Monday, 28 November 2016

Nemesis Day

How utterly exhausting it is to get tangled up in politics for weeks on end; it’s draining, physically and mentally. True, we need to get angry when we, our lives and our Earth are threatened; we should act on that anger if there is the smallest chance that our action matters, but for far too many of us there is little we can do to change things in the short term; we might as well continue with our day to day life and make what we can of it. Dreary, dark November is a joyless month anyway, looking for added misery only exacerbates the gloom.

I would love to believe in the truth of this quote by Lord (George Gordon) Byron 1788-1824, that most notorious and flamboyant Anglo-Scottish poet. :

“Time and Nemesis will do that which I would not, were it in my power remote or immediate. You will smile at this piece of prophecy - do so, but recollect it: it is justified by all human experience. No one was ever even the involuntary cause of great evils to others, without a requital: I have paid and am paying for mine - so will you.”

Were he living now he might vulgarly call it Payback Time.

In ancient Greek religion, Nemesis was the goddess who enacted retribution against those who succumb to hubris (arrogance before the gods). Another name was Adrasteia, meaning "the inescapable”. The Romans knew her as Invidia.
Alfred Rethel “Nemesis"

The ancient Greeks knew a thing or two about retribution, in the shape of the Goddess Nemesis it was a recurrent theme of many Greek tragedies. Nemesis was to be feared and a sure and inevitable reward for arrogance and conceit, self-importance and egotism.

I came across Nemesis in a very much more modern setting, in one of the short stories by Saki (HH Munro). Clovis complains that there are remembrance days throughout the year which persistently harp on one aspect of human nature and entirely ignore the other: we have Christmas and New Year, Easter, Birthdays and Anniversaries, when we are encouraged by convention to send gushing messages to all and sundry; to pretend optimistic goodwill and servile affection to people whom we can scarcely abide in reality.

Clovis continues:” There is no outlet for demonstrating your feelings towards people whom you simply loathe.”

Does he perhaps have a point?

Would a recognised Nemesis Day be such a terrible idea? Would we all wait for it impatiently and look forward to taking much pleasure in the settling of old scores and grudges being “gracefully vindictive to a carefully treasured list of people who must not be let off” ?

Or do we turn the other cheek by responding to injury without taking revenge?

Questions questions, problems, problems. I am not one for turning the other cheek, but neither am I a great one for openly seeking revenge, openly being the operative word. Besides, nurturing grudges is such a waste of precious time. I only learned that lesson in the second half of my life and have thereby saved myself a lot of heartache.

There may be a third way of coping with a world we find hard to understand and that is to take to heart the words of Wendell Berry, a poet whom I love and admire more and more:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


  1. So well said, so evocative of my state. "The peace of wild things" says it all for me. Thank you for being you, Friko.

  2. Very nicely constructed and written and who could not take heart from Berry's prose.

  3. Thank you for this, Friko. And for including Berry's excellent line about beings "who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief." Modern therapists treat this anticipatory anxiety constantly as we live in a worrisome time. It can, for so many of us, become a way of life. We are in an unsettled new world and no strangers to the jumps.

  4. There is peace in Wild things.

    As for Nemesis Day, it could be a disaster. Although I do like the idea of balance. My dad denies having said this, but I went card shopping with him once and he said, "Why don't any of theses cards just say f___ you?" Of course, that was before Twitter.

  5. No,I'm for Nemesis Day...just to remind the so and sos that they have no clothes as far as I am concerned. Mark you, the number of cards would overwhelm our little post office...

  6. Nice one! As for me, I don't have room in my heart for anger or hate. Too much of that will harden my heart in a way I couldn't bear. However, I do have room for activism, which is how I'm trying ever so desperately to handle our terrible political situation over here. Giving money to vocal causes (whose funding WILL be cut), writing to people, calling congress folk... and you know, it won't do a bit of good right now. But maybe in the long run.

    That said, if there was a Nemesis Day, I know who I would put as guest of dishonor!

  7. Nemesis Day would bring regret and more strife to some of us who wish to live in a kinder world. However, it seems that the voices of cruelty have taken over and it is difficult to cope in what seems to be a world gone mad. It has probably always been so, but wasn't it more quiet?

  8. I need to explore Wendell Berry's work. And revisit Saki.
    Thank you Friko. So very much.

  9. What a treasure YOU are, Always the thoughtful one with wise words to help us cope. Thank you!
    I agree that all we can do is continue on from day to day. We did what we could. We voted for the better candidate. Now, we have withdrawn from the whole scene. Not watching any "news" is really a major adjustment; we just can't stomach this new world. If only we didn't all have to share the same planet! Would be nice if all like-minded people could have their own.

  10. I do love that poem by Wendell Barry. I've stopped watching much news; it's all too depressing.

  11. Hi Friko - what a great post ... I'm having some major hassles now and at times it is difficult to be civilised ... as the other side never is. Still I'm doing my bit at having common sense and decency ... but I love your take on this difficult world ... and how selfish many are - if only ... if only ...

    Wendell Berry's poem is a delight ... and I do usually manage to stay above the nagging doubts of life ... cheers and all the best - Hilary

  12. Nemesis Day is an intriguing idea bringing me a chuckle, thinking, what if...?

    Lovely words from Berry -- for calm and meditation, I often close my eyes to visualize in color a lake scene surrounded by forest -- a boat centered in that lake, resting in smooth glassy waters.

  13. I've known about Nemesis from Agatha Christy's novel, Friko. It's interesting idea of Nemesis's day. I loved very wise words from this poem: 'I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief'.
    Have a nice week!

  14. Nemesis Day ? Don't anyone suggest it to Hallmark!
    Short of punching the ringleaders on the nose , we might be more usefully employed ignoring them and upholding the world around us, as best we can .
    'Toujours La Politesse ' , perhaps .

  15. Berry's poem was posted by a friend in the US the day after the election, and she's been silent since. It is a beautiful thing, worth re-reading often.

    An official Nemesis day has potential to be catastrophic—all that payback loaded into 24 hours. (An intriguing idea, nevertheless). But if, as part of our interaction with others we shared your unwillingness to turn the other cheek and infused it with a bit of, well, not revenge exactly, but a more diplomatic version of a similar idea, what effect might that have? Barbara Kingsolver's recent call to arms is perhaps an example. She exhorts us not to stay silent, including for reasons of politeness. It's really not at all the same thing as your suggestion, but you got me off on a track. We are not without influence in small ways, which leads to bigger things—even if it seems like the world is being overtaken by events so monumental that we're powerless to change. I worry uselessly about what's going on but am trying to channel my anxiety into things that will help. Supporting responsible journalism, collecting food and clothing for migrants, donating to organizations that do real good. It's going to be a long fight, and we need to speak out, and then curl up with some Wendell Berry.

  16. I, too, have been admiring Wendell Berry. I recently came home from the library with a new children's book of his poem, Roots to the Earth, with illustrations (woodcuts) by Wesley Bates. It was sitting in a prominent location, calling to me.
    Nemesis Day. I think our April Fool's Day may be close to a Nemesis Day, though Election Day seems to be a tit-for-tat in modern times. Sigh. For now, I will "rest in the grace of the world". Thank you for this provocative post.

  17. Not to make light of your thoughtful essay . . . but Seinfeld already thought of it in the episode on Festivus, the day for airing grievances. (For if we can't laugh, we cry!)

  18. Thank you for this post, Friko. I remember learning about Nemesis back in my school days, and thinking that prior civilizations must have had personal situations not so different from our own. That did not particularly cheer me up, then or now, but it remains interesting. xo

  19. The grace of nature is healing. True.
    So is not watching the news. ;)
    Thoughtful post. Thank you.

  20. To be facetious, for many a family Nemesis Day is Christmas. Or funerals and weddings, or any other family gathering. As used to be said by one of the characters voiced by the comedian Al Read many years ago "Mind you, I'm saying nothing, there was enough said at our Edie's wedding....."

    But I'm with the sentiment of that poem too. Whatever happens, the sun will rise tomorrow, and the grass will still grow. I can't quite suppress the fear that some politicians' nemesis might yet come at a ruinous cost to the rest of us, but one just has to take a deep breath and let that pass too.

  21. Coming into the presence of still waters - beautiful!

  22. I am so glad to be reminded of that Berry poem. Brilliant and oh, so apt. The sentiment you express in your first paragraph reminds me, also, of a conversation I recently had with Hakmet, a Lebanese immigrant who is co-owner of a coffee place/deli we frequent when in New York City. In the course of a larger conversation, he, fully mindful of the straits we are in, said this: “We’ll get through this. What I don’t want is for him to ruin how people see our country. In the meantime, we must live our lives. We can’t let him take away our smiles.” Not always so easy, but nonetheless important advice.

  23. If some wacko and proud politicians get their way, we will have no where to find grace. Yes Nemisis. Karma isn't bad either.

    However, God gives us the paddles and we must do the rowing. Individually we can do little, together we can rock the world. Nothing is changing here except, hopefully more people will come to their senses and realize these clowns don't give a rat's ass about the little guy.

  24. yes. weeks of political turmoil will grow into years here but life still goes on. I am in fear for this country, our democracy. not content with letting politicians be bought off by billionaires so that all legislation benefits them, the Trumpies have now filled the government with billionaires. Trump is sitting pretty to raid the national treasury for himself and his rich buddies. and those people who voted for him will see their lives get worse, not better. all they care about is that the white house is white again.

  25. Here's an idle thought: isn't it interesting that we always imagine Nemesis smiting "them," and never "us"? Ah, well. It's entirely human to do so, and human is what we are.

    I'll pass on Nemesis Day, myself, just as I decided some time ago to pass on the apocalyptic doom-saying that's increasingly loud. There are profits of every sort to be had from stirring up the masses, and I'm trying to not be manipulated. Besides, even in the midst of so much turmoil around the world, grace abounds.

    As for Berry: his poems are wonderful. I've loved this one for years. I brought back some peace as a souvenir of the wild places I visited recently, and its a souvenir I cherish. Here's another of his poems I dearly love:

    "Geese appear high over us,
    pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
    as in love or sleep, holds
    them to their way, clear
    in the ancient faith: what we need
    is here. And we pray, not
    for new earth or heaven, but to be
    quiet in heart, and in eye,
    clear. What we need is here."

  26. I hear you (and read you) and I sympathise. I sometimes want to shut myself out tot he world, especially given the news coming from my beloved island at the weekend.

    Greetings from London.

  27. The frustration is doing only what we can, which sometimes means nothing or waiting until a good opportunity to make sure that justice is seen. I avoid holding grudges as it makes me ill. I try to find things that I can do that make a difference and help me sleep.

  28. Don't think it really matters, what times we are living in ... as long as we can stay in the cocoon called: Self-esteem, friend Friko ... Love, cat.


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