The Next Bend in the Road
By Michael Fried
If there's a mention of eyelashes, then it's about Osip.
-- Nadezhda Mandelstam
The young man with long thick eyelashes is
unapologetically drunk with the world's beauty
despite or possibly because of the hollowness at its core
which he confirms in the slightly dead timbre
of the distant church bells sounding the hour.
Meanwhile the little horses jog onward without
the least appearance of strain, their breath issuing
visibly in twin dissolving plumes of cloud,
and the extraordinarily pretty woman (scarcely
more than a girl) whose head rests on the young man's
shoulder, although she has a husband to whom
she will return, is for the moment all this. Just beyond
the next bend in the road, or if not the next
the bend after that, still hidden by the towering
fir trees, their dark drooping vigorous branches
loaded with snow (I forgot to say that this
is a winter scene, that the youthful lovers are in
a sleigh, that they are both poets, that they will come
to similar ends), the Revolution waits.
From "Poet's Choice" by Edward Hirsch in this morning's Washington Post Book World, on Michael Fried's The Next Bend in the Road. "Fried is highly conscious that great works of art, the most enduring human achievements, are inevitably entangled with the agon of history. Our joyous creations, our deep intimacies, are intertwined with the suffering of others. Fried apparently sees no gap -- and we shouldn't either -- between poems that deal with autobiographical subjects and poems that treat literary and artistic ones. Life and art are everywhere intertwined. All encounters are personal."
Since I've been on a Greek theme this week, here's a one-line poem by Michael Fried, "Papyrus": "Lubricated in fish blood, tears, semen."
And, speaking of Troy, "The Springs of Fate", by Maureen Dowd in The New York Times:
Oblivious of the consequences, the impetuous black sheep of a ruling family starts a war triggered by a personal grudge.
The father, a respected veteran of his own wars, suppresses his unease and graciously supports his son, even though it will end up destroying his legacy and the world order he envisioned.
The ferocious battle in the far-off sands spirals out of control, with many brave soldiers killed, with symbols of divinity damaged, with graphic scenes showing physical abuse of the conquered, and with devastatingly surreptitious guerrilla tactics.
Aside from dishing up a gilded Brad Pitt with a leather miniskirt and a Heathrow duty-free accent as he tosses about ancient insults, such as calling someone a "sack of wine," "Troy" also dishes up some gilded lessons on the Aeschylating cost of imperial ambitions and personal vendettas.
Barbara Tuchman, in her book "The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam," observes that while the Trojans reject advice to keep that dagnab nag, as Rummy might put it, out of the walled city, "the feasible alternative — that of destroying the Horse — is always open."
Cassandra and others warned them. (The always ignored Cassandra is left out of the movie, but she must have sensed that was coming.)
As Ms. Tuchman notes, wooden heads are as dangerous as wooden horses: "Wooden-headedness, the source of self-deception, is a factor that plays a remarkably large role in government. It consists in assessing a situation in terms of preconceived fixed notions while ignoring or rejecting any contrary signs."
President Bush's Achilles' heel is his fear of wimpiness, and Dick Cheney and Rummy played on that, making him think he had to go to war once the war machine was revved up, or he would lose face and no longer be "The Man."
Maybe the president and vice president will catch "Troy" on their planes as they jet around to fund-raisers. But the antiwar message will probably be lost, except on the official who is both a snubbed Cassandra and a sulking Achilles, Colin Powell. "Wooden-headedness," Ms. Tuchman said, "is also the refusal to benefit from experience."
Sequel to this post about my favorite moments from HMS Surprise and The Mauritius Command:
12-13: O'Brian describes Sophie Aubrey, "a woman with a very modest sexual impulse," as jealous of Diana, "in whom it was quite the reverse." Jack says he thought it was his duty to keep Stephen away from the latter but now thinks he might have been wrong. He says, "'There may be women for whom these things are much as they might be for a man -- women for whom going to bed to a man doesn't necessarily signify, don't affect them in the essence, as I might say, and don't make whores of 'em.'" Sophie ignores that word and asks if he means that there are men to whom breaking the commandment does not signify, Jack says Stephen could explain better, and Sophie says, "I hope that neither Stephen nor any other man could make it clear to me that breaking marriage vows did not signify."
28: "They smiled at one another, and Jack had a premonition that Stephen was about to say something of great importance: a false premonition."
72: Killick threatening to "caulk" the people from the yard with a red-hot iron, and wringing out Jack's hair, Jack falling asleep after the storm and snoring, complaining in the morning about boiled coffee, asking for Stephen.
75: Jack lecturing Stephen to clap on after seeing "Stephen hanging by his coat-tails, suspended in Pullings's powerful grasp, and extending his limbs like a tortoise."
132-3: Stephen contemplating upon whether Louisa Wogan wants to go to bed with him; he thinks she likes him, and believes her to be a woman "'to whom these sports are of no great consequence, but may be indulged in for pleasure, for friendship or kindness, and even, where a minimum of liking is present, for interest. With such women sexual fidelity has as little meaning as the act has significance: one might as well require them to drink wine with one man alone. This attitude is much condemned, I know; they are called whores, and other ill-sounding names; in this case I do not find it affects my liking.'"
142: Jack is unhappy because he feels manipulated by Stephen concerning Mrs. Wogan. "It wounded him. He took up his fiddle, and standing there facing the open stern window and looking out on to the wake, he stroked a deep note from the G string and so played on, an improvisation that expressed what he felt as no words could have done. But when Stephen behind him, speaking over the sound, said, 'Forgive me, Jack: sometimes I am compelled to be devious. I do not do it from choice,' the music changed, ended in an abrupt, cheerful pizzicato, and he sat down again." And they chat about birds and fish and stuff.
162: "Captain Aubrey would do his utmost to deceive an enemy by the use of false colours and false signals, by making him believe the ship was a harmless merchantman, a neutral, or a compatriot, and by any other ruse that might occur to his fertile mind. All was fair in war: all except for opening letters and listening behind doors. If Stephen, on the other hand, could bring Buonaparte one inch nearer to the brink of Hell by opening letters, he would happily violate a whole mail-coach full."
178: Stephen to Michael Herapath, upon discovering venereal disease among the crew: "'A protracted voyage may bring about a wonderful increase in sodomitical practices.'" Then he wishes he had a serricunnium -- a chastity belt -- for the woman spreading the pox.
196: "Jack went on thinking aloud, much as Dr Maturin might have worked out a diagnosis on the person of a mute colleague, and Stephen's attention wandered. He had a perfect confidence in Jack's ability to solve these problems: if Jack Aubrey could not solve them, nobody could, least of all Stephen Maturin."
229: In the middle of terrible seas, Jack sees an albatross, diving with perfect control, and even though Jack has many things to think about with the sails and another ship in pursuit, he thinks, "'I wish Stephen could...'"
247: Stephen "borrowed Jack's common telescope -- much as he loved Stephen, Jack would not let him have his best..."
259: Jack tells Stephen that the launch will leave the Leopard. "'If you choose to go, pray dress up warm and take my waterproof cloak...I stay with the ship. But I do not wish you to feel the least obligation to remain, if you had rather not.' 'It is a matter of principle with you?' Jack nodded. 'Listen, will you lay it plain before me, now? I speak for some papers I have, not for myself. Priciples aside -- for I know your views on what is right in a captain -- which is the better course?' 'I may be wrong, but I still think the ship.'" Stephen says then that he will give the men in the launch what he can copy, and intends to stay with Jack on the Leopard.
290: Stephen makes everyone eat cabbage. "As Jack observed, 'It made the Leopards change their spots' -- the first really full-hearted laugh, eyes vanishing in a face scaled with mirth, that he had uttered in the last five thousand miles. Men, said Stephen, "looking sharply at his Captain, men who would breakfast on two albatross eggs, weighing close on a purser's pound apiece, should be purged of their gross humours daily."
293-7: Stephen protests the wanton destruction of albatross eggs for food. "'You cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs,' said Jack quickly, before the chance should be lost for ever. 'Ha, ha, Stephen, what do you say to that?' 'I might say something about pearls before swine -- the pearls being these priceless eggs, if you follow me -- were I to attempt a repartee in the same order of magnitude.' 'I did not fag all the way up here to be insulted about my wit, which, I may tell you, is more generally appreciated in the service than you may suppose,' said Jack, 'but to bemoan my lot; to sit upon the ground and bemoan my lot.' Stephen looked at him sharply: in themselves the words were cheerful, facetious, jocose, and they matched the apparent well-being of Jack's face; but there was something very slightly false about the note or time or emphasis." Stephen notes that throughout the Navy, he has observed obligatory facetiousness and long-established jokes as a protection against morosity and a way for men to avoid getting into serious disputes. "He did know know that Jack Aubrey was so much in tune with this tradition, that he so entirely shared the notion of there being something indecent in solemnity, that he could only with real difficulty bring himself to speak of matters outside the running of the ship without a smile -- he would go to his death with a pun half-formed, if he could think of nothing better." Jack's false facetiousness reminds Stephen of a cello suite he can't quite play correctly, when "a simple, artless air in the adagio took on a nightmare quality." He asks Jack what's amiss, Jack explains that they can't repair the rudder, then, "seeing Stephen's grave, concerned expression he said, 'It is a great relief to whine a little, rather than play the perpetual encouraging know-all, so I lay it on a trifle thick: don't take me too seriously, Stephen.'"