The Shire dialect is a pleasant and interesting one, which can be reduced to a few easy rules, like English Grammar. The first rule is to omit the common or garden “w” whilst supplying a few of your own. Thus a woman is an ooman, and your wife is your Wold ooman. The second, more curious, rule deals with the crushed past participle. For “frozen” we say “friz”; for “frightened,” “frit”; for “written,” “writ.” The man who has been warped by his education can only rise to the abbreviation “isn’t,” but we extend this throughout the verb “to be.” “Be’nt” is as good as “isn’t.” Thus, if I were asked for a short sentence illustrative of all that is best in the Shire, I should produce: “A be’ant frit of my Wold ooman.”
I have had to sit down under such a lot of guff in definition of the “gentleman,” from the pulpit, the maternal lecture and the pure-bred snob, that I really don’t see why I shouldn’t begin defining him myself. I define him by his hospitality. The infallible test for a gentleman is to drop in upon him suddenly at an awkward hour, preferably at half-past nine o’clock in the evening, unfed, and see what he does about it. If he is too mean to do anything but pass it off as a breach of good manners, or if he rings for the butler and provides you with a caviare sandwich or some such flummery, then he is no friend of ours. But if his wife dives into the kitchen, and provides you there with the best in the house, even if it is only bread and butter (though there is sure to be some little relish), at a moment’s notice, and if the kitchen is clean, then that person is a gentleman and God is with his house.
[T.H. White, England Have My Bones (1936)]
Orioles in the woods: length of vowels alone
makes the meter of the classic lines. No more
than once a year, though, nature pours out
the full-drawn length, the verse of Homer.
This day yawns like a caesura: a lull
beginning in the morning, difficult, going on and on:
the grazing oxen, the golden languor powerless
to call out of the reed the riches of one whole note.
[Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin]
I like to have a man’s knowledge comprehend more than one class of topics, one row of shelves. I like a man who likes to see a fine barn as well as a good tragedy.
[Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals and Miscellaneous Notebooks, III]
We witnessed a curious drama when the Nepalese came to gather honey. The Tibetan government has officially forbidden Tibetans to take honey, because their religion does not allow them to deprive animals of their food. However, here, as in most other places, people like to circumvent the law, and so the Tibetans, including the bönpos, allow the Nepalese to have the honey they collect, and then buy it back from them.
This honey taking is a very risky adventure as the bees hide the honeycomb under the projecting rocks of deep ravines. Long bamboo ladders are dropped, down which men climb sometimes two or three hundred feet, swinging free in the air. Below them flows the Kosi and if the rope which holds the ladder breaks it means certain death for them. They use smoke balls to keep the angry bees away as the men collect the honeycomb, which is hoisted up in containers by a second rope. A condition of the success of this operation is perfect and well-rehearsed combination, as the sound of shouts or whistles is lost in the roar of the river below. On this occasion eleven men worked for a week in the ravine, and the price at which they sold the honey had no relation to the risks they ran. I much regretted that I had no ciné-camera with which to take a picture of this dramatic scene.
[Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet (1953)]
Mr. Skimpole was as agreeable at breakfast, as he had been over-night. There was honey on the table, and it led him into a discourse about Bees. He had no objection to honey, he said (and I should think he had not, for he seemed to like it), but he protested against the overweening assumptions of Bees. He didn’t at all see why the busy Bee should be proposed as a model to him; he supposed the Bee liked to make honey, or he wouldn’t do it–nobody asked him. It was not necessary for the Bee to make such a merit of his tastes. If every confectioner went buzzing about the world, banging against everything that came in his way, and egotistically calling upon everybody to take notice that he was going to his work and must not be interrupted, the world would be quite an unsupportable place. Then, after all, it was a ridiculous position, to be smoked out of your fortune with brimstone, as soon as you had made it. You would have a very mean opinion of a Manchester man, if he spun cotton for no other purpose. He must say he thought a Drone the embodiment of a pleasanter and wiser idea. The Drone said, unaffectedly, ‘You will excuse me; I really cannot attend to the shop! I find myself in a world in which there is so much to see, and so short a time to see it in, that I must take the liberty of looking about me, and begging to be provided for by somebody who doesn’t want to look about him.’ This appeared to Mr. Skimpole to be the Drone philosophy, and he thought it a very good philosophy–always supposing the Drone to be willing to be on good terms with the Bee; which, so far as he knew, the easy fellow always was, if the consequential creature would only let him, and not be so conceited about his honey!
[Charles Dickens, Bleak House (1852-3)]
What a peace-loving but prudent race they were, not predatory and yet not craven. Of all the birds, I thought, they must be the best citizens, the most susceptible to the principles of the League of Nations. They were not hysterical, but able to escape danger. For panic as an urge to safety they substituted foresight, cunning and equanimity. They were admirable parents and affectionate lovers. They were hard to kill. It was as if they possessed the maximum of insight into the basic wickedness of the world, and the maximum of circumspection in opposing their own wisdom to evade it. Grey quakers incessantly caravanning in covered wagons, through deserts of savages and cannibals, they loved one another and wisely fled.
[T.H. White, The Goshawk]
“It is the act of a screaming and demented oyster.”
A sentence of such adamantine singularity that we forgot what the argument was about.
Rummaging around in the library that day I happened upon this by a favorite former professor, Jody Maxmin (I didn’t know she was also a poet):
When it became apparent
to the long-wandering Ithacan,
weary and morose, far from home,
that Euryalos’ snide sneer —
“you don’t look like an athlete” —
was aimed at the very soul of his being,
his first impulse was to doubt himself,
to doubt he still possessed the
necessary strength to shine
among the curious Phæacians.
His arm seemed too unpractised,
his will worn too thin by the consuming sea,
to lift the discus, let alone attempt to throw it.
But then, remembering the rousing words of Peleus,
“To be the best and excel over others,”
he sensed the fiery old determination
coursing through his tawny limbs,
and he grabbed the biggest discus,
and hurled it way beyond the rest.
[Printed as a headquote in The Ages of Homer: A Tribute to Emily Townsend Vermeule]