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Unread 04-13-2019, 09:56 AM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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Default The Eighth Sorrow

x
The Eighth Sorrow (v.3)

When the crowds came
they’d find a high place
and roll a rock to the highest spot
where he would stand and speak for hours.
He looked like a star, facing the western sun,
and his voice hushed them to listening
and his face gleamed with sweat.

He was shorter than most and gangly, too.
He wore his tunic only to his knee
and never two. His feet were criss-crossed
with grime and stain. There was nothing clean
about him, cleanliness being something
he thought extravagance.
One bath a month would do.
And he drank a fair amount —
just an average Jew who brooded
with friends through the night
refilling and passing the sack —
and one that would make a meal
out of a loaf and a fish
and maybe a fig and olive or two.

But he never slept well.
His mother worried that he worried
too much and his father was always after him:
Your time comes later.
There’s work to do.

All night long he went over and over
in his head what he knew was coming.
The plank of wood had no give to it.
His blanket, a thin thread of muslin,
Could not veil his dread. Silence
was nonexistent. He rose late
and his loneliness was so loud
he joked once, just to quell the clamor inside,
he might call the whole thing off,
maybe fish instead.

There was a woman we knew well
who was known in town as a whore.
She came by often just to say hi
and listen to stories and ask
sometimes for help. He always helped her.
Stay away from them, son.
You are living, they are dead,

his father, a man of few words, said.
(His mother would grow silent and turn away.)

And he did.
But there was a night I remember,
It was moonless and starry and close,
after he had told a story to a crowd
and the guys had drowsed or gone home,
when I approached him and sat close to him
and, without a word, rested my head
on his shoulder. I could feel trembling
in both of us. I watched as his hand fell
ever so lightly, to my robed thigh
and rested there. Some time passed.
I could hear him, softly, begin to cry.


------------------
x
The Eighth Sorrow (v.2)

I was like a younger brother to him.
His mother was like a mother to me.
I played the lyre, and so had his ear
from the get go. They were a musical family:
she could dance and he could sing some.
His father drummed on a piece of hollow wood.
We were happy making music--
or music made us so.
I never knew which.
I just know we were happy in song.

When the crowds came we’d find a high place
and roll a rock to the highest spot
where he would stand and speak for hours.
He looked like a star, facing the western sun,
his baritone voice hushed them to listening
and his handsome face gleamed with sweat.

But his size would likely surprise you.
He was shorter than most of us
and squat, too. He wore his tunic only
to his knee. And never two. His feet
were criss-crossed with grime and stain.
There was nothing clean about him
cleanliness being something
he thought extravagance.
One bath a month would do.
And he drank a fair amount —
just an average Jew who brooded
with friends through the night
refilling and passing the wine sack —
and one that would make a meal
out of a loaf and a fish and maybe
a fig and olive or two.

But he never slept well.
His mother worried that he worried
too much and his father was always
after him: Your time comes later.
There’s work to do.
All night long
he went over and over in his head
what he knew was coming.
The plank of wood had no give to it.
His blanket, a thin thread of muslin,
barely veiled his dread. silence
was nonexistent in his head.
He rose late and though I was with him
always, his loneliness was so loud
he joked once, just to quell the clamor inside,
he might call the whole thing off,
maybe fish instead.

There was this woman we knew well
who was known in town as a whore.
She came by often just to say hi
and listen to stories and ask, sometimes,
for help. He always helped her.
Stay away from them, son.
You are living, they are dead,
his father,
a man of few words, would say.
(His mother would grow silent and turn away.)
And he did.

But something happened once.
There was a night, I remember,
moonless and starry and close,
after he had told a story to a crowd
and the guys had drowsed or gone home,
when I approached him and sat close
to him and, without a word, rested my head
on his shoulder. I could feel trembling
in both of us. I watched as his hand fell
ever so lightly, to my robed thigh
and rested there. Some time passed.
I could hear him, softly, begin to cry.




-------------------
x
x

The Eighth Sorrow
Eastertime, La Virgen de los Dolores, San Miguel, Mexico

His size would likely surprise you.
He was shorter than a leading man
and squat, too. He wore his tunic
to his knee. Never two. His feet
were criss-crossed with grime.
There was nothing clean about him
cleanliness being something
he eschewed as extravagance.
One bath a month would do.
And he drank a fair amount —
just an average Jew who brooded
with friends through the night
passing the wine sack —
and one that could make do
with a loaf and a fish and perhaps
a fig and an olive or two.

But he never slept well.
His mother worried that he worried
too much and his father was always
after him: Your time comes later.
There’s work to do.
All night long
he went over and over in his head
what he knew was coming.
The plank of wood that was his bed
had no give to it. His blanket,
a thin thread of muslin,
veiled his dread.
Silence was nonexistent
and his loneliness was fed
by a burning desire to call
the whole thing off and maybe wed.
There was one woman we knew of,
maybe more, who was known in town
as a whore. Stay away from them, son.
You are living, they are dead,
his father,
a rough-hewn man of little words, would say.
(His mother would grow silent and turn away.)

And he did.
But there was a night I remember.
It was moonless and starry and close,
after he had told a story to a crowd
and the guys had drowsed or gone home,
when she approached him
and sat close to him and, without a word,
rested her head on his shoulder.
I watched as his hand fell, ever so lightly,
to her robed thigh, and rested there.
Some time passed. I could hear him,
softly, begin to cry.


Edits
-S2L6: added, "and over"
-S2L7: deleted the line: "he would one day be dead."
-S2L8,9,10: rephrased
-S2L10: added "of muslin"
-Added final line to S2
-S2L14: added "maybe"
-S3L7-12: new line breaks, punctuation.
-Final two lines:
xxand rested there. I could hear him
xxsigh and he began to softly cry.

changed to reduce rhymes @ James' suggestion (also original S2L7 rhyme gone)
x
x

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 04-17-2019 at 10:37 PM.
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  #2  
Unread 04-13-2019, 02:33 PM
James Brancheau James Brancheau is offline
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I love the title, Jim. It's probably a reference to something I should be embarrassed not to know. But in any case, it's good. I would, though, soften some of those rhymes. It's all context of course, and when I get a better grip on that, maybe I'll change my mind. But I think, for now, that it's a distraction. (I know I have to watch that, so I'm coming from a particular pov.)
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  #3  
Unread 04-13-2019, 06:52 PM
Michael Cantor Michael Cantor is offline
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I like this, Jim, although - like James - I feel there's something I'm missing.

One of the beauties of the poem is the simplicity of the language - it's all of a piece with the man you picture and his life. So I suggest you get rid of "eschewed" in L8. Seems a bit too elegant. Maybe "he thought of" or "he regarded".

And I don't understand "Never two" in L4. Did men who cared about making an impression wear two or more tunics?
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Unread 04-14-2019, 12:46 AM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Jim, even though I consider the Star-Crossed Lovers: Jesus and Mary Magdalene trope a rather depressing cliché, this is gently and poignantly written.

Two nits:

I'm a second reader who got hung up on what the phrase "Never two" might mean. Unlike Michael, I hadn't even considered that it might mean "Never two tunics." I thought it meant "Never two knees," and I was bewildered as to how someone with only one knee could have feet, plural.

I don't like the ambiguity as to whether the "she" in the final stanza is his mother, as the title and epigraph strongly suggest*, or the "one woman" who was a reputed whore. It wasn't until his hand fell on her thigh that I thought, "Ooooookay, not his mom, then."

But can "one woman, maybe more" successfully be referred to as "she"? I would strongly advise getting rid of the "maybe more." You probably still need to provide more clarity about which "she" this is, though.

* For the uninitiated, reflecting on the Seven Sorrows of Mary is one of about a gazillion Marian devotions in the Catholic Church that are, in my view, a futile attempt to compensate for the overall misogyny of the institution. La Virgen de los Dolores translates to the Virgin of the Sorrows.
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Unread 04-14-2019, 02:47 AM
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Ann Drysdale Ann Drysdale is offline
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I read the sorrows as those of not-having. "Put not on two coats" is the phrase I chose to peg the two tunics on. He was often cold but considered it wrong (not soft or uncool) to put on an extra layer because somewhere in the knowledge he was born with was the conceit that by having something he was denying a have-not. I smiled at the memory of my grandmother who would insist on my eating the unpalatable because "there's a little girl somewhere who would be glad of it". I fought it with childish logic then, explaining that by eating it I would deprive her of it forever, but I understand the principle now.

From a place without the Catholic tradition, I have thought of the several deprivations necessary to achieve the highest level of piety as a high price to pay. The attitude of Jesus here made me think of the cilice and the hair shirt, going a step beyond because of the need for spiritual cleanliness worthy of offering-up, while appearing "ordinary" to outsiders.

I am trying to link the seven sorrows of Mary to the disciplines imposed upon himself by Jesus, knowing what he knew. Thus I found the concept of chastity as the eighth, an extra, sorrow puzzling as I thought it was already covered. I was forced to think further and now tell myself that it was a thing beyond celibacy that was being asked of him. The giving up of a human relationship beyond the merely sexual, the comfort of a earthly, ongoing future.

I wish I understood who the narrator is. One of the twelve? John? or Jim?
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Unread 04-14-2019, 05:11 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I wonder who the N is too and from what temporal realm they are addressing us: 'shorter than a leading man' seems anachronistic for a contemporary of Jesus. Of course there's a tradition of using a very contemporary voice for a historical N for comic or ironic purposes, Duffy's 'The World's Wife' eg, but here it seems an anomaly rather than a stylistic decision. And the 'you' addressed in the first line is never directly addressed again, so I wonder if that's necessary. Maybe just start:

He was shorter than I'd imagined
and squat, too.

I like the concept of this, Jim, and the gentle poignancy (as Julie noted) of the last stanza particularly. It's very Last Temptation of Christ. I'll try to come back.

Edit: I'm back. Ok, what James said about the rhymes. I'm not sure this sort of conversational free-verse needs rhyme at all, really. Or its echoes need to be more subtle at least. I don't think these are working, for instance. They sound kind of thumping and slightly silly to me:

The plank of wood that was his bed
had no give to it. His blanket,
a thin thread of muslin,
veiled his dread.
Silence was nonexistent
and his loneliness was fed
by a burning desire to call
the whole thing off and maybe wed.
There was one woman we knew of,
maybe more, who was known in town
as a whore.
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Unread 04-14-2019, 08:57 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I could be wrong Jim. I don't think I'm reading or writing too well right now.
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Unread 04-14-2019, 07:27 PM
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Daniel Recktenwald Daniel Recktenwald is offline
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Hey, Jim!

Here's my take, and it starts with two seemingly left-field references. I hope hearing me out is worth it.

Stephen Mitchell-- a translator of some repute-- wrote an interesting little book called The Gospel According to Jesus. In it, he brings the rather skeptical eye of a careful literary person to the text of the Four Gospels, taking into consideration questions of what was and was not deemed apocryphal, how might close textual analysis limn out-- somewhat like a recognizable radar signature-- what in all of that text might be not only scriptural, but actual. One passage he examined demonstrates both his method in that book and the relevance to this poem.

When the people had gathered to stone the adulteress, before the "money-shot" of the "He who is without sin" line, at least one of the Gospels tells that, when the people turned to ask the young rabbi what they should do .. .

Jesus was drawing signs or pictures or letters on the ground with his finger. [italicized only as my emphasis; I haven't tracked down chapters and verses of it]

Mitchell asks, What was the instructive value, the PR-hook to benefit the new religion, the bang-for-the-scriptural- buck of including that detail?

None. Which argues strongly for its having actually happened. They could not take it out just because it was unexplained and mysterious. It was true.

Now, jump with me, if you will, to my dear old friend, Edwin Arlington Robinson. Go read "Reuben Bright." There are many other examples of what it illustrates about Robinson's point of view, but that poem is a great one. Here's a link to it:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe.../reuben-bright

There is nothing in that poem that was not readily observed or observable by an outsider-- one of the women present, or a neighbor, etc. All the widower's actions in the poem are just that: actions. All could have had a witness. There is no omniscient permeation of Reuben's skull. And the poem is all the more powerful and touching (and touched with suggestiveness) for the fact that the N does not pretend to know anything that he could not know.

This poem of yours excites me with the possibility of having a similar blend of mystery and "just the facts" concreteness. But it's a matter of determining for yourself, and then sticking to them,three things:
  1. The precise moment of this poem's utterance. Is the narrator speaking while Jesus is still walking the earth, or after his crucifiction? Is Jesus "famous" yet? Is the poem uttered 60 years after the crucifiction? Against what set of expectations-- at the time of utterance-- does this speaker give his first-hand observations? Does the speaker even care about giving the people what they want with what he tells? (I imagine the equivalent in Aramaic of a lower-class accent, like Limehouse or Cockney English: "I wouldn't know about any of that, sir. I do know he didn't hide from work on the sabbath as some will. It's when your ass is down a well, you find out who your real friends are!")
  2. By whom, where, and how were these observations made? Not only who was the speaker (a disciple? a listener to one of Jesus' sermons? Did the speaker join up, or skeptically turn away? Was he merely a boy who knew Jesus back in Nazareth-- that would add the distance of child-viewing-adult) Or did the speaker only see J first-hand during his ministry elsewhere? Cana? Jerusalem?
  3. To whom is the speaker speaking and why? Create a narrative frame. Is the unheard interlocutor a mystically-minded person looking for some inside info on this Jesus so many still talk about, but whom others dismiss as another doomed revolutionary? Could the centurion whose child Jesus healed be on a vision-quest, a pilgrimage back to "that man's" village?

I think some of the dissonances and confusions of the poem as it stands arise out of confusion about one or more of these points of reference.

If you went at it this way, Jim, it would be akin to an old exercise directors used to encourage actors to do: list everything that's in your character's purse / wallet. This is of benefit for the actor even though no reference to wallet contents is made in the script. The audience will not know; the actor should.

There. That's an approach that I think would be full of powerful possibilities, and certainly challenges-- not least of which would be the "overheard phone conversation" challenge: with only one speaker, how to indicate to the reader what questions are being responded to.

What I'm trying to address here is the intrusion of the poet's perspective, positions and degree of knowledge into a poem whose real appeal is the first-hand witness. The credibility of that witness is shattered the first time you have the N share what Jesus or his mother was thinking.

You've cracked the ice on a powerful potential testimony, with tons of dramatic irony to be had. (Imagine the effects you can get by having this speaker innocently say other things like the ass in the well story, having no idea of their import to the modern reader! i.e., "Before he'd drink, he always passed the cup.")

Just wanted to offer up this approach-- before I try to do it myself and rip you off!

Best regards,
Daniel
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Unread 04-14-2019, 10:57 PM
Jim Moonan Jim Moonan is offline
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(Daniel, I just sat down to respond to the others who checked in to comment and see you've checked in as well. I like the drift of your thinking and will take it up tomorrow sometime between bells.)

Thanks everyone. Julie is right that the title gets its name from the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary which she linked in her post for anyone interested to see the itemized list... This poem is about what I think is the eighth.

The narrator is something like a composite of Jesus's three closest friends (Peter, James and John) though it did not start out as anyone in particular. Just someone who knew him well. I want the reader to feel as if they are listening to the N respond to someone’s question of something like, ”So, tell me -- you knew him well -- what was Jesus really like?”
For now, the narrator is speaking to someone (the reader) in 2019. He is speaking, of course, about something that occurred 1,986 years ago which makes him a time traveller. I don't know if that works, but that is how I think I would like it to work.

I should It’s not important to the poem to know who it was specifically. I’d like the reader to decide who/or doubt that it was. Whatever works for the reader. The narrator never says.

Btw, I'm on the fence as to whether the woman who rests her head on his shoulder is Mary Magdalene. I don't know that it is necessarily important, though I realize she is forever etched in the biblical Hall of Shame as the whore who stole Jesus’ heart, but I was not thinking specifically of her for some reason. I think of her as more of an anonymous admirer or an acquaintance who was smitten with him and he with her.


James,
I'm glad you like the title. (You gave me fits with my last poem's title . It’s crucial to understanding the poem. It is in reference to Mary’s (mother of Jesus) seven sorrows. As the (short) story goes she suffered through seven sorrows during her life as relates to her miraculous son, Jesus. This poem attempts to add an eighth sorrow: that of her son’s inability to remain chaste. She feels she has failed as a mother because of it. Although the narrator does not elaborate on it or perhaps even realize that it is gnawing away at her, the reader should in fact sense that. (I added the the final parenthesized line in stanza 2 to accentuate the pain his mother felt). So that’s the eighth sorrow. Seven of them are official. But the eighth is unaccounted for.

The rhymes do come hot and heavy in spots (Mark and others also point that out). I didn’t realize it so much as I was writing but did when I went back over it. None of them were forced, so I left them. It also (especially in the second stanza) began to feel like a rap rhythm and rhyme -- which at first horrified me but then made me smile. But I will tone the rhyming down in the revision.


Michael,
I’m so glad you like the voice of it as I’ve been struggling with finding that and I respect your poetic judgement. If it sounds good to you, I know I am on the right track.

I’m addressing the “Never two” and “eschew” in the revision.

I would love for the reader to have a sudden realization of how the mother would feel if she were to know her son, the savior of the world and committed to abstinence, had given in to that temptation. The knowledge that her son was merely human, flawed, vulnerable... Something like that.

The "Never two" refers to tunics. It was meant to convey his distain for material things. After doing a little research it seems he in fact often wore just one tunic while others would wear two. I'll try to make that clearer.

I've always been interested in how different cultures adopt/adapt their own depictions of Jesus's physical stature to suit their own cultural tastes. I was brought up to believe he looked like a kind of rock star with good looks, long, clean, shiny hair and well-coiffed beard (sometimes clean shaven), nice clean flowing clothing and a sturdy pair of sandals. Kind of like a hipster millennial from the San Francisco Bay area : ) In reality, he was not. I wanted that to be the first thing the speaker corrects.
As for the narrator, see above. For now at least he is an unnamed close friend of Jesus -- and a time traveller.

You are right about the word "eschewed". I'll come up with a better way of saying it.


Julie:
For the uninitiated, reflecting on the Seven Sorrows of Mary is one of about a gazillion Marian devotions in the Catholic Church that are, in my view, a futile attempt to compensate for the overall misogyny of the institution. La Virgen de los Dolores translates to the Virgin of the Sorrows.

Yes, but consider this: what if you were to wake up tomorrow to the news that the Pope had a lover? Further, what if you were the Pope's mother? Ouch. That might hurt. (Just being blasphemous : )

Your thoughts are always a bellwether to me. I had hoped you might notice this poem because I know you are something of an authority on things like this. I was so glad to hear you say that what was said was said with gentleness and poignancy, two other things of which I think you know a lot about.

I working on your nits.

To clarify: The “never two” refers to tunics. In my quick research (I really know little more than I did when I was ten and jumping through all the holy hoops the nuns would make us pass through) I found he often wore only one tunic whereas many other men wore two. The one he wore was the inner one that generally came to the knees -- the outer tunic would go to the ground. The more austere, poorer men wore just the inner one. But I don’t want the reader to begin imagining a one-kneed, two-footed grimey man so I will revise as necessary : )
The ambiguity of “her” in the 3rd stanza will probably become “the woman” which should separate her from his mother. I will change that when I get a change to revise and post.


Annie,
The sorrows are indeed a Catholic thing. As Julie said, Mary, mother of Jesus, was inflicted with seven sorrows throughout her life as it relates to her son, Jesus. My intention with this poem is to introduce an eighth: the painful knowledge that her son -- the savior of the world -- had a secret. He was not celibate; was not chaste. I would assume it was a secret that would break her heart. So that’s why I wrote about it.
As for Jesus, he had a reputation for being a humble man with no extravagances. I wanted to point out a few other things as well -- that he liked to drink. That he was a worrier. That he worked for his father as a carpenter. And that he lusted for women.
I also became absorbed in whoever the N is (I started out not really thinking of anyone in particular. Now I’m essentially going with a composite (see opening note above).
(Btw, I've fallen in love with a few of your poems in Vanitas while away and hope to fall in love with more as the time goes).


Mark:
I wonder who the N is too and from what temporal realm they are addressing us: 'shorter than a leading man' seems anachronistic for a contemporary of Jesus.

Yes that seems to be where many are getting hung up. You’re probably right about the first two lines. I’ll work on that.
As I've said, my intention is for the N to be a close friend of Jesus, probably John (I just now was reminded via google that he was treated as "adopted" son of Mary. She loved him very much -- so I think he gets the "N" prize : ) but also a kind of composite of his three closest friends Peter, James and John and with the added ability to speak comfortably to the reader in language that is plain, authentic and with license to use some phraseology that keeps the contemporary reader connected. That’s why I used “leading man”. (I thought “Movie Star” at first but then settled for “leading man” because it more closely resembles his true persona. He was a leader.) So the N is a time traveler of sorts. I don't know if I can get away with that, though.

Time traveller in the sense that he is addressing someone living today, in 2019, who has asked him “Tell me -- you were close to him -- What was Jesus really like?” He finally zeroes in on the one thing that no one knows for sure. But (for now) the poem stops short of any details other than what little he does divulge. Presumably because that's all he knows for sure.

But the poem’s title should (if it works) ultimately steer you back to his mother. That’s really what the poem is about. His mother. I would love for the reader to realize that.

As Julie says, it’s a story covered ad nauseum across so many disciplines. You are probably right that it has undertones of The Last Temptation of Christ, (which I haven’t seen -- I don’t think) and then there’s the hints, rumours, innuendos throughout the history of the church about the attraction that Mary Magdalene had for Jesus and he for her. It’s the most human of all the stories of his life, I think.

Thanks as always for your detailed look at things that you think need work. I’m working on toning down the rhyme in the revision.


Btw, I’m in Mexico now for three weeks (through Easter). Today is Palm Sunday and there was quite a spectacle taking place all day and into tonight. Or maybe it will fizzle like prayers do and I’ll just go home : )
x
x

Last edited by Jim Moonan; 04-15-2019 at 06:18 PM.
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Unread 04-15-2019, 09:56 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is online now
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Hi Jim,

I too found your poem quiet and refreshing. Jesus here seems to have some of the Essene traits that have led theologians to link him to that tradition: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Essenes
Daniel, you note Jesus writing in the dirt. He then erases what he writes, IIRC. It's the only time he writes in the New Testament. I would say the writing and erasing is not free of significance, it is highly charged with affect for a people of the book, perhaps the Jews more than any other. In contrast, Socrates never writes a word.
Mitchell's insight that tangential detail is likely historical goes back to the C19th historians. I find it compelling.

Happy Easter and good yontif,
John
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