Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Misquoted Housman: God's Will?

Bogdan Kipling
(Image from Canada Free Press)

Yesterday was Korea's Memorial Day, a holiday somewhat free from work, so my wife and I decided on a brief vacation and cycled off early in the morning up the bike path along Jungnang Stream some ten kilometers or more upstream to our favorite pathside food-and-beer spot and enjoyed an early meal there garnished by a pleasant, two-and-a-half-hour conversation.

Though we'd left before 8:30 in the morning, we didn't return home until about 1:30 in the afternoon, but we had work facing us here, editorial proofreading of a children's story that we'd translated from German into English, Monika Feth's Der Gedankensammler (illustrated by Antoni Boratyński), which we've tentatively rendered The Collector of Thoughts. We finished around 4:00 p.m., but I then had editing to do alone on abstracts for the Trans-Humanities Journal published by Ewha Womans University, not finishing with that until after 6:00 in the evening.

Only then did I have an opportunity to read the day's newspapers, and I discovered there a gift -- the topic of today's lazy-man blog entry -- an article by Bogdan Kipling, a Canadian journalist stationed in Washington, DC, who had written a memorial column honoring the late, great, head bartender of the National Press Club, Jack Kujawski. Titled "Legendary press club bartender poured on as his best customers dwindled," it appeared in my Korea Herald, but I'm citing this article from the online issue of the Canada Free Press (June 2, 2011).

Now, let me just state up front that Jack Kujawski and Bogdan Kipling both seem to me like fine individuals -- no problem there. But one of the two has misquoted A. E. Housman's poetic quip on John Milton. The embarrassment ensues when Mr. Kipling praises Mr. Kujawski's erudition:
A well-read man, Jack could toss out adept literary references and quotes at the drop of bar rag -- often citing such greats as Plutarch, Napoleon, Ambrose Bierce and Dorothy Parker in a single hour.

Among his favorites was A.E. Housman's line from A Shropshire Lad: "And malt does more than Milton can; To justify God's will to man."
This is the misquote, which might or might not grasp the essence of what Milton was up to -- and I'll get to that in a minute -- but what Housman literally penned was the following:
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God's ways to man.
Housman himself was paraphrasing Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost 1.26, which expresses Milton's desire to "justifie the wayes of God to men." I suspect that Milton would not have entirely liked the expression "justifie the will of God to men," for God's ways are not reducible to 'Will' alone, in Milton's thought, but include -- as that which informs His Will -- "Divine Reason," for Milton's God is a fully rational rather than arbitrarily willful deity.

I'd be interested, by the way, in the views of others on this point, which might prove to be a contested one, though I don't recall any scholarly debate over the subjunctive question as to why Milton didn't seek to "justifie the will of God to men."

But thanks to either Mr. Kujawski or Mr. Kipling for the gift of something that even a lazy man can blog on . . .

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At 4:30 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Hi, Jeff, a cute question: I replied in the Milton List (because I happened to open that website before this one.)

At 4:39 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

Some more citations can be added, anyway. E.g. God saying, in Isaiah, "My ways are not your [human] ways." St Paul too reused this verse.

At 4:50 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Dario -- good points, as ever.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:03 AM, Blogger ilTassista Marino said...

... as Ever, i.e. as a fan of Milton's Eve?


At 5:42 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

"You got to fan it and cool it
Honey till the cows come home . . ."

Jeffery Hodges

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At 6:44 AM, Blogger N.E. Brigand said...

I didn't know Housman's poem, "Terence, this is stupid stuff", from which the misquoted line more specifically comes, before seeing it referenced lately in an essay from this forthcoming book on Tolkien, which I was proofreading. Intrigued by the citation, I read the poem, which I took to be justifying the ways of Milton, or poets generally, to man, rather in opposition to Kujawski's apparent intent:

"’Tis true, the stuff I bring for sale
Is not so brisk a brew as ale:
[. . .]
But take it: if the smack is sour,
The better for the embittered hour;
It should do good to heart and head
When your soul is in my soul’s stead".

[Captcha: "ghthou", which suggests both Milton and Tolkien to me.]

At 6:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Good to see you again, Mr. Brigand.

I agree with you about Housman. He came down on the side of moping, melancholy, mad poetry rather than ale!

Personally, I like both sorts of poisons . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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