Nov 192010

Robert Browning


TRUTH is within ourselves; it takes no rise
From outward things, whate’er you may believe.
There is an inmost centre in us all,
Where truth abides in fullness; and around,
Wall upon wall, the gross flesh hems it in,
This perfect, clear perception—which is truth.
A baffling and perverting carnal mesh
Binds it, and makes all error: and, to KNOW,
Rather consists in opening out a way
Whence the imprisoned splendour may escape,
Than in effecting entry for a light
Supposed to be without.


I knew, I felt, (perception unexpressed,
Uncomprehended by our narrow thought,
But somehow felt and known in every shift
And change in the spirit,—nay, in every pore
Of the body, even,)—what God is, what we are
What life is—how God tastes an infinite joy
In infinite ways—one everlasting bliss,
From whom all being emanates, all power
Proceeds; in whom is life for evermore,
Yet whom existence in its lowest form
Includes; where dwells enjoyment there is he:
With still a flying point of bliss remote,
A happiness in store afar, a sphere
Of distant glory in full view; thus climbs
Pleasure its heights for ever and for ever.
The centre-fire heaves underneath the earth,
And the earth changes like a human face;
The molten ore bursts up among the rocks,
Winds into the stone’s heart, outbranches bright
In hidden mines, spots barren river-beds,
Crumbles into fine sand where sunbeams bask—
God joys therein! The wroth sea’s waves are edged
With foam, white as the bitten lip of hate,
When, in the solitary waste, strange groups
Of young volcanos come up, cyclops-like,
Staring together with their eyes on flame—
God tastes a pleasure in their uncouth pride.
Then all is still; earth is a wintry clod:
But spring-wind, like a dancing psaltress, passes
Over its breast to waken it, rare verdure
Buds tenderly upon rough banks, between
The withered tree-roots and the cracks of frost,
Like a smile striving with a wrinkled face;
The grass grows bright, the boughs are swoln with blooms
Like chrysalids impatient for the air,
The shining dorrs are busy, beetles run
Along the furrows, ants make their ade;
Above, birds fly in merry flocks, the lark
Soars up and up, shivering for very joy;
Afar the ocean sleeps; white fishing-gulls
Flit where the strand is purple with its tribe
Of nested limpets; savage creatures seek
Their loves in wood and plain—and God renews
His ancient rapture. Thus He dwells in all,
From life’s minute beginnings, up at last
To man—the consummation of this scheme
Of being, the completion of this sphere
Of life: whose attributes had here and there
Been scattered o’er the visible world before,
Asking to be combined, dim fragments meant
To be united in some wondrous whole,
Imperfect qualities throughout creation,
Suggesting some one creature yet to make,
Some point where all those scattered rays should meet
Convergent in the faculties of man.

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Nov 192010

The beaver is a four-footed animal who lives in pools. A beaver’s genitals serve, it is said, to cure certain ailments. So when the beaver is spotted and pursued to be mutilated – since he knows why he is being hunted – he will run for a certain distance, and he will use the speed of his feet to remain intact. But when he sees himself about to be caught, he will bite off his own parts, throw them, and thus save his own life.

Among men also, those are wise who, if attacked for their money, will sacrifice it rather than lose their lives.

NOTE: It was believed in antiquity that the valued secretion castorea was obtained from the beaver’s scrotum, hence ‘biting off his own parts’ in the fable. We now know that the secretion is found in two separate sacs and not actually in the scrotum. The name of the beaver in Greek is castor , the same as the twin-god, and also the same as one name given to the crocus, source of saffron. There is little doubt that a complex of mythological meanings is involved here. A cognate word is found in Sanskrit, kasturi( kā ) orkastūri( kā ), meaning both ‘musk deer’ and ‘musk’, and thus referring to the secretions of the musk deer rather than the beaver. Since these word forms are isolated in both Greek and Sanskrit, they are probably loan-words originating from a very early trade in aromatic animal secretions supplied by Indo-European tribes to the Middle East. The etymology of the words is probably from the Egyptian qas , orqes. That word means ‘efflux’ and, because it also means ‘vomit’, the Egyptians probably applied the same word to ambergris, which is whale vomit, and the substances castorea and musk. The word also means ‘to prepare a mummy for burial’, so we suspect that the uses of these substances were for mummification. The same Egyptian word means ‘fetters that bind’ (i.e. also mummy-wrappings), and the Greek god Castor was reputed to be the inventor of manacles, thus probably carrying over an Egyptian pun at an early date. An apparent cognate with the Egyptian is found in Akkadian, where kasitu means ‘being bound or fettered’, from kasu , ‘to bind’. Curiously, the Akkadian kāsistu, with the long initial vowel, refers to a rodent, from kasasu, ‘to gnaw’ or ‘gnaw through’, which is, of course, so characteristic of the beaver. Aristotle, our chief Greek zoological authority, was uneasy about the word castōr as applied to the beaver. He actually speaks of the ‘so-called castōrkaloumenos castōr ) in the History of Animals, and proceeds to call the beaver by the name which he clearly regarded as its true name, latax, and which he describes as cutting down the riverside aspens or poplars with its teeth. Aristotle seems to have suspected that castōr was a synonym for the beaver arising from some unusual source, which we can see was probably by association from the name for its aromatic secretion being applied to the animal itself

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Nov 192010

Golden turmeric spice is related to ginger

Turmeric is often confused with and substituted for saffron , because not only does it have a very strong flavor, it also turns foods a golden yellow color. Turmeric is frequently misspelled as tumeric, omitting the first letter r. Learn about this pungent spice and how to use it in a variety of turmeric recipes .

About turmeric

Turmeric is botanically known as Curcuma longa, derived from the old Arabic name for the kurkum plant we know better as saffron. Yet this spice is a member of the ginger family and unrelated to saffron. Like ginger, it is the root of the turmeric plant that is used as a spice, usually in a dried form.

However, in some areas of the Far East, the fresh turmeric root is used and stored much like ginger. You might be able to find fresh turmeric in specialty Asian markets in the US.

The root is generally peeled to expose its bright yellow flesh, then boiled, dried, and ground into a powder. Turmeric gives ball-park yellow mustard its bright color, is a prime ingredient in Worcestershire sauce , and is also used to color other foods such as butter, cheese, and fruit drinks. It is a favorite in Middle East and Asian foods and spice blends such as curry.

Substituting turmeric for saffron

The flavor of turmeric is often described as buttery and slightly bitter, with a hint of mustard and horseradish. Fresh turmeric is more like ginger, but sweeter and more aromatic.

Turmeric is often suggested as a substitute for the much more expensive saffron (although not by professional chefs) and annatto, because it produces that beautiful golden color. Indeed, turmeric is often added to ground saffron by some unscrupulous manufacturers to increase the profit margin. When substituting turmeric for saffron, be aware that turmeric is much more pungent and should be used sparingly.

Turmeric selection and storage

Whole or ground dried turmeric is readily available in the spice section of most grocery stores. The most widely used form is ground turmeric. Since it is highly susceptible to light, it is usually packed in airtight tins. Store the tin in a cool, dark place. Turmeric will begin to lose its potency after about six months, even sooner if exposed to light and/or heat.

Turmeric cooking tips and usage

  • Turmeric is also known as Indian saffron.
  • Turmeric is an important ingredient in curry mixes, chutney , and mustard pickles. It also goes well with chicken, duck, turkey, vegetables, rice, and salad dressing.
  • Turmeric is extremely pungent, and actually gets stronger when cooked. A little goes a long way, so use it sparingly when experimenting.
  • Avoid touching your clothing when working with turmeric. It is a powerful yellow dye.
  • Although a pinch of turmeric may be used as a substitute for saffron to achieve that golden yellow color, the flavor does not compare in the least.
  • Substitute 1 teaspoon dry mustard for 1 teaspoon of turmeric.
  • The color of turmeric can vary widely from deep yellow-orange to bright yellow. This is simply due to different varieties.
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Nov 192010

Notes on Marina Warner Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds.
Review: James Lasdun, “Hatching, Splitting, Doubling.” LRB 2003.08.21.

The main idea in Warner’s work is “that myth evolves in the context of actual human history, and can only be properly understood in relation to that history.”

“An archetype is a hollow thing, but a dangerous one, a figure or image which through usage has been uncoupled from the circumstances which brought it into being, and goes on spreading false consciousness.” [from From the Beast to the Blonde]

“Bettleheim’s uncoupling of the tales from history causes them to diffuse false consciousness – it plays into received ideas about female behaviour, makes hating a parent seem a healthy idea, and encourages the continued absence of good mothers from popular narrative.”

[Lasdun] “Far from being reductive or merely debunking, this recovery of ‘circumstance’ has an invigorating effect on the myths Warner examines. It may be that historical time is richer in the contradiction and instability that keep myths vital than the unchanging Dreamtime or Time of Origins (‘illo tempore’) designated as the true locus of myth by Mircea Eliade.”

“I set out to find out about the types and processes of metamorphosis that were described in the tradition and to read them in order to throw light on changing ideas about persons and personhood.”

Each chapter takes a different aspect of metamorphosis – mutating, hatching, splitting, doubling – and uses it to guide an inquiry into the relationship between a particular set of what Warner calls ‘congeners’ – ‘materials through which one culture interacts with and responds to another’ – and a particular set of imaginative enterprises.

NOTE to self: Jesuit Relations are congeners and it would be interesting to apply Warners method to these texts. Look for the Taino Indian beliefs report mentioned in Warner by Ramon Pare for Christopher Columbus. It was translated into English by Richard Eden.

Warner situates the response to the Taino beliefs in relation to Ovid and Dante who form a polarity, with Ovid representing metamorphosis free of any fixed moral status, and Dante its Christianized form, where it is assigned firmly to the diabolic processes.

Warner’s agenda is to challenge “notions of unique, individual integrity of identity in the Judaeo-Christian tradition” with a more dynamic scheme of identity based on Ovidian metamorphoses.

[Lasdun] “Ovid’s chain reactions of transformation emit a liberating energy like nothing else in literature. Occurring always at some limit of human capacity or tolerance, they have something of death in them, something of birth, something of sex, but something else, too: a mysterious reverse flow, whereby the things people turn into – tree, rock, flower, fountain, bird, beast – miraculously release their own potentialities back into the human universe of the poem. It was Pound who suggested the Old Testament be replaced by Ovid (“Say that I consider the writings of Confucious and Ovid’s Metamorphoses the only safe guides in religion.”)

[Warner] “To the Etruscan all was alive; the whole universe lived; and the business of man was to live amid it all. He had to draw life into himself, out of the wandering huge vitalities of the world.”

Warner makes abundantly clear “the attraction of this heterodoxy, with its guiltless, fecund embrace of the principle of discontinuity.”

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Nov 192010


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Match’d with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoy’d
Greatly, have suffer’d greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Thro’ scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honour’d of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethro’
Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnish’d, not to shine in use!
As tho’ to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the sceptre and the isle-
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfil
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and thro’ soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centred in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toil’d, and wrought, and thought with me-
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads- you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.

Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

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