Archive for July 23, 2012

A Walk after Dark

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 23, 2012 by telescoper

A cloudless night like this
Can set the spirit soaring:
After a tiring day
The clockwork spectacle is
Impressive in a slightly boring
Eighteenth-century way.

It soothed adolescence a lot
To meet so shameless a stare;
The things I did could not
Be so shocking as they said
If that would still be there
After the shocked were dead.

Now, unready to die
But already at the stage
When one starts to resent the young,
I am glad those points in the sky
May also be counted among
The creatures of Middle-age.

It’s cosier thinking of night
As more an Old People’s Home
Than a shed for a faultless machine,
That the red pre-Cambrian light
Is gone like Imperial Rome
Or myself at seventeen.

Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and the rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

For the present stalks abroad
Like the past and its wronged again
Whimper and are ignored,
And the truth cannot be hid;
Somebody chose their pain,
What needn’t have happened did.

Occurring this very night
By no established rule,
Some event may already have hurled
Its first little No at the right
Of the laws we accept to school
Our post-diluvian world:

But the stars burn on overhead,
Unconscious of final ends,
As I walk home to bed,
Asking what judgement waits
My person, all my friends,
And these United States.

Written in 1948 by by W. H. Auden (1907-1973)

A Cut Below

Posted in Biographical with tags , , , , on July 23, 2012 by telescoper

This morning, sitting in the garden catching up on the weekend’s newspapers, I found an opinion piece in yesterday’s Observer about male circumcision. This of course stems from a story that broke a few weeks ago about a court in Germany ruling that the circumcision of male children constitutes “bodily harm” and is consequently in breach of their human rights.  Since this procedure is traditional practice in some religious groups, including Jews and Muslims, there has been a predictable outcry that the court ruling violates their right to religious freedom.

At the risk of causing discomfort among (especially male) readers of this blog I thought I’d comment on this issue from a personal perspective. I’m not going to go into the ethical question, actually. I can certainly see the argument that an infant is unable to give consent and there must be limits to what parents can do to their children in the name of religion.

I will however, state parenthetically that one thing that does puzzle me is the court’s statement that being circumcised as an infant interferes with a person’s right to determine their religion later in life. Huh? That’s a non sequitur because there’s nothing to stop a circumcized man becoming a Christian. Is there?

Anyway, in the modern world female genital mutilation is rightly regarded as abhorrent, so why should male circumcision be any different?

But there is an angle to this story that most commenters have ignored, and that is that not all male circumcisions are carried out because of religious or other traditions. You’ll probably all think this is too much information to write on a blog, but I myself was circumcised, not as an infant, but as a young boy of seven or eight. I’m neither Jewish nor Muslim nor anything else in particular when it comes to religious belief. I won’t go into the reasons I had it done, but they were entirely medical. Anyway, I’m not in the slightest bit embarrassed to be a Roundhead rather than a Cavalier. In fact, I like my willy just like it is.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to show you a picture.

Being gay, and therefore having more than a passing interest in such issues, I’d also say that a “cut” penis is arguably more attractive and certainly more hygienic compared to the “uncut” variety. I guess my aesthetic judgement is influenced by the fact that that’s what my todger is like, but I know plenty of other men and women who prefer their partners that way too. At any rate the operation certainly doesn’t impair sexual function in any way, and possibly even improves it. At least in that respect it’s very different from female circumcision.

Of course I’m not going to argue that such preferences constitute good reasons for the involuntary circumcision of young boys. My point is that virtually all the rhetoric on this issue implies that to be  circumcised is to is to be incomplete. Mutilated. Damaged.  Inferior. I don’t think of it that way at all. Indeed, it bothers me to think of the effect this language could have on younger guys just coming to terms with their adulthood. Do you really want anyone to feel ashamed or embarrassed because they have been circumcized?

What I’m saying is that it’s not circumcision that’s bad, but the circumstances in which it is sometimes carried out. So by all means let’s debate the deep ethical conflict that this issue highlights between religious observance and the prevention of bodily harm to infants, but let’s also have a bit more respect for those of us who are, and are happy to be, a cut above the rest.

P.S. I was going to relate the famous schoolboy exam howler about how Sir Francis Drake circumcised the globe using a 60ft clipper, but decided not to.

No worst, there is none

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 23, 2012 by telescoper

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing –
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
-ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

by Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-89).