Showing posts from June, 2010

Love's Excellences--The Sonnets X

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax; and equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee ... mark! ... I love thee---in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God accepts while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature's.
We continue to wander, slowly, through The Sonnets from the Portuguese.  And I would venture to guess that if you are the average reader, the pace at which we progress is probably just right--not too much poetry to have to deal with in a day.  But one a day (or less as it has been) seems a …

Apple's E-reader

I Loved This List of Most Read Authors

The Bizarre Ranks of the Most Read

Look for something similar in the near future.

The Ghost Finder

I thought I was the last remaining person to have read and know about William Hope Hodgson's Carnacki.  I have the books in collectable Arkham House editions, and while Hodgson is not generally high on my list of readable fantasists--some of these stories are quite good.

Prize Winners and Prize Not-in-the-Runnings

Books that win prizes, genres that don't

Petrona touches on one, but those of us who are longtime fans of SF wonder why the likes of Doris Lessing gets praise for the Canopus in Argos archives (Middling books, and as science fiction, nothing thrilling) whereas Mary Doria Russell's The Swallow gets virtually ignored despite the compelling "universal" things it has to say.  It's an old gripe, but one that never loses its validity.  Let us hope that it will in the future.

Freshman Disorientation

A list of pre-admission reading for various colleges

What is most disheartening about this list is that while it includes some worthwhile books, it certainly does not include much, if anything, that I would consider foundational for an understanding of literature.  Certainly it may include things that a hundred years in the future might provide that foundation, but it points to the essential rootlessness and thoughtlessness of the way students are educated today.  It makes me glad to embrace our decision to homeschool.  The colleges may not require Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Austen, or Woolf, but our house (with the possible exception of the last, which is probably a bit advanced for upper high-school) certainly shall.

Now, for a little music theory

Links following links following links, led me to an interesting, if dense paper on music theory touching on one of my least favorite composers of the twentieth century--Pierre Boulez.  Cognitive Constraints on Compositional Systems--Fred Lerdahl


Unaccountably, this post on blackberries put me in mind of my first foray into the land of Finnegans Wake during which time I composed the following bon mot and felt something like Little Jack Horner--it was the first time I had composed a pun in a language other than my own.

Les mûrs mûres murmurent sur la mûr mur.

In fact, the phrase, particularly the latter part can be read in a number of different ways--worn wall, or, my preferred given that it was Wakeian, drunken (plastered) wall.

Difficult Books--A Descriptive List

The same post mentioned in the previous entry, gives us a link to this wonderful discussion at The Millions of difficult books and why to attempt them.

I should note that some of the books on the list don't strike me as particularly difficult (To the Lighthouse) but then not all users experience the same results.

More on Difficult Books

I was going to link to each article separately--and as a matter of record may do so--but in all fairness, I should send you to the delightful commentary of the Blogkeeper at Times Flow Stemmed who, while probably not intending to, expresses my mind on the matter well.

See there some interesting comments on reading Finnegans Wake.  You hear a lot about the Wake from me, but you won't hear me telling others to pick it up and read it--not because it isn't worth it, nor because it is not good, but because it requires a certain mindset, a certain ability to let go of wanting to understand everything about it to read it successfully.  To fully understand it, one would have to be be Joyce's Guardian Angel and Muse, because, like most authors, I suspect that his true comprehension of his own work was like the tip of an iceberg.

WSJ--Too complicated for words
Conversational Reading

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet--David Mitchell

Up until now I have not read any David Mitchell.  From other reviews I have read, I started with one that is not "typical" Mitchell, although, from what I've seen of his books through reviews, I rather doubt that there is a "typical" Mitchell--which is a good thing.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is an odd book that resists categorization.  The plot swings from the mundane historical into the hysterical (not in the amusing sense) by strange and vast turns.  As with Beatrice and Virgil, I think what we have in this book is an interesting, but largely failed literary experiment.  The writing is alternatively fluid and terse--some sections are like settings of linked verse, very haiku and tanka-like.  Other pieces more closely resemble normal narrative, but there is a tendency to extremely short paragraphs--a kind of stylization of the prose.

In fact, thinking hard about the book overall, I wondered whether Mitchell had planned this kind of deliberate, Japan…

Another View of Mitchell

Ford Madox Ford

Hemingway's favorite writer--a review of The Good Soldier.

Muriel Spark

From Catholic Fiction, a consideration of Muriel Spark

Known primarily for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Ms. Spark authored many, many interesting and challenging books, not at all like Miss Brodie.  Among the quirkiest, Not to Disturb--an exceedingly black comedy about what the "below-stairs" servants do while the master and the mistress of the house are discovering unpleasant truths about their relationship; The Abbess of Crewe is another interesting work, featuring a walk through a garden in an abbey where everything is monitored, bugged, and watched--written as a means of exploring the Watergate events; The Girls of Slender Means, Memento Mori and A Far Cry from Kensington round out some of my favorite of her works.  All of them are deeply cynical, bitter, and entirely distrustful of humanity and motive.  She has a way of twisting the knife, as it were.

Thucydides Online

Via Underbelly, we are linked to Thomas Hobbes's translation of Thucydides

I have read only the excerpt posted, but my knowledge of Hobbesian viscosity leads me to shudder at the thought of an entire Thucydides.  But, this is perhaps one of those occasions I mention below, when I would benefit from the challenge of taking on a "Tome."

Pious Impiousness

A reading of St. Augustine's Confessions

(via Times Flow Stemmed)

Just as in reading the Bible as literature, one never knows where such "impious" reading might lead.  Would that more would find themselves intrigued by the prose and stay for the book.

Hitchens v. Hitchens

To Read or Not to Read: Is It A Question

On the Reading of Difficult Tomes.


But perhaps I'm just making up reasons to excuse my own laziness, using an anti-canonical argument to justify not bothering to read anything mind-widening. Am I ignoring the challenging books that I know would bore me, or just ignoring anything that challenges? Anything truly innovative requires an adjustment of taste from its audience. If I hadn't been a wide-eyed, hideously pretentious teenager then I'd have never realised the music of Xenakis wasn't just noise. I'd have never taken the time to adjust my head to Middle English and been able to enjoy Chaucer.
R.T. has recently decided that reading Finnegans Wakeis not worth his time or effort; however, to leap from that individual and even laudable decision to the conclusion that it is therefore a waste of time for anyone of sense is perhaps too wide a leap.  There is a great deal of room to determine that a given work is not really worth one's time.  I've …

Poem of the Week: Irish Cholera

Peter Didsbury:"A Fire Shared"

Fine and oh, so sad.

More Free Movies--Orwell

Animal Farm (via Open Culture)

Double Award Winner

And a darn fine book--Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book receives the Carnegie Medal, making it the first book to take both the Carnegie and the Newbery Award.

The Publicity Blitz Begins

An interview with David Mitchell

Mr. Mitchell's new book The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is due out next week.

Caveat Lector: Some "spoilers" in the interview. Nothing major--but they are present.

Manute Bol and the Meaning of Redemption

WSJ has a beautiful profile of Manute Bol--a man who spent his fortune helping the refugees of the Sudan.  One of the loveliest stories of the day--my thanks to Frank at Books Inq.

Grandmother of the Confessional Poets: Sonnet IX

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Can it be right to give what I can give?
To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears
As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years
Re-sighing on my lips renunciative
Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live
For all thy adjurations? O my fears,
That this can scarce be right! We are not peers,
So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve,
That givers of such gifts as mine are, must
Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas!
I will not soil thy purple with my dust,
Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass,
Nor give thee any love --- which were unjust.
Belovèd, I love only thee! let it pass.

One could probably make a case for Elizabeth Barrett Browning being the ancestor of the 20th Century confessional poets.  It's true that poetry has often been the most intimate of the arts and self-revelation--or concealment within apparent revelation has been a common element.  But in poems like these we hear such obvious d…

An Appreciation of Russell Kirk

Via my good friend TSO--an article on Russell Kirk Palaeoconservative--Portrait of a Conservative Convert

I don't really know how one should spell palaeoconservative, but given that we are discussing one, it seemed appropriate to employ the more conservative "ae" spelling.  If I could easily smash them together, I'd probably opt for that.

Richard Feynman's Lectures Online

Also from Open Culture--Reading List(s)

Einstein--Get Your Ticket for the Infinitely Long Train

An hour-long introduction to Einstein's thought.

Leave your physics book behind, just bring your ears and brain.

Revisiting Fatherhood

Netherland 4

If I had had any doubts or questions, any thoughts about turning aside, this discussion of fatherhood in Netherland certainly makes the book more tempting to me.  But, as it turns out, I was hooked with the first review, so I needn't worry about missing it.

More Myth

Margaret Atwood The Penelopiad

I note this because of the personal synchronicity.  Just a couple of days ago, I picked this up in the library to read.  So, having read the review, I'm ready to jump in especially after the mythic reading time I've been having this year.

David Shields on Hamlet

Norman Mailer

Those interested in Norman Mailer should consider this delicately limned and heartfelt appreciation


Until he is forgotten, Mailer should be remembered not only in a fool’s cap and bells but also in a scoundrel’s midnight black. For in an age crawling with intellectual folly, he was one of the reigning dunces, even his best works were shot through with adolescent fatuities, while the worst of his words and deeds were stupid and vicious without bottom. One is torn between wishing that his memory would disappear immediately and wanting his remains to hang at the crossroads as a lasting reminder to others.

For Admirers of Sir Arthur

A Little Knowledge. . .

Jim Thompson Redux

(via Books Inq.) Jim Thompson Was No Genius. . .

. . . the reviewer avers, nevertheless, he goes on to describe a sort of genius.  Fascinating.  What's most wonderful about Thompson is that while much of what is written in the article is true, the reader most reads right by it.

That Least Waughian of Waugh Books

"Public, meet the slushpile. . . slushpile meet your Public."

Electronic publishing holds much promise--but Laura Miller emphasizes an essential weakness--a lack of any filter at all.

I'm not keen on some of the ways books get published and some of the writers who remain long excluded because they can't find an in.  But I'm also not certain that I want to wade through the slush piles that have long been a lowly editor's work.

Resisting the Pull

Do I have a problem with this?

from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
David Mitchell

Night insects trill, tick, bore, ring: drill, prick, saw, sting.

Hanzaburo snores in the cubby-hole outside Jacob's door.

Jacob lies awake clad in a sheet, under a tent of netting.

Ai, mouth opens; ba lips meet; ga, tongue's root; wa, lips.

Involuntarily, he re-enacts today's scene over and over.

He cringes at the boorish figure he cut, and vainly edits the script.

He opens the fan she left in Warehouse Doorn. He fans himself.

The paper is white. The handle and struts are made of paulownia wood.

A watchman smacks his wooden clapper to mark the Japanese hour.

The yeasty moon is caged in his half-Japanese half-Dutch window. . .

. . . Glass panes melt the moonlight; paper panes filter it, to chalk dust.

Day break must be near. 1796"s ledgers are waiting in Warehouse Doorn.

Is is dear Anna whom I love, Jacob recites, and I whom Anna loves.

Beneath his glaze of sweat he sweats. His bed lin…


from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What can I give thee back, O liberal
And princely giver, who hast brought the gold
And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,
And laid them on the outside of the wall
For such as I to take or leave withal,
In unexpected largesse? am I cold,
Ungrateful, that for these most mainfold
High gifts, I render nothing back at all?
Not so; not cold, --- but very poor instead.
Ask God who knows. For frequent tears have run
The colours from my life, and left so dead
And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done
To give the same as pillow to thy head.
Go farther! let it serve to trample on.
This one is very straightforward with little in the way of difficulty of expression to require explication.  And yet for all of its straightforward simplicity--perhaps because of it--it flows beautifully and the logical sense of the plaint is clear.  Because of this strike-to-the-heart clarity, the startling shift in the sestet is made all…

Gorgeous and Fascinating Surrealism

Oh, and disturbing: alienation is alive and well--more pages for the Codex Seraphinianus--then return to the root to read the blog and see the intense and disturbing imagery of Tetsuya Ishida

Anne McCaffrey Revisited

A review of Dragonsong--if you are not familiar with her, you would do yourself a great favor by becoming acquainted with Ms. McCaffrey's work.  It isn't always to my taste, but the Dragon books are reliable and at this point, vintage fare.

Beatrice and Virgil Redux

Another review of Beatrice and Virgil that eerily echoes my own review--it's good to know that I'm not the only one who feels this way about the book.  I'm glad I read it, but like Yann Martel's short stories, it does not rise to the height of Life of Pi.

New Zealand Literature

Finalists for the NZ Post Book Award

I know New Zealand as a stronghold of interesting film (I just watched a little ditty called The Tatooist--not everyone's cup of tea, and I recall with great fondness The Quiet Earth--a film from New Zealand that packs a wallop.  And while Peter Jackson is Australian, through his filmwork, we see enough of New Zealand--and we mustn't forget the lovely scene in Endless Summer II of surfing in New Zealand on Christmas Day) I have relatively little acquaintance (that I'm aware of) with New Zealand literature--excluding, of course, Dame Ngaio.  So it's nice to see a list that could comprise recommendations.

The Series Continues

Mrs. Browning's Seventh

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm. The cup of dole
God gave for baptism, I am fain to drink,
And praise its sweetness, Sweet, with thee anear.
The names of country, heaven, are changed away
For where thou art or shall be, there or here;
And this . . . this lute and song . . . loved yesterday,
(The singing angels know) are only dear
Because thy name moves right in what they say.
We continue the theme of the salvation that love has wrought.  This salvation makes itself known in a complete transformation of life--"The face of all the world is changed, I think. . . "  But it is a salvation with uncertainty.  The addition of "I think" …

The Poetry of Abraham Lincoln

Technology and the Fear Thereof

A Festival for The Man in the High Castle

Hard Boiled v. Hard Boiled, or Are They?

An Essay on Fiction

About Hunger

An interesting review of David Shields's Reality Hunger.

Perhaps more interesting than the book.  Reading the review, I felt like I had gotten the highlight reel and could do without further exposure.

Martial Views

Reading Genji

Nice-to-See Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee auditions for the role of the Green Hornet

Talks about his son (Brandon, I assume) and life in Hong Kong among other things.

John Banville Considered

Neil Gaiman on Story and Stories

H. Rider Haggard

A quotation posted on Books Inq. today, which I copy below, reminds us of H. Rider Haggard's Birthday.

Truly the universe is full of ghosts, not sheeted churchyard spectres, but the inextinguishable elements of individual life, which having once been, can never die, though they blend and change, and change again for ever.--H Rider Haggard

Always something of a spiritualist/pantheist, H. Rider Haggard's books still make for some of the finest adventure reading your ever likely to encounter.  Inventing the "Lost Race" novel (or if not inventing it, at least pursuing it with unmatched vigor) Haggard gave us the classic King Solomon's Mines and She. In addition he gave us Allan Quatermain novels, beginning the eponymous Allan Quatermain and continuing through She and Allan, Allan and the Ice Gods, and King Solomon's Mines itself.   While undoubtedly a westerner, in several stories and novels Haggard  shows himself enlightened beyond his time with regard to race…

To Begin Your Summer--Travelogues

Fast is Good, Slow is Better?

Advocates of a slow reader movement.

Only problem is that there seems to be an equation of slow reading and deep reading, and I'm not sure that is borne out.  My son reads extremely quickly and seems to be able to fasten on to symbols, meanings, and typologies that are well beyond his years.

Archives, We Have Archives

Problems of Attachment and Grief

Book Reviews: Tobias Wolff

More from Horace

The Epistles of Horace
tr. David Ferry

from To Numicius (Book I)

When you have a pain in your belly or in your side,
You work on getting rid of it, don't you? Therefore,
If you want to live right (and who doesn't) and if
You agree that the only way to do it is
To learn to be good, then patiently settle down
To the work of getting rid of the faults you have.
But if you think tht goodness is nothing more
Than a matter of words, no more than that, and if
When you look at a forest, all you see is the wood,
Be very careful lest a competitor
Make it to port before you, taking away
The custom you had hoped for for your lumber.
While this is an interesting excerpt, the more interesting thing (an exercise left for the student) is to see how this passage compares to the whole and on what side Horace emerges at the end of his argument.

Excerpt from an E-mail--Evelyn Waugh on being a Catholic

In writing an e-mail this morning I had cause to find this anecdote, and because this blog serves as a back-up for my deplorably poor memory, I post it here to find it once again.

According to a literary anecdote, the author Nancy Mitford had asked Waugh how he could behave so abominably and yet still consider himself a practicing Catholic. "You have no idea," had Waugh replied, "how much nastier I would be if I was not a Catholic. Without supernatural aid I would hardly be a human being."

William Wordsworth--One Long Poetic Paragraph

I paused, hesitated as I considered this next excerpt, but could think of no way to break it up and make it smaller without also fragmenting the understanding and so I post what has to be one of the most beautiful poetic paragraphs encountered thus far, both from imagery and the intensity of feeling and experience that it conveys.  Bear with it.  Read it slowly.  Read it twice.  Read it out loud if you are in a place you can do so.  Hear and revel in the words and in the images that Wordsworth brings forth.

from The Prelude Book IV
William Wordsworth

As one who hangs down-bending from the side
Of a slow-moving boat, upon the breast
Of a still water, solacing himself
With such discoveries as his eye can make
Beneath him in the bottom of the deep,
Sees many beauteous sights—weeds, fishes, flowers.
Grots, pebbles, roots of trees, and fancies more,
Yet often is perplexed and cannot part
The shadow from the substance, rocks and sky,
Mountains and clouds, reflected in the depth
Of the clear f…

Elizabeth Barrett Browning--Sonnet VI

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browing

Go from me. Yet I feel that I shall stand
Henceforward in thy shadow. Nevermore
Alone upon the threshold of my door
Of individual life, I shall command
The uses of my soul, nor lift my hand
Serenely in the sunshine as before,
Without the sense of that which I forebore---
Thy touch upon the palm. The widest land
Doom takes to part us, leaves thy heart in mine
With pulses that beat double. What I do
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes. And when I sue
God for myself, He hears that name of thine,
And sees within my eyes the tears of two.
Once again, one is left almost breathless with the depth of feeling exposed here.  The circuit of their love and relationship is once again opened--the approach/avoidance encouraged by Robert on the one hand and her father on the other leave Elizabeth torn.  Here, she turns away again and makes a prophetic statement that turns out to be true: "Yet I…

More and More on Ulysses

Nice to See Ngaio Back in Circulation

A review of Black as He's Painted

Ngaio Marsh isn't my very favorite of the Golden Age writers, there's something in her prose that often derails me.  But she is unquestionably very, very fine, and very produces very enjoyable and often quite humorous stories.  Too much neglected, too much in the shadow of Dame Agatha, she deserves a lasting revival.

Competition for a Limited Share or Market Expansion?

Another Poem at UD

Mark Strand--"My Mother on an Evening in Late Summer" Poem and Part I of discussion
Part II of discussion

With the usual helpful analysis one has come to expect from these all-too-rare excursions into the literary world.  I would wish for more from UD in this direction, but then I would not have so much of what is normally done, and that would be a shame as well.

And as we're on the subject of summer--I'll post the perennial reminder:

Original Middle English

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Groweþ sed and bloweþ med
and springþ þe wde nu.
Sing cuccu!

Awe bleteþ after lomb,
lhouþ after calue cu,
Bulluc sterteþ, bucke uerteþ.
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes þu cuccu.
ne swik þu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!

Summer has come in
Loudly sing, cuckoo!
Seeds grow and meadows bloom
and the woods spring anew
Sing cuckoo!

Ewe bleats after lamb,
Calf lows after cow,
Bullock leaps, billygoat farts,
Merrily sing, cuckoo!
Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well you sing …

Poem of the Week: Thomas Hood

"A Parental Ode to My Son Aged Three Years and Five Months"

An intimate portrait of family life and paternal devotion.

Comencement: Grisham and Kidd

The Sounds and the Smells of Forbidden Japan

from The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet
David Mitchell

Through the palanquin's grille, he smells steamed rice, sewage, incense, lemons, sawdust, yeast, and rotting seaweed. He glimpses gnarled old women, pocked monks, unmarried girls with blackened teeth. Would that I had a sketchbook, the foreigner things, and three days ashore to fill it. Children on a mud wall make owl-eyes with their forefingers and thumbs, chanting 'Oranda-me, Oranda-me, Oranda-me': Jacob realizes they are impersonating 'round' European eyes and remembers a string of urchins following a Chinaman in London: the urchins pulled their eyes into narrow slants and sang 'Chinese, Siamese, if you please, Japanese.' Just a couple of comments that are going to sound more negative than intended.  As I read the first sentence I wondered, did he smell these smells sequentially in his progress from dockside to his final destination?  Or, did he smell them all at once and separate these into compon…

Film and the Self

The Beginnings of a Series

On Netherland

First this, then back out and read post number 2.  Netherland was a book oft mentioned in the recent past, one that I have considered reading.  And once again a blogger writing is persuading me that I must add it once again to my reading list.

Via Ulysses Seen

Oxford Professor of Poetry

Yet More Reviews

Oblomov reviewed.

A book I've often seen and thought about reading--it sounds like I should move it up in my list.

The Great (?) Debate

Hitchens v. Haldane

While it is probably ad hominen, my intent in saying it is not.  It would seem that Hitchens's typification of the Christian view of God as "Dear Leader in the sky" point more to profound "daddy issues" on Mr. Hitchens's part than any deep understanding of who God is.  What is remarkable to me is the sustained resistance to any sort of rational engagement with the deeper insight of religion.  Mr. Htichens, for all his erudition, shows himself incapable of actually addressing the matter in any way that reflects an understanding of the viewpoint of his more reasonable opponents.

Although I do have to say that I have a tremendous number of co-religionists who do not make arguing for the validity of the Christian World viewpoint at all easy.

More Forgotten Books

Reviews of Translations

My Quirky Reading List

A review of I Am Hutterite

This is the kind of book that appeals to me perfectly.  I'll have to see if I can find it.

An Odd Note on Ulysses

You know, it just occurred to  me, having visited Ireland last year just after Bloomsday--remarkably little of Ulysses takes place in the dark.  During my time there I was out until 10, or 11 o'clock at night taking what look like late-afternoon pictures.  Around 10:30, 11:00 there was a sort of dusk, though it still seemed quite light to me. 

Not that it matters, but it may  (pardon the pun) shed a different light on the later episodes to think of them as being in late afternoon/early evening light rather than full dark.  It is likely that the only "full-dark" part of Ulysses may be "Penelope."

Just a thought that I hope contributes to your appreciation of the work.

Opera Top Ten

Again via UD--a list of the top ten arias as voted by radio 3 listeners.

The surprise winner (not to UD, but certainly to much of the rest of the opera-listening world), to my great surprise and joy, is Henry Purcell's "When I am Laid in Earth,"  the final aria of Queen Dido from Dido and Aeneas.  But the remainder of the list contains a number of surprises as well--Russalka, an opera by Korngold and Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.  I know I'm mundane, but I do like both "Nessun Dorma" and "Der Holle Rache" (which did make the list)  as well as the entire Alban Berg canon.

And below you can choose your "When I am Laid in Earth,"  clip one featuring the incomparable Janet Baker, clip two Jessye Norman,

Janet Baker

Jessye Norman

And now for something completely different--The Swingle Singers

And with that, it is not difficult to see why those in the know might have chosen such a magnificent aria.

Somewhat more difficult to explain--thought…

Via UD--Comments on Budget

How Does It Rate?

The Case for Kids

The WSJ has something interesting to say about having children (Thanks, Julie!)


While the popular and the academic cases against kids have a kernel of truth, both lack perspective. By historical standards, modern parents get a remarkably good deal. When economist Ted Bergstrom of the University of California, Santa Barbara reviewed the anthropological evidence, he found that in traditional societies, kids don't pay. Among hunter-gatherers, children consume more calories than they produce, and grandparents produce more calories than they consume virtually until the day they die. Agricultural societies are much the same. Only in recent decades did people start living long enough to collect much of a "pension" from their kids. While big financial transfers from children to their parents remain rare, only in the modern world can retirees expect to enjoy two decades of their descendents' company and in-kind assistance.

Sonnet V

I have so much to say about this poem because it is startling, chilling, and direct.  Facts from Mrs. Browning's biography illuminate it--but the poem speaks for itself powerfully:

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


I lift my heavy heart up solemnly,
As once Electra her sepulchral urn,
And, looking in thine eyes, I overturn
The ashes at thy feet. Behold and see
What a great heap of grief lay hid in me,
And how the red wild sparkles dimly burn
Through the ashen greyness. If thy foot in scorn
Could tread them out to darkness utterly,
It might be well perhaps. But if instead
Thou wait beside me for the wind to blow
The grey dust up, . . . those laurels on thine head,
O my Belovèd, will not shield thee so,
That none of all the fires shall scorch and shred
The hair beneath. Stand farther off then! go.
The first figure the poet chooses here is exactly correct and analogous--Electra with her brother's ashes.  I won't go into great detail, but E…

More Horatian Advice

from The Epistles of Horace Book I
"To Lollius Maximus"
Tr. David Ferry

Take a long, cold, intelligent look at pleasure:
It hurts you if you purchase it with pain;
The avaricious man always feels poor;
Set limits to what your desires make you long for:
When his neighbor grows fat the covetous man grows thin.
The worst Sicilian tyrant couldn't invent
A torment worse than envy.
The letter is filled with wonderful notes like this earlier in the letter we hear:

If your life is governed
By cravings for what you lack, or else by fear
Of losing what you have, then what you have,
Your house and your possessions, give you as much
Pleasure as a picture gives a blind man,
Or an elegant pair of shoes gives a man with gout
Or music gives to an ear stuffed up with wax.
A glass that isn't clean will guarantee
That whatever you pour into it will sour.
What wouldn't I give to have a correspondent who wrote to me in such terms.  And the more I read this selection of the poetry of Hor…

Cavalier Literary Couture

I received a very nice e-mail informing of the presence of Cavalier Literary Couture--I don't quite know what to make of it, but I figure I owe you all the courtesy of deciding for yourselves.  Some things I saw there were magnificent and some made me wonder what was actually being purveyed.  On that account alone, this is, perhaps, the perfect electronic post-modern, perhaps post-literary, Literary Magazine.  Let me know what you think if you happen to check it out.

What to Read Next?

A reading list of former prize winners

Frankly, I don't see a lot on it that immediately tempts me--but then, I don't consider myself up on much of the nouveau lit.

The Psychology of Writing

All of these things, implying as they do a strident materialist basis for all things, should be taken with a grain of salt, but psychologists think they have found the "neural basis of creative writing."


Crime and Punishment

From Horace's Epistles

There is so much genuinely good, wise, and surprising in these that it's hard simply to select.  What comes as great comfort to me is that I'm hearing some two thousand years later exactly the same plaints that I might have made myself last Wednesday.  People simply don't change all that much.  There's a nice fairly archaic, formal, perhaps more literal translation of Horace's epsitles online; however, I want to share from the brilliant work of David Ferry.  It is instructive to compare the two.

from The Epistles of Horace Book I
"To Maecenas"
tr. David Ferry

Different people go in for different things,
For this, for that, or the other; that doesn't mean
They won't change their minds an hour later and
Go in for that, this, anything else instead.
"No place more beautiful that Baiae Bay."
The minute the rich man says it, that minute you know
His pleasure in Baiae Bay has spent itself,
And you know his libido will take him another way:

Adult Books for Kids?

The Ulysses of. . .

Joshua Cohen nominates a Ulysses for twelve nations

Virginia Woolf would be horrified!

McInerny and Atwood

Portuguese IV

Continuing the them first announced in yesterday's sonnet:

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


Thou hast thy calling to some palace-floor,
Most gracious singer of high poems! where
The dancers will break footing, from the care
Of watching up thy pregnant lips for more.
And dost thou lift this house's latch too poor
For hand of thine? and canst thou think and bear
To let thy music drop here unaware
In folds of golden fulness at my door?
Look up and see the casement broken in,
The bats and owlets builders in the roof!
My cricket chirps against thy mandolin.
Hush, call no echo up in further proof
Of desolation! there's a voice within
That weeps . . . as thou must sing . . . alone, aloof.
Because this is more a continuation of a thought, it, lack many sequels, lacks some of the power of the original, and yet there is so much that is striking here.  Her high regard for Robert in noting that cultured people will stumble in their dancing just …

The Wave of the Future

The Guardian is OnLine

They seem to have a business model for this that will make sense, and from what I see of the coverage on one story, a wealth of information available.  Splendid and splendidly done.  No crouching behind gateways designed to lock people out.  Free access that will drive many to their sites and increase ad revenue and other sales features there.  It may not work, but it is a bold and convincing experiment.  A refreshing breeze from cyberspace.

More on Frankenstein

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein--a review

A book that has intrigued me, but to which I have never gotten in my reading.  This review (warning spoilers) makes me want to reconsider my present line-up.

More on Wordsworth

String Theory for Beginners

On the Day of My Favorite Book. . .

Joseph O'Connor

A review of Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor.

O'Connor has come recommended to me by friends and colleagues in Ireland.  I haven't yet taken up a book, but this certainly seems an interesting possibility.

A Bloomsday Greeting

Start here to see the posts today at Ulysses Seen for a taste of Bloomsday

And then join Biblioklept for a guide on how NOT to read Ulysses Please pay especially close attention to point 1--critical in actually enjoying the book the first time around.

An appreciation of Ulysses

And one must wonder why Ulysses comes up again and again at the list of top novels of all time.  And it isn't just the academics that list it here.  There are many, like myself, who have not an inkling of Academic interest in the matter (although my first awkward acquaintance was made in the groves of Academe).  To quote the King of Siam, "Is a puzzlement."  And will remain so.  I don't bother to examine why, I just accept the fact that when someone asks for a favorite, this is the novel that leaps to mind and comes sharply into focus.

Via UD an LA Times article on Bloomsday

Our Wordsworthian Interlude

A domestic moment:

from The Prelude Book IV
William Wordsworth

With new delight,
This chiefly, did I note my grey-haired Dame;
Saw her go forth to church or other work
Of state, equipped in monumental trim;
Short velvet cloak, (her bonnet of the like),
A mantle such as Spanish Cavaliers
Wore in old time. Her smooth domestic life,
Affectionate without disquietude,
Her talk, her business, pleased me; and no less
Her clear though shallow stream of piety
That ran on Sabbath days a fresher course;
With thoughts unfelt till now I saw her read
Her Bible on hot Sunday afternoons,
And loved the book, when she had dropped asleep
And made of it a pillow for her head.
I don't think this passage requires any gloss other than why I liked enough to pluck it out and share it with you.  I love the image of the woman who served for so many years as his mother in her finery--a velvet cloak and bonnet, old fashioned and elaborate, but in good repair--the finery for the work of state and the admission in…

Sonnet III

Again, I don't promise or threaten a daily dose of Elizabeth Barrett Browning, but I did want to get to this one because of an amusing and striking image.

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Unlike are we, unlike, O princely Heart!
Unlike our uses and our destinies.
Our ministering two angels look surprise
On one another, as they strike athwart
Their wings in passing. Thou, bethink thee, art
A guest for queens to social pageantries,
With gages from a hundred brighter eyes
Than tears even can make mine, to play thy part
Of chief musician. What hast thou to do
With looking from the lattice-lights at me,
A poor, tired, wandering singer, singing through
The dark, and leaning up a cypress tree?
The chrism is on thine head,---on mine, the dew,---
And Death must dig the level where these agree.  In the repertoire, a somewhat standard sonnet theme--"I am not worthy."  And here Ms. Browning emphasizes the strong differences between the two of them.  R…

Bloomsday--Oh, How to Celebrate?

Perhaps we go to this section from the begingging of "Wandering Rocks"

from Ulysses
James Joyce

THE SUPERIOR, THE VERY REVEREND JOHN CONMEE S. J, RESET HIS smooth watch in his interior pocket as he came down the presbytery steps. Five to three. Just nice time to walk to Artane. What was that boy's name again? Dignam, yes. Vere dignum et justum est. Brother Swan was the person to see. Mr Cunningham's letter. Yes. Oblige him, if possible. Good practical catholic: useful at mission time.

A onelegged sailor, swinging himself onward by lazy jerks of his crutches, growled some notes. He jerked short before the convent of the sisters of charity and held out a peaked cap for aims towards the very reverend John Conmee S. J. Father Conmee blessed him in the sun for his purse held, he knew, one silver crown.

Father Conmee crossed to Mountjoy square. He thought, but not for long, of soldiers and sailors, whose legs had been shot off by cannonballs, ending their days in…

Talk About Steampunk

The perfect infusion of the luddite into the modern--see the typewriter extension for the iPad.

I should have noted that this looks like a machine out of Burroughs's Naked Lunch via David Cronenberg.

Award Nominated Stories as Free E-Books

Tor is making four award-nominated stories available for free on iPad, iPod Touch, and Kindle and Sony platforms.

Click Again

Burqa and Niqab

News from Spain

And another article on banning in burqa in public

I'm not so certain about this one.  I think the intent may be good, but the understanding may be weak.  Is it offensive to the dignity of women?  In Western eyes, certainly it is.  But the question is how do the women themselves feel about it?  Of course the argument may be made that women living under systematic oppression cannot say how they REALLY feel about it.

There is a simple aspect to this--the government has the right and responsibility to protect all citizens and ready identification of any person is a reasonable expectation in any government building.  However, there are those who say that this is a half-measure, that to mean anything at all the burqa must be banned in all public locations.  And this I must wonder about.  Must we also ban the wearing of a mantilla?  Is that not also offensive to the dignity of a woman?  Should we eschew and strictly limit any public display of religious artifacts?

I'm …

Approaching the Great Day

UD offers us another beautiful Bloomsday Blogpost

And this summative blogpost by an amateur reader of Ulysses

Some very nice thoughts about Joyce's prose and particularly about the Penelope section of Ulysses is these two posts.  As the amateur reader notes, Penelope is not nearly so difficult as it sounds when described.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Wordsworth

I return us now to the briefly abandoned (so it might seem to you) Wordsworth.  I gave you a respite, but my own progress through the book depends in part on my continued sharing of what I find there.  I find that telling you about its wonders keeps me plowing through them and relishing them.  I will admit that it is not easy to read through a book-length poem--no matter how fine the poetry--I remember my struggle with Paradise Lost, and with other, similar works.  And the less epic, the less mythic, the poem, the more difficult.  The Prelude is an intimate epic--not the expansive expression of a golden age of heroes, but the canny and careful observation of a poet coming into being.

But this next piece I share for the sheer delight of the scene.  It says much about Wordsworth, about poetic composition, and about poetry.  But it also says much about a dog.

from The Prelude Book IV
William Wordsworth

Among the favourites whom it pleased me well
To see again, was one by ancient right
Our …

Sonnet II

These are too lovely to gloss once and leave be.  And they're short so they are easily read, more easily skipped.  But each is worth the time it takes to read and reread a short poem in a day.

from Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Barrett Browning


But only three in all God's universe
Have heard this word thou hast said,---Himself, beside
Thee speaking, and me listening! and replied
One of us . . . that was God, . . . and laid the curse
So darkly on my eyelids, as to amerce
My sight from seeing thee,---that if I had died,
The deathweights, placed there, would have signified
Less absolute exclusion. 'Nay' is worse
From God than from all others, O my friend!
Men could not part us with their worldly jars,
Nor the seas change us, nor the tempests bend;
Our hands would touch for all the mountain-bars:
And, heaven being rolled between us at the end,
We should but vow the faster for the stars.
Read after the first, and in dialogue with it, Mrs. Browning continues the …