The Local Yarn

Colloquy in Water

            “It’s snowing again.”
        “Don’t mention it.”
    “Why not?”
“I think it’s very pretty.”
            “It’s cold.”
        “You want it hot?”
    “I merely want it to be peaceful.
I’d like the sky to rest
In its convexity
Awhile.”
            “I never guessed
        The snow was anything
    But snow.”
“Who says it is?”
            “I do. Look at it
        Gently fall. Can this
    Be any signature
But peace?”
            “A handless, six-
        sided, shaken sign
    The globe turns. It sticks
Me in the eye.”
            “Your sight
        Is snow-blinded. Observe
    The snow piled whitely there
On the cottage.”
            “The curve
        Of watery weather
    In the smooth-lined sky
Distorts your looking — bends
Your wish into your eye.”
            “The snow is soft as powder.”
        “It grains my ear.”
    “It falls
Again.”
“No, it leaps up
To the tilting glass walls.”

by Richard Lyons. Published in the North Dakota Quarterly, Vol 30 Issue 4 (1962).

Re: “If you want to know…”

I cannot tell if I originally quoted this from somewhere else, or if I thought of it myself. At any rate I can’t find any other source for it.
Joel Dueck

What Should People Do With Old Journals?

When I die, I’ll leave behind a lot of journals and notebooks. These may be of interest to my immediate family, but they won’t exactly be great leisure reading. The only obvious choices are to keep them in a box in the attic, or eventually throw them out.

There ought to be a third choice. Even the most mundane journal has great value simply because it contains lots of historical information about current thinking, lifestyle habits, values, and events, things which change wildly over long time periods.

On the receiving end, suppose you inherit your great-grandfather’s journal; he has been dead for decades and you never knew him personally. If you can find the time, you pore over it for an hour or two, deciphering the handwriting. You learn some facts about him and how he looked at things. What happens after that?

I have an idea that there should be an archive, a public repository for things like this. You could send in your great-grandfather’s journal for use by future historians. They would digitize or transcribe it, analyze it, and tag it with metadata about who wrote it, when they wrote it, and generally what topics they wrote about. They could allow you to specify that it must remain private until a specified date, and provide you with a digital copy, or even a nice hard copy if you wanted to pay a little extra.

This would give researchers a huge resource to draw upon, and allow the full value of old journals (the sentimental and the historic value) to be realized, without compromising anyone’s privacy.

Re: “James I was always boasting…”

I had originally transcribed this quote alongside a link to a New York Times piece about the Dunning-Kruger effect:

‘Dunning and Kruger argued in their paper, “When people are incompetent in the strategies they adopt to achieve success and satisfaction, they suffer a dual burden: Not only do they reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the ability to realize it. Instead, like Mr. Wheeler, they are left with the erroneous impression they are doing just fine.”

‘It became known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect—our incompetence masks our ability to recognize our incompetence.‘

James I and others like him must represet some special subset of Dunning-Kruger, when the afflicted person is also so insulated by their class and power that they can never actually suffer the effects of their incompetence.

Joel Dueck

From the little I have seen, I have hopes that J. R. R. Tolkien’s soon-to-be published translation of Beowulf may do the same thing for the Old English poem that Fitzgerald did for the Persian. For example, here’s Seamus Heaney’s 1999 translation:

Fyrst forð gewát flota wæs on ýðum bát under beorg
beornas gearwe on stefn stigon — stréamas wundon,

Time went by, the boat was on water, in close under the cliffs.
Men climbed eagerly up the gangplank, sand churned in surf…

Tolkien does something much better with his version:

On went the hours: on ocean afloat under cliff was their craft.
Now climb blithely brave man aboard;
breakers pounding ground the shingle.

How much of this is Tolkien and how much is the original? At the time of this writing, we don’t have much to go off of(1), and I know very little Old English, so I could be mistaken; but if Tolkien can look at, for example, “stréamas wundon” and derive, in English, the music of “breakers pounding ground the shingle”, it seems reasonable to hope that the rest of the thing will be real English poetry: that is, a living sparrow rather than a stuffed eagle.


  1. These lines are about half of the excerpt that is currently all we have to go on: a few lines Tolkien included in an introductory chapter to a 1940 edition of John R. Clark Hall’s Beowulf translation. (Notably, Hall, too, took the poetic approach to translation we are advocating here, and was criticized for it.)