All That Vanished Glory

One hundred years ago this morning, in a railway carriage parked on a siding in the Forest of Compiègne in France, an armistice was signed between the Allies and Germany, officially ending the Great War. The signing took place at 11am French time, so that the occasion is commonly identified as the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918. The signatories of the agreement were Marshal Ferdinand Foch (representing France), Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss (representing Britain), and Matthias Erzberger (representing the new republican government of formerly Imperial Germany).

By the time these men gathered to sign the document, four great empires had ceased to exist: the Russian, the Austrian, the Ottoman, and the German. The sole remaining empire, that of the British, hung on for another thirty years or so before its piecemeal dissolution.

More than a year passed after the Armistice before a permanent peace treaty was signed at Versailles in January 1920. Its draconian terms all but guaranteed that the Great War would eventually resume, which it did less than twenty years later. Just think how brief the period “between the wars” was — looking back the same amount of time (7,599 days) from today, we see January 1998, when Paula Jones had just accused President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment and the Monica Lewinsky scandal was waiting in the wings, poised to dominate America’s television screens for the next year or two. As a matter of interest, earlier that month Ramzi Yousef was sentenced to life in prison for his part in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

Remember all that? Not very long ago, was it?

The time between the wars was so short that any number of men served in both wars. A soldier born in 1900 and conscripted in 1918 had not yet turned forty when Hitler invaded Poland. By military standards he was a bit long in the tooth, but not too old to serve in the new war, especially if he was a career soldier.

So we could say that in a way the Great War lasted 31 years, from 1914 to 1945, with a twenty-year ceasefire in the middle. A ceasefire that gave the continent of Europe two precious decades of peace. During those twenty years of peace — despite the assertion that the Great War had been “the war to end wars” — there was a widespread feeling, especially after 1933, that another war was on the way. Looking back at the literature of the time, one detects a sense of impending doom. And, despite all the efforts of the great statesmen of the day to stave it off, doom eventually came.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The conflict of 1914-1918 stands as the Great Divide of our time. Looking back from the twenties, the period before 1914 seemed a golden idyll in retrospect. Not that all the signs of cultural rot weren’t already in place before the war — one has only to look at French literature from the fin de siècle or the antics of the British aristocracy during the Edwardian period to realize that decadence and ennui were rife among the literate classes long before Gavrilo Princip fired his pistol at Archduke Franz Ferdinand and blew the old world away.

But all those forces of cultural destruction were given a power assist by the Great War. Lytic processes that had been in their infancy in 1914 were fully mature by 1920. Consider this partial list, beginning with the most important:

Bolshevism. Communism and other forms of revolutionary socialism were already a concern for the intelligence services of Russia and the West in 1914, but the Great War gave them such a boost that they became unstoppable. Assisted by the German general staff, Lenin was able to return to Russia and seize the moment, taking advantage of a society and state that had been severely debilitated by three years of trench warfare.

Once they had consolidated their hold on power, the Bolsheviks and the Soviet Union became the vanguard of International Socialism, attempting to export the revolution to the entire world. In the process they spawned their evil twin, National Socialism, through their violent conflict with various other socialist sects. By funding and infiltrating activist groups in the West, they undermined and discredited traditional societal structures — nations, churches, schools, families — to further the destruction of bourgeois values and hasten the revolution.

The forces unleashed by the Bolsheviks survived the death of the USSR and are currently regnant throughout the major institutions of the Western world — the most fateful legacy of the Great War.

Women’s Lib. Female suffrage was already trending in 1914, but the Great War guaranteed that the suffragettes would prevail. The war broke up traditional arrangements between men and women, sending women to work in the factories while men were blown to pieces on the Western Front. Women who had been apolitical became activists and agitators as a result. It’s no coincidence that major Western countries granted women the vote in 1918 and shortly afterwards.

Bobbed hair, short skirts, female employment, sexual emancipation. The “free love” movement existed long before the war — think of the Fabians or the Bloomsbury Group — but after 1918 it spread from the upper and upper middle classes to the rest of society, ushering in the licentious hedonism of pop culture that has become the norm throughout the West.

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An Enlightening Missive From Somewhere Out There on Teh Intertubes

I received the following email a little while ago. As far as I can tell, based on its, ahem, choice of nomenclature, it’s from the same person whose comments I always delete because they contain too many expletives, obscenities, vulgarities, and blasphemies to redact.

I’ve redacted this one as little as possible, because I want to make sure all of our readers are able to appreciate the subtleties of his/her/zer rhetoric.

And I’ve included the sender’s email address because… Well, just because:

From: amqh5o+6czeeiq1nt4mg@guerrillamail.com
To: Gates of Vienna
Sent: Wednesday, March 07, 2018 6:25 PM
Subject: Hey Baron, check this out :))

What are you afraid, little american idiot ? :)) You know that the mother of all wars is coming, especially in Western Europeistan, you know that, do you ? :)) Then, why the [carnal knowledge] are you keep on censoring those who say the things as they are in the real world ? :)) Wake the [carnal knowledge] up, or you will get eaten alive by those savage muzzies and sand-[Sons of Ham] that the psychopathic elites are importing, you stupid useless idiot :)) Anyway, you have no chance in the New World, you will not be good even as a slave. So, sorry for you, but you are a goner, little [copulated]-up spineless traitor, you think you will run the New World ? :)) The likes of me will do it, not you, stupid [maternal incest enactor].

—-
Sent using Guerrillamail.com
Block or report abuse: https://www.guerrillamail.com//abuse/?a=RkBgAB4PRaIcjQC68V4cegbIQMuE28RdiapHaA%3D%3D

A Week to Christmas

Six years ago I posted the following brief riff on Louis MacNeice as part of a much longer essay called “The Banality of Everything”. At the time I could remember portions of the MacNeice poem from my O-Level studies back in the ’60s, but I didn’t have the complete text.

Since then much more archival material has become available online, and I was able to find the entire poem. It’s not all that good, really — you can see the between-the-wars socialist zeitgeist poking up all through it; a dialectical materialist’s distaste for the materialism surrounding Christmas. Still, it makes for interesting reading now as a period piece. If the poet thought his time was a materialist one, he should have lived on another eighty years to see what 21st-century materialism is like.

And the teddy-bears-and-candles kitsch has grown even worse in the six years since I wrote this. It’s hard to see the exact shape of the endgame of all the increasing cultural rot we’re living through, but we know it won’t be pretty.

First, the excerpt from “The Banality of Everything”:

The cheapening and coarsening of public culture long predates the arrival of television, of course. Writers between the wars frequently bemoaned the commercialization and materialism of their times. In his 1938 poem “A Week to Christmas” (Part XX of a much longer poem, “Autumn Journal”) Louis MacNeice wrote disparagingly of “gimcracks in the shops”. Presumably he was thinking of a toy shop such as this one, on Wine Street in Bristol, photographed during the Christmas season of the same year:

If the poet were carried forward in time to the Christmas season of 2011 — which began not in December, but in October, and includes virtually no references to Christ — would he be astonished at the level of further gimcrackery to which Western culture has descended?

Would he realize that, culturally speaking, his own time was halcyon compared with our own?

Would he understand that the Socialist sentiments he shared with his fellow interwar poets bore a large share of the responsibility for the destruction of Western culture — which is now all but complete?

So here we are, closing out the Year of Our Lord 2011 with reindeer and snowmen and Santa Clauses and all the other gimcracks.

Here we are with heaps of teddy bears and candles whenever another gunmen kills eight or ten people in his former place of employment.

Here we are with tattoos, piercings, ghetto gear, texting, reality TV, “get over it”, and “whatever”.

It’s no wonder that Islam is making such inroads into the Western world. Our spiritual vacuum can scarcely be filled with stuffed animals and flowers.

But nature abhors that vacuum, so it will be filled with something.

The complete poem (part XX of “Autumn Journal” by Louis MacNeice) is below the jump:

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The Ballad of the Blue-Collar Billionaire

For a change of pace, our German translator JLH channels Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in this little ditty about the Bumpkin From the Big Apple.

The Ballad of the Blue-Collar Billionaire

by JLH

                                        I

Come listen my children and you shall hear
A political tale that will bring you good cheer.
On November the eighth in the year ’16,
A man was elected that none had foreseen
Or thought or guessed, let alone, expected
Would be nominated, much less, elected.

He stepped on the stage at that very first meeting,
Expected by all to take a great beating.
The Fourth Estate was in tears of joy:
Here was the perfect whipping boy.
His mouth was so big, his tweets even bigger,
And always good for a snort or a snigger.
Whatever he said — be it false, be it true,
There just was no limit to what they could do.
They prepared to record the brief but wild flare,
Of the man who would be the Blue-Collar Billionaire.

As the Redcoats had massed at Lexington,
So “neutral” moderators first sought to stun,
With fusillades of factoids and lethal spin,
But it all bounced off a fight-toughened skin.
Questions intended to demonize him,
To tear him asunder and limb from limb,
Were seen by the watching multitude
As proof of humanity, if not rectitude.

When interrogators wanted a loyalty oath,
He said that’s alright, but only if both
The party and others said to his face
That they would support him, if he won the race.
There were some opponents who looked down their noses
And made cutting remarks while striking great poses;
Claimed knowledge, experience and comprehension
To smooth over quarrels and lessen dissension.
All versus a man from the building domain,
Whose language was blunt, if not outright profane.

Then there began the chipping away:
His crazy ideas would make taxpayers pay
For impossible schemes that no one could do —
Politically impractical, as everyone (else) knew.
His demeanor was bumptious; his language askew;
How could he know what statesmen should do?
The elegant thinking of political types
Was beyond a man who lived only by hype.

But there also began a most startling display
Of competing in a counterintuitive way.
He played the bully as well as the fool;
He called them all names like a kid after school.
And then he did something that was really unfair —
So embarrassing it was, it was so hard to bear.
He did something that almost seemed underhand:
He proclaimed his unabashed love for this land!
He also had a cap that was red with white letters,
Which he proudly flourished in front of his betters.

Not patriotism, too! For the love of God!
Does he not know that makes him look odd?
And what was that, that he just threw out?
He’s pledging support to those credulous louts,
Evangelical Christians — he’s got their back.
When we already have them! The ignorant hack!

And another religious wave he would make —
He read out the story of Al Miller’s “The Snake.”

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That Lusty Brother Tariq

As we noted last week, the renowned Swiss philosopher Tariq Ramadan has been weinsteined. Or is it harveyed? Anyway, it’s open season on prominent males, all of whom are presumed toxic until proven otherwise, and Dr. Ramadan is no exception.

I was surprised to learn that famous Muslim men are not exempt from this latest fad. So Tariq Ramadan now has multiple women accusing him of rape — who will be next? Imam Rauf? Yusuf al-Qaradawi? At least they don’t have to worry about being convicted, as long as they go to trial in an Islamic country where sharia law holds sway.

Many thanks to Ava Lon for translating both these videos, and to Vlad Tepes for the subtitling.

Video #1 (interview with one of the alleged victims, Henda Ayari):

Video #2 (interview with the author Caroline Fourest):

Video transcript #1:

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Terror and Slaughter Return

We’ve featured this poem before, but it’s been more than ten years. Another look is warranted, given how much more dire times have become than they were just a decade ago.

Rudyard Kipling was a prophet whose clear vision peered ahead into the devastated twilight of Western Civilization. “The Gods of the Copybook Headings” is a remarkable poem. Written almost a century ago, it speaks to today’s deracinated remnants of Christian culture as we approach End Game:

The Gods of the Copybook Headings
by Rudyard Kipling

As I pass through my incarnations
                in every age and race,
I make my proper prostrations
                to the Gods of the Market-Place.
Peering through reverent fingers
                I watch them flourish and fall,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings,
                I notice, outlast them all.

We were living in trees when they met us.
                They showed us each in turn
That Water would certainly wet us,
                as Fire would certainly burn:
But we found them lacking in Uplift,
                Vision and Breadth of Mind,
So we left them to teach the Gorillas
                while we followed the March of Mankind.

We moved as the Spirit listed.
                They never altered their pace,
Being neither cloud nor wind-borne
                like the Gods of the Market-Place;
But they always caught up with our progress,
                and presently word would come
That a tribe had been wiped off its icefield,
                or the lights had gone out in Rome.

With the Hopes that our World is built on
                they were utterly out of touch.
They denied that the moon was Stilton;
                they denied she was even Dutch.
They denied that Wishes were Horses;
                they denied that a Pig had Wings.
So we worshipped the Gods of the Market
                Who promised these beautiful things.

When the Cambrian measures were forming,
                they promised perpetual peace.
They swore, if we gave them our weapons,
                that the wars of the tribes would cease.
But when we disarmed They sold us
                and delivered us bound to our foe,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
                ”Stick to the Devil you know.”

On the first Feminian Sandstones
                we were promised the Fuller Life
(Which started by loving our neighbour
                and ended by loving his wife)
Till our women had no more children
                and the men lost reason and faith,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
                ”The Wages of Sin is Death.”

In the Carboniferous Epoch
                we were promised abundance for all,
By robbing selected Peter
                to pay for collective Paul;
But though we had plenty of money,
                there was nothing our money could buy,
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings said:
                ”If you don’t work you die.”

Then the Gods of the Market tumbled,
                and their smooth-tongued wizards withdrew,
And the hearts of the meanest were humbled
                and began to believe it was true,
That All is not Gold that Glitters,
                and Two and Two make Four —
And the Gods of the Copybook Headings
                limped up to explain it once more.

As it will be in the future,
                it was at the birth of Man —
There are only four things certain
                since Social Progress began —
That the Dog returns to his Vomit
                and the Sow returns to her Mire,
And the burnt Fool’s bandaged finger
                goes wobbling back to the Fire;
And that after this is accomplished,
                and the brave new world begins
When all men are paid for existing
                and no man must pay for his sins,
As surely as Water will wet us,
                as surely as Fire will burn,
The Gods of the Copybook Headings
                with terror and slaughter return!

Barawatha: Epic of Epics

Our German translator JLH has employed his considerable poetic skills to pen this magnum opus about America’s Man for All Seasons — or for thirty-two of them, anyway, four per year for eight long years. Those are years we’ll never get back, but c’est la vie…

Barawatha
Epic of epics

By JLH, with respects to the great myth-maker, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I.
On the banks of old Potomac,
By the wide and flowing waters,
Lived for eight years Barawatha,
In the Whitest of all Houses,
In the fabled land of DeeSee,
In the land of wealth and madness.

Far had come our Barawatha,
From the lands of Kenyawahwah,
To the isles of Ho-No-Luau,
To the lands of Indo-Eastern
Where the minaret was calling,
Forming for him thoughts of music.

Then the trekking journey homeward,
From the lands of very Eastern,
Eastward to the lands of Western,
Stopping in the land of Luau,
Then on to the western province,
To the very western province
In the Land of Money-Talking,
In the Land of Let’s-Pretending,
In the Land of Mickey-Mousing,
Where for two short years he studied
The many mysteries of the Occident.

Now grown out of young and cuddly,
Into tall and lithe and handsome,
Soon to travel once more westward.
Like an arrow toward the coastline,
To the town of Robber Barons,
To the town of Spinach Popeye,
To the venerable institution,
Nestled in the worst of districts,
Covered in respect and ivy,
For another two years’ learning.

Leaving then that town of Commerce,
For the town of Slaughterhouses,
And the town of Drive-By Slaughter.
Learning, thinking, organizing,
Planning for a further future.

One last leap in education,
To a further northern Ivy,
In the land of cod and baked beans,
And of cabbage and of corned beef,
In the land of Cabots, Lodges,
And of many an upstart Irishman.

Here to study the queen of sciences —
Understand Left-Leaning Lawfare.
How to bring about the rescue
Of the nation from its bondage
To the thought of long-dead fellows
Who had never heard of Facebook
And refused to pay their taxes.

II.
Back then to the town of stockyards,
Railroad trains and Smith and Wesson,
Back to organizing, teaching.
Thinking now of where the Law lives,
How it changes and who does it.

Cleverly and lightly then he
Trod the stepping stones to power.
Missed the first one, balanced quickly,
Reached another higher level.
Soon was sitting with his compères
In the senatorial chamber.
Grousing, grumbling and complaining,
At the state of the economy,
At the travails of the needy,
At the entire world of nations
Seeing us as their despoilers.
How did all this come to happen,
Under less than able leaders?
Now is time to change direction,
Make a difference, make some progress,
Down with capital exploitation!
Up with programs, programs, programs!

Now he saw, our Barawatha,
Saw his purpose, saw his future,
In the epic war yet coming
To decide with final judgment
What befits this nation’s hubris,
In its arrogance and profit,
In its overweening self-love.

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Ash Wednesday 2017: A Difficult Balance

Today begins the long march of Christians through the penitential season of Lent. Gone is the bacchanalia of Mardi Gras feasting. Here come the days of fast and abstinence.

I had thought to put up a part of T.S. Eliot’s long conversion poem, Ash Wednesday.

But my sleep-deprived mind kept turning and returning to Richard Wilbur’s Love Calls Us to the Things of This World. It pulled me to notice “the things of this world” while I still can. So this is my offering instead, this exultation, one to carry with you as you also carry the ashes of mortality, the reminder: “Remember, man, you are dust and to dust you will return.” Or, as they said in my childhood, while marking my forehead with the ashes of last Palm Sunday’s fronds:

Meménto, homo, quia pulvis es, et in púlverem revertéris…

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

      The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                                 Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

      Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

      Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                                                     The soul shrinks

      From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
                        “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

      Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
      “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                                 keeping their difficult balance.”

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Dylan Thomas’ “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”

For anyone who’d like to follow along with the poet, here are the words. Back when the children were here, the Baron used to read this to us…

One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.

All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like a cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street; and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find. In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.

It was on the afternoon of the Christmas Eve, and I was in Mrs. Prothero’s garden, waiting for cats, with her son Jim. It was snowing. It was always snowing at Christmas. December, in my memory, is white as Lapland, though there were no reindeers. But there were cats. Patient, cold and callous, our hands wrapped in socks, we waited to snowball the cats. Sleek and long as jaguars and horrible-whiskered, spitting and snarling, they would slink and sidle over the white back-garden walls, and the lynx-eyed hunters, Jim and I, fur-capped and moccasined trappers from Hudson Bay, off Mumbles Road, would hurl our deadly snowballs at the green of their eyes. The wise cats never appeared.

We were so still, Eskimo-footed arctic marksmen in the muffling silence of the eternal snows – eternal, ever since Wednesday – that we never heard Mrs. Prothero’s first cry from her igloo at the bottom of the garden. Or, if we heard it at all, it was, to us, like the far-off challenge of our enemy and prey, the neighbor’s polar cat. But soon the voice grew louder.

“Fire!” cried Mrs. Prothero, and she beat the dinner-gong.

And we ran down the garden, with the snowballs in our arms, toward the house; and smoke, indeed, was pouring out of the dining-room, and the gong was bombilating, and Mrs. Prothero was announcing ruin like a town crier in Pompeii.

This was better than all the cats in Wales standing on the wall in a row. We bounded into the house, laden with snowballs, and stopped at the open door of the smoke-filled room.

Something was burning all right; perhaps it was Mr. Prothero, who always slept there after midday dinner with a newspaper over his face. But he was standing in the middle of the room, saying, “A fine Christmas!” and smacking at the smoke with a slipper.

“Call the fire brigade,” cried Mrs. Prothero as she beat the gong. “There won’t be there,” said Mr. Prothero, “it’s Christmas.”

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He’s Standing Before the Lord of Song

Leonard Cohen R.I.P.

For decades I have been in the habit of listing our three greatest living lyricists. Well, it seems I must now collapse that list to two. Or find some new name to add to it.

Leonard Cohen died today at the age of 82. He joins the ranks of the immortals not for his tunes, but for his lyrics, which were always superb.

I’ve quoted from his songs here a number of times in the past (notably from “Dress Rehearsal Rag”). His greatest work was “Hallelujah”, but that is well-known to most people. So, in honor of his passing, I’ll paste the complete lyrics from one of his lesser-known songs, “Story of Isaac” from the 1969 album Songs From a Room:

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Barbarian and Ms Daisy

The Turkish poet Serkan Engin returns, this time with one of his poems. Its topic is the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides committed by his Turkish ancestors, and it has been accepted into the Armenian Poetry Project. The poet tells us this is the first poem written by a Turkish poet on the Armenian, Assyrian and Greek genocides.

Update: Serkan Engin sends this link to his free e-booklet criticizing Islam, “ISIS is ISLAM, ISLAM is ISIS”.

Barbarian and Ms Daisy

yes, you are right Ms Daisy, they came
with the wild winds of Greed, brutally
slaughtered all the innocent letters
written on the wall of Grace, even also babies
by burning them alive, before most of them
could not have a toy in their short-length life
with an insufferable last sequence

yes, you are right Ms Daisy, they were
merciless hyena droves born from
Racism, biggest evil of all times,
the bloody verses of Quran
written on the hilt of
their curved swords
feeding their violence
by promising them heaven
as they killed more “heretics”

they were the servants of
remorseless epaulets
they were the slaves of
their own Greed and Savageness
slobberingly

yes, you are right Ms Daisy, they
raped little girls and young women ferociously
without caring their screeches
tearing the deeply embarrassed face of the sky
same horrific verses on their groins
and the permission of pimp epaulets
on their ignoble waists
without any mercy

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For Hillary: A Slice of Philip Larkin, Served Cold


No Dylan Thomas for you, Madame. Instead, a part of Philip Larkin’s poem, The Old Fools, a dish of karmic revenge served up by the many people under your now-uncertain feet, those trampled faces smiling up at you:

[…]

At death, you break up: the bits that were you
Start speeding away from each other for ever
With no one to see. It’s only oblivion, true:
We had it before, but then it was going to end,
And was all the time merging with a unique endeavour
To bring to bloom the million-petaled flower
Of being here. Next time you can’t pretend
There’ll be anything else. And these are the first signs:
Not knowing how, not hearing who, the power
Of choosing gone. Their looks show that they’re for it:
Ash hair, toad hands, prune face dried into lines —
How can they ignore it?

Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms
Inside your head, and people in them, acting.
People you know, yet can’t quite name; each looms
Like a deep loss restored, from known doors turning,
Setting down a lamp, smiling from a stair, extracting
A known book from the shelves; or sometimes only
The rooms themselves, chairs and a fire burning,
The blown bush at the window, or the sun’s
Faint friendliness on the wall some lonely
Rain-ceased midsummer evening. That is where they live:
Not here and now, but where all happened once.
This is why they give

An air of baffled absence, trying to be there
Yet being here. For the rooms grow farther, leaving
Incompetent cold, the constant wear and tear
Of taken breath, and them crouching below
Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
The peak that stays in view wherever we go
For them is rising ground. Can they never tell
What is dragging them back, and how it will end? Not at night?
Not when the strangers come? Never, throughout
The whole hideous, inverted childhood? Well,
We shall find out.

The Habits and Habitats of May

Spring Fundraiser 2016, Day Four
Well, thanks, y’all! Gratias plena! The pace of donations is picking up and we’re feeling much more encouraged and energized as a result.

It’s akin to the wonderful feeling I got when Tommy prevailed in court… there are not words sufficient to describe my sense of renewal. And all of you must know by now how seldom an Irishwoman is short on words.

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When you depend on the generosity of others, you must pay meticulous attention to your audience. In the beginning, we wrote for ourselves, as a way to maintain contact across the miles, so we answered only to one another.

Tip jarNow, with all of you, and the necessity to ask for money from you, the scope of our vision has long since changed: who we’re answerable to, and for what, and why. Thus each of these week-long events requires us to step back. We take the opportunity to look at our work and at our direction; we spend even more time than usual talking about both the content and the process of our child, this website.

Yes, really. Gates of Vienna has evolved into a something we cherish and nurture. The conversations we have about it are similar in process to the talks we used to have as our son was growing up. Imagine if parents got report cards four times a year! If real live kids got the attention we give this blog, the future of next generation would be less parlous than it seems now.

To put it in strategic terms, the Quarterlies function in a way to maintain our situational awareness and to remind one another why, after all this time, we’re still here doing this every day…

This is a question worth asking as long as you’re comfortable wandering in the cloud of confusion between the query itself and whatever answers show up. At the risk of being thought sentimental (not something I’m accused of very often), I can sum it up in one word: love. Love in all its permutations and emphases, but love nonetheless is the engine that drives Gates of Vienna.

Perhaps I can clarify this with one of my favorite poems. This is probably Richard Wilbur’s most famous and most studied work. In a deceptive simplicity he pulls together the components of — as he might say — a quotidian process: the way in which we come back to life each morning and so begin to pull the pieces of ourselves together, however scattered they may have been by sleep.

Love Calls Us to the Things of This World

The eyes open to a cry of pulleys,
And spirited from sleep, the astounded soul
Hangs for a moment bodiless and simple
As false dawn.
                        Outside the open window
The morning air is all awash with angels.

     Some are in bed-sheets, some are in blouses,
Some are in smocks: but truly there they are.
Now they are rising together in calm swells
Of halcyon feeling, filling whatever they wear
With the deep joy of their impersonal breathing;

     Now they are flying in place, conveying
The terrible speed of their omnipresence, moving
And staying like white water; and now of a sudden
They swoon down into so rapt a quiet
That nobody seems to be there.
                                                   The soul shrinks

     From all that it is about to remember,
From the punctual rape of every blessèd day,
And cries,
                  “Oh, let there be nothing on earth but laundry,
Nothing but rosy hands in the rising steam
And clear dances done in the sight of heaven.”

     Yet, as the sun acknowledges
With a warm look the world’s hunks and colors,
The soul descends once more in bitter love
To accept the waking body, saying now
In a changed voice as the man yawns and rises,
     “Bring them down from their ruddy gallows;
Let there be clean linen for the backs of thieves;
Let lovers go fresh and sweet to be undone,
And the heaviest nuns walk in a pure floating
Of dark habits,
                         keeping their difficult balance.”

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If you read it slowly you’ll see not only the profoundly simple truth of his images, but the fun he is having juxtaposing those brilliant, quickly changing images on the page (and in the mind of his reader). For example, notice how he begins with the opening of his eyes, but then moves immediately not to what he sees, but to what he hears as a clothes line is sent squeaking down a pulley, its load of laundry flies into the morning. Not only sight and sound, but the unseen hands working the pulley and its accompanying joy… for many of us, that joy doesn’t arrive until we’re holding cup of coffee, ready to face the day’s offerings.

Opening Gates of Vienna each morning is much like that for me. I sit/lie on the chaise longue in the sunroom off the kitchen, listening to the Baron’s morning sounds as he makes coffee. I already have my own cup (espresso brewed in a Bialetti on the stove); with the comments page open I begin the ‘laundry’ of overnight comments while the steaming coffee revives my soul. It is most often in the morning, not quite awake, that those verboten words get past me, but then, I think y’all know that already.

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Primal Virtue

The title of Dymphna’s post, “Something Vicious and Dishonorable”, made me think of the opposite of Vice, which is Virtue. And Virtue always makes me think of the wisdom of Lao Tzu, as recorded in the The Tao Te Ching two and a half millennia ago. The word “virtue” appears no fewer than sixty-four times in Gia-Fu Feng’s translation of the book.

Below is the 51st chapter of The Tao Te Ching:

All things arise from Tao.
They are nourished by Virtue.
They are formed from matter.
They are shaped by environment.
Thus the ten thousand things all respect Tao and honor Virtue.
Respect of Tao and honor of Virtue are not demanded,
But they are in the nature of things.

Therefore all things arise from Tao.
By Virtue they are nourished,
Developed, cared for,
Sheltered, comforted,
Grown, and protected.
Creating without claiming,
Doing without taking credit,
Guiding without interfering,
This is Primal Virtue.