes ici.
No platitudes here. Okay, I lied about that. Having already said that lies become the truth and perception reality. Leave at this. No congratulations, no lamentations, he may be great, we hope, no, I prefer to escape (c’est le mot?) in time and place to the other side of the world, Bruges, to the 9th Century, and to Baldwin Bras de Fer.
Europe in the 9th Century was at war. The Vikings were on a rampage across Europe and throughout Britain and Ireland. Hordes of Saxons and Angles poured across the English Channel and were sweeping across England. Alfred, king of Wessex, was not yet great, but on his way.
Baldwin I (circa 830s – 879), Baldwin Iron Arm to historians, was first Margrave of Flanders, founder of Bruges. Count Baldwin grabbed the spotlight when he ran off with princess Judith, daughter of Charles the Bald, king of West Francia. Judith was living at home with dad, having previously been married to two kings of Wessex and therefore, twice a queen, until 860, when the second king died. With her brother’s help, Judith escaped dad’s protective custody in France, and fled to Flanders with her dashing Count Baldwin.
Charles, not one to take such an effrontery, demanded their return. Not happening.
So Charles had his bishops excommunicate the couple. They, not wishing to live in sin, went to Rome to see the Pope. He recognizing true love, took their side, put Charles in his proper place, and all was forgiven. Baldwin became a loyal supporter of Charles and helped him in holding off the Vikings.
In his struggles with the Vikings et al., Baldwin used the location of Bruges as his base of operations. On Burg Square in central Bruges, he built a fortress, since long gone and now the site of the City Hall.
If there a thought behind all this, I am not sure. Historical figures come and go. And Baldwin did not leave us with his fortress, but with the beginnings of a city.
Une fois une figure effrénée mais a oublié
The image above of the Bruges City Hall that one sees is itself a distortion. The angle of the camera contributes to that. So too is the fact that I removed an offending individual from the center of the image. Then I brightened up a dull and grey image. We see what we want to.
I will leave you gentle reader with this thought. When lies become the truth, and perception reality, all is lost. Dear reader, it is not an original thought. I am not even sure it is accurate.
For just when it seems all is lost, we wake up, reality is restored and it back to life. Elections, and the things that are said during them, are such ephemeral things.
Une ferme reste debout la route.
Qui ont vécu ici disparu depuis et laissé derrière,
Rien mais moi
November 2016, driving along the Smoky Valley road, K-4, west of Marquette, Kansas. The farmhouse rests on a limestone foundation. It is not much bigger than a one-car garage, and not a big car at that. It has a cellar. The house is two story, two rooms on each floor, sleeping rooms upstairs. The wallpaper is faded. The stairs are a wreck. Much of the second floor has fallen in. Otherwise, one is impressed by the fact that the house stands tall and erect.
Those who lived here Are long gone They left not a thing behind But a couple of words on a tire To inquiring people, An unfriendly thought, That says no hunting You ought to keep moving along
Still the door flaps in the wind It speaks and says, come in And there is no one about To say keep out, so
Let me ask,
‘Tis no difficult task to walk in And, if the house is open To the wind and the rain, Why not me?
Assumptions are the termites of knowledge and the death of learning.
Saper Vedere, Leonardo da Vinci’s phrase is translated as “to know how to see.”
Leonard would be shocked at such a hasty assumption. Knowledge is something arrived at over years, after a careful course of study. And even then it must be applied to the context of the study, the history of the times and the meaning of the author.
“Learning how to see” seems more apropos of the phrase and closer to Leonardo’s intent.
I would not be so presumptuous as to believe I could see as Leonardo. His was a gift. An ability to perceive without assumption. To see and to learn something that others failed to see. Something we still are looking for in Mona Lisa’s eyes and in her smile.
Five hundred years later, Camille Pissarro put it beautifully:
Heureux ceux qui voient de belles choses dans les endroits modestes où d’autres ne voient rien.
Camille Pissarro 1893
Blessed are they who see beauty in life’s little things where others see nothing.
Quite nice, don’t you think?
Then again I have also seen Pissarro’s phrase begin with:
“Bienes soit ceux-la…”
Happy or blessed, is there a difference?
Words, words, words, what do they mean? Perhaps only Mona Lisa knows and she is not speaking, and rightly finds it quite amusing.
This quote is presented as the first image of the classic 1933 film King Kong.
And the prophet said: “And lo, the beast looked upon the face of beauty. And it stayed its hand from killing. And from that day, it was as one dead.” – Arabian proverb
This is the story of Kong, a giant ape, who is taken by millionaire entrepreneur Carl Denham from his island home in southeast Asia to New York City where he is billed by Denham in a Hollywood-type spectacle as the “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Kong has previously been smitten with the beauty of Ann Darrow (Fay Wray) on the island. Now in New York and restrained by steel bands and chains, Kong escapes and rampages through the city looking for his femme fatale. Finding her, he grabs her from her hotel room and scales the Empire State Building. He places Ann on a ledge and four bi-planes attack him shooting at him while Ann watches from the ledge. Kong is able to destroy one plane, but mortally wounded, eventually falls to his doom, 102 flights below.
In the last lines of the film, a police lieutenant and Carl Denham discuss Kong’s demise.
Police Lt.: Well, Denham, the airplanes got him. Carl Denham: Oh no, it wasn’t the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast.
The line is often erroneously quoted as “t’was beauty killed the beast.”