Monday, 22 November 2010

The Kingdom of Heaven is Like...

Spooky supernatural stories will have to wait. I have another poetic offering in the offing. Not my greatest work, I'll admit, but some of the lines are fair to decent. Feedback is most welcome.

While others might have found their place
By giving in and saving face,
And many are the kind that chose
To swim the way the current flows,
I far prefer to such a set
The ones not loath to make a bet
On odds unfair and prospects bleak
And risk the loss of what they seek,
Who disregard the passing fad
And do not miss the things they had
When sold was all their earthly wealth
In hopes of winning joy by stealth.
No sure thing is the hidden yield
Beneath some undistinguished field
Which randomly is bought and sold
Because it may hide buried gold.
And what of him whose only gain
Consists in fruit of oyster's pain
For which he'd give up all to take?
It may well be a clever fake!
Such ventures will not ever earn
The smile of an insurance firm,
Nor would economists approve
As valid a financial move
Which had such low chance of success,
Whose sure end would be sore distress
For anyone who chanced to take
Such low odds for so high a stake.
But sense and safety won't suffice
For dungeon-dwellers, 'mid their lice,
Who won't accept their grim surrounds
But second-guess the dubious grounds
On which their fellows built a case
For keeping to one's proper place.
A prison schedule keeps the mind
Alert and fit, but disinclined
To look beyond it's narrow walls.
But somewhere out there, something calls...
An unobtrusive, subtle sound,
A snatch of music echoing round,
A half-remembered melody
Like waked love or old company;
A siren song scores have declined
That grabs the heart and wakes the mind.
Though many happy minds remain
Encelled, with means to entertain
Themselves for endless hours on end,
A few, a very few, contend
That only by their breaking free
Will they save their humanity,
And maybe even come upon
A greater one than Solomon.
So contrary to all advice,
A small band reckons small the price
And, staking all on what they'll find,
They smile and, trembling, leave behind
The multitudes who found their place
By giving in and saving face.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

I Write Like...

I discovered (courtesy of Fr Ray Blake) this site, which purports to analyse your writing style and tell you to which famous writer your writing is most similar. Curious, I gave it a shot, and apparently...

I write like
H. P. Lovecraft

I Write Like by Mémoires, journal software. Analyze your writing!

I had put in the text from a lecture I gave a while ago on Galatians. 'Peculiar,' I thought, 'I wonder how reliable it is.' So I pasted in an old blog post. Same result. So there you go. Maybe I should leave off the poetry and try my hand at a spooky supernatural story sometime.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Strains of Beowulf

Given the title of this blog, it would be bizarre and perverse to refrain from providing a link to this very nice reading and step-by-step explanation of the opening lines of Beowulf (found in, of all places, the Telegraph!). So I won't.

The reader's pronunciation is slightly different from the way I was taught, but not by much. A delight to hear the ancient words articulated once more.

Monday, 15 November 2010

The Diverse Significances of the Humble Poppy

A clash of cultural symbols, by turns amusing and interesting, took place last week the day before Remembrance Day. The symbol was the poppy. For English speakers (and the French as well, I imagine), the poppy conjures up images of Flanders, the Somme and crosses row on row. For the Chinese, on the other hand, it conjures up the collective memory of the two Opium Wars and humiliation at the hands of foreign powers. Read about the aforementioned clash here.

In fact, I had a much smaller-scale version of the same clash the following day. A number of my students (the overwhelming majority of whom are Chinese) inquired after the flower I was wearing (I had been to a service earlier in the day). I explained to them its significance and, having done that, told them the name of it. Immediately, electronic dictionaries appeared and a flurry of typing ensued, whereupon a collective, almost simultaneous, gasp went round the classroom. Shock registered on a number of faces, followed by questions and remarks such as, "But...but...isn't it illegal?" "You must not have this flower. It is bad" and the like.

That such things can have such divergent associations in different cultures fascinates me, diplomatic incident or no. What intrigues me particularly in this case is the fact that, contrary to his advisers, David Cameron still wore the thing. Of course, cultural associations don't de facto trump each other, but it has become an almost reflexive habit of us Westerners over the past forty-or-so years to give automatic deference to other cultures before our own. Cameron's breaking of the mould is slightly refreshing and I can't help wondering if it's a precedent for something.