Thursday, September 28, 2000

The White Goddess, by Robert Graves, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth
by Robert Graves

Poet, novelist, scholar and translator, Robert Graves’ pioneering classic, The White Goddess, a poet’s mytho-Bible on the history of Western civilization is not a text to be swallowed in one sitting. Having mined it for some 20-odd years, I’m daunted by the thought of writing a summary!

Farrar touts the book as a historical grammar of poetic myth; Graves called it a “verbal iconograph.” Graves, an Anglo-Irish Romantic poet, gained literary fame after WWI as a war poet, when he began to question the very foundations of Western civilization. He began with his own Celtic roots (his father was a renown Celtic scholar-poet from Kerry (?). 

A convergent mytho-evolutionist, Graves draws from many sources including Semitic and Indo-European myths, but his primary objective is to explore the arcane (druidic) knowledge in medieval Welsh and Irish material. 

Graves attempts to decode the “hidden knowledge” of medieval Celtic poems and myths by categorizing common motifs—especially the alphabet of trees. Using myth, folklore and poetry—especially the Brittonic source of inspiration—Graves links Europe and Asia Minor with a pantheistic, matriarchal worship of the (triple) White Goddess as the moon/ earth—who after the Fall, was demoted from primary goddess to patriarchal muse.

The 1948 publication date of The White Goddess (amended in 1960) is a post-WWII book (the original ms. written in three weeks). So the cultural landscape was in desperate need of a Goddess: a shell-shocked Europe recovering from demoralizing wars. 

What’s interesting is HOW Graves came to write the book—synchronically—a Romantic notion. His Balearic and Berber artifacts “spoke” to him in 1944, while he was writing historical novels, The Golden Fleece (I, Claudius, in 1934), King Jesus; The Hebrew Myths, and The Greek Myths were also a result of his questing. 

Graves himself commented that The White Goddess reads “queerly” but it shepherded a generation of post-war writers into imagining a Golden Age of mytho-poetics and magic. 

The book is a little more accessible than its eclectic predecessor, Frazer’s The Golden Bough. 

In rereading the text, I find that I am able to hold onto his ideas now that I’ve developed a historical matrix. However, I read his Celtic synopses with a Celtic Twilight lens, because, as he complains in his preface, that “no expert in ancient Irish Welsh has offered me the least help in refining my argument...” 

I have trouble when Graves insists that Classical culture is the model for Celtic myth. When Graves looks back to remnants of an earlier Old European landscape for surviving fragments, he links them to what he knows best: the Graeco-Romans. 

He utilizes observations of the Classical writers, weaves several strands of Eurasian, Old- and Indo-European myth and folklore, and attempts to categorize their common elements. Some of the Bible-as-myth references, especially the apocrypha, are interesting. 

Like Graves, I consider Judaeo-Christian /Islamic philosophy the taproot of modern Western civilization’s travails—especially in the context of war and ecological disaster. It is part of my own poetic mythos.
ENVOI: Graves’ book evoked memories of my grandmother’s tree idiosyncrasies (wood: our only source of heat). Why she wouldn’t cut alder: it bled (so did oak). Or willow: it was a sally (arthur-itis) tree. Madrone/ manzanita: too like a woman, too hot a flame. Or the big Doug firs: OK to burn the scrub ones, but not the tall Bishop pines—there was some fussing over the cypress, but it was diseased. 

Any aromatic fruitwood was OK. Acacia was OK to burn, but it was one of the four lintel woods. She wouldn’t let anyone cut the oaks: sacred tree/mistletoe; doors were made of it, but it burned the cleanest and was the best (you’d think its white ash was face powder). 

Bay was fine to burn—even if the Greeks made laurels from it—but was considered inferior because it wept and sang when burnt wet, leaving a dirty scum, and it burned too fast when dry. Black/white Hawthorn was NEVER allowed into the house. EVER. The haws, yes, we ate them in Fall. Woody herbs: sage, rosemary, etc., were burnt for their cleansing smoke (smudging).

Tuesday, September 26, 2000

The Life and Death of a Druid Prince, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

The Story of Lindow Man, an Archaeological Sensation
by Anne Ross & Don Robins

Taking a scant handful of facts, archaeologists Anne Ross and Don Robins create a mytho-archaeological sensation by interpreting a possible scenario of the Lindow Man, a rare 2000-year old bog body (the oldest preserved body in Britain) found near Manchester.

Using solid Sherlockian deductive reasoning, they resurrect and name him as a druid prince sacrificed under extreme and catastrophic duress on Beltine, ca. 60 AD, after the rebellion of Boudicea, on the evidence of a burnt finemeal griddlecake (ritual meal), mistletoe pollen, a noose, forensic data (3-fold death), manicured nails and an armband of unidentified fur. 

Perhaps the clue as to how to interpret this text is embedded in the title: Sensation. I am reminded of Marija Gimbutas’ construct of Old Europeans as matriarchal, egalitarian, and peaceful (unlike warlike Indo-European horsemen) on the basis of archaeological evidence found in burial mounds. 

Pots may not speak, but I find my credulity stretched to the limit by Ross’ and Robin’s post-mortem analyses, though in retrospect, their weird logic seems to make sense—which makes me distrust deductive reasoning. I found the appendices more reassuring.

It is true that warriors would have scars, be clean-shaven and that the learned/princely class would be well-nourished, unblemished, manicured (and hairy). Safe to say, that the Lindow Man was not a warrior, craftsman or serf, though he could have been a poet (but not a bard—no long nails, etc.) 

That the authors pin Lindow Man’s death to a specific date is even more incredulous. However, the authors’ deductions as to where the body was found is interesting. By contrast, they compare Lindow Man with other bog bodies—including those found in Scandinavia, many of which were mere executions rather than ritual death. 

Another interesting factoid was their concept of Celtic warlords ruling in Scandinavia, as I’ve always had trouble accepting the notion that there was a pan- Celtic or Germanic tribal homogenaity east or west of the Rhine.

One thing that did excite me was the way that the authors tied in the three-fold death with the three gods of the elements (air/Esus, fire/Taranis, and water/Teutates, and by extension, earth, with Lindow Man as consort of the bride/goddess/Anu, and the limnal boundary of the underworld). 

Linguistically tying in Lindow with Dublin (though according to Professor Melia, Dublin is a grammatically incorrect construct), was also of interest, as was the trade connection. The authors’ tying in with the folk tradition was brilliant (reminding me of Professor Dundes’ description of the Palio), but I wonder how intact a folk tradition would remain after 2000 years (considering that’s the half-life of a language).

Saturday, September 23, 2000



I sit in the center of my heart's dream
between two worlds, between water and air,
between the two banks of the same creek.
Can't give you up, wilderness.
Can't let go of the stream
or bathing in the same water even once.
Can't give up the rocks
collecting along the banks
where washers lingers
but singing, mostly singing,
talking to me of desert thirst.
Talking to me of the roots of the stream iris,
then the red of willow roots, fanning out like hair.

Earlier, I heard thunder in the mountains
and thought of the odd gods.

I sat midday, midstream, in a creek
called Independence
on the day of the fall solstice,
facing west, midway between
the sun and the new moon.

Mount Williamson and stream
aligned with my hearts stream,
a desert hawk makes his way
across the scree
industrious jays and crows take sudden shelter.

Can't give you up, blue dragonfly,
small tule rushs, and fremontia
reminding the sun not to forget
the color it needs to remember.
My skin turns the color of foxes.
I sit midstream, and I can't give you up
licking my skin like that.
Stream bring me the translation
of your songs so that I may transcribe
the vowels on my heart,
 for the winter that is coming.

I gather barberries and paint an ancient path
to the secret heart of the mountain
where dwells the great spirit of the Paiute Nation,
the stream sings of its purity, assault and light,
glistening precious transformation
of snowmelt and glacier wisdom
destined for the LA aqueduct
and the black base writing of civilization.

Why should I hesitate to bathe
in the stream called Independence
soon to be trapped in the dark pipes of the city?
Menstrual blood offering to sacrifice to snowmelt,
offer myself up with intention to the sun and moon
of this new millennium—how we measure time and age.

Downstream, where an ex-lover will drink my blood,
womb approaching the end of its season,
in retribution for the child we let slip
into the sewers of clinics.

I know now that one can never quite separate
from the other, we shared language undiminished by time,
a migration towards the other, the beloved enemy.

I can't give you up. Just like the stream
can't give up the riverbed.
I find abandoning dells lined with rock barrows.
Soon I will become a more permanent resident
of the landscape. My flesh and bone
nourishing small plants in another cycle.

I fear I've lost my ability to write
but after trying to read my poem aloud to Veronica
I burst into tears. The potency of words.
I can't give you up, even if the art is gone.
All that remains is the poem.

Lone Pine, CA
added 10/16



Veronica reads a poem
of her father's poor hands
eclipsed by fossil fuel
supernovaed for one brief second
circling the bread to illuminate
the mechanical soul of engines
how they were articulate
warriors of other muses,
those hands earning daily bread,
with darkness, cuticled in midnight oil
encircling the bread.

Lone Pine, CA


I was mesmerized by the shape
of Mr. Rautio's rubber hand
as he bent over the hood
of the old yellow school bus,
the gasoline bleaching it
to the color of sunlight.
How it radiated up his arm,
hidden by the mystery of cuff
and sleeve, curled as if in rest,
a dove of peace, by his side
as he performed delicate surgery
and the engine purred into life.

He escaped a world war
that had robbed him of his hand
and I thought of Caesar
who cut off the hands
of the last Aedui warriors,
in that final country of our ancestors,
to teach them a lesson.
What was taught, the lesson learned—
other than the defeat of a nation?
Stories of that one hand
had been given to another,
in a better time, a better place.

Lone Pine, CA
added 10/16
slightly revised
(I couldn't read all of it).

Journal entry, back side of the Sierras

I am sitting on the backside of of the Sierras, looking into the Owens Valley. Mount Williamson rises up 14,375 feet. The great eastern wall divides California from the Great Basin region. A collision of ecosystems. The bare bones of the White Mountains harbor a different story, and the Inyo fossils dream of ancient seas. this is the land of cloud of consciousness and lava flows where the wind wakes the morning on a thousand miles of sage. The Owens Valley water wars, Chinatown, the Tinemaha reservoir, the beginning of the journey of water to the LA aqueduct. I find myself naming things. As if that could stop time in its tracks. Onion Valley, Kearsarge Pass at 9200 feet, the saddle, the old road ,sedimentary versus volcanic. Kings Canyon, Mt  Gould, and the Bristlecone Pines, Methuselah clocks in at 4700 years, Schulman Grove and the Alabama Hills faulted up from the Sierras in 1872, an 8.1 earthquake, the valley floor dropped 20 feet mount Whitney risers 14,496 feet up touching the sky. A mountain still growing.


Friday, September 22, 2000

Equinox in Independence

Winnadumah Hotel, backside of the Sierras, Independence California,

I'm back in the saddle again, a CPITS retreat in Independence, backside of the Sierras with an ex-lover, John—of all people. Ten years have healed many wounds. We're still a little stiff, testing the boundaries, but it's okay. Safety nets in place, we still like each other.

We've been separated twice the length of the distance of the relationship. But we are still in sync on some level. Perhaps it's that way with most ex-lovers who know each other so well, if you get the chance. The anger rarely subsides. It's true. It's vestigial.

John's recent letter of apology ripped me open again, revealing the secret hurt that had to be purged. Scar tissue. When he later sent me a snippy email that being alone with me in a car for eight hours just wasn't feasible, I was stunned. He later apologized, said it was a frog leg jumping on an old electrode.

I was relieved. I had no idea he still harbored resentment toward me. But I did blame him for opening old wounds—just because his 12-step program told him he had to do it. You have to mean it too, or it's just a futile exercise.

John was cavalier, but there were consequences. My reaction, which he hadn't counted on. I told him any feelings I had for him had long since died out, or rather, had been burned out, that he no longer meant anything to me one way or the other. He was silent as the grave. Perhaps he was expecting something? Histrionics?

Other than the discomfort, I must admit that it's been fun reminiscing about old times, resurrecting old memories. The good ones, and there were many. We did a lot of things during that four year period. Many adventures under our belts. It's the common experiences that still bind us together on some level. We know each other so well, and on such a deep level.

Few people know me like that, so I can be who I am with him. He said I was feral, raised by wolves. Something Neil also says. Though I consider myself urbane, sophisticated, tamed—even taming up nicely—as Neil parrots, what is it they see in me, this wildness?

Coming across Tioga Pass I wasn't prepared for the beauty of Cloud's Rest. John tells me of the time he climbed Cloud's Rest. Though I've seen it many times, I hadn't been on that road since I broke up with John. Last time we came through, there was a forest fire. Traces of a newer fires have left more scars. This time we're left with the aftermath as we resurrect memory.

Independence is a town of many bells, established on 4 July 1862. Once a military camp, now it's the county seat. Lone Pine, Mt. Whitney, and Mt. Williamson, the great eastern wall, reach for the sky. Young mountains, still growing. Whitney has gained another foot, since I last climbed it.

Inyo means the dwelling place of the great spirit in Paiute. In Mary Hunter Austin's world, the Great Basin is the land of little rain, or the country of lost borders where the wind wakes the morning on a thousand miles of sage.

The bare bones of the Inyo, and the White Mountain ranges are home to the world's oldest trees, the Bristlecone pines. I once touched Methuselah, a tree harboring 4,700 years of light.

The Owens Valley is the epicenter of the LA water wars, Mulhulland, the Tinemaha Reservoir, Chinatown, the beginning of the LA aqueduct. Unshed tears and alkali dust. Pah-in Paiute, is the word for water, more precious than gold. 

We define our borders, redrawn from memory, and the past. We approach the gates of our own Manzanars. Inside, outside? It's all the same in the end.

Welcome Equinox.


Tuesday, September 19, 2000

Adamnán of Iona: Life of St Columba, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170

Fisherman of the Fishful River

St. Adamnán, 3rd paternal cousin to Columba (of the northern Uí Néill princes: Cenél Conaill, the religious dynasty of Iona) writes a Tripartite Life, 100 years after Columba’s death.

Using earlier Lives (Sts Antony, Benedict) as his models, he portrays his kinsman as a Christ-like archdruid and warrior-king—much in the vein of the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick and the Historical Life... by St. Fiacc, ca. 500. 

Though the three sections of the book are loosely modeled after the (150) Psalms (Columba dies while writing the 34th Psalm), many of the stories are straight out of folk tradition. 

Foremost of Columba’s larger than life accomplishments is his ability to control the weather (wind, water: especially the sea), a druidic function. Good following wind (lateen sails) for good sailors. A religious hero, Columba is associated with pagan heroes and gods: is he Mananán mac Lír, or Finn? Light is heavily associated with him (probably the Aurora Borealis), making him a half-mortal CuChulainn type hero: Lug comes to mind. We learn angels travel at the speed of light.

Lots of epic tags—with feasts lasting 3 days and 3 nights, Otherworldly music, water monsters, chariots, a magic cloak, magic hunting stake, ruddy cheeks, holy/evil wells and floating magic white healing stones thus making him a healer as well... Along with Columba’s beseeching that no one is to breathe a word that he’s special “he wanted to avoid boasting,” is the monkish preoccupation that the community will be overrun with pilgrims who, under the laws of hospitality, would have to be fed and housed. 

Adamnán mentions “Soldiers of Christ” reaffirming the fianna warrior role of monks who dip white robes into red blood (priestly & warrior functions). Heaven and death (many stories record saints’ deaths) takes on the guise of the Otherworld, the Land of Promise. 

Several saint/heroes are mentioned: Brendan of Birr, Colmán, Finnian (St. Uinniau—the ‘F’ silent/lenited) to titillate the crowd. The cult of Columba is so strong he can even perform posthumous weather miracles.

Columba has a way with animals: salmon leap into his boat (don’t eat his seals!). His white horse (king-function?) buries his head in Columba’s lap (paying homage?) and weeps at his upcoming death. Many cattle/milk-demon stories (bull’s milk = white blood; a sacrifice story. 

He spends time on an unidentified islet called Hinba: h-in-ba (h-inis bó) could be translated as the isle of the cows. He raises laymen to nobleman status with 5-fold (105) herds of magic cows. As the Life was written in Latin, it seems Eilean Shona (the S is silent) where they built longships? could be construed as a garbled form of Iona (a scribal error?).

Several references to holy or “righteous” pagans earning their way towards heaven—smack of Pelagianism—baptism, an afterthought. The landscape is fraught with remote isle hermitages; every monk searching for his own little hut (in a bee-loud glade), an influence from St. Antony of Egypt. 

Curious are the painstaking references to “...three witnesses as required by law,” Adamnán inserts: he sounds like a Brehon. 

Adamnán sternly addresses his future audience: the reader/copyist several times: this ms. wasn’t just meant to be read aloud to assembled monks after dinner, but also to be read alone in the scriptorium. There is a preoccupation with copying manuscripts: whenever Columba absent-mindedly blesses something is when he’s copying a book—the very reason why he was exiled to begin with (and, a war). 

The story also documents the first copyright, and the first reference to proofreading (the missing letter ‘i”). Adamnán makes light of Columba’s crime, and beseeches readers to copy HIS text word-for-word (to receive blessings and to establish Ionian Church claims farther afield—a missionary effort.) 

It is Adomnán’s last wish that copies of the ms. of Columba reach the far corners tripartite Celtic homeland (& Christendom): Spain (Celto-Iberia), Italy Beyond the Alps (Cisalpine Gaul), and Gaul—even to Rome.

Wednesday, September 13, 2000

Tales of the Elders of Ireland, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170
First reading response to:


Tales Of the Elders of Ireland (aka A Colloquy of Old Men) is a folkloric collection of Fenian stories, epics, poems, place names, hero, king lists, etc., where Patrick, as cultural/spiritual Savior/Arch Druid, entreats the ancient supernatural warrior, Caílte, accompanied by Oisín, one of Finn’s sons, and Finn’s surviving retinue, to tell him of the meta-history of Ireland.

As they make the circuit of Ireland (hill mounds are a prominent topos), Patrick orders his scribe/gilly, Broccán, to write down the stories for posterity, but the stories also serve to document his conversions/Patriations of otherworldly heroes (while plundering what sounds like archaeologically intact graves) in the name of the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth. (And Patrick does right well indeed—as his tithe is 1/3 of the loot while stating it is right and proper that the church should be rewarded thusly).

Many leitmotifs include the witching of magic springs and conversion to holy wells, feasting stories begin on Samhain. Most of the 80+ stories focus on warrior heroes paying homage/fealty to Patrick by laying their heads in his lap and giving themselves over to the Kingdom of Heaven and Earth (God is never mentioned). 

The Harrowing of Hell comes to mind as there was some concern that preChristian heroes were not eligible for the Kingdom of Heaven. However Finn, the greatest of the hero-warriors, knew of Christ by means of prophecy, via his Tooth of Wisdom: “I believe in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit at one time.//I hope for the realm of Heaven’s King...[to] keep me from eternal woe.”

The subtext of the stories reads like PR for the virtues of Christianity over paganism to the already converted. Whenever a story delves too far into magic (like music of the Sídhe) the redactor-monk is quick to insert a deliciously guilty rationalization in order to sanction the recording of such tales. 

Patrick as Christlike figure, grants the Kingdom of Heaven to several of the Tuatha Dé, esp. the musicians. Poets are a strong lobbying force in the formation of the stories as well; a lack of hospitality seems to occupy their thoughts. However I don’t recall the Old Gods receiving salvation. 

There are also several plugs for monasteries and saints as seers: Ciaran, Columba, Colman, Moling. (One wonders if professional jealousy—the prestige of monasteries owning manuscripts—comes into play here. A curious textual note: prose explains the action first, then Caílte & co. launch into poems that cover the same material. It’s as if the prose were glosses to the poems which were no longer understood...)

Wednesday, September 6, 2000


WHAT REALLY ANNOYS ME                                                                        

Is being part of a captive audience, 
having to be back at school 
after 20 years in the field
because they say I need an effin dog license — 
life experience ain’t good enough for bureaucracy.
Stupid domestic things annoy me 
like when he opens the shower curtain 
from the wrong side,
tears the curtain from its hooks, 
and I’ve replaced it three times 
in the last six months.

OK, so wet towels and clothes 
heaped on the shower rod 
don’t help either.
I gotta remove everything 
before I can close the shower curtain 
or let the floor rot.
Then there’s the eternal hairball question 
for which he seems to have tunnel vision.
I don’t have a wolfman carpet of bodyhair 
and what little I do have isn’t gray. Yet.
I haven’t had to pick up after a man most my life 
and I’m way too old to start learning now.

What else annoys me? 
When I’m late for a job, when it matters. 
Or when I’m early and it doesn’t matter, 
or when it does matter, I don’t get paid, 
or brownie points for it.
Here I am giving away quarter hours for free. 
They add up. In four days, that’s one hour gratis.
Rest assured, they’d dock me 
if I took that unpaid hour off 
by turning up late 4 times in a row.

Or wat about when the effin mailman 
dismantles the cheesy mailbox letter carrier
a stupid wire that passes for an outbox 
that would collapse beneath a hummingbird
but it’s cemented into the damn wall 
so we’re stuck with it.
The landlord, see, he’s an architect, 
but doesn’t have to live her, so he thinks it’s quaint
like the cannibal light fixtures 
that assassinate bulbs on a regular regime.

What annoys me?  
When hoodlums and druggies 
siphon my gas and I don’t have a gas gauge
and have to think fast physics, 
rolling down the onramp backwards straddling curbs
avoiding oncoming cars 
in order to roll into the gas station
and my truck stops short of the pump 
and everyone just watches me as I push it to the pump,
no matter that I could be injured 
or wearing a neck brace.

Or when I crammed the gear shift 
to get around some cow 
and the bleedin thing comes off in my hand
and I’m in third gear 
and there’s a bleedin’ steep grade ahead
and the guy ahead’s driving so slow 
you’d think he was pedaling 
the damn thing backwards.

What really bugs me 
is when the renegade slugs 
who’ve recently relocated under the kitchen sink
slime the clean dishes, 
especially the rim of the wine glass,
and I’ve only just noticed 
after I finished the wine.
When I can’t catch them, 
even at 4 am, except the time I was up that early, 
late for a commercial shoot
and the slugs were out in an enmasse orgy 
and me, stepping on them barefoot in the dark.

You think it odd that I’d have slugs in the kitchen?
You would too if the landlord suddenly sprang it on you 
that after months of false alarms,
he was going to paint the house 
and we had to move everything from the patio 
into the kitchen, including the slugs, 
whose progeny have migrated to tbe bathroom
and have taken to sliming what’s left of the curtain.

At least my truck’s safe from invasion. So far.
But lately I’ve been finding them in the classroom, 
parading around the podium
but the teacher never seems to notice.


What else annoys me? 
What really annoys me? 
When I’m late, when it matters,
that the teacher makes an example 
of my tardiness and it’s not my fault 
that my truck decided to have an elder moment.
Or when I’m early, really early (rare) 
and it doesn’t matter
or when it does, then I don’t get paid for it 
or even get brownie points for it
and all the others glare at me 
cause they had to lift all those chairs without me.

Or when the mailman trashes the mailbox 
every time I pin bills to the outbox wire
not that I have any money  
and I have to climb into the bougainvillea thorn bush
to retrieve the wire only to find my now late payment.

I hate it when my truck won’t start 
on certain preassigned hours only it knows about
because I once left my lights on in the Caldecott Tunnel 
and hoodlums nicked my jumper cables
and when I finally did get it started, 
the gear shift just came off in my hand
and I’m holding it like a crowbar or a cattle prod, 
wondering what to do next
as there’s nothing in the manual 
to cover such contingencies
and I’m definitely in third gear 
and the hill ahead requires serious planning
and some wanker is driving in a vacuum,
 solo, or maybe not even that.

Or when the day starts out rough 
and you just know it won’t improve with time.
Like scooping hairballs out of the drain 
and they’re slimy cause he’s been hawking 
in the shower again.
Or when the renegade slugs under the kitchen sink 
slime the clean dishes and it took me a week 
to get the courage to wash them 
‘cuz it wasn’t my turn, as he defected. Again.

Or when I catch those slugs at 4 am 
except the one time I was actually up at 4 am
from the dawn side of the blanket, 
not the late-night side,
late for my first and probably last commercial call 
which I got only by default because I’m not SAG
and there’s a strike on and I’ve been bussed 
to a secret location two hours north, so I’m stuck here,
and the slugs were out en masse 
some kind of orgy on the countertop and floor
and I’m stepping on them barefoot 
and it’s not even a full moon. They like full moons.
I find it odd that someone would think 
it odd that I’ve got a lot of slugs in the kitchen.
They’re not MY slugs, so to speak, 
though they don’t pay rent.
I’ve been catching them for ages because the landlord,
after months of waffling 
sprang a paint job on us one Sunday morning
and how I had to haul all my potted plants 
into the kitchen
and now the house is lemon yellow, 
with blue-black trim and salmon barf pink walkways and curbs.
It looks like a theme park replete with pink flamingos,
only they’re made of plastic and they don’t eat slugs,
and the mailman comes up the path 
in his pith helmet and shorts like it’s a safari
carrying more bills, and he slips on a damned banana slug, 
and then, tries to blame me!

Justin Chinn, Creatiive Writing 605-01
In Class Writing Assignment

Caesar’s Gallic Wars, summary

Klar, Celtic Romanticism 170


Like Alus Hirtius, Caesar’s officer who wrote a prefatory letter and posthumous final Book after Caesar’s death, I too preface this report with an apologia as I found myself reading for historical and anthropological facts rather than focusing on Caesar’s use of story elements. I fear I’m rusty and it wasn’t until the end of the commentaries that I had an insight: the epistolary process. Forgive my digressions as I search for a form.

Caesar writes elegant commentaries of field reports imbued with war inspired rhetoric to please his audience, the Senate, old men whose battle days are long since done, in order to explain and justify his campaigns (more land, grain, tribute, slaves for Rome), and to raise more funding for the next war season.

His yearly Books are written in 2 - 5 parts, but 3 is the favored form which suggests they were quarterly reports—as he was in the field with his troops, wintering in Gaul. I imagine that he did not read his letters to the Senate as they were written in a 3rd person narrative, but easy to identify with (tho I cheated with Rex Warner’s 1st person translation). 

His writing is elegant and erudite, the propaganda well couched with self-aware lines aimed to enlarge Senatorial beneficence, and he makes his own flaws seem coolly rational (Hellenistic). His style is confident, superior and aloof, verging on omnipotence, yet he admires his enemy. 

He can empathize with the Gauls’ desire for independence. Romancing the Aedui in a close client relationship is his own pet project within his larger endeavor to tame Gaul. But when the Aedui bite the hand that feeds them, he is disturbed, wrathful, an angry god. Caesar tends to lose skirmishes in the woods & marshes, uncivilized terrain for proper warfare. He admires Gaulish tenacity and inventiveness but enough is enough. Even the patience of the most kind and rational of Caesars has its limits. A shift in tone occurs where he realizes the only way to put down the continued revolt is by extermination. He practices on the Germans first.

His ethnographic inserts about the Germans and Celts are reminiscent of earlier Greek writing— possibly someone else’s reports that he rewrote: a letter within a letter?). He seems confused as to who is Celtic, naming several Celtic sounding tribes as German. In fact, he knows so little about the Germans, he recycles Celtic information. 

I suspect him of paving the way for another relationship with the Senate for future campaign funding (seeding the field), and forcing their hand to further fund his Gaulish campaigns. (If you think these big Celts are bad, you should see the even bigger Germans across the river!) 

His battle descriptions become more and more elaborate. He’s killed more Gauls than is probable; I counted over 100 tribes; and some 285,000 assembled Gauls in the final battle at Alesia! 

By Book Seven, he quotes entire speeches of Vercingetorix as if he were there witnessing the event, though he’s really using 2nd and 3rd hand accounts. But Vercingetorix’ surrender is almost an anticlimax. 

Book Eight, written by Hirtius, with its epistolary letter of the death of Caesar takes us out of the narrative and into the realm of historical perspective; it’s hard to re-enter the arena and harder still to stomach the final defeat of Uxellodunum. Hirtius concludes with Caesar’s fall from senatorial grace, with an epilogue and segue/preview of the Civil Wars that followed — a war strategist’s equivalent to a bodice ripper.

I’m left with a question: why didn’t Caesar write the final chapter of the Gauls? Was he a politician to the end, his accountability no longer necessary now that Gaul was beaten? Did he really cut off the hands of the warriors (it is a 2nd-hand report, pardon the pun). Is this the beginning of his fall from grace, where he crosses the invisible line? His personal Rubicon?

Tuesday, September 5, 2000

Reading List: Celtic Romanticism, Klar

Celtic Romanticism
Prof. Kathryn Klar 
(Cross-registered # SFSU for grade, A)
FALL 2000: Celtic Studies 170 (4 units), 

THE LIFE AND DEATH OF A DRUID PRINCE: The Story of Lindow Man, an Archaeological Sensation, Anne Ross & Don Robins
THE WHITE GODDESS: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, Robert Graves
THE TÁIN, translated by Thomas Kinsella
THE POEMS OF OSSIAN, James MacPhearson
THE BARD, Thomas Grey
THE WONDER SMITH AND HIS SON: A Tale from the Golden Childhood of the World, Ella Young
LE MORTE D’ARTHUR, Sir Thomas Malory
ONE BRIEF SHINING MOMENT: Remebering Kenendy, William Manchester
SIR WILLIAM WALLACE, Blind Harry (Henry) the Minstrel
THE BRUCE, John of Barbour
THE WALLACE, Nigel Tranter

Plus a reader: The Wanderings of Oisin, Yeats; Death of CuChulainn, L. Gregory; Misfortunes of Elphin, Peacock; Last Minstrel, Scott; 

I don't think I ever read so many books for one class as this one. But what a fun class. Luckily I was a speed reader. Sadly I have dyslexia, so recall is problematic. Having to do these short reviews honed my reading skills, and focus. Alas, now I can no longer read for pure escapeism. I am an avid underlighter, and marginalia writer. With Kindle ebooks, there's a brilliant highlighter. I use it to highlight typos, then I review the books. So evil. 

Discovering Ella Young was the surprise nugget in this class, as my friend Micaela's family knew her, so I might have even met her when I was young. We met all sorts of people in those days, growing up Bohemian. Rosalind Sharpe Wall, Micaela's mom, wrote about her. As Kathryn lectured, I kept having this deja voodooish feeling in the back of my head. When I put it together, I was gobsmacked.

I eventually plan to transcribe my Celtic Studies class notes, so this post is a placeholder (as well as a reading list). A reminder, a smack in the gob. What brought this on: I was asked to do a lecture on Celtic Bardic Poetry at Sacramento Poetry Center, and a) I was far too long gone from this material, b) I couldn't put my hands on the notes,. But I at least still had some of the books, and TG for the internet. So many medieval texts are now online (not so in 1999). I was able to reconstruct what I needed. But it was almost as bad as reinventing the wheel.   —MH 11/2015   

Monday, September 4, 2000

Readings in Old Irish, A.D. 700-1200 Holland

Readings in Old Irish, A.D. 700-1200 ; 
Prof. Gary Holland, 
FALL 2000: Celtic Studies 105A (4 units),  
(Full participation/ grade/audit) I'm afraid I flunked this class (even though I was auditing it), but I sure learned a lot. And I am ever grateful for Gary putting up with me. Everybody else was a linguist. I was the lone poet.

Designed to offer students who have already taken the basic grammar course in Old and Middle Irish (105A) further opportunity to work with important texts written in the period A.D. 700-1200 and to refine their knowledge of the language as well as their grasp of the vernacular tradition as a whole. Texts will include both prose and poetry, and major genres such as epic, legend, and genealogy.

A Grammar of Old Irish, Rudolph Thurneysen, tr. D.A. Binchy and Osborn Bergin
Old Irish Reader, Rudolph Thurneysen
Old Irish Paradigms & Selections from the Old-Irish Glosses, with Notes & Vocabulary, John Strachan
Old Irish Workbook, E.G. Quin
Stories from the Táin, ed. John Strachan
Old Irish Verbs and Vocabulary, Anthony Green
Bethu Brigte, ed. by Donncha o’ hAodha

I don't think I ever worked so hard in one class as this one.

I eventually plan to transcribe my Celtic Studies class notes, so this post is a placeholder (as well as a reading list). A reminder, a smack in the gob. What brought this on: I was asked to do a lecture on Celtic Bardic Poetry at Sacramento Poetry Center, and a) I was far too long gone from this material, b) I couldn't put my hands on the notes,. But I at least still had some of the books, and TG for the internet. So many medieval texts are now online (not so in 1999). I was able to reconstruct what I needed. But it was almost as bad as reinventing the wheel.   —MH 11/2015