Monthly Archives: July 2017

is it good to give to beggars?




And to him who wishes to bring a judgment against you, so he may take away your tunic, give him your cloak as well; And whoever presses you into service for one mile, go with him for two. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not turn away from one who wishes to borrow from you.


— The Sermon on the Mount; Matthew 5:40-42


The New Testament: A Translation, by David Bentley Hart (Yale University Press)


He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. …”


— William Blake, “Jerusalem”








According to an email I received recently from a close relative consumed by hatred, I am “totally selfish and self-absorbed.”


I just went to the corner mailbox this evening (Friday, January 11, 2019) in the cold to mail a couple of letters for my wife. A middle aged woman who looked cold and frazzled seemed to want to get my attention. It seemed hard for her to speak up. I heard her saying something about needing some change or a dollar, if I could spare it, to get something to eat. I reached into my wallet and there was a twenty dollar bill at the top. I gave it to her.

The twenty dollar bill came to hand. I didn’t think about it. I knew if I gave her more than she expected she would be able to at least afford something (a cup of coffee nowadays costs nearly two dollars) and would be, hopefully, slightly encouraged. Reflecting upon the amount I had given her, I thought to myself, what will my having twenty dollars less in cash on hand mean to me a day or two from now? Her misery or desperation far outweighs any aggravation she or any panhandler might cause.








Beggars and panhandlers are a fact of life for most people, I would suspect. Particularly city dwellers.

I occasionally find myself asking myself what is the best way to respond to or deal with them. Should one give? Are they to be regarded as nuisances?

My rule of thumb has been to be guided by instinct. Often, I will notice a beggar off to the side who can easily be ignored. I tend to never give to subway panhandlers (or buskers, for that matter).

But, there are frequent occasions when I feel compelled to give. Often, this happens when I make eye contact with a beggar. Occasionally, I will be walking down the street lost in thought when I half notice a beggar and walk a few steps past him or her, then turn around, walk back a few steps, and give. It is often the case that I do this when I am in a good mood and am inclined to count my blessings. At such times, I find myself saying to myself, if God is bestowing blessings upon me, if the world is my oyster, it behooves me to try and share some of these good feelings with another.

On such occasions, I usually, besides giving, try to briefly say something affirmative to the other person and to show by a word or two or a look that I respect them and appreciate their thanks, as a way of emphasizing our common humanity.

There are also times when I am not in a good mood and regard someone importuning me for a handout as a nuisance. Feeling churlish, I ignore the beggar and try to avoid eye contact. In such a mood, I feel, kindness by me would not be propitious. It’s sort of equivalent to saying that one shouldn’t give if one can’t do it in the right sprit. (A Japanese-American nurse in a hospital where I was working as an orderly once said something similar to me. Even when doing something as routine as dispensing medication, she said, she felt it had to be done in the right spirit to be effective.)

As noted by me on another post on this site, “My Boyhood,” I used to Christmas shop for my immediate family in Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts when I was around eleven or twelve years old. I put a lot of thought into buying gifts for my family, but it was on a very limited budget. I probably spent five or six dollars at the most.

Once, while shopping during the Christmas season, a panhandler asked me for money and I gave him something like 85 cents. It seemed then like a large amount to give and represented a substantial portion of the pocket change I had left. But I felt compelled to do it. I thought it was my Christian duty and that it was better to give than receive.

I had a similar experience in Manhattan once when I was in my early twenties. I was walking back to work on East 18th Street during lunch hour on a freezing cold day. I was on a very limited budget. I was doing alternative service work as a conscientious objector and was very low paid. I was always straining to conserve my resources; it was hard to live in Manhattan on my salary.

As I was about to enter the headquarters of my employer, I noticed a middle aged man approaching. I can’t recall what he said, but it was clear that he badly needed a handout. His teeth were chattering, he was so cold; he looked desperate and utterly forlorn. I gave him two dollars, which represented a goodly portion of my pocket money.

Nowadays, that would not seem like a lot, but I recall feeling that it was a lot then, but that I had to do it. I felt a strong moral imperative, the same Christian imperative. And, I felt that, overall, it was the right thing and would prove, over time, to have been so.







It is my practice nowadays to try to be charitable and helpful in various ways to people whom I encounter in the City. I feel that it is a matter of karma, and I often think of how often people have done little things for me, nice things.

I was walking in Brooklyn a year or so ago. I had just purchased something or other. I think it was electronic equipment. As I was crossing a street at a busy intersection, a traffic agent busily directing traffic noticed that the cheap plastic bag the store had given me had broken and that my products had fallen to the street, of which I was oblivious. She flagged me down and halted traffic, enabling me to return to the intersection, which I had already crossed, and retrieve my stuff. I would have been distressed if I had gotten home with an empty bag.

I try to “return” such favors whenever I can.







In situations where I am asked for a handout nowadays — when and if I am not inclined to simply brush the person off — I usually give more than asked for. If someone asks me for a dollar or for change, I usually give five dollars. I say to myself, what can one buy with a dollar nowadays?

One might ask, are you not, Mr. Smith, a smug do-gooder, someone who wants to be admired for your benevolence? And, how much good are our really doing? Why don’t you give to charities, or try to do good works with a lasting impact?

To this I would answer as follows, in a twofold response:

— I believe in serendipity, in letting things happen as they may. And in destiny. So, when I encounter a beggar, I often say to myself, it must be my time and duty to give today. There is a reason that fate has put us on the same path. It is a matter of taking things as they come.

— I feel that — this is crucial — giving under such circumstances can do more good than might readily be apparent. Because what the beggar needs, most of all, is encouragement, and a feeling that one is not regarded as being of no account or insignificant as a human being. So that, in surprising them and exceeding their expectations by being generous, one is giving beggars hope.

That, I feel, is what they need most.



— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017; updated June 2019











On Friday February 8 2019, I was on 57th Street around 6 or 7 in the evening on my way to a concert.

A woman who did not appear destitute and whose dress or appearance would not have attracted attention was standing on a corner. She looked innocuous and I didn’t take much notice of her.

She must have thought I looked like a nice, non-threatening person.

She suddenly looked up and said distinctly and politely, sounding well spoken: “Do you think you could give me a dollar so I could get some pizza.” The specificity of her request surprised me.

Nowadays a slice of pizza in Manhattan often costs three dollars. When I first came to Manhattan, a slice cost twenty cents.

I’ll give her five dollars, I thought. I reached into my wallet. Couldn’t find a five. I gave her a ten.

“Ten dollars!” she said with enthusiasm. “Thanks!”

Suddenly, I felt great, her happiness washing over me.





I had a not un-similar experience to the one above on Saturday, June 22, 2019.

I was walking in Midtown Manhattan feeling abject — downcast and angry with myself.

A middle aged woman who did not seem shabbily dressed asked me for some change so she could get home to New Jersey. She pulled me momentarily out of my reverie and funk.

I gave her five dollars.

Giving can do you good and make you feel better.

an email to the editor, about J. M. Synge’s “The Aran Islands”



Dear Tim,

Thanks very much for getting back to me. I apologize for the slight delay in responding to you!

To introduce myself. I live in New York City. I have always been deeply immersed in literature. I taught English at the college level for a while as an adjunct professor, although that was not my major profession. I host two web sites/blogs devoted largely to literature (plus personal writings of mine).

A few weeks ago, on the recommendation of my wife, who had seen it with a friend, I went to a play at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan: The Aran Islands. It was a revelation for me. I came home from the play desirous of reading Synge, whom I hadn’t read before. (I also watched the Robert Flaherty film Man of Aran.)

I purchased the Penguin paperback of The Aran Islands. I loved it and got a lot out of it. Per my usual habit, I read the work slowly and deliberately, often reading certain paragraphs and passages several times, savoring the language and descriptions; the impressions and gleanings one gets from the place and the people; plus, the beautiful descriptions of sea, storms, and sky. It was like taking a trip and getting a taste of a strange, remote place.


Some examples:

“There has been a storm for the last twenty-four hours, and I have been wandering on the cliffs till my hair is stiff with salt. Immense masses of spray were flying up from the base of the cliff, and were caught at times by the wind and whirled away to fall at some distance from the shore. When one of these happened to fall on me, I had to crouch down for an instant, wrapped and blinded by a white hail of foam.

“The waves were so enormous that when I saw one more than usually large coming towards me, I turned instinctively to hide myself, as one blinks when struck upon the eyes.

“After a few hours the mind grows bewildered with the endless change and struggle of the sea, and an utter despondency replaces the first moment of exhilaration. …

“About the sunset the clouds broke and the storm turned to a hurricane. Bars of purple cloud stretched across the sound where immense waves were rolling from the west, wreathed with snowy phantasies of spray. Then there was the bay full of green delirium, and the Twelve Pins touches the mauve and scarlet in the east.

“The suggestion from this world of inarticulate power was immense, and now at midnight, when the wind is abating, I am still trembling and flushed with exultation.” (pp. 62-63)


“My intercourse with these people has made me realize that miracles must abound whenever the new conception of law in not understood. On these islands alone miracles enough happen every year to equip a divine emissary. Rye is turned into oats, storms are raised to keep evictors from the shore, cows that are isolated on lonely rocks bring forth calves, and other things of the same kind are common.” (pg. 81)


“It is likely that much of the intelligence and charm of these people is due to the absence of any division of labour, and to the correspondingly wide development of each individual, whose varied knowledge and skill necessitate a considerable activity of mind. Each man can speak two languages. He is a skilled fisherman, and can manage a curagh with extraordinary nerve and dexterity. He can farm simply, burh kelp, cut out pampooties, mend nets, build and thatch a house, and make a cradle or a coffin. His work changes with the seasons in a way that keeps him free from the dullness that comes to people who have always the same occupation. the danger of his life on the sea gives him the alertness of a primitive hunter, and the long nights he spends fishing in his curagh bring him some of the emotions that are thought peculiar to men who have lived with the arts.” (pg. 84)


And, a quote Synge heard indirectly from the inhabitants: “Would anyone kill his father if he was able to help it?”


A reviewer of The Aran Islands on, it seems, put well what I think:

People have often said to me that they find Synge’s account of his time spent honing his Irish and collecting folklore on the Aran Islands to be one of the slowest and most boring reads they’ve ever encountered. I must heartily disagree.

While the work doesn’t exactly swing like a pendulum, the rhythms of his narration are very much like that of the changing tide and the rolling of the waves to which the islanders have grown accustomed. Synge’s narration — like time on Inishmaan — moves slowly and steadily, washing over the reader if one will let it.

Yes, “washing over the reader.” This is what happened to me as I proceeded slowly, a page or two at a time, through the book.


Regarding my compliments on your introduction and the edition as edited by you, I should note that I rarely read introductions prior to reading a book. I don’t want my impressions to be “muddied” beforehand. But, as I was reading, I found your footnotes extremely informative and well done. I could see the prodigious amount of work you had done in explaining difficult passages and allusions to local history and folklore and to specific locales as well as (crucially) Irish words and phrases. Then, there was much bibliographic information derived from rare books about Synge and the islands that could be easily overlooked. How do you manage to find such books (such as rare works in Irish)? How many editors of reissued literary works go to such lengths?

When I got to your introduction, I was fully absorbed in it and learned a great deal. It was not your routine introduction to a paperback reissue. Your impressive vocabulary alone was worth the trip. I kept jotting down words such as immiserated, nucleate, impercipient, immiscible, detrital, excursus, “inanimate vastitude,” and so forth. The introduction was so pithy and informative, so well researched and insightful. It makes one want to know more about Synge.

I am aware of your two books about the islands, having become so only recently. I hope to be able to find the time to read them.




Roger Smith

July 30, 2017







J. M. Synge, The Aran Islands, edited with an introduction by Tim Robinson (Penguin, 1992)

Tim Robinson is a writer and cartographer. Born in Yorkshire, he lives on the Aran Islands, off the coast of County Galway in Ireland.

Manhattan Island from Bottom to Top; Walking as Exercise



In the spirit of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I will begin with the conclusion, followed by evidence to prove my point.

Walking is a naturally beneficial form of exercise habitual since human origins. It is perfectly suited to the human body and is a form of physical activity from which it seems personal injury cannot come; hence, one can justly say that it is one hundred percent beneficial.

The body welcomes such exercise. In fact, when it is undertaken, the body seems to be saying, “give me more!” It seems to cure all kinds of nagging (but not serious) physical complaints, discomforts, and ills, such as aches and pains, and actually seems to restore energy as much if not more than depleting it.






I love to walk, as was noted by me in a previous post on this blog:

“on walking (and exercise)”

I like to think of new places and routes to walk in the City (i.e., New York City, including Manhattan and the “outer boroughs” of Brooklyn and Queens).

I keep finding new places to explore — in Brooklyn, for example. It could be a neighborhood, such as Williamsburg, or a park, such as Brooklyn Bridge Park, which I only found out about recently. I like to call my walks, playfully, “jaunts,” a favorite term used by the poet Walt Whitman.

The other day, while writing a post, “Walt Whitman on Manhattan”

I noticed that in his poem “Mannahatta,” Whitman describes Manhattan as “an island sixteen miles long.”

Yes, I thought to myself, sixteen miles long, from the southernmost point of Manhattan, Battery Park (which overlooks New York Harbor and from which boats depart regularly for the Statue of Liberty, which can be viewed from the park), to Inwood at the northernmost point of Manhattan.

Then, on Thursday evening (July 20), I saw a documentary film at the Morgan Library in Manhattan: Henry David Thoreau, Surveyor of the Soul, directed by Huey Coleman. In the film, it is noted that when Thoreau first attended a lecture by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he walked seventeen miles from Concord, Massachusetts to Boston to attend.

I had been thinking of taking such a walk myself. If Thoreau can do it, I can, I thought. I would like to see how such a long walk feels.







Yesterday I walked, in around 90 degree weather, from Bowling Green, at the southern tip of Manhattan, to the northernmost point of Manhattan Island, Inwood Hill Park, where the Henry Hudson Bridge and the Spuyten Duyvil Bridge link Manhattan to the Bronx.

It took me about ten hours with a couple of pit stops.

I got up in the morning feeling sluggish and achy. I took the subway to Bowling Green, then started walking, taking a few photographs of the harbor and then starting to walk uptown.

I felt sluggish and unsteady on my feet. The heat felt oppressive. I had a pain in my right foot that had persisted for a day or two. But gradually, as my walk and the day progressed, I started feeling better.

At 3:45 p.m., I texted a friend:

have reached 96th St and Broadway

wouldn’t u know it

I seem to have more energy than when I started

my toe is not hurting any more

I feel much less achy and better overall

A couple of hours later, from 155th and Broadway, I texted my friend again, saying “I am getting tired.” I had probably walked over 15 miles already. But, I kept going. It took me over an hour more to reach Inwood Hill Park. The park is entered via Dyckman Street, which is located precisely where West 200th Street would be, were it a numbered street. I walked along the western end of the park, which skirts the Hudson, to the northern end of the park, then back to the subway.

Riding home on the subway, I felt exhausted. I was relieved to get home and after a short while fell into a deep sleep.

I woke up very early after only a few hours of sleep feeling refreshed and very energetic. I haven’t felt so good in a long time. I felt very alert and refreshed. (It is my belief that pleasurable, mentally relaxing exercise such as walking obviates neurasthenia and chronic fatigue.)








I already said it! The body welcomes exercise. It craves it. I can often hear my “brother body” (a term used by Pitirim A. Sorokin, which he undoubtedly got from Saint Francis) telling me, “thank you; give me more.” It is not uncommon after a five to seven mile walk for me to find myself saying to myself, I could do another five miles more. And, I am not a fitness addict or fanatic.



— Roger W. Smith

   July 22, 2017








Battery Park




New York Harbor viewed from Battery Park





Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Village





Broadway, Upper Manhattan






Inwood Hill Park




Hudson River, late evening, viewed from Inwood Hill Park



IMG_7659 (2).JPG

Inwood Hill Park, overlooking Hudson River



northern tip of Inwood Hill Park, overlooking Hudson River and Spuyten Duyvil Bridge




photos by Roger W. Smith





Addendum: On Sunday, August 6, 2017, I reversed myself and walked from the top (northernmost point) of Manhattan Island to the bottom (Battery Park). I found that Manhattan actually ends at Broadway and 218th Street — not at 207th Street, as I had thought.

I did it faster this time. It took me about seven and a half hours.

The weather was cool for August, and I did not experience appreciable fatigue. I felt as if I could have kept going should I have had cause to.





Broadway at 218th Street, 1:34 p.m.; Manhattan’s northern border




Broadway at entrance to Battery Park, 8:44 p.m.; Manhattan’s southern tip; end of my Sunday walk











Walt Whitman on Manhattan (plus my own impressions and thoughts)





I WAS asking for something specific and perfect for my city,
Whereupon lo! upsprang the aboriginal name.

Now I see what there is in a name, a word, liquid, sane, unruly,
musical, self-sufficient,
I see that the word of my city is that word from of old,
Because I see that word nested in nests of water-bays, superb,
Rich, hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships, an
island sixteen miles long, solid-founded,
Numberless crowded streets, high growths of iron, slender, strong,
light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies,
Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands,
the heights, the villas,
The countless masts, the white shore-steamers, the lighters, the
ferry-boats, the black sea-steamers well-model’d,
The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the houses
of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the river-streets,
Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week,
The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses, the
brown-faced sailors,
The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds
The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the river,
passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide,
The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-
faced, looking you straight in the eyes,
Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway, the women, the shops and
A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—
hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men,
City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!









What hurrying human tides, or day or night!
What passions, winnings, losses, ardors, swim
thy waters!
What whirls of evil, bliss and sorrow stem, thee!
What curious questioning glances—glints of
Leer, envy, scorn, contempt, hope, aspiration!
Thou portal—thou arena—thou of the myriad
long-drawn lines and groups!
(Could but thy flagstones, curbs, facades tell
their inimitable tales);
Thy windows, rich and huge hotels—thy side-
walks wide;
Thou of the endless sliding, mincing, shuffling
Thou, like the parti-colored world itself—like
infinite, teeming, mocking life!
Thou visor’d, vast, unspeakable show and









The following are some present day thoughts of my own occasioned by the above two poems of Walt Whitman. “Mannahatta” was Whitman’s stomping grounds during what was probably the most creative period of his life. It is my adopted city; my feelings parallel Whitman’s.


“Mannahatta”: Mannahatta is derived from the aboriginal name for the place, most likely meaning island of many hills. Whitman chose to sometimes call Manhattan “Mannahatta” and to call Long Island “Paumanok,” also derived from a Native American word.


“nested in nests of water-bays, superb,

The fact of Manhattan’s being surrounded by water is one of its greatest and most appealing attributes. (This is also stressed by Herman Melville in the opening chapters of Moby-Dick). The rivers and bays act as a natural counterweight to urban sprawl.


“hemm’d thick all around with sailships and steamships”

Not true anymore, for the most part. Too bad. But, Manhattan Island, being bounded on all sides by water, retains a unique appeal because of this.


“an island sixteen miles long”

Sixteen miles from Battery Park (the southern tip of Manhattan Island) to Spuyten Duyvil (the northern end of the island).


“Numberless crowded streets”

Still true. Crowded, which is a blessing. You don’t find lonely, deserted spots or forsaken places. Crowed, yes, but the crowds usually aren’t oppressive.


“high growths of iron, slender, strong,
light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies”

Space is limited in Manhattan. Tall buildings reaching to the skies create a sense of awe.


“Tides swift and ample, well-loved by me, toward sundown,
The flowing sea-currents, the little islands, larger adjoining islands,
the heights, the villas”

Still true. There are islands, rivers with eddies, great vistas. All can still be seen by someone who strolls along the East River, the Battery, the banks of the Hudson, or the rarely visited but wonderful stretches of parkland at the upper tip of the island.


“the lighters, the ferry-boats”

Ferries still run, to the delight and for the convenience of many. A lighter is a barge used in unloading or loading ships. In one of Whitman’s greatest poems, “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry,” there is a reference to a “belated lighter.”


“The down-town streets, the jobbers’ houses of business, the houses
of business of the ship-merchants and money-brokers, the river-streets”

The small businesses are mostly gone, but there are still “river-streets.” Yet, access to the rivers is not so convenient anymore, since highways on the East and West Sides impede (but do not entirely prevent) access.


“Immigrants arriving, fifteen or twenty thousand in a week”

New York is still a city of immigrants, thank God. Mostly immigrants speaking, it seems, practically every imaginable tongue.


“The carts hauling goods, the manly race of drivers of horses”

Whitman loved to ride with and become acquainted with the drivers of horse drawn omnibuses on the main thoroughfares of Manhattan.


“The summer air, the bright sun shining, and the sailing clouds aloft”

So true, still. See photo below.



Central Park 11-36 a.m. 5-14-2017 (4).jpg

Central Park; photograph by Roger W. Smith



The winter snows, the sleigh-bells, the broken ice in the river,
passing along up or down with the flood-tide or ebb-tide”

Herman Melville, in Moby-Dick (Chapter LXXXVII), also mentions ice breaking up on the Hudson: “A low advancing hum was soon heard; and then like to the tumultuous masses of block-ice when the great river Hudson breaks up in Spring, the entire host of whales came tumbling upon their inner center. …” I myself have observed this (once) during wintertime on the Hudson. The river froze over, and I can remember the hissing and popping sounds as the ice was breaking up slowly.



“The mechanics of the city, the masters, well-form’d, beautiful-
faced, looking you straight in the eyes”

People in Manhattan — pedestrians passing — still look at you, often, with friendly eyes, not averting their gaze. There is a wonderful openness about them. The City fosters it.



Trottoirs throng’d, vehicles, Broadway”

It is still the case that the streets are thronged, with cars, pushcarts, bicycles. I love it. It drives the city traffic engineers crazy.

Trottoir is the French word for sidewalk. Whitman, who was not well versed in foreign languages, loved to use foreign words, on occasion, mostly French ones. He has been faulted for this. Some people can’t realize that one is not required to always say “sidewalk” when another word might be substituted. For various reasons, including a delight in language.


“the women, the shops and shows”

Manhattan is a wonderful place for shopping and window shopping. The “shows” continue to go on. And on. The women, a friend of mine once remarked, are Manhattan’s “last great natural resource.” They range from classic beauties to exotic looking women with natural beauty of all backgrounds and races.


“A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—
hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men”

This is all so true. The concentration of humanity is wonderful. The people are open and friendly.


“City of hurried and sparkling waters! city of spires and masts!
City nested in bays! my city!”

All still true, except for the “masts.” The current in the rivers is swift; they do indeed sparkle in the sunlight.







Whitman’s Broadway would have, in the mid-1850’s, meant an area of the city below 14th Street.


“What hurrying human tides, or day or night!”


“thy side-walks wide;”
“Thou of the endless sliding, mincing, shuffling

The sidewalks in Manhattan are indeed wide and welcoming. No thoroughfare lacks them. The pedestrian is not shunted aside or forced to walk (as is the case in the suburbs) on a faux sidewalk. The sidewalks in the City are always full of trampers, day and night.


Note: “Broadway” was originally published in the New York Herald of April 10, 1888. “Mannahatta” exists in a couple of versions published in Leaves of Grass.



— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017

regarding Professor Strunk’s admonition, “Omit Needless Words.” (or, are long, complex sentences bad?)



Should long, complex sentences be considered, a priori, evidence of bad writing? Ask Samuel Johnson. Or practically any other great writer one can think of.

Sometimes the shortest sentences can be extremely powerful: “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).

But, note what Professor Brooks Landon has to say in his lecture ““Grammar and Rhetoric” (lecture 2, “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft”; The Great Courses/The Teaching Company).



— Roger W. Smith

   July 2017






… unless the situation demands otherwise, sentences that convey more information are more effective than those that convey less. Sentences that anticipate and answer more questions that a reader might have are better than those that answer fewer questions. Sentences that bring ideas and images into clearer focus by adding more useful details and explanation are generally more effective than those that are less clearly focused and that offer fewer details. In practice, this means that I generally value longer sentences over shorter sentences as long as the length accomplishes some of those important goals I’ve just mentioned.

Many of us have been exposed over the years to the idea that effective writing is simple and direct, a term generally associated with Strunk and White’s legendary guidebook The Elements of Style, or we remember some of the slogans from that book, such as, “Omit needless words.” … [Stunk concluded] with this all important qualifier: “This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that he make every word tell.” [italics added] … Strunk’s concern is specifically with words and phrases that do not add propositions to the sentence [e.g., “owing to the fact that” instead of “since”].”

… simple does not mean simplistic. Direct does not mean short. And, simple and direct does not mean that we should all write like Ernest Hemingway in a hurry. “Omit needless words” is great advice, but not when it gets reduced to the belief that shorter is always better, or that “needless” means any word without which the sentence can still make sense.

… I like Faulkner, as well as I like Hemingway. And, I’d like to believe that even Professor Will Strunk and certainly E. B. White would not have tried to edit Faulkner out of existence.

… Strunk and White do a great job of reminding us to avoid needless words, but they don’t begin to consider all of the ways in which more words might actually be needed. … in many cases, we need to add words to improve our writing … rather than trying to pare our writing down to some kind of telegraphic minimum.







from Wikipedia


Jesus wept (Greek: ἐδάκρυσεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς, edákrysen o Iesoús lit. “Jesus shed tears”) is a phrase famous for being the shortest verse in the King James Version of the Bible, as well as many other versions. It is not the shortest in the original languages. It is found in the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verse 35.

This verse occurs in John’s narrative of the death of Lazarus of Bethany, a follower of Jesus. Lazarus’ sisters – Mary and Martha – sent word to Jesus of their brother’s illness and impending death, but Jesus arrived four days after Lazarus died. Jesus, after talking to the grieving sisters and seeing Lazarus’ friends weeping, was deeply troubled and moved.

Mussorgsky, “Pictures at an Exhibition” (original piano version; 1874); Мусоргский, «Картины на выставке» (оригинальная версия для фортепиано, 1874)



“Pictures at an Exhibition” (Russian: Картинки с выставки – Воспоминание о Викторе Гартмане; literally, “Pictures from an Exhibition – A Remembrance of Viktor Hartmann”; French: Tableaux d’une exposition) is a suite of ten pieces (plus a recurring, varied Promenade) composed for the piano by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky (Russian: Модест Петрович Мусоргский) in 1874.

The suite is Mussorgsky’s most famous piano composition. It has become further known through various orchestrations and arrangements produced by other musicians and composers, with Maurice Ravel’s arrangement being by far the most recorded and performed.






As noted in a Wikipedia entry:


Contemporary opinions of Mussorgsky as a composer have varied from positive to ambiguous to negative. Mussorgsky’s eventual supporters, Stasov and Balakirev, initially registered strongly negative impressions of the composer. Stasov wrote Balakirev, in an 1863 letter, “I have no use for Mussorgsky. His views may tally with mine, but I have never heard him express an intelligent idea. All in him is flabby, dull. He is, it seems to me, a thorough idiot”, and Balakirev agreed: “Yes, Mussorgsky is little short of an idiot.”

Mixed impressions were recorded by Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky, colleagues of Mussorgsky who, unlike him, made their living as composers. Both praised his talent while expressing disappointment with his technique. Rimsky-Korsakov wrote that Mussorgsky’s scores included “absurd, disconnected harmony, ugly part-writing, sometimes strikingly illogical modulation, sometimes a depressing lack of it, unsuccessful scoring of orchestral things… what was needed at the moment was an edition for performance, for practical artistic aims, for familiarization with his enormous talent, not for the study of his personality and artistic transgressions.”

While preparing an edition of Sorochintsï Fair [an opera], Anatoly Lyadov remarked: “It is easy enough to correct Mussorgsky’s irregularities. The only trouble is that when this is done, the character and originality of the music are done away with, and the composer’s individuality vanishes.”

Tchaikovsky, in a letter to his patroness Nadezhda von Meck was also critical of Mussorgsky: “Mussorgsky you very rightly call a hopeless case. In talent he is perhaps superior to all the [other members of The Five], but his nature is narrow-minded, devoid of any urge towards self-perfection, blindly believing in the ridiculous theories of his circle and in his own genius. In addition, he has a certain base side to his nature which likes coarseness, uncouthness, roughness. He flaunts his illiteracy, takes pride in his ignorance, mucks along anyhow, blindly believing in the infallibility of his genius. Yet he has flashes of talent which are, moreover, not devoid of originality.”

Western perceptions of Mussorgsky changed with the European premiere of Boris Godunov in 1908. Before the premiere, he was regarded as an eccentric in the west. Critic Edward Dannreuther, wrote, in the 1905 edition of The Oxford History of Music, “Mussorgsky, in his vocal efforts, appears willfully eccentric. His style impresses the Western ear as barbarously ugly.” However, after the premiere, views on Mussorgsky’s music changed drastically. Gerald Abraham, a musicologist, and an authority on Mussorgsky: “As a musical translator of words and all that can be expressed in words, of psychological states, and even physical movement, he is unsurpassed; as an absolute musician he was hopelessly limited, with remarkably little ability to construct pure music or even a purely musical texture.”


— Roger W. Smith

    July 2017









1 Promenade

2 No. 1 “The Gnome”

3 Promenade (2nd)

4 No. 2 “The Old Castle”

5 Promenade (3rd)

6 No. 3 “Tuileries (Children’s Quarrel after Games)”

7 No. 4 “Cattle”

8 Promenade (4th)

9 No. 5 “Ballet of Unhatched Chicks”

10 No. 6 “Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle”

11 Promenade (5th)

12 No. 7 “Limoges. The Market (The Great News)”

13 No. 8 “Catacombs (Roman Tomb)”\

14. Con mortuis in lingua mortua

15 No. 9 “The Hut on Hen’s Legs (Baba Yaga)”

16 No. 10 “The Bogatyr Gates (In the Capital in Kiev)”




Continue reading

a pregnant thought




conveyed to me by a long time friend in a phone conversation this morning

he was quoting a statement made by a philosophy professor in a college class he was enrolled in many years ago

the statement, as paraphrased by my friend: the question is not whether a philosophy or belief system is TRUE, it’s whether you like it nor not; does it appeal to you, say something to you? … the same thing applies to art [in the broad sense of the word]

my friend was wresting with religious doubts at the time; his professor’s statement was a consolation and revelation to him … what I would say, to the extent I understand, “translating” my friend’s inferences as best as I can, is that one can believe, engage with, bow to genius and inspiration (and, yes, truth!) without fear of being ridiculed for stupidity and credulity because something hasn’t been scientifically proved or some assertion or other has been disputed

a thought of my own: this statement has wide ranging implications … think of all the narrow minded, benighted people who want to find fault with art because they DISAGREE with something or other; to dissect, eviscerate it because they feel it is not CORRECT



— Roger W. Smith

   July 13, 2017