Previous month:
October 2018
Next month:
December 2018

November 2018

52 Poems, Week 48: Danny Deever (Kipling)


‘What are the bugles blowin’ for?' said Files-on-Parade.
‘To turn you out, to turn you out,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What makes you look so white, so white?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘I’m dreadin’ what I’ve got to watch,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they’re hangin’ Danny Deever, you can hear the Dead March play,
    The Regiment’s in ’ollow square—they’re hangin’ him to-day;
    They’ve taken of his buttons off an’ cut his stripes away,
    An’ they're hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘What makes the rear-rank breathe so ’ard?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s bitter cold, it's bitter cold,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What makes that front-rank man fall down?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘A touch o’ sun, a touch o’ sun,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin’ Danny Deever, they are marchin’ of ’im round,
    They ’ave ’alted Danny Deever by ’is coffin on the ground;
    An’ ’e’ll swing in ’arf a minute for a sneakin’ shootin’ hound—
    O they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin!’

‘’Is cot was right-’and cot to mine,’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘’E’s sleepin’ out an’ far to-night,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘I’ve drunk ’is beer a score o’ times,’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘’E’s drinkin’ bitter beer alone,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    They are hangin’ Danny Deever, you must mark ’im to ’is place,
    For ’e shot a comrade sleepin’—you must look ’im in the face;
    Nine ’undred of ’is county an’ the Regiment’s disgrace,
    While they’re hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’.

‘What’s that so black agin the sun?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s Danny fightin’ ’ard for life,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
‘What’s that that whimpers over’ead?’ said Files-on-Parade.
‘It’s Danny’s soul that’s passin’ now,’ the Colour-Sergeant said.
    For they’re done with Danny Deever, you can ’ear the quickstep play,
    The Regiment’s in column, an’ they’re marchin’ us away;
    Ho! the young recruits are shakin’, an’ they’ll want their beer to-day,
    After hangin’ Danny Deever in the mornin’!


I've mostly kept to a rule in these posts of letting the poem speak first for itself without introduction from me, and put any comments I wanted to make afterwards. But I was very strongly tempted to break it in this case. It could probably have used some kind of warning, and some readers may be annoyed that I threw this grim piece in their faces without one.

I don't have any real strong reason for having chosen it--only that I happened to think of it a few days ago, so I read it, and I think it's brilliant in its grim and horrible way. Kipling has never been exactly fashionable, though he was once popular. No doubt nowadays he's considered evil--imperialist and racist and so on, which he is, though that of course is not the whole story. But I doubt there is an honest poet who wouldn't like to have written something as powerful as this.

The poem leaves you with a big question: why did he do it? Why did he shoot that sleeping comrade? Files-on-Parade doesn't seem to think he was a bad sort. I wonder if he might have been a timid person, tormented by a bully into a mad act of revenge. Or perhaps he really was just a sneakin' shootin' hound. The Colour-Sergeant seems to think so, but that doesn't stop him from pitying the man.

Sunday Night Journal, November 25, 2018

Terrence Malick's Tree of Life was released in May of 2011, so it must have been at least sometime in that year that I saw it. Surely I mentioned it here...oh yes, I saw it in August of that year, and here's the brief post I wrote about it. An interesting conversation follows in the comments. 

I saw it in a theater--a small independent one, not a grand one made for big spectaculars, but still vastly superior to home. We didn't even have a flat-screen TV at the time. And contrary to my statement in a comment on that post I decided I really didn't much want to see it at home. The experience was so intense that I knew it wouldn't be replicated there, and would probably be diminished.

For the same reason, I haven't seen Malick's subsequent movies which have been compared to Tree of Life. Either they weren't shown in theaters around here, or I missed them, and I haven't wanted to see them at home. But I finally decided a month or two ago to try Knight of Cups anyway, as there seems to be very little chance that I'll ever see it or To the Wonder in a theater.

Well...either I was right about the Malick Experience being dependent on good equipment, or I just didn't like Knight of Cups as much. I liked it but that's damning with faint praise compared to my reaction to Tree of Life. Maybe the subject matter--a Hollywood screenwriter (I think) lost in a hedonistic wilderness, with some suggested family trauma in the background--didn't hit home to me in the way that Tree did. It's hard to say. It's beautiful, but it didn't seem as beautiful.


Still exercising what remains of my FilmStruck subscription, I watched a movie which I think was on my Netflix list at one time, but disappeared before it reached the top. Or maybe it wasn't. Anyway, it's not available on Netflix now, but it is on FilmStruck: the 1975 adaptation of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely--starring Robert Mitchum, who had always been the obvious perfect choice to play Phillip Marlowe. By 1975 he was really too old, but that doesn't matter much. This is a great film if you like this sort of thing: imagine the best of '40s and '50s crime drama, based on a classic detective novel, filmed in color and in general with more sophisticated technique all around than had been available thirty years earlier (and, of course, more explicit sexual talk and nudity, but not an excessive amount by later standards). That of course is no guarantee of improvement, and in fact could easily have been a de-provement. But in this case it isn't. 

There's a Criterion Collection intro on the site which suggests that the movie may be a little too perfect, adhering too closely to convention. I don't think so. I mean, it's not some great creative leap forward, but it doesn't need to be. It certainly belongs in the noir canon, born out of time though it is. I had not previously heard of the director, Dick Richards, who, I see from Wikipedia, also directed Tootsie. Ugh. 

Mitchum played Marlowe once more, in a late '70s remake of The Big Sleep, which I have seen and which I don't think is very good. Not that it's badly executed, but the filmmakers decided to set it in London and in the then-present day, which in my opinion didn't work very well. The book is just too 1930s and too Los Angeles. 


I don't remember how I got there, but I followed someone's link to this discussion in The New Yorker of the recent release of several thousand or so alternate takes from Dylan's Blood on the Tracks. (See recent discussion here.) The second sentence stopped me in my tracks, and may have left a trace of psychological blood there:

It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.”'

My incredulous emphasis. I mean, I think Blood on the Tracks is a really good album (though not a favorite of mine, as I mentioned in that discussion). But as it happened I had just finished listening to Winterreise, and I just don't see the two works as being of the same order (though Winterreise is a song cycle, so there is that fundamental similarity of form). I suppose I can't support that claim without sounding elitist. I think Schubert's work is more complex, more varied, more profound...etc.--I don't want to belabor it, but if "worthy of comparison" means "of comparable worth," I disagree.

I figured well, you know, these pop music critics, they don't really know much else. Then I looked at the byline of the piece. It's by Alex Ross, who has more knowledge of classical music than I can dream of, in part because he has more musical sensitivity than I can dream of ("Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge"). He's the author of a highly-regarded history of 20th century music, The Rest is Noise, which I am currently (and slowly) working my way through. 

So who am I to disagree with Alex Ross? Nobody. But...I do. It would be interesting to know what critics and audiences of the 23rd century will think. I'd be willing to be that Schubert will still be considered a great artist. I'm not so sure about Dylan. 

By the way: the Winterreise recording was this one, by Matthias Goerne and Christoph Eschenbach. It was recently given to me by a friend who was concerned that the recording I have, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Jorg Demus, from the mid-'60s, wasn't going to truly convince me of the greatness of the cycle. Well, as I'm always quick to point out, I'm not all that sensitive to nuances of classical performance...or maybe I am without realizing it, because the newer recording engages me more. F-D sounds somewhat bombastic in comparison. And yes, it's a very great work. My friend has converted me to her enthusiasm for both the work and the performance.


I have just finished reading a book that I've had in process for several months. I found it pretty slow going at first, but about halfway through I got very interested and pressed on fairly quickly. The book is English Reformations, by Christopher Haigh. It might be described (very roughly) as a more concise version of Eamon Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars, in that it is a history of English religion as it changed during the Protestant Reformation. I have Duffy's book, got bogged down in it (apparently on page 84, where there is a bookmark), and wandered off onto something else. That was a couple of years ago, and my priest (ex-Anglican) recommended Haigh's book as a way of surveying some of the same territory. 

The two books probably should be considered as companions rather than alternatives. Duffy focuses on the details of religious practice, Haigh on events and people. Perhaps Haigh is a good prelude to Duffy. 

Anyway: if Haigh is correct, the English Reformation was in no sense a popular movement. Or, I should say, as he does, Reformations. In his view there were four:

  • Henry's, which was essentially political, involved the declaration of supremacy and the plundering of the monasteries, but was otherwise meant to remain Catholic;
  • Edward's, which was full-on Protestant and imposed on an unwilling populace;
  • Mary's, which was full-on Catholic and, though brutal to the defiant, was more welcomed than not by the people, and would have succeeded permanently had she not died when she did, leaving a Protestant succession;
  • Elizabeth's, which was Protestant but in a latitudinarian sort of way, fundamentally more concerned with the politics of the time.

I'd like to quote Haigh's very interesting conclusion at enough length to do it justice, but it's too long. One of its points, though, is that when the dust settled, the dust had not really settled. There was no real consensus. There was a minority of seriously and consciously committed Protestants--the Puritans and others--another of seriously and consciously committed recusant Catholics, another of what he calls "old Catholics"--in the main unsophisticated people, mostly well away from London, who simply wanted to go on doing what they had always done. And there was a majority of what he calls "parish anglicans" (uncapitalized), who were more or less of the same temperament as old Catholics but were willing to go along with the new ways and teachings. The first group disdained the other three, and was in turn disdained by them: a pattern still in evidence.

Given the official, decisive, unambiguous rejection of most of Catholic theology and ecclesiology by the Church of England, I am puzzled as to why any Anglicans ever believed that their Church, as church, had any claim to continuity. I don't wonder that Newman left; I do wonder that anyone in the Oxford Movement remained.


Sunset from a different angle.


52 Poems, Week 47: Thanks (W.S. Merwin)


with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
standing by the windows looking out
in our directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you

over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
taking our feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
thank you we are saying and waving
dark though it is


This poem, like the other Merwin one I posted, is very much still under copyright and not reprinted here with anyone's permission at all.

Since I've been posting these poems on Thursdays and today happens to be Thanksgiving Day, I thought an appropriate poem would be appropriate. 


Sunday Night Journal, November 18, 2018

In the effort to see more of the yet-unseen Bergman films in the FilmStruck catalog before it shuts down, I started watching Thirst. About fifteen minutes in I realized that I'd seen it before, only two years ago. I had not cared much for it then (see this post) and decided not to finish it. I proceeded to another of which I hadn't heard before, All These Women (1964). 

Well, that was a surprise. If I hadn't already known it was Bergman, the only clue would have been the presence of several of Bergman's favorite actors in it. I learned afterwards that Roger Ebert called it Bergman's worst film. And I don't think I'd argue with that, but nevertheless I enjoyed it. It's a jape about an artist (male), and his hangers-on--women who in another context would be called groupies, a business manager, and a critic-biographer. The Great Musician is a cellist who is almost never seen--once or twice from the back, and maybe a brief glimpse of his face that went by so quickly I wasn't sure what I'd seen. We hear him playing one of Bach's cello suites, and the contrast between the sublimity of the music and the sordid absurdity of everything else going on is surely intentional. 

The goings-on take place in the musician's mansion or palace. Seven (I think) women are in residence, one of them his wife and the others--well, as I said, groupies, but ones who feel pretty possessive of him and consider themselves to be his widows when he dies. (I'm not giving away anything, as that's established in the opening.) A critic named Cornelius is writing the great man's biography. He arrives and begins scurrying around the place brandishing a two-foot-long red quill pen, scribbling away and discoursing pompously, chasing both the master and any of the women who will pay attention to him. 

It's essentially a satire of which Cornelius is the main target, and it's hard not to see the film as Bergman taking his revenge on a critic or critics who had irritated him. It was Bergman's first venture into color, and is not at all remarkable for cinematography. The sets seem stylized, as if for the stage rather than the screen. It's also one of Bergman's very few comedies, but it's closer to the Marx Brothers than to Smiles of a Summer Night. If the latter is Mozart, this is more like Spike Jones. It's pretty lewd (not at all pornographic), and the score frequently breaks out into a high-speed "Yes, We Have No Bananas." It's not as funny as the Marx Brothers, but it's fun. 

The Wikipedia article described it as a parody of Fellini's 8 1/2, which, according to something I read recently, Bergman admired. So that made me wonder about 8 1/2. I do not have a good history with Fellini in general and 8 1/2 in particular. I saw it when I was in college, in an art-film series which, along with a course in film history, was my introduction to Serious Cinema. I found it dull and unintelligible at the time. Then I saw it again almost exactly ten years ago, along with several other Fellini movies, and I'll save you the trouble of scrolling through a long post and quote the relevant part here (the other movie I'm referring to is La Dolce Vita):

It’s official: I don’t much care for Fellini. I’ve seen Juliet of the Spirits, Intervista, and now the two that are widely considered masterpieces, and found them all more irritating than anything else, despite some excellent moments. I can’t entirely explain this. The apparently aimless talking—high-speed chattering, actually— and wandering around is not fundamentally different from some of Antonioni’s work, which I like very much. But Fellini’s people just annoy me, and I don’t find much imagery that touches me (often Antonioni’s saving grace), or the sense of mystery that some modernist films have. I came closer to liking La Dolce Vita than any of the others; I may see it again sometime.

I find that ten years is not such a long time once you pass fifty or so, and I remember quite well what I felt when I wrote that. I think I remember using some such phrase such as "bunch of hyper-active Italians" to my wife at the time.  I don't suppose I'd ever have watched it again without that Bergman connection. But since it was immediately available on FilmStruck, I decided to give it a try.

And I have to say I was wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong. This time I got it. 8 1/2 is a great movie. It's as good as all but the best of Bergman's, and if you've been reading this blog for a while you know that's saying something for me.

I think part of my problem before was that there is so much dialog, and it's so fragmented, that I couldn't see the structure. But that's an effect of the film's premise: we're watching a famous director who's working on a new film and is being constantly badgered by dozens of people connected with either the film or him personally or, usually, both. Sometimes I couldn't even sort out who was speaking. But anyway I got past that and...well, see preceding paragraph.

All These Women really, by the way, doesn't seem to me a parody of 8 1/2. There is one major connector, though, in the person of a critic who is one of the people pestering--and belittling--the director.

By the way, in case you haven't heard, Criterion is launching its own streaming service next year. I went ahead and signed up--you get a discount if you sign up now. 


A couple of TV series watched over the past month or so: the third season of The Man in the High Castle continues the very persuasive depiction of a world in which Germany and Japan won the Second World War. But though the picture of that world is brilliantly done, as a story I don't think the series is so very good. Toward the end it takes off into pure science fiction, in the form of Super-Advanced Technology, which is not to my mind very convincing--neither the technology itself nor what it's used for. And maybe I've missed something, but the whole business of the mysterious films that show scenes from alternate realities doesn't altogether make sense to me. Other than their one use in preventing another war, what is their importance? Why does the quest for them propel so much of the plot? Through too much of the series they've seemed to be something of a MacGuffin: "The MacGuffin's importance to the plot is not the object itself, but rather its effect on the characters and their motivations."

I have not read the book, by the way, though I plan to do so soon.

The sixth and, happily, final season of House of Cards is terrible. I pretty much agree with this review: "unwatchable nonsense." Except of course that I did watch it, because of some compulsion to finish what I'd started, with a faint hope that it would get better. Part of the problem was the attempt to rework the show after the unexpected dumping of Kevin Spacey. But as that review says, the show had been a crazy mess for several seasons. One of the odder things about this last gasp was the way it alternated between bits of feminist-y cheerleading for Claire Underwood's presidency and the picture of her as a very high-achieving Lady Macbeth who is actually better off without Macbeth. The scene where she unveils her all-female cabinet made me laugh out loud, I think mainly because of the swelling music, which seemed for a moment about to break into some patriotic anthem.

I must say, though, that the title sequence for House of Cards is just about the best ever. 

What really makes it is the music, which I think has varied a bit from season to season (I thought the bass went missing in season 2 or 3). Here is a version posted by the composer, Jeff Beal, so presumably the way he wants it heard. Everything is very present. 

That's just great music, never mind the visuals or the show it was written for, even though it's less than 2 minutes long. Robert Bahr of the Swedish label BIS liked it, and the other music for the series, that he put together a 2-CD set of Beal's music. I haven't heard it.

The titles for Man in the High Castle are really good, too, at least visually. They don't seem to be on YouTube though. These things are becoming an art form in themselves, it seems.


I always have trouble getting used to the sudden onset of dark when we go off Daylight Savings Time (don't get me started). Instead of a gradual dimming at, say, 5:30 in the evening, it goes suddenly from light to full dark between one day and the next. Yesterday afternoon I went to the bay right at 5, with a beer in hand, to watch the sun set. I deliberately left my phone behind, telling myself "If you bring it with you you'll keep trying to take photos and won't actually be experiencing the experience." Anyway it was sort of a dull evening and partly because of the time change I was missing the actual setting of the sun. So I wasn't expecting a big show. The first clue I had that I was mistaken was a mysterious-looking red glow cast on some of foliage of the trees and bushes along the path. It turned out to be one of the more spectacular sunsets I've seen. Sorry, no pictures.

But here's one from a couple of weeks ago. That white streak that seems to be vertical really looked that way, though it's actually a contrail heading west to east.


52 Poems, Week 46: The Parable of the Old Man and the Young (Wilfred Owen)


So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,
And took the fire with him, and a knife.
And as they sojourned both of them together,
Isaac the first-born spake and said, My Father,
Behold the preparations, fire and iron,
But where the lamb for this burnt offering?
Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps,
And builded parapets and trenches there,
And stretched forth the knife to slay his son.
When lo! an angel called him out of heaven,
Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad,
Neither do anything to him. Behold,
A ram, caught in the thicket by its horns;
Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him.

But the old man would not so, but slew his son,
And half the seed of Europe, one by one.


That last line has been reverberating in my mind over the past week or two as discussions of the armistice that temporarily ended the Great War have taken place. Wilfred Owen, as I suppose everybody knows, died in that war, leaving behind a handful of poems about it that have become classics. This is not the best known, but like I said: that last line.

Owen was killed in action on November 4, 1918. His mother received the news of his death on Armistice Day.

That war does not cast as dark a shadow over the U.S. as it does over Europe. I don't think I fully grasped the extent of the catastrophe that it was until sometime in adulthood when I saw a Masterpiece Theater adaptation of Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. She lost her brother and her fiance and several friends in the war. My maternal grandmother served in the Red Cross in France. And I recall a picture of my paternal grandfather in an Army uniform, and I think that also was during the war. But very little in the way of family stories about their experiences came down to my generation, and now there is no one to ask.

Leonard Cohen's song "Story of Isaac" makes similar use of Abraham and Isaac.

I've always thought the song would be better without that last verse, and ended on " of the word." I don't know exactly what the peacock means, though, and perhaps I would like that verse better if I did. But it's a great song anyway.

I also have a bit of a theological quarrel with this:

A scheme is not a vision,
And you never have been tempted
By a demon or a god.

That suggests that there would be something grand about the demon's approach. But nasty little schemes are very much in the demonic line.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, November 11, 2018

This is the 100th anniversary of what used to be known as Armistice Day. God help us, what a century of slaughter that war began. What do we make of the fact that the modern era has seen both a greater awareness of and sensitivity to injustice and suffering of all sorts, not to mention a supposed flowering of reason via the sciences, and killing on a scale never before seen in history? We can say that the body count of the wars has been so high only because we have such wonderful technology for accomplishing it, and that may be true. But that doesn't account for the killing that was mass murder by any definition, planned and executed with modern organizational and technological methods, for the specific purpose of eliminating whole populations in the name of one of the big totalitarian ideals. I think of C.S. Lewis's observation that both good and evil seem to advance simultaneously in history.

Nobody much wanted to listen to Pope Benedict XV at the time, but he looks pretty good in retrospect. As does Blessed Karl of Austria. I am sure he is in many ways an unacceptable figure to the contemporary mind, but a bit of very casual reading about him from secular sources (e.g. Wikipedia) seems to support the idea that he was a ruler who genuinely sought the common good, in particular the end of that terrible war.

It was not the end of civilization, but it was the end of a civilization. What followed has yet to find an order that seems likely to last. Our most widely agreed-upon principles, foremost of which is individual freedom, do not tend toward stability. I used to say, back before the fall of the Soviet Union, that we were heading for either 1984 or Brave New World. The former doesn't have nearly the constituency it used to. But something like the latter is even more now the logical end point of Western consumerism, hedonism, and technocracy.


So FilmStruck, the artsy/classic movie streaming service, will be no more after the 29th of this month. I have an absurd feeling of slight guilt about that, because although I subscribe I haven't used it very much at all. I know that makes no sense. 

I was excited when it appeared, and immediately subscribed. But I was disappointed to find that a basic subscription didn't include access to the Criterion Collection, which was the big attraction. That was part of the reason we didn't use it very much; the other and probably more significant part was a heavy diet of the mystery/crime dramas available on Netflix and Amazon. And when I did look at FilmStruck, it seemed that everything I wanted required the upgraded subscription.

I finally took that step a few weeks ago, just in time to hear that it's shutting down. So I'm trying to make time to watch some things I had put on my watchlist. To wit:

The Asphalt Jungle. This is a film noir classic, according to a wonderful book my wife gave me a few years ago, Into the Dark. (Unfortunately most of the movies listed in the book aren't available on either FilmStruck or Netflix.) Made in 1950, this was John Huston's fourth film. He already had several classics to his credit and while I wouldn't rate this one quite up there with, say, The Maltese Falcon, it's a very good one, and anyone who likes noir will probably like it. It's a "caper" story--about the planning and execution of a complex theft, which of course does not go as planned. 

Summer Interlude. Early Bergman, though "early" in this case means his tenth film. I had never heard of it before. I agree with FilmStruck's description:

Touching on many of the themes that would define the rest of his legendary career—isolation, performance, the inescapability of the past—Ingmar Bergman’s tenth film was a gentle drift toward true mastery. In one of the director’s great early female roles, Maj-Britt Nilsson beguiles as an accomplished ballet dancer haunted by her tragic youthful affair with a shy, handsome student (Birger Malmsten). Her memories of the sunny, rocky shores of Stockholm’s outer archipelago mingle with scenes from her gloomy present, most of them set in the dark backstage environs of the theater where she works. A film that the director considered a creative turning point, Summer Interlude (Sommarlek) is a reverie about life and death that unites Bergman’s love of theater and cinema.

 It's definitely worth seeing, even if you're not especially a Bergman fan. Those sunny summer scenes are very beautiful and worth it by themselves. I'll watch it again.

From the Life of the Marionettes. Also Bergman. I had seen references to it and was under the mistaken impression that it was another early one, but it isn't. It's from 1980, which makes it actually quite late. In 1976 Bergman got into trouble with the Swedish government over some tax-related matter. I say "into trouble"--he was actually arrested, and though the charges were dropped he left the country and lived mostly in Germany until 1984. This movie was made in Germany, with German actors speaking German, which is a little disconcerting to this fan: Bergman's people are supposed to speak Swedish.

It is an extremely dark story about a man who murders a prostitute for reasons having to do with his very unhappy marriage.  As the title suggests, the general theme is that people are puppets in the hands of forces they can neither control nor understand. I didn't much care for it, not because of the darkness but because it doesn't seem to me to be all that well executed. The acting is excellent, but the cinematography, which is so often such a big part of the appeal of Bergman's work to me, is dim and fuzzy. I assumed as I watched it that Sven Nykvist, Bergman's usual cinematographer, was not involved, but I was wrong. According to Wikipedia (plot spoilers at that link) it was originally made for television, so maybe that's the problem. I speculate also that Bergman was just not at his best at this time in his life.

It's not worthless by any means. There are some good moments, moments when the Bergman gift for putting profound philosophical and psychological  insights into the mouths of his characters emerges. One that especially struck me comes from a psychologist who is counseling the man who commits the murder. He suggests that the notion of a soul is a problem, and that one should simply get rid of the whole idea. "No soul, no fear" is the way the subtitles translate his rationale, but my bit of German enables me to say that it's better in that language: "Keine seele, keine angst." Maybe that will be the motto of that still-forming new order that I mentioned earlier.

I was going to say that I won't watch it again, but as I think about it more I think maybe I will, though I would recommend it only to dedicated Bergman fans. It's very fixated on sex, and I should warn you that one scene, in a peep show (I guess that's what you'd call it) where the murderer meets the prostitute, is pretty much pornographic.


I don't know the name of this plant. The way a few of its leaves turn bright red while the others remain green is interesting.



52 Poems, Week 45: Bridge Morning (Sally Thomas)


The child outside the swinging door
Heard her mother say,
I won't make something of myself
Stuck at home all day.

Honey, said a languid voice,
Some days I'm so depressed
By toilet bowls and groceries
I almost can't get dressed.

Another friend remarked, I told
My husband that, I said,
'Lanier, you hear me out. I am
Too young to feel this dead.'

I saw my doctor, cried a third.
He said to me, 'Miz Wade,
You get a little job and leave
That child home with the maid.'

All the while, the pattering cards
Were shuffled, dealt, and drawn.
Ice rattled in the glasses. Outside,
S.E. mowed the lawn.

The child sat on her leather stool
Behind the swinging door
And watched Princetta move across
The chessboard of the floor.

Princetta's hands were black and broad,
Their palms pale-pink as lips
Before the public smile's drawn on
In red. Around her hips

White apron strings, crisscrossed and tied,
Strained as she bent to see
Light biscuits rising, and to sieve
Black silted leaves from tea.

Child, Princetta said, you scoot.
You in Princetta's way.

She backed out through the swinging door
With her heavy silver tray.


"Bridge Morning" first appeared in Modern Age and is reproduced here with the permission of the poet.


The name is pronounced "Prinsetta," by the way.

This poem is pretty close to perfect. The "pretty close" is really just a formality, a legalistic gesture of acknowledgement that nothing in this world is truly perfect. I guess it helps if you know the world depicted here, but, just as with John Betjeman's Extremely English work, I don't think it's necessary. 

That last line is what makes it, gesturing, or maybe just glancing significantly, away from the domestic scene to a wider world of injustice and tragic history--and more, discernment of which I will leave to your insight. The tray is heavy, the tray is silver: those two words do so much. And they sound so well together there, a perfect exemplar of the "sound and sense" motto. But that line only works as well as it does because everything leading up to it is so precisely convincing.

Sally Thomas--I almost said "is a real person." What I mean is that she's not a name in a book, an alleged person who wrote some poems long ago and far away, but someone who lives in the same world I do. I've never actually met her but she's a good friend of a good friend and we've met online.  Some years ago, before Facebook, when blogs were more popular and this one in particular hosted more conversation than it presently does, she sometimes commented here. 

Here is her web site. She also writes excellent fiction. This poem is from her collection Fallen Water, and if you like "Bridge Morning" I strongly recommend the book. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.

Sunday Night Journal, November 4, 2018

There was a time when I could not have imagined being indifferent to the release of a new Dylan album. But it was a fairly short time, only five years or so in the last half of the '60s. Nashville SkylineSelf-PortraitNew Morning, and Planet Waves pretty well cured me of Dylan-awe. Not that those were all bad--I think New Morning is pretty good. (At least I used to. I don't think I've heard it for decades.) But they didn't matter to me. My cultish fascination with Dylan, the conviction that "he was never known to make a foolish move," was gone. 

So when Blood on the Tracks came out in 1975 I didn't pay very much attention. When reviewers said it was great I thought yeah, right. Not only did I not rush out to buy it, I didn't even hear it for a while, when a friend insisted that it really was very good and played it for me. And it was. I was pleasantly surprised. But still, my reaction was something like "Pretty good for a post-'60s Dylan album." Something like the way I thought of the post-Beatles work of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Apparently I bought it, because I have it. But it's certainly not on my Favorite Albums Ever list.

Over the years I heard people acclaim it as a masterpiece, even calling it his best album. Puzzling. There's no accounting for tastes, but I didn't understand how anyone could rank it with those '60s monuments. I suspect it has something to do with age. If I'd heard it at 17 instead of 27, it might have made a bigger impression on me.

With the release of More Blood, More Tracks, a 6-CD collection of variant recordings of the songs that made it onto the album, I've heard more of that talk. So I listened to the album again, for the first time in many years. And it is good. Very good. But my basic opinion hasn't changed. It's definitely a high point of post-'60s Dylan, but on a level below, say, Highway 61 Revisited

I'm puzzled by the market for these multi-disk collections of outtakes etc. from famous albums. Twelve versions of "Buckets of Rain"? I can imagine it would be interesting to hear these once, maybe even twice, to see how the songs developed in the studio and all that. But I have no interest in owning it, especially at a price well over $100. 

Then again, I did pay $100 to see him live a couple of weeks ago, so who am I to talk?

I notice that the 6-disk set includes only three takes of my favorite track, "Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts," which also is unlike every other song on the album in that it's not a direct personal statement. I don't know what to make of that. 


In the Department of What Is Actually Happening: two recent pieces in The American Conservative struck me as significant. First, this one by Rachel Lu: "Men and Women: Should We Just Call the Whole Thing Off?"

Relations between the sexes have always fascinated me--I mean intellectually, philosophically, as well as practically and personally. Sometimes I think I might write something substantial on the subject, and by "substantial" I mean at least a lengthy essay. But chances are pretty good that I won't, so here's Lu on one thing I would discuss:

The truth is, women do feel more vulnerable than men, in public, at work, or in social gatherings. That’s because, in a very real sense, we are. We shouldn’t treat all men as likely aggressors, but men should be expected to conform to behavioral standards that serve, among other things, to help women feel safe. That’s always been a major function of gentlemanly behavior, without which men and women rarely find one another bearable for very long.

Women's vulnerability seems almost frightening to me. It's elemental and physical. It's not only the basic physical weakness relative to men, but the vulnerability, both physical and emotional, to and of pregnancy, childbirth, and child-rearing--the enormous risk of sex. I've been paying attention to feminism since the early '70s (it would be an overstatement to say studying it), and I've thought for a long time that some part of feminist anger comes from this vulnerability, which seems more profound than any of the specific identifiable injustices of human arrangements. Those are many, it's true, and many of them can be ameliorated (and have been). But prior to that is a vulnerability that's intrinsic to human biology and psychology and can't be erased. 

Camille Paglia once said something to the effect that many women feel that the sexual revolution has not been a good deal for them. (I'm paraphrasing from decades-old memory but I think that was the idea.) It liberated them, but it also broke down structures of custom that, though confining, had also served to protect them. And (said Paglia) part of the drive for establishing explicit rules and procedures governing sexual consent is an attempt to re-establish some of those protections.

I think she's right. And I think Rachel Lu is right that there is much to be said for the old notion of gentlemanly behavior. Good men respond to feminine vulnerability with respect and an impulse to protect. And men who exploit and abuse it should be disgraced in the eyes of other men. That's not a capital-S Solution, but it would help. In the world of male sports, cheaters are held in contempt. The same should be true of a man who would, for instance, take advantage of a drunken young woman, to say nothing of the kind of active extortion reportedly practiced by the likes of Harvey Weinstein.

One defect in the gentleman's code is that it frequently (mostly? always?) applied only to women of the man's own class, excluding those who for whatever reason were not considered respectable--that is, worthy of respect. But a real gentleman would treat the both the Duchess of Cambridge and Stormy Daniels with courtesy and respect.

The other piece, by Michael Vlahos, bears the dispiriting title "We Were Made for Civil War." It's a consideration of the present state of division in this country, and it's pretty pessimistic. It's a bit lengthy by web standards (3000+ words) and I don't agree with everything in it, but I think it's all too accurate in its assessment of the current situation, accurate enough to be worth reading.

I've been saying for some time that we're in a sort of non-violent undeclared civil war. As Vlahos says:

...even though these two divided visions of America have been opposed for decades, and so far have controlled the urge to violence, there is in their bitter contest a sense of gathering movement toward an ultimate decision. In no way is this more clear than in the 2016 election and ongoing political conflict. This divide is no status quo “agree to disagree,” but rather two moral armies moving towards a showdown.

Moreover, and worse, it's a religious conflict:

Red and Blue already represent an irreparable religious schism, deeper in doctrinal terms even than the 16th-century Catholic-Protestant schism. 

He doesn't elaborate on the doctrines involved, and I guess I won't try to, either, in this brief note. But I don't think you can understand what's going on unless you recognize that aspect of what's happening. If you want to define "religion" fairly narrowly, you can call it a quasi-religious conflict, but it's effectively religious. In any case it's a struggle between fundamentally irreconcilable views.

This may all seem alarmist, but I agree with Vlahos that to fail to take the situation seriously is to keep moving toward the showdown. I, of course, as people who have read this blog for a while know, think the way to avoid it is to reduce the reach and power of the central government, to give control back to state and local governments regarding some of the flash-point issues. The big problem now is the one Vlahos identifies: the belief on each side that the other represents a dire threat to it. And that comes straight from the belief that whoever controls the national government can and will force the opposition to submit. This bomb needs to be disarmed.

I think it's important for Christians to recognize this state of affairs--signs of the times, wise as serpents, etc. But even more important is to avoid getting caught up in the war mentality, not to allow oneself to demonize and hate the other side. Hate is against the Law.


If all that's depressing, or if you didn't get the reference in the title of Rachel Lu's piece, watch this. Guaranteed mood-elevator. Or, if not, the fault is in you.


 It's about this big.


52 Poems, Week 44: Why Should Not Old Men Be Mad? (Yeats)


Why should not old men be mad?
Some have known a likely lad
That had a sound fly-fisher's wrist
Turn to a drunken journalist;
A girl that knew all Dante once
Live to bear children to a dunce;
A Helen of social welfare dream,
Climb on a wagonette to scream.
Some think it a matter of course that chance
Should starve good men and bad advance,
That if their neighbours figured plain,
As though upon a lighted screen,
No single story would they find
Of an unbroken happy mind,
A finish worthy of the start.
Young men know nothing of this sort,
Observant old men know it well;
And when they know what old books tell,
And that no better can be had,
Know why an old man should be mad.


I've been trying to avoid posting more than one poem by any poet in this series, and there are a number of people who should be included but haven't yet been. So why am I doing another one by Yeats? The problem with some of the not-included--and I'm thinking primarily of Shakespeare, Keats, and Eliot here--is that their great work is lengthy, and I don't want to do excerpts. I guess one of Keats's odes might do for a blog post, but the one I really want is "The Eve of St. Agnes," which is several hundred lines.  

I really wish Yeats had come up with something better than "social welfare dream" with which to praise the woman whom I assume to be his great unrequited love, Maud Gonne. I wonder what the description meant to him. To me and I suspect to many of our time it conjures up a social worker, which may be a praiseworthy occupation, or in some cases may not, but in any case isn't an image that makes the heart beat faster, and doesn't seem at all compatible with "Helen." (See "No Second Troy" for comparison.)

I'm also a little puzzled by the "lighted screen." Something on which insects are examined, maybe? Anyway, the idea is plain enough.

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.