The Jester…

“The bottom line for our species is that because of population growth and the fivefold economic expansion since 1950, the environmental demands of our economic system now fill the available environmental space of the planet. This has brought us to a historic transitional point in the evolutionary development of our species from living in a world of open frontiers to living in a full world—in a mere historical instant. We now have the option of adjusting ourselves to this new reality or destroying our ecological niche and suffering the consequences.

Our problem results from acting like cowboys on a limitless frontier when in truth we inhabit a living spaceship with a finely balanced life-support system.”—David C. Korton


A semi-quiet 4th, spent with family and friends. John and Irina threw their traditional Birthday Party for Andre (now 20 and a new citizen to boot). Zena, Andres’ Grandmother is recently arrived for a visit from Moscow. She is sweetness incarnate. It is always nice to see her, and I wish I could speak Russian better… beyond Toasts and the like.

My sister Suzanne and Tom and Cheryl came with us to the party. I saw Tony and Maggie, some of our dear neighbors up there as well.

Great evening.

Tonight is a concert at the Zoo with Peter my brother-in-law. Great band from the Congo and I quote from the Portland Zoo Site:

Kekele, The Congo – Wednesday, July 5, 2006

“Kékélé is a Lingala word for a fibrous vine that climbs trees in the tropical forests of the Congo River basin. This sturdy vine is often used to weave strong ropes for bridges. By calling their group Kékélé, these longtime stars may have foreseen their sustained career paths as strands woven together to make something strong, something that spans divisions – geography, generations, genres. Their strength and talent allows them to continue on their journey and return to their musical origins: Congolese Rumba. An irresistible mix of Cuban rumba and African rhythms, this music peaked in the sixties, when it reflected the optimism of the newly independent African nations. Kékélé has succeeded in bringing these sounds back to life, featuring many of the musicians from the classic orchestras of that era. Enchanting vocals, vivacious rhythms and spellbinding guitar-based dance make the Congolese Rumba uplifting and joyous.”

Be there, or be square.



On The Grill:

The Links

The Jester

Poetry: Edward Thomas


The Links

Resistance through Stimulants

The Cursed Launch Pad

Who put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy Ovaltine..

I sorta remember this…


Clowns, Fools, Jesters, Tricksters

“The jester is an elusive character. The European words used to denote him can now seem as nebulous as they are numerous, reflecting the mercurial man behind them: fool, buffoon, clown, jongleur, jogleor, joculator, sot, stultor, scurra, fou, fol, truhan, mimus, histrio, morio. He can be any of these, while the German word Narr is not so much a stem as the sturdy trunk of a tree efflorescent with fool vocabulary. The jester’s quicksilver qualities are equally difficult to pin down, but nevertheless not beyond definition.

The Chinese terms used for “jester” now seem vaguer than the European, most of them having a wider meaning of “actor” or “entertainer.” In Chinese there is no direct translation of the English “jester,” no single word that to the present-day Chinese conjures an image as vividly as “court jester,” fou du roi, or Hofnarr would to a Westerner. In Chinese the jester element often has to be singled out according to context, although the key character you does seem to have referred specifically to jesters, originally meaning somebody who would use humor to mock and joke, who could speak without causing offense, and who also had the ability to sing or dance: “The you was also allowed a certain privilege, that is, his ‘words were without offence’ . . . but the you could not offer his remonstrances in earnest, he had to make use of jokes, songs and dance.” The term is often combined with other characters giving differing shades to his jesterdom, an acting or a musical slant, for example: paiyou, youren, youling, changyou, lingren, linglun. All could include musical and other talents, chang suggesting music, ling, playing or fooling, and pai a humorous element to bring delight. Several of these terms are too frequently translated as “actor” regardless of where they appear on the etymological chain of evolution and even though they were used long before the advent of Chinese drama.

Perhaps the earliest antecedents of the European court jester were the comic actors of ancient Rome. Several Latin terms used in medieval references to jesters (including numerous church condemnations of them), such as scurrae, mimi, or histriones, originally referred either to amusing hangers-on or to the comic actors and entertainers of Rome. Just as there is now no clear distinction between the terms for “actor” and “jester” in Chinese, so the Latin terms could merge the two. If there was no formal professional jester in Rome, the comic actors fulfilled his functions, sometimes even bearing a striking physical resemblance to what is usually considered a medieval and Renaissance archetype. With periodic imperial purges against actors for their outspokenness, many of them took to the road and fanned out across the empire in search of new audiences and greater freedom. Successive waves of such wandering comics may well have laid the foundations for medieval and Renaissance jesterdom, possibly contributing to the rising tide of folly worship that swept across the Continent from the late Middle Ages.

An individual court jester in Europe could emerge from a wide range of backgrounds: an erudite but nonconformist university dropout, a monk thrown out of a priory for nun frolics, a jongleur with exceptional verbal or physical dexterity, or the apprentice of a village blacksmith whose fooling amused a passing nobleman. Just as a modern-day television stand-up comedian might begin his career on the pub and club circuit, so a would-be jester could make it big time in court if he was lucky enough to be spotted. In addition, a poet, musician, or scholar could also become a court jester.

The recruiting of jesters was tremendously informal and meritocratic, perhaps indicating greater mobility and fluidity in past society than is often supposed. A man with the right qualifications might be found anywhere: in Russia “they were generally selected from among the older and uglier of the serf-servants, and the older the fool or she-fool was, the droller they were supposed and expected to be. The fool had the right to sit at table with his master, and say whatever came into his head.” Noblemen might keep an eye out for potential jesters, and a letter dated 26 January 1535/36 from Thomas Bedyll to Thomas Cromwell (ca. 1485-1540) recommends a possible replacement for the king’s old jester.

Of at least equal importance with his entertainer’s cap was the jester’s function as adviser and critic.

This is what distinguishes him from a pure entertainer who would juggle batons, swallow swords, or strum on a lute or a clown who would play the fool simply to amuse people. The jester everywhere employed the same techniques to carry out this delicate role, and it would take an obtuse king or emperor not to realize what he was driving at, since “other court functionaries cooked up the king’s facts for him before delivery; the jester delivered them raw.”

It is in the nature of jesters to speak their minds when the mood takes them, regardless of the consequences. They are neither calculating nor circumspect, and this may account for the “foolishness” often ascribed to them. Jesters are also generally of inferior social and political status and are rarely in a position (and rarely inclined) to pose a power threat. They have little to gain by caution and little to lose by candor–apart from liberty, livelihood, and occasionally even life, which hardly seems to have been a deterrent. They are peripheral to the game of politics, and this can reassure a king that their words are unlikely to be geared to their own advancement. Jesters are not noted for flattery or fawning. The ruler can be isolated from his courtiers and ministers, who might conspire against him. The jester too can be an isolated and peripheral figure somehow detached from the intrigues of the court, and this enables him to act as a kind of confidant.

The jester also had humor at his disposal. He could soften the blow of a critical comment in a way that prevented a dignified personage from losing face. Humor is the great defuser of tense situations. Among the Murngin tribe of Australia it is the duty of the clown to act outrageously, ludicrously imitating a fight if men begin to quarrel. In making them laugh at him, he distracts their attention from their own fight and dispels their aggression. Quintilian (ca. 35-100) comments on the power of jesters’ humor to carry the day.

Now, though laughter may be regarded as a trivial matter, and an emotion frequently awakened by buffoons, actors or fools, it has a certain imperious force of its own which it is very hard to resist. . . . It frequently turns the scale in matters of great importance.

The foolishness of the jester, whether in his odd appearance or his levity, implies that he is not passing judgment from on high, and this may be less galling than the “holier than thou” corrective of an earnest adviser. One of the most effective techniques the jester uses to point out his master’s folly is allowing him to see it for himself. Rather than contradicting the king, the jester will agree with a harebrained scheme so wholeheartedly that the suggestion is taken to a logical extreme, highlighting its stupidity. The king can then decide for himself that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The jester is in a sense on the side of the ruler. The relationship was often very close and amiable, and the jester was almost invariably a cherished rather than a tolerated presence. This leads to the kindliness of jesters: they could be biting in their attacks, but there is usually an undercurrent of good-heartedness and understanding to their words. If they talk the king out of slicing up some innocent, it is not only to save him from the king’s wrath but also to save the king from himself–they can be the only ones who will tell him he suffers from moral halitosis.

The jester is also perceived as being on the side of the people, the little man fighting oppression by the powerful. By fooling wisely (“en folastrant sagement”), the jester often won favor among the people (“gaigna de grace parmy le peuple”). In the folk perception of southern India a king was hardly considered a king without his jester, and the continuing appeal of the court jester in India, in stories and comic books, is perhaps equaled only in Europe. He may have disappeared from the courts and corridors of power, but he still has a powerful hold on the collective imagination. Yet he is no rebel or revolutionary. His detached stance allows him to take the side of the victim in order to curb the excesses of the system without ever trying to overthrow it–his purpose is not to replace one system with another, but to free us from the fetters of all systems.


Quotes on Clowns and Tricksters:

Clowns are rarely asked what they’re up to, and seldom listened to when they’re asked.

For many Native American societies, the culture hero was often both the source of good things in life (who brought agriculture, taught hunting, etc.) and a trickster or fool who delighted in showing people that they were not as important or as smart as they thought they were.

A trickster is a teacher by his actions. He exposes human weaknesses by his own foolishness as a lesson to the listener.

A clown is sexless, ageless and classless. He always has to be open and expose his own vulnerability to the audience. He risks being accepted and applauded or being rejected each time he exposes his painted face and baggy trousers, he is openly showing what he is and not hiding behind a mask of respectability. He cannot help but be the centre of attention. A clown is like a child, innocent, accepting people and things as they are and finding simple joy in all he meets…a “holy fool” is not just entertaining, but on a mission to give something special to the world.


Poetry: Edward Thomas


Yes, I remember Adlestrop –

The name, because one afternoon

Of heat the express-train drew up there

Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.

No one left and no one came

On the bare platform. What I saw

Was Adlestrop-only the name.

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,

And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,

No whit less still or lonely fair

Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang

Close by, and round him , mistier,

Farther and farther, all the birds

Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.


Tall Nettles

Tall nettles cover up, as they have done

These many springs, the rusty harrow, the plough

Long worn out, and the roller made of stone :

Only the elm butt tops the nettles now.

This corner of the farmyard I like most:

As well as any bloom upon a flower

I like the dust on the nettles, never lost

Except to prove the sweetness of a shower.


The Gypsy

A fortnight before Christmas Gypsies were everywhere :

Vans were drawn up on wastes, women trailed to the fair.

‘My gentleman,’said one,’You’ve got a lucky face.’

‘And you’ve a luckier’, I thought,’if such a grace

And impudence in rags are lucky.’ ‘Give a penny

For the poor baby’s sake.’ ‘Indeed I have not any

Unless you can give change for a sovereign, my dear.’

‘Then just a pipeful of tobacco can you spare?’

I gave it. With that much victory she laughed content.

I should have given more, but off and away she went

With her baby and her pink sham flowers to rejoin

The rest before I could translate to its proper coin

Gratitude for her grace. And I paid nothing then,

As I pay nothing now with the dipping of my pen

For her brother’s music when he drummed the tambourine

And stamped his feet , which made the workmen passing grin,

While his mouth-organ changed to a rascally Bacchanal dance

‘Over the hills and far away’. This and his glance

Outlasted all the fair, farmer and auctioneer,

Cheap-jack, balloon-man, drover with crooked stick, and steer,

Pig, turkey, goose, and duck, Christmas Corpses to be.

Not even the kneeling ox had eyes like the Romany.

That night he peopled for me the hollow wooded land,

More dark and wild than stormiest heavens, that I searched

and scanned

Like a ghost new-arrived. The gradations of the dark

Were like an underworld of death, but for the spark

In the Gypsy boy’s black eyes as he played and stamped his tune,

‘Over the hills and far way’, and a crescent moon



What does it mean? Tired, angry, and ill at ease,

No man, woman, or child, alive could please

Me now. And yet I almost dare to laugh

Because I sit and frame an epitaph-

‘Here lies all that no one loved of him

And that loved no one.’ Then in a trice that whim

Has wearied. But, though I am like a river

At fall of evening while it seems that never

Has the sun lighted it or warmed it, while

Cross breezes cut the surface to a file,

This heart, some fraction of me, happily

Floats through the window even now to a tree

Down in the misting, dim-lit, quiet vale,

Not like a pewit that returns to wail

For something it has lost, but like a dove

That slants unswerving to its home and love.

There I find my rest, as through the dusk air

Flies what yet lives in me: Beauty is there.


Like the Touch of Rain

Like the touch of rain she was

On a man’s flesh and hair and eyes

When the joy of walking thus

Has taken him by surprise:

With the love of the storm he burns,

He sings, he laughs, well I know how,

But forgets when he returns

As I shall not forget her ‘Go now’.

Those two words shut a door

Between me and the blessed rain

That was never shut before

And will not open again.


Last Poem

The sorrow of true love is a great sorrow

And true love parting blackens a bright morrow:

Yet almost they equal joys, since their despair

Is but hope blinded by its tears, and clear

Above the storm the heavens wait to be seen.

But greater sorrow from less love has been

That can mistake lack of despair for hope

And knows not tempest and the perfect scope

Of summer, but a frozen drizzle perpetual

Of drops that from remorse and pity fall

And cannot ever shine in the sun or thaw,

Removed eternally from the sun’s law.


Biography: Edward Thomas

Edward Thomas (March 3, 1878 – April 9, 1917) was one of the best-known English poets of World War I.

Thomas was of Welsh extraction but was born in London as Philip Edward Thomas. He was educated at Battersea Grammar School, St. Paul’s School and Lincoln College, Oxford. Unusually he married while still an undergraduate and determined to live his life by the pen. He was already a seasoned writer before the outbreak of war, and had worked as a journalist before becoming a poet, with the encouragement of Robert Frost. He initially published some poetry under the name Edward Eastaway. He also wrote a novel and some works of non-fiction.

When war broke out, Thomas joined the Artists’ Rifles, despite being a mature married man who could have avoided enlisting. In fact, few of his poems deal directly with his war experiences. His poems are noted for their attention to the English countryside. He was killed in action at Arras on April 9, 1917, soon after he arrived in France.

A short poem of Thomas’s serves as an example of how he blends war and countryside throughout his poetry:

In Memoriam

The flowers left thick at nightfall in the wood

This Eastertide call into mind the men,

Now far from home, who, with their sweethearts, should

Have gathered them and will do never again.

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