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DHL, Serial Disorder and T.S. Eliot


I am using DHL to ship for the first time and getting odd results. They charge a premium price but the service isn’t premium.

To hurry up a mineral identification I had my local shipping store send a tiny package to Canada using DHL. Or, at least I thought it was sent to Canada. At 5:05 PM I got a call from an unidentified number which I didn’t pick up. They did leave a voice mail, though, so I did listen to that.

It was Las Vegas DHL hub, saying that they had opened the package to inspect for customs and discovered a ten dollar bill. “We don’t handle cash so please call us back to let us know how we should proceed.” Darn. I often send small amounts of American money through the US Postal Service without any problem.

I immediately called back, only to get a recording that said the office was closed and to call back during regular business hours. Which turned out to be 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. What? An international shipping company that closes at five? There weren’t any online or phone resources to help me since the package hadn’t fully entered their system.

Delaying my trip for today, I called this morning and was told the package could proceed but that I would need to fill out a commercial shipping form. DHL marks everything that isn’t a document as commercial, even if the value of a package is worth nothing. Like my crystal samples. My postal store hadn’t told me anything about such a form.

The hub said I needed to come downtown to fill out the right form but then later agreed to e-mail me one I could fill out. Instead of a clickable .pdf, they sent an Excel file that dated back to 1997. Whatever. If you don’t have Excel, Google Sheets can be used to read Excel spreadsheets and save them in that .xls format.

With that filled out and e-mailed back, my package is now supposed to be on the move, fully 22 hours after I first dropped it off. I will now send a check through the USPS to Canada, hoping the mineral dealer will understand the delay.

Serial Disorder

During my conversation with the DHL rep, I constantly tripped over the waybill number. I had carefully written it down after listening to the voicemail, but the rep couldn’t get find it in their system. I thought it might be that my serial disorder acting up [internal link] but I hate to blame my own carelessness on my condition. Besides, how could I know if it was acting up at this moment? Maybe, in recalling this number, I was just being stupid. Like all my math teachers thought.

The rep finally looked up my account with my street address as a key. He then said I had been telling him the right numbers but they were mixed up. I hid a depressed sigh and said I understood. After getting off the phone, I sent a text to my brother who also lives in Las Vegas. I needed to pick up the air compressor he had borrowed. I said I couldn’t remember, was his apartment number 1146? The reply, 1164. It never leaves!

As I said in my previous post on high school, a terrible problem with math and this condition is that you can never safely double check your work. Even in being careful, there is no guarantee that your numbers will ever match up. A pox on all those self-righteous self-help advocates [internal link]  who say you can overcome anything with hard work and dedication. No, some things don’t bend neatly to the system that you are selling. Peddle something else other than guilt and blame.

T.S. Eliot

I was trying to remember a quote by Eliot and found out I was instead quoting myself. The line was, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” It describes the plea of a wretch condemned to the pit who sees Dante moving through Hell, finally alighting on a staircase, seemingly able to leave.

But I couldn’t track down the quote. Where was it? With Eliot, as with the writing of Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, “The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember.” Turns out the quote derives from the epigraph in ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. But not the published epigraph, a draft. I’m sure I read this draft in hardcopy a long time ago but the best explanation is now here:

“The draft version of the epigraph for ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ comes from Dante’s Purgatorio, Canto XXVI, lines 147-148:

‘sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

More fully (lines 142-148):

‘Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan;
consiros vei la passada folor,
e vei jausen lo jorn qu’esper, denan.
Ara vos prec, per aquella valor
que vos guida al som de l’escalina,
sovegna vos a temps de ma dolor!’.
Poi s’ascose nel foco che gli affina.

In his essay “Dante” (1929) [87] Eliot provided this translation (emphasis added):

‘I am Arnold, who weeps and goes singing. I see in thought all the past folly. And I see with joy the day for which I hope, before me. And so I pray you, by that Virtue which leads you to the topmost stair–be mindful in due time of my pain’. Then dived he back into that fire which refines them.

I may have reduced Eliot’s quote to what I was comfortable with, “By that virtue that leads you to the top of the stairs, think of me in my time of pain.” I can’t find that exact quote on the net. Thinking about it now, though, that distillation isn’t bad. Not bad at all.

Finally, Dante’s Inferno is well worth reading, just find the translation that works for you. Too often a classic book in a foreign language is intimidating because it is poorly translated. Too many students give up on great literature because a teacher assigned them a difficult to read version. Usually, like Eliot, the greatest writers and poets make the greatest interpreters.

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The Peroration Was Magnificent, Though Difficult to Remember

He looked into his heart and saw that it was black. Perhaps that’s all we need to know about Heart of Darkness. But there is so much more. Ideas and thoughts first judged rambling come back as well structured sentences on a second and third reading. And what about Conrad’s paragraphs? An unbroken block of five hundred to a thousand words is simply unreadable on the web. For that reason I have introduced paragraph breaks where I thought them logical. This excerpt is originally a single paragraph of 1,100 words.

An Excerpt from Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad 

You can’t understand. How could you?—with solid pavement under your feet, surrounded by kind neighbours ready to cheer you or to fall on you, stepping delicately between the butcher and the policeman, in the holy terror of scandal and gallows and lunatic asylums—how can you imagine what particular region of the first ages a man’s untrammelled feet may take him into by the way of solitude—utter solitude without a policeman—by the way of silence—utter silence, where no warning voice of a kind neighbour can be heard whispering of public opinion?

These little things make all the great difference.

When they are gone you must fall back upon your own innate strength, upon your own capacity for faithfulness. Of course you may be too much of a fool to go wrong—too dull even to know you are being assaulted by the powers of darkness. I take it, no fool ever made a bargain for his soul with the devil; the fool is too much of a fool, or the devil too much of a devil—I don’t know which. Or you may be such a thunderingly exalted creature as to be altogether deaf and blind to anything but heavenly sights and sounds. Then the earth for you is only a standing place—and whether to be like this is your loss or your gain I won’t pretend to say. But most of us are neither one nor the other.

The earth for us is a place to live in, where we must put up with sights, with sounds, with smells, too, by Jove!—breathe dead hippo, so to speak, and not be contaminated. And there, don’t you see? Your strength comes in, the faith in your ability for the digging of unostentatious holes to bury the stuff in—your power of devotion, not to yourself, but to an obscure, back-breaking business. And that’s difficult enough. Mind, I am not trying to excuse or even explain—I am trying to account to myself for—for—Mr. Kurtz—for the shade of Mr. Kurtz.

This initiated wraith from the back of Nowhere honoured me with its amazing confidence before it vanished altogether. This was because it could speak English to me. The original Kurtz had been educated partly in England, and—as he was good enough to say himself—his sympathies were in the right place. His mother was half-English, his father was half-French. All Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz; and by and by I learned that, most appropriately, the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs had intrusted him with the making of a report, for its future guidance. And he had written it, too. I’ve seen it. I’ve read it. It was eloquent, vibrating with eloquence, but too high-strung, I think. Seventeen pages of close writing he had found time for!

But this must have been before his—let us say—nerves, went wrong, and caused him to preside at certain midnight dances ending with unspeakable rites, which—as far as I reluctantly gathered from what I heard at various times—were offered up to him—do you understand?—to Mr. Kurtz himself. But it was a beautiful piece of writing. The opening paragraph, however, in the light of later information, strikes me now as ominous.

He began with the argument that we whites, from the point of development we had arrived at, ‘must necessarily appear to them [savages] in the nature of supernatural beings—we approach them with the might of a deity,’ and so on, and so on. ‘By the simple exercise of our will we can exert a power for good practically unbounded,’ etc., etc. From that point he soared and took me with him. The peroration was magnificent, though difficult to remember, you know. It gave me the notion of an exotic Immensity ruled by an august Benevolence. It made me tingle with enthusiasm. This was the unbounded power of eloquence—of words—of burning noble words. There were no practical hints to interrupt the magic current of phrases, unless a kind of note at the foot of the last page, scrawled evidently much later, in an unsteady hand, may be regarded as the exposition of a method. It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed at you, luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Exterminate all the brutes!’

The curious part was that he had apparently forgotten all about that valuable postscriptum, because, later on, when he in a sense came to himself, he repeatedly entreated me to take good care of ‘my pamphlet’ (he called it), as it was sure to have in the future a good influence upon his career. I had full information about all these things, and, besides, as it turned out, I was to have the care of his memory. I’ve done enough for it to give me the indisputable right to lay it, if I choose, for an everlasting rest in the dust-bin of progress, amongst all the sweepings and, figuratively speaking, all the dead cats of civilization. But then, you see, I can’t choose. He won’t be forgotten.

Whatever he was, he was not common. He had the power to charm or frighten rudimentary souls into an aggravated witch-dance in his honour; he could also fill the small souls of the pilgrims with bitter misgivings: he had one devoted friend at least, and he had conquered one soul in the world that was neither rudimentary nor tainted with self-seeking. No; I can’t forget him, though I am not prepared to affirm the fellow was exactly worth the life we lost in getting to him.

I missed my late helmsman awfully—I missed him even while his body was still lying in the pilot-house. Perhaps you will think it passing strange this regret for a savage who was no more account than a grain of sand in a black Sahara. Well, don’t you see, he had done something, he had steered; for months I had him at my back—a help—an instrument. It was a kind of partnership. He steered for me—I had to look after him, I worried about his deficiencies, and thus a subtle bond had been created, of which I only became aware when it was suddenly broken. And the intimate profundity of that look he gave me when he received his hurt remains to this day in my memory—like a claim of distant kinship affirmed in a supreme moment.