Wallpaper 5: What was the First Ever Question in Literature?

Day five of my wallpaper challenge pays homage to that ancient storyteller Homer, revered for thousands of years. In the first paragraph of the Iliad he asks the First Literary Question:

So, which one of the gods was it who impelled the two to fight with each other in strife?

Who made them do it? That is the very the first question in the very first recorded piece of literary art in the whole history of us. Totally mind boggling that the same question is still being asked thousands of years later. It’s a variation on ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuse for bad behaviour.

Anger, goddess, sing it, of Achilles, son of Peleus –  disastrous anger that made countless pains for the Achaeans, and many steadfast lives it drove down to Hādēs, heroes’ lives, but their bodies it made prizes for dogs and for all birds, and the Will of Zeus was reaching its fulfillment – sing starting from the point where the two – I now see it – first had a falling out, engaging in strife … So, which one of the gods was it who impelled the two to fight with each other in strife? It was Apollo the son of Leto and of Zeus.

My favourite Apollo is in the centre of The Archibald Memorial Fountain in Sydney, Australia. It was intended as a war memorial to commemorate the association of Australian and French troops in World War One.

Homer has his narrator ask the question of a goddess. A muse, a goddess of infallible memory. It’s a terrific structural device. Homer’s epic poetry has an unbroken line all the way from him, or whatever version of ‘him’ you accept, to us. It was not something lost then re-found. Totally mind boggling that Homer’s Iliad is still being read and discussed thousands of years later.

I first read Homer way back during the Gulf War. Another thrift shop find in the days I thought I should read ‘proper literature’. It hooked me on the first paragraph. I loved it passionately and still do.

Anger, Goddess sing it …

Makes my spine tingle every time.

Harvard’s EdX course The Ancient Greek Hero, known to all as HeroesX has just started its current iteration, number fourteen. It’s a online MOOC. I recommend it. You can participate for free. Although you can pay and get a certificate.
Here’s the blurb:
Discover the literature and heroes of ancient Greece through the Homeric Iliad and Odyssey, the tragedies of Sophocles, the dialogues of Plato, and more. Explore what it means to be human today by studying what it meant to be a hero in ancient Greek times.
Link here:

This poem was my reaction to my first exposure to HeroesX.

Voice of The Goddess


Anger – I get angry
Me, one among the multitude
We all get the anger

Goddess – Her swan song.
The time of men is coming
yet still it is She
alone in the cosmos
whose voice holds power

Sing – the hora is upon us
so three makes
Sing, Goddess, sing
Sing to Me.

I’ll be going again this time round. I have some questions about Ulysses. If you have covid time on your hands I can think of no better way to use it.

Tell me, Oh Muse …

Wallpaper 4: Would you like a nice cup of tea?

Day four of my wallpaper challenge may be the Biggest Questions of all time.

Don’t we all know that sinking feeling that only a good cup of tea can dispel?

Tea, Ma’am?

Queen Mary is amused.

The Cup That Cheers

While you have a cuppa check out my slide show of a few famous tea drinkers.

Here’s an alternative viewpoint. I’m a bit pressed for time today, so these are two wallpapers I prepared earlier.

Wallpaper 3: More Questions Than You Can Poke a Stick At.

Day three of my wallpaper challenge. This artwork also has a clear section to the left for files. Revisiting Rousseau’s tigers yesterday reminded me the the great romantic storyteller William Blake. Blake asked A Very Big Question.

Did he who made the lamb make thee?

This poem is pretty much all questions. Or is it just the same question asked in different words?

Mrs Gonzales said, to the 5th form girls studying Blake, ‘You know you can go to the State Library and read this in a book that Blake wrote and painted himself.’ A seventeen year old enchanted by the Romantic poets, off I went at the end of the week as soon as school was out.

They sat me down in a paper and leather scented reading room, replaced my grey school gloves with white cotton archivists ones. I’m surprised they left me alone. I guess they knew a neat little schoolgirl wearing that grey uniform with its hat, gloves and turned down socks would never misbehave in public. Hell hath no fury like a Headmistress spurned.

I was in awe. Good poetry still has that effect on me. I remember that book as clear as a bell. Clearer, really, as I’m starting to go a bit deaf. It was a long time ago. I believed I was holding in my hands something Blake had made himself. His hand on the paintbrush making each mark, his fingers holding the paper where mine held it. Actually, remembering the illustrations it was probably the 1826 printed edition. I could check in the catalogue to find out, but I won’t. To me Blake made that book himself just for me.

‘Do you work with fear and trembling?’ ‘Yes, indeed,’ was the reply. ‘Then,’ said Blake, ‘you’ll do.’ William Blake to Samuel Palmer. Saturday, October 9, 1824.[i]

An almost contemporary opinion is often enlightening. In any era an opinion by someone named Algernon must always be taken seriously. Especially if that opinion is dedicated to Rossetti. Heavy hitters or what? Algernon Charles Swinburne, too, had a question:

‘I found so much unsaid, so much unseen, that a question soon rose before me of simple alternatives: to do nothing, or to do much.’

You can read Algernon’s answer to his own question about Blake:

Blake questioned himself throughout the creative process. Algernon again:
Here also is that most famous of Blake’s lyrics, The Tiger; a poem beyond praise for its fervent beauty and vigour of music. It appears by the MS. that this was written with some pains; the cancels and various readings bear marks of frequent rehandling. One of the latter is worth transcription for its own excellence and also in proof of the artist’s real care for details, which his rapid instinctive way of work has induced some to disbelieve in.

“Burnt in distant deeps or skies
The cruel fire of thine eyes?
Could heart descend or wings aspire?[16]
What the hand dare seize the fire?”

I had to include Algernon’s Footnote 16.
Could God bring down his heart to the making of a thing so deadly and strong? or could any lesser dæmonic force of nature take to itself wings and fly high enough to assume power equal to such a creation? Could spiritual force so far descend or material force so far aspire? Or, when the very stars, and all the armed children of heaven, the “helmed cherubim” that guide and the “sworded seraphim” that guard their several planets, wept for pity and fear at sight of this new force of monstrous matter seen in the deepest night as a fire of menace to man

“Did he smile his work to see?
Did he who made the lamb make thee?”

We may add another cancelled reading to show how delicately the poem has been perfected; although by an oversight of the writer’s most copies hitherto have retained some trace of the rough first draught, neglecting in one line a change necessary to save the sense as well as to complete the sentence.

“And when thy heart began to beat,
What dread hand and what dread feet

Could fetch it from the furnace deep
And in thy horrid ribs dare steep?
In what clay and in what mould
Were thine eyes of fury rolled?”

Having cancelled this stanza or sketched ghost of a stanza, Blake in his hurry of rejection did not at once remember to alter the last line of the preceding one; leaving thus a stone of some size and slipperiness for editorial feet to trip upon, until the recovery of that nobler reading

“What dread hand framed thy dread feet?”

Nor was this little “rock of offence” cleared from the channel of the poem even by the editor of 1827, who was yet not afraid of laying hand upon the text. So grave a flaw in so short and so great a lyric was well worth the pains of removing and is yet worth the pains of accounting for; on which ground this note must be of value to all who take in verse with eye and ear instead of touching it merely with eyelash and finger-tip in the manner of sand-blind students.

Stern words, Algernon!

Would you like to hear it read to you?

If you have time on your ears, try this BBC radio play. I’m listening while I make this post. So good so far. It has begun very Alice-like. https://archive.org/details/thetygerhuntbylaviniamurray
The Tyger Hunt By Lavinia Murray
Today is a special day. With a runaway tiger on the loose, young William is out with his sketch pad to capture the magic of a truly enchanting yet absurd afternoon.
A day in the life of the young William Blake, broadcast as part of the Blake season marking the 250th anniversary of his birth

Perhaps you would prefer to be the hand that forms that fearful symmetry? You can use your own hands to make this cut-out tiger. Or you can get some Young Person of your acquaintance to make it.
The black and white version won’t waste your colour ink. You can colour it in yourself, Just do blue eyes a pink nose and feet for a white tiger. Endless creative possibilities.

It’s your own stab at the question:

What immortal hand or eye
Dare frame thy fearful symmetry?

[i] https://www.gutenberg.org/files/60448/60448-h/60448-h.htm

Wallpaper 1: A Caterpillar asks a Big Question.

This week I am focusing on collage. My self-set task is one collage a day that you can use as wallpaper. I’ve decided my theme will be the Big Questions. I’ll try and stick with my favourite literature. Today is Lewis Carroll’s inimitable Alice.

I like fonts and collect interesting ones. I wonder if it will improve my writing to use Lewis Carroll’s handwriting? Try it out for yourself. Here are two fonts. The first is his handwriting. The second is some natty wing dings based on Carrolls doodles and sketches.

Seven Day Challenge 7: Winter wind

Well, I’m proud of myself. I have actually completed a task. I’ve illustrated seven haiku in seven days, finishing with my hero Basho. We were hoping for snow today but it’s just raining. That’s very welcome here.
This work is the exact size of my computer wallpaper. If you’d like to enjoy it on your screen feel free. I like to change my wallpapers often. So next week I set myself the task of a wallpaper collage everyday.
Can I manage to complete another weeks worth of task or will I falter? We’ll know in a weeks time.

Winter solitude
in a world of one colour
the sound of the wind

Matsuo Basho