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Virginia Woolf famously remarked (c.1926, I think),"On or about December, 1910, human character changed."
So this month is the centennial.
In response to requests for commentary:
I wrote the poem below to express my feelings looking back on the 20th century, which Woolf was witnessing the beginning of with her remark, and looking forward at this new century. I think her observation was meant a bit facetiously, but recognized that the world had changed so radically that we had to come up with new new modes of feeling and being to live in it. We are in a similar position today - we won't survive the damages wrought by the 20th century in the 21st without deeply rethinking our relationship to the planet and each other.


"On or about December, Nineteen Ten,
Human character changed." None too soon.
Prometheus had visited again,
Could we learn to be worthy of his boon?
The Gatling gun would put an end to war,
No glory in a weapon so obscene
Clearly threatening esprit de corps
Four years hence it had become routine.
The car, that liberates as it confines,
The Arts in flower, hacking at the trunk.
Blind faith in Progress, History's design,
And always, spewing smoke and spouting gunk.
This century, can we adapt and learn
To live when there is no world left to burn?

Originally posted to Perry the Imp on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:18 AM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (7+ / 0-)

    Plangentarchy: dictatorship of the whiners

    by Perry the Imp on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:18:02 AM PST

  •  On or about December 2010 (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Churchill, JeffW, QuestionAuthority

    A long quote masqueraded as a diary and then faded quietly away.

    In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice; but in practice, there always is a difference. - Yogi Berra

    by blue aardvark on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:19:31 AM PST

    •  I wrote the poem (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      trevzb, HylasBrook

      Plangentarchy: dictatorship of the whiners

      by Perry the Imp on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:24:26 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Interesting Poem - can you provide (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Perry the Imp

        a link?  Was this something Virginia Woolf wrote or said in a lecture?  "A room of one's own" began as a series of lectures.

        Very curious to find the reference.

        Woolf was right, whether she truly knew it or not, because on August 1914, Western Europe and the US changed forever.

        HylasBrook @62 - fiesty, fiery, and fierce

        by HylasBrook on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 10:33:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  She was almost certainly referring to Roger Fry's (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Perry the Imp, HylasBrook

          first Post-Impressionist show in 1910.
          This show ( which featured the painters Cezanne, Van Gogh,Gauguin and other French artists, was so groundbreaking ( and such a shock to the British public) that it s hard for us to comprehend.
          Bloomsbury was very involved with this show, and it was a revelation to them as well. It also put the nosees of the writers out of joint a bit, as there was such excitement over art.

        •  Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cynndara, HylasBrook

          an essay about the state of the novel at the time, critiquing the conventions of Edwardian novels. I had never traced the quote back to its primary source until you asked; it gets repeated quite a bit and has taken on a life of its own as a shorthand for the radical changes of early 20c.
          Now I have to go read Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown.

          Plangentarchy: dictatorship of the whiners

          by Perry the Imp on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 11:04:08 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Some commentary definitely needed (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Churchill, Perry the Imp

    However, the poem did strike a chord with me, for some reason.

    Hence, the T&R.

    "Ridicule may lawfully be employed where reason has no hope of success." -7.75/-6.05

    by QuestionAuthority on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 09:20:56 AM PST

  •  I rec'd but no tip without (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Churchill, Perry the Imp

    initiating the commentary.

    I love Virginia Woolf though.

  •  Just to clarify (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This isn't a quote from a VW poem, which seems to be the impression I inadvertently created - it's a poem by me, with a VW quote as its inspiration and opening lines.
    I'd welcome critiques of the poem on its merits or otherwise, but I don't want to hang it on poor Virginia.

    Plangentarchy: dictatorship of the whiners

    by Perry the Imp on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 10:01:01 AM PST

  •  Nice little piece (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Perry the Imp

    of verse.  Always happy to tip and rec actual poetry, as opposed to self-absorbed emo.  Suggest you put it aside for a couple of months, come back and edit -- scan isn't perfect, but the flow is good.  Scan can be tightened up in the second round.

    •  thanks for actually reading my actual poetry! (0+ / 0-)

      Yes, some of those lines are on probation. I'm not a trained poet, just an enthusiastic amateur, and I've gotten varied advice on scansion. For instance, I started the second line as '"Human character changed," and none too soon.'
      This flows OK, and has the right syllable count, but its sounds a little bit sing-song, because of the accents in 'character.' I wanted something more tart and terse, so now it is missing a syllable, although there is a strongly indicated pause in the middle.
      "Four years hence it had become routine" is also missing a syllable, but if I used, say "Four years later it had become routine" it sounds very awkward, because of the way the accents fall.
      Assuming I am trying to write a correct Shakespearean sonnet, is it better to get the syllable count right or the spoken rhythm? Shakespeare often sounds like he is adding or missing syllables, but when you count them they are all in order; it's just that the phrasing has created a kind of syncopation.

      Plangentarchy: dictatorship of the whiners

      by Perry the Imp on Mon Dec 13, 2010 at 07:35:16 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Always go with the rhythm (0+ / 0-)

        in English.  In some languages, like Japanese, the syllable-count IS the rhythm, but in a stressed language, you go with the "flow".  Shakespeare is a wonderful example -- he avoids being sing-songy precisedly by that runover of phrasing into the next line, the occasional skipped beat or unstressed syllable where you would expect stress. So sometimes perfection is in the IMperfections.

        Specific suggestions: Line 4, cut "learn to"; too many syllables AND unnecessary for the thought.  Line 8 "four years hence" I would just change "hence" to "and", "hence" is a little archaic for the flow; while "and" is more pedestrian, which emphasizes the ho-hum process by which the unthinkable becomes routine.

        I love the lines "the car, that liberates as it confines, the Arts in flower, hacking at the trunk" . . . you have so caught the essence of Modernism.

        •  All good suggestions (0+ / 0-)

          and reflect a thoughtful reading of the poem and understanding of what I was attempting. Very much appreciated. Do you post poetry anywhere?

          Plangentarchy: dictatorship of the whiners

          by Perry the Imp on Fri Dec 17, 2010 at 06:22:19 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Uh, not really (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Perry the Imp

            right now.  Used to run a BBS where we exchanged a lot, a decade ago.  I'm a pagan bard/liturgist; when I'm practicing, I have to be able to dump out forty minutes worth of verse dialog for rituals eight times a year or respond to poetic arguments extemporaneously in verse.  Speaking of which, I'm supposed to do ritual for the family Tuesday night and I haven't got a THING prepared . . .

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