“Loving the rituals that keep men close, Nature created means for friends apart:

pen, paper, ink, the alphabet; signs for the distant and disconsolate heart.”

IN AN AGE of blogging, texting and tweeting, that quote from Palladus (4th C – don’t ask what else I know about him) translated by Tony Harrison seems an especially ironic introduction to a collection of writing – poetry and prose – which I’ve gathered over the years and am now posting from time to time on my site. Some of it dates back to a little book of jottings that I began when I was 16 and found this week while re-organising the desk. Others, I’m still gathering.

THE ART OF LOSING by Elizabeth Bishop (1911-79)

“The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practise losing farther, losing faster; places and names, and where it was you meant to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last or next-to-last, of three loved houses went. The art of losing isn’t hard to master

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster, some realms I owned; two rivers, a continent. I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love) I shan’t have lied: it’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look (write it!) like disaster.”

from A SHROPSHIRE LAD by A E Housman

“Into my heart an air that kills

From yon far country blows;

What are those blue remembered hills?

What spires, what farms are those?

That is the land of lost content,

I see it shining plain,

The happy highways where I went

And cannot come again.”

from CITY OF GOLD by Len Deighton

“Many years ago there lived a scholar who asked an old rabbi what could be learned from the Talmud. The rabbi told him of two men who fell down a chimney. One man arrived at the bottom dirty, while the other arrived clean. Is that the lesson of the Talmud? the scholar asked. No, replied the old rabbi; listen to me – the dirty man looked at the clean man and thought himself clean.

Is that the lesson of the Talmud? asked the scholar. No, replied the rabbi, for the dirtied man looked at his own hands and seeing them sooty knew he’d been dirtied. This, then, is the lesson of the Talmud? said the scholar. No, said the rabbi.

Then what am I to learn from the Talmud? asked the scholar. The rabbi told him: You will learn nothing from the Talmud if you start by believing that two men can fall down a chimney and not both be dirtied.”


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