Tuesday 31 October 2023

The Heathen to His Departing Soul

Alexander Pope
‘Adriani morientis ad animam, or, the Heathen to His Departing Soul’

Ah, fleeting Spirit! wand’ring fire,
   That long hast warm’d my tender breast,
Must thou no more this frame inspire,
   No more a pleasing cheerful guest?
Whither, ah whither, art thou flying,
   To what dark undiscover’d shore?
Thou seem’st all trembling, shiv’ring, dying,
   And Wit and Humour are no more!
A loose translation of the last words of Emperor Hadrian, from the Historia Augusta (Vita Hadriani, 25.9):
Animula, vagula, blandula
Hospes comesque corporis
Quae nunc abibis in loca
Pallidula, rigida, nudula,
Nec, ut soles, dabis iocos.

Greater Death's Head Hawkmoth

Greater Death's Head Hawkmoth (Acherontia lachesis, 鬼脸天蛾).

An appropriate house guest for Halloween.

Greater Death's Head Hawkmoth at Hengshan

Monday 30 October 2023

What Is Good For You

August Kleinzahler (1949-), ‘No Antonin Artaud with the Flapjacks, Please’, Poetry Magazine (14 November 2005):

There is a passage from a William Carlos Williams poem, “Asphodel, That Greeny Flower,” dear to the hearts of those who would peddle poetry, or the idea of poetry, to the masses. I have heard it read on NPR in that solemn, hushed tone that is a commonplace among poetry salespersons, not least Mr. Keillor:
    Of asphodel, that greeny flower,
    I come, my sweet,
    to sing to you!
    My heart rouses
    thinking to bring you news
    of something
    that concerns you
    and concerns many men. Look at
    what passes for the new.
    You will not find it there but in
    despised poems.
    It is difficult
    to get the news from poems
    yet men die miserably every day
    for lack
    of what is found there.
A pretty sentiment, to be sure, but simply untrue, as anyone who has been to the supermarket or ballpark recently will concede. Ninety percent of adult Americans can pass through this life tolerably well, if not content, eating, defecating, copulating, shopping, working, catching the latest Disney blockbuster, without having a poem read to them by Garrison Keillor or anyone else. Nor will their lives be diminished by not standing in front of a Cézanne at the art museum or listening to a Beethoven piano sonata. Most people have neither the sensitivity, inclination, or training to look or listen meaningfully, nor has the culture encouraged them to, except with the abstract suggestion that such things are good for you. Multivitamins are good for you. Exercise, fresh air, and sex are good for you. Fruit and vegetables are good for you. Poetry is not.

Mile-a-minute Weed

Mile-a-minute Weed (Persicaria perfoliata, 扛板归).

The best parts of the Xiang river are were life is allowed to run wild  weeds and wild flowers. In these spaces there are always a variety of persicaria. Mile-a-minute Weed is not dominant, but it it is often they, with its little blue berries, tangled up and toughing it out.

Mile-a-minute Weed at the Xiang River

Sunday 29 October 2023

Yellow-spotted Stink Bug

Yellow-spotted Stink Bug (Erthesina fullo, 麻皮蝽).

A common little October critter: it is not shy and it is not fast. In scientific and gardening literature, the most common epithet applied to this shield bug is 'polyphagous', for its fairly indiscriminate taste in the plants it devours.

The Folly of Study

Placentinus (d. 1192), Sermo de legibus, 93-122:

O tu stulta scientia,
Quid prodest diligentia
Quam tu ponis in studio?
Tu es macra et pallida,
Morieris vili vita
Sine ullo gaudio!
Tu morieris in vivendo
Atque vivis moriendo,
Hec in te nichil differunt.
Languor est in te vivere
Et vivere sic est languere,
Hec tibi mortem afferunt.
Dum corpus tuum afficis,
Tu te ipsam interficis,
   Tu es homicida!
Dum sic amittis seculum
Te ponis in periculum
   De perenni vita.
Affectare scientiam,
Que inflat et superbiam
   Parit, est peccare!
Latet anguis sic in herba!
Fuge, miser, hec superba  
   Noli inculcare!
Mundum fugis et mundanum
Discis, cum sit hoc humanum.
   Quod tu semper desideras,
Sint tibi contraria;
Nil lucraris, set omnia
   Perdis, que semper feceras,
Oh you, foolish knowledge, what use is the diligence which you put into study? You are thin and pallid; you will pass out of a worthless life without any joy! You will die in living and you live in dying, neither makes any difference to you. Listlessness lives in you and to live is to be listless. These things will bring death to you. While you weaken your body you bring about your own death, you are a murderer! While you let the world slip away from you in such a fashion, you place yourself in peril of losing everlasting life. To seek knowledge, which puffs one up and gives birth to pride, is sin! This is the way the snake lurks in the grass! Flee, wretched man, refuse to take in these haughty things! You flee the world and you study worldliness, since it is learned. What you always desire are incompatible; you will gain nothing, rather you will lose everything which you had ever acquired.
Hermann Kantorowicz, ‘The Poetical Sermon of a Mediaeval Jurist: Placentinus and His “Sermo de Legibus” ’, Journal of the Warburg Institute, 2.1 (1938), 22-41 (pp. 38-39). My translation.

Saturday 28 October 2023


Robert Louis Stevenson, In The South Seas (London: William Heinemann, 1924), p. 268:

It is correct manners for a jealous man to hang himself; a jealous woman has a different remedy-she bites her rival.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Blue whistling thrush (Myophonus caeruleus, 紫啸鸫). 

I sometimes hear their near-human whistling around the low forested parts of Yuelu mountain (岳麓山). This thrush was stealing meat, as it was drying in the sun, on top of one of the buildings on Yuelu near to the Hunan University park entrance.

Blue Whistling Thrush on Yuelu Mountain

Blue Whistling Thrush on Yuelu Mountain

Friday 27 October 2023

Scaly-breasted Munia

Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata, 斑文鳥).

A very pleasant bird with call like a sea-gull attempting to enunciate 'kitty'. One finds them in Changsha when insects and seeds are abundant.Whenever food is scarcer they are no longer to be seen.

Scaly-breasted Munia

Stick to Writing about Eels

Francesco Berni (1497/8-1535)

Provai un tratto a scrivere elegante,
in prosa e in versi, e fecine parecchi,
et ebbi voglia anch’io d’esser gigante;
ma messer Cinzio mi tirò gli orecchi,
e disse:—Bernia, fa’ pur dell’Anguille,
ché questo è  il proprio umor dove tu pecchi:
arte non è da te cantar d’Achille
I tried once to write with elegance, making several attempts at prose and verse, and I even longed to be a giant,

but Mr. Cinzio pulled my ears, and said: ‘Berni: you keep writing about eels, because that is the proper subject  for you to mess about with: it is not your art to sing of Achilles.’

Francesco Berni, Rime, ed. by Giorgio Bàrberi Squarotti (Torino: Giulio Einaudi, 1969), pp. 152-53 (LV. Capitolo al cardinale [Ippolito] de’ Medici, 37-43). My translation. Emended prova to read prosa in line 38.

 ‘You are old,’ said the youth, ‘one would hardly suppose
    That your eye was as steady as ever;
Yet you balanced an eel on the end of your nose—
    What made you so awfully clever?’

‘I have answered three questions, and that is enough,’
    Said his father; ‘don’t give yourself airs!
Do you think I can listen all day to such stuff?
    Be off, or I’ll kick you down stairs!’

Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (New York: Random House, 1946), p. 55. Illustration by John Tenniel; coloured by Fritz Kredel.

John Tenniel - An eel on the end of your nose

Thursday 26 October 2023

The Waking World

Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536), Opus epistolarum, 12 vols, ed. by P.S. Allen (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1906-1958), III (1913), p. 585 [‘To Henry Guildford’, 15 May 1519]:

Mundus resipiscit velut ex altissimo somno expergiscens; et tamen pertinacibus animis adhuc repugnant quidam, veterem inscitiam suam manibus pedibusque ac mordicus etiam retinentes.

The world recovers as if waking from the deepest slumber; and yet some still fight back with obstinate pride, fighting to preserve their old ignorance with fists and feet and their teeth as well.

My translation.
Sunrise at the Xiang River

October Sunrise at the Xiang River

Male Red-flanked Bluetail

Male Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus, 红胁蓝尾鸲).

Photographed in the afternoon in Wangling Park (王陵公园), a small but forested rest stop for migrating birds. His feathers have a subtle shimmering blue, lacking in the female. Subtle at least for us, likely they are more dazzling to the superior eyesight of birds.

Male Red-flanked Bluetail

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Female Red-flanked Bluetail

Female Red-flanked Bluetail (Tarsiger cyanurus, 红胁蓝尾鸲).

From now until early spring, when they migrate back north to breed, these Old World flycatchers will be among the many birds one finds foraging near the lakes around Yuelu Mountain. They are also one of the small birds here most indifferent to human presence. This one was at the pond in Wangling Park (王陵公园), and she was content scouring for insects while I was only a few yards away.

Red-flanked bluetail in Wangling Park

Death and the Child

Andrzej Krzycki (1482-1537)  
In imaginem mortis et infantis

Qualis eras primum, qualis sis deinde futurus,
   Aspice! Quod medium? spes, labor atque nihil.

On an image of death and a child

What were you at the beginning? What will you be in the future? 
   Lo! What about in the meantime? Hope, toil and nothing.
Andrzej Krzycki, Andreae Cricii carmina, ed. by Kazimierz Morawski (Cracow: typis universitatis Jagellonicae, 1888), p. 243. My translation.
Salvator Rosa - L'Umana Fragilità

Salvator Rosa - L'Umana Fragilità, Fitzwilliam Museum

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Bird Sleep

Jennifer Ackerman, The Genius of Birds (New York: Penguin Books, 2016), p. 157:

Sleep seems to play a role in song learning for young birds, just as it does in human learning. A growing body of research suggests that the human brain continues to process the learning of a new motor skill after active training has stopped and during the sleep that follows it. This may be true for birds, too. Zebra finches practice their songs by day and sleep by night.

White-rumped Munia

White-rumped munia (Lonchura striata, 白腰文鳥).

They are not uncommon in Changsha, yet I rarely see more than a glimpse of them, darting through vine-laden trees around the lakes and river. Sometimes, but rarely, I see them around the wild base of Yuelu Mountain. This one was by the roadside, near the north of Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖).

Today was warm and the river was suddenly lower than it has been in months, exposing insects and bringing a plurality of different birds near the waters. Though the moderately dry woods and hills likely contributed to the sudden avian enthusiasm for the river as well. I hope to see many new birds soon: both winter travellers and forest-dwellers out for food and water.

White-rumped munia

Monday 23 October 2023

Brown Tree Frog

Brown Tree Frog (Polypedates megacephalus, 斑腿泛树蛙).

This week we found two of these shrub frogs at the Hunan Botanical garden, where they were hopping around in the mulch in the bamboo gardens. A little over a centimetre in length and smaller in width they were nearly invisible among the light brown leaves and fallen bamboo husks, except as fleeting darts of movement when they were disturbed by my footsteps.

Brown Tree Frog in the Hunan Botanical Garden

When a Person Knows Too Much

Joseph Berger and Isabel Kershner, 'Adin Steinsaltz, 83, Dies; Created Epic Translation of Talmud', New York Times (Aug. 11, 2020), p. B11:

“Sometimes when a person knows too much, it causes him to do nothing,” he said. “It seems it’s better sometimes for a man, as for humanity, not to know too much about the difficulties and believe more in the possibilities.” – Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (1937-2020)

'Never tell me the odds.' - Han Solo

Sunday 22 October 2023

Japanese Giant Silkworm Moth

Japanese Giant Silkworm Moth (Saturnia japonica, 银杏珠天蚕蛾).

During a recent trip to Hengshan mountain, south of Changsha, we found several of these large ruddy and brown moths hanging about in the forest. We discovered them at dusk when they were visible but lethargic: they were reluctant to move even if disturbed and did not care about us, though we were fascinated by them.

Saturnia japonica at Hengshan Mountain

Saturnia japonica mating pair at Hengshan Mountain

Saturnia japonica mating pair at Hengshan Mountain


George Orwell, The Complete Novels (London: Penguin Books, 2000), p. 295 [Burmese Days]:

Envy is a horrible thing. It is unlike all other kinds of suffering in that there is no disguising it, no elevating it into tragedy. It is more than merely painful, it is disgusting.

Saturday 21 October 2023

Sugarcane Spittlebug

Sugarcane Spittlebug (Callitettix versicolor, 稻赤斑黑沫蝉).

A glossy black bug with four white spots and two to four red spots, they are easy to find when they are resting on summer leaves. This spittlebug is also a great destroyer of rice and maize crops throughout south-east Asia. They make themselves conspicuous climbing to exposed sun-drenched positions in the overgrowth along the Xiang river, particularly in July and August, though I still chance upon them now when walking about there. They also leave long pallid yellow spots on the plants they have fed upon.

Sugarcane Spittlebug by the Xiang

Academic Compliment

Philip Larkin, Jill (London: Faber and Faber, 1987), p. 14:

The highest academic compliment I received as an undergraduate was “Mr. Larkin can see a point, if it is explained to him”.

Friday 20 October 2023

Locastra Muscosalis Caterpillar

Locastra muscosalis (缀叶丛螟).

Last October I these larvae were a frequent sight, partly because of their tendency to walk out in the open along the paths on Yuelu mountain. This year they are back, at roughly the same time of year, hastily plodding along over the hard red earth.

Torturing Delay

R.C. Sherriff, The Fortnight in September: A Novel (New York: Scribner, 2018), p. 36:
Ten minutes were sufficient—but not a lavish allowance, for one remote possibility always haunted Mr. Stevens with unreasoning and ridiculous fear. It was the possibility of a passing lady fainting, or accidentally falling down. It would mean stopping and helping her up: brushing down her dress, picking up her umbrella and bag, possibly her spectacles. It was not that Mr. Stevens lacked humanity or courtesy—it was simply the agonising delay that might be caused. For under such circumstances you cannot leave a lady with the cold-blooded statement that you have a train to catch. Besides, there were many ladies unused to receiving attention, who, hurt or unhurt, might easily fall victims to the desire for publicity and hold the scene till they had collected a crowd. In the worst event, if it were a fainting fit, it might mean dragging the lady to the railings and making a cushion for her head with your coat. It might mean a policeman—an ambulance—five—ten—fifteen minutes of torturing delay. It was an idiotic idea—a one in a thousand chance—yet it always lurked somewhere in Mr. Stevens’s mind as he walked to the station.

Thursday 19 October 2023

A Dearth of Books

Seneca the Younger, Epistulae, V.45.1:

Librorum istic inopiam esse quereris. Non refert quam multos sed quam bonos habeas: lectio certa prodest, uaria delectat. Qui quo destinauit peruenire uult unam sequatur uiam, non per multas uagetur: non ire istuc sed errare est.

You complain that there are not many books where you are. It is not the quantity of books in your possession but their quality that matters: circumscribed reading has its uses, desultory reading is merely for amusement. One who has settled on going somewhere should follow a single path and not wander about aimlessly: that is the not making going somewhere but wandering aimlessly.

My translation.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Rufous-capped Babbler (Cyanoderma ruficeps, 红头穗鹛).

They are often covert but not shy.  I sat watching a pair of these babblers foraging in the bushes and desiccated yellow grass by the Xiang river. Sometimes they were only inches away, happily crunching brown vegetation. Their songs are like the chiming of bells and constant.

Rufous-capped babbler by the Xiang River

Wednesday 18 October 2023

Brandy and Champagne

David Gilmour, The British in India: A Social History of the Raj (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2018), p. 287:
‘Stalky’ Dunsterville was delighted to come across a retired Sikh officer who told him that brandy and soda (brandy pawnee, the officers’ favourite drink) would be improved by doubling the quantity of brandy and replacing the soda with champagne.

Collared Finchbill

Collared Finchbill (Spizixos semitorques, 领雀嘴鹎).

On the weekend, we ascended Hengshan (衡山) to the shrine on Zhurong Peak, which features a large furnace for incense which worshippers carry up in great qualities; its smoke can be seen clearly from several miles distance. There were many interesting temples, plants and insects to observe on the mountain, and one grass lizard and a stripped squirrel. But aside from a few stray bulbuls, there were not many birds visible on the pilgrims' trails. Near our lodgings however, at the base of the mountain, collared finchbills could be heard both day and night. They are a common in central and southeast China, especially in the woodland hills, and are rather fetching forest creatures.

Collared Finchbill on Hengshan

Tuesday 17 October 2023

A Stump in the Xiang River

I often walk along the Xiang river (湘江) on my way to and from work. The waters are more or less high now, but they rise and fall.

In the spring of 2022 the Xiang the flooded its banks leaving its adjacent walkways clinging and slick for weeks, to the displeasure of trepidatious pedestrians and the delight of muck-loving children. One consequence of the deluge was an uprooted tree stump lodged deep in the river, providing a private perch for fishing birds. From early summer to late August the perch was regularly visited by a black-crowned night heron.

Night Heron in the Xiang River
Latter in the autumn 2022, the heron deserted its post, and a little egret took over the perch. I would see this egret there often as I walked to and from my office, though it would stay for shorter intervals than the heron and often frequented other fishing spots.

Little Egret in the Xiang River

Until January 2023 this egret occupied the submerged tree most days, but during the intervals in which the egret was away, a cheeky pied kingfisher would take over the spot. If the egret saw the kingfisher fishing from his perch, it would be soon ousted. The log finally disappeared last summer and the drama ended. I am reminded of it now as I spend another warm Autumn walking to and from the same office.
Pied Kingfisher in the Xiang River

Humour and Horror

Chelsea Davis, 'Kelly Link Makes Fairy Tales Even Weirder Than You Remember' [An Interview with Kelly Link], Electronic Literature, 29-March-2023:

KL: Horror and fairy tales are two of my favorite forms of narrative, and those are both genres where rules loom large. Don’t smell wolfsbane. Be kind to animals. Don’t invite strangers over the threshold. Don’t step on a crack. Don’t be greedy, don’t say thank you to fairies, but do listen to birds, but don’t blow on a whistle that you find on the beach, but always be polite to old ladies. I love rules that feel nonsensical and fraught with weight at the same time. I love when rules are inverted. The introduction of a rule tells the reader that story is going to follow, and hopefully the consequences will in some way be surprising or fresh.


KL: Humor and horror are both doors into story for me—and inside a story, they’re paths to understanding or rearranging situations in which otherwise I (and perhaps the reader) might be overwhelmed in the most uninteresting ways. I reach for humor consciously because I have to reach for most things consciously when I write. And now I’m wondering if that might be an interesting rule to set for myself—to set aside even small bits of comedy. Argh.

Link here.

Monday 16 October 2023

Common Mormon Swallowtail

Common Mormon Swallowtail (Papilio polytes, 玉带凤蝶).
It is one of the more common swallowtails in Changsha. And compared with the Chinese peacock swallowtail (Papilio bianor), which tends to remain close to the forests, they range freer around the lakes and open fields. The English name refers to polyamorous nature of the males.

Common Mormon Swallowtail


John Wyndham, ‘John Pawley’s Peepholes’ in The Seeds of Time (London: Penguin Books, 1959; 1956).  pp. 96-120 (p. 100):

She turned on her disillusioned voice: ‘We've got two ways of using inventions,’ she said. ‘One is to kill more people more easily: the other is to enable sharp operators to make easy money out of suckers. Maybe there are a few exceptions like X-rays, but not many. Inventions! What we do with the product of genius is first of all ram it down to the lowest common denominator and then multiply it by the vulgarest possible fraction. What a century! What a world! When I think what other centuries are going to say about ours it makes me go hot all over.

Sunday 15 October 2023

Marbled White Moth

Marbled White Moth (Nyctemera adversata, 粉蝶灯蛾).

When I walk through the bushes, I see many small moths scattering off to find new leaves to perch underneath; only at night are they more active. Marbled whites are conspicuously larger than their cousin moths and an active presence during the day. Wherever there are large hosts of pollinators, there is often one of them, slowly and deliberately sampling flowers. They show an utter lack of concern for predators: like they are flaunting their toxicity.

Marbled White Moth by Xiang River

Reading in Autumn

Susan Hill, The Small Hand (London: Profile Books, 2010), p. 132:

    It was hopeless then to try and sleep. I read for a while but the words slid off the surface of my mind. I opened the window. It was raining slightly and the air was heavy, but there was the chill of autumn on it.

Saturday 14 October 2023

Male Tropical Fritillary

Tropical Fritillary ( Argynnis hyperbius, 斐豹蛱蝶). Male.

Autumn is the ideal time to spot tropical fritillaries in Changsha. Wherever there are swaths of merremia, beggarticks or other wild flowers there is usually at least one tropical fritillary circling above and occasionally stopping for a long drink of nectar. I see many more males with their outer black markings than females.
Tropical Fritillary by the Xiang River

The Best Way of Learning

Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams: A Centennial Version (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 2007; 1907), p. 237:

He frankly acted on the rule that a teacher, who knew nothing of his subject, should not pretend to teach his scholars what he did not know, but should join them in trying to find the best way of learning it.

Friday 13 October 2023

Oriental Magpie-Robin Singing at Sunset

A gothic looking oriental magpie-robin (copsychus saularis, 鹊鸲) singing at sunset by Xianjia Lake (咸嘉湖). With the cooling weather, we are entering the great season for birth-watching.

Oriental magpie-robin by Xianjia Lake

Changeable Rose-Mallow

Changeable Rose-Mallow (Hibiscus mutabilis, 木芙蓉).

They can be found in gardens all over the warmer parts of the world, but it is refreshing to find them in their ancestral home in southern China. Along the Xiang river, they appear, sometimes by human design and sometimes (my favourites) through their own wild volition. They are now still more buds than blooms, but soonand the wild ones especiallywill soon erupt in heavy flowers for hungry ants, bees and butterflies. When the sun rises the flowers are white and in the evening they are reddish pink. Nature is a mad alchemist.

Morning Changeable Rose-Mallow
Afternoon Changeable Rose-Mallow

Poetry and Urban Life

August Kleinzahler interviewed by William Corbett, ‘The Art of Poetry No. 93’, The Paris Review, 182 (2007):

Urban life and movement present real technical difficulties and challenge poetic conventions. Urban life is dense and fast and requires flexible structures that can incorporate speed and information. It’s tough to come up with a coherent, interesting structure. Most simply avoid the problem or take refuge in some rote “avant-garde” gesture like fridge-magnet indeterminism, i.e. spilling the language all over the floor and stomping on it like a three-year-old child.

Thursday 12 October 2023

Dark Cerulean

Dark Cerulean (Jamides bochus, 雅灰蝶).

With the cooler weather and abundance of flowers over the past few weeks, it would be unexpected if there were not many new insects emerging each new day. Among the different species of lycaenids (and it is great fun learning to tell them apart) around Changsha, I have been seeing steady numbers of dark ceruleans.

Dark Cerulean by Xiang River

A Mole Catcher’s Tricks

Bill ‘Pop’ Bowles, The Memoirs of a Fenland Mole Catcher (Peterborough: Cambridgeshire Libraries Publications, 1986), p. 6:

   Mole catchers are not ‘greedy’ fellows, we watch some moles but leave some for ‘seed’! If we caught the lot or let them get too thin that would not suit some farmers, they would think they were paying too much money for nothing, and then they would consider cutting your money down. I know, only too well, they like to see you running around all the time, makes them feel their money is being well spent. Human nature is such that when paying out people like to see action, continuous action, however, a mole catcher uses his expertise, and once he has placed his traps in the right places, plays a waiting game. If you want to leave some moles for later but at the same time want to show the farmer you are trying here is a successful way to accomplish both. Set your trap in the usual way but set the tongue so hard that the mole will be unable to spring it, and he will either go round or under the obstacle his way!
   I remember one farmer in about 1930, bet 10 shillings that I could not clear his land, it was heavy rough grass and full of moles. I cleared the fields within a week and he refused to pay me. He thought he had one, but I knew he hadn’t, I picked up all the live moles I could find and dropped them on his land. His 10 shillings cost him double to have them cleared again! He reported me to my boss and said he was so over run, he would have shot me if he knew what I had done! I dropped a few dead moles about but they weren’t caught on his land, the farmer cannot win if the mole catcher doesn’t want him to. It really does pay to be nice to the mole catcher he does have the last laugh!

Wednesday 11 October 2023

Pea Blue

Pea Blue (Lampides boeticus, 亮灰蝶).

A small nice Old World butterfly: it can be found all across Asia, Europe and Africa. The blue colouring, which gives this butterfly its name, is hidden in the upper face of the wings. At a distance, they can be mistaken for more common plains Cupids (luthrodes pandava), but up close their they can be easily differentiated by their distinctive brown and white patterns and the lack of black spots on their wings.

Lampides boeticus

One's Homeland

Aristophanes, Plutus, 1151:

πατρὶς γάρ ἐστι πᾶσ᾿ ἵν᾿ ἂν πράττῃ τις εὖ.
one's homeland is wherever one prospers well
Cicero, Tusculanae Disputationes,V.108, quoting Pacuvius's lost play Teucer:
patria est, ubicumque est bene
one's homeland is whenever one is well

Tuesday 10 October 2023


After all, the best part of a holiday is perhaps not so much to resting yourself, as to see all the other fellows busy working.
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1993; 1908), p. 13.

Black-throated Bushtit

Black-throated Bushtit (Aegithalos concinnus, 红头长尾山雀).

In Autumnal Changsha, in the forests and by the lakes and river, one can find mixed flocks of cinereous tits, yellow-bellied tits, Pallas's leaf warblers, and black-throated bushtits. The latter are easiest to find by the water, hunting insects and spiders.

Black-throated Bushtit at Yanghu Wetland Park

Black-throated Bushtit at Yanghu Wetland Park

Monday 9 October 2023

Leucoma candida

Leucoma candida (杨雪毒蛾).

Recent weather has been cooler (far from cold) and damp, and while days of dragonflies and butterflies seem to be ending but I am seeing moths now in greater numbers and varieties.

In my youth on Vancouver Island it was not hard to white satin moths (leucoma salicis) out and about in the Autumn. At first I thought that is what I was seeing here, though closer examination revealed a slightly different (and both glossier and smaller) species.

Leucoma candida

Process Theology

David Lodge, Paradise News (London: Vintage Books, 2011; 1991), p. 29:

There weren’t many jobs for sceptical theologians, and St John’s College had given him one. It was only part-time, admittedly, but he had hopes that it might eventually become full-time, and meanwhile they allowed him to live in one of the student rooms in the College, which saved him a lot of trouble and expense.
      He returned to his room and made the narrow, iron-framed bed, which he had left untidily rumpled in his eagerness to get out to the travel agency. He sat at his desk and took out his notes on a book about process theology he was reviewing for Eschatological Review. The God of process theology, he read, is the cosmic lover. “His transcendence is in His sheer faithfulness to Himself in love, in His inexhaustibility as lover, and in His capacity for endless adaptation to circumstances in which His love may be active.” Really? Who says? The theologian says. And who cares, apart from other theologians? Not the people choosing their holidays from the travel agent’s brochures. Not the drivers of the car transporters. It often seemed to Bernard that the discourse of much modern radical theology was just as implausible and unfounded as the orthodoxy it had displaced, but nobody had noticed because nobody read it except those with a professional stake in its continuation.

This fictional character, Bernard, appears to have been reading and reviewing a real book. The passage Lodge quotes in italics first appeared in W. Norman Pittenger, ‘Christian Theology After the “Death of God” ’, The Church Quarterly, 1 (April 1969), 306-14, p. 313. It has been reprinted several times. Firstly in “The Last Things” in a Process Perspective (London: Epworth Press, 1970), p. 116, Catholic faith in a process perspective (Maryknoll, NY : Orbis Books, 1981), p. 21 and finally in Contemporary American theologies II: a book of readings, ed. by Dean William Ferm (New York: The Seabury Press, 1982), p. 46. Since the novel is set in the late eighties to early nineties (1987 is mentioned as having passed on p. 63), we can safely assume that regardless of which book Bernard had in hand, he was very tardy with his review.

Sunday 8 October 2023


Grant Allen, An African Millionaire: Episodes in the Life of the Illustrious Colonel Clay (New York: E. Arnold, 1897), p. 266:

Don’t believe that nonsense about fortunes being made by industry and ability,” he said. “In life, as at cards, two things go to produce success—the first is chance; the second is cheating.

Eristalinus arvorum

Eristalinus arvorum (棕腿斑眼食蚜蝇).
I was at first surprised to discern that these are hover flies, since they are better flyers than any other hover fly I have observed. Over the past week I have seen many these eristalini arvorum, either busy pollinating (beggarticks in particular) or reposing on a leaf.

Eristalinus arvorum

Saturday 7 October 2023

Colias poliographus

Colias poliographus (东亚豆粉蝶).

Like many other pollinators, these clouded yellow butterflies are easiest to find in spring and fall. Compared with other local butterflies, they are nimble, adept flyers and far more skilled at navigating weedy patches.

Colias poliographus

Tell Me What You Read

"Tell me what you read, and I will tell you what you think."

".דימי לוקי מילדאס טי דירי לוקי פינסאס"

Isaac Shaki, דאבות מלי או ומזיאדו'ז דיל טריזורו [Trezoro del djudaizmo o Mile de-'Avot] (Cairo, 5667 [1907]), vol. I, p.[ii]. My translation. The proverb is quoted in a complaint that both the young and old are wasting their time reading novels instead of religious books.

Friday 6 October 2023

Phytomia zonata

Phytomia zonata (羽芒宽盾食蚜蝇).
They are one of the larger hover flies found in Changsha. Right now they can reliably found where there are patches of wild-flowers. I have seen them in spring as well: last spring in particular there was a flower patch in Wangling park where a hwamei would hunt for them every afternoon.

Treat Reading as a Vice

 Alastair Fowler, ‘C. S. Lewis: Supervisor’, Yale Review, 91.4 (2003), 64–80 (p. 75):

   Lewis managed to cram copious reading into his busy life by not making a task of it. He told his pupils, “The great thing is to be always reading but never to get bored – treat it not like work, more as a vice!” Following his own advice, he pursued congenial literature with passion (pleasure is too weak a word). As for uncongenial works, a few minutes a day would get him through. His tastes became more catholic with maturity (he reached out latterly even to drama); but he always read selectively rather than systematically. If a major work like Abraham Cowley’s Davideis bored him, he set it aside. What he read, however, he read more deeply than most. He led me to see that coverage – complete knowledge of literature – can never be attained. Rising from a thirst to range over it and take in all that is delightful, good reading has to work by sampling, exploring, and at last grasping strategic works or passages, in the context of sources, analogues, historical circumstances, and the inferior subliterature whose lower pleasures it leaves behind. Lewis’s selectivity showed in the works he had chosen to remember.

Thursday 5 October 2023

Divine Splendour in Creation

Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), Commentaire sur le Banquet de Platon = Commentarium in convivium Platonis, De amore, ed. & trans. by Pierre Laurens (Paris: Les Belles Lettres, 2002), p. 37 [II.5]:
Quemadmodum uero solis radius unus corpora quatuor, ignem, aerem, aquam terramque illustrat, sic unus dei radius mentem, animam, naturam, materiamque illuminat. Atque ut in quatuor iis elementis quicumque lumen inspicit, solis ipsius aspicit radium, perque ipsum ad supernam solis lucem intuendam conuertitur. Ita quisquis decorem in quatuor istis, mente, anima, natura, corpore contemplatur amatque, dei fulgorem in iis, perque fulgorem huiusmodi, deum ipsum intuetur et amat.

Just as one single ray of the sun illuminates the four bodies: fire, air, water and earth, so a single ray of God illuminates the mind, the soul, nature and matter. And just as anyone who looks at the light in those four elements, looks at a ray of the sun itself, and through that same ray is turned to looking at the celestial light of the sun, so it is that anyone who observes and loves the beauty in those four: mind, soul, nature and body, sees and loves the splendour of God in them, and through that splendour, sees and loves God Himself.
My translation.

Male Daurian Redstart

Male Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus, 黃尾鴝). 

One of my favourite birds in Changsha, especially during Autumn and the Winter when they are easily spotted around the edges of the lakes. Males have a black face and grey crown, but their orange underparts are particularly noticeable. They are great songsters for grey weather.

Pictures taken: 25 October 2022, 10 December 2022, and 10 January 2023.

Male Daurian Redstart at Xianjia Lake
Male Daurian Redstart at Xianjia Lake
Male Daurian Redstart at Xianjia Lake

Wednesday 4 October 2023

Male Oriental Magpie-Robin

Oriental Magpie-Robin (Copsychus saularis, 鹊鸲).
Often wherever there are fragments of forests, there are these Old World flycatchers. The males are black and white while the females have a grey colouring. In autumn they can often be found hopping around fallen leaves.

Male Oriental Magpie-Robin

Attempted Murder

John Emerich Edward Dalberg, Lord Acton, Letters of Lord Acton to Mary, daughter of the Right Hon. W.E. Gladstone, ed. by Herbert Paul (London: George Allen, 1904), p. 90 [1881]:

The poet Mortola, out of envy, shot at another poet and missed him. He had to get relieved of his excommunication by the Pope, and his confession was: “E vero, Santo Padre, ho fallito.”

Cicero, Pro Sex. Roscio Amerino oratio, XII.33:

Hominem longe audacissimum nuper habuimus in civitate C. Fimbriam et, quod inter omnis constat, nisi inter eos, qui ipsi quoque insaniunt, insanissimum. Is cum curasset, in funere C. Mari ut Q. Scaevola volneraretur, vir sanctissimus atque ornatissimus nostrae civitatis, de cuius laude neque hic locus est, ut multa dicantur, neque plura tamen dici possunt, quam populus Romanus memoria retinet, diem Scaevolae dixit, postea quam comperit eum posse vivere. Cum ab eo quaereretur, quid tandem accusaturus esset eum, quem pro dignitate ne laudare quidem quisquam satis commode posset, aiunt hominem, ut erat furiosus, respondisse: ‘quod non totum telum corpore recepisset.’  
We had quite recently a most audacious man in our city, Caius Fimbria, who, as is known among all those who are not themselves mad, was the worst of madmen. When Fimbria, at Caius Marius’s funeral, contrived that Quintus Scaevola—the most pious and decorated man of our city, whose praises there is not enough room to talk much about here nor is it possible to say more than the Roman people retain in their memory—be wounded; after Fimbria learned that Scaevola might be able to live, he brought a charge against him. When he was asked what he was going to charge that man whom no one could sufficiently praise with, he answered like the madman he was, ‘for not have having received the whole weapon into his body.’
My Translation.

Tuesday 3 October 2023

Male Crimson Dropwing

Crimson Dropwing (Trithemis aurora, 晓褐蜻).
The males and females of this species are distinct in appearance. And the male, with his bright red thorax and subtle purple pruinescence, is one of the flashiest Changsha creatures. Sometimes they are crimson or scarlet red, sometimes they take on a more magenta hue. The males also always seem territorial and are quick to drive other dragonflies from their hunting grounds by the sides of streams or stagnant ponds. Yesterday where were many of these hunting throughout Yanghu Wetland Park (洋湖湿地公园).

Male Crimson Dropwing at the Yanghu Wetland

A Good Translation

From an Interview with Geoff Brock (1950-) by Maggie Paul. Poetry Santa Cruz: http://www.baymoon.com/~poetrysantacruz/interviews/brock.html

A good translation should breathe on its own and not require the original text as a heart and lung machine. And yet it should find ways to give expression to the most important features (formal as well as semantic) of the original text. All that is part of what might be called fidelity, which is often confused with literal accuracy. Pedants are fond of pointing out that perfect translation is impossible. Of course it is—in this, it is like everything else that’s worth doing.

Monday 2 October 2023

Ramie Moth Caterpillar

Ramie Moth (Arcte coerula, 苎麻夜蛾).
For the first time I stumbled across these large caterpillars: there were about a dozen of them in the weeds near the base of Yuelu Mountain (嶽麓山) and they were all hanging on the bottom of leaves, some still and other shaking in the breeze.

Ramie Moth Caterpillar on Yuelu Mountain
Ramie Moth Caterpillar on Yuelu Mountain

The World is a Looking-glass

William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), Vanity Fair or, A Novel without a Hero (London: Thomas Nelson and Sons, n.d.), p.12:

The world is a looking-glass, and gives back to every man the reflection of his own face.  Frown at it, and it will in turn look sourly upon you; laugh at it and with it, and it is a jolly kind companion; and so let all young persons take their choice.

Sunday 1 October 2023

Indian Cabbage White

Indian Cabbage White (Pieris canidia, 东方菜粉蝶).
The weather is cooling and it is a great time of year for butterflies. Small whites (pieris rapae) are by far the most common pieridae in Changsha, but every day I am seeing more and more of these Indian cabbage whites (though in fact they vary in shades of white and yellow) near the river.

Indian Cabbage White in Yuelu District

Things Unassurde

Stulti sunt qui pro certis incerta sequuntur,  
Et qui pro dubiis quae sunt manifesta relinquunt.
Dulcia sed remanent longaeuae praemia famae.
Hoc certe nil est, cum tu post funera nil sis.
Fama quid est, si nil delectat fama sepultos?
That be but fooles that things assured,  
      for vnassurde will chaunge.  
Forsakyng thing assertainde here,  
      with doubtfull things to meete:  
But yet of olde, and auncient fame,  
      rewardes remaineth sweete.
Of little force this nothing art, for what is fame,
     yf it doe nought delight?
The corps in graue, what doth ye stone
     of stocke reioice in prayes?
Marzello Palingenio Stellato, Le zodiaque de la vie (Zodiacus vitae) XII livres, ed. by Jacques Chomarat (Geneva: Droz, 1996), p.77 [III.164-68 Gemini]. The Zodiake of Life, trans. by Barnabe Googe (London: Imprinted by Henry Denham for Rafe Newberye, 1565), fol.E6v.