“Stop all the clocks” vs. “Lock up the living day”

In the 1590s, the poet Michael Drayton wrote Peirs Gaveston, Earle of Cornwall, a long poem about a 14th-century courtier who was the favorite and probable lover of Edward II (and whose first name is usually spelled Piers). Most of the poem is in Gaveston’s voice, but a few pages from the end, Drayton imagines King Edward mourning Gaveston in extravagant, almost histrionic terms:

O heavens (quoth hee) lock up the living day,
Cease sunn to lend the world thy glorious light,
Starrs, flye your course, and wander all astray,
Moone, lend no more thy silver shine by night.

Drayton’s Edward goes on to make similar demands upon the earth, the sea, the air, the wind, beasts, birds, fish, worms, meadows, mountains, groves, fountains, furies, spirits, ghosts, gods, devils, men, eyes, head, heart, hands, poets, and shepherds. Drayton seems to have been a big fan of the catalog as a rhetorical device. It’s possible that he sent his rhetoric over the top as a way of commenting on the character of Edward II, whose judgment seems to have been strongly colored by his emotions; it’s also possible that Drayton himself relished the sound of emotional extremity.

The stanzas remind me of W. H. Auden’s 1936 poem “Funeral Blues.” There, too, a poet mourns by making a somewhat absurd catalog: the speaker orders the silencing of clocks, dogs, telephones, pianos, and instructs airplanes, doves, and traffic police to join him in mourning. Auden seems to have been playing with the effect of hyperbole more consciously than Drayton did, and seems aware of the sense of irony that hyperbole naturally induces in readers. Can one be taken seriously, even in extremity, if one talks so absolutely? In the moment of bereavement, does one want to be taken seriously?

Auden’s fourth and final stanza reads as follows:

The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

John Fuller, whose commentaries on Auden’s poems are usually comprehensive, makes no reference to Drayton as a possible source for Auden, and the echo might of course be coincidental. But before Auden’s day—in fact, until very recently—there weren’t all that many elegies for gay lovers, and it seems possible to me that Auden had Drayton’s example in mind.

The return of clickable Thomas Wyatt

Giovanni Battista Palumba, Diana bathing with her attendants transforming Actaeon into a stag, c. 1500, © Trustees of the British Museum, 1845,0825.627

[Four years ago, I figured out a way to make an interlinear gloss appear and disappear when you clicked on the lines of a poem. Then I switched my blog-hosting software, and all the magic crumbled. But I found a WordPress plug-in yesterday called Collapse-pro-matic, and after a few hours of kludgy hacking, Thomas Wyatt is back in action, as you’ll see if you click on any of the lines of verse below. —CC, 22 September 2016]

They Flee from Me

by Thomas Wyatt

Remembering lost lovers is a bittersweet pleasure.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
Thomas Wyatt seems to be looking back at his lovers from middle age, though he can’t have been too old when he wrote it; he didn’t live to be forty. When this poem was first published, in an anthology that appeared in 1557, a decade and a half after his death, the editor gave the following explanation of what happens in it: “The lover showeth how he is forsaken of such as he sometime enjoyed.” By tradition, men hunt, and women are hunted, but love didn’t always quite work that way even in the sixteenth century, and no sooner does Wyatt introduce the metaphor of hunting than he messes with it. In the very first line, the poet is hunting creatures that once hunted him.
With naked foot stalking in my chamber.
Are they deer? “To stalk,” wrote one of Wyatt’s 19th-century commentators, “means to steal softly with noiseless step.” But a hunter also stalks. Naked feet, stalking—I imagine that in the darkness, the poet’s bedroom chamber has become overgrown with verdure, and maybe even forested, like Max’s in Where the Wild Things Are. Or perhaps the creatures are ghosts. Infidelity and death are two ways of losing a lover to time.
I have seen them gentle tame and meek
As the poet remembers how the creatures came to him, his memories of them also seem to approach, advancing from the simple past to the present perfect tense. They’re so docile that the reader may wonder whether hunting really is the metaphor in play. The creatures seem to have offered themselves to the poet freely, like the animals who submitted themselves to Adam for naming in the Garden of Eden.
That now are wild and do not remember
Tame in one line, wild in the next. However accustomed to his touch the creatures once were, they don’t know his hand any more; they no longer come when called. I’m reminded of Lewis Carroll’s Fawn, who lets Alice clasp his neck as the two of them walk together through the wood where things have no name, only to shy away from her once he discovers, upon emerging from the wood, that he’s prey and she’s a predator.
That sometime they put themselves in danger
The note of danger returns the reader to his first guess: The poet does seem to be describing an episode of hunting, after all. Hunters lay lures; they hope their victims don’t perceive the threat until too late. But the word danger is rhymed with remember and chamber, raising the complicating possibility that, whatever direction the vector of hazard may have pointed in the past, it’s the poet who’s at risk now, in peril for having ventured so far into memory.
To take bread at my hand; and now they range
Maybe it’s hard to distinguish hunting from domestication because the fate of a cow or pig isn’t all that different from that of a hunted deer. Domestication is an act of hunting that takes place in slow motion—over the course of the animal’s lifetime—in a confined space.
Busily seeking with a continual change.
Suddenly the creatures have escaped the confined space; abruptly the metaphor of hunter and deer has dropped away. By betraying an interest in change for its own sake, the fugitives reveal that they have the moral complexity and disreputableness of human beings. I suppose you could describe the “seeking” of the creatures as foraging, if you insisted on finding a way to continue the venatorial metaphor, but I suspect that the important discovery here is that metaphor isn’t able to hold them.


The poet’s tone of voice shifts. Perhaps because he made himself vulnerable in the first stanza, he starts the second one with a touch of bluster.
Thanked be fortune, it hath been otherwise
It would hardly be courtly, let alone gentlemanly, for a poet to boast of his conquests. But after a confession of general romantic failure, in what sounds like middle age, a little boasting about his youth seems licensed. “I graunte I do not professe chastite,” Wyatt once admitted.
Twenty times better; but once in special
Let me tell you about this one time when I totally scored.
In thin array after a pleasant guise
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
The poet is undressing the woman, or rather, recalling how her clothes fell from her.
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Notice that it’s she who caught him. Rather gallantly, he resists describing her naked body, even while describing how it was revealed, until he comes to her arms. It isn’t indiscreet to describe a woman’s arms, and somehow the inherent modesty of arms makes it all the more poignant that he lingers over them.
Therewithal sweetly did me kiss,
And softly said, Dear heart, how like you this?
This is an immortal line. Wyatt’s 19th-century commentator is at pains to insist on “the propriety of this image,” maintaining that it represents a convention of chivalry: “whenever a lady accepted the service of a knight, . . . she gave him a kiss, and this was considered to be an inviolable bond of obligation.” No doubt the kiss that Wyatt received did play on a chivalric convention, but the bond in question turned out not to be inviolable, and it’s the erotic intensity of the image that brings tears to my eyes. I know that the phrasing of the woman’s question doesn’t sound colloquial today, but I feel confident that the rhythm of it was natural in Wyatt’s day. In fact I feel confident that a woman once existed who said these exact words to Wyatt while he was in love with her—I feel as if I’ve heard her say them to him—and I’m sorry, but I imagine that she was doing more than kissing him while she spoke. “Dere hert,” is how the words are spelled in the surviving manuscript and in the first publication of the poem. The poet has himself become the deer and the hart, not clearly distinguished from dear and heart in 16th-century orthography. He was and still is willing to be taken. It’s for this moment, and for the concentration of pleasure into this moment, that she once came into his room, that he is revisiting the memory now, and that we are reading the poem.


In the third stanza, the poet’s tone of voice shifts again, turning conversational, even plain. He acknowledges that he has asked us to believe in the reality of a moment that even he has trouble still believing in.
It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
Today we would say wide awake rather than broad waking, but the meaning is the same. He experienced the woman’s love with the channels of his senses completely open.
But all is turned through my gentleness
He has been too kind to her. By gentleness he means not just the mildness of his manners but also the gentility of them. His highmindedness. His willingness to play the role of Lancelot to Guinevere—to let her go back to King Arthur if she wants to (Wyatt was long thought to have been a lover of Anne Boleyn’s before she became the wife of Henry VIII, though the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography doubts the liaison), or to let her take up with another knight altogether. Or maybe there’s a note of self-reproach in the poet’s description of himself as gentle. Maybe he means that he didn’t hold on to her hard enough.
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
Already in the 16th century, seeing other people was a bold thing that lovers tried, in order to prove they weren’t hamstrung by conventional morals. Fitzgerald, on the Jazz Age: “I remember a perfectly mated, contented young mother asking my wife’s advice about ‘having an affair right away,’ though she had no one especially in mind.”
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
Leave means “permission,” and of her goodness, “thanks to her graciousness.” But puns multiply in the poem’s closing lines, and her goodness also means “her goodness,” which the poet would rather not leave. Note that this line, like the two preceding it, is in the present tense. It turns out that the affair must not have happened in the poet’s long-ago youth, as the first two stanzas suggested; the loss of it is happening now. The poet and the woman have just recently had the conversation where they decided on their new terms, and they’re still repeating the terms to themselves, in an effort to convince themselves of the rightness of them. From the first stanza to the third, there has also been a shift from plural to singular, from they to her. It’s a poem crafted by means of what people in Hollywood call “cheating”: the artful dovetailing of unmatched parts to create an impression of unity.
And she also to use newfangleness.
It’s strange that newfangled still sounds like a novelty word, when it happens to be quite an old one. One of Wyatt’s 20th-century commentators observes that “the word is often used by Chaucer.” In Wyatt’s day it could refer to both an item that is “objectionably modern,” as the OED puts it, and to an immoderate inclination to try such items. In the ballad “The Boy and the Mantle,” for example, Queen Guinevere is attracted to a cloak, despite being told that it has the power to expose unfaithful wives, because “the Ladye shee was new fangle.” Wyatt and his lover have given each other permission to try a new and trendy way of being in a romance, which may amount to a propensity for new and trendy lovers.
But since that I so kindly am served,
Kindly here means both “with kindness” and “in kind”: since Wyatt is being treated with such kindness, . . . since Wyatt is being given the kind of treatment he gave his lover, . . . Both meanings are ironic. The implication is that Wyatt has no right to complain of his lover’s so-called goodness and so-called gentleness, because he started it. She’s only repaying him in his own coin. According to one of Wyatt’s 20th-century commentators, the word served in this line may suggest a reversal: the courtly lover is being served by his mistress instead of serving her. But what kind of cavalier serves his mistress by loving others?
I would fain to know what she hath deserved.
If Wyatt is getting what he deserved, namely, a taste of his own medicine, what does his lover deserve? On a first reading the question sounds almost rhetorical, as if the poet were making a half-hearted attempt to be cynical at the expense of his old lover, so as to prove to himself that he doesn’t miss her. But it might be a real question. Perhaps the answer is “Wyatt,” since his lover doesn’t seem to have behaved any better (or worse) than he did. Or maybe the most that she deserves is this poem—a memory of the happiness they briefly made with each other, set somewhat ironically in verse—their real love recalled and lost all over again in a courtly form.

Christiane Taubira’s eulogy for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonist Tignous

A controversial Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting Christiane Taubira, France’s minister of justice, has come up often in debates this past week about whether PEN America is right to want to award the French newspaper an award for courage in free expression. The cartoon deploys racist imagery in an attempt to send an antiracist message—you can see it and read more about it on the Understanding Charlie Hebdo website—and it was drawn by Charb, the newspaper’s late editor-in-chief.

Taubira attended Charb’s funeral, but it so happens that at the funeral of one of Charb’s colleagues, Bernard Verlhac, known as
Tignous, Taubira not only attended but delivered a eulogy, at the invitation of the mother of Tignous’s children. In the interest of adding to the evidence about context available to English-speaking readers, I’m posting here my rough translation of Taubira’s words, which she delivered while standing beside Tignous’s coffin, which friends and colleagues had decorated with cartoons. [In the text below, notes inside brackets and in italics are my glosses.]

Our emotions are braided together. . . . I want to express to you, madam, my immense gratitude for the invitation to share this moment with you, with all of you.

We know Tignous’s affinity for the world of the judiciary. Recently, in an example of his generosity, he offered to one of my colleagues a drawing whose unconventional and polished wit shows the caustic and lucid gaze that he cast on the self-contained world of the prison. Representing prison overpopulation, he had some detainees say, “Evict us, it’s the winter moratorium.” [In France, renters can’t be evicted between November and March, a period known as “la trêve hivernale,” even if they’re behind on their rent.]

Since 2010, he has been going around to penitentiaries—he was doing this with Dominique Paganelli—and he had a plan to do reporting on the theme of human relationships while in detention. All relationships. He envisaged publishing a comic book about them. ([Aside to Tignous’s family.] This project must not remain unfinished. With your permission, the justice ministry will contribute to it, if necessary.) Tignous himself used to explain that he started drawing during a trial that he was involved in. Then, for Charlie Hebdo, he covered some trials. The trial of a party who liked to implicate journalists and bring them to court, an important trial for French society, a trial about Scientology. And of course the sensational trial of Yvan Colonna, which he published an album about, a trial where he made it possible for us to understand questions that are essential for our society. He attended 34 days of courtroom sessions. He received this prize that you mentioned just now.

He belongs to the high and great lineage of courtroom artists, because the ban on photography in courtrooms has made necessary the visual testimony that has transmitted to us images of great trials, such as the images of Renouard, for the Dreyfus trial, of Captain Dreyfus. Or also the trial of Émile Zola after the publication of his sensational “J’accuse.”

Tignous is a professional. Scrupulous. Rigorous. Impertinent, of course. Funny, obviously. He belonged to the Association of the Judiciary Press, which I went to pay my respects to recently, in their headquarters at the Superior Court building. It’s a hive. One senses that it’s a hive, even if on that day they were all sitting there calm, grave, sad, but so dignified in that sadness.

Tignous had that magic pencil of his with which he aimed to transmit to us the emotions of a trial. He succeeded. Succeeded in capturing the creaking sound when a trial topples over. He succeeded in transmitting to us these dramas, with their unforeseen twists, with their unforeseeable ones, with their unimaginable ones. He constantly sought the good drawing, the one that transmits truly but also leads to reflection. He said it himself: the drawing that makes people laugh but not only that; the drawing that makes people think but not only that; the drawing, too, that makes people ashamed of having laughed over a solemn fact or situation. This captures all the subtlety that he put into this work, this mission, above all this art, of saying so much through a drawing.

Of course when one is the cartoonist one can choose the cartoon. He had some great forerunners in political cartooning, such as Daumier, who mocked princes, power—Louis Phillippe, in those days. And Daumier paid for the liberties he took, because he was jailed. Censorship made no compromises. One doesn’t mock power. Tignous had the same itch for taking liberties, this itch mixed up with politics and justice. He knew how to sketch the way that politics arrives, in its misplaced way, to mix itself up in justice. I’m thinking of that very beautiful drawing of his concerning that declaration by a former president of the republic about a proposed elimination of the position of judge of inquiry from the judicial system. Tignous showed this president declaring, since he had decided to eliminate the judges of inquiry: “Henceforth, it’ll be me who does the inquiries.” And this drawing provoked a lot of laughter, circulated a great deal, and contributed, I’m convinced—and I was there at the time, I was a member of Parliament, but today I still remain convinced—that this drawing contributed to the very strong mobilization of the judiciary that compelled a retreat on the part of this false act of breaking faith. [In 2009, Nicolas Sarkozy, then the French president, proposed eliminating the position of “juge d’instruction,” whose function is to investigate cases before they are brought to trial, roughly analogous to the function of the grand jury in America. Literally, the words of Sarkozy in Tignous’s cartoon were “Henceforth, it’ll be me who gives the instructions.”]

Tignous made commitments. Deep ones. For him a commitment was not a vain word, it was not a pose. And so he took part in, he was associated with Cartooning for Peace, which was created by Plantu and Khofi Annan in 2006. This beautiful project of cartoons for peace, which consisted of mixing together perceptions, beliefs, cultures, but also of bringing solidarity, protection, support, assistance to women and men who cartooned in intolerant countries, to women and men who dared to express themselves through drawing, the universal lanaguage, in these difficult contexts. And Cartooning for Peace put together, drew up a table of taboos in the world. And captured some fairly remarkable taboos. Such as, for example, the ban on drawing anti-church cartoons in Russia. But these taboos revealed to us, as they were sketched by these cartoonists, revealed to us the fault lines of certain societies. Anti-church, in Russia: taboo. Representations of death, in Sweden: taboo. In Morocco it’s more prudent not to try to depict the king. And they asked, these humorists, these artists, these satirical cartoonists, they asked: but France, the country of Voltaire and of irreverence, is it a country where any taboos exist? Do taboos exist? Well, yes, according to them, it’s better to avoid drawing and caricaturing the CGT trade union for printers, for daily newspapers. [Laughter.] But otherwise no, no taboos. One can draw anything. Even a prophet. Because in France, in the France of Voltaire and of irreverence, one has the right to make fun of religions. A right. Yes, because a right, that’s what democracy is about. Democracy is the rule of law, according to the philosopher Alain.

Today is a day of good-bye. It’s a day of good-bye for Bernard Maris, for Elsa Cayat, for Wolinski. Yesterday was a day of good-bye for Cabu, and up to the twentieth . . . And today it’s good-bye to Tignous. Tignous and his from now on inseparable comrades. Journalists, cartoonists, economist, psychoanalyst, proofreader, guards—they were the sentinels, the watchmen, the lookouts even, who kept watch over democracy to make sure it didn’t fall asleep. Constantly, relentlessly denouncing intolerance, discrimination, simplification. Uncompromising. Armed only with their intelligence, with their sharp eyes, with this art of making it possible to see. Armed with only their pencils. Inseparable. United in irreverence, in a gentle cruelty. They brought about the awakening of three generations. The awakening of the consciences of three generations. They taught us, sometimes without our knowing it, about the virtues of freedom of thought and speech. They nurtured our capacity for indignation. And they led us sometimes into the dizzy pleasure of forbidden laughter. They were journalists, cartoonists—”wise-asses,” I’ll take the risk of saying, in order to be true to them. Tignous, Cabu, Charb, Wolinski, Honoré. And those who contributed. Bernard Maris, Elsa Cayat, Mustapha Ourrad, Michel Renaud, Frédéric Boisseau. They were police: Clarissa Jean-Philippe, Ahmed Merabet, Franck Brinsolaro. They were Jews: Philippe Braham, Yohan Cohen, François-Michel Saada, Yoav Hattab. They were the faces of France, hatefully assassinated for that. For what they were. The violence of these murders, of these assassinations, the barbarity of these crimes, the numbing, the stupefying horror, let us recognize it, has smashed our everyday sense of security, our routine, and, let us admit it, our drowsiness about these values, which we thought we had inherited from the Enlightenment, but about which we had forgotten that they carried with them the necessity of vigilance. And at the end of these horrible crimes, we can see that something was in the process of going lax in us. And this alarm reminds of our ambitions—which have been too long silent, too easily abandoned—for social justice, equality, education, and attention to others. We must find again that humanity and that uncompromising outlook that characterized Tignous.

To you, his four children, Marie, Jeanne, Solal, Saralou. To you, Chloé. To his family, to his friends, to those from Charlie. His day-to-day way of being in the world carried with it a number of lessons. Lessons that are perhaps summed up by these words of Paul Éluard: “The light is about to go out everywhere, but spring is here, which hasn’t ever finished.” On Sunday, four million people marched. People said it was a day without words, this January 11, because there weren’t any speeches. There were however words written on signs. There were pencils held up, promising so many drawings, and so many words. Above all, with everyone, at every step, there were of course these words from Paul Éluard, again, which spoke to the comrades of Tignous, to Tignous himself, in order to tell them, “You were dreaming of being free, and I continue you.” You were dreaming of being free, and I continue you.

[UPDATE, 10 May 2015: @Freak_Theory and Robert McLiam Wilson (@Parisbob2001) have fixed some of the errors in my translation and figured out how to upload the text as subtitles. Their subtitled version is now available on Youtube, and I’ve taken the liberty of incorporating here some of the corrections they made.]

“Melville’s Secrets,” the published essay

Jacob Matham, 'Gestrande walvis bij Wijk aan Zee, 1601,' Rijksmuseum

My essay “Melville’s Secrets” has been published in volume 14, number 3, of Leviathan: A Journal of Melville Studies. If you’re a member of the Melville Society, your copy should be reaching your mailbox shortly. If your library subscribes to Leviathan, you can read my article at the publisher’s website. If your library doesn’t subscribe, please get in touch using the form at the bottom of my “About” page, and I’ll send you a digital offprint. Per the copyright agreement, I’m allowed to send the offprint to anyone, but I’m not allowed to post it on a public website—so you have to ask! The essay began life as a talk I gave at SUNY Geneseo on 23 September 2010, for the annual Walter Harding Lecture. I am allowed to post on this website the pre-peer-reviewed version of the article, and eventually I will, but really I’d rather have you read the original version, so please feel free to ask for it!