Of the Last Verses in the Book

I was having some quality Columbo time last night, giving my old moggy a good going-over with his favourite brush while watching a DVD featuring the detective with the  same name. Columbo (the cat) loves being brushed with a metal brush, especially on his head and his face. If I stop he grabs hold of it and pulls it back onto his muzzle as if to say “All right then, I’ll do it myself.” He likes such a firm application of the brush that it seems incredible to me that it doesn’t hurt him, but he clearly enjoys it,  so what the hell…

When I’d finished he looked even more handsome than usual, but as he sat next to me on the sofa I reflected on the fact that he is starting to show his age a bit especially around the face – possibly owing to his penchant for the brush! Nowadays his purring sounds more like snoring, his kittenish moments are rarer and crotchety episodes a bit more common. He also gets stiffness in his legs from time to time, which the vet attributes to rheumatism and, although it doesn’t cause him actual pain, this problem  makes him a lot less active than he used to be.  Still, he has a right to take things easy. He’ll be 16 next month, which is quite a venerable age for a Tom cat.

I’ve been feeling pretty old myself this week,  probably caused by fatigue associated with the onset of lecturing. All that walking up and down and waving your arms about can be quite tiring, I can tell you. Not sleeping much might have something to do with it too. I’m also feeling miserable because I  need new spectacles,  another sign of ongoing physical deterioration.  I’ve got less excuse for feeling my age than Columbo, however, as I’m only 46. I think that’s only about 6 in cat years!

However, getting older definitely has its good points too.  Twenty years ago I would never have envisaged myself sitting at home reading dusty old poetry books rather than going out to some sleazy nightclub, but the cardigan, carpet slippers and Columbo are suiting me just fine these days. Next week I’m going to go wild and have a night at the Opera, something that always makes me feel young. I may be no chicken, but I’m still younger than the average  opera-goer!

I haven’t posted any poems for a few days, so here’s one that seems to fit. It’s by a relatively obscure poet and politician called Edmund Waller. The wikipedia page about him isn’t very complimetary about his talents as a poet, but he is at least credited with having pioneered the use of heroic couplets in English verse. His biography is interesting too. He narrowly escaped being executed in 1643, during the English Civil War,  and was instead imprisoned in the Tower of London. He was only released after paying a fine of £10,000 – a truly enormous amount of money for the time. Although banished on his release, he subsequently returned to politics and lived to the ripe old age of 81.

Although his poetry is very unfashionable, this one is quite well known and – I think – rather marvellous, especially the last verse which puts me in mind of the lines from Leonard Cohen‘s great song Anthem:

There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

The poem is called Of the Last Verses in the Book.

When we for age could neither read nor write,
The subject made us able to indite.
The soul, with nobler resolutions deckt,
The body stooping, does herself erect:
No mortal parts are requisite to raise
Her, that unbodied can her Maker praise.

The seas are quiet, when the winds give o’er,
So calm are we, when passions are no more:
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness, which age descries.

The soul’s dark cottage, batter’d and decay’d,
Lets in new light through chinks that time has made;
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home:
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view,
That stand upon the threshold of the new

(And, please, no jokes about “cottages”….)

22 Responses to “Of the Last Verses in the Book”

  1. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Post more Leonard Cohen please!

    • telescoper Says:

      Rhodri,

      I would happily post some Leonard Cohen lyrics on here were it not for the fact that I’m very careful about getting permission from the appropriate publisher before putting poems on this site. Sometimes the appropriate publishers are only too happy to agree, but in the case of Leonard Cohen it’s been difficult to get replies.

      Old poems like this one are of course long out of copyright so it’s not an issue here.

      Peter

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    The loss of close-up focussing capacity in one’s 40s can be alarming, and in my case it was so marked that I feared it would carry on indefinitely and force a total lifestyle change – but it levelled off, and all I need now are reading glasses. So although you might get through a couple of pairs whle this process goes on, don’t panic about it.
    Anton

  3. It is quite easy to find almost any lyrics on the web. While it might not be legal to post them, it IS legal to read them. So just use a search engine. (In the case of MP3s, it is actually illegal to download them in many countries, even if one does not offer them to someone else (as is the case in P2P networks), if they are obtained from a source which is obviously illegitimate.)

  4. telescoper Says:

    Anton,

    I’ve had a considerable problem with astigmatism for some time, so have needed glasses for reading text and numbers, especially at a distance. In fact, I’ve also had contact lenses for some time but I don’t wear them very often nowadays. I’ve always been able to read close-up things quite easily and don’t wear glasses for that. Opticians have always warned me, however, that I should expect some deterioration in close-range vision and indeed that has now happened with a vengeance.

    When I got Columbo’s latest insulin supply, it was a new brand. The vet suggested I read the leaflet with it, as the dosage changed slightly. I pulled the sheet out of the little box containing the vial of insulin, unfolded it and couldn’t read a single word of the small print. Gah.

    I don’t watch TV all that often but, when I watch it (with glasses on), it’s impossible to do a crossword or read anything even if I take the glasses off. I guess the combination of problems in both near and far field vision that I now have is going to lead to a more complicated prescription, and possibly varifocals or something.

    I’m going for an eye test next week and will have to wait until then to see what I need. Probably a white stick.

    Peter

  5. telescoper Says:

    Phillip,

    Indeed. I linked to the lyrics to Anthem. I assume the site holding them has permission to display them, but it is not legal for me to copy them here without a permission of my own.

    Peter

  6. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: My mid-40s ocular degeneration was also complicated by something else, in my case an asymmetry between the power of my eyes for which I needed glasses when a child. Nowadays this asymmetry prevents me from buying the cheap glasses that have thankfully become available and which save many people a lot of money. (I can’t find asymmetric cheaps.) It also means that I can’t ‘see’ many of those interesting illusions that jump out when you view an appropriately designed abstract pattern with the left eye, and simultaneously a slightly different pattern with the right eye.

    • telescoper Says:

      A friend of mine once worked out my optical prescription in about 3 minutes using my glasses and his watch. Since his watch had a circular dial, he just put the spectacle lens over it and rotated it. The circle distorts into an ellipse with an axis ratio that depends on the angle. Finding the principal axes and estimating their ratio gives you the prescription. He got it exactly as it was written on my prescription card. Quite impressive.

  7. Rhodri Evans Says:

    Yes I’ve noticed my near-sight reading ability has deteriorated dramatically in the last 12-18 months, but I am still holding off getting glasses. It only happens at the moment in low light, with brighter light the smaller pupil and hence greater depth of field save me. I thought that one could offset the deterioration of one’s near-field eyesight by doing regular accommodation exercises (switching between focusing on something nearby and something far away), but apparently the deterioration is not due to the muscles getting weaker but to the lens continuing to grow into middle age, which makes making the round fat shape necessary for focusing on nearby objects increasingly difficult. Does anyone know if this is true?

  8. Sorry for the confusion; my remark was directed at Rhodri, asking for more Cohen, my point being that your blog is not the only source of Cohen lyrics. (Even if the site you link to doesn’t have permission, you can’t be blamed for that, except perhaps if you link to something which is blatantly illegal, which isn’t the case here.)

    I’ve been nearsighted all my life, more so in the right eye, and this has remained more or less the same for the last 30 or 35 years. (This is caused by the eyeball being too long from back to front, which is why this often occurs in puberty, when growth rates get out of step.) With concave lenses, this error was corrected, and I could see far and near (with glasses) fine, though I often took the glasses off when reading just for comfort. About a year ago, I noticed a) that I had to take the glasses off to read in those circumstances when I normally leave them on (like when on a train) and b) that I had to take them off when sitting at a computer screen. About 6–8 months ago, I noticed that even without glasses I couldn’t read small print close up. These new systems are caused by the lens becoming inflexible. This is often known as old-age farsightedness, but the cause of normal far-sightedness (eyeball is too short from back to front) is quite different, so the two do not cancel each other out, not even approximately. (Being nearsighted nearly delays the onset of noticeable symptoms somewhat.) Thus, I now need glasses for distance (concave, to correct my nearsightedness, which has not changed) and for close-up (convex, to correct for the fact that the lens can’t thicken up as much as necessary). Since the change happened so quickly, I didn’t want to invest in new glasses only to have to buy new ones a few months later, so I took tests every few months. Things have stablised now, though, and soon I will buy a pair of progressive lenses. (Good thing that I looked at the Wikipedia article to include in this link; I wasn’t prepared for them converting the text to Dutch as well; luckily, I can read Dutch.)

  9. Sorry for the confusion; my remark was directed at Rhodri, asking for more Cohen, my point being that your blog is not the only source of Cohen lyrics. (Even if the site you link to doesn’t have permission, you can’t be blamed for that, except perhaps if you link to something which is blatantly illegal, which isn’t the case here.)

    I’ve been nearsighted all my life, more so in the right eye, and this has remained more or less the same for the last 30 or 35 years. (This is caused by the eyeball being too long from back to front, which is why this often occurs in puberty, when growth rates get out of step.) With concave lenses, this error was corrected, and I could see far and near (with glasses) fine, though I often took the glasses off when reading just for comfort. About a year ago, I noticed a) that I had to take the glasses off to read in those circumstances when I normally leave them on (like when on a train) and b) that I had to take them off when sitting at a computer screen. About 6–8 months ago, I noticed that even without glasses I couldn’t read small print close up. These new systems are caused by the lens becoming inflexible. This is often known as old-age farsightedness, but the cause of normal far-sightedness (eyeball is too short from back to front) is quite different, so the two do not cancel each other out, not even approximately. (Being nearsighted nearly delays the onset of noticeable symptoms somewhat.) Thus, I now need glasses for distance (concave, to correct my nearsightedness, which has not changed) and for close-up (convex, to correct for the fact that the lens can’t thicken up as much as necessary). Since the change happened so quickly, I didn’t want to invest in new glasses only to have to buy new ones a few months later, so I took tests every few months. Things have stablised now, though, and soon I will buy a pair of progressive lenses. (Good thing that I looked at the Wikipedia article to include in this link; I wasn’t prepared for them converting the text to Dutch as well; luckily, I can read Dutch.)

  10. telescoper Says:

    Apparently you also suffer from double vision.

  11. Indeed. Please delete the first comment (which contains a typo, leading to the HTML error). Yes, I did read before posting, but without glasses. 😐

    I also have astigmatism, but not bad enough to annoy me when I am not wearing glasses.

    I turned 45 in December, so we are about the same age. This seems to be the time when most people notice the onset of the symptoms.

  12. Rhodri Evans Says:

    I’m 45. So it obviously a sadly important point in life to be losing our abilities to near-focus without help….

  13. “but apparently the deterioration is not due to the muscles getting weaker but to the lens continuing to grow into middle age, which makes making the round fat shape necessary for focusing on nearby objects increasingly difficult. Does anyone know if this is true?”

    For what it’s worth, Wikipedia mentions that a) the exact mechanism isn’t known and b) there are probably several mechanisms. Like old-age impotence, whether regular exercise can stave it off depends on the underlying (no pun intended) cause.

  14. telescoper Says:

    There is clearly a design fault.

  15. Anton Garrett Says:

    Gentlemen,

    I too thought the cause was stiffening of the lens rather than growth of it, but I’m open to correction. I also noticed it first not only with small print or under reduced illumination, but in cold air, eg outside in winter. Anybody else?

    Phillip: If you post a request to Peter to delete a previous post of yours and he does, then your request to delete will confuse subsequent readers…

    Anton

  16. Of course, he could delete the post and the request, ensuring a consistent history. (Didn’t Novikov have a paper on that?)

    Actually, if I had double vision, then I would see two posts when there is really only one; in the above example, there are really two posts but one should see only one.

  17. telescoper Says:

    I think I’ll leave everything as it is. It’s turning into quite a good comedy sketch!

  18. telescoper Says:

    On the other hand, I could change my comments so the replies appear even sillier…

  19. Anton Garrett Says:

    Phillip: you’d need to ask Peter to “delete the current comment” as well as edit the one you asked him to. All in all, better to email him your patch?

    Consistent Histories in quantum mechanics began with a man called Griffiths. Its extension into cosmology (sand Novikov might well be responsible, I don’t remember) is a lot more speculative IMHO. When I hear the phrase “the wave function of the universe” I want to reach for my revolver…

    Anton

  20. […] Post) What is Colour? As often happens on this blog, the comments following an item a few days ago went off in unexpected directions, one of which related to optics and vision. This […]

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