Thursday, December 29, 2005

Auld Lang Syne

Yet how true a poet is he! And the poet, too, of poor men, of hodden-gray, and the Guernsey-coat, and the blouse. He has given voice to all the experiences of common life; he has endeared the farmhouse and cottage, patches and poverty, beans and barley; ale, the poor man's wine; hardship, the fear of debt, the dear society of weans and wife, of brothers and sisters, proud of each other, knowing so few, and finding amends for want and obscurity in books and thought. What a love of nature! And, shall I say it?, of middle-class nature. Not great, like Goethe, in the stars, or like Byron, on the ocean, or Moore, in the luxurious East, but in the homely landscape which the poor see around them; bleak leagues of pasture and stubble, ice, and sleet, and rain, and snow-choked brooks; birds, hares, fieldmice, thistles, and heather, which he daily knew. How many "Bonny Doons," and "John Anderson my Joes," and "Auld Lang Synes," all around the earth, have his verses been applied to! And his love songs still woo and melt the youths and maids; the farm work, the country holiday, the fishing cobble, are still his debtors to-day.

Ralph Waldo Emerson on Robert Burns: A Tribute (1859)

Whenever we meet a Holy Willie or fall in love with our Bonie Jean, Robert Burns (1759-1796) comes alive to us through the centuries. He leaps out of the page and lives on in all the best of the lines he wrote. Writing from the the heart using the universal language of love, compassion and friendship, Auld Lang Syne has become the traditional song among people through out the world for bidding farewell to the old year and hailing the new. It is the evidence of the success with which Burns was able to present the theme of passing time through a context of remembered friendship. By mixing memory with desire he cleverly creates a bittersweet moment. How relevant it has become to the poignancy of at once saying goodbye to old and bringing in the new. Through a long and convoluted evolution Burns was able to capitalize on this idea where the poem and the song has become one of the great expressions of the tragic ambiguity of man's relation to time. All this in his folk idiom that rings pure as the birth of the New Year to which it is chorused.

Though he never claimed authorship, he wrote that what he had created was indeed preserved from earlier versions. In a letter dated December 17th 1788, Burns described to a friend by the name of Mrs Dunlop:

'Your meeting which you so well describe with your old schoolfellow and friend was truly interesting. Out upon the ways of the world! They spoil these 'social offsprings of the hear'. Two veterans of the 'men of the world' would have met with little more heart-workings than two old hacks worn out on the road. Apropos, is not the Scotch phrase Auld lang syne exceedingly expressive? There is an old song and tune which has often thrilled through my soul. You know I am an enthusiast in old Scotch songs. I shall give you the verses on the other sheet... Light be the turf on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than in half a dozen of modern English Bacchanalians.'

Enclosed in his letter to her on another sheet were the words to Burns' first version of Auld Lang Syne.

With a few alterations, the poet sent a copy of the song to a publisher named Johnson, who delayed publishing it, perhaps as scholars speculate, it was because the air to which it went had already appeared in print with words by another, beginning: 'Should auld acquaintance be forgot.'

In September 1793, Burns forwarded the publisher Johnson a third copy of his manuscript of the song with some minor changes. In the his letter to him Burns commented:

'One song more, and I have done, 'Auld lang syne'. The air is but mediocre; but the following song - the old song of the olden times, and which has never been in print, nor even in manuscript, until I took it down from an old man's singing - is enough to recommend any air.'

And yet to another friend around the same time he relates:

'Light be the turf,' he says, 'on the breast of the heaven-inspired poet who composed this glorious fragment! There is more of the fire of native genius in it than half-a-dozen of modern English Bacchanalians.'.....'Apropos, is not the Scotch phrase Auld Lang syne exceedingly expressive? This old song and tune has often thrilled through my soul.'

Fortunately Mr. Johnson reconsidered his decision and published the song in the fifth volume of the Museum, appearing about six months after Burns' death.

By the end of the 1700's the tune or Scottish Air, as it is called, was discovered to be derived from a common Scots country dance. The melody so common that it had been presented in no less that nine different airs ranging over a period ninety years. While it is also closely related to the melodies of 'O Can you labor lea' and 'Coming thro' the rye' which appear to be derived basically from the same strathspey (or Scottish dance), as 'Auld Lang Syne'. While there were many ballads, sermons, street songs and even a couple of political ballads, all dating from the mid fifteen hundreds, there is little doubt that Burns was aware of these older poems.

Did you know that the word syne is pronounced just as it is written and not zyne? While millions of people will be singing this poem on the New Year's Eve, here is a small glossary in hopes some of us might get the words right! With a few phrases and words translated, the good nature and fellowship of this drinking song shine through:

  • auld;old
  • lang;long
  • syne;since
  • auld lang syne ; days of long ago
  • pint stowp ; tankard
  • be your pint-stowp: pay for your pint-cup
  • burn: stream
  • dine: dinner
  • braid: broad
  • frere: friend
  • twa hae rin: two have run
  • braes: hillsides
  • pou'd ; pulled
  • gowans ; daisies
  • mony ; many
  • fitt ; foot
  • paidl'd ; waded
  • dine; dinner-time
  • willie-waught ; draught
  • gude-willie waught: a big swig

Here's a translation from one of the many on line and one I liked best:

Old Long Since

tr. William Curran

Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And never brought to mind;
Should old acquaintance be forgot,

And days of old lang syne.

For old lang syne, my dear,

For old lang syne,
We will take a cup of kindness yet,

For old lang syne,

We two have run about the hills,

And pulled the daisies fine.
We've have wandered many a weary foot,

Since old lang syne.


We two have paddled in the burn (Stream),

From morning sun till dine,
But seas between us broad have roared,

Since old lang syne.


And here's a hand my trusty friend,

And put your hand in mine.
We'll take a right good willie-waught (Drink),

For old lang syne.


And surely you'll lift up your glass,

For surely I'll lift mine,
And we'll drink a cup of kindness yet,

For old lang syne.


The song crept into America's consciousness as early as the Civil War when the melody was sung by soldiers and played on piano by amateur musicians. Then in 1928 a dance band called the Royal Canadians led by a young man by the name of Guy Lombardo gave New Year's Eve its enduring theme song. As a teen Lombardo played in a band that worked the heavily Scottish environs of London, Ontario, his hometown. It was traditional in those communities to end an evening with 'Auld Lang Syne.' He tells the story of how he came to use this signature song. Because one of his radio sponsors was Robert Burns Panatella Cigars, "and seeing that Robert Burns wrote 'Auld Lang Syne,'" Lombardo explained, "we sort of incorporated that into our program." Lombardo died in November 1977, by the time he had rang out his '76 gala, he had logged forty eight New Year's Eve broadcasts -- first on CBS radio and then, from 1956, on its sister TV network.

Succeeding the brilliant success of his poetry in his twenties, Robert Burns devoted the last ten years of his tragically short life to collecting, writing and re-writing many songs of his homeland. It was his deepest love affair, and if we are to believe his words to Mrs. Dunlop then it stands to reason that indeed the forces of Nature have honoured his request, 'the turf must by lying lightly upon the breast' of an unknown poet of whose intermediary version not a trace can be found and no matter the origins of Auld Lang Syne, it was Robert Burns' magic that turned it into one of the most beloved and popular songs ever written. It's traditional to cross arms left with right and right with left in a cozy hug of friendship at the third stanza. So while you're rockin' in the New Year taking hands and making acquaintance with humankind around the world; raise a song at the stroke of midnight and just bear a thought and 'tak a cup 'o kindness yet' for the genius who created it without whom New Year's Eve just would not be the same.

Till we meet again. -Guy Lombardo (1902-1977)

Analysis of Burns Poems
Accessed Dec 31 2001

The Burns Encyclopedia
Accessed Dec 31 2001
Next week to be 25th New Year's Eve without Guy Lombardo
Accessed Dec 31 2001

Blair, Bob
Accessed Dec 31 2001

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Davy Jone's locker

    "I should like to see him try it; I'd give him such a pair of black eyes that he wouldn't dare to show his face in the admiral's cabin again for a long while, let alone down in the orlop there, where he lives, and hereabouts on the upper decks where he sneaks so much. Damn the devil, Flask; so you suppose I'm afraid of the devil? Who's afraid of him, except the old governor who daresn't catch him and put him in double-darbies, as he deserves, but lets him go about kidnapping people; aye, and signed a bond with him, that all the people the devil kidnapped, he'd roast for him? There's a governor!"

Zealous bookworms are well acquainted with many of the plentiful and fantastic maritime fables. From those about Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, and Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea to the modern Patrick O'Brien sea adventures. The best booklovers know that one of the central characters in each of these books is the ship itself--her design, rigging, deck, mast, bulwark, spars, and rudders. Whether the ship is a whaling boat or a skiff slipping through the Gulf Stream or a fearless American vessel rounding the Horn or marooned in the horse latitudes, that craft is an essential part of the narrative. Yet there is an additional personality in these sea stories, hardly ever given a voice to but forever, and for all time at hand: Davy Jones. Davy and his locker are regular escorts of all those who sail the bounding main leaving in his wake a graveyard of sailors and ships that sleep for eternity in the beds of the earth's vast oceans.

No one's really sure who Davy Jones was but through tall tales and sea shanties the name has become personified as the bottom of the sea and his locker is an emblem for the grave of all those who perished at sea. First recorded in 1726,Davy Jones eventually became known as the spirit of the sea. In 1751 his name was mentioned in Chapter 15 of Tobias George Smollett's The Adventures of Peregrin Pickle described as an portentous and terrorizing fiend who "presides over all the evil spirits of the deep, and is often seen in various shapes, perching among the rigging on the eve of hurricanes, shipwrecks and other disasters." By 1803 sailors were referring to Davy Jones's locker as nautical slang the "bottom of the sea."

Like most timeless sea sagas, theories abound as to the beginnings of the phrase. Some say he was a sailor or pirate who died at sea, while others declare that Davy Jones was the name of the barkeep in the ballad 'Jones Ale Is Newe,' and his frightful locker may have been where he stocked his ale. This sixteenth-century pub owner in London was said to run a tavern where unsuspecting sailors were drugged and put in lockers, only to awaken on a ship at sea and discover they had been forced into the Navy by a press gang. A press gang is unit of men under the command of an officer authorized to force men into military service. Another expert fathoms further:

    "Since at least 1750 `gone to Davy Jones's locker' has been used by sailors to indicate death...Smollett wrote: `I'll be damned if it was not Davy Jones himself. I know him by his saucer eyes, his three rows of teeth and tail, and the blue smoke that came out of his nostrils.' This same Davy Jones, according to mythology of sailors is the fiend that presides over ... disasters to which seafaring life is exposed, warning the devoted wretch of death and woe."
Several experts say that Davy may be a deviation of the West Indian/African word duppy, meaning spirit or ghost and propose that the telltale D and V suggest devil. Others put forward that the Jones is from Jonah. Jonah is both sailor slang for bad luck and a biblical allusion. In thelatter half of the Old Testament, Jonah is a narrative telling about an Israelite prophet who resisted a divine call to preach repentance to the people of Nineveh, was swallowed and vomited by a great fish, and eventually carried out his mission. When Jonah tries to escape aboard a ship. The ship encounters troubles at sea and the crew casts lots to discover who is the source. When Jonah is revealed he confesses his disobedience to God and the crew tosses him overboard. While the story places the emphasis on God's mercy by sparing Jonah's life, from the point of view of the ship's crew he is also one believed to bring bad luck.

Salty Dog Talk: The Nautical Origins of Everyday Expressions by Bill Beavis and Richard G. McCloskey (1983), state that Davy Jones Locker is "the final resting place for ships that sink, articles lost overboard and sailors who drown. Thus it became the sailor's phrase for death." Another conceivable account offers that while Jonah may have been the source for Jones, Davy could have come from the patron saint of Wales St. David who is frequently appealed to by Welsh sailors:

    Jonah was indeed considered bad luck to sailors aboard the vessel on which he was attempting to flee God's wrath and the phrase was first recorded in Captain Francis Grose's `Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue' (1785) as `David Jones' Locker, which lends still more support to the Welsh patron saint theory. The locker in the phrase probably refers to an ordinary seaman's chest, not the old pub owner's mysterious locker."
    Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 1997).
The expression has been part of sailor slang for over two centuries and today Davy Jones is seen as the embodiment of the devil who rules over the evil spirits of the sea. From whales of tales about men and the sea to bedeviled barkeeps and saints of Wales, one thing is certain Davy Jones and his locker is chock full of colorful history and superstition. And somewhere between the devil and the deep blue sea lies the truth of the origins of Davy and his dreaded locker wherever dead men tell no tales.


The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
Jul 04 2003.

Davy Jones' locker. Dictionary of Eponyms, Manser. Retrieved 03 July 2003, from xreferplus.
Accessed Jul 04 2003.

Online Etymology Dictionary
Accessed Jul 04 2003.

The Phrase Finder
Accessed Jul 04 2003.

Public domain text taken from 73. Stubb and Flask Kill a Right Whale; and Then Have a Talk Over
Accessed Jul 04 2003.

Accessed Jul 04 2003. Letter D
Accessed Jul 04 2003.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Grain of salt

Cum grano salis
    With great limitation; with its grain of salt, or truth. As salt is sparingly used in condiments, so is truth in the remark just made.
    - The Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (1894)

If pepper is the spice of life, then salt is life itself. The prized white mineral has occupied an important part in the past because it was scattered randomly across the earth's surface. In Mark Kurlansky's book Salt (2002) there are many interesting facts about the mineral and its history. One critic writes:

    Homer called salt a divine substance. Plato described it as especially dear to the gods. Today we take salt for granted, a common, inexpensive substance that seasons food or clears ice from roads, a word used casually in expressions ("salt of the earth," take it with a grain of salt") without appreciating their deeper meaning. However, as Mark Kurlansky so brilliantly relates in his world-encompassing new book, salt "the only rock we eat "has shaped civilization from the very beginning. ...

    Until about 100 years ago, when modern chemistry and geology revealed how prevalent it is, salt was one of the most sought-after commodities, and no wonder, for without it humans and animals could not live. Salt has often been considered so valuable that it served as currency, and it is still exchanged as such in places today. Demand for salt established the earliest trade routes, across unknown oceans and the remotest of deserts: the city of Jericho was founded almost 10,000 years ago as a salt trading center. Because of its worth, salt has provoked and financed some wars, and been a strategic element in others, such as the American Revolution and the Civil War. Salt taxes secured empires across Europe and Asia and have also inspired revolution (Gandhi's salt march in 1930 began the overthrow of British rule in India); indeed, salt has been central to the age-old debate about the rights of government to tax and control economies.

Since ancient times salt has been a symbol of virtue because of its fundamental quality as a preservative. Long before Judas was depicted as a betrayer in Leonardo da Vinci's painting of the Last Supper with his arm having just knocked over the saltcellar, Jews, Greeks, and Romans saw salt as a sign of purity. Salt was a valuable article of trade during the Roman with soldiers receiving a salarium argentum so that they could purchase it. A distant trade in ancient Greece connected to the barter of salt for slaves gave rise to the expression, "not worth his salt." From the Latin sal mentions of salt flourish in words around the world and while the cautionary phrase became the precursor of the English words like salary. It grew even more so regarding its uses with foods and many derivatives like sauce salsa, salami, salad, and sausage.

Initially Roman soldiers received salt rations; later, they were given money to buy their own salt and this was called a salarium. It's interesting to note that because the Romans used pumpkins were to carry their rations of salt, todays Italians use pumpkin to represent the head and use the phrase "to have salt in pumpkin."

Take with a grain of salt and a lie detector, then call me in the morning

Even more notable is that the Romans not only believed that the head was filled with salt but that it also could make dangerous or tainted food safe. It was Pliny the Elder who first prescribed to take anything suspicious with a grain of salt." A grain of salt is in fact a rendition of the Latin phrase cum grano salis. In this case it may have been an antidote to poison. The origins of this expression could refer to Pliny's commentary in Natural History where he mentions the first century BC King of Pontus, Mithradates the Great. He tells how Mithradates made himself immune to poison by swallowing small amounts of it with a grain of salt.

Living in great fear of assassination by poisoning Mithradates studied the subject of antidotes extensively. By testing them on condemned criminals he is said to have invented the "universal" antidote that became widely known as mithridatum. Pliny describes some 54 different poisons and notes that Mithradates took small doses of various poisons daily to render him invulnerable. Ironically when Pompey invaded Rome and Mithridates attempted to commit suicide by poison it failed and he made one of his soldiers stab him to death. The formula for his antidote was secretly guarded until Pompey took it back to Rome where the recipe was discovered to be a simple compound of "twenty leaves of Rue pounded with two Figs, two dried Walnuts and a grain of salt."

Pliny himself makes no distinction whether this is true or wildly fantastic. However several etymologists and The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms say that this breakthrough antidote for poison called mithridate was to be taken "cum grano salis." And this seems to be the case for making it effective. By the time the phrase first appeared in English in 1647 someone may have determined that Pliny had been dubious about both the cure or its effectiveness and intended that cum grano salis to imply 'with a dose of skepticism'.

Letting the cat out of the bag

In 1934 a classic horror movie appeared that co starred Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi for the first time. Its title is The Black Cat and one trivia buff notes that part of the satanic prayer Karloff's character chants contains the readily recognizable Latin phrase "cum grano salis."

Today the common sense adage can be found in other languages. For example the Dutch say, "korreltje zout" while the Swedish use, "en nypa salt." It describes situations where something is heard and not taken too seriously or with reserve and skepticism. Somewhere along the way the catchphrase branched into "a pinch of salt" meaning if one hears something of doubtful truth or in other words if something is unpalatable then, by taking it 'with a pinch of salt', it becomes more acceptable. This may be an inroad into the arena of cooking, since oftentimes cooks will toss in a pinch of salt to make food tastier. So finding the proverb at the dinner table, it's not too far of a leap to take a tale with a grain of salt to make it more appetizing. However, the amount of salt figuratively needed to make an improbable statement acceptable often fluctuates from a few grains to a whole ocean.


Chicago Area Mensa / Mensa of Illinois / Cheap Eats
Nov 28 2004 a

Online Etymology Dictionary
Accessed Nov 28 2004 a

Open Dictionary
Accessed Nov 28 2004 a

Poisoning in Ancient Times
Accessed Nov 28 2004 a

Science Fair Projects - Grain of salt
Accessed Nov 28 2004 a

Word of the Day
Accessed Nov 28 2004 a Home Page
Accessed Nov 28 2004 a

Monday, December 12, 2005

Journey of the Magi

'A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For the journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.'...

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches...

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley...
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver...

But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory

All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: ..
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death,
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

- T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

The Christmas season does not come to a close until twelve days after the birthday itself. January 6th is called Epiphany, a Holy Day that commemorates the astronomers arrival with their adoration, costly gifts and to complete the Christmas lesson as one magus remembers that ` cold, long, deep, sharp and wintry coming.' Eliot observes the event with an erudite treatment of modern sterility in a three part revelation. On one surface is a chronicle of the search for faith, a conversion, and a transformation. On another it is staged monologue with a spherical trajectory, opening in winter at Christmas' time and concluding at the Epiphany. But there is a pause during the passage, which occurs in spring where Magi glimpse the crucified Christ.

Guide us with thy perfect light

Magi is the Greek word used in ancient times to identify Babylonian astrologers. The opening stanza tells of the perils of the voyage from the unique perspective of one of the Magnus. He is also a Gentile, and notably one of the first seekers find the holy child are those outside of the covenant. 1 In the full text Eliot's poem his Wise Man remarks, "the camel men cursing and grumbling, and running away, and wanting their liquor and women, and the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters, and the cities hostile and towns unfriendly and the villages dirty and charging high prices. A hard time we had of it."

Both obtuse and dazzlingly memorable it transmits an awakening from the disintegration of Edwardian respectability to the birth of modernism. Written just five years after The Waste Land Eliot bases the verse on the Biblical story about the three wise men who show up after the birth of Jesus. 2 In his critical essays Eliot found great value in contemporary poets emerging with a strong rapport with what their forerunners had written. That is to say, he attempted new structures in poetry and produced a singular universe in literature. It was when he was about to be received into the Church of England he was also deeply engrossed in17th century theology and at the time working on a book by the Anglican preacher Lancelot Andrewes. In addition he had recently completed an English translation of St. John Perse's poem Anabase.

Eliot makes liberal use of both of these sources as well as many others in his 1927 composition. The present participles and the paratactic syntax, presenting one thing after another in a simple narrative had already been borrowed from Ezra Pound. He borrows the desert setting from the French poem and sets the magi on the scene with words from a sermon by Andrewes. A distinguished figure of the Anglican Church in Shakespeare's time many compared his homilies to that of the Roman Catholic metaphysical poet John Donne. Both combined powerful knowledge with an effectively persuasive prose that impacted their audiences with direct simplicity. Here is the passage Eliot used from Andrewes sermon. About the journey of the Three Wise Men before the Nativity, it was preached before King James during Christmas in 1622:

First, the distance of the place they came from. It was not hard by as the shepherds--but a step to Bethlehem over the fields; this was riding many a hundred miles, and cost them many a day's journey . . . This was nothing pleasant, for through deserts, all the way waste and desolate. Nor secondly, easy either; for over the rocks and crags of both Arabias, especially Petraea, their journey lay. Yet if safe--but it was not, but exceeding dangerous, as lying through the midst of the "black tents of Kedar" (Cant 1:5), a nation of thieves and cut-throats; to pass over the hills of robbers, infamous then, and infamous to this day. No passing without great troop or convoy. Last we consider the time of their coming, the season of the year. It was no summer progress. A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and specially a long journey in. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, in solsitio brumali, "the very dead of winter."

Curiously the sermon places judgment on the listeners, perhaps even on King James himself because the main point of Andrewes' sermon is `we have seen and we have come' and then he adds, "To Christ we cannot travel, but weather and way and all must be fair. If not, no journey. But when we do it, we must be allowed leisure. Ever veniemus, never venimus. Ever 'coming', but never come."

The thrill of hope

The next segment of the poetic journey represents enlightenment and conversion. Its optimistic natural imagery of a lush valley and the trees, the old white horse running from the pasture, the vine-leaves over the door of the tavern--speak of "hope and freedom and fruitfulness" It is a pause in the second to last stage of the trail that conveys a short sense of reprieve while evoking a number of significant Christian events. As they enter the temperate valley the Magi unwittingly bring the shadow of the Cross to the stable below the star. The three trees low on the horizon signify Calvary and Jesus' death on the cross. The galloping white horse, here as in the book of Revelation, embodies Christ's victory over death. A tavern as a place of communion with the True Vine of John over the lintel is a reminder of the blood of the Passover lamb marked by the Hebrews on the doorposts of their homes in Egypt. 3 4 The Magnus notes the men dicing for silver as the soldiers cast lots for Jesus' clothes in the shadow of the cross. 5

One critic contends that the word "satisfactory" shows that "every condition of prophecy was met, leaving the alienated magus . . . stranded, suspended between the realization and the consummation of God's plan." Still another offers a different approach. In his essay Revelation in T. S. Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi.' author R. D. Brown writes, "the obvious meaning (of the word "satisfactory") is 'expiatory,' payment for a debt or sin" Others find 'satisfactory' more ambiguous and "emphasized by rhythm and position, which for (the readers), though not the magus, evokes the Thirty Nine Articles, expiation, and the Atonement."

Sacramental actions like receiving the Eucharist or going to confession are composed of three levels: the basic need for the sacrament; the sacred sign in the sacrament itself and the force of the sacrament in life. For each step there is a much wider range of urgency. In The Sacrament of Penance in T.S. Eliot's 'Journey of the Magi,' A. James Wohlpart makes a comparison of the three part structure of the poem and a regrouping of the steps of the Sacrament of Penance. He uses it to highlight the idea of a continuing spiritual journey. Wohlpart wraps up with: "Instead of beginning with contrition and ending with satisfaction, an order which might connote fulfillment of the sacrament and an end to the process of perfection, Eliot opened with contrition in stanza one, moved on to satisfaction in stanza two, and then concluded with confession in stanza three, suggesting that the soul, in its journey towards Christ and heavenly perfection, akin to the journey of the Magi, can never rest in the certainty of perfection but must be continually engaged in the process of becoming perfect"

Eliot's enigmatic line, "but set down, This set down" quotes again from Lancelot Andrewes Nativity Sermon, "set down this; that to find where He is, we must learn to ask where He is, which we full little set ourselves to do." Andrewes was imploring his congregation to do what the wise men did, to seek-- because if one sits still, like Herod, one will never find Christ.

Whatever happened to the Wise Men?

T.S. Eliot examines that very question in the closing stanza in bleak and barren language. With only a guess as to what might have happened to the Magi it is no sweet Christmas musing and the words are deep with poignancy that give pause. Many years have passed and an aging Magi remembers how it was for him after the departure from Bethlehem. "Birth or Death? he asks, "I had seen birth and death, but had thought they were different." He had knelt before the Christ child leaving him rich gifts. Only to arrive back in Babylonia to discover that this birth had shaken him from his comfortable ways. The knowledge of divinity in the reality of a helpless infant born to peasants; this changed everything. Nothing could ever be quite the same and rather than finding the end of the journey, he realizes that the voyage continues from the joys of birth to the terror of death and despair of the crucifixion to come. The unclear nature of conversion of acceptance and of resignation to a destiny placed the Magnus in a new relationship with God. The world has gone gray, nothing is black and white; even the glory of the birth of Christ has come with a price. One that is almost impossibly hard and painful.

Most scholars suggest that this elegy replicates Eliot's mood in the shift between his old and new beliefs. Adding that perhaps Journey of the Magi is a post conversion story echoed in the phrase `ill-at-ease in the 'old dispensation' and like Gerontion, the poet cannot break loose from the past. In his T. S. Eliot: A Study in Character and Style Ronald Bush sees Eliot's Journey of the Magi as a revision of "the period in Eliot's life that followed his official conversion, when his old ways of thinking and feeling seemed irrevocably alien and his new life as a Christian existed more in intention than fact." Eliot presents the intensity to which his journey impacted his life by adapting his own struggles with conversion to that of his imaginative Magi on the first journey to Christ. He foresees the coming turbulence of his conversion and dreads with a sudden realization that there is now another dimension to life. The writers view of the world becomes an inexact place and as one critic says the imagery of the verse portrays a "type of conversion: a gradual and bitter death to oneself and a growth into Christ" as he wades through it towards Christmas, or faith, and all that awaits him is a hard and bitter agony--the death of the old self. This then is the reality encountered by Eliot's Magnus, the real journey that has only just begun and an epiphany that often the deepest beauty exists in the face of terrible ugliness.

Contemporaries such as Ezra Pound and Ernest Hemmingway mocked Eliot's conversion to Christianity, saying he had "gone over to the ignorant." Perhaps the poem reflects Eliot's personal epiphany. `The way was deep and the weather sharp' he penned as his first marriage unraveled. The verse moved from being an academic application into having an emotional reality of its own. Eliot permanently converted to the Anglican Christian faith in his late thirties and from this time on his work would reflect his religious beliefs. Within six years Eliot and his wife were separated and he remarried some twenty years later.

For a complete reading of the poem please visit The Wondering Minstrels

The Journey of the Magi
Accessed Dec 26 2004

King of Peace - The Journey of the Magi
On "The Journey of the Magi"

Accessed Dec 26 2004
T. S. Eliot" Journey of the Magi"
Accessed Dec 26 2004

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Watch out! A person armed with a blunderbuss is a blunderbussier! A blunderbuss is also someone who blunders a lot, a group of people who blunder around are called blunderbusses and blunderbussing means to "shoot hit-and-miss" at a wide target.

The definition of blunderbuss probably evolved because of its similarity to the word blunder meaning to "To make a usually serious mistake" and to "To move clumsily or blindly." A blunderbuss can also describe any difficult commotion without focus, moving in haphazard directions or call attention to unpredictability or a lack of focus.

    This was a humid hot day, this last sigh of summer monsoons, and perhaps that had kept them in place, settled and raising families. I cornered one against the doorjamb. Another I stalked across the kitchen and held against the dishwasher. A third wavered by the stove. When I swatted, a wild ferocious swing, a whole tumbling crowd shot from under the fridge like clouds from a blunderbuss, then settled back.
    (Contemplations from Dusty Solitude)
Deriving its meaning from the Dutch word donderbus meaning `thunder gun' the word originated sometime around 1654. relates the following about the word's origin:
    Folk etymology of Dutch "donderbus" based on donder "thunder" + bus "box, gun" from Middle Dutch busse "tube" related to Latin buxis "box" as well as English "box" and German "Büchse." Dutch "donder," German "Donner," and English "thunder" go back to another PIE stem with a wandering initial s, *(s)ten-. We find the s in the name Stentor, the Greek at Troy, famous for his loud voice, the eponym of stentorian "loud." Latin tonare "to thunder," which underlies "tornado," "astonish," and "detonate," also lacks the s.
Yo ho! Yo ho! It's a pirate's life for me! Swashbuckling buccaneers used them to clear the decks and London coachmen employed them to defend unarmed passengers at the mercy of the highwayman and their dreaded words "Stand and deliver, your money or your life!" Its caliber was large so it could be loaded with a great deal of shot which was intended to be fired at short range. Some of these firearms have been dated as early as 1530 and they were manufactured primarily in Southern and Western Europe, especially Holland, England and Ireland. They were very popular about the same time as flintlock s were, relatively plain in craftsmanship, construction and finish, made to withstand heavy use they made for very robust armaments. J.R.R. Tolkien's Farmer Giles of Ham is lighthearted parody on knightly romances which was published in 1949. In the Thames Valley, a township called Ham resides a farmer called Giles. One day he and his talking dog Garm managed to scare off a nearsighted giant, at whom Giles fired his old blunderbuss. I have to wonder knowing a little bit about Tolkien and his scheme of innovative writing, could the author possibly be cleverly citing his source, the Oxford English Dictionary when he references the "Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford" in the following excerpt? :
    Farmer Giles had a short way with 'trespassers that few could outface. So he pulled on his breeches, and went down into the kitchen and took his blunderbuss from the wall. Some may well ask what a blunderbuss was. Indeed, this very question, it is said, was put to the Four Wise Clerks of Oxenford, and after thought they replied: `A blunderbuss is a short gun with a large bore firing many balls or slugs, and capable of doing execution within a limited range without exact aim. (Now superseded in civilised countries by other firearms.)'

    However, Farmer Giles's blunderbuss had a wide mouth that opened like a horn, and it did not fire balls or slugs, but anything that he could spare to stuff in. And it did not do execution, because he seldom loaded it, and never let it off. The sight of it was usually enough for his purpose. And this country was not yet civilised, for the blunderbuss was not superseded: it was indeed the only kind of gun that there was, and rare at that. People preferred bows and arrows and used gunpowder mostly for fireworks.

    Well then, Farmer Giles took down the blunderbuss, and he put in a good charge of powder, just in case extreme measures should be required; and into the wide mouth he stuffed old nails and bits of wire, pieces of broken pot, bones and stones and other rubbish. The he drew on his top-boots and his overcoat, and he went out through the kitchen garden.

    The moon was low behind him, and he could see nothing worse than the long black shadows of bushes and true; but he could hear a dreadful stamping-stumping coming up the side of the hill. He did not feel either bold or quick, whatever Agatha might say; but he was more anxious about his property than his skid. So, , feeling a bit loose about the belt, he walked towards the brow of the hill.

    Suddenly up over the edge of it the giant's face appeared, pale in the moonlight, which glittered in his large round eyes. His feet were still far below, making holes in the fields. The moon dazzled the giant and he did not see the farmer; but Farmer Giles saw him and was scared out of his wits: He pulled the trigger without thinking, and the blunderbuss went off with a staggering bang. By luck it was pointed more or less at the giant's large ugly face. Out flew the rubbish, and the stones and the bones, and the bits of crock and wire, and-half a dozes nails. And since the range was indeed limited, by chance and no choice of the farmer's. Many of these things struck the giant: a piece of pot went in his eye, and a large nail stuck in his nose.

    `Blast!' said the giant in his vulgar fashion. `I'm stung!' The noise had made no impression on him (he was rather deaf), but he did not like the nail. It was a long time since he had met any insect fierce enough to pierce his thick skin; but he had heard tell that away East, in the Fens, there were dragonflies that could bite like hot pincers. He thought that he must have run into something of the kind.

The giant believed he had been stung by some colossal insect went home, Farmer Giles attained a reputation as a hero and the king, who thought a reward was in order, gave him an old sword, which the monarch thought was too old fashioned to have hanging around his castle.

Farmer Giles's blunderbuss may have been a pistol or shoulder gun since both styles were manufactured then. It was a short muzzle loader musket known for its broad but imprecise scattering of shot because of its flared muzzle. This uniquely designed weapon was developed during the 17th century and used up until the 19th century. With its horn shaped barrel the gun fired projectiles across a remarkably broad range it was possible to hit a target like marauding moonstruck giants within a 160' range of where it was aimed, and then again, it might not hit anything at all.

For hunting it was very useful for fowling. It didn't require any kind of skill to hit a bird; hunters merely aimed in a general direction and fired. In military applications, the scatter shot feature of the blunderbuss was unpredictable. Enemy forces could be heading in a soldier's direction and be entirely missed by the explosion from a blunderbuss, but on the other hand, the wide range of projectiles meant that the soldier could also hit a dozen men at once.

Usually 25-34 inches in length, it had a range of less than one hundred feet and would spread shot over four feet wide at a range of sixty feet. Blunderbusses were outfitted with flintlocks, wheel locks, or percussion locks and could readily fire almost any solid object like nails, rocks, pebbles, bird seed or grape shot. This was an added bonus as a weapon. It meant that on the battlefield any kind of hard object would make do when musket balls were in short supplies.

To load the scattergun soldiers used gunpowder and wadding, but many liked to add extra gunpowder to the firearm knowing how the wide opening in the barrel dissipated the force of the gun blast. As a result of the extra powder the weapon had a nasty kickback, which made the use of a tripod, or a prop of some sort, mandatory to absorb the shock when it was fired. To purchase an original flintlock blunderbuss made around the 1600's today a collector would have to pay anywhere from $2,500.00 up to $25,000.00. The habits of overloading the weapons destroyed many of them and a blunderbuss in good condition is about as rare as finding Ent's along the Brandywine River today.


American Heritage Dictionary
Accessed Oct 24 2002

The story of the blunderbuss
Accessed Oct 24 2002

Accessed Oct 24 2002

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Go for the brass ring

The plaintive melodies and the sounds of fife and drum are transformed into a joyous cascade by the pipes of the mechanical organ. No instrument could be less solemn. It's not so much the sounds of Rossini's "Thieving Magpie Overture" or a swinging "Valencia" we hear as those of children's laughter when the world was young and the brass ring there for the grabbing.
Newsweek review, 1975.
Success is the eternal prize and to go for the brass rings means a chance to achieve wealth or success; a prize or reward. The expression comes from the practice of giving a free ride to anyone who was able to grab a ring from a chute while riding a merry-go-round.

This colloquialism dates from the late 1800s and has its origins in European history of the late 17th century, nobility and in particular the practice for warfare. Excessive injuries during tournaments of the medieval era made way for safer sporting games that displayed competitors' skills and horsemanship. One replacement they discovered was the foundation of the carousel. They borrowed the word from the Italian garosello and the Spanish word carossela, both translate into the phrase "little war":

One of the equestrian games played at the carousel was inspired by a training exercise for tournaments: the game of "catching the ring." Elaborately costumed noble participants instructed by their coaches, the great horse masters of Europe, introduced a whole new era of the sport of catching rings. Louis XIV at the court of France, was reputed to be one of the best at this new, considerably less dangerous sport. Antoine Pluvenil and Grisonne, two men often credited as the front-runners of classical riding and dressage, both instructed Kings and noblemen in the finer points of riding and "riding at rings". Pluvinel in his 1623 book Maneige Royal, devoted 1/3 of the manual to instructing King Charles on his ring riding skills

There were several other games played at the carousel. They were the quintain games which involved lancing a pivoting figure or dummy with a lance from horseback, and another version first referred to as a roundabout which involved lancing small rings from seats suspended from a revolving apparatus with seats, which were later changed to small wooden horses. We know these apparatus today as the carousel bedecked with magnificently painted horses. Marie Antoinette was particularly fond of this aristocratic game and even had a building erected at Versailles Park to house her carousel.

The object of the game was for the competitor to try to lance a small brass ring on the external piece of the roundabout.
It is not enough to reach for the brass ring.
You must also enjoy the merry-go-round.
-- Julie Andrews, English actress
During the reign of Henry IV (1399 - 1413), the carousel was used as the entertainment that consisted of pageants, drills, and contests with participating troops of costumed horsemen. In 1662 Louis XIV built a spectacular carousel between the Tuileries Garden and the Louvre in Paris calling it The Place du Carrousel.

Naturally children wanted to get in on all of the sporting fun and soon a Parisian toy maker created a make believe carousel complete with hobbyhorses on a platform that turned at a leisurely pace so that everyone, children as well as adults, could enjoy this event. The children of Paris adored it and by the middle of the 1800's the ride had spread from France across Europe and over to America.

Along the way the name carousel was called by a great variety of names. From caroussels and maneges de chevaux de bois in France to the United Kingdom where they were called roundabouts, gallopers, and tilts. In the Netherlands they were called stoomcaroussels and torneos in Italy while in Germany they called them karussels. By the time they reached the United States they were being called everything from flying horses to carousels, whirligigs and steam riding galleries, carry-us-alls and flying and Spinning Jennies, not to mention hobby horses, and, of course, merry-go-rounds.

From about 1880 to the beginnings of the 1930's American children delighted in the wooden carousel. Some of the kiddy carousels became mobile and traveled about on small truck and horse drawn wagons continuing to acquire traditions that harkened back to their beginnings. Many were made with a lead horse as the largest, most brilliantly bejeweled horse. Typically, this horse is a warhorse or a military horse and several carousels had rings now made of brass that riders could endeavor to spear with little wooden wands, just like the early game that spawned the carousel.

Eventually carousel makers created a gravity-fed chute that dispensed a large number of iron rings and only a few ones made out of brass. By holding on with one hand, reaching out and grabbing the ring with perfect timing anyone who could "grab the brass ring' got a free ride. In between rides the operator would collect the rings and randomly reload the chute for another chance at the brass ring. Consequently the trophy was won, not merely for being long-armed or nimble fingered, but becuase there was a substantial element of chance too.

The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down

The merry-go-round broke down,
As we went 'round and 'round
Each time 'twould miss, We'd steal a kiss
And the merry-g-round went...
Guy Lombardo Orchestra ,1930s

Partially because of the possibilities of people getting hurt as they grabbed for the rings while riding on a moving horses as well as riders keeping the rings as souvenirs, finding a carousel that still dispenses rings is quite rare. One of only a handful of carousels left in the United States today that dispense rings on the ride is the 1911 Looff Carousel located on Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. Some of you might be interested in some general carousel trivia and facts from their web site:

  • Carousels run clockwise in the United Kingdom, the opposite of all American ones and most worldwide; a British outer horse's left side faces out, and therefore is the more elaborate, or "romance," view.
  • As many as 3,000 carousels were produced in the U.S. during the "golden age" of American wooden carousels (early 1800s to early 1930s); today there are less than 175 operating.
  • Over 85,000 rings are replaced each year, mostly taken home as souvenirs; for every 6.5 people who ride the carousel, one takes a ring. But filching rings is nothing new -- a photo taken in 1911 when the ride first opened clearly shows a sign stating, "Please Do Not Take Rings."
  • The ring machine holds approximately 5,000 of the 1.5" diameter rings at one time.
  • Originally, rings were fed manually into the metal arm by a park worker (who also added one brass ring per ride, redeemable for a free ride). The process was mechanized around 1950.
  • The rings used now are all steel; brass ones are only added for special occasions.
  • In the 1970s the rings were discontinued briefly --ridership plummeted about 75 %.
  • There are less than 20 working carousel ring machines left in the U.S.
The expression to go for the brass ring is the embodiment of one great metaphor. It's an expression that instantaneously conjures up an array of associations that go along with the range of meanings. Not only does it convey an opportunity that allows one to reach for such a prize, but also brings to mind the image of a goal or prize--either one that is to be reached for or one that has been managed through difficulty and triumphantly achieved. It's without a doubt simple to see how the carousel game became a metaphor: "the metaphorical brass ring is a goal achievable by anyone in "the game" with the right combination of reach and luck; achieving it means you've won the prize of all prizes. "


History of the carousels
Jun 16 2003

iFairground, History , Carousel Research
Accessed Jun 16 2003

The Jousting Tournaments of Colonial Times..."To Catch the Brass ...
Accessed Jun 16 2003

1911 Looff Carousel: Fun Facts
Accessed Jun 16 2003

The Maven's Word of the Day
Accessed Jun 16 2003

Monday, November 14, 2005

Soccer mom

"She's June Cleaver in a minivan" (Anchorage Daily News, November 3,1996).

Soccer moms are the necessary evil of the post-industrial bourgeoisie. Described as an underground network of middle-aged white Christian women who are apparently the sole justification for repealing the 19th Amendment to the US Constitution. They are depicted as someone who spends far too much time at the fake-n'-bake, barely stands five feet tall on her tiptoes, drives an SUV the size of a Sherman tank because she has a female Napoleon complex. Well that's according to the unofficial and off the record contributions at It's not only in the dictionary, but on the record and the earliest citation for the phrase in print appeared in The Associated Press on October 14th, 1982.

    A judge has found a husband guilty of looting $3,150 from the treasury of the Soccer Moms booster club in Ludlow headed by his wife. Joseph Decosta, 34, of Ludlow, was found guilty Wednesday and ordered to spend a month in jail and make restitution to the club, which runs candy sales and the like to raise money for soccer games for 400 boys and girls ages 6 to 19.
While alpha moms top the "A list" for play dates for third graders because they come complete with a backyard, a fridge full of goodies and a mother who plays, a soccer mom (SOK.ur mawm) is defined as a white, suburban woman who is married and has children and one of those myths of motherhood created for the sole purpose of political beliefs along with welfare queens, waitress moms, and super moms.

Soccer moms and SUVs go together like carrots and peas. They're the outcome of media driven Mommy Wars throughout the evolution of 20th century American social policy and political debates surrounding child care focused on competing maternal ideals. This makes mothers the primary target population for political policies. At odds are the shared, political, and cultural values that have pitted the stay-at-home "Soccer Mom" in opposition to the career-oriented "Super Mom." The mythical "Welfare Queen" and working poor "Waitress Mom," in disparity, are not even a blip on the media's radar in this combat for the supreme apotheosis of motherhood.

Maternal myths in American society are shaped by mass media outlets and while analysts and academics carry on the debate about the implications of American motherhood, the majority of mothers work both outside and inside of their homes. "This ongoing competition," says one researcher, "between different ideologies and mythologies of motherhood tends to degrade and minimize maternal choices about work, family, and child care stereotypes of American mothers each developed at a specific time in our history and yet, have proven exceedingly resilient despite demographic and experiential evidence to the contrary." Deliberations about child care policy in this country carries on over maternal employment and family structure, meanwhile employed and full-time stay-at-home mothers see it as a war against all mothers. Many see the false dichotomy between working and non-working mothers, which leaves nearly all groups of mothers feeling attacked and on the defensive.

In fact, both public opinion and social science research confirm that the image of a" June Cleaver" housewife in the 1950s continues to serve as the most dominant myth of American motherhood." What's most astonishing is that full-time motherhood is actually an historical abnormality both across the globe and in American culture. All the same, the June Cleaver icon, with a few revisions along the way, has been the mainstay for decades. In reality a current study by the Families and Work Institute established that 50% of married working mothers agreed "it is much better for everyone involved if the man earns the money and the woman takes care of the home and children" In addition, roughly 68% of respondents in a 1997 poll on child care thought that "the best family structure was one where a mother stays home to raise her children full time."

    Somewhere along the way, the stressed-out, minivan-driving juggler of lives and roles was awarded the title of MVP in the competition for voters. She became the icon of 1996, nearly running over the Angry White Male of 1994 in her new Dodge Caravan.

    But in politics, as in soccer, you have to use your head. A trip through the post election world is a reminder that her role was a touch inflated. Suburban, married moms with kids at home were never more than 6 percent of the voters. Gary Langer at the ABC News Polling Unit calls them simply the "group du jour." He fairly sputters at the idea that they could swing anything but a headline.
    --Ellen Goodman, "Meet the worried woman," The Boston Globe, November 10, 1996

While the 1994 mid-term elections were coined the year of the "Angry White Men," the term "Soccer Mom" was added to the political calendar of clichés during the 1996 presidential election between Bill Clinton and Bob Dole shortly after Susan Casey won a 1995 Colorado election with the slogan "A soccer mom for city council." Pollsters identified her phrase as a supposed swing vote that was a new and influential voting bloc. Paul McFedries at The Word Spy notes how this term's sweep through the media is remarkable. "From its initial citation in 1982 through the end of 1989, soccer mom appeared six times in the media. Here are the annual numbers through 1996:
    1990 - 4
    1991 - 8
    1992 - 5
    1993 - 10
    1994 - 19
    1995 - 35
    1996 - 1,150
"That impressive spike," says McFedries, " in 1996 was due to the incredible amount of ink devoted to the soccer mom demographic in the U.S. presidential election of that year."

Kicked off the high heels put on your Keds and watch the kids.

Soccer moms of the `90s were the "Super moms" of the `80s. The new stay-at-home moms are no longer first and foremost traditional Christian proponents of the "natural motherhood" philosophy--the Soccer mom is unquestionably more mainstream. The principal difference between the Soccer mom and June Cleaver is that the Soccer mom always puts her kids first. This fresh fable of motherhood is "not about staying home to be helpmeet (sic) for your husband or devoting yourself to making your floors spick and span; it is about making sure your babies are the best they can be" While June Cleaver was a "housewife" or "homemaker," the Soccer mom is a "full-time mother" with her housekeeping responsibilities noticeably absent. The Soccer mom has also plainly distinguished herself from working mothers snowed under with the Super Mom Syndrome by making her priorities quite clear: while the Super Mom fights to be a successful worker, mother, wife, and homemaker at the same time, the Soccer mom is incontrovertibly a mother first, with all other roles as secondary. In this fashion, the Soccer mom saga has provided a fairly clear ideal for mothers who previously endeavored in vain to meet the Super mom model. In fact, most women who have chosen to leave their careers to raise their children full-time very consciously view the Soccer mom lifestyle as an alternative to the more stressful life of the Super mom.

Soccer moms are not nearly as common as reported. Op ed pieces may tag the stay-home mother as the new "status symbol" of the 1990s, but in reality the Soccer mom is now professed as "lucky" to get to stay home with her children. With the stay-at-home Soccer mom as the existing maternal superlative, many full-time mothers remain as conflicted as working mothers. Often the feelings of Super Motherhood linger despite their option to "simplify" their lives by leaving their careers. Some full-time mothers go through a "mother crisis" when they feel as if they have failed to meet the "Good Mother" ideal. As disappointment mounts the let down lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety.

While there is no existing studies about the "Soccer Mom Syndrome," many say it's essential to note that "stay-at-home mothers have not been entirely immune from public critique. With the majority of mothers now working, full-time mothers are still in the elite minority and consequently, are often compelled to justify their choices. Indeed, many stay-at- home mothers are still asked the ubiquitous and rather insensitive question, "So, what do you do all day?" To counteract such criticisms, particularly from working mothers, full-time mothers have come up with a variety of responses and supports in the context of the Mommy Wars."...stay-at-home mothers, for instance, have organized local support groups... that have been gaining in popularity and membership...(W)hen FEMALE was founded in 1987, the acronym stood for "Formerly Employed Mothers at Loose Ends"; in 1991, the acronym was changed to Formerly Employed Mothers at the Leading Edge" ... This seemingly minor linguistic shift vividly shows how full-time mothers have become more confident in promoting their vision of motherhood."

The mêlée between the Super mom and the Soccer mom is in the end, a battle among the privileged white, upper middle class mothers for whom working or not working is a "choice." Nevertheless, borgo hits the nail on the head when he tells the E2Parentsgroup, " (I am a) "soccer dad" - actually practice starts this weekend - I have no problem with the term -it's what people attach to it. I'd rather be a so-called "soccer dad/mom" than be uninvolved.


Soccer Moms, Welfare Queens, Waitress Moms, and Super Moms
Mar 26 2004.
Accessed Mar 26 2004.

The Word Spy
Accessed Mar 26 2004.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Gunpowder Plot

Fear hath a hundred eyes that all agree
To plague her beating heart; and there is one
(Nor idlest that!) which holds communion
With things that were not, yet were 'meant' to be.
Aghast within its gloomy cavity
That eye (which sees as if fulfilled and done
Crimes that might stop the motion of the sun)
Beholds the horrible catastrophe
Of an assembled Senate unredeemed
From subterraneous Treason's darkling power:
Merciless act of sorrow infinite!
Worse than the product of that dismal night,
When gushing, copious as a thunder-shower,
The blood of Huguenots through Paris streamed.

William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

William Wordsworth is one of the greatest and most influential poets of the romantics whose theories and ideas created a new tradition in poetry. Although he began writing when he was a schoolboy he wasn't published until 1793. He often visited places for their scenic beauty and in the summer of 1790 he took a walking tour through France where he became an enthusiastic convert to the French Revolution. Disheartened by the hostilities between France and Great Briton in 1793, Wordsworth remained sympathetic to the French cause. Returning to England in 1799 his intellectual and political sympathies underwent transformation with Napoleon's rise to power and by 1810 he was staunchly conservative. As he advanced in age his poetic vision and inspiration diminished and his work took on a moralistic tone and dulled in comparison to the power and beauty of his earlier poems.

In 1822 he wrote a series known as the Ecclesiastical Sonnets of which includes the Gunpowder Plot. November 5th is famous for this event and is also called Guy Fawkes Day. Two conspirators Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes decided to blow up the Parliament. Along with eleven other men and on behalf of the persecuted Roman Catholic s in England, the Catesby's Conspirators used 36 barrels of gunpowder in an attempt to annihilate the established government and church. The Catholic sympathizers were supposed to have filled the basement of the House of Lords with gunpowder, which Fawkes was to ignite when Protestants King James I and King James VI met with Parliament on November 5, 1605. Guy Fawkes was caught red handed and so gained the most notoriety. Initially he gave his name as John Johnson. After their trials in 1605 many of the conspirators were tortured in the Tower of London, subsequently hanged, then drawn and quartered.

With the plot discovered the King's deliverance is still celebrated each year. It is with a heavy-handed and cumbersome prose that Wordsworth compares this failed conspiracy and why it generated more anti-Catholic sentiment than the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of French Protestants (Huguenots) in Paris on August 24, 1572.


Blair, Bob: The Gunpowder Plot
accessed November 5, 2001

Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Wordsworth, William," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.

Public domain text taken from The Poets' Corner
accessed November 5, 2001