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]
We ramble about in open country so as to learn how to ramble about in the singularly dusty world of books.
[Wilhelm Heinrich Riehl, The Natural History of the German People]
Upon the foure and twentieth day of the eleventh moneth, which is the moneth Sebat, in the second yere of Darius, came the word of the Lord unto Zechariah, the sonne of Barachiah, the sonne of Iddo the Prophet, saying:
I saw by night, and behold a man riding vpon a red horse, and he stood among the mirtle trees that were in the bottome, and behinde him were there red horses, speckled and white.
Then said I, O my Lord, what are these? And the Angel that talked with me, said vnto me, I wil shew thee what these be.
And the man that stood among the myrtle trees answered, and said, These are they, whom the Lord hath sent to walke to and fro through the earth.
And they answered the Angel of the Lord that stood among the mirtle trees, and said, Wee haue walked to and fro through the earth: and behold, all the earth sitteth still, and is at rest.
You asked me what is the good of reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There were plenty of persons whom the text calls
Daimonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, the bedeviled (as for “the possessed”
It’s no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print and screens,
Rarely engaging in arts and literature.
But the Gospel parable remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which, exasperated by such a sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.
[Czesław Miłosz, Bells in Winter (1978)]
It’s strange that all birds don’t fly in the same way. After all, the air’s just the same at the same place and the same time. I’ve heard that the wings of aeroplanes all conform to the same formula, whereas birds each conform to a formula of their own. It has undeniably required more than a little ingenuity to equip so many birds each with their own formula, and no expense spared, either. Nevertheless, there has perhaps never been a bird that flies as correctly as an aeroplane; yet all birds fly better than aeroplanes if they can fly at all. All birds are perhaps a little wrong, because an absolute once-for-all formula for a bird has never been found, just as all novels are bad because the correct formula for a novel has never been found.
[Halldór Laxness, Under the Glacier]