Category Archives: Poetry

Love and Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy of course is the great Victorian novelist, short story writer and lately appreciated poet. Many of his works deal with men and women and their love affairs. If you have never checked him out, I urge you to do so. He is well worth it. He was admired by writers like D. H. Lawrence (who wrote a book about it), the great John Cowper Powys, W.Somerset Maugham, and the great misanthropic poet Philip Larkin. He was a follower of the Naturalist School made famous by Emile Zola.

The Naturalists were a follow-on to the Realists such as Gustave Flaubert (proto-realist) and Anthony Trollope (classic realist). It was supposed to be an improvement upon realism, but I am not sure how. Both of these were reactions against the overly florid, unrealistic and overwrought stories of the time. Zola in particular sought to be almost scientific in his descriptions of the people in his books. Both sought to simply portray characters, humans and scenes as they actually are and let readers draw their own didactic or moralistic conclusions if they so wished.

As far as Hardy himself in love, he was famously married a couple of times. He was described as an unhappy husband. When his second wife died in 1912 after they were estranged for over 20 years, nevertheless, Hardy become a distraught widower and produced some of his finest poetry in Satires of Circumstance published two years later. These are considered to be some of the saddest, most powerful and finest poems about death ever written in English.

And so we have Thomas Hardy:

  • Unhappy husband, and then
  • Distraught widower

He was miserable while he was married to her, but he was even more miserable when she was dead. There is a lesson in here somewhere, maybe:

  • The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, or simply
  • People are never happy

I prefer the latter.

5 Comments

Filed under Literature, Novel, Poetry, Psychology, Romantic Relationships

Good, Evil and the Inferno

Below, Anonymous (he is actually a friend of mine in disguise) has some interesting comments about Dante’s Inferno, one of the greatest books ever written. There are many translations available, but I recommend the one by John Ciardi, who is Italian himself by the way. Dante himself was a rather nasty man, extremely puritanical almost like a Christian version of the Saudi religious police. He used to stand outside and rail at the neighbors, calling them sinners. They probably were, at least in his book, but who likes a prig. He was also a stern, grim and rather mean-spirited fellow who seemed to regard most of his fellow humans with contempt as he felt they were “fallen.”

But then Shakespeare was a cheapskate, tightwad, penny-pinching, greedy bastard, litigiously fond of suing his neighbors for small amounts of cash. His own wife and children were said to not care for him too much.

But when I told my mother this, she got annoyed and basically said, “So what?” He pointed out that we do not remember Shakespeare because he was basically a bastard in day to day life with his fellow humans. We remember him for his greatest achievement, his plays with not only withstood the test of mine but possibly have not yet been surpassed or possibly even equaled.

You can make a good case that he is the greatest English writer of all time. His artistic achievement was so great that it surely outweighed his antisocial behavior in day to day life, although you might have a hard time convincing those who knew him well and suffered through his insufferable behavior of that.

Dante is similar. As a human, he was a pretty lousy. But so what? He is surely the greatest writer of the Italian language ever, surpassing even Boccaccio, and he is up there with Shakespeare with the greatest writers period of all time. He wrote in the 1300’s, but it could have been yesterday.

PS if you have not read the Inferno, you need to go read that book right now, dammit, unless you are one of those who I discussed in my piece who spends their life running from bad things. In that case, you will not enjoy this nasty little book, which is fascinating for its nine circles of Hell descending from the least sinful on the outskirts of Hell to the worst of all frying away for eternity in the boiling black heart of the first circle of Hell.

In limbo, the ninth circle, those who frittered and wasted away their lives for no reason (like me) are condemned to float in the air endlessly like a spaceman drifting about in zero gravity space. They’re the “floaters.” As the sins get worse and worse, so do the glorious punishments! It is ingenious the nasty punishments he comes up to torture these sinners for all of time. This delightful little book should be read with a wicked little glimmer in one’s eye. Be prepared to let your inner sadist out of his cell to romp around a bit as you read this nasty gem of a book. If you have the tiniest bit of cruelty in your heart, this book is plenty enough to sate your appetite for sadistic pleasure.

Purgatorio, the second book of the great Divine Comedy, is also awesome, unless you hate Catholics for their nasty little innovation, in which case, don’t bother.

Purgatory is for those who were not evil enough to be sent to Hell but nevertheless were pretty darn bad, not good enough to go to Heaven so they have to be sent to the way station between Heaven and Hell, Mount Purgatory, where they “work off their sins” in the most horrible of ways for a very long time with the slight solace that once they get through this 14th Century Auschwitz and work off their sins enough to satisfy God, they can at long last be admitted to Heaven. Purgatorio is not quite as good as the Inferno, but it is nevertheless excellent. I highly recommend it.

I have not read Paradiso. It is said to be the weakest of the three, but even a weak book by Dante is still better than 99% of the dreck floating around out there in Literary Limbo.

PS. He comments on “looking at life in the way that is described in the post. The main thrust of the post was supposed to be my idea that an intelligent Hell would be much superior than an insipid Heaven. I also discussed how most people spend their whole lives running from their pain, their painful history, their possibly painful futures and the painful world that surrounds us all.

While it makes sense to be an optimist, I personally have nothing against thinking about lousy things that have happened to me, are happening to me, or are happening around me because first of all, that’s how life is (Buddhists say “all of life is suffering”) so there is no sense running from 50% of the universe, and also because I have either made my peace with most awful things (especially those in my past) so it doesn’t really bother me or upset me too much to think about them.

I then point out that even lousy experiences, of which life has a ton, can at the very least be seen as a learning experience or an interesting bit of life if you want to step back, detach and be a bit analytical and philosophical about things, which isn’t as Aspie as it sounds. Sure life is painful, but it ought to also be numbing. That’s how you toughen up after all. You get a bit hard. And so what? That’s called “getting it done.”

Anonymous writes:

Inferno is a very interesting book, Dante uses symbols, metaphors, and allusions for pretty much every aspect of Hell. I thought this epic (I believe that’s its classification, since it’s poetic). But, despite this coping mechanism he uses to help liberate himself from depression, I don’t believe he ever got “better”.

On another note, would you call Dante hypocritical? Yes, his Hell did feature political rivals and other assholes that deserved their punishments. But, Dante himself, was not perfect (I am referring to his rumored love affair with Beatrice). Even his Hell is contradictory: his map of Hell is based off of the Heliocentric Theory, yet he sticks with the more conservative view that those who are not Christian stay in Hell (reason for Virgil being there).

So, what I am trying to “get at” is why is it okay to view yourself as good and others as evil. I think it’s okay to view yourself as innocent, but is it okay to view yourself as good…? Good and innocent are often associated with each other, but good is an adjective that describes character, while innocent is an adjective that can also describe an action. So, while a person can be innocent, they may not necessarily be good.

Don’t get me wrong: it is tempting to look at life in the way that’s described in this blog post. But, I keep feeling like there should be a grey, in-between area because I don’t want commit hypocrisy.

Maybe I misunderstood what was typed…but…

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Filed under Literature, Philosophy, Poetry, Theater

“Latin America Has to Fight and Win!” by Andre Vitchek

If you want to know what is going on in Latin America right now, this is all you have to read. What’s funny is that I have been telling the truth about Latin America for some time now, and I still have commenters that come here and recite the same old lies about the Left regimes in Latin America.

For instance, our media lies and tells you that all of those shortages in Venezuela are due to the inept socialist system they have. But guess what? The economy is nearly 100% capitalist! The capitalists run the show in Venezuela. They provide nearly all of the products that you see in the stores.

Honestly, in a free market economy, you should never have shortages of any legal product. Think about it – it goes against the logical of laissez-faire free market theory. If there is more demand for a product than supply, sure prices go up, but also the capitalists frantically try to buy more of the product to fulfill the extreme need.

There’s no way you can possibly have a product shortage in a capitalist economy. Can you tell me how you can possibly have a product shortage of a highly in demand product with a plentiful wholesale supply in a capitalist economy? If you can, I am all ears. Also the ghosts of Adam Smith and David Ricardo would like to have a word with you.

So that is a question I am throwing up to the Latin American Left haters on this board: Please explain to me how you can possibly have a shortage of a highly in demand with a huge supply available outside the local economy product in a capitalist society. I want to hear this. I am all ears.

Latin America Has to Fight and Win!

by Andre Vitchek

America latina

For now, Argentina is lost and Venezuela is deeply wounded, divided and frustrated. Virtually everywhere in socialist Latin America, well-orchestrated and angry protests are taking place, accusing our left-wing governments of mismanagement and corruption.

What was gained during those years of hard work and sacrifices, is suddenly evaporating in front of our eyes. And there seems to be no way to stop the trend in the foreseeable future. Whatever magnificent work our governments have done have been smeared. Western propaganda and its local serfs belittle the achievements of our people. In several countries, revolutionary zeal has almost entirely vanished.

*

It is clear, even with an unarmed eye that great progress had been made. Those of us who knew Ecuador two decades ago, (then a depressing country, humiliated and torn by disparities and racism), are now impressed by its wonderful social services, free culture and modern infrastructure.

Indigenous people of Bolivia are proudly in possession of their own land.

Venezuela has been inspiring the entire Latin America and the world by its internationalism and determined struggle against Western imperialism.

Chile, step by small step, has been dismantling the grotesque legacy of Pinochet’s dictatorship, moving firmly towards socialism.

There are hundreds of great and inspiring examples, all over the continent.

In less than two decades, Latin America converted itself from one of the most depressing parts of the world, to the most progressive one.

A few years ago, it really seemed that the Empire had finally lost. There was no way that South Americans would want to go back to the days of darkness. The achievements of socialism were too obvious, too marvelous. Who would want to go back to the gloomy nihilism, depressing feudal structures and the fascist client-state arrangements?

Then the Empire re-grouped. It gathered its local lieutenants, its lackeys, and began striking back with deadly force.

All the means of imperialist propaganda were applied. The goal was to convince people that what they see is not actually real. Another objective was to subvert, to torpedo most of the achievements.

*

We lost elections? What nonsense!

It was clean economic and political terror unleashed against us, and it was the most vicious propaganda, which began forcing out the left wing governments of Latin America from power!

The world was watching, still demanding more Western-style “democracy”, more concessions. The West administered a “Fifth Column” that damaged Latin American revolutions, after infiltrating both media and brains in Caracas, Buenos Aires, even Quito. It consisted especially of the liberals and those so-called ‘progressive forces’; the same people who tried to bury the Cuban revolution after the Soviet Union had been destroyed by Western imperialism. The same people actually who were cheering the demolition of the Soviet Union itself.

They kept pushing for anarchism and for some formulae of “participatory economy”, in fact for their own concepts, for Western, white concepts, for something that most of Latin American people who fought and won their revolutions never asked for!

Jealous and petty, they hate the true powerhouses of resistance against Western imperialism: Russia, China, Iran or South Africa and in fact, even Latin America itself.

Latin American people have always been intuitively longing for big, strong governments, like those in Cuba and those that lately emerged in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador. And their natural allies should have been those countries from other, non-Western parts of the world, with powerful people-oriented leadership, not some European and North American individuals representing grotesque and defunct movements and “intellectual” concepts.

In several countries, Latin America lost its way and again got derailed by Western demagoguery. Suddenly there was almost nothing left here of Chinese or Russian or Vietnamese ideas, nothing of internationalism, only Western soft liberal egotists and countless irrelevant marginal groups.

History was forgotten. It was simple, decisive and powerful action by China that single-handedly saved Cuba, when the island-nation was hit by the Gorbachev and Yeltsin disasters. I wrote about it a lot, and Fidel quoted me, agreeing in his “Reflections”.

It was the Soviet Union that stood in solidarity with almost all revolutionary movements of Latin America throughout the 20thcentury. And it was Russia that was backing Chávez during the countless Western attempts to overthrow his government.

*

Playing with anarchism, liberalism and Euro-socialist concepts brought several Latin American revolutions to the brink of absolute calamity.

South America is at the frontline. It is under attack. There is no time for the flowery theories.

I know Latin American revolutionaries. I have met many, from Eduardo Galeano to several Cuban and Sandinista leaders.

I also met many of the South American ‘elites’.

One day, not long after Evo Morales came to power in Bolivia, I spoke to a man, a member of one of the ‘leading’ families, which has in its ranks Senators, owners of mass media outlets, as well as captains of local industry.

“We will get rid of Morales”, he told me, openly. “Because he is a dirty Indian, and because we will not tolerate lefties in this part of the world.”

He was not hiding his plans – he was extremely confident.

We don’t care how much money we have to spend; we have plenty of money. And we have plenty of time. We will use our media and we will create food and consumer goods deficits. Once there is nothing to eat, once there are food lines in all the major cities, as well as great insecurity and violence, people will vote him out of power.

It was clearly the concept used by the Chilean fascist economic and political right wing thugs, before the 1973 US-backed coup against President Salvador Allende. “Uncertainty, shortages”, and if everything failed – then a brutal military coup.

In Bolivia the “elites” tried and tried, but they were not successful, because there was great solidarity with the government of Evo Morales, coming from socialist countries like Brazil and Venezuela.

When the Right tried to break the country to pieces, pushing for the independence of the richest, “white” province of Santa Cruz, Brazilian President Lula declared that he was going to send the mightiest army in the South American continent and “defend the integrity of the neighboring country”.

It is beasts, and actually extremely powerful beasts, who are heading the “opposition” in South America.

And to be frank, we can hardly speak about an “opposition”. These are oligarchs, landowners, Christian (many from the Opus Dei) demagogues and military leaders. In many ways they are still the true rulers of the continent.

Nothing except brute force can stop them. They have unlimited financial resources, they have a propaganda machine at their disposal, and they can always count on the Empire to back them up. In fact it is the Empire that is encouraging, training and sustaining them.

*

“Violations of democracy and human rights!” the “opposition” yells, whenever our governments decide to hit back. It is not that we are lately hitting back really hard, but any retaliation is packaged as “brutal”.

What do we in fact do? We arrest just a few of the most outrageous terrorists – those who are openly trying to overthrow or destabilize the state.

But when they, the ‘elites’ and their armies, came to power, they cut open people’s stomachs, and threw them from helicopters straight into the sea.

Their death squads violate children in front of their parents. Female prisoners are raped by specially trained German shepherds dogs, and tubes with starved rats are inserted into their vaginas.

Entire movements and parties are liquidated by fascist South American battalions of death (some of them trained in the United States), but we must use some nice and clean tactics and “democratic means” to prevent them from grabbing power again?

The white, racist, colonialist Christian implants from Europe have been forming so-called South American ‘elites’. They are actually some of the cruelest human beings on Earth. Thanks to them, before our latest wave of Revolutions, Latin America suffered from the greatest disparities on earth.

Tens of millions of its people were murdered. It was racially divided. It was plundered. Its veins were, and to a great extent still are, open – to borrow from the terminology of the great storyteller Eduardo Galeano.

My friend Noam Chomsky wrote about it extensively. I wrote about it in several chapters of my two latest books: “Exposing Lies Of The Empire and Fighting Against Western Imperialism. Others have as well.

How can people still listen to those mass murderers, with a straight face?

*

One thing cannot be disputed: only a big and powerful government and its army could now defend its people. Latin American revolutionary leaders were given a mandate by the people, and they have no right to back up, to betray.

Indecisiveness could prove lethal.

Referendum after referendum, people expressed their support for the revolutionary Proceso, in Venezuela and elsewhere. Year after year the fascist “opposition” has been showing spite for the voices of the people, the same spite it has demonstrated for centuries.

Sabotage after sabotage was administered, one treasonous act after another committed. As was promised by the Bolivian ‘elites’, the Venezuelan capitalist bandits paralyzed their country by shortages. Even rolls of toilet paper became ‘a deficit’. All too familiar… Like in Chile before 1973!

The message is clear: “you want to be able to wipe your ass after shitting, then betray socialism!” Or: “You want to eat? Then down with the legacy of Chávez!”

The will of the people is being humiliated. The elites are spitting straight into the faces of the majority.

Some citizens are now voting for the right, simply because they are exhausted, because they are scared, because they see no solution. They are voting against their own will (as they used to in Nicaragua during the reign of Aleman), because if they vote for their own candidates, they would be made to eat shit, literally.

But solutions are there! They are available.

Instead of listening to some Eurocentric gurus from Slovenia or New England, the Latin American governments should ask for help and lean on such countries as Russia and China, immediately joining alternative financial institutions, forging defense treaties, working on energy and other deals with those who are actually standing up against Western imperialism.

Latin America should never lose its independence. But with proven good friends and true powerful alliances, independence is never lost.

Our leaders should shed their dependency on the Western Left. Mainly because the Western Left does not exist anymore, with some tiny, miniscule exceptions that proves the rule. What remain are a huge army of “liberals”, and then a tremendous multitude of selfish beings defending their own interests and concepts.

They are horrified of those who are truly fighting and winning; therefore they openly hate Russia, China and other non-Western nations. Frankly, they are racist. Such people cannot inspire or impress anybody, and so they are trying their luck at the distant shores, diluting determination and perverting the essence of the South American revolutions.

This is the time to be focused. South America should fight, with all its might. It is not easy, but its treasonous families, those who are destroying the precious lives of tens of millions of human beings, should be identified, arrested and tried. It should be done immediately!

What many of them are actually doing is not “being in opposition”. They are interrupting the democratic process in their own countries, selling their homelands once again to foreign powers and international capital.

*

Mass media outlets that are spreading misinformation, lies and foreign propaganda should also be immediately identified. They should be exposed, confronted, and if their goal is to destroy the socialist fatherland, shut down. Again, this is no time for liberal niceties.

Freedom of expression has nothing to do with the freedom of using newspapers and television stations to spread fabrications, fear and uncertainty, or to call for the direct overthrow of democratically elected governments.

And in South America, entire huge international newspaper and television syndicates have been working for years and decades for one single and deadly goal – to smear and liquidate the Left, and to deliver the entire continent back to the racist, fascist foreign imperialist rulers.

It has all gone too far, and it has to stop.

A few months ago, I was riding on the impressive Sao Paulo metro system, together with my Cuban friend.

“It is much better than any public transportation network that I have seen in Europe or in the United States”, I exclaimed.

“But people in Brazil think that it is total shit”, commented my friend, laconically.

“How come?” I was shocked.

“Because they are told so on the television, and because they read it in the newspapers”.

Yes, that’s how it is! Free art, including opera, given to the Brazilian public, is nothing more than crap, if one reads the mainstream Brazilian press. Free medical care, no matter how (still) imperfect it is, is not even worth praising. Free education in so many South American countries …

New transportation networks, free or heavily subsidized books, brilliant parks with brand new libraries that are mushrooming in Chile and Ecuador… Financial support for the poor, the fight to keep children in school, the fight to save the environment, countless programs to protect indigenous communities…

Nothing, nothing, and absolutely nothing is positive in the eyes of the pro-Western South American propagandists!

This has become one huge counter-process, financed from foreign and local sources, aimed at discrediting all those great achievements.

*

Corruption!!! That is the new battle cry of the elites and their lackeys. Accusations of corruption are fabricated or inflated against all governments of the left: Dilma Rousseff in Brazil, Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela, Evo Morales of Bolivia, even Michelle Bachelet of Chile. Cristina Kirchner’s back was almost broken by constant corruption charges.

But how on earth could anyone take such accusations seriously, if they are coming from those who have been plundering, for over 500 years, their own continent on behalf of Europe and then the United States and multi-national corporations?

Like locusts, the right-wing families have been looting all the natural resources, while forcing people into near slave labor. Under horrendous feudal and fascist rulers, Latin America was converted into the pinnacle of corruption – moral and economic.

Nothing was left intact, and nothing remained pure. In order to survive in such a vile system, people had to bend, twist, and maneuver.

Now these same bandit clans that have been destroying the continent are smearing, pointing fingers at the governments that are, step by step, trying to reverse the trend and serve the people.

The same bastards that were bombing restaurants and hotels in their own countries, planting bombs on passenger airliners, and assassinating thousands of innocent people, are talking about morality.

Are our people, our governments, expected to reach, to achieve total purity in just one or two decades, after the entire continent had been functioning for over 500 years as a bordello of Western colonialism and imperialism?

Are we going to allow ourselves to be on the defensive when facing those who robbed and raped almost everything and everybody in Latin America?

*

Yes, the people of Latin America were brutalized for several long centuries. They went through unimaginable suffering. They lost everything. But they never gave up. Since the holocaust performed by Spanish, Portuguese and other European barbaric conquerors, they have been rising, rebelling and fighting for their scarred land.

Pablo Neruda wrote a tremendous poem “Heights of Machu Picchu.” Eduardo Galeano wrote “Open Veins of Latin America”. It is all there, in those two tremendous works.

The fight goes on, to this very moment.

Most of the power is now, finally, in the hands of those who are determined to fight for the interests of their people.

We have no right to be defeated. If we do, hundreds of millions will lose their future and their hope.

Such an opportunity would not come back. It is here, for the first time in 500 years! Millions died to bring it here. If the Revolution is crashed now, it may not return in full force for who knows how many years. In simple terms it means that several more generations would be lost!

We have to counterattack now. What are we waiting for? Of what are we afraid? That the biggest terrorist on Earth – the West – would brand us as undemocratic? That the same West that has, for centuries, overthrown our governments, murdered our leaders as well as simple men, women and children would not give us its stamp of approval? That we would be criticized by those countries, which are still looting, violating, lying and ruining?

Our friends, our allies are not in the West. We all know how lukewarm was the support given to Venezuela, Cuba or Ecuador in Europe and North America by those “progressive forces”, and how hostile was the mainstream. We have to wake up and join forces with those who are now standing proudly and with great determination against Western imperialism and market fundamentalism.

There is no time for experiments. This is the fight for our survival!

As I wrote earlier, in order for the Revolutions to continue, we need big governments, determined cadres, loyal armies and mighty allies. We also need huge Latin American solidarity, true unity and integration. One monolithic South American block in fraternal embrace with other truly independent countries.

This is an extremely serious moment, Comrades! This is damn serious.

Anarchism and the concepts of the factories administered by workers will not save us right now.

Argentina has fallen, but Venezuela is still standing. Each creek, each boulder has now to be defended, be it in Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile, Venezuela, Nicaragua or Cuba.

We have to be tough, we have to be alert, and we cannot do it alone!

Venceremos nuevamente, camaradas!

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Filed under Americas, Argentina, Asia, Brazil, Capitalism, Caribbean, Chile, China, Christianity, Colonialism, Corruption, Cuba, Economics, Ecuador, Eurasia, Europe, Fascism, Government, Imperialism, Internationalism, Iran, Journalism, Latin America, Latin American Right, Left, Liberalism, Literature, Poetry, Political Science, Politics, Racism, Regional, Religion, Revolution, Russia, Socialism, South Africa, South America, Uruguay, USA, USSR, Venezuela

My State Is Ablaze

This site has some extremely cool photos and commentary of the California drought and wildfires currently ravaging our state.

There is also commentary on the insanity of California towns and cities which insist on adding more and more new homes when they have no idea if there is enough water for the new residents. It is in areas like this that capitalism fails most miserably and government in capitalist countries never seems to step up to the plate. Capitalist countries seem determined to suicidally “grow themselves to death.” It is like they are making a rope made up of twine from shredded up dollar bills and hanging themselves with it. With all the other awful things about greed, it is starting to become obvious to me that greed is also outright suicidal, an analysis that I have not seen much about.

Speaking of suicidal, the farmers in the Central Valley continue to over-pump groundwater like mad. The state previously had no regulations whatsoever on groundwater and was unique among Western states in that regard. Even ultraright states like Idaho and Utah have better groundwater regulations than we do! Governor Brown just signed a new groundwater bill but it is truly pitiful in that it doesn’t go nearly far enough to regulate groundwater in this lunatic state.

Apparently farmers are suicidal too. These crazy farmers will keep pumping that groundwater until there’s not a drop left and then the whole valley will dry up. Then the farmers will bitch and scream and demand to suck every river in the state dry. These farmers here are some of the stupidest and most reactionary and evil farmers in the US, and I am certain that they could easily commit agricultural suicide by draining the groundwater.

Over on the East Side, the land is sinking as much as 2 inches per month. Excuse me, but that is absolutely insane.

Here is a comment on the article:

Nin, It’s that terrible spectre, Growth. It’s had the whole planet under its spell so long that this self-created tyranny no longer discloses its true face, all we get to see is the frenetic race to doom, the spread of the contagion, business as usual.

John Keats, who had had medical training, had watched his mother and younger brother die of t.b., knew its course all too intimately, and was probably already aware of its symptomatic approach by this time, third week of April 1819. He asked of poetry that it be “felt on the pulse”. The pulse by this time is weakening, erratic, feverish. The production mills of the market are squirreling away their nuts, yet here he is, fading, failing, distracted, falling out of the busy world’s getting & spending picture —

On the cold hill’s side.
And this is why I sojourn here…

I saw those vacationers with their beach gear at dry, growth-choked Folsom Lake as today’s recreational sojourners, the consumption component in the economic cycle, sojourners, insatiable, passing through and using up but not staying long enough to check out the devastation endured by the doomed natives of the island.

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Filed under Agricutlure, California, Capitalism, Economics, Fires, Government, Law, Literature, Local, Mother Nature, Poetry, Regional, USA, West

Robert Burns, “Tam O Shanter”

This poem was written in and is being read in a language called Scots, which is not a dialect of English as many people think. Scots split off from English in ~1500, or 500 years ago. This is approximately what two languages sound like when they have been split apart for 500 years. I listened to this, although I can make out some words and even phrases here and there, honestly, I do not have the faintest idea what he is talking about, and I am missing most of this language. I can hear ~25% of it, if that.  However, a good friend of mine from England listened to it and she said she could make out ~70%. So there you go. See if you can make heads or tails of this stuff.

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Filed under Balto-Slavic-Germanic, English language, Germanic, Indo-European, Language Families, Linguistics, Literature, Poetry, Scots

Keats

Do any of you like John Keats? Famous English Romantic poet who lived in the Romantic Era. Born 1795, died young of tuberculosis in 1821 at age 25. He led a pretty sad life. Other Romantic poets were Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sidney Lamb, Thomas Carlyle and William Wordsworth. There sure was a lot of great poetry around back in those days. Except for the tuberculosis and doctors who tried to cure you via blood loss, it was probably a great time to be alive.

I have wandered through quite a few of Keats’ poems, but that doesn’t mean that I understood what was going on in all of them. Keats’ poems are often hard to understand. But even if can’t figure out what the poem is about, they often feel real nice to read due to the beauty of the language. However, Ode to a Nightingale seems pretty straightforward to me. It’s beautiful stuff!

Ode to a Nightingale

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains

My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,

Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains

One minute last, and Lethe-wards had sunk:

‘Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,

But being too happy in thine happiness,

That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,

In some melodious plot

Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,

Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

 

O for a draught of vintage! That hath been

Cool’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,

Tasting of Floa and the country-green,

Dance, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!

O for a beaker full of the warm South!

Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,

With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,

And purple-stained mouth,

That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,

And with thee fade away into the forest dim-

 

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known,

The weariness the fever and the fret

Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;

Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last grey hairs,

Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;

Where but to think is to be full of sorrow

And leaden-eyed despairs;

Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,

Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

 

Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,

Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,

But on the viewless wings of Poesy,

Though the dull brain perplexes and retards.

Already with thee! Tender is the night,

Clustered around by all her starry Fays;

But here there is no light,

Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown

Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

 

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,

Nor what soft incense hands upon the boughs,

But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet

Wherewith the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild –

White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;

Fast fading violets covered up in leaves;

And mid-May’s eldest child,

The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,

The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

 

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time

I have been half in love with easeful Death,

Called hi soft names in many a mused rhyme,

To take into the air my quiet breath;

Now more than ever seems it rich to die,

To cease upon the midnight with no pain,

While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad

In such an ecstasy!

Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain –

To thy high requiem become a sod.

 

Thou wast born for death, immortal Bird!

No hungry generations tread thee down;

The voice I hear this passing night was heard

In ancient days by emperor and clown:

Perhaps the self-same song that found a path

Through the sad heart of Ruth, when sick for home,

She stood in tears amid the alien corn;

The same that oft-times hath

Charmed magic casements, opening on the foam

Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.

 

Forlorn! The very word is like a bell

To toll me back from thee to my sole self!

Adieu! The fancy cannot cheat so well

As she is famed to do, deceiving elf.

Adieu! Adieu! Thy plaintive anthem fades

Past the near-meadows, over the still stream,

Up the hill-side; and now ‘tis buried deep

In the next valley-glades:

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music – Do I wake or sleep?

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Try Until You Die

“A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

– Robert Browning

That’s right. Never give up. Never stop trying. Never say uncle. Never say never. Keep on keeping on. Carry on, carry on. Get up and do it again. Nobody likes a quitter.

P.S. Browning is a really great 19th Century poet. You might want to check him out.

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The Hell with Quiet Desperation

Carpe diem!

One hour of life, crowded to the full with glorious action, and filled with noble risks, is worth whole years of those mean observances of paltry decorum, in which men steal through existence, like sluggish waters through a marsh, without either honour or observation. – Sir Walter Scott

“And then I can die happy.” That is one of my favorite saying. Not that I want to die now, but considering how I have lived my life, nothing much could happen between now and death in the next 30 years, and I could still die happy. That’s how fun my past was. Of course I want the present and future to be just as fun, but it doesn’t have to be. If I never have sex again, I can still die happy. I’ve had my fun.

PS Do you any of you like Scott? It is fashionable to hate him as some sort of a hack, but I am reading some of his poetry now (he wrote book-length poems) and I must say, it is pretty awesome.

In recent years, Scott has come somewhat back into favor as the academy has found some grounds for appreciating him. About time.

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Good Versus Evil, Film at 11

In the battle of Good versus Evil, who wins?

In Herman Melville’s works, Good and Evil often play a large role and they are pitted against each other. However, in many of his works, in the battle of Good and Evil, paradoxically, Evil somehow wins. This was one reason why his books were attacked as “immoral,” and “evil,” in his time. Melville was no Satanist. He was raised Christian, but his belief kept waxing and towards the end of his life, there was little remaining of it.

Nevertheless, he read extensively in the Bible, in particular, Song of Songs, Solomon and Ecclesiastes. All of these were written by or were about King Solomon, the son of King David. He also read extensively in the Book of Mormon. Biblical and other Christian religious allegories are sprinkled liberally throughout his books, in particular, the 600 page poem Clarel, about a journey to the Holy Land.

When Good and Evil go to war and Evil wins, this poses a serious problem for most religious people, in particular the Abrahamic religions which believe in an activist God. For if God exists and is an activist, when Good and Evil go to war, in most if not all cases, Good is supposed to win over Evil, as God is always thought to be stronger than the Devil. After all, no religion suggests that the Devil rules the world. All Abrahamic religions hold that God rules the world. The Devil tries to intrude and do his mischief of course, but when they go mano to mano, God ought to be able to deal with The Evil One quite handily.

Therefore, if there is a fight between Good and Evil and Evil wins, something has gone horribly wrong, and this poses a dilemma for most religious people. Melville interpreted this to mean either that there was no God at all or that if He existed, He was more or less sleeping on the job, and perhaps he ought even to be fired!

The religious have all sorts of explanations for how an activist God allows bad things to happen. They say he is testing us. They say that the Good people are not so good. This is reminiscent of how Puritanical feminists say Nice Guys (TM) are not really so nice after all, this is why women treat them like crap (and this is not the only way that feminists are similar to modern Comstocks). For instance, the Abrahamic Orthodox Jews said that the Jews rebelled against and defied God, and God responded with the Holocaust to punish Jewish rebellion. The solution is for the Jews to act better.

As you can gather, these explanations are quite weak when they are not grasping for truth and morally repugnant. I think we ought to just reject them all for now as lacking evidence and so strange as to seem false on their face.

So we move to Melville’s moral dilemma. We can either go towards atheism or agnosticism, or we go move into Deism. My father was actually a Deist, at least towards the end of his life, but he always hated Christianity and generally refused to go to church much to my mother’s chagrin. Deism was popular around the time of the US Revolutionary War, but it no longer has much popularity. After all, it is rather depressing to feel that you are on your own.

Another possibility is some sort of modified Deism. When I was working as a linguist for an Indian tribe, I asked a prominent anthropologist, Sylvia Broadbent, about the religious beliefs of the local Indians. They are now all fundamentalist Christians, but this is a modern thing. They also insist that they believe in a Great Creator, but this is another modern addition, as I deduced after a while. After the Indians became Christianized, many Indians across the US decided that they believed in a Great Creator, a notion that they took from Plains Indians tribes who apparently did have this notion pre-contact.

Yet pre-contact, there is little evidence that California Indians were much more than animists who believed that the world was alive with magic and spirits which could be manipulated by those who could do so. They did believe in life after death. Souls went to the West, to the Land of the Dead.

However, there was little belief in an almighty God. Broadbent felt that there was some notion of a Creator God, but this was more Deistic than anything else. Broadbent described the theory as Deux Obtusa, or the Lazy God. This was sort of the idea that God created the world, but He has not done a whole heck of a lot ever since. He mostly just sits up there in Heaven taking bong hits. Every now and then, when he is not too stoned, he wakes up and intervenes in our world a bit. Then he goes back to the bong. I like the notion of a lazy God, and even though I am a Christian, this is the sort of a God that I believe in.

How can we reckon that Evil often defeats Good? We can say that we live in a naturalistic world, and bad things happen to good people, by chance more than by design. And in a naturalistic world, a lazy God could indeed exist.

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Call Me Herman Melville

Melville’s books are much underrated; in fact, I feel he is one of the most underrated authors of all time. Moby-Dick, which is probably one of the top five novels ever written, even today has as many fans as it has enemies. Melville was excoriated in his lifetime, drawn and quartered by critics on both sides of the pond but mostly by his own countrymen. They only liked his first two books, Typee and Omoo, which were more the straightforward adventure stories that the public wanted. He was boring, incomprehensible, didactic and insane. Readers were more baffled than anything else by his books.

But Nathaniel Hawthorne, the other great American (and underrated) author of the 19th Century, saw his promise, granting him a rave review of Typee. And Moby-Dick itself is dedicated to none other than Hawthorne. The two men even formed a friendship when they lived close to each other in Massachusetts. Melville was a depressive and he lived most of his life in poverty. When he wrote what he called hackwork for money, the critics cheered him on. When he tried to write great literature, he was met with a tsunami of condemnation.

The abuse was so powerful that in 1856, he ceased writing novels altogether, writing only poetry. His poetry was also met with indifference and incomprehension, and he was thought to be a poor poet. In the modern era, he is now seen as one of the first poetic modernists. The Melville revival around 1924 coincided with the publication of the long lost novella Billy Budd, found by chance 30 years after his death. This brought about a resuscitation and reevaluation of the great author, and he is now seen as a great prose stylist and a fine poet to boot.

Melville’s novels are often weak in plot development, that is when they have any plot at all. What plots do exist are often quite mundane and even boring. The plots are typically used as vehicles for the prose style and the philosophical pontificating and meandering. Character development is often weak, and the characters are often unlikeable. The tone is often gloomy and depressing when it does not appear to be openly amoral, as in Pierre. The prose can be overblown at times, and Melville can surely be didactic at his worst.

It is in his philosophical sailing though that he shines. He discusses the great truths of human existence, as he sees them. He revels in allegory, literary, historical and political allusion, and especially in symbolism. Comparisons to Thomas Carlyle are apt. It is in this regard that Melville is seen as a difficult, baffling, incomprehensible and even boring writer. The endless discussions about whiteness and what it might mean in Moby-Dick, what exactly are they all about, anyway?

The final selling point of a Melville book is his prose rhetoric. That man could surely write, and how could he write!

See below for a sample from White-jacket or, the World on a Man-of-War, which is not even one of his more famous books. Here is a metaphorical fragment suggestive of what we find in Moby-Dick, published the same year:

As a man-of-war that sails through the sea, so this earth that sails through the air. We mortals are all on board a fast-sailing, never-sinking world-frigate, of which God was the shipwright; and she is but one craft in a Milky-Way fleet, of which God is the Lord High Admiral. The port we sail from is forever astern. And though far out of sight of land, for ages and ages we continue to sail with sealed orders, and our last destination remains a secret to ourselves and our officers; yet our final haven was predestinated ere we slipped from the stocks at Creation.

The book ends with more stunning prose:

Oh, shipmates and world-mates, all round! we the people suffer many abuses. Our gun-deck is full of complaints. In vain from Lieutenants do we appeal to the Captain; in vain—while on board our world-frigate—to the indefinite Navy Commisioners, so far out of sight aloft. Yet the worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves; our officers cannot remove them, even if they would. From the last ills no being can save another; therein each man must be his own savior.

For the rest, whatever befall us, let us never train our murderous guns inboard; let us not mutiny with bloody pikes in our hands. Our Lord High Admiral will yet interpose; and though long ages should elapse, and leave our wrongs undressed, yet, shipmates and world-mates! let us never forget, that
‘Whoever afflict us, whatever surround,
Life is a voyage that’s homeward bound!’

Herman Melville! Now there was a writer…

An overview of his writings:

Typee: A Peep at Polynesian Life – His first book was wildly popular. More or less autobiographical account of Melville’s jumping ship in the South Seas and capture and imprisonment for 3 weeks by the cannibal Typees. Nevertheless, he was treated well. A rollicking adventure story that was nevertheless attacked in the US by its noble savage romanticizing of the Polynesians and his attacks on Christian missionaries who he saw as ruining the Polynesians’ lives. One half of this book is a wild and entertaining adventure, the other half reads like an anthropological and sociological investigation of the Polynesians. Some modern readers find the ethnological aspect to the book boring.

Modern readers may find trite the noble savage romantic portrayal of the Polynesians while Melville finds Western civilization inferior to the pagan savages. Plot definitely drags in parts. You can see here germs of the philosophical expositions that would explode in his later work, especially Moby-Dick. Nice book, moves very fast.

Omoo: A Narrative of Adventures in the South Seas – The sequel to Typee. There is a bit of a plot at first which then falls apart. The men jump ship and are imprisoned on Tahiti in a makeshift prison from which they quickly escape. They hop on board another ship and then jump ship again. They roam about the islands working at various jobs, only earning enough to survive. Already Melville is moving beyond the pure adventure style of Typee into more rhetorical flourish and weighty topics. This, like Typee, was also popular with the typical reader than his later works. Modern readers may be offended by its lack of political correctness in its honest portrayal of Polynesian life.

Mardi and a Voyage Thither – The next book was considered a disaster by the public and critics alike, and even today it is considered flawed. There is a plot for 200 pages, then it completely falls apart as the story meanders for another 400 pages of philosophizing, highfalutin prose, endless and baffling symbolism and more literary allusion than an Umberto Eco novel. The style is very good though, and Melville is learning to write plots, create good characters, improving his prose and beginning to deal with the philosophical and heavy subjects he would mine so well in Moby-Dick.

Redburn: His First Voyage, Being the Sailor-Boy, Confessions and Reminiscences of the Son-of-a-Gentleman, in the Merchant Service – Men board a whaling ship on the East Coast of the US and head off for whaling grounds of the Pacific via the Cape Horn of South America. A mysterious crewman on the ship always wears a white jacket, prefiguring the color symbolism in Moby-Dick. And there’s your plot.

Hawthorne and His Mosses – A superb work of literary criticism based on an assessment of one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s works, Mosses from an Old Manse. This work is now considered a classic.

White-jacket, or The World on a Man-of-War – This is a story of a boy who hitches aboard a man o’ war, riding it from the US East Coast to Liverpool, where he stays a bit and the rides back to the East Coast. That is it; that is the whole plot. This and Redburn were seen as hack work by Melville, written only for profit.

The public liked them better than the author himself did, and these two books were seen as a return to the TypeeOmoo adventure style. Nevertheless, the astonishing prose and deep subject matter puzzled readers. Yet for a great sea yarn and an encyclopedic rendering of life on board a man o’ war, the novel is superb. Its brutal description of flogging aboard ships led to the US Congress swiftly ending this barbaric practice. A precursor to Moby-Dick.

Moby-Dick, or The Whale – Of course, the legendary whaling story. Nevertheless, this great book was largely attacked by critics when it was written, and it was ignored by baffled readers who could not make sense of it. It would be another 75 years until it was recognized as the great literature that it is. His characterization and prose here approaches, if not meets, a Shakespearean level.

Pierre, or The Ambiguities – A purely philosophical novel, this time with unbelievable characters, an unearthly plot and scenes and persons strewn about seemingly for the purposes of serving as chess pieces and vehicles for the author’s weighty and philosophical discussions.

The plot involves an innocent young man who is forced by circumstances of life and the desire to save his father’s reputation to engage in one immoral act after another. It is a tale of a man motivated by doing the right thing who ends up doing one bad thing after another and along the way hurting a lot of innocent people. As he journeys through this wilderness of transgressions, his ego swells and he becomes more and certain of his essential morality and decency. Seen as an innocent and pure man’s initiation into a cruel and sinful world. Think of early James Joyce.

The first half of the book involves a parody of the Gothic romances so popular in the day. He imitates this style perfectly, and also manages to parody at least a dozen other styles popular during the day. Halfway through the book, the author engages in an outrageous feint – we are told that Pierre is actually, at age 21, a famous novelist. The second half of the book leaves the Gothic style behind and moves into allegory, symbolism, philosophical pondering, etc.

The landscapes and locales of the book do not even exist in the real world, and they are nearly in the realm of fantasy or science fiction. Both the public and the critics regarded this novel with unbridled hostility, and the common refrain was that Melville was “insane.”

It was also attacked for moral nihilism if not the advocacy of evil itself. This is because the novel involves such things as incest, threesomes, hints at homosexuality, bigamy and murder along with all sorts of other vices. It is now recognized as a fine work; however, even many modern readers find it baffling if not horrible and unreadable. Pierre is surely one of the strangest novels ever written. The French have always preferred it to Moby-Dick, so that ought to tell you something right there.

Israel Potter: His Fifty Years of Exile – This is now thought to be one of his lesser works, but it does have some fans. More soaring prose and deep insight. This is nevertheless probably his easiest book to read. It is the story of a real person, a Revolutionary War hero. However, in somewhat alternate history mode, Melville plays fast and loose with history, and much of the book is actually fiction involving Potter interacting in various ways with the great men of his day. Think Woody Allen’s Zelig. This novel is actually very funny! The critics and public were once again baffled by this work, but the general reaction was indifference. Poor sales and critical hostility sent Melville into a deep depression.

The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade – Met with bored indifference and baffled outright hostility at the time, this book was ignored and sold poorly. Nevertheless, it is now seen as one of Melville’s finest works. A boy take a ride on a Mississippi steamship from St. Louis to New Orleans and has various adventures as he rides down the Mississippi. All action takes place on April 1, April Fools’ Day. A shape-shifting con artist is the main character, and he assumes the forms of six separate characters.

Many people in the book are allegorical stand-in’s for various political figures of the day. A very satirical work, Melville attacks the Mexican War and the Indian Wars. One of his worst characters is “the Indian-fighter,” a reprehensible man who is clearly Andrew Jackson in disguise.

Piazza Tales – A fine collection of novellas and short works, including the strange but superb novella Bartleby, the Scrivenor: A Story of Wall Street, which prefigured Kafka by nearly 100 years. We see Melville here as a very early modernist, a 19th Century author writing 20th Century prose.

Also includes the fine novella Benito Cereno, an adventure set in the slaving era around the end of the 1700’s. A US whaling vessel anchored off the coast of Santa Maria encounters a Spanish slave ship with a skeleton Spanish crew, a strangely debilitated Spanish captain, Benito Cereno, and a horde of Black slaves drifting aimlessly towards it. The whalers, led by captain Amaso Delano (an unreliable narrator), go to investigate and find a ship, the San Dominick, low on food and water and a crew that seems unable to steer a ship. What’s up?

This is actually a retelling of the true story of the slave revolt on board a ship called the Amistad, but Melville changes the story around quite a bit in his retelling. For instance, the actual revolt occurred in 1839, but Melville sets the story in the 1790’s. The first 2/3 of the novella is as Kafkaesque as Bartleby the Scrivener. The novella has an ingenious plot twist to it that I won’t give away. A fine allegory on slavery and race. The novella gets off to a slow start, is often criticized for excessive wordiness, and modern readers complain about what they see as racism in the story. In fact, the novella could as well be seen as anti-racist than as racist.

The Encantadas is a novella in the form of a fine series of nine vignettes about the Galapagos Islands. It was the most critically successful of the works in the Piazza Tales. He parodies The Bible, travelogues, naturalistic writing, Dante and Spenser. This is actually Melville’s Inferno, with the Galapagos serving as his Hell. There is a tremendous amount of referencing, historical and literary, going on here, as in many of Melville’s works. The careful reader will find themselves looking up the references for a good part of the novella.

The Bell-Tower is a Poe-Hawthorne-like tale set in the Middle Ages about a man, Bannadonna, a Promethean figure who builds a self-ringing bell and is killed by his own creation. The tower itself then crashes in an earthquake. Themes include Faust, Frankenstein and the Tower of Babel. A man strives for greatness and is killed by hubris. The hubris here is an allegory for the scientific and materialistic theories beginning to become popular at the time. It also suggests the ultimate futility of human striving and creation. An excellent work. Very macabre stuff.

The Lightning-Rod Man is about a pushy traveling salesman who is eventually thrown out of the house by his prospective customer in an allegory about the exploitation of fear by capitalists. It also takes on fire and brimstone preachers. Very funny story.

The Piazza is a sketch featuring that Melville rarity, a female lead character. She cannot figure out on which side of the house to build her porch, and this is the whole of the plot. A lead character imagines that life up on the ridge above is much better than life on lower on the mountain where they reside. They take a trip up the ridge to find out that the opposite is true. The grass is always greener, etc. This story gets mixed reviews, with some finding it delightful and others regarding it as slight.

Clarel: A Poem and Pilgrimage in the Holy Land – a 600 page poem is one of the longest poems ever written in English or for that matter in any language. It involves a man’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He is disappointed when he gets there and returns home disenchanted. There are various allegorical and symbolic characters strewn about, and the effect is nearly Miltonian. The length of the poem and its baffling nature meant that it was regarded with apathy if not puzzled hostility when it was published. It is now seen as a masterwork.

Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War: Civil War Poems – Issued a bit later, the critics seemed to like these poems a bit better. Melville’s poems are bitter reflections on the vicious and savage Civil War that had just torn the nation asunder. Melville excoriated the blind patriotism and jingoism on both sides and generally thought the war was a gigantic and horrific bloody wreck that had torn the nation nearly to smithereens. This poems nearly have PTSD themselves but are now recognized as fine works.

John Marr and Other Poems – A later book of poetry. This was barely reviewed, and the reviews were mixed. The consensus now was that Melville was violating all of the rules and regulations of poetry – rhyme, meter, rhythm – he tossed them all aside, and in this sense, this is one of the literature’s first ventures into free verse. Nevertheless, critics noted the occasional stunning imagery that Melville was capable of. The reaction was generally that Melville was a prose writer trying his hand at poetry to which he was ill-suited, and that while he succeeded sometimes as prose writer, he failed as a poet. Critics now respect this work.

Timoleon & Other Poems – This collection was so completely ignored at the time it was published near his death that it shows that by that time, Melville was nearly forgotten by readers and critics alike. This work is now considered to be top-notch poetry.

The Apple Tree Table and Other Sketches – Not published until 1922, this is a series of uncollected works he wrote for money, selling them to magazines such as Harper’s and Putnam’s Monthly. Most of the work is forgettable, but it does some good pieces.

The Paradise of Bachelors and The Tartarus of Maids is a fine sociological piece that explores sexual and other civilizational mores, focusing on the exploitation of female labor by males. Swiftian satire and Miltonian allegory are employed here.

The strangely hilarious I and My Chimney, about an old man guarding the huge chimney in the center of his house when his wife demands it be torn down, can be analyzed on many levels. A fine story.

Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, or The Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano is a humorous on the Emersonian Transcendentalism that was popular at the time, which Melville thought little of. Gets mixed reviews; some think it is weak while others say it is a masterpiece.

Billy Budd, Sailor (An Inside Narrative) – This novella was not published until 1924. It had been found a few years before, 30 years after his death, in a trunk containing his papers. It was published first by the British, who always liked Melville better than the Americans did, to widespread acclaim. Repeated editions were published over the next 40 years as authors went over Melville’s very confusing rough drafts of this book combined with cross-outs, rewrites and text substitution amid confusing notation along with the text to try to arrive at an authoritative version of the text that would be most faithful to what Melville was trying to do.

The plot? British and French navies are battling in the Napoleonic Era. A very young British sailor named Billy Budd (a Christ figure representing innocence and purity or Adam in the Garden) is hated by another sailor, Master John Claggart, on the ship HMS Bellipotent because he is jealous of Billy’s youthful good looks. Yet this handsome young sailor is beloved by all of the rest of the crew. This sailor and two others spread a vicious rumor about Budd, saying that he is fomenting a mutiny on the ship.

Enraged, Budd hits his enemy, and the man dies. A trial, etc. follows. Captain Vere (read: truth) is forced against his will to render military unto Budd even though he knows he is innocent. Evil wins in the end, the law is anything but impartial, if anything it is outright blind, and the first casualty in war is the truth. This is also seen as a legal treatise, and a number of articles in law journals have been written about this novella. It is also, as many of Melville’s works are, a treatise about good and evil. Claggart typically represents evil, even pure evil, while Budd represents the persecuted innocent.

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