Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Done is a battell on the dragon blak

Variations on William Dunbar, 3

The black dragon is beaten back
Confronted by our champion Christ
The gates of hell broke with a crack
The triumphal sign of the cross hoist
The devils yammer ugly voiced
But the souls have their papers and can go --
Signed with God's blood, they will suffice:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

Battered is deadly Lucifer
His cruel serpent's stinger drawn
Fierce old tiger, teeth ajar
That has lain in wait for us so long
Thinking to grip us in strong claws --
The merciful Lord would not have it so,
And made us slip between his paws:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

For our sake he let himself be slain
And trussed like a lamb for sacrifice;
Now, like a lion, he is up again
Stretched out to a giant's height --
Dawn sprung, radiant and bright,
Gone aloft is the glorious Apollo;
The blissful day is departed from night:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The victor has risen again up high
That in our quarrel to the death was wounded;
The sun that went pale now shines out bright
The darkness is cleared, our faith re-founded;
The knell of mercy from heaven is sounded,
The Christians are delivered from their woe,
The Jews and their errors are confounded:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The foe is fled, the battle can cease,
The prison is broken -- the jailors retreat;
The war is done, confirmed the peace.
The chains are loosed, the dungeon emptied;
The ransom made, the prisoners freed;
The field is won, overcome the foe,
Despoiled of what he thought to keep:
Surrexit dominus de sepulchro.

The original, John Conlee's edition:

Done is a battell on the dragon blak,
Our campioun Chryst confountit hes his force;
The gettis of Hell ar brokin with a crak,
The signe triumphall rasit is of the Croce,
The divillis trymmillis with hiddous voce,
The saulis ar borrowit and to the blis can go,
Chryst with His blud our ransonis dois indoce:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

Dungin is the deidly dragon Lucifer,
The crewall serpent with the mortall stang,
The auld kene tegir with his teith on char,
Quhilk in a wait hes lyne for us so lang,
Thinking to grip us in his clowis strang;
The merciful Lord wald nocht that it wer so,
He maid him for to felye of that fang:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

He for our saik that sufferit to be slane,
And lyk a lamb in sacrifice wes dicht,
Is lyk a lyone rissin up agane,
And as a gyane raxit Him on hicht;
Sprungin is Aurora, radius and bricht,
On loft is gone the glorius Appollo,
The blisfull day depairtit fro the nycht:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

The grit Victour agane is rissin on hicht
That for our querrell to the deth wes woundit;
The sone that wox all paill now schynis bricht,
And dirknes clerit, our fayth is now refoundit.
The knell of mercy fra the hevin is soundit,
The Cristin ar deliverit of thair wo,
The Jowis and thair errour ar confoundit:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

The fo is chasit, the battell is done ceis,
The presone brokin, the jevellouris fleit and flemit;
The weir is gon, confermit is the peis,
The fetteris lowsit and the dungeoun temit,
The ransoun maid, the presoneris redemit,
The feild is win, ourcumin is the fo,
Dispulit of the tresur that he yemit:
Surrexit Dominus de sepulchro.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

He that hes gold and grit riches

Variations on William Dunbar, 2

He that has plenty of gold and riches
And could be in great happiness
But gladness from himself expells
And lives in stingy wretchedness --
He makes sorrow for himself.

He that could be without storm and strife
And live a joyful pleasant life
And then with marriage has to meddle
And takes up with a no-good wife --
He makes sorrow for himself.

He that has for company
A woman without spot or stain
And then goes plucking at strange shells
And wears himself out with flies of Spain --
He makes sorrow for himself.

And he that with good life and truth
Buys novelty and bad excuse
Forever with a master dwells
Who will have on him no ruth --
He makes sorrow for himself.

Now all this time let us be merry
And set not by this world a cherry;
Now, while there's good wine for sale,
He that on dry bread will worry --
I give him to the devil of hell.

The original, from James Kinsley's edition.

He that hes gold and grit riches
And may be into mirrynes,
And dois glaidnes fra him expell
And levis into wrechitnes,
He wirkis sorrow to him sell.

He that may be but sturt or stryfe
And leif ane lusty plesand lyfe,
And syne with mariege dois him mell
And bindis him with ane wicket wyfe,
He wirkis sorrow to him sell.

He that hes for his awin genyie
Ane plesand prop, but mank or menyie,
And schuttis syne at ane uncow schell,
And is forfairn with the fleis of Spenyie,
He wirkis sorrow to him sell.

And he that with gud lyfe and trewth,
But varians or uder slewth,
Dois evirmair with ane maister dwell
That nevir of him will haif no rewth,
He wirkis sorrow to him sell.

Now all this tyme lat us be mirry,
And sett nocht by this warld a chirry,
Now quhill thair is gude wyne to sell;
He that dois on dry breid wirry,
I gif him to the Devill of hell.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Belay On

My father has loaned us money so we can stay in the house this year. I'm so grateful.

And the massage business is picking up. Hooray!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Yet Another War

At Lee's prodding, I'm participating in the blogswarm against the war in Iraq. I do so with some reluctance. Not because the war is, or ever has been, conscionable. But because I refuse to regard it as anything special. It's simply another of the interminable wars, neither especially bad nor especially justified. I can't stop people from conducting them: they've done it all my life, and they will continue doing it for as long as there are human beings, I expect. Each war is presented as a special case. This enemy is uniquely bad, uniquely dangerous; is responsible for uniquely horrible atrocities, presents a uniquely compelling threat. That's how we're persuaded to fight them. And the people who resist the wars usually accept the terms, merely reversing the polarity: this war, they tell us, is uniquely unjustified, uniquely ruinous. It's not. It's just another run of the mill war.

I argued strenuously against beginning this war. I predicted its course with tolerable accuracy. It would be a walkover, I said. (You remember the leftist journalists, such as Alexander Cockburn, who predicted a ferocious war, with hundreds of thousands of casualties? No? Well, I do. People with no knowledge of military realities, reasoning apparently from some notion of the mystical power of third-world righteousness.)

It would be a walkover, I said, followed by years of increasingly bloody and increasingly unpopular occupation. Eventually we'd just leave, and the various people whom we encouraged to stick their necks out would be slaughtered. The Kurds in particular, who, in a lunatic moment, trusted us again, would be betrayed. Again.

That was quite clear to me. I didn't know whether Saddam had weapons of mass destruction: that was anyone's guess. But I knew he didn't have the delivery systems. It really didn't matter whether he had the weapons or not. People have extravagant ideas about how militarily useful such weapons are. I was in great anxiety as our troops approached Baghdad -- I was expecting a chemical or biological attack. Not one that would alter the course of the war, but one which would kill tens of thousands of people. Mercifully, it didn't happen.

So now we're at the stage when we decide the war's no fun anymore, and we're going to take our toys and go home. I agree that the Bush administration has botched the occupation so spectacularly that there's no point in staying, but I hardly feel enthusiastic about leaving. We'll be breaking promises and leaving people in the lurch.

We will leave Iraq. And, within ten or fifteen years, we will be at war somewhere else, making similar unkeepable promises, responding, yet again, to a uniquely wicked enemy who presents a uniquely dangerous threat. Forgive me if I fail to show enthusiastic support or indignant outrage. It's business as usual. Great powers have always acted this way. If your nation doesn't fight colonial wars, dear reader, it's not because of its moral superiority -- it's simply because your nation isn't a great power any more.

I can't stop it, or the grief that's in store for the next crop of young people, or the grief in store for the the next country that becomes too much of a nuisance to Washington. But I can, and I do, refuse to regard it as meaningful. It's neither glorious nor tragic: it's simply the continual muddy misery of human confusion, grinding through another cycle.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Half a Century

Fifty years old today. I never thought I'd live this long: I had an intense conviction, in my youth, that I would die young. I still could, of course. One's notion of what "dying young" means is revised upward, as the years go by; and I suppose all of us, in our own private opinions at least, die young.

It's such a strange visit, this human life. We arrive in a stranger's house, and never really feel at home; we painfully learn the customs of our hosts, but they never really make sense; we learn to speak the language well enough to ask the way to the bus station, but not well enough to be able to unburden our hearts. And then, embarrassingly, we become sick, and impose the burden of our care on our unprepared hosts; and finally we leave, abruptly -- for home, maybe, or maybe for a stranger place still, or maybe for nowhere at all. What's the sense in all that?

I woke up longing. It's not yet light. Swinburne's lines came unexpectedly to mind, when I remembered I had a milestone birthday, today:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.

I missed Larissa's knitalong, yesterday. I meant to go, but the time slipped away. Maybe someone would have taught me to knit, there. I learned once -- at least, how to continue; I don't think I ever learned how to cast on.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Travell & Simons

w0000000t!!! It's here!

The bible of Trigger Point therapy: two volumes, 1,600 pages of meticulously researched and beautifully presented data, marvelous illustrations. It's expensive. I had to decide between it and a cheap laptop to replace my late lamented Thinkpad. But worth it. And now that I have it, I'm so happy! It's like when I first got the compact OED, long ago; every couple minutes I'm jumping up to look up another thing I've been wondering about for years.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

White Falls

You see? There is nothing to say there,
White chalk on white walls,
Chalk dust on white hands. The whiteness.
White tongues
Licking white lips. Because underneath
The teeth are showing. If you look

Deeper or shallower than precisely
Skin deep
You will start to see the whiteness, leaching from
The bones, or leaking from
The bleach of the sky.

And if the love is that much stronger
At the same time the words
Will not settle to their task; they scatter,
Pale fish,
The slow white blood
Of the pale world.

Paper white, birch white, darling,
Snow white; white as the hoarse
Cold water of the falls.

Sunday, March 02, 2008


Ruth tagged me: seven things about myself. I could only come up with three. And I don't tag anymore, so I'm not really doing it right. But this is what came up.

1. At the age of six, or so, I performed in a musical Christmas show. To the tune of "Frosty the Snowman" I and a dozen of my fellow six year olds danced, brandishing brooms. Brooms? Do I remember that right? Are snowmen supposed to carry brooms?

Well, whatever we were carrying, I remember the performance vividly, because before the opening bars were played, my snowman costume had rucked around so that the eyeholes were somewhere over my ears, or possibly at the back of my head, rendering me blind as well as confused, and I blundered forlornly over the stage, occasionally hopping a little and waving my broom, to signal my good intentions, to indicate that if I could have seen I would have tried to dance. I could hear people laughing. I was mortified. No doubt I was adorable.

To this day I can't hear the tune of "Frosty the Snowman" without dread and foreboding descending upon me.

2. Somewhere in British Columbia is a green island, with a empty stone tower on it. To climbers, it was irresistible, straight up and down, yet loaded with good holds. It seemed, with good hand- and foot-holds everywhere, that it would be far easier to climb than some mountain faces we had handled. My Dad went up the stairs to the top and let down a belay rope. I tied the rope around my waist. There's a ritualized protocol for this:

"Belay on!" he called.

"Climbing!" I called back.

"Climb!" he called, and I began to climb up.

But it turns out that mountain faces are not straight up and down, not usually. There are harder places to get up, but there are also more resting places. Halfway up, twenty yards up maybe, my hands began to tremble. "Tension!" I called. The rope tightened.

There's a protocol for this, too. "Falling!" I called

"Really?" came my father's startled voice, and his face peered mildly over the stones. Reverting to protocol, he called, "Fall!" as my hands slipped from the rock.

He caught me, and lowered me steadily. Ten yards below, a couple yards over, was a window onto the stairway inside. I managed, dangling and breathing with difficulty, to make my way to it and scramble over the sill.

3. Spokane Washington. Out on the railroad tracks, three of us young teenage freaks, longhaired, jeanpatched. I wore a jacket but no shirt, and an army helmet. Some of the local kids started to shout and chase us. My two friends ran. I've never been much good at running. So I didn't. Without looking back, I walked grimly, unhurriedly along. The sound of running feet on railbed gravel. I didn't turn.

"It!" said a voice, and tapped me on the helmet. Then they took themselves off. Just counting coup.

Saturday, March 01, 2008


I woke this morning with a small animal gnawing at my entrails.

We'll have to sell the house. Simply no money anymore for this big old house. We need to find something cheap and little, in a worse neighborhood.

I've loved this house. Christmas, Duncan, Socks and Angel, not to mention Croaker, are buried in the back yard. At night I look up through the skylight to see the vast, ancient maples stirring far above. Out back, the even older apple tree, possibly the last scion of the orchards of Mt Tabor. The vine-tangled trampoline.

Now that we're going to have to leave it, I love everything about it with a startling intensity. And I treated it so carelessly when I had it. That's where the real pain lies, I think. Not in losing the house I love, but in losing the chance ever to love it properly, love it as I should have done from the first.