May 16th, 2010

through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder

Patrick Kavanagh, Advent:

We have tested and tasted too much, lover-
Through a chink too wide there comes in no wonder.
But here in the Advent-darkened room
Where the dry black bread and the sugarless tea
Of penance will charm back the luxury
Of a child’s soul, we’ll return to Doom
The knowledge we stole but could not use.

And the newness that was in every stale thing
When we looked at it as children: the spirit-shocking
Wonder in a black slanting Ulster hill
Or the prophetic astonishment in the tedious talking
Of an old fool will awake for us and bring
You and me to the yard gate to watch the whins
And the bog-holes, cart-tracks, old stables where Time begins.

O after Christmas we’ll have no need to go searching
For the difference that sets an old phrase burning-
We’ll hear it in the whispered argument of a churning
Or in the streets where the village boys are lurching.
And we’ll hear it among decent men too
Who barrow dung in gardens under trees,
Wherever life pours ordinary plenty.
Won’t we be rich, my love and I, and
God we shall not ask for reason’s payment,
The why of heart-breaking strangeness in dreeping hedges
Nor analyse God’s breath in common statement.
We have thrown into the dust-bin the clay-minted wages
Of pleasure, knowledge and the conscious hour-
And Christ comes with a January flower.

Studied this poem at school and it didn’t mean an awful lot to me. But it stayed in my head and sometimes rises to the surface at appropriate moments.

May 16th, 2010

the biology of love

Above is a video about the visual MD — a new way to visualize the system of our bodies.

Here’s one of their videos, giving a scientific perspective on mother-child bonding: The Biology of Love.

I could watch such videos all day. I have some sort of drive to learn about how things work.

May 13th, 2010

why and how to value experience over posessions

Psyblog explains the psychological reasons why material possessions can be so dissatisfying in the long term, as opposed to experiential purchases like concert tickets or a meal out, which often seem to even appreciate in value in our minds as time passes.

The article also explains how one can learn to be more content with those material possessions we do end up buying (in spite of our better knowledge): by thinking of them in experiential terms.

By thinking experientially we can make more of what we already have and ward off the invidious comparisons that can make the treadmill of consumer culture so unsatisfying.

Six psychological reasons consumer culture is so unsatisfying.

May 13th, 2010

dune landscapes

Piet Mondriaan. “Duinlandschap”, 1911

Dutch artists have proven there’s more than one way to paint a dune. At the Volkskrant website there’s a collection featuring Toorop, Mondriaan, Van Gogh… and the Swiss Paul Klee.

May 13th, 2010

a procession of paintings

Rodolphe-Théophile Bosshard (1889 – 1960):

“Bissone”, 1943.

Ferdinand Loyen Du Puigaudeau (1864 – 1930):

“Nighttime procession at Saint-Pol-de-Leon”

“The Bourg-de-Batz church under moonlight”

There’s more to be admired at the gemlike Art Inconnu blog, which digs up widely unsung European artists from the 19th and 20th centuries. Not literally, mind.

May 13th, 2010

the happiest gravestone


Annie M.G. Schmidt‘s gravestone is actually uplifting rather than grave.

You look at it and think: “I can’t wait!”.

Ok, perhaps not. But I’ll shelve my envy for later.

May 11th, 2010

nature and the poet

Peele Castle in a Storm, 1805. Sir George Beaumont (1753 – 1827)

This painting was the inspiration for Wordsworth’s ‘Elegiac Stanzas’, written after the death of his brother John at sea in 1805. It was Sir George’s donation of a major part of his collection to the nation that was to have a decisive effect on the creation of a National Gallery.


Wordsworth saw the natural world as a stimulus for thinking about the emotional response it generated within him. It was man’s growing awareness of an inner, religious response to nature that interested Wordsworth, (not simply the physical ‘rocks, and stones. and trees’).

Most of all, it was the ‘Mind of Man’ that Wordsworth declared was his ‘haunt, and the main region of [his] song.’ The mind, through imagination, could reach beyond sensory experience;it could experience ‘absent things as if they were present’ and perceive the infinite. For Wordsworth, the mind was ‘creator and receiver both,/Working but in alliance with the works/Which it beholds.’ His poetry was the product of a collaboration with nature within the mind, emotions and imagination. It is the landscape of Wordsworth’s mind that we find in his poetry.

And finally, the man worthy of all these words (the poem is Nature and the poet):

I was thy neighbour once, thou rugged Pile!
Four summer weeks I dwelt in sight of thee:
I saw thee every day; and all the while
Thy form was sleeping on a glassy sea.

So pure the sky, so quiet was the air!
So like, so very like, was day to day!
Whene’er I look’d, thy image still was there;
It trembled, but it never pass’d away.

How perfect was the calm! It seem’d no sleep,
No mood, which season takes away, or brings;
I could have fancied that the mighty Deep
Was even the gentlest of all gentle things.

Ah! then, if mine had been the painter’s hand
To express what then I saw, and add the gleam,
The light that never was on sea or land,
The consecration, and the Poet’s dream,—

I would have planted thee, thou hoary pile,
Amid a world how different from this!
Beside a sea that could not cease to smile;
On tranquil land, beneath a sky of bliss.

A picture had it been of lasting ease,
Elysian quiet, without toil or strife;
No motion but the moving tide—a breeze—
Or merely silent Nature’s breathing life.

Such, in the fond illusion of my heart,
Such picture would I at that time have made;
And seen the soul of truth in every part,
A steadfast peace that might not be betray’d.

So once it would have been—’tis so no more;
I have submitted to a new control:
A power is gone, which nothing can restore;
A deep distress hath humanized my soul.

Not for a moment could I now behold
A smiling sea, and be what I have been:
The feeling of my loss will ne’er be old;
This, which I know, I speak with mind serene.

Then, Beaumont, Friend! who would have been the friend
If he had lived, of him whom I deplore,
This work of thine I blame not, but commend;
This sea in anger, and that dismal shore.

Oh ’tis a passionate work!—yet wise and well,
Well chosen is the spirit that is here:
That hulk which labours in the deadly swell,
This rueful sky, this pageantry of fear;

And this huge castle, standing here sublime,
I love to see the look with which it braves—
Cased in the unfeeling armour of old time—
The lightning, the fierce wind, and trampling waves.

—Farewell, farewell the heart that lives alone,
Housed in a dream, at distance from the kind!
Such happiness, wherever it be known,
Is to be pitied, for ’tis surely blind.

But welcome fortitude, and patient cheer,
And frequent sights of what is to be borne!
Such sights, or worse, as are before me here:—
Not without hope we suffer and we mourn.

May 10th, 2010

I heard a thousand blended notes


I heard a thousand blended notes
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that sweet bower,
The periwinkle trail’d its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopp’d and play’d,
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made
It seem’d a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from Heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Lines written in early spring (Bartleby).

May 8th, 2010

what is taught at school?

(via reddit)

May 7th, 2010

there’s this thing I really need to go to..

Some people at a … thing.

I can’t be any more specific than that; it’s simply a thing:

A thing or ting (Old Norse, Old English and Icelandic: þing; other modern Scandinavian languages: ting) was the governing assembly in Germanic and some Celtic societies, made up of the free people of the community and presided by lawspeakers, meeting in a place called a thingstead. Today the term lives on in the official names of national legislatures and political and judicial institutions in the Nordic countries, and (in the Manx form of tyn) as a term for the three legislative bodies on the Isle of Man.

Ha. It’s even related to the more common thing of today:

The Old Norse, Old Frisian and Old English þing with the meaning “assembly” is identical in origin to the English word thing, German Ding, Dutch ding, and modern Scandinavian ting when meaning “object”. They are derived from Common Germanic *þengan meaning “appointed time”, and some suggest an origin in Proto-Indo-European *ten-, “stretch”, as in a “stretch of time for an assembly”.

The evolution of the word thing from “assembly” to “object” is paralleled in the evolution of the Latin causa (“judicial lawsuit”) to modern French chose, Spanish/Italian cosa and Portuguese coisa (all meaning “object” or “thing”).

In English the term is attested from 685 to 686 in the older meaning “assembly”, later it referred to a being, entity or matter (sometime before 899), and then also an act, deed, or event (from about 1000). The meaning of personal possessions, commonly in plural (possibly influenced by Old Icelandic things meaning objects, articles, or valuables), first appears recorded in Middle English in around 1300.

Found at wikipedia in the information trail of my previous post.

Image: The Icelandic alþing in session, as imagined in the 1870s by British artist W. G. Collingwood, from the above url.

May 6th, 2010

under the influence and canopy of the linden

Above: Lindenallee, Berlin, circa 1961. Johann Stridbeck.

The [linden tree] was a highly symbolic and hallowed tree to the Germanic peoples in their native pre-Christian Germanic mythology.

Originally, local communities assembled not only to celebrate and dance under a [linden] tree, but to hold their judicial thing meetings there in order to restore justice and peace. It was believed that the tree would help unearth the truth. (wiki)

I remember studying the poem “Under der linden” by Walther Von Der Vogelweide at university:

Under der linden
an der heide
dâ unser zweier bette was
dâ [muget]1 ir vinden
schône beide
gebrochen bluomen unde gras
vor dem walde in einem tal!
schône sanc diu nahtegal.

The full text can be found here in the original Middle High German, with an English translation.

There are many interpretations of the poem on YouTube. I don’t know which of them would be considered most faithful to the original pronunciation or most appropriately accompanied musically, but certainly these were amongst the most harmonious:

And this was perhaps the most original interpretation I came across:

I was led back to the above poem today after drinking a cup of “tila” and orange leaf tea here in Spain and not knowing exactly what the tila part was. Tila, I have learned, is the Spanish for “Linden”. So it was tea made from the blossoms of the Linden tree. The clue would have been in the latin name for all trees in this family: Tilia.

According to some web sources, linden tea is commonly drunk in South America, particularly in Mexico and, historically, by the Aztecs who claimed its possession of the following medicinal qualities:

* Tranquilizes the Nervous System,
* Cures Insomnia,
* Favors Digestion,
* Calms Menstrual, Hepatic and Renal Cramps,
* Disinflames the Digestive Tract,
* Is a Laxative,
* Sudorific
* Diuretic
* Useful in Bronchitis Cases

Apparently the species Tilia cordata is used not only in landscaping in Central Europe and the former Yugoslavia, but also traditional herbal medicine.

Wikipedia has a (rather impressive) paragraph of the purported health benefits of Tilia:

Tilia flowers are used medicinally for colds, cough, fever, infections, inflammation, high blood pressure, headache (particularly migraine), as a diuretic (increases urine production), antispasmodic (reduces smooth muscle spasm along the digestive tract), and sedative. New evidence shows that the flowers may be hepatoprotective. The flowers were added to baths to quell hysteria, and steeped as a tea to relieve anxiety-related indigestion, irregular heartbeat, and vomiting. The leaves are used to promote sweating to reduce fevers. The wood is used for liver and gallbladder disorders and cellulitis (inflammation of the skin and surrounding soft tissue). That wood burned to charcoal is ingested to treat intestinal disorders and used topically to treat edema or infection such as cellulitis or ulcers of the lower leg.

I certainly feel tranquillized. And the tea is very agreeable to the tastebuds. I may start drinking it more often.

May 5th, 2010

I believe in grass

The biblical statement ‘all flesh is grass’ is almost literally true. Grass is the staple diet of nearly all human beings. Wheat, rice, barley, millet and corn are all grasses, and cattle, sheep and goats (our main sources of meat) survive entirely on grass.

QI fact of the day @ BBC

May 2nd, 2010

it’s like I can touch you!!

Roger Ebert’s 9 reasons he hates 3D movies:


When you look at a 2-D movie, it’s already in 3-D as far as your mind is concerned. When you see Lawrence of Arabia growing from a speck as he rides toward you across the desert, are you thinking, “Look how slowly he grows against the horizon” or “I wish this were 3D?”

Our minds use the principle of perspective to provide the third dimension. Adding one artificially can make the illusion less convincing.

He articulates the inadequacies we all sense as well as adding a few more insider nuggets.

Read the rest.

Image: Rejected (2000)

May 1st, 2010

“big farma” and big ignorance

A. A. Gill @ The Times:

The industrial processes we complain about are what first attracted Victorian housewives. Packet food was sterile, controlled and predictable. The joy of branded ingredients was in their consistency and purity. You see that in all the early advertisements that emphasise the safety of ingredients, that they could be offered to infants and invalids.

Anyone who has travelled to India knows that vomiting, diarrhoea, fevers and worse are constant concerns. That’s what eating everywhere was like before processed food. The fact that we so completely trust the volume and ingredients in packets of food is a great thing; the fact that we can feed 60m people three times a day without poisoning them is an even greater thing and is the triumph of the past century.

Read the full article: School trips to the slaughterhouse.

May 1st, 2010

in space, staying healthy is half the work

Learning about how our bodies behave in space, one appreciates more how automatic and self-sustaining our bodies are on earth.

This episode of Euronews’ Space series gives insight into the challenges of staying healthy in space. It goes a little more in depth than the usual “yer bones get weak n stuff”.

One has to respect the astronauts for the conditions they endure and the risks they take, and one has to respect everyone involved in such projects for their vision and ambition and professionalism.

See the video (8m) at Euronews sci-tech.

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