Friday, March 31, 2017

Reykjavík Blues, revisited



KK (his full name is Kristján Kristjánsson, and his initials are pronounced "cow cow") is an Icelandic singer-songwriter whose music I first encountered entirely by chance during a boat trip in Reykjavík harbor a few years ago. I picked up some CDs while I was there and managed to obtain another after I got home, but his records aren't exactly easy to obtain in the US (though as it happens, he was born in Minnesota). The three songs below are from a 2008 album called Svona eru menn. I speak no Icelandic so don't ask me what any of the lyrics mean, but I really don't care; I could listen to this music all night (and I just may). One of these years I may even get my hands on a copy.



Earlier post: Reykjavík Blues

Friday, March 24, 2017

Seamus Heaney: "What will be our trace"



From "Station Island," II. The narrator converses with the shade of William Carleton:
'The angry role was never my vocation,'
I said. 'I come from County Derry,
where the last marching bands of Ribbonmen

on Patrick's Day still played their "Hymn to Mary".
Obedient strains like theirs tuned me first
and not that harp of unforgiving iron

the Fenians strung. A lot of what you wrote
I heard and did: this Lough Derg station, flax-pullings, dances, fair-days, crossroads chat

and the shaky local voice of education.
All that. And always, Orange drums.
And neighbours on the roads at night with guns.'

'I know, I know, I know, I know,' he said,
'but you have to try to make sense of what comes.
Remember everything and keep your head.'

'The alders in the hedge,' I said, 'mushrooms,
dark-clumped grass where cows or horses dunged,
the cluck when pith-lined chestnut shells split open

in your hand, the melt of shells corrupting,
old jam pots in a drain clogged up with mud—'
But now Carleton was interrupting:

'All this is like a trout kept in a spring
or maggots sown in wounds—
another life that cleans our element.

We are earthworms of the earth, and all that
has gone through us is what will be our trace.'
He turned on his heel when he was saying this

and headed up the road at the same hard pace.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Recognition



Walking a woodland trail the other day through an area with a number of dramatic rock outcroppings, I zeroed in on this particular boulder incised with what, to my eye at least, very much resembled the profile of a crow, a raven, or perhaps a buzzard, with a second, more ambiguous profile directly behind it. The resemblance — the protruding beak, the circular eye — became more convincing the longer I looked.

It's at least dimly possible that a human hand has been at work here, perhaps in adding detail to a stone that originally looked only vaguely avian, but I suspect it's entirely the chance work of nature. With different light, from a different angle, on a different afternoon, the "profile" might not be evident at all. But our psychological impulse to find facial figures even in inert matter must be very strong, and lies, I suspect, at the origin of many things — art, language, religion. The ability to recognize a pattern, to transform that pattern into an information-bearing symbol, is surely the first step down the road to reading. And yet the ability must long predate us; animals too know instinctively what a face is, and even if differences in vision and psychology make it unlikely that they would see anything at all in this particular boulder, they are alive to all kinds of signs — visual, aural, olfactory — whose interpretation is a key part of their mental world.

Below are two more woodland presences: a stone cat (with a bit of imagination), and a howling Ovidian wood-beast.


Update: Below: the Dog.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Evidence


A man accidentally time-travels back to 1959, and is arrested on suspicion of counterfeiting when he attempts to buy lunch with a five-dollar bill dated decades in the future. His story is disbelieved until police open his wallet and find a photograph of a woman sitting under the completed Gateway Arch in St. Louis, ground for which has only recently been broken.