Wednesday, March 31, 2004

It turns out that Jack (whom we're all glad to see blogging again) has also been looking at poetry lately, so I thought I'd see her Yeats and raise her some nice Asian stuff I ran across today. With a few exceptions, I feel that poems really can't be too short*, and the Japanese have had the good taste to realize this as well. Here are some highlight entries from a local poetry contest in the 16th Century, all of which depict rustic occupations, and are (per the rules of the contest, and isn't it nice to see some poetry which follows some rules?) united by the theme of flowers. My book doesn't say which poem won.
Soon the temple tree's
Branches will be stripped away;
Its bark will be slashed.
Enjoy the tree's aroma;
Its scent of temple incense.

In the sky at night
Stars known as "the rice basket,"
Blossom like flowers.
All day I make rice baskets;
At night I view these flowers.

When the spring arrives
And I sit outside, working,
I am never bored.
With a chisel in my hand
I can raise flowers from stones.

The dust of our saw
Has the frangrance of flowers
In a mountain breeze.
The breeze strews our sawdust blooms
From the sharp teeth of the saw.

I really like the way the poems capture the feeling of doing physical work on a nice day in the mountains: very like some of my better work days lately.

And here's Li Po, the cheery, contemplative, drunken old crank, with a humourously macabre variation on his favourite theme, elegizing a deceased wine salesman:

Old Lao, down below in the Yellow Springs,
Must still be brewing his "Great Spring" vintage.
But without Li Po in that Terrace of Night,
To whom can he be selling his wine?
I think I'll pour myself a glass of port and call this post done.

*Speaking of short poems, I can't resist quoting another of my all-time favourites. A typically intriguing Sappho fragment, the original Ionic can well be appreciated even by those untutored in that bubbling tongue:

méte moi meli méte melissa
for me neither honey nor bee

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

"Never may Cypris for her seat select/ My dappled liver!"

Regular readers are surely aware that Odious and I have quite a liking for bad poetry; indeed, I frequently prefer it over good. So I was very pleased to run across this A. E. Housman parody of a bad translation of a fragment of a Greek tragedy. I especially like the chorus, which seems exasperatingly authentic in its bone-headed smothering of the plot.

ALCMAEON: May I then enter, passing through the door?

CHORUS: Go chase into the house a lucky foot.
And, O my son, be, on the one hand, good,
And do not, on the other hand, be bad;
For that is much the safest plan.

ALCMAEON: I go into the house with heels and speed.
(Link thanks to Languagehat.)
I'm seldom at a loss for ways to waste an afternoon. If you've ever hiked, climbed or rafted in the West, you'll find plenty of large-scale geomorphological fascination in these panoramas. For instance, this view of the Tavaputs Plateau (the big one in the middle bisected by the deep canyon) nicely complements the image of it which I posted a while ago.

And if you still have some afternoon to kill, browse through this site's photos of hundreds of mountain peaks around the world. Or you can create custom topo maps and satellite photos: cool!

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Monday, March 22, 2004

Thanks are due to Renee Perelmutter for adding us to her sidebar; we are very flattered. And we would owe her a hat tip in any case, for pointing out Edward Vajda's site about the peoples of northeast Asia. Vajda gives us concise summaries of the histories, lifestyles, and present status of all sorts of fascinating tribes, along with some great photos of Ket artifacts. I quite like this snake pendant.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

The paper detailing Sedna's discovery may be found here.

Link via a link via Fark.

I guess they're still just another snake cult.

The python we referenced earlier seems not to measure quite so long as claimed. Curses on reality for once again not meeting our standards.

Research is being conducted on a rock art site in India where the rocks are evidently meant to be used as percussion instruments. It's good to have another example of rock art sites with acoustic properties.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Ha! Thwarted on every side by incompetence and competence alike, we have finally found a happy medium. The world is our lobster, as someone (pretty) once quoted.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Sorry, fans. Our internet is currently non-functional, so posts are scarce lately. Don't give up on us though; we're working on the problem, and hope to be once more illuminating your lives shortly.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Quite a few people seem to be photo-blogging these days, and I sometimes wish I had the capacity to do so too. That's quite a ways off for me though, so take my advice in the meantime and browse through the USGS' Earth as Art gallery. It's all satellite photos of natural features, from all over the world, most of them very cool and abstract. Here's one of sand blowing through rock outcroppoings near Terkezi Oasis in Chad, which I like especially. And here's some fascinating and rather sinister cubism from Northern Kazakhstan.

I drive around the American West quite a bit every summer, and I find myself increasingly fascinated by imagining geology on a very large scale. If you drive, for instance, from Vernal, Utah to Green River, Wyoming, you will pass through high mountains of blood red quartzite then descend through a series of alternating long valleys and hogbacks of sedimentary rock. These features are plain to the eye, but one must mentally assemble a large-scale picture to see the Uinta mountains thrusting from the continent's basement to 13,000 feet, with giant slabs of the overlying sedimentary layers sloughing off the sides. Geological phenomena of this size sometimes seem half noumenal objects, in that, despite their physicality, you cannot point to them or directly view them. They are experienced by seeing, remembering, and mentally synthesizing their parts.

The USGS also has an image of one of my favorite large landscapes and summer haunts, Utah's Desolation Canyon.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Ouch! Sasha Castel advocates much nastier justice than I did. And I'd recently been curious about the Palestrina opera; now I'm not.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I really ought to be careful what websites I wish for. It's not Latvian, Kabardian or Kazakh, but this Mongolian language tutorial nonetheless ought to destroy my productivity for quite some time.

Update: Dammit! I feel like the Sorceror's Apprentice; they just won't stop coming. Here's a site for Georgian.

It's a chill, pale day in New Mexico today, and it's just begun to snow, so what better way to spend it than reading and thinking about places much chillier and snowier than here? I have recently discovered the wonderful, endlessly distracting website of Renee Perelmutter, a U.C. Berkeley linguistics student. Her specialties are Slavic tongues and Old Norse, but she is very willing and able to delve into stranger territory, particularly folklore. For an appetizer, check out this post on Bulgarian dragons.
"You are marrying me, mother, preparing me,
But you're not asking me, mother,
whether I will marry or no -
A dragon, mother, loves me".
I've also been greatly enjoying Songs of the Russian People by W. R. S. Ralston (1872). Though I expect scholarship on the subject has changed considerably since the 1870s, there's more information here on pre-Christian Slavic and Baltic mythology than I've seen gathered in any other place.

Equally worth some perusal is The Incantator: Studies in Siberian Shamanism and Religions of the Finno-Ugrian Peoples, by Estonian folklorist Aado Lintrop. If you're not yet acquainted with Finno-Ugrian folk poetry, consider yourself warned: it tends to be very strange. Here's a bit of a Khanty Bear-Feast song which tickles my fancy:

In several swamps with crow beak
tread I, the beast,
in several swamps of magpie beaks
tread I, the beast.
If you'd prefer to hear about a rather less Boreal culture, here's most of what you're probably wanting to know about the Ingush. A Caucasian language (Northeast Caucasian, to be precise) with tones: absolutely terrifying to contemplate.

And finally, I was happy to find this morning a very handy side-by-side text and translation of what may be my favorite poem ever, especially on a cold day.

Indeed, now they are troubled,
the thoughts of my heart,
that I myself should strive with
the high streams,
the tossing of salt waves --
the wish of my heart urges
all the time
my spirit to go forth,
that I, far from here,
should seek the homeland
of a foreign people...

Not for him is the sound of the harp
nor the giving of rings
nor pleasure in woman
nor worldly glory --
nor anything at all
unless the tossing of waves;
but he always has a longing,
he who strives on the waves.