Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Acropolis* at Mid-Season
Lisabelle Tay

This too is a kind of pilgrimage.
The jostling in the burning streets,
The scrabbling for the right angle:
This too is toil under the sun
Your fellow seekers of mystery trudging sandalled in dust
Toward the unseen promise at the top of this bare and crowded hill.
Here is what we think used to be a cave.
Here is where we think they worshipped Pan**, here is where there probably
Used to be a stream and a secret door.
Worship demands imagination.
The wine-God devotees who wore these stones down to bone, it is their work
You are continuing, you who have come
From Taiwan and Canada and Korea,
You Americans with your bucket hats and North Face khakis,
All you who have thronged these old streets to say
I was here, I was here
The earth will remember me

**Acropolis: A citadel or fortified part of an ancient Greek city, typically one built on a hill. Freq. (with capital initial) as the proper name of the ancient citadel of Athens.

***Pan: the god of flocks and herds of Greek mythology, usually represented with the horns, ears, and legs of a goat on the body of a man.

(All definitions from Oxford English Dictionary Online)

‘Youth’ (2003)
J M Coetzee
“It is late, past midnight. In the faded blue sleeping-bag he has brought from South Africa, he is lying on the sofa in his friend Paul’s bedsitter in Belsize Park. On the other side of the room, in the proper bed, Paul has begun to snore. Through a gap in the curtain glares a night sky of sodium orange tinged with violet. Though he has covered his feet with a cushion, they remain icy. No matter: he is in London.

There are two, perhaps three places in the world where life can be lived at its fullest intensity: London, Paris, perhaps Vienna. Paris comes first: city of love, city of art. But to live in Paris one must have gone to the kind of upper-class school that teaches French. As for Vienna, Vienna is for Jews coming back to reclaim their birthright: logical positivism, twelve-tone music, psychoanalysis. That leaves London, where South Africans do not need to carry papers and where people speak English. London may be stony, labyrinth, and cold, but behind its forbidding walls men and women are at work writing books, painting paintings, composing music. One passes them every day in the street without guessing their secret, because of the famous and admirable British reserve.

For a half-share of the bedsitter, which consists of a single room and an annex with a gas stove and cold-water sink (the bathroom and toilet upstairs serve the whole house), he pays Paul two pounds a week[1]. His entire savings, which he has brought with him from South Africa, amount to eighty-four pounds. He must find a job at once.

An advertisement in the Guardian takes him on a trip to Rothamsted, the agricultural station outside London where Halsted and MacIntyre, authors of The Design of Statistical Experiments, one of his university textbooks, used to work. The interview, preceded by a tour of the station’s gardens and greenhouses, goes well. The post he has applied for is that of Junior Experimental Officer. The duties of a JEO, he learns, consist in laying out grids for test plantings, recording yields under different regimens, then analysing the data on the station’s computer, all under the direction of one of the Senior Officers. The actual agricultural work is done by gardeners supervised by Agricultural Officers; he will not be expected to get his hands dirty.

A few days later a letter arrives confirming that he is being offered the job, at a salary of six hundred pounds a year. He cannot contain his joy. What a coup! To work at Rothamsted! People in South Africa will not believe it!

There is one catch. The letter ends: ‘Accommodation can be arranged in the village or on the council housing estate.’ He writes back: he accepts the offer, he says, but would prefer to go on living in London. He will commute to Rothamsted.

In reply he receives a telephone call from the personnel office. Commuting will not be practicable, he is told. What he is being offered is not a desk job with regular hours. On some mornings he will have to start work very early; at other times he will have to work late, or over weekends. Like all officers, he will therefore have to reside within reach of the station. Will he reconsider his position and communicate a final decision?

His triumph is dashed. What is the point of coming all the way from Cape Town to London if he is to be quartered on a housing estate miles outside the city, getting up at the crack of dawn to measure the height of bean plants? He wants to join Rothamsted, wants to find a use for the mathematics he has laboured over for years, but he also wants to go to poetry readings, meet writers and painters, have love affairs. How can he ever make the people at Rothamsted – men in tweed jackets smoking pipes, women with stringy hair and owlish glasses – understand that? How can he bring out words like love, poetry before them?

Yet how can he turn the offer down? He is within inches of having a real job, and in England too. He need only say one word – Yes ­– and he will be able to write to this mother giving her the good news she is waiting to hear, namely that her son is earning a good salary doing something respectable. Then she in turn will be able to telephone his father’s sisters and announce, ‘John is working as a scientist in England.’ That will finally put an end to their carping and sneering. A scientist: what could be more solid than that?”

[1] Circa early 1960s, not present day value of British pound.

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