Tony Grist (poliphilo) wrote,
Tony Grist


I was watching this gripping TV show about two psychics investigating a real-life cold-case murder in New Zealand (didn't they do well?) and the adverts came on (they last for ever on Living TV) so I reached for the book case and pulled out...

Dag Hammarskjold's Markings.

My copy was discarded from the public library in Elizabethtown, Kentucky in 1973. I picked it out of the bin myself. Apart from having DISCARD stamped on it in a couple of places it's in pretty good shape.

Hammarskjold was Secretary General of the UN from 1953 to 1961, when he was killed (assassinated?) in an air crash. He was obviously a good man. Austere, driven, brilliant. Markings is his private diary or commonplace book.

The translation is by W.H. Auden (which speaks for itself.)

It's a spiritual diary. No "Tonight we dined with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor; The Duchess's taste in jewellery is atrocious; the Duke spilled soup all down his shirt front" but breast-beating aphorisms and haiku.

He never speaks directly about his oh-so-important work.


Open it at any page and there's something quotable.

"The lap dog disguised himself as a lamb, but tried to hunt with the wolves."

"Acts of violence- whether on a large or a small scale, the bitter paradox: the meaningfulness of death- and the meaninglessness of killing."

"Courage? On the level where the only thing that counts is a man's loyalty to himself, the word has no meaning. -"Was he brave?"- "No, just logical."

Actually, If I'm honest, half the time I've no idea what he's on about. It crosses my mind that this is a book that my grandfather (a man of Hammnarskjold's generation) would have liked.

They were a serious lot, those post-Victorians.

If there are jokes, they have been lost in translation.

The haiku, which have passed through the mind of a greater poet than Hammarsjkold ever pretended to be, are lovely- and probably better in English than in the original.

"Midges dance. Blast-furnace smoke.
Adder asleep
Near the wild strawberry patch."

One remembers that Hammarskjold was a fellow countryman of Ingmar Bergman's.

He makes me want to be profound. He makes me want to examine my life.
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