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The November eclogue of the Shepheardes Calender is the best and strongest, but, alas, it is also the most mournful.  It is an elegy for a dead shepherd maiden.  The poetry actually accomplishes what some other parts of the work do not: it marries the allusions of ancient Rome and Greece with the Christian worldview of Early Modern England. Additionally  the poem alloys the Chaucerian English (which Spenser always looks back towards with such longing) with the modern English he used for writing and speaking.  The best parts of the poem anticipate metaphysical poetry…and maybe even some of Victorian verse.  If you listen to the sad yet thunderous music of the lament there is also not a little of Shakespeare in it: it is strange to be reminded that he had powerful antecedents and did not spring like Minerva from godhead.

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Shepheardes Calender XI: November.

Edmund Spenser

THENOT. COLIN.

Colin, my Dear, when shall it please thee sing,
As thou wert wont, Songs of some Jouisance
Thy Muse too long slumbereth in sorrowing,
Lulled asleep through Love’s misgovernance.
Now somewhat sing, whose endless Sovenance
Emong the Shepherds Swains may aye remain;
Whether thee list thy loved Lass advance,
Or honour Pan with Hymns of higher Vein.

COLIN.
Thenot, now nis the time of Merry-make,
Nor Pan to herie, nor with Love to play;
Sike Mirth in May is meetest for to make,
Or Summer Shade, under the cocked Hay.
But now sad Winter welked hath the Day,
And Phoebus weary of his yearly Task,
Ystablisht hath his Steeds in lowly lay,
And taken up his Inn in Fishes Hask,
Thilk sullen Season sadder Plight doth ask,
And loatheth sike Delights, as thou doost praise:
The mournful Muse in Mirth now list ne mask,
As she was wont in Youngth and Summer-days.
But if thou algate lust light Virelays,
And looser Songs of Love to underfong
Who but thy self deserves sike Poet’s Praise?
Relieve thy Oaten Pipes, that sleepen long.

THENOT.
The Nightingale is Sovereign of Song,
Before him fits the Titmouse silent be:
And I, unfit to thrust in skilful Throng,
Should Colin make judge of my foolery?
Nay, better learn of hem that learned be,
And han been watred at the Muses Well:
The kindly Dew drops from the higher Tree,
And wets the little Plants that lowly dwell.
But if sad Winter’s Wrath, and Season chill,
Accord not with thy Muse’s Merriment;
To sadder times thou maist attune thy Quill,
And sing of Sorrow and Death’s Dreriment,
For dead is Dido, dead alas and drent!
Dido, the great Shepherd his Daughter sheen:
The fairest May she was that ever went,
Her like she has not left behind I ween.
And if thou wilt bewail my woeful Teen,
I shall thee give yond Cosset for thy pain:
And if thy Rimes as round and rueful been,
As those that did thy Rosalind complain,
Much greater Gifts for Guerdon thou shalt gain,
Than Kid or Cosset, which I thee benempt;
Then up I say, thou jolly Shepherd Swain,
Let not my small Demand be so contempt.

COLIN.
Thenot, to that I chose, thou dost me tempt,
But ah! too well I wote my humble vein,
And how my Rimes been rugged and unkempt:
Yet as I con, my Cunning I will strain.

Up then Melpomene, the mournfulst Muse of nine,
Such cause of mourning never hadst afore;
Up grisly Ghosts, and up my ruful Rime,
Matter of Mirth now shalt thou have no more:
For dead she is, that Mirth thee made of yore,
Dido my Dear, alas, is dead,
Dead, and lieth wrapt in Lead:
O heavy Herse!
Let streaming Tears be poured out in store:
O careful Verse!

Shepherds, that by your Flocks on Kentish Downs abide,
Wail ye this woful Waste of Nature’s Wark:
Wail we the Wight, whose Presence was our Pride;
Wail we the Wight, whose Absence is our Cark.
The Sun of all the World is dim and dark;
The Earth now wants her wonted light,
And all we dwell in deadly Night;
O heavy Herse!
Break we our Pipes, that shrill’d as loud as Lark:
O careful Verse!

Why do we longer live, (ah why live we so long?)
Whose better Days Death hath shut up in Woe?
The fairest Flower our Girlond all among,
Is faded quite, and into Dust ygo;
Sing now ye Shepherd’s Daughters, sing no mo
The Songs that Colin made you in her praise,
But into Weeping turn your wanton Lays.
O heavy Herse!
Now is time to die: Nay, time was long ygo.
O careful Verse!

Whence is it, that the Flowret of the Field doth fade,
And lieth buried long in Winter’s Bale?
Yet soon as Spring his Mantle hath displayde,
It flowreth fresh, as it should never fail.
But thing on Earth that is of most avail,
As Vertue’s Branch and Beauty’s Bud,
Reliven not for any good.
O heavy Herse!
The Branch once dead, the Bud eke needs must quail:
O careful Verse!

She while she was, (that was a woful Word to sain)
For Beauty’s Praise and Pleasance had no Peer:
So well she couth the Shepherds entertain
With Cakes and Cracknels, and such Country Cheer.
Ne would she scorn the simple Shepherd’s Swain;
For she would call him often heam,
And give him Curds and clouted Cream.
O heavy Herse!
Als Colin Clout she would not once disdain:
O careful Verse!

But now sike happy Cheer is turn’d to heavy Chaunce,
Such Pleasance now displac’d by Dolor’s dint:
All Musick sleeps, where Death doth lead the Daunce,
And Shepherds wonted Solace is extinct.
The blue in black, the green in gray is tinct:
The gaudy Girlonds deck her Grave,
The faded Flowers her Corse embrave.
O heavy Herse!
Mourn now my Muse, now mourn with Tears besprint:
O careful Verse!

O thou great Shepherd Lobbin, how great is thy Grief,
Where bin the Nosegays that she dight for thee?
The coloured Chaplets wrought with a chief,
The knotted Rush-rings, and gilt Rosemaree?
For she deemed nothing too dear for thee.
Ah, they been all yclad in Clay,
One bitter Blast blew all away.
O heavy Herse!
Thereof nought remains but the Memoree:
O careful Verse!

Ay me that dreery Death should strike so mortal Stroke,
That can undo Dame Nature’s kindly Course:
The faded Locks fall from the lofty Oke,
The Flouds do gasp, for dried is their Source,
And Flouds of Tears flow in their stead perforce.
The mantled Meadows mourn,
Their sundry Colours tourn:
O heavy Herse!
The Heavens do melt in Tears without remorse:
O careful Verse!

The feeble Flocks in Field refuse their former Food,
And hang their Heads, as they would learn to weep:
The Beasts in Forest wail as they were wood,
Except the Wolves, that chase the wandring Sheep,
Now she is gone, that safely did hem keep.
The Turtle on the bared Branch,
Laments the Wound, that Death did lanch.
O heavy Herse!
And Philomel her Song with Tears doth steep:
O careful Verse!

The Water Nymphs, that wont with her to sing and dance,
And for her Girlond Olive Branches bear,
Now baleful Boughs of Cypress done advance:
The Muses that were wont green Bays to wear,
How bringen bitter Elder Branches sere:
The fatal Sisters eke repent,
Her vital Threed so soon was spent.
O heavy Herse!
Mourn now my Muse, now mourn with heavy Chear:
O careful Verse!

O trustless State of earthly things, and slipper Hope
Of mortal Men, that swink and sweat for nought,
And shooting wide, do miss the marked Scope:
Now have I learn’d (a Lesson dearly bought)
That nis on Earth assurance to be sought:
For what might be in earthly Mould;
That did her buried Body hold;
O heavy Herse!
Yet saw I on the Beere when it was brought:
O careful Verse!

But maugre Death, and dreaded Sisters deadly spight:
And Gates of Hell, and fiery Furies force;
She hath the Bonds broke of eternal Night,
Her Soul unbodied of the burdenous Corse.
Why then weeps Lobbin so without remorse?
O Lobb, thy Loss no longer lament;
Dido nis dead, but into Heaven hent:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Muse, now cease thy Sorrow’s sourse,
O joyful Verse!

Why wail we then? why weary we the Gods with Plaints,
As if some Evil were to her betight?
She reigns a Goddess now emong the Saints,
That whylom was the Saint of Shepherds light;
And is enstalled now in Heavens hight.
I see the blessed soul, I see,
Walk in Elysian Fields so free.
O happy Herse!
Might I once come to thee (O that I might!)
O joyful Verse!

Unwise and wretched Men to weet what’s Good or Ill,
We deem of Death as doom of ill Desert:
But knew we, Fools, what it us brings until,
Die would we daily, once it to expert:
No Danger there the Shepherd can assert;
Fair Fields and pleasant Layes there been;
The Fields aye fresh, the Grass aye green:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Song, my Woe now wasted is,
O joyful Verse!

Dido is gone afore (whose turn shall be the next?)
There lives she with the blessed Gods in Bliss;
There drinks she Nectar with Ambrosia mixt,
And Joys enjoys, that mortal Men do miss.
The Honour now of highest Gods she is,
That whylom was poor Shepherds Pride,
While here on Earth she did abide:
O happy Herse!
Cease now my Song, my Woe now wasted is:
O joyful Verse!

THENOT.
Aye frank Shepherd, how been thy Verses meint
With doleful Pleasance, so as I ne wot,
Whether rejoyce or weep for great constraint?
Thine be the Cosset, well hast thou it got.
Up Colin up, ynough thou mourned hast:
Now ‘gins to mizzle, hie we homeward fast.

COLIN’S EMBLEM.
La mort ny mord.

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The first known farmers were apparently…ants. Leafcutter ants have been growing fungus on chopped up leaves for at least 50 million years. It is an amazingly long time.  Yet, when one thinks of the astonishing range of different “breeds” of animals and crops which humankind has created through artificial selection during the 10 millenia or so years since we started farming, the ants seem a bit lackluster.  For all of their workaholic zeal, ants are not as relentless as us in selecting for traits in their crops.

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Yet, as we learn more about the ants and their empire, the amazing extent of their symbiosis with the plants they use is beginning to become more apparent to us.   Because of the vastly greater timeline of their endeavors, they have coevolved in astonishing ways. An example of this can be found in the homes of Philidris nagasau, a species of leaf cutterant native to Fiji.  These ants literally grow their homes out of Squamellaria, an epiphytic plant which grows on tropical trees.

The Economist described the mechanism through which the ants grow a home (or, alternately, the way the epiphytic plant obtains an army of insect servants):

P. nagasau worker ants harvest seeds from their epiphytic homes, carry them away, and then insert them into cracks in the bark of suitable trees. That done, they patrol the sites of the plantings to keep away herbivores, and also fertilise the seedlings as they grow by defecating into hollow structures called domatia that develop in the bases of the plants’ stems. As a Squamellaria grows, its domatium swells (see picture) and develops galleries that can accommodate ants—which then move in. This, and the plant’s habit of growing flowers that generate nectar long after they have been pollinated, provide the evolutionary quid pro quo that makes the relationship between insect and epiphyte work.

It is incredible that the ants grow their own houses.  Yet, as one looks more closely at familiar domestic arrangements with this story in mind, they start to seem less familiar.  Is farming really as unique as we make it out to be, or does it resemble mutualistic arrangements found throughout the natural world.

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We would never say we co-evolved with goats, cows, and horses: their domestication seems like a one way exchange to us. Yet an outside observer might look at our leather sofas, cheeseburgers, cavalry charges, or angora sweaters and come to a different conclusion.

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The Sri Ranganathaswamy Temple or Thiruvarangam is a colossal temple to the Hindu god Vishnu (or, more specifically, it is dedicated to Ranganātha, a reclining form of Vishnu).  Located on an island in the Cauvery river in Tamil Nadu, the temple is one of the most illustrious (and largest) temples in India. The complex includes 21 monumental ornamental towers (including the 72 meter (236 foot)  Rajagopuram), 39 pavilions, fifty shrines, all within a 156 acre complex which includes six miles of concentric walls.  The shrines, walls, and towers are bedecked in stunning stone statuary painted in all of the brilliant colors of South India.

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The story of the temple’s creation is steeped in Hindu myth: Lord Rama, the seventh avatar of Vishnu completed his devotions to Vishnu by worshiping a mysterious idol.  After killing Ravana and returning victorious from Sri Lanka (as detailed in the Ramayana) Rama gave this sacred statue to King Vibhishana.  The king planned on taking the statue to Sri Lanka, but when he set it down while resting on an island, it became rooted to the spot.

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The temple itself was built by the Chola Dynasty, India’s longest lived dynasty.  There is a further legend of the temple’s construction: a Chola king chased a parrot into the deep forest and found the idol overgrown by jungle.  He built the complex around the statue and the temple was maintained and expanded by the great dynasties of Southern India–the Chola, Pandya, Hoysala and Vijayanagar dynasties.  The oldest parts of the building seem to date back to the 10th century AD, but written sources do not accurately convey the precise chronology.  The great temples of South India are themselves primary historical sources, but alas, they are not as particular about dates as historians might like.

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It is difficult to even begin to describe the sumptuous beauty and complexity of the ornaments of Sri Ranganathaswamy.  The colorful and intricate statues of the figures from Vishnu’s lives and incarnations have an otherworldly and alien beauty not found elsewhere.  Nor will I attempt to  describe the meaning of Vishnu’s iconography (although if you are as smitten by his reclining beauty as I am you can read about Ananta Shesha, the many headed cobra god which serves as his divine couch).

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I’m sorry i didn’t write a post yesterday.  I had a cold, and while I managed to stumble through my workday, I just fell asleep when I got home.  I’ll keep today’s post short and sweet by concentrating on two things which everyone loves: turkeys and money.  Turkeys are a personal favorite animal of mine–they are large beautiful galliform birds which I have written about at length.  Now I don’t know nearly as much about money, but what I have heard makes me think I would like it.  So, as an early Thanksgiving treat, here are some coins with turkeys on them.

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The first two examples are quarters–from Louisiana of all places (my native West Virginia, a place filled with wildlife, got stuck with a bridge.)

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The third example is apparentlyfrom Saba. At first, I thought Saba sounded made up–but then I noticed that the coin had “five” written on it in Dutch.  Sure enough this is an island in the lesser Antilles, and you can totally buy something there for this amazing turkey coin.

Autumn3.jpgI’m sorry.  November is flying by on russet wings and still I have posted no photos of autumn color!  i meant to write about beautiful autumn foliage, but, with one thing or another, I never managed to get out of New York. So…the only thing to do was to head out to my garden in Brooklyn and take some leaf pictures at home.

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Autumn gardens have their own chaotic beauty of fallen leaves, brown spots, and jagged red vines.  Plus it has been warm this year so there are still plenty of flowers.

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However the queen of the garden, as always, is the ornamental Kwanzan cherry tree, which is nearly as beautiful covered in glowing yellow leaves as it is in summer wearing bright grass green…or even in spring when it is a lambent pink cloud.  I love that tree!

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For various reasons, I have been thinking about manufacturing and small American towns and communities in the hinterland.  We’ll get back to these thoughts soon, but first here is a winsome artifact of this bygone age: a glass pageant crown from Dunkirk, Indiana.  This crown was part of an annual tradition: it was used to crown the annual “Cinderella, Queen of Glass”, during “Glass Days” a local festival in Dunkirk, which had an amazingly robust craft glass industry (not unlike some of the small cities and towns I know from West Virginia).  Cinderella’s crown was lovingly handmade and has some of the finer stylistic elements which I like in American glass.  You can find it these days in the Glass Museum at Dunkirk, which sounds like a pleasant excursion, and not nearly so forboding as the palaces, vaults, and cathedral tombs, where some of the other crowns we have featured here are located.

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Today amidst the internet flotsam and jetsam, there was a post about archaeologists discovering this exquisite mosaic in Şanlıurfa, Turkey.  There are two male and two female figures surrounded by beautiful decorative frames of interlocking geometry.  It is not known who the figures are–perhaps we will never find out–but look how expressive and amazing these ancient portraits are!

What is now the Turkish town of Şanlıurfa was once Edessa, capital of the kingdom of Osroene.  The city has an ancient and complex history, but between 100 AD and 600 AD (which is the rough age estimate for this mosaic)  it was a vassal state first to the Parthian Empire and later to the Roman Empire, before becoming part of the Byzantine Empire.  Later on, in medieval times, Edessa would be taken by the Sassanid Empire, the first Caliphate, the Crusaders…and on and on and on.

However this mural seems (to me) to be an artwork of Osroene, where the Syriac dialect first developed. Syriac literature and culture flourished there.  These people lived and died and were buried in rocky tombs (which were then buried beneath the Castle of Urfa and forgotten…till now.

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Since the moon does not orbit the Earth in a perfect circle, the perigee (the closest point that the moon comes in relation to the planet) changes from year to year.  Tonight (November 14, 2016) marks the largest “supermoon” seen in six decades.  The moon will not appear so large in the sky again until November 25, 2034.

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According to ancient Algonquin lore, the full moons of autumn had various sacred names (well, at least according to the Farmer’s Almanac).  The full August moon was the “Sturgeon Moon” because the great fish came together to mate at that time.  Likewise, the September full moon occurred when the maize ripened and was thus called “the Corn Moon”.  After the harvest, when the weather was perfect for hunting, the October full moon was “the Hunter’s Moon”.  The full moon of November was known as the Beaver Moon, since it was an ideal time to trap beaver, which were out and about putting their affairs in order before winter (indeed the industrious rodents were nearly exterminated by trappers—but that is another story).

Tonight’s full moon is thus the Beaver Super Moon.  You should go out and appreciate it!   For who knows what the future will hold?  There may be clouds on the night of November 25, 2034 or maybe you will be on a floating Venus colony with me. Maybe cruel Empress Ivanna will have you chained up and working underground, mining the last seams of coal to feed the Earth’s final sputtering machines.  Maybe you will just be busy sending pointless administrative files to people.

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Enjoy the Beaver Super Moon! Then later this week, in honor of the season, we will get back to talking about turkeys!

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A persimmon is a berry which grows on a persimmon tree, a group of species within the larger group Diospyros.  The Diospyros trees are part of the majestic ebony family, and indeed persimmon trees are likewise noted for their hard, dense, elegant wood. The Diospyros are widespread trees, and native species of persimmon can be found in East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, the Philippines, and North America.

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Persimmon berries (or fruit, as people call them) are an excellent source of dietary fiber, manganese, and beta-carotene (which people are always banging on about, but which I think is overrated).  They do not otherwise contain significant nutrients…except perhaps sugars (once they have been sufficiently ripened or bletted).  Unripe persimmons are astringent and somewhat indigestible. Indeed, green persimmons are noted for sometimes causing bezoars in humans who eat lots of green persimmons–the unripened flesh polymerizes into a woody ball which traps other food materials.  These horrifying lumps can necessitate surgery (although apparently coca-cola dissolves them).

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Persimmon trees are rugged and grow fast.  Not only do their blossoms emerge after their leaves, which protects the buds from frost, they can also survive in polluted or unfavorable situations.  My grandfather had a garden and a fruit orchard next to the Chesapeake Bay.  The East Coast is slowly (or maybe not-so-slowly) receding into the ocean and the persimmons lived shockingly close to the saltwater until Hurricane Fran knocked them down in 1996.  Throwing a football around while running across the slippery rotting fruit is my foremost persimmon memories, although I have also drunk the Korean spicy punch called sujeonggwa (and I found it delightful).  Maybe I should try making a persimmon pie!

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Additionally there is a beautiful autumnal orange color named after persimmon. It is a mid-tone orange with hints of red, almost the same hue as senior republicans, but slightly darker with woody brown notes. I like to write about seasonally appropriate colors, and I can hardly think of a hue more suited to early November (unless it is some sort of russet or woodland gray).

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Well, the 2016 election is finally over.  And I sort of got my wish–all three branches of government are fully united and deadlock is over. Plus we have our own Kim Jong-un now, a glorious orange child-monarch of absolute privilege who is beholden to no one and obeys no rules. Perhaps we can use this loose cannon to deal with North Korea once and for all, before they get long-range nuclear missiles or trade warfare leaves China with nothing to lose. Oh! and maybe Newt Gingrich will finally get his moon base. Anyway, we can talk about affairs of the world again in 2020 (if any of us are alive)…or maybe in 2018 if demographics moves faster than the statisticians say.

But the end of the never-ending election brings up one big problem: what is anyone going to write about now?

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Fortunately Ferrebeekeeper has the answer the nation craves: Ancistrus–the endearing  bushynose catfish!  These armored catfish from South America (and Panama) have faces so ridiculous and ugly that they are actually adorable.  Ancistrus catfish are part of the Loricariidae: armored suckermouth catfish which live on plant material.  Many of the 70 species of Ancistrus catfish live in the Amazon Basin, but some live in other South America river systems–or up in Panama. Females have a few short bristles poking out from around their mouths, but males have a magnificent beard of tendrils running from their midface.

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Male Ancistrus catfish are dutiful parents.  They hide in underwater dens and guard clutches of eggs which the females lay upside down sticking to the roof.  When the fry hatch, the father guards them when they are little and vulnerable.  Female catfish like dutiful fathers, and they are amorously receptive to males who have clutches of young (since successful males tend to have multiple batches of eggs).  It has been speculated that the tendrils actually evolved to help males look like they have young in low-light dating situations.  Undoubtedly these tendrils also help the catfish feel and taste their way around in low light situations (although the fish, like all catfish, are blessed with an astonishing array of senses).

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Three species of Ancistrus are, in fact, true troglobites: they dwell in underwater caves and have lost most of their pigmentation (and their eyes are becoming less acute and withering away).  The other species of Ancistrus are pretty stylishly colored too: they tend to be covered with yellow or white spots.  I think we can finally agree that this is a face we can all get behind!

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