Anyway, I was pondering something, a thing that I might even turn into a blog entry, when an irrelevant question occurred to me; and a few hours later in a completely independent way the question came up and was answered. So I might as well begin with the posting that was dubiously worth writing.
I had occasion this afternoon to muse on irretrievably lost opportunities; only institutional in this case, not personal; but there's a bit of sadness to all such musings. And it occurred to me that while the best short poem of all is "Jenny kissed me when we met", there is one great standout among the quatrains (or Rubaiyat, as we call them in Persian):
The moving finger writes; and having writ,
Moves on: nor all your piety nor wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all your tears wash out a word of it.
--LXXI in Fitzgerald's translation (duh), the popular and successful fifth edition
I admit to the Philistine position that this is an exquisitely constructed bit of verse. The images are striking; the antique diction is well suited to the context. Jenny is a great deal jollier; but then, as Richard Mitchell said,
Children learn what they most need to know from happy stories of the birth of kings, and grown-ups learn again and again what they most need to remember from sad stories of the death of kings.
I wonder what examples of the form, and short verses generally, appeal to people with properly educated taste. Of course, the poem is trivial and obvious. (Hum the "Ride of the Valkyries" (a thoroughly hackneyed piece) and it doesn't sound like much either.) But after all, as Dirac said,
In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by
everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it's the exact opposite.
I said "Persian" above, because I like the traditional, classical effect of the name; but, I thought idly, was that the proper name for the language? For that matter, is Farsi exactly, identically the thing named by Persian, or am I messing up my linguistics? So, a few hours later, I am looking at the Language Log, and there's an amusing note on Danish pastry, in which I find "Persian (or if you prefer, Farsi)." Turns out, a lot of the speakers of that language really don't like the foolish Americanism of calling it Farsi. Like talking of Deutsch or Nihongo; or worse, if I read one comment right, though I don't know enough German to read his humorous example.
All right, then, a bunch of people who care think that to say Farsi is to turn your back on thousands of years of Persia's civilization. I can get behind that.
Update: I mean, of course, I can get behind the sentiment of not turning one's back on a civilization, no matter what kind of dangerous twits may be momentarily the keepers of the flame. One can't be too careful what one says in these days of Freedom Fries. And I should have added a Read the Rest rating in the style of Amygdala, and a high one, for the if-you-prefer thread. Joseph Bell is particularly eloquent on the value of using corrupted forms from civilizations with which we have a long history of contact.