Saturday 25 April 2020

Capistrum (an etymology)

Capistrum and related

I was leafing through a Scottish Gaelic dictionary and encountered a word cabstair, “bit (for a horse)”. But, I had just encountered a Welsh word, cebystr, ‘halter’. Evidently these two are the same word. But why? To get to it quickly, the word is not English but is Latin, ‘capistrum’, and is not present in Irish Gaelic.
Latin words do exist in Scottish Gaelic (MacInnes gives a figure of 250) but these mainly come from Latin-using monks and refer to ecclesiastical concepts rather than useful items of farm equipment, such as a tether. So the favoured source for a word like capistrum is spoken Latin. This was heard in the parts of Britain which were part of the Roman Empire, and numerous practical, physical, farming-related Latin words are preserved in Welsh. Spoken Latin could give a word like “capistr" in the Romano-British language spoken both in England and in Scotland south of the Antonine Wall.
My proposal is that cabstair in Gaelic comes from an unrecorded capistrum word in the P-Celtic of south-west Scotland, within the borders of the old Empire but close to or within the early settlement of Gaelic-speakers from Ireland.

Cabstair has shed a syllable present in capistrum – syncope, as we call it. (Conversely, cebystr is actually trisyllabic, there is an unwritten vowel in the str cluster. So both cabstair and cebystr have acquired a syllable not present in the Latin source. The development of a such a vowel is called anaptyxis.) I have the impression of having read about syncope in the P-Celtic language of southern Scotland, Cumbric as it is often called, but I don’t have the reference. This would delete unstressed syllables in trisyllabic words. An example would be the river-name Kelvin. This evidently comes from Latin calamus, in the sense of stubble or thatch, a local borrowing surviving in Welsh celefyn (with a noun singular formative -yn), 'stalk, stem'. The meaning is reedy river, flowing slowly down a very gentle gradient, as you can see by visiting it. But Kelvin represents a syncope with relation to celefyn.
The relics of Cumbric show an i-affection or Ruckumlaut, which shifts a to e in the syllable preceding an i or an e. This accounts for the evolution of calamus to celefyn, which shows a double i-affection. Another example is the place-name Peebles, agreed to mean “tents” and to come from Latin papilio. It is a plural and so records not papilio but papiliones, so that the pap has become peb. This parallels the Welsh word pabell (also ‘tent’), plural pebyll. But, cabstair does not show i-affection, as we would expect before the i in capistrum. This works if we suppose that the -i- was lost before the date of the i-affection.
Since the taming of the horse in Europe goes back to the early 3rd millennium BC, it is surprising that items of horse technology needed to be borrowed, at around 400 AD, or therefore words to describe those items. I am asking for two loan steps (Latin to Cumbric and Cumbric to Gaelic). The sociology of this can only be speculative. I can comment that people were preoccupied with the horse, as people are with cars today. Simple items were subject to intense development and differentiation. There was a prestige economy around horse tack. This allowed for loan-words, within a rich vocabulary of terms for bits of equipment. It is surprising that the Gael needed to borrow any words relating to horses. The Roman Army certainly used a lot of horses.
Capistrum gives also the French word s’enchevêtrer, ‘get tangled up’, whose literal meaning is a horse getting tangled up in its own reins. So capistrum gives words meaning variously reins, tether, bit.

Monday 13 April 2020

The Pet Canary of Pius XII

The Pet Canary of Pius XII

Peter Levi’s poem “Monologue spoken by the pet canary of Pius XII”, is an oblique poem I have never understood, although I must have read it around 1974, in Lucie-Smith’s anthology. Here is the poem.

Uccello cello cello
I love myself: it seems a dream sometimes
about the water spouting from tree-height,
and voices like a piece of looking-glass.
His shoulder had young pine-needles on it.
At night I used to wake when the big moonlight
swayed upward like a lighted playing-card,
and someone had uncombed the Great Hallel
with grimy fingers down the window-pane.
I am unable to read their faces
but the inscription like a neon sign
lights understanding in my thoughts and dreams.
The Spirit of God is gigantic:
white wings ripping aether bluer than air.
After I eat I plume myself bright yellow
Uccello cello cello
and hop about his borrowed finger:
the jewel in the ring without a scratch
and the white silk and the gold thread are mine.
Oh yes, I hop about and love myself.
I do not understand humanity,
their emotions terrify me.
What I like in him is his company
and the long fingers of the Holy Ghost.

(published 1966 I think). It is saying something like, “Pacelli was Hitler's sprightly pet songster”, but can't say this because Levi was a Jesuit priest and so subordinate to the Vatican at every moment. ‘Uccello’ means ‘bird’ (avicellus). This is a difficult poem but it is evidently a distancing from Catholic politics as they were from say 1918 to 1958. The line about “someone had uncombed the Great Hallel/ with grimy fingers down the window-pane” refers to Psalm 136 (and this is the Jewish term for that psalm, and it means “praise”). Psalm 136 “is a litany of thanksgiving about the beloved history and culture of the Israelites.” “It is used in the morning service on the Sabbath, festivals, and during the Passover seder.” It seems likely that Fr Levi, SJ, was pointing to the persecution of the Jews during Pacelli’s papacy, and to Pacelli’s notorious indifference to it. 136 says: and [God] redeemed us from our enemies: this is the key line and its function is to bring up what Pacelli didn’t do for the Jewish people. Much of the meaning of Levi’s poem is embodied in Psalm 136, and the poem needs to be considered as a commentary on the psalm, which we need to have in mind as we read the poem. As for the fingers, the canary later trills "and [I] hop about on his borrowed finger ... and the white silk and gold thread are mine". The papal arm (in a silk sleeve) on which the canary hops is perhaps a parody of the psalmist's "With a strong hand, and a stretched out arm".  So, I guess both references to fingers refer to the same hand - and it was Pacelli who 'uncombed the Great Hallel'. But there is a third reference, the last line describes "the long fingers of the Holy Ghost", so it may be that the Holy Ghost effaced the sacred text out of shame.
“I do not understand humanity” sounds like a self-description by Pius XII, the ultimate curial lawyer-bureaucrat. Why are the voices “like a looking-glass”? I don’t think it means ”cut-glass voices”, because mirrors are poured, not cut; but it does sound as if the voices are narcissistic, saying self-confident things about their right to rule Europe. They are the voices of the Curia and Vatican bureaucrats (but perhaps of other Italians, the Fascisti).
If you listen closely, you can just hear the “uccello” phrase as “pacello cello cello”. It looks as if the poem was written during the years of Vatican II, when it looked as if the Church were going to renounce its past as the voice of the land-owners, and when radicals from all over the world were meeting each other in Rome, eager for new ideas.
The interest of this is that after writing about David Jones and Hitler I wanted to think about left-wing Catholic poets. I am glad to have worked out the meaning, even if after a 45 year lag. For a Jesuit to attack a Pope was pretty awesome and demanded a certain lack of directness.

David Jones, enemy of democracy

David Jones, enemy of democracy

The turning-point is the close reading of a phrase in Jones’ April 1939 letter about reading Mein Kampf, where he refers to “the currish, leftish,  money thing.” The full sentence is "Anyway, I back him still against all this currish, leftish, money thing, even though I'm a miserable specimen and dependent on it." The "him" is Adolf Hitler. He was saying that he didn’t like Hitler, but didn’t prefer democratic, liberal politicians to him, because after all they contradicted all his values. I read this (in the book of his letters, Dai Great-Coat, p.93) but didn’t understand it, because I couldn't see how the money interest could be interchangeable with the Left when they were political enemies. However, Kevin Nolan has recently made me aware of the real meaning of the phrase.

Kevin directs me to Jewish dogs: an image and its interpreters, by Kenneth Stow. The blurb says 'Jewish Dogs is not a study of "anti-Semitism" or "anti-Judaism." Instead, this book argues that to anchor claims of supersession, Catholics have viewed Jews as metaphoric—and sometimes not so metaphoric—dogs. The dog has for millennia been the focus of impurity, and Catholicism fosters doctrines of physical purity that go hand in hand with those of ritual purity. The purity is that of the "one loaf" spoken of by Paul in Corinthians that is, at once, the Eucharist and the collective Christian Corpus, the body of the faithful. Paul views this "loaf" as physically corruptible, and as John Chrysostom said at the close of the fourth century, the greatest threat to the loaf's purity are the Jews. They are the dogs who wish to steal the bread that belongs exclusively to the children. Eventually, Jews were said to attack the "loaf" through ritual murder and attempts to defile the Host itself; the victim of ritual murder is identified with the Host, as is common in Catholic martyrdom. Pope Pius IX still spoke of Jewish dogs barking throughout the streets of Rome in 1871. Other Catholic clergy were dismayed. This book is thus as much a study of Catholic doctrinal history as it is a study of Jews.’

Stow was professor of Jewish History at the university of Haifa. The ur-passage on dogs is Matthew, 15, 26. Chrysostom means “golden mouth”, an epithet for a great orator. (This can include the ability to persuade people of things which they know aren't true.) The specific source of the obsolete word ‘currish’ is in The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1:

Gratiano: O, be thou damned, inexecrable dog,
And for thy life let justice be accused!
Thou almost makest me waver in my faith
To hold opinion with Pythagoras
That souls of animals infuse themselves
Into the trunks of men. Thy currish spirit
Governed a wolf who, hanged for human slaughter,
Even from the gallows did his fell soul fleet,
And whilst thou layest in thy unhallowed dam
Infused itself in thee, for thy desires
Are wolvish, bloody, starved, and ravenous.

Jones’ letter, it turns out, was connected to the work he was doing on an essay about Hitler for The Tablet. This was completed in May 1939 but never published; it “was considered too long for publication in the newspaper” and wasn’t re-located (on friends’ advice) because it was too pro-Hitler. (The Tablet was the main magazine for intellectual Catholics in England.) Jones scholars have turned it up, in his papers in an American archive (Boston College), and it is now in print. So the “currish” is used just after Jones had been reading Mein Kampf, and comes from an anti-Semitic tirade in an anti-Semitic play. The only possible context for saying “leftish money thing” is an anti-Semitic dogma that the Jews were in charge both of international capitalism and international Bolshevism, and both were the product of resentment of “Christian culture”. The idea is a stupid contradiction in terms everywhere except in this context of fear of “subversive Jewish intelligence”. The parts reinforce each other, the writer is explaining his (partial) sympathy for Hitler because of Hitler’s opposition to “the leftish, currish, money power” and we know very well that what Hitler was opposed to was “Jewish intelligence” as personified in big financiers and the Marxist parties of Russia and Germany. Is there any ambiguity left?
Dawson’s book (which I wrote about in an earlier blog, in November 2018) is a significant parallel to Jones’ unpublished essay, and both are accepting of Hitler and related figures because they start out from a complete distaste for liberalism and parliamentary democracy. (This is the analysis of Tom Villis, I have seen one essay of his but not his books on literary Fascism in England and Wales.) So they both regard Hitler’s regime as bad government, but are not passionately against it, because they regard democracy in Western (and central) Europe as bad government too.

I will quote Villis: “As Elizabeth Ward has pointed out, Wales thus provided the same function for Jones as France did for Belloc and ‘Merrie England’ for Chesterton, and even as ‘European culture’ did for Dawson and some of his disciples. This kind of transcendental nationalism can have reactionary implications. For Ward this ‘myth making’ – along with Jones’s connections with Order and Colosseum – mean that his poetry and art can be seen as part of the same ‘rejection of contemporary Western democracy’ which characterised other right-wing Catholic figures and, by implication, European fascism. [...] Jones’s views were not merely idiosyncratic but part of a wider revolt against liberal democracy reflected both in his Catholic contemporaries and wider European culture. Nevertheless, Ward’s characterisation of Jones has produced over the years the familiar over-anxious defence of his reputation from Catholic scholars.”
Up until 1945, there were quite a few European households, including educated ones, where "democracy" was a dirty word, free of underlying approval. This certainly includes some writers, including British poets. The 'war aims' campaign of the Allies sanctioned the word 'democratic' and made it unambiguously positive. Most of Europe had given up democracy before 1939, when Hitler began knocking over the various governments. Countries which had been set up as democracies in 1919 had given it up by 1939. This is the European context in which we can site pro-European writers like Jones and Saunders Lewis.
To reminisce, I did spend time in a university library trying to find sources on Jones’ ideas about politics, which is when I read Dawson, but I came up empty. Villis has got an awful lot further and this whole question probably needs to be re-thought based on his research. He mentions two inter-war Catholic magazines directly linked to the discussion circle which Jones was a member of, and which are likely to have brought up the questions which Jones was trying to answer in The Anathémata and elsewhere. As Villis has read these, we need to consult his work for a deeper understanding of Jones.
Jones was outside the “left-liberal bubble” which British poetry has been comfortably thriving inside since the 1920s. The story makes one even more inclined to sympathise with the literary consensus, and to feel defended by its values! How unattractive, to venture outside that consensus and find people steeping themselves in anti-Semitism and imperialism!

I feel that my body of work is weak on Catholic thought. Certainly I don’t want to write up inherited clichés about all Catholics being on the Right. So many modern British poets have been Catholic that this area needs close attention. I just don’t have that Catholic background. I have a close reading relationship with Heinrich Böll, a Left Catholic intellectual whose resistance to Hitler was integral to his Catholicism. I have great admiration for Böll. But his essay on the Catholic church in politics is devastating, it’s not so far from what the secular Left might say. I would also like to cite Peter Levi’s poem “Monologue spoken by the pet canary of Pius XII” (published 1966 I think), see next post. I would be glad to read a book about left-wing Catholics, like Levi. My scraps of knowledge suggest that Catholicism is incompatible with capitalism and extreme wealth, Catholic poets are surely in line with that.

Discussion of Pius XII (Pacelli) seems to omit his background as Nuncio to Bavaria just after the First World War, where he was close with German Catholic leaders, helped organise the suppression of the Soviet Republic in Munich in 1919, and approved of Hitler (whom he knew) as a figure in a concerted resistance to anti-Catholic elements of the Marxist Left. (He became nuncio to the Berlin government in 1920, when Bavaria was no longer technically a kingdom and a State.) To quote John Cornwell’s revelatory article in Vanity Fair in 1999, >>The German authorities in Rome, both diplomats and military commanders, fearing a backlash of the Italian populace, hoped that an immediate and vigorous papal denunciation might stop the SS in their tracks and prevent further arrests. Pacelli refused. In the end, the German diplomats drafted a letter of protest on the Pope’s behalf and prevailed on a resident German bishop to sign it for Berlin’s benefit. Meanwhile, the deportation of the imprisoned Jews went ahead on October 18. <<
As Cornwell says, John XXIII was a completely different kind of person.

I apologise for writing about this in haste, the day after I received Kevin’s emails, but I didn’t want to delay.

Villis mentions Charles Petrie as one of the participants in the discussion circle, led by Tom Burns, which Jones was part of in the Thirties and late Twenties. He was a historian, and by coincidence, I have read one of his books. It came out in the fifties and is titled The Jacobite Movement. (I read the 1958 edition but there were earlier ones.) I really admired it. I suppose he knew about the material because he had a sympathy for it (and was anti-Hanoverian at some level of his being), but it is unbiased history and doesn’t wander up any blind alleys. In fact, I was impressed by his ability to interpret Jacobite political styles in terms of Catholic devotion. For example, James II’s conduct while in exile was not the product of bigotry and stupidity, or not only of those, but was a performance, for the benefit of the observers whom he knew to be following every hour of his life, of contrition and acceptance of God’s tribulations, evoking a legend of the martyr-king with which his Catholic supporters would have been familiar. He accepted that his life as king was one of uninterrupted ritual, and that he was always re-enacting the life of some king or other. His occupying himself with religious activity was firstly suited to someone who has lost their material wealth, almost a form of realism, and secondly a sign that he had bowed to God’s judgement, although not also to the judgement of the House of Commons and the Protestant interest in Britain. James was imitating the life of Edward the Confessor. Petrie’s account of how this celebrity on-show behaviour, where everything is conspicuous, was a way of influencing Catholic public opinion (in the French Court and the Vatican, as well as as in susceptible parts of the British Isles) is profound. James could reach public opinion, in realms which had a high illiteracy rate and which were untouched by newspapers and modern news sources, by producing events which would fit into simple stories, and stories which people were already familiar with. His publicity followed the rules of folklore. The parties lined up behind the Hanoverian and Stuart interests were just not mirror images of each other. There is more modern work, by Murray Pittock and others, which one is inevitably going to read, but Petrie’s book has not been replaced. The political history of British Catholics, which is so important for Jones, goes back to the Jacobites (if not to the sixteenth century, indeed), and has abidingly been the story of the dynasty out of power and of a cultural vocabulary which differs from the *dominant one, either Protestant or secular.
(*Without collapsing into pedantry, it is quite likely that Jacobite sympathies were dominant in Ireland, Wales, and much of Scotland, at least during the 18th century. They were popular even if excluded from legal political activity and from the world of print.)
The opposition between the Stuart dynasty, first in power and then out of power, and the Westminster Parliament, is the background to Jones’ indifference to electoral politics and rejection of all politicians. It is part of the hereditary attitudes of British Catholics, which would have been available in whatever sources Jones assimilated, as a convert. 

Wednesday 1 April 2020

Reconciliation? three –fights for the flag, Kipling

Reconciliation? three –fights for the flag, Kipling

note. This is part of a series which sets out from the analysis of UKIP voters, by Matthew Goodwin, Rob Ford, and others, that said they were a marginalised group, left behind by globalisation and de-industrialisation, who had resentments against their ‘representatives’ in politics and media which were partially justified. Goodwin said that mainstream politics had to address their complaints. These notes ask how the ‘elite’ which decides poetic taste is itself legitimated. Further, whether the left-liberal tenor of poetry itself tends to exclude people whose attitudes or anxieties are more power-oriented. This time we go back and re-read a book by Kipling which straightforwardly presents poetry about imperialism, and in favour of more imperialism. The reaction against this in the 1920s was a “founding moment” for the poetry world, a turn which it has never gone back on. Evidently everyone who is now inside the poetry world partakes of that rejection. But the past ten years have seen a weakening of the consensus positions in politics, so the cultural consensus may also be under threat.

I have been reading The Five Nations. This is really powerful stuff.  This poetry reminds me of Cecil B. de Mille’s silent films when you have a full orchestra blowing them along – it has that dreadful momentum even if you aren't going where it wants you to. It was published as a book in 1903 but the poems were in periodicals from 1897 on. You have to connect it with what was in the newspapers every day during that time – comments I have seen on the Net say it is “misunderstood”, but that is not really possible unless you don’t know what was in the papers at the time. This was mainly the failure of British arms in the Boer War and the expansion of the German Navy (and trained conscript army) undermining Britain’s ‘strategic position’. The poetry is so strong that it dragged English poetry behind it for 30 years. It is typical when you see poetry of this period that does not work that it is an attempt to relive Kipling’s model. I have also been reading a volume of Alfred Noyes (vol.1 of the 1926 Collected), which I got from the local second hand bookshop before it closed, as a comparison – Noyes’ poetry is also often about the Navy, and past naval victories, but isn’t very good.

As for the reading public, you can see that there might be a sector which wants Kipling-style rhythms and patriotism, but has no time for literary poetry. But obviously no-one can write this kind of poetry now. This isn’t so strange – Kipling was a one-off.

It’s different reading Noyes- he had a full-time job at the Admiralty writing propaganda, but he wasn’t really with militarist poetry. It’s all Kipling, really – him and the whole apparatus of imperialist patriotic tub-thumping. It’s delusional but it’s tied to something real. The empire was fragile, the forces inside it were too strong not to rip it apart over the course of several decades, but it was real in 1897. Why just him? I guess the mass of English poets were still bound to Romanticism, they were too fascinated by the sublime to want to include the reality of machines, money, and military violence. As a result they didn’t get hypnotised by those things. My feeling is that when Kipling writes, poems about the Royal Artillery in South Africa, all the details were right. And it’s full of details. But it’s also about blowing people’s bodies apart with HE shells. You can’t imagine Tennyson harnessing himself to that. His Morte d’Arthur warriors don’t have many reality-like qualities. Tennyson died in 1892, just after Kipling had started his rather sordid military poems (Barrack-Room Ballads, 1888). It’s still the sublime, the ideal which covers poetry in mist. Kipling took metre back to oral recitation and got rid of the sublime – modern reforms, but a kind of modernity which said yes to colonial wars and an arms race.

Noyes writes, “As on their ancient decks they proudly stood/ decks washed of old with England’s proudest blood". This is ridiculous (and the rhyme is fishy). Kipling is not ridiculous. Noyes gives the impression of knowing that he could be a best-seller by writing about warships, but not being really sincere about it. He was giving pacifist lectures shortly before the Great War – so far as he was emotionally involved, he wasn’t the bloodthirsty kind of patriot. Kipling is not ridiculous. He is critical of the imperial project but when you look at it he is saying you need to spend more money on cannon and warships. This is so much like Farrage – the message that you aren’t looking after your own interests, cunning foreigners are running rings round you, you trust your enemies. It’s still the same tune. So I guess you could write Brexit poetry, and I could even list the themes it would foreground. It’s also the same tune as Hitler- you are the greatest people in the world but you need to pursue self-interest 25 hours a day, you are so naive and trusting.

Kipling incorporates the working class into his poems. He shed all those mediaeval knights, who were land-owners almost by definition. But, this welcoming-in is co-axial with a new kind of war which needs mass levies as opposed to a small professional army, and which would therefore need the working class to step up as participants in the shared endeavour, for it to work. Kipling’s populism is double-edged. My reading of this democratic imperialism is that it involves a minority who know what the plot is and a majority who are doing the fighting or the factory work and only hear the intoxicating foreground music. The acute aspect of this is that you can accuse the ones who see through it of lack of patriotism. Oh, you say no to our big music.

The corrupt part of all this is how hard it is to bring the non-white races of the Empire on stage when Kipling pushes them off it so effectively. I can analyse his relationship with his audience but there is nothing to say about the people whose land is the main object of all this imperialist endeavour. Germany is expansionist and wants to take colonies away from “satiated” and “ageing” empires, this fills the foreground and the question of why the natives of those colonies were being prevented from governing themselves vanishes behind the action.

I will quote again the passage that Norman Jope highlighted from the “Plymouth Laureate” –

Now comes the hour. Where comes the man
to free the blade its sheath;
and raise again quick ‘Albion’,
lay bare its razor teeth?
To set Britannia’s heart arace,
and gorge those veins with flame;
cleave free her ill forged foreign chains,
this sceptred isle reclaim.

Britannia sounds like a bulldog on a chain. The poem (by the ‘Laureate’ of Plymouth) is completely a Kipling knock-off, as I recognise now after reading “The Five Nations”. And it’s basically an attack on Brussels.

While reading, I kept hearing lines from Johnny Cash’s recital of “Oh bury me not (on the lone prairie)”. They just popped into my head. I guess this was a recitation piece from roughly the date of ‘Five Nations’, and that there was a whole genre of stage recitations which Kipling fitted into – he went to music halls and wrote poems which sounded like music-hall stage poems. Before radio, people made their own entertainment, and a wide range of people could memorise these pieces and deliver them at amateur concerts. Kipling’s poems are always dramatic monologues, they lend themselves to colourful delivery, and the rhythm makes them easy to memorise. There is a recognisable affinity between Kipling and country and western songs. I think this rhetorical populism has a much wider presence than Kipling, but it does not normally surface in literary anthologies. Tennyson wrote those terrific dialect poems which anticipate Kipling – a lot of Tennyson editions don’t print them. It is hard to get a complete Tennyson.
The historian of music-hall, Peter Bailey, describes it as Kipling’s ‘perfect bully-pulpit’, because ‘its ritual antiphony of posture and response inherited from melodrama with its hagio-demonology of heroes and villains', encouraged tribal patriotism, ‘a sort of incantatory collective self-admiration among audiences flushed with enthusiasm for themselves’.”
(from the Oxford Handbook of Victorian Poetry, on-line; Peter Howarth is probably quoting Bailey from Popular Culture and Performance in the Victorian City.)
This could also be a reason why that sort of poetry doesn’t exist any more – it was linked to a genre of verse recitals which itself does not exist. TV closed down the music halls, during the 1950s. Radios and the gramophone displaced the amateur performance tradition. So, why doesn’t his poetry sound like the cultured poetry which existed before 1888? His metrics are new– free from Latin influence. This is a possible form of nativism, tainted almost at source by its link with the wish to dominate people from other nationalities. The gap between the cultivated and the popular ear connects to learning Latin through the medium of poetry as the main content of schools’ offering. The story of the 20th C is the story of the vacuum after the disappearance of Latin influence. The change (pointed to by the historian RCK Ensor) is due to the rise of intelligent people who had a secondary education which did not include Latin – a new class, almost. Their victory was due to a change of opinion affecting everyone, not literally to overrunning and wiping out their peers from grammar schools and public schools. Because Kipling was writing about working-class characters, it was convincing if he used a non-Latin, uncultivated metric to record their monologues. The old metrics collapsed – this is the shattering of the upper stratum. Does this sound like the message of UKIP about metropolitan elites? The literary audience hears sounds which other people don’t. That’s the point which makes their legitimacy vulnerable. Another literary system could vanish like the Latin-based ones. The question about natural English rhythms is an interesting one. There are so many answers – Kipling might be one. Many of the lines in ‘Five Nations’ are in two parts –like this:

Swift to my use in my trenches, where my well-planned ground-works grew,
I tumbled his quoins and his ashlars, and cut and reset them anew.
Lime is milled of the marbles; burned it, slacked it, and spread;
Taking and leaving at pleasure the gifts of the humble dead.
(‘The Palace’)

This AB structure is based on Biblical verses, what Louth described as parallelismus membrorum. But, if you read the Bible, you can hear that the sound of the parallelism is all over Kipling. So – it is not native English, or not all over. He was deeply influenced by the patterns of Hebrew poetry. (Which possibly come from Egyptian – but that’s a tangle of tempting issues.) It’s from the Authorised Version and it’s not free of foreign influences at all. There was a nativist metric during the first 30 years of the 20th C – with Masefield and Kipling, notably. This was in parallel with the rise of free verse, which was part of the same movement of liberation. It was an exploratory period. Meanwhile – Noyes actually writes some poems in hexameters. Kipling’s nativist sense of rhythm matches queasily well with his populist-nativist politics.

Did he give up writing poetry? The Years Between, in 1919,, was the last one – so his spring stopped flowing. It seems to have stopped during the War. No repentance but a dreadful silence. Unbelievable that the torrent of energy in 'Five Nations’ would just stop. But writing in favour of an arms race and mass conscription was going to lose its verve when you had a tangible arms race in being and an army of dead conscripts.The affair of poetry with imperial politics was really an affair with the Devil. The breakdown of that affair was utterly inevitable and even the poets most involved gave up on it, during the 1920s. Nobody could pick it up in the 1930s because it wasn’t there any more. It wasn’t silenced from outside – Kipling and Newbolt just lost their wish to write in that way. Unlike any other visionary poets, their fantasy became reality – and it struck them dumb.

Charles Jencks’ essay on Prince Charles as architectural critic has several sarky remarks about architects telling the wider public what they ought to like. This also applies to the patriotic poets – they are telling people they want to go out and die for the Empire. So there is a level of distrust of the “cultured class” based on its record of complying with what the government wants and getting a free ride off campaigns launched by the right-wing press. OK, but note that this is part of the UKIP message and a doctrine supporting right-wing populism. It follows from this history of complicity that the “left liberal bubble” have been right to take Kipling, Noyes, Newbolt and Watson off the menu. (It’s a simplification to connect imperialism with “the government”, actually it’s more accurate to point to commercial and business interests seizing assets, and white settlers seizing land, and a pressure from these two groups which the government too frequently gave way to. Imperialism was the early stage of globalisation, and in its ‘production model’ of 1850 to 1940 already had the media and business as powerful and irresponsible agents which governments tried to satisfy.)
Noyes’ poem ‘Forty Singing Seamen’ starts from a passage in the 14th C fake "travellers’ tales” collection by Bernard de Mandeville and constructs a sort of dream-poem about drunken seamen in a wonderland somewhere in the realm of Prester John, so Ethiopia (a Christian land beyond the Moslem lands). It uses Mandeville as a sort of “naive art”, and uses a verse form which alludes to sea shanties and ballads, in fact several lines of folk-song. Although it doesn't show colonising activity, it has a sort of patriotic sludge underlying it – we are supposed to identify with the sailors because they “fight for the flag” on other occasions. This is a truly phoney poem, the language is inconsistent and unconvincing. I mention it because that deployment of naive imagery and of folk song is often seen as a sign of authenticity, but is equally compatible with the manipulation of opinion– a function necessary when the electorate includes everyone. I haven’t read Noyes “Drake – an English epic” (1908), but the catalogue entry tells me it is 497 pages long.

As for legitimation, the bottom line is that people who read modern poetry also own it and can legislate for taste around it. It is direct democracy, if you take part in the game you can have a say in what the rules are. The idea that people who don’t read modern poetry can decide what is good or bad about it is inherently stupid.

I think that octosyllabics are a natural rhythm for English poetry – Masefield was good at these. My reading of early north-west European cultures is that they had a whole variety of metres. These carried out various functions, or were just separate for no special reason. They just rolled that way. This suggests to me that a natural English rhythm would come in numerous varieties. Defining what is unnatural is also debatable. You could say that all art is unnatural –and you could say that any linguistic behaviour is natural.