Saturday, October 30, 2010

Post coitum omne animal triste est sive gallus et mulier

Anyone who has lived in a Catholic monastery (as I did at one time) knows that saying. It's used as a justification and rationalization for celibacy.

Usually the only part that is translated is "post coitum omne animal triste est" which means "after sex all animals are sad." Usually ignored is the second part: "sive gallus et mulier" which means "except for the cock and the woman."

(And I use the word "cock" correctly. It means a male chicken. A hen is a female chicken. Both male and female chickens roost; therefore they are both roosters. The word "rooster" was a first used as a euphemistic substitution for "cock" in the 19th century when the word "cock," which was commonly used by the "lower classes" to mean penis, was discovered by the "middle classes." When the "petit bourgeoisie" realized that "cock" was also the slang word for penis they switched to a less troublesome word, rooster, for the male chicken.)

I was taught in the monastery that the saying came from Aristotle (or maybe Spinoza) but the contributors to Language Hat disagree.

According to Wikipedia:
Sexual intercourse can sometimes lead to a feeling of melancholy called PCT, or post-coital tristesse (from Latin post-coital, and French tristesse, literally — “sadness”). This is more common in men than in women. Many PCT sufferers may also exhibit strong feelings of anxiety, anywhere from five minutes, to two hours after coitus.

The phenomenon is referred to by the philosopher Baruch Spinoza in his Tractatus de Intellectus Emendatione when he said "For as far as sensual pleasure is concerned, the mind is so caught up in it, as if at peace in a [true] good, that it is quite prevented from thinking of anything else. But after the enjoyment of sensual pleasure is past, the greatest sadness follows. If this does not completely engross, still it thoroughly confuses and dulls the mind."
Anyone who has had sex with women or observed chickens (as I have) knows that both cocks and women do not feel any lassitude after sexual intercourse probably because they do not expend as much energy as males. Ejaculating semen is draining for all males except cocks and probably the other lower orders of the animal kingdom.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

William Morris Meredith and Richard Harteis

The poet, William Morris Meredith.

We watched the movie Marathon tonight and enjoyed it so much that I decided to Google it. It's based on the book by Harteis who was Meredith's partner for 36 years.

From IMdB:
Explores the relationship between two poets Richard Harteis and William Meredith, former US poet laureate and winner of every major American award for poetry including the 1988 Pulitzer prize.

In the 17th year of friendship, William suffers a debilitating stroke. Richard stands by his partner fighting for his right to care for him, despite the inevitable restrictions on his own life and against the wishes of William's family. The strength to overcome disability with dignity becomes a lesson in physical and spiritual endurance, hard won knowledge indeed.
Meredith died in 2007 and Harteis published a book of poems, Legacy, the same year. From Peter Klappert's review of Legacy:
Legacy is a series of poems for Richard Harteis’s lover of 36 years, the gentle, quietly elegant and rather traditional poet William Meredith.
If Meredith’s poems are less read today than the work of Robert Lowell and John Berryman, his friends and contemporaries, it may be because he employs his mastery more quietly and because he was, as Harteis says in “Evensong,” a “model of / civility, the ultimate good guy,” a poet who did not expose, let alone exploit, his private, most personal life. Emotion in Meredith’s poems is no less honest and intense, but it is subtle and more objectified. Loneliness is a recurring theme. The Open Sea begins with its title poem:
We say the sea is lonely; better say
Ourselves are lonesome creatures whom the sea
Gives neither yes not no for company.

The next poem is the lovely, delicate “Sonnet on Rare Animals”:

Like deer rat-tat before we reach the clearing
I frighten what I brought you out to see,
Telling you who are tired by now of hearing
How there are five, how they take no fright of me.
I tried to point out fins inside the reef
Where the coral reef had turned the water dark;
The bathers kept the beach in half-belief
But would not swim and could no see the shark.
I have alarmed on your behalf and others’
Sauntering things galore.
It is this way with verse and animals
And love, that when you point you lose them all.
Startled or on a signal, what is rare
Is off before you have it anywhere.
In an inspired act of matchmaking, Maxine Kumin introduced William Meredith and Richard Harteis around 1971, and despite the 28-year difference in their ages William and Richard were devoted to each other for the rest of William’s life.

Legacy opens on “Memorial Day, 2007,” as Richard keeps vigil by William’s bed “in the hospital penthouse,” “alone with / my dying lover contemplating / hospice decisions, what to hold / what to give.” Richard uses “lover,” rather than the asexual and antiseptic “partner,” to convey the depth and intimacy of their bond and to make it unequivocal that they were more to each other than simply devoted companions. Anyone who has had to make “hospice decisions” will recognize the anguish in Richard’s phrase. As he struggles, alone, with such awful responsibility, William, who had been a navy aviator in World War Two and the Korean War, breathes
steadily into the blue
oxygen mask, preparing for lift off.
What adventure awaits you? This
private mission we all must undertake.
The succeeding poems, all addressed to William in a kind of conversation Richard has with silence, record a survivor’s adjustments and the way dailiness is infused with memory, loneliness and grief.
From Wikipedia:
William Morris Meredith, Jr. (9 January 1919 – 30 May 2007) was an American poet and educator. He was Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 1978 to 1980.
He worked briefly for the New York Times before joining the United States Navy as a flier. Meredith re-enlisted in the Korean War, receiving two Air Medals.

In 1988 Meredith was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and a Los Angeles Times Book Award for Partial Accounts: New and Selected Poems and in 1997 he received the National Book Award for Effort at Speech.
That book was about his struggle to relearn speaking.
In 1983, he suffered a stroke and was immobilized for two years. As a result of the stroke he suffered with expressive aphasia, which affected his ability to produce language. Meredith ended his teaching career and could not write poetry during this period. He regained many of his language skills after intensive therapy and traveling to Britain for treatment.
Harteis is still alive. Here's his pic from his Facebook page:

Harteis and Meredith in 2006, the year before Meredith died:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Abe Lincoln and Joshua Speed

I've read about how Lincoln and Speed slept in the same bed before but was Abe gay?
“We are getting closer to the day that a majority of younger, less homophobic historians will at long last accept the evidence of Lincoln’s same-sex component,” John Stauffer, chair of Harvard University’s Department of American Civilization, told Gay City News, adding, “ We’re already seeing the beginnings of a trend that will amount to a major paradigm shift.”

Stauffer is one of the nation’s leading experts on the Civil War era, and in his latest — and best-selling — book, “Giants: The Parallel Lives of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln,” he supports the thesis that Joshua Speed was, as he put it, “Lincoln’s soulmate and the love of his life.”

And in the latest issue of the scholarly journal Reviews of American History, Stauffer hammers home this point, writing, “In light of what we know about romantic friendship at the time, coupled with the facts surrounding Speed’s and Lincoln’s friendship, there is no reason to suppose they weren’t physically intimate at some point during their four years of sleeping together in the same small bed, long after Lincoln could afford a bed of his own. To ignore this, as most scholars do, is to pretend that same-sex carnal relationships were abnormal. It thus presumes a dislike or fear about such relationships, reflecting a presentist and homophobic perspective.”

In his groundbreaking 2005 book “The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln,” the late C.W. Tripp meticulously assembled the considerable body of historical evidence for Lincoln’s same-sex affinities, including his love affair with Speed.
A majority of Lincoln scholars dumped on Tripp’s book when it was published five years ago, but the “paradigm shift” on Lincoln of which Stauffer speaks is not only being led by younger historians like himself.
In a lengthy article entitled “Abraham Lincoln and the Tripp Thesis” in a recent issue of one of the oldest scholarly journals devoted to the iconic president, the Lincoln Herald, a senior Lincoln historian and author of numerous Lincoln books, the octogenarian William Hanchett, professor of history emeritus at the University of California/ San Diego, “challenges historians to either refute the Tripp thesis or to rewrite Lincoln’s biography. Hanchett believes that Tripp is correct at least in the broad outline of his work and finds it frustrating that most historians, rather than confronting this pioneering study, choose to ignore it,” as the Lincoln Herald’s editors put it in introducing Hanchett’s revealing, carefully footnoted essay on Lincoln’s same-sex affinities.

Hanchett in particular breaks new ground when he deconstructs what we know of the much-ignored secret Memo books kept by Lincoln’s law partner William Herndon as he spent a quarter century intensively researching his massive “Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life,” published in 1889. The UC/ San Diego scholar details how he believes that the otherwise thorough Tripp missed the evidence there that backs up Hanchett’s view that “Lincoln’s secret” was homosexuality.

“A significant number of Lincoln’s contemporaries,” Hanchett writes, “must have known of or strongly suspected his secret. The existence of Herndon’s Memo books proves it. His rowdy friends in New Salem must have wondered why [Lincoln] declined to participate with them in their revels, and almost certainly some of them must have figured it out. They knew about homosexuality, only the word was unknown to them.”
One of the few traditional Lincolnists to describe — however obliquely — the lifelong Lincoln-Speed relationship as homosexual was the Illinois poet Carl Sandburg, in his masterful, six-volume Lincoln biography. In the 1926 tome titled “The Prairie Years,” Sandburg wrote that both Lincoln and Speed had “a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets.”

“I do not feel my own sorrows more keenly than I do yours,” Lincoln wrote Speed in one letter. And elsewhere: “You know my desire to befriend you is everlasting.” In a detailed retelling of the Lincoln-Speed love story — including the “lust at first sight” encounter between the two young men, when Lincoln readily accepted Speed’s eager invitation to share his narrow bed — Tripp notes that Speed was the only human being to whom the president ever signed his letters with the unusually tender (for Lincoln) “yours forever” — a salutation Lincoln never even used with his wife.

Speed himself acknowledged, “No two men were ever so intimate.” And Tripp credibly describes Lincoln’s near nervous breakdown following Speed’s decision to end their four-year affair by returning to his native Kentucky.
Tripp’s book was remarkable and precedent-shattering because, for the first time, he restores names and faces (more than just Speed’s) to a number of those previously invisible homosexual companions and love objects of the most venerated of America’s presidents, among them: Henry C. Whitney, another of Lincoln’s law colleagues; the young Billy Greene, a New Salem contemporary of Lincoln’s and another bedmate (who admired Lincoln’s thighs); Nat Grigsby; and A.Y. Ellis. Another was the handsome David Derickson, by nine years the president’s junior, captain of President Lincoln’s bodyguard. Tripp describes in great detail how Derickson was the object of “the kinds of gentle and concentrated high-focus attention from Lincoln that Henry C. Whitney, from having himself once been on the receiving end, well described: ‘[It was] as if he wooed me to close intimacy and friendship, a kind of courtship, as indeed it was.’”
The rest of the article is the predictable Bush-bashing using former Republican National Committee chair Ken Mehlman as punch-bag.

Lincoln and Speed: