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Wednesday 1 January 2014

James Henry: Another


Van Gogh in The Sky (New York)
: photo by DavidWatts1978, 23 December 2009

Another and another and another
And still another sunset and sunrise,
The same yet different, different and the same,
Seen by me now in my declining years
As in my early childhood, youth and manhood;
And by my parents and my parents’ parents,
And by the parents of my parents’ parents,
And by their parents counted back for ever,
Seen, all their lives long, even as now by me;
And by my children and my children’s children
And by the children of my children’s children
And by their children counted on for ever
Still to be seen as even now seen by me;
Clear and bright sometimes, sometimes dark and clouded
But still the same sunsetting and sunrise;
The same for ever to the never ending
Line of observers, to the same observer
Through all the changes of his life the same:
Sunsetting and sunrising and sunsetting,
And then again sunrising and sunsetting,
Sunrising and sunsetting evermore.

James Henry (1798-1816): Another

Hura, Israel: A policeman on horseback chases demonstrators during a protest against the Prawer Plan, an Israeli government plan to forcibly remove up to 70,000 Palestinian Bedouins from their historic land in the Negev desert: photo by Oliver Weiken/EPA via The Guardian, 1 December 2013


TC said...

James Henry was born in 1798 as the elder son of a prosperous linen draper at 15 College Green, Dublin. He worked as a doctor for a while, then undertook an intensive study of the poetry of Virgil which would occupy him through much of his adult life. The classical scholar J. A. Richmond of University College, Dublin, called him "Ireland's greatest Virgilian".

From Richmond's account of Henry's life and work:

"The great commentary was no original intention of Henry’s: he wished merely to translate the Aeneid, but decided that commentators had not explained the aesthetics of the work, and that that task could not be done until the interpretation was taken in hand, and that the interpretation required an examination of the manuscripts dispersed through Europe. For thirty-one years he and his surviving daughter devoted their lives to Virgil, leaving an incomplete but imperishable scholarly edifice behind them...

"Already as a young boy of eleven years he was so much in love with Virgil’s poetry that he spent a birthday half-crown on an edition of that poet. In 1841 he determined to translate the Aeneid. The death of his beloved mother in 1845 made him heir to a comfortable fortune, and he ceased medical practice so that he could whole-heartedly devote himself to working on the epic. He was now free to go to examine the manuscripts of Virgil...

"He had published a translation of the first two books of the Aeneid in Dublin in September 1845, but although his translation of the first six books was printed in 1853, he never completed that work. In 1846 James went with his wife and daughter to Hamburg, where it seems there were family friends, and travelled south through Germany to Lake Garda. He visited Virgilian scholars and libraries on the way. It was near Riva at Lake Garda that his wife died in March 1849, leaving Henry with his daughter of eighteen years, Katharine Olivia, who henceforward devoted herself to her father and his Virgilian studies. The pair then travelled on foot from library to library transcribing from the manuscripts the passages where the text differed and accumulating a mass of papers. Henry had a love of poetry, of scenery and especially of flowers. From time to time he gathered the poems he had written himself and had them privately printed for distribution to his friends...

"Henry was thought to be a curious figure, and there survives an engraved portrait made when he was aged 56: white thinning hair, a full grizzled beard, sunken eyes and cheeks give an impression of venerable age; his finely domed head and keen, perceptive eye suggest wisdom; the firm, straight nose hints at determination. He wore a fur coat and a large neck cloth of variegated pattern, as may be seen in the engraving. It does not show the 'wide-awake' hat he wore on his travels."

ACravan said...

This is a magnificent way to begin the New Year, which has already had me appreciating it for itself, as well as running down all sorts of paths in search of James Henry (and learning that his rediscovery by Christopher Ricks in a Cambridge University library occurred when Ricks was researching Henry James), visiting the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland Heritage Centre Blog, learning about “wide-awake hats,” and trying to figure out the life and aesthetics of DavidWatts1978 (getting as far as gaining confidence that his photo-montage shows sunset rather than sunrise). I also know now about the Prawer Plan (but not the time the photograph showing the police action concerning the protest was taken or, naturally, what will follow that plan’s apparent abandonment for now) and, from Haaretz (which reported on the Prawer Plan), all about the oldest inscription ever found in Jerusalem, which refers to cheap wine. James Henry’s poem is very moving and unexpected and his life story is fascinating. When Caroline stirs, I will share it with her (she majored in Latin), and when Jane re-establishes contact, I will show her the photographs, which will excite her. Happy New Year! Curtis

TC said...


Henry's work is the last word in poetic iteration. And after that last word, one is left only with Another.

That thirty-one year trek across alp and tarn with dutiful daughter in search of Virgiliana is a poignant endeavour to consider, all the more so when one takes into account the helpful assist provided by the beloved mother keeling over.

It is almost a tale out of Flann O'Brien or Beckett.

In his day and field Henry was at least as much mocked as honoured (the Virgil commentary, a work of eccentric genius, was thought curious by some, laughable by others... but you know those haters -- every epoch has 'em), and for that too he earns my measured sympathy.

As sunrise inevitably follows sunset, I suppose after a while it ceases to matter so much which was or is which.

Nothing new under the sun, however, is an expression which one cannot use with full certainty here for a few more minutes.

And in any case, when it arrives, I will not be seeing it, so there again, six of one heavenly body and a half dozen of Another.

But enough of all that, farewell and good riddance to the utterly noisome 2013 and a happy new year to all creatures of all species in the Roberts household.

Hazen said...

Thank you Tom for this fine beginning to (yet) another year, however it may turn out. May there be many “helpful assists,” collective and individual, in the days to come.

TC said...

And thank you, brother Hazen, for not keeling over (an example to follow)... and for helping to keep the show on the road, year in and year out.

Nin Andrews said...

Beautiful posts. As always.

I second what Hazen writes.

Thanks so much for this blog where I learn so much and always find inspiration.

tpw said...

Dear TC: I love the poem, which is so contemporary I thought at first it was yours. The Dictionary of Irish Literature attributes "his present neglect" to his "eccentricity" and "his decision to avoid commercial booksellers." He was also a physician, writing pamphlets on "constipation and alcoholism." Anyway, Happy New Year, and thanks for turning me on to this writer.

TC said...

If the new year brings nothing worse than visits by such kind friends, it ought to be extraordinary.

But poor James Henry, and even poorer those sadly neglected alcoholic constipated Irishmen whose care he forsook for the wanderings after bits of Virgil.

(From hard experience this Irishman has gathered that a good doctor is harder to find than a crystallized tear of Dido, abandoned on the nebulous shore by that cad Aeneas.)

Though most of the details of Henry's itinerary remain obscure, there are glints and patches of light.

For instance the time he was nearly bit by a police dog.

But from that riva nebbiosa upon which mortality set him adrift in the end, few trustworthy stories return to us.

There are no mobile devices there. The commercial booksellers have binned all the messages found at sea in whiskey bottles. All we have to go on, it seems, are The Letters of the Dead.

Mose23 said...

The poem. And another day in the Negev Desert. And another year.

TC said...

Plus ça change seems the order of the day there at the sticking-point, the place where the pin drives deeper than anywhere else into the map of historical suffering, year in and year out, while the world looks away, bored.

And to know our meagre "tax dollars" went to buy the whip that lashes that horse -- oh, lovely.

I had thought the brilliant light of money glittering upon the glass walls of Gotham might be seen in some way as the obverse face of that scene of violent turmoil and darkness of domination in the desert.

But then perhaps if as De Beers or whoever it was used to say, Diamonds are Forever, then it's probably also true that a blind and steely will to persevere in injustice was never going to melt into the milk of human kindness before first light.