Plato was not a mystic

This is a pet peeve of mine so I hope you’ll forgive this rant. I found the following image in my G+ stream, and was digesting the quote and noticed it was attributed to Plato. I subscribe to the idea that quotations should be properly sourced, and there wasn’t any mention of what book this was from which of course spurred me on to investigate. It’s become common to attribute all kinds of new agey quotations to great historical figures on the internet, and while you might like the sentiment, Plato almost certainly would not have. I’m no fan of Plato myself, but while “Wordsworth Dictionary of Musical Quotations” attributes the quote to him, they curiously don’t provide a source. There are several folks who have taken the time to point out the problem with this quotation, this one describes the problem with it nicely.

…and I agree with the author here who says: “If you don’t do the work necessary to confirm the source, what you post is no better than chain mail and spam. And the gods know we have enough of that online already.”

music gives life

The charm of making

There was a time when my friends and I would chant this at the slightest provocation:

Anhaal nathrak Uth vos bethod Dothial tienvay!

I’ve come to find that this line was constructed from Old Irish:

In Old Irish:

Anál nathrach, orth’ bháis’s bethad, do chél dénmha

In Modern Irish:

Anáil nathrach, ortha bháis is beatha, do chéal déanaimh

In English:

Serpent’s breath, charm of death and life, thy omen of making.


The Parliament of Fowls

Chaucer wrote The Parliament of Fowls in 1382 to honor the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia (they were both 15 years old when they were married shortly thereafter), but it has become associated with the present day celebrated as Valentines Day over the centuries since it is the first time Valentines Day is found “packaged” in such a manner, and probably in error (evidence the mating of birds referred to in the poem doesn’t occur until spring). The saints day for a bishop of Genoa named Valentine is celebrated on May 2nd and this may be the saint’s day Chaucer was referring to in the poem. It makes so much more sense to associate love with the flowers and rebirth of May Day, doesn’t it?

The narrator seems confused by love and hits the books to try to understand the situation and ultimately fails. The poem is filled with historical allegory which is invisible to the modern reader who is unfamiliar with the court politics of the day, the major characters, and their motivations or relations to the King and his bride.

The following excerpt from eChaucer, a modern English translation online hosted by the University of Maine

And when this work was all brought to an end, Nature gave every bird his mate by just accord, and they went their way. Ah, Lord! The bliss and joy that they made! For each of them took the other in his wings, and wound their necks about each other, ever thanking the noble goddess of nature. But first were chosen birds to sing, as was always their custom year by year to sing a roundel at their departure, to honor Nature and give her pleasure. The tune, I believe, was made in France. The words were such as you may here find in these verses, as I remember them.

“Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter’s tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!

Saint Valentine, throned aloft,
Thus little birds sing for your sake:
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter’s tempest you will shake!

Good cause have they to glad them oft,
His own true-love each bird will take;
Blithe may they sing when they awake,
Welcome, summer, with sunshine soft,
The winter’s tempest you will break,
And drive away the long nights black!”


Some poetry: After the Battle

I’ve never been an avid reader of poetry, though I have read some and I’m even friends with some published poets. I see poetry as the very heart and soul of any good song. I like songs that tell a story, and while I find I really enjoy prose stories, the craft of condensing a tale into a few short verses (with meter and rhyming to boot!) is certainly one I can admire. I took a quick look into the work of some Irish poets on lunch today and very soon found an example of a poem I liked. This one is by Thomas Moore who lived from 1779-1852 and is probably better known for another poem of his – The Minstrel Boy. I’m also a big fan of instrumental music (no words), of course.

Night closed around the conqueror’s way,
And lightnings show’d the distant hill,
Where those who lost that dreadful day
Stood few and faint, but fearless still.
The soldier’s hope, the patriot’s zeal,
For ever dimm’d, for ever crost —
Oh! who shall say what heroes feel,
When all but life and honour’s lost?

The last sad hour of freedom’s dream,
And valour’s task, moved slowly by,
While mute they watch’d, till morning’s beam
Should rise and give them light to die.
There’s yet a world, where souls are free,
Where tyrants taint not nature’s bliss; —
If death that world’s bright opening be,
Oh! who would live a slave in this?

The Warlock

[dated November 20, 1985]

The Warlock wise in matters, Guild
and martial arts and weapons thrilled
For many years the brightest light
the strongest strength, the highest height
The man to which one turned in need
the General on the sable steed
This brother in our childhood dream
does stoutest, strongest, bravest seem.

Continue reading “The Warlock”