Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Is Every Lyric Poem a Poem about (Making) Poetry?


There is at least one great poem that could be construed to be about the inability to write poetry, Hopkins' Thou art indeed just Lord, but there is no meta problem, That is like saying that Othello is very odd, ie he can speak great poetry in iambics. The convention is that we are overhearing a speaker who did not write (or speak) the poem we are reading.

I think your point about the poet sort of making do is a good one. One should ask, which is the interpretation that makes the poem best without straining credulity to do so. Interpretation sans a sense of how good-making the interpretation is doesn't matter aesthetically and since the point is to write a good poem, not just some words that can be construed one way or another. So one would have to go over each reading to decide what it did to the poem's value. And that is more work than I am willing to do these days.


Thanks for your comments Roger and I'll have a re-look at Hopkins's poem.

But as a matter of sheer logic, if I have this right, every poem--I'm not so sure about other genres and maybe save for really long poems like epics and so on-- I'd contend is at least implicitly, but integrally, about writing poetry. For what is a poem after all but the progression of concsiousness to some resolved wholeness over the course of the poem by its means: highly charged language in compact form marked by rhythms and meter and so on and the technical meaningfulness of each poetic line. The idea making of poetry is indistinguishable, I'd argue, from the poetic/mental journey from the poem's begining to its ending. That's why I think a poem about the inability to write poetry is a meta conundrum,--at a minimum a paradox and possibly a contradiction.



I think I hold the opposite view, ie no poem can be about poetry. Most lyric poems (non-occasional ones) are fictions and so are not about (referentially), but portray someone saying something (saying being the action imitated if one wants to go back to Aristotle's brilliant insight).

A poem can portray a poet musing about poetry (Ode on a Grecian Urn) and we have to know the content of those musings and we may want to take those musings seriously, but we need not. I think the speaker in Keats's poem wants us to take seriously that beauty is truth and truth beauty, and the poem portrays (beautifully) someone having complex thoughts that lead to that conclusion, which he wants us to think is implicit in the urn's very existence.

I think the thought is dead wrong, but the poem is deeply moving because I am moved by the eloquence of the speaker. That someone should be so moved by beauty as to believe it is truth is itself very moving when said so eloquently, but I do not take it seriously as an idea about poetry. MacLeish's "Poetry" offers a sort of truth about poetry, i.e., it does not speak but is an object for contemplation, but the speaker is much less eloquent than Keats's. But very few poems are even "about" poetry in that way.

Poems may however lead us to wonder about what makes them work or not, just like arguments, but all arguments are not therefore about arguments.


Roger, you make an excellent and clear point that I in my obtuseness overlooked, conflating as I did the poem as necessarily the expression of the poet about himself and the poem as detached art and not necessarily the expression by the poet about himself. So you are right, and I am sheepish: the poem’s voice is not necessarily the poet’s voice and the poem is about what the voice, artistically external to the poet, is saying. That is elementary, I think.

So a poem in these terms could be about, be the portrayal, your noun, of a poet lamenting his poetic impotence, his muse’s failure or whatever. But I’d want to suggest, with your needed qualification in place, that the conundrum I tried to make out still has some legs. Because even granting that qualification we have a poetic voice, where this is the theme, in great poetry talking about his—the depersonalized voice's—artistic impotence. I’m, as I say, going to have a look at Hopkins’s poem, when I have a better moment, and see what brief few things I might be able to say about it given how we have joined the issue.

But aren't your point, my concession to you and my stab at holding to a version of what I first said something different from whether any “…poem can be about poetry”? I tried to give a reason for why I think it is always. What I’m not putting together, right now at any rate, is the nexus between poetry, particularly lyric poetry, as fictions or the portrayal of someone saying something about something and whether, and why or why not, lyric poems are always about making poems.

Can you help me further with this?


My only thought is this: poetry, like the other arts, involves people in the materials themselves the way that other communicative acts don't. Philosophers don't care about the words (so they say) but the conceptual content. (There is some argument about this but it does not involve the material but the expressive aspect of the writing) In arts like painting, the materials have even been thought to be the central concern, the subject matter.

So abstract painting can (sort of) be said to be about itself, i.e., what is the artist doing with his materials? Sometimes this is called the formal dimension of art, and it first got people's attention in music, when that became separated from words and extrinsic (not formal) purposes. This has never worked with words for the obvious reason that words are not just material the way that paint and notes are.

But all poetry has a formal dimension and insofar as the poet is concerned with that one can say that the poem is "about" (the poet is concerned with) the art itself. In some poetic traditions the main concern is the intricate rhythms (sounds, etc.) and Greek poets were known by the feet they used (though sometimes those were associated with content, eg satire).

I would not say that the poems were about these things, but that the poet was centrally concerned with the object itself and not what it said (implied) about the world or what it expressed. This is all based on the once very standard idea that representational art has three dimensions, the thing represented (portrayed), the attitude taken (expressed) toward that, and the formal arrangement (usually divided into sensuous and structural). Aristotle more or less figured this all out, though he did not like the expressive dimension.

The power of the formal idea is that once we admit that abstract music and art are really art, then it looks like the main shared attribute among the arts is the formal, and thus its essence. Some people even refused prose fiction as an art precisely because it lacked this formal dimension (Mill among them).

The loss of just about all formal interest in much modern poetry, however, meant that it looked less and less like an art, and so one had either to say it was not art or to redefine art, or just to give up the idea that there was such a thing. That seems to be what has happened.


Your “only thought” is quite a thought.

To try to maintain my point—about lyric poetry being always in part, but integrally in part, about poetry—and to try to engage the argument of your “only thought” as I understand it, I’d say the following.

You draw a distinction between the more physical materials of painting and music and the material of poetry—words. And with painting you focus more on abstract painting over representational art. You say: “In arts like painting, the materials have even been thought to be the central concern, the subject matter. So abstract painting can (sort of) be said to be about itself, i.e., what is the artist doing with his materials?" The closest you come to seeing poetry being about poetry is noting some poetic traditions which stress certain intricate rhythms and sounds and uses of meter and so on which then gets you to some similarity to the physicality of the painter’s materials and the sounds of notes. (I guess concrete poetry is an example of that too.)

But while it may be easier say that in abstract art the focus is on form itself because form is the content, still in representational art how can the painting be any less about light, and shadings of colour, and perspective, and structural relationships in the architecture of the painting, even the quality of the brush strokes and so on than it is about what is being represented? And so in poetry too, poems may more or less concentrate on aurality and other formal aspects as such, but—and this is my central point—form and content are one. Northrop Frye formulated that oneness as “form as meaning, holding the poem together in a simultaneous structure.”

A poem is not, I’d want to say, just about how London looks in the early morning hours; it’s about the formal--poetic if you like--means of enabling its theme. It’s about how form is indistinguishable from meaning.

Also, I tend to think that every lyric poem is a kind of narrative quest. We don’t know where the evolving consciousness of the poem will go as we read it from beginning to end, but that evolving consciousness is embedded, constituted by, a certain form, which projects it forward.

To engage such an evolving consciousness is to follow its aspiration to a certain unity or coherence. I think of that unity as a kind of world, a universe of integrated meaning. And in the way Frye talked about “form as meaning”…the poem is about the formal processes making that world possible, constituting it.

So I can’t see how every poem is not in part, but an integral part, about it being a poem,about its own "poem-ness", about how a poem comes into the wholeness of its own meaning.


If being "about" means form supports or enables content, then poems are about poems. That just seems like an odd use of "about" to me. However, I have always been weak at that. My wife does that with poems all the time when she teaches, and it seems to work well. I never even mention it. What I do is pursue the nuances of content without ever mentioning form. So the poem becomes rich by virtue of richness of implication. Thus, if a word comes at the end of a line it might be emphasized more and that will effect what one thinks is represented. Putting the word there is a formal choice, but what the choice led to was some implication for the state of mind of the speaker. But I never say, "note how clever the poet was in putting the word there and thus making us emphasize it more," I just say (or ask) what the implication of doing so is. It is the speaker's state of mind and the attitude we are to take to it that is the content.

By the way, my guide in these matters, Francis Sparshott, has a chapter in his great book on criticism on the word "about" in literary criticism. The Concept of Criticism is the title.

One other thing we clearly agree on, that many good lyric poems are about (portray in my word) the evolving, or at least changing, consciousness, and following that is the fun for the reader. We watch or experience a person as he encounters and responds to something or other.


I'd push that point further Roger and say every poem and every piece of literature are comprised by the evolution, perhaps the flowering, of a certain consciousness from beginning to end, some, most, egregiously weak and bad, some, the most brilliantly complex works in world literature.

Analytically, and given the medium of literature, language and its necessary connection to thought, I don't see how it could be otherwise. It is expressed in Frye's dictum which I cited, or in this by Wellek and Warren--I'm just digging out things that seemed meaningful to me about 40 years ago that I have a note of:

"The fourth and last stratum, that of the 'metaphysical qualities', we have closely related to the 'world' as equivalent to the 'attitude towards life' or tone implicit in the world."

They go on to speak of form as naming "the aesthetic structure of a literary work--that which makes it literature..that which aesthetically organizes its matter".

They say further, "The novelist offers a as overlapping the empirical world but distinct in its self-coherent intelligibility."

I have always thought these ideas express the conceptual foundation of the New Criticism, which I understand derived from Russian formalism, but that--Russian Formalism--is something I know next to nothing about.

But I think these notions are right and stand antithetically to what I understand of post modernism as literary criticism or deconstruction.


What you emphasize I would call the expressive dimension of lit, which is especially strong in lyric poems, but also present when characters speak and in the author's voice or implied attitudes to what is depicted. But the plot of a story is something else, it has a logic, connections, and we care about it. Plots can be of actions, but also about a character's changed attitudes (a modern thing especially), but they have a logic and pattern that aren't included, it seems to me, in what you say below, unless, for example, Hamlet's unfolding consciousness (and the actions it is joined to) (and not just Shakespeare's, which are mainly to look with sympathy--mostly--upon the characters, who do the main development). If Hamlet's consciousness and not the author's counts as what evolves then we seem to agree.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bombing Iran: An Analysis

The Bomb Squad

The only thing worse than a U.S. attack on Iran would be an Israeli one.

Michael Crowley

April 21, 2010 | 6:55 pm

Imagine for a moment that it is late 2010, perhaps a few weeks after the midterm elections. Barack Obama has scheduled a surprise prime-time televised statement from the Oval Office. Looking grave, even shaken, behind the presidential desk, Obama fixes his gaze into the camera and speaks:

When I said that it would be unacceptable for Iran to produce a nuclear weapon, I meant it. Over the past several months, it has become clear that neither engagement nor isolation and sanctions have slowed Iran’s determination to build a bomb. And recent, solid intelligence has confirmed that Iran may now be much closer to nuclear weapons capability than anyone believed possible. So tonight, I have authorized air strikes against several facilities integral to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. This is a decision I make with a heavy heart and a clear-eyed understanding of the risks involved.

It’s not an easy scenario to envision. Senior military officials are said to have warned Obama about the risks of military action against Iran, and last week, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Michael Mullen warned of the likely “destabilizing consequences” of an attack on Iran. The Brookings Institution’s Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Reidel recently wrote that it’s “simply not credible that we would use force [against Iran] in the foreseeable future.” But in Washington of late, it’s been possible to detect a slight uptick in talk of the last resort.

At an April 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Iran, the committee’s normally dovish chairman, Carl Levin, pressed the Pentagon’s under secretary for policy, Michele Flournoy, to assure him that the military option remains, as they say, “on the table.”

She assured him that it does. At the same hearing, Joe Lieberman warned that “if sanctions do not work then we have to be prepared to use military force to stop the unacceptable from happening.” Sure, Lieberman’s a notorious hawk. But less-noted than Mullen’s warning about the effects of attacking Iran was his simultaneous argument that “Iran getting a nuclear weapon would [also] be incredibly destabilizing.” And sure enough, CNN recently reported that Mullen has told the military to update contingency plans for such an attack.

If there is a renewed conversation in Washington about a possible military strike on Iran, it may be fueled by a leaked secret memo by Defense Secretary Robert Gates to the White House, which warned that the Obama team lacks clear plans for preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power if sanctions don’t work, and for dealing with Iran if it does achieve a “breakout” capability just short of building an actual bomb.

Only the most zealous of hawks openly advocate bombing Iran right now, before sanctions and sabotage have had ample time to work. That said, virtually no one welcomes seeing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his master, Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, with the power to make a mushroom cloud. Perhaps as a result of this cognitive dissonance, there is a sentiment sometimes expressed that we might not need to consider bombing Iran—because, should diplomacy and sanctions fail, Israel will do the job for us.

The Israelis bombed Saddam Hussein’s nuclear program at Osirak in 1981, after all, and also flattened a nascent Syrian nuclear project in late 2007. Maybe they can do it again—and in a way that allows Obama to claim that America played no role. (That’s exactly what some people thought Joe Biden was hinting at last summer when the vice president answered a question about an Israeli attack by saying that the United States “cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do.”) As the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib reported last week, citing “informed sources,” the United States has been pressuring China to support sanctions with the following appeal: "Look, you'd better cooperate on sanctions, because if we don't do something, Netanyahu is just crazy enough to attack Iran."

Unfortunately, such an outcome would be the worst of all worlds. Obviously, a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear march would be vastly preferable to a military one. And even if, as seems likely, tough international sanctions are either unattainable or fail to change Iran’s course, it may well be that air strikes aren’t worth the potentially terrible consequences. Yet if someone is going to bomb Iran, it shouldn’t be Israel. It should be America.

The main reason is simple: America is in a far better position to cripple Iran’s nuclear program. Consider the analysis of a possible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities published last year by Abdullah Toukan and Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The authors imagined a scenario where Israeli jets flew through southern Turkish airspace and then cut across Iraq’s northern tip to strike several facilities within Iran. Toukan and Cordesman were not optimistic about the results. “[I]t would be complex and high risk in the operational level and would lack any assurances of a high mission success rate,” they concluded. Israel would face an array of problems, they argue, from the limited range of its aircraft—requiring multiple refuelings—to the limited ability of its warheads to penetrate Iran’s deeply buried nuclear facilities.

By contrast, last month Toukan and Cordesman released a similar report, this one examining a possible American attack on Iran. Their assessment was far more bullish. Such an attack would involve U.S. B-2 stealth bombers based in Diego Garcia. The B-2 has exponentially longer range than Israel’s F-15 and F-16 fighter-bombers. Conveniently, last summer the B-2 completed an upgrade allowing it to carry the GPS-guided 5,300-pound Massive Ordinance Penetrator bomb. And the bomber’s stealth nature will make it far less vulnerable to Iran’s air-defense system than the Israeli Air Force’s traditional jets. As Cordesman and Toukan conclude, the U.S. is “the only country that can launch a successful Military Solution."

Chuck Wald, a retired four-star U.S. Air Force General who worked on a Bipartisan Policy Center task force on Iran, argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last summer that the U.S. military option is “a technically feasible and credible option.” Perhaps most significantly, even Joint Chiefs Chairman Mullen, who has often warned of the possible grave consequences of hitting Iran, conceded last weekend that a U.S. attack would “go a long way” toward setting back (though not eliminating) Iran’s nuclear program.

Let’s pause here to reiterate the obvious fact that a U.S. attack on Iran might well be an epic disaster. Iran could incite its Shiite allies in Iraq to sow violence and chaos even as tens of thousands of American troops remain in the country. Tehran could also step up support for the Afghan Taliban; in a nightmare scenario, Iran might supply the Taliban with surface-to-air Stinger missiles, the weapon that drove out the Soviets. “The regional security consequences,” Cordesman and Toukan concluded in their latest report, “would be catastrophic.” What’s more, while some Arab regimes might quietly celebrate a blow against their Persian rival, it’s not clear how many ordinary Muslims will see things that way. And any attack might shore up Ahmadinejad’s grip on power, in a rally-round-the-flag effect. The potential effects on the oil market and a recovering world economy are hard to predict.

Awful as the effects of a military strike by the U.S. may be, however, there’s plenty of reason to think the fallout from an Israeli attack would be just as treacherous for America. The U.S. can always deny a role in or even knowledge of a strike by Israel. But Iran’s leaders are almost sure to assume the nefarious American-Zionist machine at work anyway. Moreover, the Council on Foreign Relations’s Steven Simon wrote in November, “[R]egardless of perceptions of U.S. complicity in the attack, the United States would probably become embroiled militarily in any Iranian retaliation against Israel or other countries in the region.”

Unintended consequences might also drag America into a fight that someone else started. Consider an Iran war game conducted in December by the Brookings Institution which imagined a unilateral Israeli attack on Iran. Things got nasty fast. Iran unleashed a slew of attacks against Israel, including launching ballistic missiles at Israel’s air bases and its Dimona nuclear facility. Hezbollah and Hamas began new rocket campaigns, drawing Israel back into Lebanon. And Iran began a campaign of international terrorism in Europe designed to undermine Western support for Israel.

The game’s American team hoped to stay on the sidelines. But because Iran understood this, Tehran overreached, launching attacks on oil facilities in Saudi Arabia, whom Iran’s leaders perceived as having supported the strike. (The game’s Israeli jets had crossed Saudi airspace.) When Iran began to mine the Strait of Hormuz, a key choke point for the global oil trade, it crossed a U.S. “red line.” The game ended with the United States “massively” reinforcing its forces in the region and the prospect of a substantial conventional war between the United States and Iran.

That may be a nearly worst-case scenario, and it is possible that the United States could avoid clashing with Iran in the wake of an Israeli strike. (Tehran might tread more carefully than imagined in this war game, understanding that a fight with Israel alone would bring more international support and less military risk.) At a minimum, however, since we can’t just walk away from the Middle East—our stake in Iraq’s future, alliance with Israel, and dependence on Gulf oil, among other things, simply won’t allow us —any new problems there will be our problems as well.

None of this means that America should attack Iran. After all, virtually no one thinks that even an American strike can end Tehran’s nuclear program. (Among other things, as Cordesman concedes, we may not have good enough intelligence to know where still-hidden facilities may lie.)

Instead we could set back the Iranians and buy a few years’ time—time in which a more moderate government might assume power, or in which the West might convince Iran and other watchful nuclear aspirants that the benefits of going nuclear are outweighed by the diplomatic (and military) punishment it entails. That would be a massive gamble, however. And everyone knows how America’s last big gamble in the region turned out.

But if Barack Obama really believes that an Iranian bomb is unacceptable, and that only the use of force can prevent it, then he needs to face the grim truth that this is a burden for America to shoulder—and resist the temptation to let someone else handle the grim job for us.

Michael Crowley is a senior editor of The New Republic.

On Jerusalem

On Israel, Obama Playing the Mideast Game Wrong

By Mortimer B. Zuckerman

Posted April 23, 2010

The Middle East peace process is stalled thanks to a second deadlock engineered by the United States government. President Obama began the process with his call for a settlement freeze in 2009 and escalates it now with a major change of American policy on Jerusalem.

The president seeks to prohibit Israel from any construction in its capital—in an exclusively Jewish suburb of East Jerusalem. This, despite the fact that all former administrations had unequivocally understood that the area in question would remain part of Israel in any final peace agreement.

Objecting to this early phase of the planning process for housing in East Jerusalem is tantamount to getting the Israelis to agree to the division of Jerusalem in any settlement—even before the start of final status talks with the Palestinians. In 1995, it was by a substantial bipartisan majority that Congress adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act calling for the movement of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem—and equally importantly, stating that Jerusalem must remain united under Israeli sovereignty.

But Obama has undermined the confidence of the Israelis in the United States from the start of his presidency. He uses the same term, "settlements," ambiguously for both massive neighborhoods that are the homes to tens of thousands of Jews and for illegal outposts, raising the question for the Israelis about whether the U.S. administration really understands the issue. The Palestinian Authority followed the president's lead and refused to proceed with planned proximity talks until Israel stops all settlement activities, including in East Jerusalem.

The president's attitude toward Jerusalem betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the history of the city. After Israel was recognized as a new state in 1948, it was immediately attacked by the combined armies of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq. The attacks were repelled, but the Jordanians, who were asked not to join the Egyptian war effort, conquered East Jerusalem and separated it from its western half. In 1967, the Arab armies again sought to destroy Israel, but it prevailed in the famous Six-Day War and reconquered East Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Sinai Peninsula, and the Gaza Strip.

East Jerusalem, a growing community, was expanded on rock-strewn land that had been in the public domain for the last 43 years. But Palestinian leaders lay claim to East Jerusalem, including the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall, the holiest sites in Judaism, and which the Arabs had failed to protect while in their control. When he gave his speech in Cairo, Obama looked to when "Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims." Did he not realize it is only under Israeli rule since 1967 that all adherents of all religions represented in Jerusalem have been able to worship freely and access their religious sites?

Under Jordanian rule, from 1948 to 1967, dozens of synagogues were destroyed or vandalized, and the ancient Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives was desecrated, its tombstones used for the construction of roads and Jordanian army latrines. The rights of Christians as well as Jews were abused, with some churches converted into mosques. In other cases, mosques were built next to churches and synagogues just so their minarets could rise above them.

When Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War of 1967, it kept building for its residents. So did the Palestinian Arabs who continue to build in Jerusalem (incidentally, there is more new Arab housing being built than Jewish housing), but they did it without any criticism from the Obama administration.

But Israel's claim for sovereignty over the whole, undivided city of Jerusalem does not spring from conquest in 1948 or 1967. Rather it signifies the revival of historic rights and claims that predate the arrival of any Arabs to the region, and stems from biblical times.

Jerusalem is not just another piece of territory on a political chessboard. It is integral to the identity and faith of Israel. The city was founded by King David some 3,500 years ago. Since then, Jews have lived there, worked there, and prayed there. It has been more than a political capital; it has been their spiritual beacon. During the First and Second Temple periods, Jews from across the Kingdom would travel to Jerusalem three times a year for the Jewish holy days of Sukkot, Passover, and Shavuot, until the Roman Empire destroyed the Second Temple in 70 A.D.

That ended Jewish sovereignty over Jerusalem for the next 2,000 years. But the Jews never relinquished their bond. Jews in prayer always turned toward Jerusalem. The Arks, the sacred chests that hold the Torah's scrolls in synagogues throughout the world, face Jerusalem. Each year, the Jews in Passover say, "Next year, in Jerusalem." These same words are pronounced at the end of Yom Kippur. Jewish wedding ceremonies are marked by sorrow over the loss of Jerusalem. The groom cites a biblical verse, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning."

Jerusalem is much less embedded in the Muslim culture. When Muslims pray, they face Mecca, not Jerusalem. The Old Testament mentions Jerusalem, or its alternative name Zion, a total of 457 times. The Koran does not mention Jerusalem once. Muhammad, who founded Islam in 622 A.D., was born and raised in what is now Saudi Arabia; he never set foot in Jerusalem.

The religious connection to the city took root decades after his death—and after the Muslim conquest of the then largely Christian city—when the Dome of the Rock shrine and the Al Aqsa Mosque were built in 688 A.D. and 691 A.D. to proclaim Islam's supremacy over Christianity and its most important shrine, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Al Aqsa means "the farthest Mosque" in Arabic, the same phrase used in a key passage of the Koran called the "Night Journey," where Muhammad arrives at Al Aqsa on a winged steed, accompanied by the Archangel Gabriel. His ascent to heaven is what ties Jerusalem to divine revelation in Islamic belief. After the divine meeting with Allah, however, Muhammad returns to Mecca.

It is of note, too, that Muhammad died in 632 A.D., nearly 50 years before the first construction of the Al Aqsa Mosque was completed. This is why Jerusalem never replaced the importance of Mecca in the world of Islam. Indeed, in the 1,300 years that various Islamic dynasties ruled Jerusalem, not one Islamic dynasty ever made the city its capital.

Jerusalem's importance appears when non-Muslims, including the Crusaders, the British, and the Jews controlled or captured the city—and only then did Islamic leaders claim Jerusalem as their third most holy city after Mecca and Medina. However, the national covenant of the Palestine Liberation Organization, written in 1964, never mentions Jerusalem. It was added only after Israel regained control of the city in 1967.

Jerusalem has never been the capital of any political entity, except that of the Jewish State. Jews have been the majority in Jerusalem for the past 150 years. At the time of Israeli statehood in 1948, 100,000 Jews lived in the city, compared to 65,000 Arabs. Before 1865, the entire population lived behind the Old City walls that are today the eastern part of the city. When the city began to expand beyond the walls because of population growth, both Jews and Arabs began to build in these new areas.

Jerusalem lies at the heart of the Jewish nation. The Israelis have no intention of ever again being prevented from living throughout the city as they were between 1948 and 1967 when, under Jordanian control, Jewish communities were ruthlessly and violently driven out of areas where they had lived for centuries. Israel has a very different perspective. To Israelis, there is no Jewish Western Jerusalem and Eastern Arab Jerusalem but simply a mosaic of people who are mixed and cannot be separated or divided, according to the old 1949 Armistice Line.

Now in the area that is referred to as East Jerusalem, that is, an area north, south, and east of the city's 1967 borders, there are roughly a half a million Jews and Arabs living in intertwined neighborhoods. There are no entirely Palestinian areas that can be split off from the rest of Jerusalem. All neighborhoods are an integral and inextricable part of modern Jerusalem, so building in them in no way precludes the possibility of a two-state solution.

Ramat Shlomo, the area of the proposed new construction at the center of the most recent row with the United States is a thriving community of over 100,000 Jews located between two larger Jewish communities, Ramat and French Hill. Its growth would not interfere with the contiguity of new Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem. In every peace treaty that has ever been discussed, these areas would remain a part of Israel.

No wonder the Israelis reacted so strongly when Obama called Ramat "a settlement." This was a change in the policies pursued by many previous U.S. administrations. For over 43 years, there has been a tacit agreement about construction, never something that constituted a problem in negotiations. The new policy was therefore seen as an Obama administration effort to force Israel to accept the division of Jerusalem, even before the peace talks start, taking yet another negotiating card off the table for the Israelis.

But what the world never remembers is what the Israelis can never forget. When Jordan controlled the eastern part of the city, including the Walled City, the Temple, and the ancient Wailing Wall, it permitted reasonably free access to Christian holy places. But the Jews? They were denied any access to the Jewish holy places. This was a fundamental departure from the tradition of freedom of religious worship in the Holy Land, which had evolved over centuries—not to speak of a violation of the undertaking given by Jordan in the Armistice Agreement concluded with Israel in 1949. Nobody should expect the Jews to risk that again.

Since Israel reunited Jerusalem in 1967, it has faithfully protected the rights and security of Christians, Arabs, and Jews. Muslims have enjoyed the very freedom the Jews were denied under Jordanian occupation. Christians now control the Ten Stages of the Cross; Muslims control the Dome of the Rock. Yet the Palestinians often stone Jewish civilians praying at the Western Wall below. Their leaders and imams repeatedly deny the Jewish connection to Jewish holy sites. Freedom of religion is an American value that should not be compromised.

That is not all. Dividing Jerusalem would put Palestinian forces and rockets a few miles from Israel's Knesset. Also, the Jewish neighborhoods bordering Arab neighborhoods would be within range of light weapon and machine-gun fire. This is exactly what happened after the Oslo Accords, when the Palestinians fired from Beit Jalla toward Jerusalem's Gilo neighborhoods, wounding scores of residents.

The vast majority of Israelis believe Jerusalem must be shared and not divided. Even the great Israeli leader Yitzhak Rabin, who made the Oslo agreement, said, "There are not two Jerusalems; there is only one Jerusalem." The status of Jerusalem will be on the table if and when Palestinians and Israelis talk. But Obama's policy reversal has yet again given the Palestinians every reason not to negotiate. Now, the positions of both the Palestinians and the Israelis have hardened and the possibility of serious negotiations is again thrown into chaos

He Has A Point

The Palestine Peace Distraction


President Obama recently said it was a "vital national security interest of the United States" to resolve the Middle East conflict. Last month, David Petraeus, the general who leads U.S. Central Command, testified before Congress that "enduring hostilities between Israel and some of its neighbors present distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests." He went on to say that "Arab anger over the Palestinian question limits the strength and depth of U.S. partnerships with governments and peoples . . . and weakens the legitimacy of moderate regimes in the Arab world."

To be sure, peace between Israelis and Palestinians would be of real value. It would constitute a major foreign-policy accomplishment for the United States. It would help ensure Israel's survival as a democratic, secure, prosperous, Jewish state. It would reduce Palestinian and Arab alienation, a source of anti-Americanism and radicalism. And it would dilute the appeal of Iran and its clients.

But it is easy to exaggerate how central the Israel-Palestinian issue is and how much the U.S. pays for the current state of affairs. There are times one could be forgiven for thinking that solving the Palestinian problem would take care of every global challenge from climate change to the flu. But would it? The short answer is no. It matters, but both less and in a different way than people tend to think.

Take Iraq, the biggest American investment in the Greater Middle East over the past decade. That country's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are divided over the composition of the new government, how to share oil revenues, and where to draw the border between the Kurdish and Arab areas. The emergence of a Palestinian state would not affect any of these power struggles.

Soon to surpass Iraq as the largest U.S. involvement in the region is Afghanistan. Here the U.S. finds itself working against, as much as with, a weak and corrupt president who frustrates American efforts to build up a government that is both willing and able to take on the Taliban. Again, the emergence of a Palestinian state would have no effect on prospects for U.S. policy in Afghanistan or on Afghanistan itself.

What about Iran? The greatest concern is Iran's push for nuclear weapons. But what motivates this pursuit is less a desire to offset Israel's nuclear weapons than a fear of conventional military attack by the U.S. Iran's nuclear bid is also closely tied to its desire for regional primacy. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would not weaken Iran's nuclear aspirations. It could even reinforce them. Iran and the groups it backs (notably Hamas and Hezbollah) would be sidelined by the region's embrace of a Palestinian state and acceptance of Israel, perhaps causing Tehran to look to nuclear weapons to compensate for its loss of standing and influence.

Nor is it clear what effect successful peacemaking would have on Arab governments. The Palestinian impasse did nothing to dissuade Arab governments from working with the U.S. to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the Gulf War when they determined it was in their interest to do so. Similarly, an absence of diplomatic progress would not preclude collaboration against an aggressive Iran. Just as important, a solution would not resolve questions of political stability and legitimacy within the largely authoritarian Arab world.

Alas, neither would terrorism fade if Israelis and Palestinians finally ended their conflict. Al Qaeda was initially motivated by a desire to rid the Arabian Peninsula of infidels. Its larger goal is to spread Islam in a form that closely resembles its pure, seventh-century character. Lip service is paid to Palestinian goals, but the radical terrorist agenda would not be satisfied by Palestinian statehood.

What is more, any Palestinian state would materialize only amidst compromise. There will be no return to the 1967 borders; at most, Palestinians would be compensated for territorial adjustments made necessary by large blocs of Jewish settlements and Israeli security concerns. There will be nothing more than a token right of return for Palestinians to Israel. Jerusalem will remain undivided and at most shared. Terrorists would see all this as a sell-out, and they would target not just Israel but those Palestinians and Arab states who made peace with it.

The danger of exaggerating the benefits of solving the Palestinian conflict is that doing so runs the risk of distorting American foreign policy. It accords the issue more prominence than it deserves, produces impatience, and tempts the U.S. government to adopt policies that are overly ambitious.

This is not an argument for ignoring the Palestinian issue. As is so often the case, neglect will likely prove malign. But those urging President Obama to announce a peace plan are doing him and the cause of peace no favor. Announcing a comprehensive plan now—one that is all but certain to fail—risks discrediting good ideas, breeding frustration in the Arab world, and diluting America's reputation for getting things done.

As Edgar noted in "King Lear," "Ripeness is all." And the situation in the Middle East is anything but ripe for ambitious diplomacy. What is missing are not ideas—the outlines of peace are well-known—but the will and ability to compromise.

The Palestinian leadership remains weak and divided; the Israeli government is too ideological and fractured; U.S.-Israeli relations are too strained for Israel to place much faith in American promises. The West Bank is the equivalent of a fragile state at best. What is needed are sustained efforts to strengthen Palestinian economic, military and governing capacities on the West Bank so that Israel will come to see the Palestinian Authority as a partner it can work with.

Also needed are efforts to repair U.S.-Israeli ties. The most important issue facing the two countries is Iran. It is essential the two governments develop a modicum of trust if they are to manage inevitable differences over what to do about Iran's nuclear program, a challenge that promises to be the most significant strategic threat of this decade. A protracted disagreement over the number of settlements or the contours of a final settlement is a distraction that would benefit neither the U.S. nor Israel, given an Iranian threat that is close at hand and a promise of peace that is distant.

She's Out Of My League: A Review I Agree With Partly

'She's Out of My League'
Thomas Leupp

...Jay Baruchel proves he's not quite ready for the big leagues with this lackluster rom-com.

...She’s Out of My League requires a pretty hefty suspension of belief, asking us to believe that a goddess like Alice Eve would not only be attracted to the fidgety schlub played by Jay Baruchel... but that she would aggressively pursue him, tolerate his erratic and often bizarre behavior, and endure the ceaseless taunts of his incredulous social circle while never exhibiting obvious symptoms of some brain-eating third-world disease. Moreover, it asks us to believe that Baruchel can carry a film. And frankly, that’s just too much to ask.

Insecure, socially awkward Kirk’s (Baruchel) list of girl-repellant qualities reads like a recipe for permanent celibacy: He works a boring job, never went to college, lives with his parents, possesses no visible muscle tone to speak of, and is constantly ridiculed by his family and friends. Despite all this, the charming, smoking hot career girl Molly (Eve) is instantly smitten when she meets him while passing through airport security (he’s a TSA agent), and decides to ask him out.

Thus begins the unlikely courtship of Kirk and Molly. As he winces and stammers through a series of awkward dates, her attraction inexplicably grows, but it never quite makes sense to anyone else, and the film becomes a matter of waiting for the other shoe to drop. Kirk’s friends — and Kirk himself, for that matter — wonder aloud how such a phenomenon could occur, as do we.


But there is no other shoe. Clearly, director Jim Field Smith wants to avoid the lame plot devices list above, variants of which have littered countless prior rom-coms. It’s a noble strategy, and it might have worked, too, if She’s Out of My League were funnier than it is. But the film never quite delivers the payoffs that its various comic scenarios promise, yielding a few chuckles but rarely anything beyond that, and Baruchel is never as witty or charming as the filmmakers would like us to believe. He's certainly a solid supporting player, but he isn't quite ready for the big leagues yet.

Me: Two points:

1. She's not immediately smitten with him. He over tme impresses her with his nice guy-ness and she wants to go out with him because, hurt by her cheating ex boy friend, he's "safe". Regardless, her attraction to him is entirely improbable and he's cringe inducing with his stammering, stuttering personal impotence.

2. The movie betrays its own premise by, when the credits roll, his having attained some form of pilot's license. It's nearly as big as the Farelly Brother's embodiment a very hefty girl's inner beauty in the svelte form of Gwyneth Paltrow.

Gimme' a break!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Tough and Pungent Talk Contra Foreign Policy Obama

The Iranian Calamity And The President’s Obsession With A Little Street In Jerusalem

Marty Peretz

April 24, 2010 | 9:24 pm

Iran over its nuclear designs was possible. What follows is that he prevaricated about this promising turn in diplomacy and that one, all the while knowing he was going straight down a dead-end street. And going down that street in a quite cavalier fashion so as to keep his critics at bay. Some Americans were even persuaded by the seemingly confident president that he must have something up his sleeve.

After all, we’d like to have faith in his strategic savvy, especially when a Hitlerian maniac has appeared on the world scene and appeared, as it were, with nukes. Alas, that confidence was a bad attribution.

The fact is that Dr. A’jad was correct. He was tilting against no hard American strategy at all. This is confirmed by the January intelligence document by the secretary of defense, Robert Gates, which was leaked a week ago. It concluded that we had never had a systematic approach to the challenge from Tehran and, given the fact that whatever planning we did operate from had failed, we had even less to go on now. Yes, Obama compelled his defense chief to re-remember things. But what Gates then said said nothing.

There was, of course, the ongoing Edgar Bergen-Charlie McCarthy ventriloquism act about sanctions. First, they would be “ferocious.” All the way down to, well, “we have to get Russia and China on board” and, of course, that would make the sanctions much less than punitive or, as the secretary of state promised, “biting.” It’s too bad Mrs. Clinton doesn’t still have presidential aspirations. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be parroting Obama deceits on Iran. Or, at least, she wouldn’t be.

It’s not as if the Iranians have ignored the opportunities provided them by Obama’s neutered diplomacy. Nobody still gives any credence to the fantasy speculation that Tehran’s atomic designs are peaceful. The only doubt is when an ample supply of bombs and other nuclear instruments will be ready. A year? Two? Maybe a month. The Obami are wishing that it will be sometime after 2016. No such luck.

So, after two decades of virtual disuse, the word “containment” is once again heard in the land. But the mullahs are not as rational as the members of the Politburo. Yet the liberal thinkers and politicians who always fretted that containment would not work and that we were doomed to a nuclear “holocaust” now have confidence in the rationality and commonsense of a government of Muslim madmen. Glenn Kessler has written a provocative analysis of the “containment” soporific in the Washington Post.

The Iranian bomb-in-the-making has already altered the geo-politics of the Middle East (and probably of the whole world, in fact.) Hezbollah, Hamas, and the Syrian dictatorship are now encouraged by the new balance of power in the region, a balance of power that is being reconfigured day after day by a mad Shi’a tyranny. The Saudis, believe me, won’t fight back, but they will retreat into their habitual lazy pusillanimity.

In the meantime, Iran makes mischief in Latin America with and among the dictators who want both the theatrical and nuclear attention of America’s self-designated enemy in west Asia. President Karzai also plays the ayatollah’s game just as we put in troops and begin to pull them out at the same time. For a devastating analysis of the U.S. predicament in Afghanistan, read Fouad Ajami’s elegantly explosive essay, “Afghanistan and the Decline of American Power,” in the Wall Street Journal of April 9.

The position of the United States in world politics has become so low that one is almost nostalgic for George Bush. At least Bush did not think of himself as a great man—which he wasn’t—or as a visionary prophet, which he also wasn’t. But the present president does view himself as some kind of illuminating seer. The fact is, however, that Obama’s big take on international affairs is quite prosaic and antiquarian. It anchors America in a world that does not exist, a world structured on the equality of states and the essential justice of its institutions.

He would think it an unsurpassable achievement if he could get every government beneath the vault of heaven to sign a treaty outlawing war. Like the Kellogg-Briand Pact which won each of its progenitors a Nobel Peace Prize. Obama has already gotten his Nobel. All he needs now to do is to deserve it. You know his plan. Kellogg-Briand preceded World War II by 11 years. Germany and Japan were among its initial signatories.

The president convened a swarm of heads-of-state and other lesser dignitaries two weeks ago in Washington to face the future of atomic weapons. In a way, he excels at such abstract spectaculars. Still, like his much-heralded new agreement with the Russians on nuclear missilery, it conveyed a sense of deja vu. Where was Iran? No, not in a personal appearance by some ayatollah.

But as a burdening presence on the agenda. Of course, this is a subject to which, for Obama, the less attention paid the better. Still, the gathering did focus on the danger of nukes falling into the hands of terrorists. And, truth be told, these terrorists would likely be death-ecstasy Muslims. Which country might most likely find it in its interest to proliferate a dirty bomb to one or another army of God? Wow. Yes, of course, Iran.

There is a certain sophomoric charm (or maybe it is a certain sophomoric ease) with which he stabs at grand topics, especially as he is very inclined to look away from real blood. Obama can’t stand blood. He especially can’t stand looking at African blood. For which president in our time has done less in trying to stop the rivers and rivulets of African blood that flow continuously from Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa all the way down to Zimbabwe? And I don’t only mean Darfur.

As it happens, the very international system that Obama is so intent on maintaining (with band-aids and confab rhetoric) is the one that facilitates and protects genocides. Danny Goldhagen makes that point in his new book Worse Than War,which he digested for TNR. He is featured in a desolating film by the same title. You will see in the movie a longish self-exculpatory apologia by Mme. Albright as to why nothing was done or could have been done in Rwanda.

The president’s palsy over Iran is also motivated by his intellectual genuflections before and faith in the international system. No, I do not think we or, for that matter, Israel should rush to attack Qom. It is certainly a last option and, even then, not a certain one.

But, since it is altogether evident that Obama has made no progress in putting together a sanctions regime, what does he propose now? Notice he no longer even talks about sanctions himself, leaving the empty verbiage to satraps like Clinton. So shouldn’t the U.S. be engaged in a campaign to undermine the Tehran regime? Not on Obama’s watch. But that’s the only watch we got. And why not? Because that would hurt the international community—what a community!— to which he is so attached.

Obama has one other passion, and it is Palestine. Actually, Palestine above all. Must I say this again? The Palestinians are a fissiparous fantasy, contemptuous of each other and especially hating of the Jews, hating of the Jews in a way that almost no Jews hate them, although some Jews do hate them. Obama now thinks the deus ex machina fixative to the entire problem is for the Israelis to cease building in East Jerusalem. Sheikh Jarrah is now the designated focus and locus.

As it happens, Sheikh Jarrah is already a mixed neighborhood and the entry point to the Hebrew University and the Mount of Olives. Oh, yes, I forgot: Sheikh Jarrah is also where the Israel National Police Center has been located for decades. Now, I do not like the Jews heading for the old Shepherd’s Hotel. They also don’t like me. But that is not at all the point.

The point is that what’s preventing a peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not an incursion or non-incursion of the Jews onto this piece of land claimed by the Arabs or that. What no one has ever shown is that a cohesive and coherent Palestinian authority is ready to live with Israel.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm a Doctor

As the now holder of a Juris Doctor(ate) (replacing my old L.L.B.), I take the positon that I am now a Doctor:

Evidence that the J.D. is a doctoral level degree:

The American Bar Association, which regulates and accredits the Juris Doctor degree, authorizes holders of Juris Doctor degree to use the title "Doctor" which is sometimes used to refer to holders of research doctorates, and some local bar associations in the United States have also issued concurring opinion statements. However, one Australian academic institution has stated that, despite its name, recipients of its Juris Doctor are not entitled to use the honorific title "Doctor" at that institution.

Some academic and professional organizations describe the J.D. distinctly as a professional doctorate.

Like holders of research doctorate degrees, holders of the Juris doctor are issued doctoral robes in ceremonial contexts.

The Juris Doctor is the sole graduate degree of some university presidents—a position for which universities commonly require a Ph.D.or comparable (i.e. terminal) degree—is a J.D. (e.g. former Harvard president Derek Bok, and the presidents of Columbia-- and Johns Hopkins universities).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Be a Man: the Plaintive Letter


An open letter to Netanyahu: Act before it's too late

Ari Shavit

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

It isn't every day a journalist writes an open letter to the prime minister. But today is no ordinary day. Nor is this an ordinary hour. This is the hour when the clock is about to strike midnight. A rare confluence of circumstances has created a situation in which on Israel's 62nd Independence Day, the state of the Jews is facing a challenge the likes of which it has not known since May 14, 1948. The year between this Independence Day and the next will be a crucial one.

Shortly after you became prime minister, exactly one year ago, I entered your office for a few minutes. Uncharacteristically, you rose to greet me and gave me a hug. Also uncharacteristically, I hugged you back. I told you that as a citizen, a Jew and an Israeli, I wished you success. I told you I thought I knew how heavy the burden laid on your shoulders was. You replied that I don't know. That even though I think I know, I don't. That there has never been a time like this one since Israel's resurrection.

Based on previous conversations, I knew what you were talking about: the nuclear challenge, the missile challenge, the delegitimization challenge. The hair-raising conjunction of an existential threat from the east, a strategic threat from the north and a threat of abandonment from the west. The danger of a war unlike any we have had before. The danger of Israel's allies not standing at its side as they did in the past. And the sense of isolation. The sense of siege. The sense that once again, we must meet our fate alone.

You are a hated individual, Mr. Prime Minister. The president of the United States hates you. The secretary of state hates you. Some Arab leaders hate you. Public opinion in the West hates you. The leader of the opposition hates you. My colleagues hate you, my friends hate you, my social milieu hates you.

But in the 14 years I have known you, I have never shared this hatred. Time after time, I have come out against this hatred. I thought that despite your shortcomings and flaws, you were not unworthy. I thought that despite the vast differences in our worldviews, there was virtue in you.

I believed that in the end, when the moment of truth came, you would have the vision necessary to create the correct synthesis between the right's truth and the left's truth. Between the world of your father, from which you came, and the world of the reality in which you must maneuver. Between the feeling that Israel is a fortress, and the understanding that this generation's mission is to bring Israel out into the wider world.

On June 14, 2009, you proved that you indeed have this synthesis in you. You spoke approximately 2,000 words in Bar-Ilan University's auditorium. But of those 2,000, only seven or eight were of historic significance: a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside a Jewish Israel. It was obvious you had a hard time speaking those words. They were pulled from your mouth in agony. But on that evening at Bar-Ilan, the statesman in you overcame the politician. The sober Herzlian overcame the anachronistic nationalist.

About an hour after the speech ended, when I spoke with you on the phone, it was possible to hear relief in your voice. You knew that at long last, you had done the right thing. You knew that very belatedly, you had overcome yourself. You knew that henceforth, you were a Zionist, centrist leader who seeks a secure peace. Who aimed to divide the land in order to fortify the state. Who believed that in order to strengthen Israel and ensure its future, we must rectify the colossal historic mistake we made in the West Bank.

Mr. Prime Minister, something very bad has happened since that evening. Perhaps the blame lies with U.S. President Barack Obama: His ceaseless, unbalanced and unfair pressure on you caused you to freeze in place. Perhaps the blame lies with the international community: Its outrageous attitude toward Israel caused you to feel besieged. Perhaps the blame lies with opposition leader Tzipi Livni: Her cynical behavior shackled you with iron chains to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who are hobbling you.

Yet even if others are to blame, the responsibility is yours.

You are the one sitting at that wooden desk in that wood-paneled room where our fate is decided. Therefore, you are the one responsible for the fact that a year after your election, Israel is still mired in the toxic swamp of the occupation into which it sank 43 years ago. You are responsible for the fact that we are sinking even deeper into the mud.

Granted, you suspended construction in the settlements. Granted, you made every effort to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to enter negotiations. At a time when the Palestinians did not lift a finger, you made one concession after another. But the political game you played was lost from the outset. What is now clear to everyone was clear from the start: There is no Palestinian partner for true peace. There isn't even a reliable Palestinian partner for partitioning the land.

Yet the fact that the Palestinians are not acting like a mature nation does not give us the right to act like them. Since we are the ones sinking in the mud, we are the ones who must do something. It is Israel that must break through the noose tightening around its neck.

Mr. Prime Minister, here are the basic facts: The grace period granted the Jewish state by Auschwitz and Treblinka is ending. The generation that knew the Holocaust has left the stage. The generation that remembers the Holocaust is disappearing. What shapes the world's perception of Israel today is not the crematoria, but the checkpoints. Not the trains, but the settlements. As a result, even when we are right, they do not listen to us. Even when we are persecuted, they pay us no heed. The wind is blowing against us.

The zeitgeist of the 21st century threatens to put an end to Zionism. No one knows better than you that even superpowers cannot resist the spirit of the times. And certainly not small, fragile states like Israel.

Therefore, the question now is not who brought us to this pass - the right or the left. The question is not who brought the greater disaster down upon us - the right or the left. The question is what should be done to bring about an immediate change in Israel's position in the world. What should be done so that the storm of history does not topple the Zionist project.

The possibilities are known: Offer the Syrians the Golan Heights in exchange for ending its alliance with Iran. Offer Abbas a state in provisional borders. Initiate a second limited disengagement.

Transfer territory into the hands of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to enable him to build a sane Palestinian state. Reach an agreement with the international community on an outline for partitioning the land into two nation-states.

Each of these five options entails high risks. Each of these options will exact a high political price. You are liable to be booted out of office. But if you do not adopt at least one of these five proposals, there is no point to your tenure in office. Your government will be remembered as the government under which Israel became a leper state, poised on the brink of destruction.

The cards you received when you came into office were the worst possible: Iran on the brink of nuclear weapons, Hezbollah at unprecedented strength, Israel shunned by the world, an unfriendly administration in Washington and a dysfunctional government in Jerusalem. Indeed, earth scorched to ash.

But you did not get to where you are in order to bewail your bitter fate. Even with the bad hand of cards you were dealt, you must win. On the scorched earth you inherited, you must make hope blossom. This is what there is. And you have to make the best of it. You have to grow into the greatness you promised.

The challenge of 2010 is a monumental challenge. On one level, it resembles Chaim Weizmann's challenge in securing the Balfour declaration: As in 1917, today, too, Zionism must mobilize widespread, solid international support for the Jewish state's right to exist. On another level, it resembles David Ben-Gurion's challenge at the inception of the state: As in 1947, today, too, the leadership must prepare the nation for almost inconceivably difficult scenarios. On a third level, it resembles the Dimona challenge faced by Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Shimon Peres: As in 1966-1967, the national leadership must give Israel's existence a strong, unshakable envelope of protection.

But in order to meet this multidimensional challenge, Israel needs a courageous alliance with the Western powers. In order withstand what is to come, Israel must once again become an inalienable part of the West. And the West is not prepared to accept Israel as an occupying state. Therefore, in order to save our home, is necessary to act at once to end the occupation. It is essential to effect an immediate and sharp change in diplomatic direction.

Mr. Prime Minister, the relationship between us has never been personal. We are not friends. You have never been in my home; I have never been in yours for any purpose except professional. We never stole horses together. We never planned a maneuver together. You have always known you would not receive immunity from me. I have always known you would never bribe me with journalistic scoops.

But I did give you a chance. Time after time after time, I gave you a chance. I saw the patriot in you. I saw the abilities you had. I also saw the human being that you try to hide. But time has run out, Benjamin Netanyahu. The time is now. Therefore, I decided to take the unusual step of writing you this unusual letter.

I myself am of no importance, of course. But I do believe that what I wrote is what many Israelis would like to tell you on this 62nd Independence Day. Do not betray them. Do not betray yourself. You are the man of this historic hour. Be a man.

On Israel's 62nd: The Mood is Dark

Mood Is Dark as Israel Marks 62nd Year as a Nation

Ethan Bronner

JERUSALEM — Every year, Israelis approach the joy of their Independence Day right after immersing themselves in a 24-hour period of grief for fallen soldiers. Before the fireworks burst across the skies Monday night to celebrate the country’s 62nd birthday, the airwaves filled with anguished stories of servicemen and -women killed, the Kaddish prayer of mourning and speeches placing the deeply personal losses of a small country into the sweep of Jewish history.
So there is nothing new or unusual about Israelis’ marking their collective accomplishments with sorrow and concern. It happens all the time, especially among those on the political left who are angry that
Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians shows no sign of ending.

But there is something about the mood this year that feels darker than usual. It has a bipartisan quality to it. Both left and right are troubled, and both largely about the same things, especially the Iranian nuclear program combined with growing tensions with the Obama administration.
“There is a confluence of two very worrying events,” said Michael Freund, a rightist columnist for The Jerusalem Post in a telephone interview. “One is the Iranian threat, an existential threat. Add to that the fact that for the first time in recent memory there is a president in the White House who is not overly sensitive to the Jewish state and its interests. You put the two together and it will affect anyone’s mood, even an optimist like me.”

Haaretz, the newspaper that serves as the voice of the shrinking political left in this country, is in a truly depressed mood. Its editorial on Monday contended that Israel “is isolated globally and embroiled in a conflict with the superpower whose friendship and support are vital to its very existence.”

“It is devoid of any diplomatic plan aside from holding on to the territories and afraid of any movement,” the editorial said. “It wallows in a sense of existential threat that has only grown with time. It seizes on every instance of anti-Semitism, whether real or imagined, as a pretext for continued apathy and passivity.”

Independence Day here is a moment to take stock of the country’s achievements. And the data are very positive. Per capita annual gross domestic product is nearly $30,000, double that of Russia and close to that of Germany. Israeli citizens live on average more than 80 years, on a par with life expectancy in Norway. The number of murders per capita is a third of that of the United States. Israel’s population has passed 7.5 million, more than nine times what it was at its birth in 1948, and is growing at 1.8 percent a year, a rate no other developed country approaches.

But the worries are deep, and the sense of celebration this year is muted. Yoel Esteron, a political centrist who is publisher and editor of a daily business paper, Calcalist, wrote an essay for Independence Day that praises the islands of high-tech excellence in Israel, but frets that they are surrounded by seas of underdevelopment. Israelis in the country’s business elite in and around Tel Aviv, he wrote, are increasingly focused on personal wealth accumulation and have lost sight of a collective pursuit of anything bigger.

“I have talked to many people in recent days, not only in preparation for that column but generally, and they say, ‘You know, I am worried,’ ” he said by telephone. “There is a kind of malaise, a sense among businessmen that the national future is not promising, and that feeling seems to exist for those on the right as well as the left.”

A new BBC poll of how people around the world regard other countries puts Israel among those least favorably viewed, including Iran, North Korea and Pakistan.

Israelis are profoundly worried — and profoundly divided — about their isolation. The left blames the government for a failure to withdraw from the West Bank, remove Jewish settlements and agree to share Jerusalem with the Palestinians. The right blames Palestinian and Arab intransigence and Western gutlessness, and says Jews have always been resented, so concessions will change nothing.

One thing both left and right have come to believe is that the government’s difficulties with the Obama administration are likely to prove central to the country’s fate in the coming year, especially if Iran gets closer to making a nuclear weapon.

The Jerusalem Post, the voice of the right-leaning English-speaking immigrants here, titled its Monday editorial “62, Under a U.S. Cloud” and fretted that the Obama administration “has diverged from the tone of previous administrations on the status of Jerusalem, and it has damagingly publicly questioned fundamental aspects of our alliance.” It added that Washington needed to understand that “Israel is still resented and rejected by most of the Arab world, not because of this or that policy, or this or that territorial presence, but because of the very fact of our existence here.”

Ari Shavit, a centrist intellectual who writes for Haaretz, agrees that much of the problem lies with Israel’s enemies. But in a plaintive column addressed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, he said the issue was not whom to blame, but how to save the country.

Unlike most writers at Haaretz, Mr. Shavit has written positively about Mr. Netanyahu and other rightist leaders. He noted in his column that after the election here a year ago, he entered Mr. Netanyahu’s office and received a hug.

Now, he wrote, Mr. Netanyahu faces a truly existential set of choices that he cannot avoid. The world, he said, has an unforgiving view of Israel no longer affected by the Holocaust, and Mr. Netanyahu has to take radical action. “What shapes the world’s perception of Israel today is not the crematoria, but the checkpoints,” he wrote. “Not the trains, but the settlements.” He said that Israel must again become an inalienable part of the West, adding that “the West is not prepared to accept Israel as an occupying state.”

He said he believed that this was what many Israelis would like to tell their prime minister on Independence Day. Whether or not he is right, and whether or not his prescription is widely shared here, his sense of alarm echoed in nearly every conversation here in recent days.

A Word on Shakespeare and the Idea of Tragedy: David Scott Kastan

...For Shakespeare, tragedy will not easily give way to the efforts to deny it. In its endings, the exhausted survivors will inevitably seek to convince themselves that the tragedy has not only passed but also that its causes have been banished and the experience has at least taught worthy lessons. But the plays insist that tragedy is something far less reassuring, as the most seemingly reassuring of them, Macbeth, makes us see. Tragedy tells us that human cruelty is terrible and its consequences are not easily contained. This is not to say that the vision of such a world where suffering is seemingly inevitable and where nothing is offered as effective compensation or consolation is true; it is only to say that such a vision is tragic.

A coda: this understanding of tragedy may explain something about both Coriolanus and Timon of Athens that has generally been seen as a limitation of those two late plays. After the metaphysical density and poetic richness of the so-called “great” tragedies, the harshness of these two classical plays often has been taken as evidence of a decline in Shakespeare’s artistic powers or, less judgmentally, of a change in his conception of tragedy. But it seems to me that in their stylistic severity these two plays uncompromisingly display the fullest extension of Shakespeare’s tragic understanding into the drama.

If a play like King Lear devastatingly refuses any of the consolations it seemingly offers, from the happy ending promised by the historical material to the resignation that would at least leave Lear and Cordelia together “like birds i’ the cage” (5.3.9), it still offers its readers and playgoers the not inconsiderable consolation of its remarkable artistic control, what Henry James called “the redemptive power of form.”

The old conundrum about the pleasure of tragedy is answered by recognizing not only, as Samuel Johnson saw, that it “proceeds from our consciousness of fiction” but also that the fiction itself shows, in A. D. Nuttall’s words, “the worst we can imagine ennobled by form.” But the two late classical plays refuse even that. Pushing the logic of tragedy as far as it can go, they insist that we witness the disintegration of their heroes without the ennobling comforts of Shakespeare’s poetic imagination seemingly in play; they refuse even the consolations of art....

Monday, April 19, 2010

Raglan Road, Interpretations and Poetry Itself

On Raglan Road,"

Patrick Kavanagh (1904-1966)

sung by Van Morrison and The Chieftains on Irish Heartbeat"

On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.

On Grafton Street in November we tripped lightly along the ledge
Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge,
The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay
O I loved too much and by such by such is happiness thrown away.

I gave her gifts of the mind I gave her the secret sign that's known
To the artists who have known the true gods of sound and stone
And word and tint. I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.
With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May.

On a quiet street where old ghosts meet I see her walking now
Away from me so hurriedly my reason must allow
That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay
-When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day.


"O I loved too much and by such by such is happiness thrown away."

This is probably the excuse every thwarted lover tells himself by way of consoling a cracked heart.

The next excuse would be: I was the angel (the poet from the other world), and she, she couldn't see how special I was, because she was just "a creature made of clay -" (human?)

The poet knows he has only himself to blame for stepping right into the snare knowing full well it will end in tears. As we all do who ever loved and lost (tears falling on my keyboard).

I'm not sure it is such a great poem.


Fwiw, I thought "..And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day" was about grief succumbing to the hope of a new beginning.

...he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day...) , I thought it was perhaps an allusion to a poet losing his/her spirituality through worldy passion.


I tend to agree with Noga that it's not a great poem, or even such a great poem. I don't know that I'd like it if it wasn't for its second life as a song. It's so curious, however, how the occasionally clunky syntax and odd verbal choices take on a new life with Van Morrison's or Luke Kelly's vocal chords.

basman -- it seems to me that malahat is right. The desire is for grief to be flimsy and transient, rather than something permanent and ponderous. In the last two lines, it does read as if the danger for angels is in the love of the human.

However, I find the second last line a bit confusing, depending on how you read it. There's a big difference between:"That I had wooed, not as I should, a creature made of clay" and"That I had wooed not, as I should, a creature made of clay".

The last line of the poem seems to place the poet in apposition to the angel, and if that's the case then option #2 above makes no sense, because he did woo a creature made of clay. If we than say that #1 must be the case (that is, he wooed a human being and that was a bad mistake) then the syntax is so strained and confusing as to make your head swim. Option #2 just sounds better, but then I don't see how the last line makes sense -- unless the angel wants to lose his wings..


Irony, Could there be another interpretation of"That I had wooed, not as I should, a creature made of clay"

i.e., that he wooed a human being, but not as an angel should (woo a human)?


Just back and, hey, thanks for your comments Irony, Malahat and Noga:

“On Raglan Road on an autumn day I met her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare that I might one day rue;
I saw the danger, yet I walked along the enchanted way,
And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.”

The point of view here is a little complicated. He’s clearly recollecting meeting her and what went on his mind. And in his recollection he makes the past present, which, I suppose, is the nature of vivid recollection: “And I said, let grief be a fallen leaf at the dawning of the day.” He isn’t certain that it won’t work out—“I *might* one day rue; / I saw the danger...,--but he’s pretty sure trouble lies ahead—“...and *knew* / That her dark hair would weave a snare..” So he’s going to take his chances, danger notwithstanding. He must be thinking about the grief he will likely suffer: he’s thinking about, and saying to himself, in his resolve to let her enchant him to let himself succumb to her, what the grief will be.

(Or is he? Can it be that he is presently grieving over someone else and is prepared to leave that grief go. I don’t think so because on this view of it the day would have to be just dawning when he met her and “on an autumn day doesn’t suggest that dawning. It suggests a day already underway.)

So I’m back to his thinking about, contemplating, his likely grief and in this I sense a tension between Malahat’s nice concise view of that line and Irony’s. The notion of “grief succumbing to the hope of a new beginning” sounds like the interpretation I just mooted and decided against. As I read this stanza, it’s last line is to me less about “grief succumbing” and more a decision to risk the probable grief awaiting him—part of the “danger”--.

And there is some psychological complexity embedded in the line, I think. He wills himself to put aside that danger—“...*let* grief be...” he says to himself. So some rationalization—“And I said let grief be.....”—commingles with his decisiveness. He’s in effect saying, I think, “this is my strategy for how to think about the grief that virtually certainly awaits me, I’ll make a poetic image of it.

Under that image, It will inevitably pass and so to encourage my own resolve to be with this woman, to let go of any rationality that inhibits me—“knew”..”...saw the danger...”, I will my intellect to succumb to my feelings, I let myself be enticed—“...would weave a snare”...”the enchanted way...” And I will pass over the pain of grief by looking past it (as Irony says) as “flimsy and transient” and think about as something already past left behing by “...the dawning of a new day”.

I read Kavanaugh saying in the second last line that he did not woo an earthy woman—“a creature made of clay”—as he should have, in earthy way, rather than giving her the “gifts of mind…Word and tint…I gave her poems. For he too is “..a creature made of clay”.
I don’t think we’re forced to decide which of the two is made of clay: they both are.
I read the last line’s “angel” to be the “airy” artist wooing clay, the earthly woman, with the intangibility of art—“Word and tint”, even given the concreteness of “stone” and the aurality of “sound”. The last line though seems to be some general wisdom learned that upends “…grief as a fallen leaf at the dawning of day.”

I tried to argue that that was part rationalization, talking down the grief, to let himself get enchanted, him putting to the side his rational concerns. But now rationality ascends—“…my reason must allow”—and his conclusion is that when ethereality seeks to win over clay, he’ll, the male angel, will quickly be brought back to earth, his wings clipped, lost, at the dawning of day. Now the “dawn of day” isn’t the fresh, “dawning” hope that will trump grief, “a fallen leaf”. That earlier “dawning” was of “the day”, an image, a rationalization, a poetic hope.

Now we have general earth bound conclusion, born with “the dawn of day”, the absence of a definite article reinforcing the generalization of the now dawned conclusion, “dawn” as against “dawning” reinforcing that general conclusion’s implacability.


The poem, btw, makes me think of La Belle Dame Sans Merci:

I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful - a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said -'I love thee true'.

She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.


malahat... I think, fairly clear -- that the poem is about the love of an older man for a younger woman. I'm now more convinced that the autumn-winter setting signals that.
Van Morisson almost whispers the verse about the ghosts meeting -- it's very effective. Btw I just ordered the "Night in San Francisco" CD.

basman, I think that's a perfectly acceptable reading of the poem, and you almost give it more substance than it can bear. Nevertheless I'm still a bit puzzled by the ending -- I think what I'm saying is, I don't know if Kavanagh fully achieved the note of clever-but-gentle-irony-hiding-grief-at-rejection that he seems to be aiming for. Is this syntactic awkwardness/confusion there as intended or is it simply the random poetic outcome he accepted?

Noga -- yes, it does look as if "On Raglan Road" has strong echoes of Keats -- but in Kavanagh's poem my impression of the ending is that, while love has failed, poetry has survived, whereas in LBDSM (at least, as I read it) everything has been drained from the knight/lover (although the poet/observer remains perhaps unharmed).


"...while love has failed, poetry has survived"

He loved her as a poet loves his muse:

"I did not stint for I gave her poems to say.

"with her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May."

It was not love that failed but the kind of love he offered, a poet's love, which was inadequate in some way. He seems to acknowledge this:

".. my reason must allow

That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay -"

And the final line seems to be a sort of a resigned shrug, a lesson learned:

"When the angel woos the clay he'd lose his wings at the dawn of day."

As though he gets it that a poet's love and "clay" are incommensurate. Had he wooed successfully, he would have lost his wings, since a poet can only love as a poet loves, and to love in any different way would mean to lose the gift.

So yes, the need, the urge, the talent, to fly in poetry does prevail over the will to love a woman properly.

A poet once told me that his relationships with women were doomed to failure because every woman he ever loved wanted to be his muse. If I'm correct in my reading then this poet, Kavanagh, says the opposite: it was because this woman refused to be his muse that love failed. And ironically, in rejecting him, she ends up being his muse after all... Or rather, she does not lose her muse status.


I don't want to beat a dead horse and Raglan Road my be getting more rigorous attention than it has ever had before, but in liking Irony's suggestion of a May November (in this poem) attempt at love by November (also suggested by "dawning day" as against "August" and "November" ) as adding dimension to the poem, I see the poem differently than does Noga, if I understand correctly her interpretation.

The old-young theme adds the implication of sexual impotence, failure or indequacy, things, mind you, I have only heard tell about, which didn't occur to me before. Thus, "fallen leaf", "the danger", "...along the ledge / Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge", "The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay" and other things--"That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay", "..he'd lose his wings..." -- seem to me to bear that dimension of thematic meaning.


basman, "...The old-young theme adds the implication of sexual impotence, failure or indequacy, things, mind you, I have only heard tell about, which didn't occur to me before. Thus, "fallen leaf", "the danger", "...along the ledge / Of the deep ravine where can be seen the worth of passion's pledge", "The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I not making hay" nd other things--"That I had wooed not as I should a creature made of clay", "..he'd lose his wings..." -- seem to me to bear that dimension of thematic meaning."

I like that interpretation. It seems to fit very well.


Or, as Van Morrison has it "The Queen of Hearts still making tarts and I, and I, and I, and I not making hay . .


On my view of this poem, and it may be that Noga and I aren’t saying much different, it seems a bit imprecise to say he loved her as his muse, even as, admittedly, he “… gave her poems to say. / With her own name there and her own dark hair like clouds over fields of May.” So, admittedly, she’s—as muse—the source of inspiration for the poet of the poem’s poetry. But that relation to her—the relation of poet to the inspiration of his poetry—is the consequence of the failed earthly, sexual relations between him and her. The poetry is to no avail; it is no substitute for the earthly goods of this world between a young woman and her man. The giving to her of art, of “ ..the gifts of the mind”.

So, similarly, to me, it seems *slightly* off to say, as does Noga that, “It was not love that failed but the kind of love he offered, a poet's love, which was inadequate in some way…” I’d say rather, with a slightly different emphasis that his love for her failed because he wooed her—it seems—the only way he could, with all his art, airily, ethereally, owing to his inability to woo her earthily, as creatures “made of clay”. So it’s not that his way of wooing her “was in adequate in some way”; it’s that his way of wooing, his poet’s love by way of poetry was inadequate in a specific, concrete, sexually inadequate way.

So for me the poem is not about the eternal, yawning gap between a poet’s love, a love of gifts of mind and art, even a virile poet, and earthly love, It’s about *this poet’s* reversion to art as a substitute for his sexual inadequacy. Clay and a poet’s love are not incommensurate for a poet, who can, can love sexually and aesthetically. And a poet, who can, does not lose his poetry by loving sexually. There is I I suggest no such opposition in the poem. The poem’s tension doesn’t include sexual love as a risk to poetry. Rather its tension involves poetry as an inadequate alternative to sexual inadequacy.

Finally, to say this woman refused to be his muse is a more indirect way of saying what the poem centrally says, that she refused to requite his love for her, that she didn’t reject him qua poet, but as an angel, which is to say, in his case, qua a man, a man who couldn’t satisfy her on earth with the goods of earthly love.

As for La Belle Dame Sans Merci, it’s suggestive to see it as analogue this poem or rather to see the latter under the “anxious influence” of the former. But on the view I take of Raglin Road I see Ode to a Grecian Urn as a more instructive “model”, but not completely so.

Finally, isn’t a meta theme of all poetry the making of poetry itself? There could never be a poem, I tend to theorize, about the failure to be able to write poetry. The existence of the poem would be in contradiction with that theme and hence mark a meta-ironic paradox in any such poem.


As I've no mind of my own, I'm now inclining to basman's reading of "On Raglan Road." I'd just say three things, somewhat like flat assertions rather than fluid arguments:

1. It's Raglan Road, not Raglin. Named after Lord Raglan, some British historical figure, whom exactly, I've forgotten. A large number of streets in Dublin still have their original names from the nineteenth century (= prior to Irish independence).

2. The poem's tension comes from -- along with some things already mentioned -- the relationship between the popular ballad form and the sometimes quite poised and mannered vocabulary and syntax (esp. third stanza).

3. It's probably true that the complete failure to write poetry is an unlikely option for a poetic subject, but I can think of several cases where the difficulty -- for different reasons -- is almost overpowering, and the poem is the evidence of the "impossible" achieved at the end of the process: examples run the gamut from Caedmon's Hymn (Anglo-Saxon) to Paul Celan.


When I read poetry I am so over-awed that I am seized by a sort of compulsion to keep my eyes at a certain level and upwards of it. The possibility that a poem would be written by an old man about sexual impotence would never occur to me. In the way I tend to regard poets, such subject matter would not even enter into my peripheral vision. So I can recognize the "inadequacy" of his professed love and never think of attributing it to such sexual failures that are the stuff of bawdy Greek comedies, not poets... It would have to be about something... more elevated... I automatically assume some shortcoming in the object of love that she cannot reciprocate the generous poetic gifts he offers her. A stereotypical woman's instinct, if I may say, to put that extra onus of responsibility on the woman and seeking to exonerate the man. The residue of thousands of years of patriarchal colonization of the female mind :)

Anyway, I concur with basman and ironyroad that this is a poem about failure to love, or, in the biblical sense, to know a woman. And as such I find it even more disappointing than before.


Noga I disagree, respectcfully, with everything in your post about how to read poetry, its need to have elevated themes, the inadequacy of woman's rejection of a love of poet's words sans sex, and your being now-agreeing with my view of this poem-even *more disappointed* with it.

After all, as Whitman's heir said:

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by
madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn
looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly
connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,
who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat
up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats
floating across the tops of cities
contemplating jazz...

...who bit detectives in the neck and shrieked with delight
in policecars for committing no crime but their
own wild cooking pederasty and intoxication,
who howled on their knees in the subway and were
dragged off the roof waving genitals and manuscripts,
who let themselves be fucked in the ass by saintly
motorcyclists, and screamed with joy,
who blew and were blown by those human seraphim,
the sailors, caresses of Atlantic and Caribbean love,
who balled in the morning in the evenings in rose
gardens and the grass of public parks and
cemeteries scattering their semen freely to
whomever come who may..

Your seizure by "a sort of compulsion to keep my eyes at a certain level and upwards of it "is your own business to be sure, but my lord what you are missing!

By might lights you have an altogether romantic--in its not so great sense--notion of poetry and poets.


I'm sorry I cannot rid myself of a certain the irreverent imp with regard to this poem, especially after reading basman's interpretation. Though I realize this might resonate in a different way to members of the opposing genders. The soulfulness, longing and sadness of the ballad form are suited to unrequited love but seem a bit facetious or ironic in the context of mere sexual impotence. It was when I thought he was lamenting the incongruity between her desire for a simple loving and his offering of a celestial kind of union that I had the most sympathy for him. That unease between an ordinary human being and a poet who has, in my romantic imagination, some hidden window through which to glimpse primal meanings, generated, for me, the most interest in the relationship described. But once persuaded that it was more about sexual fulfillment or lack thereof, with all due respect to this human need, my interest waned.