Category: special series

Twentieth Friend, William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley “To his Daughter Ann, New Year’s Day, 1567”

Today we’ll meet William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley. He’s another Elizabethan, living 1520-98, but he’s not well-known as a poet. Rather, his legacy lies in the world of political history, especially as Queen Elizabeth I’s principal adviser. An outline of his political career would be well beyond the scope of this series, but in short he seems to have been quite competent, though as one would expect of an adviser to Elizabeth, one’s ultimate judgement of him comes down to what one thinks of Elizabeth, which often depends on whether one is Catholic or Protestant.

So, let’s set Lord Burghley’s career aside and instead join him and his family with this poem addressed to his then eleven year old daughter Ann, “New Year’s Day, 1567.”

As years do grow, so cares increase,
And time will move to look to thrift.
These years in me work nothing less,
Yet for your years and New Year’s gift
To set you on work, some thrift to feel,
I send you now a spinning wheel.

But one thing first I wish and pray,
Lest thirst of thrift might soon you tire,
Only to spin one pound a day
And play the rest, as time require,
Sweat not (O fie!), fling work in fire!
God send, who sendeth all thrift and wealth,
You long years and your father health.

“Thrift” here means “home economy.”

This is likely technically the least exciting poem so far, but I enjoy it nonetheless. Children often look forward to and try to imitate adult duties, and so Lord Burghley sends Ann a spinning wheel. However, she is still a child and so he urges her to spend more time in play (“fling work in fire” is rather strong, but hey, it gets the point across). There is some irony here in that Lord Burghley himself was a tireless worker, and continued serving the Queen even as his health declined to the day he died.

I’ll finish up this post by wishing all of you a happy New Year, and remember to work hard – but be sure to spend at least some time in play as you can.…

Read More Twentieth Friend, William Cecil, 1st Lord Burghley “To his Daughter Ann, New Year’s Day, 1567”

Nineteenth Friend: Thomas Randolph, “Upon his Picture”

Thomas Randolph was born in 1605 and was another member of the Tribe of Ben. I normally like to write a little about our friends’ “day jobs,” but unfortunately Randolph died young, at twenty-nine years old in 1635. Fortunately, he did see a good deal of success in his own lifetime primarily as a dramatist but also as a poet, as one would expect of a friend of Ben Jonson and his circle, and many expected him to eventually become poet laureate. His short life had its other excitements, though; my personal favourite poem of his is “Upon the Loss of his Little Finger,” which loss occurred during a fight in a tavern.

Those interested in American history may be interested to know that he also has a tangential connection to our country as the uncle of William Randolph, the influential Virginian colonist.

In any case, like some other poems of this era we’ve covered I don’t think “Upon his Picture” requires a great deal of explanation. It’s just solid, classic English poetry:

When age hath made me what I am not now,
And every wrinkle tells me where the plow
Of time hath furrowed; when an ice shall flow
Through every vein, and all my head wear snow;
When death displays his coldness in my cheek,
And I myself in my own picture seek,
Not finding what I am, but what I was,
In doubt which to believe, this or my glass:
Yet though I alter, this remains the same
As it was drawn, retains the primitive frame
And first complexion; here will still be seen
Blood on the cheek, and down upon the chin;
Here the smooth brow will stay, the lively eye,
The ruddy lip, and hair of youthful dye.
Behold what frailty we in man may see,
Whose shadow is less given to change than he!

The main, ironic thrust of the poem is clear enough.

The first half of the poem feels very cold, with its “snow,” “ice,” “coldness,” and “glass” (specifically meaning a mirror, in this case). I would’ve expected to see more warm imagery in the second half for contrast, but he doesn’t do that. Even the imagery he does use isn’t very vivid; “blood on the cheek,” “smooth brow,” “lively eye,” “ruddy lip,” and “hair of youthful dye.”

Whether this is a weakness per se, I’m not sure. It does make the picture, the imitation of his younger self, less of a focus than the narrator’s older self.

Of course, there’s also the notable irony to this poem aside from the contrast between his mirror and his painting. Randolph here speaks speculatively of “When age hath made me what I am not now,” but unfortunately he did not live to see old age, a great loss to his friends and to the world of English poetry.…

Read More Nineteenth Friend: Thomas Randolph, “Upon his Picture”

Eighteenth Friend: Thomas Campion, “Rose-Cheeked Laura”

Today we’ll meet Mr. Thomas Campion, who was born in London in 1567 and lived to 1620. Yes, once again, there was just something about this era in English literature where it seems like every single Englishman couldn’t help but write fine poetry. Mr. Campion’s day job was physician, but he was also a songwriter and musical and literary theorist in addition to being a poet.

A few of our friends, like John Crowe Ransom, did write literary theory but we haven’t covered this much yet, so I think it may be interesting to spend a few moments looking at Mr. Campion’s Observations in the Art of English Poesie. Don’t worry, I won’t get into the nitty-gritty since even I find this type of thing a bit dry (see Aristotle). For most of the pamphlet he discusses the types of poetic metre and which are most apt for use in English, but he opens with an extended criticism of rhymed poetry.…

Read More Eighteenth Friend: Thomas Campion, “Rose-Cheeked Laura”

Seventeenth Friend: A. E. Housman, “Here Dead Lie We”

Today, we’ll meet Mr. Alfred Edward Housman, a popular English poet and a staple of English literature classes, so I assume that most folks are at least aware of him. He was born in 1859 and attended Oxford, but failed his final exam due to emotional turmoil, apparently due in part to struggling with homosexual desires. So, he spent ten years (1882-92) working as a clerk at the Patent Office while spending his free time studying and writing articles about Latin literature. Today that would’ve been the end of it since he didn’t have any official credentials, but those articles did gain scholarly attention and he was hired as a professor of Latin at University College, London, and later at Cambridge. His largest contribution to the Classics from there was in editing and annotating a still respected edition of Marcus Manilius’ Astronomica. He passed away in 1936.

Now, let’s set aside his academic career and look at his poetry. Most of his work is in a traditional English style, with regular metres and conservative rhyme schemes. They’re also on the pessimistic side, as in his most famous poems, “To an Athlete Dying Young” and “When I was One-and-Twenty.” One might worry that a Latinist writing in a conservative style would produce overly formal poems, but Mr. Housman is popular for good reason. His style is approachable even for general audiences and his themes are easy to relate to. For example, take a look at “To an Athlete Dying Young.”

The time you won your town the race
We chaired you through the market-place;
Man and boy stood cheering by,
And home we brought you shoulder-high.

Today, the road all runners come,
Shoulder-high we bring you home,
And set you at your threshold down,
Townsman of a stiller town.

Smart lad, to slip betimes away
From fields where glory does not stay,
And early though the laurel grows
It withers quicker than the rose.

Eyes the shady night has shut
Cannot see the record cut,
And silence sounds no worse than cheers
After earth has stopped the ears.

Now you will not swell the rout
Of lads that wore their honours out,
Runners whom renown outran
And the name died before the man.

So set, before its echoes fade,
The fleet foot on the sill of shade,
And hold to the low lintel up
The still-defended challenge-cup.

And round that early-laurelled head
Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,
And find unwithered on its curls
The garland briefer than a girl’s.

Anyone old enough to have been through high school will likely have known local athletes celebrated for their accomplishments, which are often soon forgotten, and those middle aged and older will have seen even famous professional athletes whom they admired when growing up now obscure and growing old. We can imagine how this may feel for the athlete itself, and it’s natural to wonder if, perhaps, it’s better in a way to die while still at the height of fame and renown.

Of course, when we’re young we assume, without much thought, that the good times will last forever. Early death is also the theme of this poem, “Here Dead Lie We,” which is a war poem:

Here dead lie we because we did not choose
To live and shame the land from which we sprung.
Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;
But young men think it is, and we were young.

This is very short, but there a few things going on. Honour is important, and it’s extremely important to young men. The first two lines, then, might have us expecting either a patriotic work lauding them for their sacrifice, or to mourn their early deaths for something ambiguous like shame and honour, for what Wilfred Own called “that old lie,” “dulce et decorum est pro patria mori” (from Horace, “it is sweet and fitting to die for one’s country”).

The next two lines, though, are more ambiguous than that. “Life […] is nothing much to lose.” It’s not? Even if we consider it less important than shame and honour, the reason we praise men who risk their lives, even setting aside public holidays like Veterans Day, is because life is a great deal to lose. So, did the speakers not sacrifice much after all?

Maybe, but the last line takes a very subjective turn. “But young men think it is, and we were young.” The weight of sacrifice, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder.…

Read More Seventeenth Friend: A. E. Housman, “Here Dead Lie We”

Ego

Time for the conclusion of serial experiments lain.

Layer 13: Ego begins with blue static and Lain saying she’s confused again. Well, so are we. Rather than a voice-over we start with a recap of the last part of Layer 12. Alice doesn’t handle it so well, and we’re then shown a screen with the message, “ALL RESET” and on a second line, “Return.” Rewind!

The next few scenes show us what the different characters are up to now, after Lain presumably fixed things by undoing everything Eiri had done. Everyone is living, well, not quite happily ever after, but better. Only a couple people seem to notice that Lain isn’t there. Lain, however, is not happy. She has a conversation with a double about omnipotence and omnipresence. When Lain gets fed up with that, the image of her father appears in the sky, and they have some tea in the clouds.

Now comforted, Lain meets a now adult Alice, and they have a short conversation. The blue static returns, one more time, and Lain says to the camera, “I promise you I’ll always be right here. I’ll always be right next to you, forever.”

Read More Ego

Landscape

We’re coming into the home stretch of serial experiments lain. In Layer 12: Landscape, the voice-over returns. “Oh, okay… So that’s how it works. I had no idea the world was this simple. I always thought the world was such a big and scary place, but once you figure it all out, it’s all so easy.” A second voice adds, “See? I told you it would be.” The episode proper opens at school, with Alice gloomily watching Lain gossip with Julie and Reika. Lain sends Alice a message saying she should just rewrite bad memories. A static-covered image of Lain takes up the screen and apparently addresses the audience directly. “People only have substance in the memories of others. That’s why there were all kinds of me’s. There weren’t a lot of me’s, I was just inside all sorts of people, that’s all.”

In a voice-over, Eiri talks about how the world can be explained entirely in materialistic terms, and how people were originally all connected – and have now been reconnected through Lain’s efforts. By sharing information seemlessly Man can figure out what kind of animal he is and evolve by his own power. In a parking garage the MIBs discuss their situation, and how their client had been working with Eiri all along. The Tachibana boss shows up, hands over a suitcase full of money and tells them to run to a place with no electricity or satellite coverage, and leaves. Both die after seeing a vision of Lain.

Alice goes to Lain’s trashed house, and speaks with her. Eiri appears, is goaded into manifesting bodily, and is destroyed.

Read More Landscape

Infornography

On to more serial experiments lain. In Layer 11: Infornography, the opening changes a bit. The title screen is made of up screens from the previous episode, and the voice-over is still missing from the cityscape. Instead, we see Lain being tied up in cables. Much of the episode is essentially a recap, going through the events of the series so far in a fast edited series of clips of previous episodes and a handful of other phrases flashing on the screen, but with the largest portion, especially near the end, focusing on Alice. Eiri then appears and tells Lain that she is, essentially, software, though Lain doesn’t like him talking about her as if she’s a machine. She then appears in the street and sees Chisa and the Cyberia shooter, who have a brief discussion about dying, and Lain finds herself holding the shooter’s gun with him telling her how to shoot herself (she doesn’t).

Then, it cuts to Alice’s room, where Alice is watching a message from Julie, who wants to set her up on a date to dispel rumours about her relationship with a teacher. Lain shows up with the body of that alien from last episode, talks about the “other” Lain and how she can fix the rumours. Alice is skeptical, but of course, the next day she realises that Lain really did make everyone but her forget what had happened.

Read More Infornography

Love

Back to serial experiments lain. Layer 10: Love starts with our cityscape, but no voice-over this time. Lain and Eiri have a conversation in which they speak in each other’s voices, and Eiri explains how he put his consciousness into Protocol 7. Given his power he’s arguably a god, but to truly be a god he also needs worshippers, so he made himself a cult – the Knights. At school, Lain’s desk is gone and everyone is oblivious to her presence. As she starts to wonder if maybe she doesn’t need a body after all, Alice, or rather someone speaking through Alice, confirms this. Lain goes home, but the house is eerily empty and unkempt. Her room is messy, but none of her computer equipment is there. Mr. Iwakura appears in the doorway, says his work is done because Lain must have figured things out by now, that he loved her, assures her she’s not alone because of the type of being she is and everyone she can connect to in the Wired, and leaves.

Lain searches for information on the Knights, doxes them, and the MIBs go out and kill them. They then go to Lain’s house where she’s entangled in cables. One of them, Karl, explains that they’d assassinated the Knights as a job for a client, that the Wired can’t be a world to itself, and that they aren’t sure what sort of being Lain is. He adds as they leave that he loves her.

Back out in the street, Eiri tells Lain that she’s essentially a homunculus, that he’s “the man who loves her,” and that she should love him. Lain angrily refuses and he disappears.

Read More Love

Protocol

Another week, another episode of serial experiments lain. Layer 09: Protocol’s voice-over says, “If you want to be free of suffering, you should believe in God. Whether or not you believe in Him, God is always by your side.” Much of the rest of the episode consists of infodumps about topics such as Roswell, important figures in computer history, and concepts and inventions like Memex and hypertext. An alien in a striped sweater appears on Lain’s doorway. In Cyberia, JJ hands Lain an envelope that he says she dropped, but she doesn’t remember it and it’s stamped with the Knights’ logo. Lain has a “date” with Taro where she questions him about the processor from the envelope. Taro steals a kiss as he leaves.

Nice.

Lain sees a vision of herself being introduced to the Iwakura home, and has a brief exchange with this past version of herself. Eiri finally appears in person.…

Read More Protocol

Rumors

Ready for more serial experiments lain? Our friend the voice-over says in Layer 08: Rumors, “Do you want to be hurt, too? Do you want your heart to feel like it’s being scraped with a rasp? If you do, don’t look away, whatever you do.” Lain meets with Taro in a computer game world where he’s killing other player characters, telling Lain that nobody knows what’s fun or why. Lain speaks to an artist making models of scantily-clad women, and they speculate on Tachibana’s R&D efforts and whether they’d do anything illegal. In particular, he mentions how Protocol 6 (essentially, IPv6 in our real world) is “reaching its throughput limit,” and that whoever can control Protocol 7 can control “the economy of the Wired,” and that there are constant sabotage efforts against it.

Lain mentions to her parents, with a nervous laugh, how she’d been recently asked if they’re her real parents, but gets no response besides a stare. At school, Alice and her friends confront Lain about spreading rumours about Alice. Lain next enters a chatroom of some kind where the participants are, of course, sharing rumours and wild speculations; “God” appears and talks about his and Lain’s nature. Now, she’d apparently been absorbed in her pocket Navi but snaps out of it to see everyone in her classroom staring at her and a message on her Navi, “Lain is a peeping tom.” She runs away and worries about what she’d done on the Wired, and we see a vision of the school exploding. We then cut to Lain of the Wired watching Alice fantasise about a teacher. Lain confronts Lain of the Wired and strangles her. Back in the chatroom, Eiri tells Lain that she’s omnipresent in the Wired, and Lain figures that she can erase people’s memories – including the memories of her double and the rumours she’d spread, which she then does.

They did indeed forget, but as Alice and the rest walk toward Lain a double, the cruel Lain, appears – and it’s this Lain that they can see and interact with.

A lot happens in this episode, so let’s go through scene by scene. First, it’s not clear whether the game Taro is playing is intended to be PvP (player vs. player) or not, but ruining other people’s day through good old-fashioned cyberbullying is the basic theme of this episode. As for the porn artist, his dialogue is expository but the setting gives us a sense that the Wired is, in multiple ways, a perverse place.

The question regarding Lain’s parents was, of course, brought up last episode, and their response to Lain here tells me that the Tachibana boss was on the right track; the Iwakuras are not Lain’s real parents. Note that Mr. Iwakura’s glasses are opaque because of a glare from an unseen source as Lain enters the room, but the glare is gone when he and his wife look to Lain, not saying anything but with an expression like they have some bad news to deliver. The effect is that he seems distant at first, but more honest at the end of the scene.

At school, and really throughout the series, Alice is very patient and forgiving with Lain. In contrast to the Wired rumourmongers, Alice always prefers to assume the best of people. The internet tends to bring out the worst in people, because the people we speak with seem less real due to pseudonyms and lack of things like tone of voice, eye contact, etc., and our own anonymity removes us from a feeling of responsibility. Alice’s good nature, then, makes her feel more like a real person as opposed to the extremely online personalities of the chatroom participants.

Who knows how much of what the chatroom participants say is true? It doesn’t matter, really, as they’re essentially voyeurs. As for “God,” it is interesting to see Eiri talk about himself a little. He at least doesn’t claim to be the creator of the world (meaning the real world, I assume), but adds that “The all-powerful ruler of the world” is “giv[ing] God too much credit.” Well, God would be all-powerful pretty much by definition, but Eiri is, I believe, mostly interested in increasing his own power, or at least the perception of his power, and one way to do so is to downplay the power of other “gods.” He does claim to be like God in that he’s omnipresent, though. He also talks about how Lain has always existed in the Wired and that the “real world” Lain is just a hologram of the Lain of the Wired, much as the apparition of Mrs. Iwakura said in Layer 05.

One confusing comment Eiri makes when Lain asks who he is, is “I am you.” Now, I don’t think that’s true, so I assume that he says this to throw Lain off-balance and make it harder for her to think through what he tells her next. If she accepts that the real world doesn’t matter, then she’s more likely to help weaken the barrier between the real world and the Wired, giving Eiri more influence over both.

Do all of the students at Lain’s school really stare at her? If rumours of what Lain’s been doing as a peeping tom get around, as they certainly could in a school, then it’s possible that most everyone would recognise and stare at her.…

Read More Rumors