Short-termism

the zeitgeist of now

See too: “Mask Wars” by J.H.K.

Abstract

The essay considers the prospect of large-scale, ethically motivated (individualistic) short-term sacrifice taking place for the assumed longer-term (collective) common good. Put differently, it considers the likelihood of the deferral of immediate gratification occurring; the not eating of one’s cake today so that one (or indeed, one’s offspring) can have it tomorrow. Put specifically, this essay will ask why it seems possible for world governments and international institutions to act quickly and decisively when met with a crisis like Coronavirus (Covid-19) yet seemingly be incapable of acting in such a way when it comes to tackling the longstanding issues of desertification, overfishing and rainforest destruction (i.e., the catchall: ‘environmental crisis’).[1]  In sum, I will argue that the reason is simple: today’s humankind have been conditioned to act and think in the short-term, to take pleasures today and bury their heads in the sand when it comes to dealing with the consequences. This is exemplified in activities such as binging on Netflix (resulting in overtiredness and the propensity to eat junk food the following day); spending on credit cards (whereby the hard graft of actually earning is deferred to a future date); overconsumption (that is causing unsustainable natural resource depletion) and, indulging in meat eating (which directly leads to yet more natural resource depletion and, greater likelihood of more zoonotic diseases, resultant from the homogenisation of animals and factory farming).[2]  I will argue that because Covid-19 is an immediate problem, government and citizenry seem able to forfeit a lot in an attempt to tackle it ‘now’; however, because the global environmental crisis is seen as a longer-term, abstract and theoretical problem, the political will to make big sacrifices—policies that enforce radical lifestyle changes—is lacking and are, it seems. easy to defer to a non-binding ‘future’ point in time.

Introduction

It has been argued that the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in an impressive level of large-scale inter-governmental coordinated action. However, the extent to which the action is coordinated or unilateral is not yet an established fact.[3]  Nonetheless, there clearly has been a great deal of collaboration (be it helping to repatriate citizens, the sharing of research for an inoculation etc.). So, if such collaboration on global issues has now been proven possible, would it not be possible to believe that something similar could happen with respect to the environmental crisis? To answer this question, we would first need to consider if the Covid-19 pandemic is in any way analogous with the environmental crisis? Incidentally, a strong case for directly linking this pandemic to the environmental crisis can be made (consider, e.g., factory farming, overpopulation, and rapid unregulated urbanisation). There are indeed many interconnected questions. What possible lessons might be got from the globe’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic for addressing the environmental crisis? What role may international organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) play in bringing about such transformative measures? As Weizsäcker and Wijkman (2017) point out, while leading governments now, “claim to recognise the need to change our way of life, “if we are to survive as a species,” it is far from clear if they actually appreciate, “just how radical that change needs to be.” Lastly, what can concerned individuals do in relation to self-sacrifice for the greater good—not eating the honey to ensure generations to come can have some on their tongues? Does the adage, “think globally, act locally,” still suffice?[4]

This essay will consider the role of ethical sacrifice in effective action on the current pandemic and how that might be extended to effective action on the environment. It will proceed as follows. Firstly, it will consider the issue at hand, the quarantine we in the Arabian Gulf and those in many other parts of the globe are placed under because of Covid-19 (“The issue at stake”). It then considers possible ways of addressing the environmental crisis in light of responses to the current pandemic from the theoretical standpoints of utilitarianism and deontology (“Hypothetical speaking”). The essay then moves on to look at how we tend to opt for immediate gratification even if we half think we would get greater gratification by delaying it, this is made into a honey today allegory throughout this text (“Short-termism”). The next section considers the mechanisms by which such acts of short-term self-sacrifice may actually take place in an ethically sound and non-coercive way (“Implications of large-scale coordinated action”). In the essay’s final part (“Concluding remarks”) research is referred to that implies there are ways to overcome humankind’s propensity to opt for a teaspoon of honey today as opposed to a very likely—but not guaranteed—tablespoon tomorrow.

The issue at stake

As I write all university students in the Arabian Gulf are in self-quarantine (as are many other categories of people; international travel has essentially stopped and most forms of social gatherings have been halted). This period of self-quarantine is in most countries mandatory, varying degrees of punishment are given for those not obeying these orders. The question this essay considers is more focused on the justification for the quarantine than the right of authorities to impose it upon us. Specifically, how can policymakers and think-tanks concerned with the environmental crisis learn from the measures and restrictions rapidly imposed by governments the world over and the general acceptance of citizens to accept these.

Environmentalists have a hard task (not least because overconsumption and going to shopping malls to buy things whether we need them or not seem to now be the pastime of all those in the world who can afford to or have credit cards). As O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 233) put it, “people have self-control problems.” Environmentalists have to somehow tackle the extent to which the idea of Social Darwinism has become the norm in schools, welfare systems and society at large. As Von Weizsäcker & Wijkman (2017, pp. 6–7) explain the way that Social Darwinism has become blindly accept as the way of things, “right and proper” and even “an iron law of nature” in which “only the most competitive should survive” poses a huge challenge. The notion of survival of the fittest, in my view, does not apply to all species and especially not social ones like us. However, it is easy to see why those wanting to maximise their profits and retain all of their wealth for themselves would propagate Social Darwinism as an immutable truism. Secondly, and in a not unconnected way, environmentalists need to tackle the de facto way in which businesses now operate today, a culture in which the free market doctrine of Milton Friedman is seen as gospel in public management systems worldwide (see, e.g., Klein, 2007).

If we take the point of view that this current quarantine is for the greater good, what arguments could we make to convince sceptics of the merit of self-sacrifice in relation to addressing the root causes of global warming? (i.e., what are the key points to make in order to encourage the public to accept and lawmakers enact self-quarantine legislation). We will also need to ask what a proper ethical framework for understanding the role of sacrifice and large-scale coordinated action with respect to such events ought to be. Such understandings will help give insights in how to better deal with the environmental crisis. Any such insight would need to articulate clear roles for international organisations—e.g., WHO, the World Trade Organisation and other UN bodies—governments and citizens to play. Such roles will need to be conveyed in a consensual way in order to be affective. The truth is most people would prefer a future of uncontrolled chaos than a future where everything is clean and green if the price to pay for the latter is to be bossed around and always told what to do.

Hypothetically speaking

Philosophically speaking we could adopt a utilitarian or a deontological perspective in order to justify self-quarantine as the ethically and morally appropriate thing to do. We may then extend the same logic to further acts of individualistic self sacrifice in order to tackle the environmental crisis. To be clear, in the theoretical sense, “utilitarianism” places the focus on the pros and cons of the consequences of any given set of government policies or personal lifestyle choices; it looks beyond self-interest in the here and now and focuses on the common or collective interests of others at a later point in time. The “deontological” differs in that it focuses on the ethical implications (rights and wrongs) of the actions now and not the consequences of those actions at a future point in time.

As we know, democracy is compromise and as we know too, being too dogmatic in one’s views is neither progressive or likely to result in new inventions and forms of creative art. Therefore, it seems to me that in the real world, thinkers and philosophers should not advocate exclusively utilitarian or deontological arguments for dealing with the environmental crisis (and/or the current Covid-19 pandemic). It might help to think of the “carrot or the stick” analogy. As opposed to it being a binary choice, a one or the other, it should be a combination of the two: a bit of carrot and a bit of stick. The question then becomes how much carrot and how much stick?

As Fisher (2019) points out, the discounting of the needs of future generations is analogous to “burying a shard of broken glass in a forest.” The logic is as follows: if a child steps on the glass and cuts themselves today (‘now’) then a discount rate suggests this injury is much worse than a child hurting themselves on that same piece of glass in a millennia or so from now (in the ‘future’) but basically and ‘ethically’, “there is no difference between the two.” Giving in to temptation (e.g., scrolling through an infinite number of Instagram posts as opposed to finishing the research essay) leads to immediate gratification (e.g., happiness from effortlessly looking at satisfying things), but also to delayed negative outcomes (e.g., anxiety and a lower score for a essay submitted after the deadline date). On the other hand, resisting temptation (e.g., drafting and redrafting the research essay) does not make one feel good in the here and now but should result in delayed positive outcomes (e.g., a well received essay with a high grade awarded to it)—see the research of Magen and Gross (2007) on ‘temptation’; a key human tendency.

If we watch TED talks or listen to Big Think or Intelligence Squared debates it seems to be so that the longevity of humankind depends on us reducing our honey consumption rather radically to enable (in theory) our grand and great grandchildren to partake in this heavenly delight too. They key questions seem to be (1) is it, or can it become, part of human nature to be altruistic enough to care about people we will not even be alive to walk and talk with? And if so, (2) what will it take to break free from the short-termist ways so many of today’s humans seem to have adopted?

Short-termism

Modern society is suffering from “temporal exhaustion”, the sociologist Elise Boulding argued in the mid 1970s; “if one is mentally out of breath all the time from dealing with the present, there is no energy left for imagining the future.” Just imagine, Fisher (2019) ponders, how would Boulding react to today’s “relentless, Twitter-fuelled politics” and the non-stop fashion advice etc. that we are bombarded with on a daily basis as a consequence of the internet of things and our love/hate affair with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. As Fisher (2019) states, it is little wonder that “problems like climate change feel so hard to tackle right now.” He asks, “how often do we contemplate the impact of our decisions as they ripple into the decades and centuries ahead?” (see Appendix B). As Magen and Gross (2007 p. 415) put it, today temptations surround us—“sugar-coated donuts [and] distracting TV shows—critically these things all have one thing in common, the “promise [of] immediate pleasure and delayed suffering.” They go on to articulate how less obvious forms of temptations are also potential sources of harm to us and others—e.g., “driving too fast, speaking angrily, and procrastinating”—and caution that the struggle against temptations is “constant, and success is far from assured.”

In a seminal study that sought to investigate the antecedents and correlates of choice behaviour with respect to the delaying of gratification, Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 411) observed that

Yielding to temptation—in a situation in which attainment of achievement rewards is contingent upon deviant (cheating) behaviour—was conceptualised to be a function of (a) the strength of the motivation to attain the prohibited gratification, and (b) the inability to delay immediate gratification.

Some psychologists have used the metaphor of a “horse and rider” to describe this tension between our rationality and urges, “the rider knows it is smart to think longer-term, but the horse has its own ideas” (Fisher, 2019). This begs the question, if we are susceptible to ignoring the wellbeing of our own health the day after tomorrow, it is even harder to imagine how most people will have real empathy for their yet to be born descendants. This focus on self-interest and short-termism is most obviously seen in politics (doing what is necessary to be popular today and not what is best for the given country’s longer-term interest) and economics (consumption over and above necessity).

As Semuels (2016) has argued, once upon a time, what was good for many business tended to be good for the country as a whole, “companies invested in their workers and new technologies, and as a result, they prospered and their employees did too.” Today things are different. They are different because people want to have their honey today, not to delay for a possibly larger and possibly tastier quantity of honey tomorrow. There is now widespread concern that businesses are too focused on short-term profits and are thus not, “investing in their workers, in research, or in technology—short-term costs that would reduce profits temporarily” (Semuels, 2016).

Implications of large-scale coordinated action

Beckstead (2013 p. ii) has put forward the following thesis, from a global perspective, “what matters most (in expectation) is that we do what is best (in expectation) for the general trajectory along which our descendants develop over the coming millions, billions, and trillions of years.” This sounds and seems to be utilitarian in nature for it suggests that future generations are of more import that our current one. We most of us have tasted some honey, those yet to be born certainly have not. What right do we have to deny them this delicious opportunity? The issue soon becomes technical and difficult because who knows what are the best actions for us to take ‘now’ to ensure that we can best ensure there is honey available to be tasted in the ‘future’?

One way of trying to measure this is use Social Discount Rates (SDRs). SDRs might be used to put a present value on costs and benefits that will occur at a later date” (LSE, 2018). In the context of tackling the environmental crisis, SDRs might be used to calculate and forecast how much today’s society should invest in trying to limit the impacts of climate change for tomorrow’s generations. In other words, they calculate how much self-sacrifice will probably be needed in the here and now in order to ensure the generations of the future will still have a natural environment to enjoy and utilise in a sustainable way. SDRs are designed to weigh future people’s benefits against the costs borne by us today (we self-sacrifice by self-quarantining; we could then self-sacrifice by reducing the number of times we travel by air for holidays and pleasure).

This all gets complicated because nobody really knows how much we should sacrifice. Imagine for instance international travel, should we tell rich people to only take one holiday per year, would they accept this? Which government could win elections with such promises? According to Hodgkinson (2014), the main issue in terms of addressing the environmental crisis is that, if the world’s key governments and institutions were to agree to reduce carbon emissions now, “people living in the future will benefit, not those living today … but it is we [who will] bear the costs of reducing such emissions.”

Remembering the extent to which Social Darwinism is seen as a law of nature (it is not) and the extent to which most business leaders and world governments have adopted the economic philosophy of Milton, it is hard to see how anyone (be it a liberal democratic institution or a concerned individual) advocating frugality, reusing as opposed to throwing away and repurchasing is likely to do well. The thing is this, free market economic policies are causing the overexploitation of the natural environment and businesses are all encouraging people to spend big today and forget about tomorrow. The few businesses or governments that might want to self-sacrifice will likely be put out of business or become unelectable as short-termists will price them out of the market. As many have suggested, the dominant view prevailing view at the international level about action on climate change seems to be, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” And it is those views about what future generations are worth that will determine whether or not we are actually able to deal with the world’s most pressing issue, the global environmental crisis (e.g., Hodgkinson, 2014; Martin, 2015)

While I argued that short-termism is the current zeitgeist, politically, economically and in terms of humankind’s consumption and lifestyle choices, and that it is short-termism—“The Century of the Self” as Adam Curtis (2002) calls it —that is the main reason for there being no clear roadmap to address the environmental crisis, I am actually a rational optimist.[5]  I will dwell a bit and now ask you to dig deep, in a thinking sense, to what Andersen wrote in 2012. She argues, and I paraphrase, that humankind must consciously put aside their own pleasures and preferences for the greater good, because it exercises a kind of ‘moral muscle’ in us. She continues, such selfless acts can actually strengthen us by showing us that we are not simply selfish, hedonistic creatures. Acting in such a way, she contends will probably lead to, “stronger bonds of trust and mutual respect” amongst human beings, reminding us that “living on this planet is a group endeavour; that none of us can survive alone.” We must begin to accept (with the ‘carrot’ of improving our ‘moral muscles’) that making ethical choices that may not be comfortable or lucrative are sometimes, simply put, the right thing to do. I would say that too much of a draconian ‘stick’—like the authoritarian tracking of citizens to, monitor their temperature as some states are doing now—will ultimately backfire.[6]

Concluding remarks

As Magen and Gross (2007, p. 415) point out and then ponder, “many of us succumb to temptations, despite knowing that we will later regret doing so … how can such behaviour be avoided?” I can reply with experience, “such behaviour cannot easily be avoided.” However, referring once more to the seminal work of Mischel and Gilligan (1964, p. 417), two important findings are drawn, both of which do offer us hapless sinners some ray of light (a possibility of there being some honey and happiness both in the ‘now’ and for the ‘future’). First, they did observe that responses to temptation are not “simply a function of internal controls” and that conceptualisation concerning behaviour in a temptation situation should take into consideration the reward value of the prohibited gratification. Secondly, they concluded that “individual and situational differences in preferences for such immediate gratification.” O’Donoghue and Rabin (2000, p. 247) talk about ‘naïfs’ and ‘sophisticates’ and they demonstrate that with education and increasing the awareness of the implications of behaviour today and its impact on them tomorrow may result in changes to short term behavioural patterns. They back this up by saying the sophisticates were in some ways more able to delay immediate gratification as they were more aware of its possible future adverse consequences.

Therefore, it seems to me that if leaders and role models can really sell us the idea of delayed pleasure (e.g., the foregoing of (some) honey for the common good of tomorrow’s generations) can bring us happiness in the sense of the feel-good factor of being a nicer person, then we can hope to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic response. We can then realistically dream of averting the impending climate change catastrophe. It is very important that we do not be totally utilitarian or totally deontological in approach. I will say that a mixture of the two is both ethically and morally sound and critically, more likely to bring to us the end we want without making the means too unpalatable and difficult to endure.

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Notes

 
 
[1]   In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic; the extent to which it has impacted on GDP growth and international travel by air is unprecedented and is projected to result in the biggest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s (Gopinath, 2020). The ‘environmental crisis’ includes the following features, all of which human population growth and consumption choices cause: biodiversity loss (a load of fauna and flora are threatened with extinction because of the destruction of their natural habitats and direct exploitation—think of Wuhan’s animal market and overfishing of the seven seas), climate change (global warming and stratospheric ozone depletion), deforestation, desertification (soil erosion and degradation) and the scarcity of clean fresh water.

 
 
[2]   Refer to Sheahan et al. (2008); “Zoonotic SARS-CoV likely evolved to infect humans by a series of transmission events between humans and animals for sale in China” (p. 2274).

 
 
[3]   As I write this essay, China and the USA are playing a blame game. Basically, both governments are attempting to shift attention from their own mistakes by seeking to turn the public attention to the mistakes they allege of each other (see Appendix A). More recently still the U.K.’s government has accused Russian spies of seeking to steal British research insights into Covid-19 and, the very next day (‘…you took it all away’) the U.S.A.’s government accused Chinese spies of seeking to pinch American research insights into Covid-19. (see: Walker (2020) and Gramer (2020), respectively)

 
 
[4]   For instance, see the Intelligence Square debate on this motion “To Stop Climate Collapse, We Must End Capitalism”: intelligencesquared.com/events/to-stop-climate-collapse-we-must-end-capitalism/

 
 
[5]   In this wide-ranging video documentary, we hear a lot about consumerism and commodification and links this to contemporary view on fashion. It makes the argument that superficiality benefits big business. what is interesting is that this was made before social media. So, the points made almost 20 years ago are even stronger today. The last US election was not about politics and policies, it was about media manipulation, showmanship and ad hominem gone wild.

 
 
[6]   China is using big data to control and monitor everything its citizens do, where they go, what they do and who they meet. Many others are following China’s lead in increasingly monitoring every move of their citizens be it Hungary, Thailand, or the Philippines (Gebrekidan, 2020). Closer to home, we see this happening too in Egypt. As Magdy (2020) writes, Egypt’s President has granted himself more powers using Covid-19 as a cover. While some of the new powers can be linked to Covid-19 human rights groups say, others such as the power to now ban public and private meetings, protests and even celebrations, can not.

— § —

References

Andersen, E. (2012, 26 May). The Noble Art of Self-Sacrifice. Forbes. Retrieved, https://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2012/05/26/the-noble-art-of-self-sacrifice/#3588ff7136ac

Beckstead, N. (2013). On the Overwhelming Importance of Shaping the Far Future. Ph.D. Thesis, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. Retrieved, https://rucore.libraries.rutgers.edu/rutgers-lib/40469/PDF/1/play/

Curtis, A. (2002). The Century of the Self. Retrieved, https://youtu.be/eJ3RzGoQC4s

See: Bidoonism’s Adam Curtis anthology

Fisher, R. (2019, 10 January). The perils of short-termism: civilisation’s greatest threat. BBC. Retrieved, bbc.com/future/article/20190109-the-perils-of-short-termism-civilisations-greatest-threat

Gebrekidan, S. (2020, 14 April). For Autocrats, and Others, Coronavirus Is a Chance to Grab Even More Power. The New York Times. Retrieved, nytimes.com/2020/03/30/world/europe/coronavirus-governments-power.htm

Gopinath, G. (2020). ‘Global lockdown’ will cause worst recession since Great Depression, says IMF. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/business/video/2020/apr/14/great-lockdown-recession-great-depression-coronavirus-imf-video

Gramer, R. (2020, July 22). U.S. Closes Chinese Consulate in Houston Amid Surge in Chinese Espionage Cases. Foreign Policy. Retrieved foreignpolicy.com/2020/07/22/us-trump-china-escalation-tensions-spying-closes-chinese-consulate-in-houston-chinese-espionage-cases/

Hodgkinson, D. (2014). Thomas Piketty, climate change and discounting our future. The Conversation. Retrieved theconversation.com/thomas-piketty-climate-change-and-discounting-our-future-30157

Klein, N. (2007). The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. London: Penguin. Retrieved https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cpmRBAAAQBAJ

LSE. (2018). What are social discount rates? The London School of Economics and Political Science. Retrieved lse.ac.uk/GranthamInstitute/faqs/what-are-social-discount-rates/

Magdy, S. (2020, 9 May). Egypt’s president expands powers, citing virus outbreak. The Washington Post. Retrieved, washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/egypts-president-expands-powers-citing-virus-outbreak/2020/05/09/849af3e0-91f2-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html

Magen, E., & Gross, J. (2007). Harnessing the need for immediate gratification: cognitive reconstrual modulates the reward value of temptations. Emotion, 7(2), 415–428. doi:10.1037/1528-3542.7.2.415

Martin, R. L. (2015). Yes, short-termism really is a problem. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved https://hbr.org/2015/10/yes-short-termism-really-is-a-problem

Mischel, W., & Gilligan, C. (1964). Delay of gratification, motivation for the prohibited gratification, and responses to temptation. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 69(4), 411–417. doi:10.1037/h0048918

O’Donoghue, T., & Rabin, M. (2000), The economics of immediate gratification. Journal of Behavioural Decision Making, 13(2), 233–250.

Prasso, S. (2020, 6 May) Lawsuits against China escalate Covid-19 blame game with US. Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-05-06/lawsuits-against-china-escalate-covid-19-blame-game-with-u-s

Rachman, G. (2020, May 4). The US and China’s dangerous blame game will do no good. The Financial Times. Retrieved, ft.com/content/ffc6ac00-8de0-11ea-9e12-0d4655dbd44f

Semuels, A. (2016, 30 December). How to stop short-term thinking at America’s companies. The Atlantic. Retrieved theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/12/short-term-thinking/511874/

Sheahan, T., Rockx, B., Donaldson, E., Sims, A., Pickles, R., Corti, D., & Baric, R. (2008). Mechanisms of zoonotic severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus host range expansion in human airway epithelium. Journal of virology, 82(5), 2274–2285. doi:10.1128/JVI.02041-07

Trofimov, Y. (2020, 8 March). Democracy, Dictatorship, Disease. The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved, wsj.com/articles/democracy-dictatorship-disease-the-west-takes-its-turn-with-coronavirus

Von Weizsäcker, E., & Wijkman, A. (2017). Come on!: capitalism, short-termism, population and the destruction of the planet. Berlin: Springer. Retrieved books.google.co.uk/books?id=nWA-DwAAQBAJ

Walker, A. (2020, July 17). U.K. ‘95% sure’ Russian hackers tried to steal coronavirus vaccine research. The Guardian. Retrieved, theguardian.com/world/2020/jul/17/russian-hackers-steal-coronavirus-vaccine-uk-minister-cyber-attack

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Appendix A: The blame game


Appendix A: The blame game
Note  Illustration by James Ferguson (Rachman, 2020).

Despite there being many instances of global cooperation etc., not everything is ethically minded and being done altruistically. According to one viewpoint, historians of the future might record that, “the Covid-19 pandemic marked the start of a new cold war between China and the US” (Rachman, 2020). As Prasso (2020) makes clear, mistakes in relation to the virus were made on both sides—cover-ups and arrests on China’s part, downplaying the virus’s contagiousness and suggesting the injecting oneself with household bleach may be a remedy on America’s part.
 
Point: “Coronavirus, explained”
 
Counterpoint: “Once upon a virus…”

— § —

Appendix B: Me, myself & I


Fisher-2019-a

Fisher-2019-b
Note  Illustrations by Nigel Hawtin (Fisher, 2019)

As Fisher (2019) stresses, today’s population of 7.7 billion is small if balanced against all humans who are to be born. If Homo sapiens endure for thousands of years to come, billions of yet to be born individuals do rely on us to do the right thing regarding the environmental crisis. Intangibly it will benefit ‘our’ peace of mind; the benefit to ‘them’ will be very tangible.

Come live with me

& be my love[r] forever.

A literary analysis of “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” by Christopher Marlowe (c. 1588).

“The Passionate Shepherd to His Love”


Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.

And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;

A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;

A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.

The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.


— Christopher Marlowe

Adam Miller
“Save the Sheep”
by Adam Miller (1979– ) (c. 2017).

Literary Analysis

1. The poet

Christopher Marlowe (1564–1593) was an English playwright and poet of the Elizabethan era, his version of “Doctor Faustus” (c. 1589) is still being shown on stages around the globe today (see: Better the 😈 u no). Marlowe, it is said, was the foremost Elizabethan tragedian of his day. He also had, according to hearsay &c., a colourful life that can be correctly labelled as: short ‘n’ illustrious. While little is known about his fleeting time in London town (in distinction to his writings) stories of his ‘interesting’ affairs do abound and, let us be honest, who cares about fact checking when such tales are so titillating? He has often been described as a spy, a heretic, as well as a “magician”, “duellist” (a person who fights duels for their honour: pistols at dawn after a piss up and porn), “tobacco-user”, “counterfeiter” and “rakehell.” In short-form a rake was a ‘man’ who dealt in immoral conduct, particularly womanising. A typical rake would burn away his inherited wealth on fine wine, racy women and slanderous suggestive sing-song (think: libertine – o gawd n dyaames deen). If not out and out homosexual he was almost certainly bisexual. Homoerotic overtones and undertones have been noted in various of his works and, the object of the shepard’s obsession (see below) is neither obviously male or female ;P

2. The poem

What is this thing I hear they call “love?” What’s its fatal attraction? How is it that such an intangible thing can have such tangible consequences? J. H. Black. . . poetic step by poetic step we will dig and we will get to our Shangri-la. “The Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is a so-called pastoral poem, which is set in the English countryside in the season of Spring (beautiful bunnies and lovely lambs e t c).

This type of poem — Pastoral lyric — typically expresses emotions in idyllic conditions and contexts. In quatrains (4 line stanzas) of iambic tetrameter (8 syllables per line, 4 measures per line with 2 syllables in each measure), the poem’s narrator, the shepherd, invites the object of his desire to experience the joys of nature not least, one can assume, the birds and bees in particular. The narrator hopes to be transported with his loved one to the garden of Eden, where clothes, contraception, gender identity and inhibition are things for future generations to fret about.

Pastoral poems have their roots with shepherds waxing lyrical as they tend their crops and dream deliriously of the oh so attractive one back in the village (they say: back to David in the Bible and Ancient Greek poetry too). The theme/undertone is carpe diem and gratification of sexual passions today, not tomorrow. Spring: a time of flowering and budding birth. You know, escape to the country, throw of the vestiges of modernity (clothes, deadlines, con-form-it-y). As one critic commented, “if we could get away from these rules, we could return to a pristine condition of happiness” and gave the so-called “free love” movement of the 1960’s as an example of this utopian belief (ironically it was the very modern and mass produced pill that aided and abetted all a dat).

The poem was published in 1599 — after Marlowe’s death — and was counterpointed with many poetic replies some earnest, some mocking. Remember the “love” in the poem isn’t made male or female but in perhaps the most famous responding poem, the gender is left in no doubt. “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd,” by Sir Walter Raleigh was penned in 1600:

 
Two poems: The Passionate Shepherd to His Love (by Christopher Marlowe, 1599) and, The Nymphs Reply to the Shepherd (by Walter Ralegh, 1600)
 

heart vs. head -- Youth gets slated; Youth becomes jaded and gets slated.
Youth becomes jaded / & then gets slated //


We see write away in “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” that Raleigh’s narrator is an older more jaded character. Who with (assumed age and experience) is telling the starry-eyed Shepard that romanticised love is a fallacy. Harsh realities (work, health, societal constraints) and that we age, tire and with any relationship, once consummated, the petty individual idiosyncrasies will soon mire all of that pent up passion and lust. I like what one critic wrote: “Normally we should sieze the day because time flies. Raleigh argues that because time flies, we should NOT sieze the day.” The truth is that ultimately Raleigh is right, but I’ll defend to death the quest for attaining (or regaining) true passionate love.

Tempus Fugit — so, live for today or save for tomorrow? Usually translated from Latin as “time flies.” It was first use in poetic terms by Virgil (‘fugit inreparabile tempus’ – “it escapes, irretrievable time”). Yeah mate, time’s a-wasting.

Time does not stand still; autumn and winter — after the summer heat — inevitably follows the spring. We must face reality and not live by fantasy (but really must we?).

Walter Raleigh’s retort uses the same meter and references to give us readers “mirror images” of Marlowe’s work. The nymph character plays devil’s advocate as it were and points out by doing so that all of the sheep herder’s promises are transitory. Mirror, mirror on the wall should we go with the heart or the head:

flowers do fade
fields yield to the harvest
rivers rage

We live in a fallen world, we’re born sinners (so say the monotheistic tomes) ripening fruit will ultimately shrivel. Birds become crestfallen (one would think even more so if abruptly abandoned by their true loved one).

These opposing lines are particularly telling:

Marlowe:
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.

Raleigh:
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb,

Symbolism

Madrigal
— a song (or poem indeed!) that’s usually about love and sung. It would be suitable for being set to music; thus thing of bird song and the music that is the dawn chorus in an English country garden.

Myrtle
— a flowering plant that’s native to the Mediterranean (not the green and pleasant land of England). It thus invokes notions of Rome and Greece. In Greek mythology Myrtle is sacred to Aphrodite (the goddess of desire and love). And we all know what an aphrodisiac is.

Philomela
— of Greek mythology, is invoked now and again in the poetry and prose of the Western canon. Identified as being the younger of two daughters of Pandion I, a King of Athens, the story goes that after being raped and mutilated by her sister’s husband, she first gets revenge and then morphs into a bird. Not just any bird, but a nightingale, a bird renowned for its song. It is said that because of the violence done to her, poets of later generations depict the nightingale’s mating calls to be sorrowful laments (yet ornithologists will tell you that its only the male nightingales that sing for love; somehow that okay for Marlowe’s shepherd because, it is not sexist to say he is a he — love though my dear J is universal as is obsession). To continue with my dig: Ovid and other servants of poetry & prose have accidentally (on purpose perhaps) made the claim that the etymology of her name was “lover of song” — derived from the Greek φιλο- and μέλος (“song”) instead of μῆλον (“apple” or “fruit” or “sheep”). Now! You know about Eve, Steve and the Apple, and I know what Westerners think we Arabs do with our camels and goats, much like what the English say the Welsh do with their sheep and the Americans say the Mexicans do with their asses and mules. Love is Love some say, love is blind the same and/or others say too.

Intravenous

a hit for the heart (& head)


In the shimmer with a glimmer, came a slight breeze
softer than cotton, was its faint whisper
the crop swayed, my mind jogged
from this did flow, the following sentiment:
Even the richest red poppy-petaled flower —
with the very most resplendent, voluptuous and succulent gum-filled pod,
— does fade and evaporate to nothing
when I compare it to thee.

I kept hearing “Es Jay double-yous” and I thought to myself, ‘you what?’ and said aloud to him, “what can I do!” So, like many nowadays would do and, according to him, what I should do, I went to the internet and looked it up:

Social Justice Warrior
A pejorative term for an individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism.

So “SJW” is a negative frame of reference for hmmmm, let us say — and by no means exclusively — people of a left-wing liberal persuasion. The quid quo pro would be, I guess, ‘the neo-conned’ of the right-wing (you know, the type that were deaf to Ms Christine Blasey Ford’s heartfelt testimony). Man Alive! We’ve uninvited and unwanted grinders ‘n’ grabbers telling us what’s wrong from right — I’ll add to this compendium of delusional luminaries Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, Jair Messias Bolsonaro &, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. From where this compulsion to delve into this particular warren came from, I do not know but, I just got [digitally] distracted as per bloody effing usual. (Today’s rabbit hole however, was literal and epic.) I think it began by me reading something to do with the build up to America’s 2020 presidential elections and the mention of Qanon in relation to one L. Boebert, restaurant owner and devout gun carrier. From there, I got to some New York Times podcasts which both expressly considered how the internet is changing humankind as we know it:

§ / Caliphate
Rukmini Callimachi seeks to understand ISIS (داعش).

1 of 12 | 06:28


2 of 12 | 23:47


🔈 ∰ Listen to all

§ / Rabbit Hole
Kevin Roose investigates what happens when our lives move online.

1 of 9 | 5:18


2 of 9 | 27:49


🔈 ∰ Listen to all

Both journalists ^ are deeply dedicated and totally impressed me. I’d like though to emphasise just how profoundly I was moved by Rukmini Callimachi’s professionalism and her meticulously investigated and cross checked information. It’s a world away from click bait and polemic knee jerk presumption. I do say and do mean, Thank Nature for such individuals. A world away too, are are the articles collated here:

Longform
Longform — a website that recommends new and classic non-fiction from around the internet.

From the Longform archives I stumbled upon a 2015 two-part interview with the said Rukmini Callimachi:



Faces open phones
Snapchat has filters
Instagram takes selfies
Facebook now ‘auto’ tags
TikTok takes the bloody lot

Trump. the Q Master :P
Yay!
Qanon -- a glitch within the rich
Yep. . .
The Internet . . .
YES //

Think about it, we most of us (a) don’t want to be conformist and conventional — we don’t want to accept the fact that in all likelihood we are automated animals with next to no free will — (b) we want to be a creature of some distinction and significance yet (c), we want to affiliate with others who think like us and see the world as we do. I won’t harp on about echo chambers and Cambridge Analytica but rest assured nearly all of those silly young boys who got radicalised and for a semester or so wanted to make their computer game lives come true and transform an insular existence to a communal one, did soon realise that dreams and fantasises are better off staying as such. Just consider the lunacy of new year’s resolutions: in principal everything’s paradise, in practice its pedestrian and prosaic (it is banal, boring, dreary, dull, monotonous, mundane, repetitious, run-of-the-mill, tedious, tiresome, uneventful, unexciting and so very fucking humdrum and bereft of excitement).

You see, the so-called dark/deep web ain’t at all as hidden and unknown as some would like it to be (and dare I say, some believe it to be). You really would be delusional if you thought TikTok (ByteDance) wasn’t lovin’ it, loving the fact that they’ve scored the biggest coup against the decadent capitalist West since inception — i.e., the December 1949 clashing of egos in Moscow between Mao Zedong and Josef Stalin. Unbridled, unabridged, verbatim they’ve now a trove of data — much of it innocent and inane, not withstanding — gait, voice and 3D facial info of titanic terabytes. No ICT/SM entity worth its silly.con isn’t tracking every move we make, every step we take, in private/incognito mode. Just because a coder says do not cache/index in the meta-head, does not mean that every deliverer of the internet isn’t caching and logging and instantaneously mirroring every upload, change, view and comment. The notion of total deletion is fanciful. So, you see: Qanon and 4chan etc. etc., the light-right, alt-right, neo-conned and digital Es Jay double-yous are simply providing ICT/SM entities (and critically: the agencies of the state with whom they are symbiotically in cahoots with) priceless reams of data.

I know nothing, and I ain’t supposing that I here by do but, I do somehow see the need to be different (against the powers that be) but affiliate and bond with others — what every Qanon believer, 4chan /w3/ contributor/viewer and loyal follower of angry-man-with-a-web cam wants (whether or not they know it) — to be partially reminiscent of the hero-worship the LSD-addled Jim Jones did attract in his heyday.

Qanon
Qanon —
Going Bananas
— bananas.

And yes, I know that many were essentially kept prisoner and that well over 300 young children in that now overgrown Guyanan jungle commune (no,: “camp”) were given no choice in the act of revolutionary suicide that they sacrificially performed. If ever there was a reincarnation of the mythical Kurtz, J.J. of Jonestown was surely he.

This is the end. . . my beautiful friend: the end. Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain, where all the grownups are insane:–

The End
“The mind of the human is capable of anything” Nonetheless, “We live as we dream — Alone.”

laudanum
“It acted like a charm, like a miracle!” But was rendered to naught when you came into the field of view.


^   =   Another day where I’ve been wholly blown off course by the internet and my plans of getting familiar with the cognitive sciences ahead of the coming semester are fast fading… ‘cognitive dissonance’ is a term I do keep hearing and one that I am keen to get to grips with.

Cantos

Any good I’ve done has been spoiled by —

Cantos


I have tried to write Paradise
 
Do not move
      Let the wind speak.
         that is paradise.
Let the Gods forgive what I
         have made
Let those I love try to forgive
         what I have made.


— Canto 120, E. P.

— (& diggers can dig, & judgers will judge, it is
      all but just a handful of dust after all.)
a fateful mistake; a tragedy of titanic proportions.
      Of my own making? Certainly, yes.
      Tea /
            Bee //
                  Sea ///

“A Language”

— a poem

A literary analysis of Susan Stewart’s “A Language.”

“A Language”


I had heard the story before
about the two prisoners, alone
in the same cell, and one
gives the other lessons in a language.
Day after day, the pupil studies hard—
what else does he have to do?—and year
after year they practice,
waiting for the hour of release.
They tackle the nouns, the cases, and genders,
the rules for imperatives and conjugations,
but near the end of his sentence, the teacher
suddenly dies and only the pupil
goes back through the gate and into the open
world. He travels to the country of his new
language, fluent, and full of hope.
Yet when he arrives he finds
that the language he speaks is not
the language that is spoken. He has learned
a language one other person knew—its inventor,
his cell-mate and teacher.
 
            And then the other
evening, I heard the story again.
This time the teacher was Gombrowicz, the pupil
was his wife. She had dreamed of learning
Polish and, hour after hour, for years
on end, Gombrowicz had been willing to teach
her a Polish that does not and never
did exist. The man who told
the story would like to marry his girlfriend.
They love to read in bed and between
them speak three languages.
They laughed—at the wife, at Gombrowicz, it wasn’t
clear, and I wasn’t sure that they
themselves knew what was funny.
I wondered why the man had told
the story, and thought of the tricks
enclosure can play. A nod, or silence,
another nod, consent—or not, as a cloud
drifts beyond the scene and the two
stand pointing in different directions
at the very same empty sky.
 
            Even so, there was something
else about the story, like teaching
a stunt to an animal—a four-legged
creature might prance on two legs
or a two-legged creature might
fall onto four.
 
            I remembered,
then, the miscarriage, and before that
the months of waiting: like baskets filled
with bright shapes, the imagination
run wild. And then what arrived:
the event that was nothing, a mistaken idea,
a scrap of charred cloth, the enormous
present folding over the future,
like a wave overtaking
a grain of sand.
 
            There was a myth
I once knew about twins who spoke
a private language, though one
spoke only the truth and the other
only lies. The savior gets mixed
up with the traitor, but the traitor
stays as true to himself as a god.

 
All night the rain falls here, falls there,
and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.

Susan Stewart

Before I consider the above poem, which I do deeply like, I just must point to the following words by Stewart — they were penned for an academic text, 📙 The Handbook of Philosophy, demonstrating her versatility as a wordsmith (oh how I wanna b 1 2)… :

Philosophy, the love of wisdom, and lyric, words meant to be sung to the musical accompaniment of a lyre, seem, at least etymologically, to have little to do with each other. Philosophers may even say we make a category mistake in comparing them, since the first term refers to the pursuit of knowledge of truth and the second term refers to an expressive art form. Yet both philosophers and lyric poets are solo speakers, and their common material is language—indeed, they share the same language, for it is not that there are separate tongues for each. Philosophers and poets are alike in certain actions, as well: they convey intelligible statements; employ formal structures with beginnings, middles, and ends; and hope to convince or move their audiences, and so incorporate a social view from the outset.
. . .
Nevertheless, … the language of philosophy strives for clarity and singularity of reference. Lyric, in contrast, is always over-determined; its images, symbols, sounds, the very grain of the voices it suggests, all compete for our attention and throw us back, whether we are listening or reading, to repeated consideration of the whole. Philosophy should be paraphrasable and translatable if its truth claims are universal, but poetry has finality of form, and to paraphrase it is a heresy; to translate it, a betrayal.

By the way, it was while reading her chapter in 📙 The Handbook of Philosophy on the lyric genre that I wondered who exactly Susan Stewart was. I investigated (one thing led to another) and found the poem cited above and considered below (and my plans for reviewing the text that my schedule say I should have gone absent without a leg to stand on).

As he’d say to me, “dig deeper, keep on digging”


Oh for Ireland / Joyous for Heaney.

The poem

I’ll comment on the six parts of “A Language” here (six as I see them). But, in short, the poem seems to be about dream vs. reality, about deceit (intentional or otherwise, by one’s self to one’s self or by one to another) about contradiction, and about love (lost, misplaced and blind). It was amusing me until the miscarriage — it read too much like being real, i.e., drawn from the author’s very own life experience. The last two lines ain’t italic and that’s the author’s switch of emphasis, not mine. Witold Gombrowicz — a Polish writer (1904–1969) with an interesting bio (as anti-establishment, anti-religious bisexual kind of guy, his books were banned in communist Poland) — said with regard to literary criticism, and I do quoteth the man: “Literary criticism is not the judging of one [soul] by another therefore, do not judge. Simply describe your reactions. Never write about the author or the work, only about yourself in confrontation with the work or the author. You are allowed to write about yourself.” *

Part one

To begin at the beginning I felt it would link to the prisoner’s dilemma but it didn’t.**  It was about trickery, but the language may well have been code for the language of love. The intimacy built with one other cannot – ctrl C, ctrl V – be just transferred from the one to an(y )other one. Maybe the deceit lay in the older more learned one not teaching adequately the singularity of true love, it, like Halley’s comet, is a once in a lifetime thing.

I had heard the story before / ...
I had heard the story before.

I didn’t read in between the lines that the student felt annoyance for his/her post-prison discovery.

Part two

Underscoring Part 1, but here making reference to a real world relationship, that of the writer Gombrowicz and his (much younger) muse.

And then the other evening, I heard the story again / ...
the tricks enclosure can play / ...
at the very same empty sky.

We might be together, but we may be worlds apart too. Tricks reads a little comparatively, is this the poem’s narrator recalling the honeymoon period of a former or a current relationship. undergraduates bedding down with books and the positivity bestowed from having a lifetime of dreams and plans to look forward to.

Part three

Even so, / ...
... fall onto four.

We can learn to do various things, things that have no real utility, point or purpose whatsoever.

Part four

Very powerful and the mood of the poem abruptly changes (for me anyway).

I remembered, then, the miscarriage / ...
the enormous present folding over the future, /
like a wave overtaking a grain of sand.

I feel this to be all too real.

Part five

Such stories of twin as co-collaborators are commonplace. The word “myth” speaks volumes here. Did the miscarriage herald the end of the narrator’s once perfect relationship? The myth of forever love… And then in comes a god and ‘his’ arch-nemesis the dastardly devil.

There was a myth I once knew / ...
the traitor stays as true to himself as a god.

Good and Evil, this is great! Stewart here becomes a philosopher and made me realise something that should have been obvious. (Oh Life / Woman Alive / Wax Lyrical.) The devil doesn’t falter and stays true to his typecast pigeon hole. Yet the given god transcends from savior to traitor.


I’m choosing my confessions /
Like a hurt lost and blinded fool.

Part six

The ending (two lines, a different mode of typed-text emphasis) is short and is sans-sanguinity. We are creatures just the same as the birds and the bees; the sacrificial lambs, the holy cows and the bunnies busily beavering away.

All night the rain falls here, falls there, /
 and the creatures dream, or drown, in the lair.

The rain falls on us all, rich or poor, happy or sad, female or male. We either live the dream in our dream or we sleepwalk into the labyrinthine maze that is our torment of torrential thoughts on what might have been, what could’ve been for: what once was, no longer is.

All in all, there’s sadness here isn’t there — the empty sky, the dark rainy night — where, if you don’t fantasise and delude yourself, you’ll drown in black-mood depression. Everything you’d planned for — taken as faith, taken at face-value, taken for granted; taken as a given — is abruptly and inexplicably taken away from you. Be it faith in fellow man, faith in your muse, faith in what you’d believed to have been your partner for life; the prospect of a soon to be born insatiably innocent (genes aside) version of yourself.

— § § § —


— § § § —

Foot fetish notes
* The prisoner’s dilemma is a paradox in decision analysis (a.k.a., ‘game theory) in which two individuals acting in their own self-interests do not produce the optimal outcome. In other words, if both were to be altruistic toward the other they’d both do well. My sophisticated ethics teacher told sought to explain this to us by way of the medium of money. She said: you could both take 50 Riyal now or if you both forfeit the Riyal now (the honey tomorrow thesis) you’ll both get 100 Riyal tomorrow, but if any one of you takes the 50 now and the other doesn’t the one who takes the money gets to have their small amount of honey today whereas the other will get nothing. So, (1) knowing that most humans are considered to be selfish and also (2) not being able to communicate with the other prisoner, she said that (3) most would grab the 50 because few would risk foregoing it for the possibility of 100. The natural assumption is that the other prisoner would be short-termist in character and go for the guarantee of a few Riyals today as opposed to the prospect of far more Riyals tomorrow.

** As a critic in The New Yorker said in 2012, his “grotesque, erotic, and often hilarious stories” soon established Gombrowicz as a widely read author. His fiction’s been deemed as creepy as Poe’s and as abusurdist as Kafka’s. ((A man encounters another man by chance at the opera and shadows him for weeks—sending him flowers, writing letters to his mistress—unaware of the torment his attentions are causing.)) ((A countess famous for her meatless dinners may, it turns out, be serving human flesh.)) Gombrowicz himself said of his writing that he was, “never more satisfied than when my pen gave birth to some scene that was truly crazy, removed from the (healthy) expectations of mediocre logic and yet firmly rooted in its own separate logic.”

Rita and Witold Gombrowicz, 1969.
“Why then does this pharmaceutical extract called “pure poetry” bore and weary me, especially when it appears in rhymed form?”
Witold Gombrowicz
The title… don’t be fooled, it’s the equivalent of today’s click-bait. If you are wanting erotica, click here: Nin, Anaïs or here Lawrence, D. H.. No, the content of this novel is more about (hu)man’s thirst and quest for youth when they become aware that they’re well past their prime and that to relive it necessitates the pursuing of someone in their prime, to leach of of their lustfulness; to free-ride upon their yet to be curtailed free-will… … …

Roses for my grave

=== forget-me-nots ===

Let’s be frank, it’s as easy as A, B, C . . .

A.
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
.
B.
If I had a flower for every time I thought of you, I could walk in my garden forever.
.
C.
I hold it true, whate’er befall; I feel it, when I sorrow most; ‘Tis better to have loved and lost Than never to have loved at all.
Alfred Tennyson

. . . Love is love and there ain’t nothing greater. There is no emotion capable of so fundamentally altering and perturbing the human brain than can and does the one we call “love.” It clouds all reason and it’s the root cause of much of humankind’s best art: literature. Here are some noteworthy Tennyson poems:

01. — Milton
02. — Ulysses
03. — Claribel
04. — Mariana
05. — Timbuctoo
06. — The Charge of the Light Brigade
07. — Recollections of the Arabian Nights

Mars and Venus United by Love
“Mars and Venus United by Love”
by Paolo Veronese (c. 1575)

In this visually opulent and sensual painting, Cupid binds Mars (the god of war) to Venus with a love knot. It celebrates the civilizing and nurturing effects of love, as milk flows from Venus’s breast and Mars’s warhorse is restrained.

“Sap away”

· · · a poem · · ·


Sap my sap away
Switch A to a U
See now, it’s “Sup!”
.
Anyhow I’m drained
All’s so very strained
As in: “Depleted”
.
Paradise was there
Purgatory’s here:-
Penitence afire.


It’s all encapsulated, enveloped in a vividly coloured circular shape; it is not without ornithological appeal. I modelled it god-like out of willing and kneed full clay (sometimes viscus and earthy blue-gray brown, sometimes rocklike ochre, traced with terracotta). But the clay I am here referring to was actually a handful of timeless hourglass-grade sand; sometimes molten hot and sometimes, congealed, dull and cold, but either way, mine to sculpt. We can think of Madagascan spices and gemstones, we can think of what Ernest Shackleton[1] and Robert Falcon Scott[2] would have heard and observed. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” — it’s carved into a trunk of oak down there, below the Southern Ocean. The astute will note it is lifted from Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” it was chiselled out in 1913 and, 107 years on, faces out, steadfast and stoic, to the Roaring 40s. From that powerful poem I retype the following lines (Oh how divine, with hindsight, were those heady times):


It may be that the gulfs will wash us down
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles


Alfred Tennyson

Harland Miller
Harland Miller is an English artist born in Yorkshire in 1964. He studied at London’s Chelsea School of Art, graduating in 1988.
Harland Miller
Notable artworks by Harland Miller include his giant canvases of Penguin Book covers. The paintings include sardonic statements, e.g., “Whitby – The Self Catering Years,” “Rags to Polyester – My Story” and, “Incurable Romantic Seeks Dirty Filthy Whore.”
Aldridge & Miller
Miles Aldridge (born 1964, London) is a fashion photographer and artist.
Photograph by Miles Aldridge
Photo by Miles Aldridge, book in hand by Harland Miller.


Post Script

[1]   Ernest Shackleton
I paraphrase in a wholly unworthy parallel: I had seen God in his splendors, heard the text that Nature renders. I’d reached the naked soul of [my] man.

[2]   Robert Falcon Scott
I paraphrase in a wholly unworthy parallel: I took risks, I knew I took them; things finally came out against me, and therefore I have no cause for complaint, but bow to the will of happenstance [& one too many rolls of life’s Damoclesian dice], despite this truly frightful plight, determined still am I, to do my best to make amends for the the past …

[3]   Sword of Damocles
If you say that someone has the Sword of Damocles hanging over them, you mean that they are in a situation in which something very bad could happen at any moment (an imminent and ever-present peril). It can also be used to denote the sense of foreboding; you feel it in your bones that something bad’s about to happen but you can’t be sure what (or more probably ‘how’). William Shakespeare used it in a fashion: “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer refers to it too: “Above, where seated in his tower, /I saw Conquest depicted in his power/ There was a sharpened sword above his head / That hung there by the thinnest simple thread.” Roman poet Horace also alluded to it by waxing lyrical about the virtues of living a simple, rustic life; favouring this in preference to the myriad threats and anxieties that accompany holding a position of power.

Sword of Damocles
“Sword of Damocles”
by Richard Westall (1812)

[4]   Gouge away / You can gouge away / Stay all day / If you want to //

The dreadful mistake

deader than dead


My mistake was to treat you my Muse
//
I’ll tell you about ‘complicated’:
“I will tell you how I wander lost
— the books I note and the texts I read —
and the pain felt by my tongue-tied heart”

//
as though you were simply my mistress.

Path

^ Winn, R. (2018). The Salt Path. London: Penguin.

Can you tell heaven from hell

How I wish, how I wish you were here

Wish_You_Were_Here
~~~ Remember when you were young, you shone like the sun
~~ Now there’s a look in your eyes, like black holes in the sky


So, so you think you can tell
Heaven from hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?

Do you think you can tell?
.
Did they get you to trade
Your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
Did you exchange
A walk on part in the war
For a lead role in a cage?
.
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
And how we found
The same old fears
Wish you were here


— Gilmour & Waters (emphasis is mine)

Jump to 6:06 in the video below to get to the purported point of poem. Yet, I am really asking and really wondering, is there merit in analysing every-fucking-thing? I mean to say, therapeutically speaking, is it not oftentimes best to stick to our own imagination and interpretation of a given poem’s point rather than to seek out it’s actual point (if indeed the poet’s stated this in a non-cryptic and unambiguous preface or footnote)…

I’ll give you my penny’s worth without writing another word:

L. O. {Lesbos} V. E.

“Once again love drives me on, that loosener of limbs, bittersweet creature against which nothing can be done.”

Sappho

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Sapho, by Gleyre | Lesbos today | Sapho, by Mengin
— “Do You Get Me?”

Refendi [dot] com
Photography by Rena Effendi (2016–17)
We Are All Human Beings
In this photo by Petros Giannakouris, 17-year-old Soumaya is holding her baby at a UNCHR refugee camp in Greece.

“In the crooks of your body, I find my religion.”

Sappho

lesbos_1
— “You Do Get Me, Don’t Ya.”