Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Jonathan Franzen Considered

The latest novel, but more Jonathan Franzen and the phenomenon of the Literary Novelist at Biblioklept.

I must confess that I am very put off by the gushing of the critics, by the presence on Time, and by Mr. Franzen himself.  But in the short excerpts I have read, I have been very engaged by the novel.  This is one of those cases where the less one knows about the artist, the better one's chances of enjoying the work.  Precisely the reason I will not read biographies of either Matisse or Picasso.  Don't know what their lives were like, but really, really, really, don't want it to spoil my appreciation for their work.

A Dear Dead Poet Friend of Mine

Writing the poem I've written recently, I was put in mind of a poet whom I had thought largely (and unjustly) forgotten.  However, searching for Jay Bradford Fowler Jr.,  I found Psalmbook for the White Butterfly, which you can sample at Google Books.  Please do--I recommend "The Moon Has No Motion I Can Move" and "When the Secret Taper Descends."

New Poem

"At the Heart of the Heart of Me"

Richard Feynman Again

Richard Feynman: Fun to Imagine

Feynman shares the joy of physics in just over seven minutes.

What An Odd Poem

"The One Whose Reproach I Cannot Evade"

I remember the comment of a professor I had while taking an advance course in writing poetry.  Remarking on a poem I had written about Rene Magritte, he said, "Seems all very much a worked-up weirdness, not at all like the Magritte I know."  This poem by George Hitchcock seems to nail the surrealist mode precisely.  Not worked up weirdness at all--but weird nonetheless.

A Nice Review of a So-So Movie


I post this mostly because AMC ran an Elizabeth Taylor day a week or so ago and I tried, I really tried to sit through this entire thing.  But I didn't manage it.  Her performance may have been magnificent, I can't tell because the whole thing seemed very creaky to me.  I got about halfway through.  So, I admit my failing and move on.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Three Literary Judges

Priest, Schlicter, and Lowe

In the course of discussion touches upon two books by James Gould Cozzens--once quite prominent and many think unjustly neglected today.


Solar flare affects radioactive decay on Earth?

Blogging as Business

Frank Wilson reports--is this a trend?

Let's Celebrate

Ukranian Independence with a 3-D Light Show

Quite astounding.

Lectures on Literature

Via Times Flow Stemmed, The Royal Society of Literature Lectures.

The Invisible Bridge considered

A review of The Invisible Bridge

Again, one of those books I've started and lingered over so long as to defy imagination, but which I DO intend to return to and complete.  Everything about it was compelling, even the things that I had problems. with.

Review: Tom McCarthy's C

C reviewed.

I haven't managed to get through my first Tom McCarthy yet.  Not because it wasn't good, but just because there is so much out there to read and keep track of--the question for any modern work must be, is it good enough?

Houellebecq Considered

Houellebecq's most recent novel stirs controversy (there's a surprise for you) as a Prix Goncourt Judge denouonces it.

Poem of the Week--"The Pier"

"The Pier" by Vona Groarke

Said to be a young Irish poet, I do not know if the name is Irish; however, if so, and if it follows the normal rules of Irish orthography, I think the name is pronounced somewhat like a cross between Kay Ryan and Mary Oliver.  Perhaps Kay Oliver. 

All joking aside, the poem is robust, delightful, powerful in its spirit and in the capture of sheer joy and exuberance.  Go, enjoy!

Friday, August 27, 2010

On Musicians

from "Music of the Hemispheres"
Rachel Ehrenberg
in Science News,  Augsut 14, 2010: Vol. 178, No. 4

"It's one of the most complicated tasks that we have," Levintin says. "Take a symphony orchestra. What you have is 80 or 100 of the most highly trained members of our society--more highly trained than astronauts or surgeons in terms of the numbers of hours and years of preparation--and they are performing the works of some of the greatest minds that ever lived. It's really extraordinary."

A Yiyun Li Short

"The Science of Flight" Yiyun Li

The Preface-Poem to Melancholy

From The Anatomy of Melancholy
Robert Burton


When I go musing all alone
Thinking of divers things fore-known.
When I build castles in the air,
Void of sorrow and void of fear,
Pleasing myself with phantasms sweet,
Methinks the time runs very fleet.
  All my joys to this are folly,
  Naught so sweet as melancholy.
When I lie waking all alone,
Recounting what I have ill done,
My thoughts on me then tyrannise,
Fear and sorrow me surprise,
Whether I tarry still or go,
Methinks the time moves very slow.
  All my griefs to this are jolly,
  Naught so mad as melancholy.
When to myself I act and smile,
With pleasing thoughts the time beguile,
By a brook side or wood so green,
Unheard, unsought for, or unseen,
A thousand pleasures do me bless,
And crown my soul with happiness.
  All my joys besides are folly,
  None so sweet as melancholy.
When I lie, sit, or walk alone,
I sigh, I grieve, making great moan,
In a dark grove, or irksome den,
With discontents and Furies then,
A thousand miseries at once
  Mine heavy heart and soul ensconce,
  All my griefs to this are jolly,
None so sour as melancholy.
Methinks I hear, methinks I see,
Sweet music, wondrous melody,
Towns, palaces, and cities fine;
Here now, then there; the world is mine,
Rare beauties, gallant ladies shine,
Whate'er is lovely or divine.
  All other joys to this are folly,
  None so sweet as melancholy.
Methinks I hear, methinks I see
Ghosts, goblins, fiends; my phantasy
Presents a thousand ugly shapes,
Headless bears, black men, and apes,
Doleful outcries, and fearful sights,
My sad and dismal soul affrights.
  All my griefs to this are jolly,
  None so damn'd as melancholy.
Methinks I court, methinks I kiss,
Methinks I now embrace my mistress.
O blessed days, O sweet content,
In Paradise my time is spent.
Such thoughts may still my fancy move,
So may I ever be in love.
  All my joys to this are folly,
  Naught so sweet as melancholy.
When I recount love's many frights,
My sighs and tears, my waking nights,
My jealous fits; O mine hard fate
I now repent, but 'tis too late.
No torment is so bad as love,
So bitter to my soul can prove.
  All my griefs to this are jolly,
  Naught so harsh as melancholy.
Friends and companions get you gone,
'Tis my desire to be alone;
Ne'er well but when my thoughts and I
Do domineer in privacy.
No Gem, no treasure like to this,
'Tis my delight, my crown, my bliss.
  All my joys to this are folly,
  Naught so sweet as melancholy.
'Tis my sole plague to be alone,
I am a beast, a monster grown,
I will no light nor company,
I find it now my misery.
The scene is turn'd, my joys are gone,
Fear, discontent, and sorrows come.
  All my griefs to this are jolly,
  Naught so fierce as melancholy.
I'll not change life with any king,
I ravisht am: can the world bring
More joy, than still to laugh and smile,
In pleasant toys time to beguile?
Do not, O do not trouble me,
So sweet content I feel and see.
  All my joys to this are folly,
  None so divine as melancholy.
I'll change my state with any wretch,
Thou canst from gaol or dunghill fetch;
My pain's past cure, another hell,
I may not in this torment dwell!
Now desperate I hate my life,
Lend me a halter or a knife;
  All my griefs to this are jolly,
  Naught so damn'd as melancholy.

From The Anatomy of Melancholy

from The Anatomy of Melancholy
Robert Burton

Great travail is created for all men, and an heavy yoke on the sons of Adam, from the day that they go out of their mother's womb, unto that day they return to the mother of all things. Namely, their thoughts, and fear of their hearts, and their imagination of things they wait for, and the day of death. From him that sitteth in the glorious throne, to him that sitteth beneath in the earth and ashes; from him that is clothed in blue silk and weareth a crown, to him that is clothed in simple linen. Wrath, envy, trouble, and unquietness, and fear of death, and rigour, and strife, and such things come to both man and beast, but sevenfold to the ungodly. All this befalls him in this life, and peradventure eternal misery in the life to come.

To indulge in the complete work see this lovely Gutenberg, newly edited edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy


"Even in Kyoto,. . . I long for Kyoto"  more haiku in translation.

It's a Great Relief

To know that five leading publishers saw, knew, and understood Lolita as it was and is.

Two Chapters of Franzen

Two chapters of Franzen's Freedom

For the record, I don't think he's a genius, even while I like his books--and every word out of his mouth makes me want to send him to Dafar to get a little taste of reality before he utters another syllable.  But, if the work is good, it is--I'll wait and see.

A Different View of the Holocaust

Shelf Love, rapidly becoming a favorite place to visit, reviews David Mendelsohn's The Lost: A Search for Six of the Six Million.

Again Clarel

A group read afoot of Melville's Clarel If it is as good as reported, it is to be hoped that such publicity makes more well known this, one of Melville's later works.

Spoken Verse

Huge as asia, seismic with laughter--lovely

Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm Often Last to the Party

But those who don't already know about it--Pandora Radio is a fascinating project

Go, create your own music station.  It accommodates not only those who would input The Beatles, but also weirdos who put in Gyorgy Ligeti, Bill Nelson, and Brad Paisley to make up one station.  (I will discretely refuse to name names.)

Opera Primer

All the great Operas in 10 minutes

Not nearly as amusing as Anna Russell's magnificent exposition of the Ring Cycle--but still worth a few minutes' indulgence.

More Poetry--chez un ami

Seven random jottings

As so often happens, I find myself silenced in the presence of one whose control of and appreciation for the language results in mere drafts such as these.

And Now A Word From Our Sponsor. . .

from The Tempest, Act IV Scene I
William Shakespeare

Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Ye all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

My favorite of Shakespeare's plays, and one of my favorite of the speeches within it.  The only one better being Prospero's farewell, an epilogue to Act V:

Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Powerful speeches both speaking to the limits of human accomplishment no matter how determined and how set the goal.  It is important to remember that We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep. Without remembering that the party eventually ends, we lead a wasteland of a life--a pitiful and poor excuse, a broken and lame existence.  But such salutary reminders do not often make for high art--and so perhaps that is why this airy melancholy, this magical tracing in the air of the career and finale of a great man is so persuasive in its power to move.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Interviews with British Authors

An Archive, noted at Philosophy, lit, etc.

More on Sartor Resartus

Another country heard from--Thomas Carlyle's Sartor Resartus

Eight Poems

Eight poems (or more)  at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . ."

The Geometric Proof of the Existence of God

from The Prelude Book VI
William Wordsworth

More frequently from the same source I drew
A pleasure quiet and profound, a sense
Of permanent and universal sway,
And paramount belief; there, recognised
A type, for finite natures, of the one
Supreme Existence, the surpassing life
Which—to the boundaries of space and time,
Of melancholy space and doleful time,
Superior, and incapable of change,
Nor touched by welterings of passion—is,
And hath the name of, God. Transcendent peace
And silence did await upon these thoughts
That were a frequent comfort to my youth.

Ah, but Wordsworth did love his geometry, no matter how poorly mastered.  He saw in its beauty, simplicity and rounds the variety of existence.  He saw in it the permanence that would one infer from its survival from the time of Euclid to today.  What he did not yet know was its "ineluctable modality" and its gorgeous mutability as exhibited by the soaring expressions of Reimann and Lobachevsky (Nikolai Ivanovich--to be precise).  And I think had he known of these transformations, he would have been every bit as entranced, seeing in them the beauty of how a few simple rules creates a new universe.  We derive both geometries from a simple denial of one of Euclid's postulates--"Through every point outside of a given line there is one and only one line that can be constructed that is parallel to the given line."  Reimann changes the postulate to say that there are none, Lobachevsky changes it to say that there are an infinite number.  From Reimann, we have the geometry on the surface of a sphere, from Lobachevsky, the geometric of Einsteinian space/time.  And how Wordsworth would have delighted in both of these--or so I suppose because I really am with him on this point.  The beauty of mathematics points to an infinite beauty that is beyond ready and easy grasp.

And, if one then wants to consider the simplicity of God as a series of plays on Euclid's postulates, the analogic becomes clearer--more profound.  Or perhaps only to those of us who play around the periphery of mathematics the way some skirt the sea looking for the profound mystery--but not its resolution.

A Letter

Michael O'Hare on Education (and infrastructure in CA, and by implication, most everywhere.)

Fifteen Favorites

Fred lists his favorite SF books

Most of which I concur with (3-5, 8-9, 12, 16 would all be on my list), but to which I would add some of my favorite texts:

The Man in the High Castle--Philip K. Dick
Lord of Light--Roger Zelazny
The Diamond Age--Neal Stephenson

And being an ardent fan of dystopian fiction:
1984--George Orwell
Brave New World--Aldous Huxley

And debatably (not as to favorite, but as to the designation Science Fiction) I would further add:

At the Mountains of Madness--H. P. Lovecraft


Swan Song Robert R. McCammon

But favorites are not necessarily "best"  and I won't make any argument that they are.  I just fine dipping into these, among others, even if I don't read the entire thing is always a source of pleasure.


From Dangerous Idea: The Searchable Josephus

Creationism v. Intelligent Design

A review of one of my favorite books on the subject--Francis Collins's The Language of God.

Cogently, clearly, cleanly, and congenially argued, Francis Collin presents the case against both and for the ability to at once embrace the reality of evolution and the reality of the existence of God. A beautiful book that does more for the age old argument than did Stephen Jay Gould's remarkable and generous Rock of Ages.

J. P. Jones

Everything you every wanted to know about the U.S.S. Bonhomme Richard

With some quite lovely visual, as usual.

Nabokov's Short Stories

A Brief Survey of the Short Story part XXVIII--Nabakov

The Joy of Skepticism

Learning to be a happy skeptic

aka The Nigerian Spam survivor's guide

Numbers and Trends

I love numbers and trends.  That's the second reason for keeping any sort of blog stats. (The main reason is to find interesting places to visit that I might otherwise miss.)

So, in examining my blog stat for several weeks I've noted an overall trend that I have not yet been able to discern the reason for.  Every week the "spike" in the week occurs on Tuesday.  Tuesday tend to have significantly higher visit rates than any other day.  I want to know why.  Are the spiderbots released on Tuesday to do their weekly webbing and indexing tasks--have people recovered from the downer of returning to work and now rejoined the blogging world?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How to Be a Good Literary Loser

Shortlisted for a prize--here's what to expect when you don't get it. . .

Less than Mirthful

A nice discussion of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth.

Another Bradbury Tribute

Bradbury's 90th Birthday

For Your Amusement

Christopher Walken redacts Lady Gaga--Poker Face

Wow! News to Me

While compiling the list for the meme in the previous I discovered that in 1935 a movie was made of The Nightlife of the Gods.  Sounds like one I need to seek out, given how much I enjoy Thorne Smith.

Stolen Meme

From A Guy's Moleskine notebook--this "life in titles" meme

(keep in mind, this refers to titles only, not necessarily to content)

In school I was: The Man Who Knew Too Much (G. K. Chesterton)

People might be surprised I’m: The Man Who Walked Through Time (Colin Fletcher)

I will never be: Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolfe (Edward Albee)

My fantasy job is: The Reader (Bernhard Schlink)

At the end of a long day I need: The Nightlife of the Gods (Thorne Smith)

I hate it when: Waiting for Godot (Samuel Beckett)

Wish I had: Peace (Gene Wolfe) or, perhaps Sanctuary (William Faulkner)

My family reunions are: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Alexandr Solzhenitsen)

At a party you’d find me with: The Demolished Man (Alfred Bester)

I’ve never been to: The Green Hills of Africa (Ernest Hemingway)

A happy day includes: Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury)

Motto I live by: "Much Ado About Nothing" (William Shakespeare)

On my bucket list: The Anatomy of Melancholy (Robert Burton)

In my next life, I want to be: Miles Gloriosus (Plautus) (not really, but he makes for glorious bombast for sheer hubris--Siddhartha (Herman Hesse))  Most realistically--The Silver Surfer (Stan Lee)

Right now I'm: At the Mountains of Madness (H. P. Lovecraft)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Modernity's Uninvited Guest

On the problem of evil

Bibliographing Looks at Melville's Poetry

Concerning Clarel

An excerpt from the poem from the Melville Site 

From Clarel
Herman Melville

Yes, long as children feel affright
In darkness, men shall fear a God;
And long as daisies yield delight
Shall see His footprints in the sod.
Is't ignorance? This ignorant state
Science doth but elucidate --
Deepen, enlarge. But though 'twere made
Demonstrable that God is not --
What then? It would not change this lot:
The ghost would haunt, nor could be laid.
Yea, ape and angel, strife and old debate --
The harps of heaven and the dreary gongs of hell;
Science the feud can only aggravate --
No umpire she betwixt the chimes and knell:
The running battle of the star and clod
Shall run for ever -- if there be no God.
But through such strange illusions have they passed
Who in life's pilgrimage have baffled striven --
Even death may prove unreal at the last,
And stoics be astounded into heaven.
Then keep thy heart, though yet but ill-resigned --
Clarel, thy heart, the issues there but mind;
That like the crocus budding through the snow --
That like a swimmer rising from the deep --
That like a burning secret which doth go
Even from the bosom that would hoard and keep;
Emerge thou mayst from the last whelming sea,
And prove that death but routs life into victory.

For those who wish to sample more and yet have no pervasive impulse to buy--here from Questia is an online version of Clarel.

Unfortunately, it does not appear that there are any other truly free online versions, but I'll continue to look.

Ah, I found this version of Clarel--it looks free but I haven't checked out the whole thing.

Come, Let Us Worship

At the altar of Jonathan Franzen---if this isn't the most overblown review of a recent book that I've seen, it's certainly a high contender--and the type of thing more likely to alienate me from a work than engage me.

Moral grandeur, Dostoevski, Roth, Bellow, and every superlative that can lace an ecstatic review.  Methinks the review author has truly drunk the Kool-Aid.  I can't imagine how any work can live up to the expectations set up by this review.

One of My All-Time Favorite Poems

And,  malheureusement, terribly appropriate for my present passage.

In a Dark Time
Theodore Roethke

In a dark time, the eye begins to see,
I meet my shadow in the deepening shade;
I hear my echo in the echoing wood--
A lord of nature weeping to a tree,
I live between the heron and the wren,
Beasts of the hill and serpents of the den.

What's madness but nobility of soul
At odds with circumstance? The day's on fire!
I know the purity of pure despair,
My shadow pinned against a sweating wall,
That place among the rocks--is it a cave,
Or winding path? The edge is what I have.

A steady storm of correspondences!
A night flowing with birds, a ragged moon,
And in broad day the midnight come again!
A man goes far to find out what he is--
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.

Dark,dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened summer fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.

It's hard not to love a poem that posits, "I live between the heron and the wren."  And then, that sly and yet forceful allusion to Baudelaire that heads the third stanza--an entire poetic/philosophical system in a single line.

from Les Fleur du Mal
Charles Baudelaire


La Nature est un temple où de vivants piliers
Laissent parfois sortir de confuses paroles;
L'homme y passe à travers des forêts de symboles
Qui l'observent avec des regards familiers.

Comme de longs échos qui de loin se confondent
Dans une ténébreuse et profonde unité,
Vaste comme la nuit et comme la clarté,
Les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se répondent.

II est des parfums frais comme des chairs d'enfants,
Doux comme les hautbois, verts comme les prairies,
— Et d'autres, corrompus, riches et triomphants,

Ayant l'expansion des choses infinies,
Comme l'ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l'encens,
Qui chantent les transports de l'esprit et des sens.

Go to The Fleurs du Mal Site for multiple English Translations:
The sonnet form of this latter is interesting and powerful, and the influence of the theory behind this poem cannot be overstated--as it gives rise to both imagist and symbolist schools of poetry--Rimbaud, Verlaine, Mallarmé, and even Apollinaire, all influenced by this.  And as we see, mid-twentieth century--it still has its echoes through the art.  Indeed, I'm half convinced it informs much that is written today. (And probably gave rise to much of the [both good and nonsense] semiotic and deconstructivist schools of thought.  (By the way, I find the Campbell translation at the site quite springy, subtle, interesting and powerful.))

Back to Roethke--in a single line he brings us into this school and reminds us authoritatively what he is about in the composition of his dark and mystical gem. Is there also a reference--admittedly oblique to Dante hovering there in the first two lines?

Poetry is often a resonant chamber, achieving its power, vision, and authority from the way that it plays the music of the past on instruments made for the present.

Suicide and Homicide

What to call the bombers--everything is fraught

A Review of Memory Wall

Anthony Doerr's Memory Wall reviewed.

And anyone who knows me well or knows me even a bit can imagine how entranced I am and have been with the cover photograph.  Checked the book out of the library and returned without reading.  Which is absolutely NOT a reflection on the book--but on my voracious Library habits.  I ALWAYS check out more than any three people could possibly read in the time.

Richard Stark v. Jonathan Franzen

Watch them duke it out in this battle royale featured at Books Inq.

Sartor Resartus

One of those books you hear about and see on shelves, may even glance at for an idle moment--but never in a billion years would it cross your mind to read it--Thomas Carlyle's novel Sartor Resartus.

Tom McCarthy's C

A review of C.

Happy 90th Mr. Bradbury

August 22, 2010, Mr. Bradbury celebrates his 90th birthday.  He and P.D. James, I believe now are chief members of this very exclusive club of nonagerian writers.

Visting Jerzy Kosinski

Again from Biblioklept--a review of Jerzy Kosinski's Steps.

Biblioklept reminds us. . .

Through the voice of Anthony Burgess--"Youth is not wise."

He doesn't say it--but if my own is any indication--youth tends to arrogance and self-assertion.

Zora Neale Hurston

Jill reports on Jonah's Gourd Vine

Read this, then go to the main site and browse through the other entries on the same.  I live within a few miles of Zora Neale Hurston's childhood home in Eatonville and have not yet visited--my bad.

Moore Moran: Unknown Poet

Unknown poet of the Stanford school, Moore Moran is profiled.

Included is a wonderful poem called "Holy Thursday."  As a student of Yvor Winters, he is in the distinguished company of J. V. Cunningham and Thom Gunn.  But this poem is the first I have read of his work.

Australian Indigenous Writers

Whispering Gums posts on Australian Indigeous Authors including the poet, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

The excepts from the poetry are very fine.

Free Textbooks Online

I don't know the quality of the books, however, they're free and they're online and anyone can check them out and advise.

Poem of the Week--"A Trace of Wings"

Another broken-line poem in the Anglo Saxon tradition:  Edwin Morgan's elegy for Basil Bunting.

Written in the Broken Lines

familiar to readers of Anglo Saxon literature and the art of alliterative poetry in general, Quid Pleura offers a reflection on the cave woman and her child:

This cavewoman and her baby make for a vivid pair nearly 200 feet above the cathedral’s north lawn. She’s hard to see; the chip on her shoulder is hard to miss.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tolkien Video

From The Silver Key a BBC Video featuring J.R.R. Tolkien.

Three New Poems

Three poems at  ". . . recollected in tranquility. . . "

Lovely Haiku

In a review of William Howard Cohen's To Walk in Seasons

What I really love is the introductory line to the post: Another older book I've read recently to prepare for the fall haiku session 

and I love it because I initially misread it to say: Another older book I've read recently to prepare for the haiku season

I love the thought of a haiku season, which for me, would be any season--but there's something resonant about thinking about haikus in seasons.

I'm entranced by the first of the haiku offered, and amused to the point of an out-right chuckle by the second.  But all of them are strong in their own ways--go and pick your favorite, and if you're inclined to, please let me know which it is.

Hemingway the Poet

Inspired by a recent post at Shelf Love, I took in hand once again Hemingway's most deliberately poetic book, A Moveable Feast and share with you a transcription on one passage that recasts the prose to make of it more of a poetic shape.

From A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition
Ernest Hemingway


I knew several of the men who fished the fruitful parts of the Seine between the Île St. Louis and the Square du Vert Galent and sometimes, if the day was bright, I would buy a liter of wine and a piece of bread and some sausage and sit in the sun and read one of the books I had bought and watch the fishing.

Recast--still all of Hemingway's words:

I knew several of the men
who fished the fruitful parts of the Seine
between the Île St. Louis
and the Square du Vert Galent
and sometimes, if the day was bright,
I would buy a liter of wine and a piece of bread
and some sausage and sit in the sun
and read one of the books I had bought
and watch the fishing.

Recasting adds absolutely nothing to what was already there--not a word, not even a more elegant frame.  But the words sounded in my ears in such a way that I felt the need to reshape the prose to reflect the sound.  I don't claim that it's an improvement in any way.  It is more a schoolboy exercise to see how you might cast the lines (pardon the pun, given the subject matter)  and this version is actually the second one I've come up with.  For those who have long avoided Hemingway, you might find this entrance to the prose more inviting and convivial.

Another version of the same:

I knew several
of the men who fished
the fruitful parts of the Seine
between the Île St. Louis
and the Square bu Vert
Galent and sometimes,
if the day was bright, I
would buy a liter of wine
and a piece of bread
and some sausage and sit
in the sun and read one
of the books I had bought
and watch the fishing.

(This was the first version).  Looking at the two, the longer lines better serve the first part of the paragraph, and the shorter lines the second.  Something like:

I knew several of the men
who fished the fruitful parts of the Seine
between the Île St. Louis
and the Square du Vert
Galent and sometimes,
if the day was bright, I
would buy a liter of wine
and a piece of bread
and some sausage and sit
in the sun and read one
of the books I had bought
and watch the fishing.

So now we have a third.  And that all three are in some degree supported by the internal rhythm and flow of the words speaks to the strength of the line, the sentence, the prose.

Here's a tribute I wrote, perhaps shortly after the initial encounter with this magnificent Hemingway opus.

1984 and Animal Farm Audio

Free Audio versions of Orwell's two best-known works.

Poetry in Translation

From the Renaissance to Edward Fitzgerald with links to online sources to enjoy.

I Had No Idea

That John Cowper Powys composed poetry--I linger around A Glastonbury Romance

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"At a Station of the Metro"--Imagism Considered

Let me start with truth in advertising--the Imagist school of poetry is among my very favorite.

The only poem most people encounter by Ezra Pound, "At a Station of the Metro" is also almost the only poem anyone mentions when talking about the imagist school of poetry. As it happens, the imagist school is among my very favorite, largely because it derives much of its power and motivation from what gives most Japanese and Chinese poetry that sense of otherness and serenity that pervades the poetry from the Classical periods.

Imagism prides itself on "not taking sides."  It is the photography of the poetry world.  If there is a charged, "hidden" meaning, it is well hidden.  For example, it is hard to take much from the ambiguous stance of Mr. Pound's opus:

At a Station of The Metro
Ezra Pound

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
petals on a wet black bough.

What are you to make of this? Is the apparition bad, good?  Are the people bland and shapeless and formless, or do they contribute to a pattern of profound beauty? What is being said here?  You can make and tear down twenty or thirty different cases.

Another very famous example:

The Red Wheel Barrow
William Carlos Williams

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

What exactly depends upon it?  And do we understand depends in the more modern sense, or in the deeper etymological sense as in "suspended from."  Is the red wheelbarrow good, bad, indifferent?  Is it a symbol of the Tao?  Does is signify existence?  Most importantly of all--do any of the questions really matter?  When you read the poem, you can see, in both cases what is described.  To me, these are among the most successful possible poems.  If the image is impressed upon the retina of the eye, it remains with the reader and colors future experience. One can begin to think through these images and in these images.  Imagist poetry allows the reader to enter into the experience and formulate the meaning, or just sit and contemplate as in a placid pond, or a smooth-flowing stream.  All meaning is beneath the surface and entirely unimportant to the aesthetic appreciation of the surface.  Must it mean anything other than what it says?  So long as the language is crafted and beautiful, it would seem that such diving for meaning is secondary.


I noted earlier the link to this anthology site, and having perused a few of the offerings, I'd like to recommend particularly Tim Applegate, ("Blue Iris", in particular)   Tim Barnes (Loved "Winter Fog along the Willamette") and Erik Muller ("With Wang Wei').  I'm sure there are a great many others you will enjoy!

Wordsworth Revisited: Geometry Is the Mother of Invention

Wordsworth had an interest, one might almost say (given the frequency with which reference to it occurs in The Prelude), an obsession with Geometry.  In a certain way, this makes a sort of sense.  Mathematics and mysticism are not all that far apart--an interest in one is often accompanied by an interest in the other. (I take as the most famous example Blaise Pascal--but even from the very beginning--think of the legends of the Pythagorian Cult--the two have been in close proximity.)

from The Prelude Book VI
William Wordsworth

Yet may we not entirely overlook
The pleasure gathered from the rudiments
Of geometric science. Though advanced
In these inquiries, with regret I speak,
No farther than the threshold, there I found
Both elevation and composed delight:
With Indian awe and wonder, ignorance pleased
With its own struggles, did I meditate
On the relation those abstractions bear
To Nature's laws, and by what process led,
Those immaterial agents bowed their heads
Duly to serve the mind of earth-born man;
From star to star, from kindred sphere to sphere,
From system on to system without end.

One More from Longfellow

We start with this interesting tidbit from American History:

The skeleton of a man wearing a breastplate of brass, a belt made of tubes of the same metal, and lying near some copper arrow-heads, was exhumed at Fall River, Massachusetts, in 1834. The body had been artificially embalmed or else preserved by salts in the soil. His arms and armor suggest Phoenician origin. . . . (source of The Skeleton in Armor)

and Wordsworth's Vision:

The Skeleton in Armor
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Speak! speak! thou fearful guest,
Who, with thy hollow breast
Still in rude armor drest,
Comest to daunt me!
Wrapt not in Eastern balms,
But with thy fleshless palms
Stretched, as if asking alms,
Why dost thou haunt me?"

Then, from those cavernous eyes
Pale flashes seemed to rise,
As when the Northern skies
Gleam in December;
And, like the water's flow
Under December's snow,
Came a dull voice of woe
From the heart's chamber.

"I was a Viking old!
My deeds, though manifold,
No Skald in song has told,
No Saga taught thee!
Take heed, that in thy verse
Thou dost the tale rehearse,
Else dread a dead man's curse
For this I sought thee.

"Far in the Northern Land,
By the wild Baltic's strand,
I, with my childish hand,
Tamed the gerfalcon;
And, with my skates fast-bound,
Skimmed the half-frozen Sound,
That the poor whimpering hound
Trembled to walk on.

"Oft to his frozen lair
Tracked I the grisly bear,
While from my path the hare
Fled like a shadow;
Oft through the forest dark
Followed the were-wolf's bark,
Until the soaring lark
Sang from the meadow.

"But when I older grew,
Joining a corsair's crew,
O'er the dark sea I flew
With the marauders.
Wild was the life we led;
Many the souls that sped,
Many the hearts that bled
By our stern orders.

"Many a wassail-bout
Wore the long Winter out;
Often our midnight shout
Set the cocks crowing,
As we the Berserk's tale
Measured in cups of ale,
Draining the oaken pail,
Filled to o'erflowing.

"Once as I told in glee
Tales of the stormy sea,
Soft eyes did gaze on me,
Burning yet tender;
And as the white stars shine
On the dark Norway pine,
On that dark heart of mine
Fell their soft splendor.

"I wooed the blue-eyed maid,
Yielding, yet half afraid,
And in the forest's shade
Our vows were plighted.
Under its loosened vest
Fluttered her little breast,
Like birds within their nest
By the hawk frighted.

"Bright in her father's hall
Shields gleamed upon the wall,
Loud sang the minstrels all,
Chaunting his glory;
When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter's hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story.

"While the brown ale he quaffed,
Loud then the champion laughed.
And as the wind gusts waft
The sea-foam brightly,
So the loud laugh of scorn,
Out of those lips unshorn,
From the deep drinking-horn
Blew the foam lightly.

"She was a Prince's child,
I but a Viking wild,
And though she blushed and smiled,
I was discarded!
Should not the dove so white
Follow the sea-mew's flight
Why did they leave that night
Her nest unguarded?

"Scarce had I put to sea,
Bearing the maid with me,--
Fairest of all was she
Among the Norsemen!--
When on the white sea-strand,
Waving his armèd hand,
Saw we old Hildebrand,
With twenty horsemen.

"Then launched they to the blast,
Bent like a reed each mast,
Yet we were gaining fast,
When the wind failed us,
And with a sudden flaw
Came round the gusty Skaw,
So that our foe we saw
Laugh as he hailed us.

"And as to catch the gale
Round veered the flapping sail,
Death! was the helmsman's hail,
Death without quarter!
Mid-ships with iron keel
Struck we her ribs of steel;
Down her black hulk did reel
Through the black water!

"As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
With his prey laden,
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane
Bore I the maiden.

"Three weeks we westward bore,
And when the storm was o'er,
Cloud-like we saw the shore
Stretching to lee-ward;
There for my lady's bower
Built I the lofty tower,
Which, to this very hour,
Stands looking seaward.

"There lived we many years;
Time dried the maiden's tears;
She had forgot her fears,
She was a mother;
Death closed her mild blue eyes,
Under that tower she lies;
Ne'er shall the sun arise
On such another!

"Still grew my bosom then,
Still as a stagnant fen!
Hateful to me were men
The sunlight hateful!
In the vast forest here,
Clad in my warlike gear,
Fell I upon my spear,
O, death was grateful!

"Thus, seamed with many scars
Bursting these prison bars,
Up to its native stars
My soul ascended!
There from the flowing bowl
Deep drinks the warrior's soul,
Skoal! to the Northland! Skoal! "
--Thus the tale ended.

Longfellow Revisited

The Poem of the week mentioned our good friend, the much-neglected, much-maligned Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  I include below one of his more famous poems because it is both a well-wrought poem and a nice complement to Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."  Myth-making at its finest.

The Wreck of the Hesperus
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter,
To bear him company.

Blue were her eyes as the fairy-flax,
Her cheeks like the dawn of day,
And her bosom white as the hawthorn buds,
That ope in the month of May.

The skipper he stood beside the helm,
His pipe was in his month,
And he watched how the veering flaw did blow
The smoke now West, now South.

Then up and spake an old Sailor,
Had sailed to the Spanish Main,
"I pray thee, put into yonder port,
For I fear a hurricane.

"Last night, the moon had a golden ring,
And to-night no moon we see!"
The skipper, he blew a whiff from his pipe,
And a scornful laugh laughed he.

Colder and louder blew the wind,
A gale from the Northeast.
The snow fell hissing in the brine,
And the billows frothed like yeast.

Down came the storm, and smote amain
The vessel in its strength;
She shuddered and paused, like a frighted steed,
Then leaped her cable's length.

"Come hither! come hither! my little daughter,
And do not tremble so;
For  I can weather the roughest gale
That ever wind did blow."

He wrapped her warm in his seaman's coat
Against the stinging blast;
He cut a rope from a broken spar,
And bound her to the mast.

"O father! I hear the church-bells ring,
O say, what may it be?"
"'Tis a fog-bell on a rock-bound coast!"--
And he steered for the open sea.

"O father! I hear the sound of guns,
O say, what may it be?"
"Some ship in distress, that cannot live
In such an angry sea!"

"O father! I see a gleaming light
O say, what may it be?"
But the father answered never a word,
A frozen corpse was he.

Lashed to the helm, all stiff and stark,
With his face turned to the skies,
The lantern gleamed through the gleaming snow
On his fixed and glassy eyes.

Then the maiden clasped her hands and prayed
That saved she might be;
And she thought of Christ, who stilled the wave,
On the Lake of Galilee.

And fast through the midnight dark and drear,
Through the whistling sleet and snow,
Like a sheeted ghost, the vessel swept
Tow'rds the reef of Norman's Woe.

And ever the fitful gusts between
A sound came from the land;
It was the sound of the trampling surf
On the rocks and the hard sea-sand.

The breakers were right beneath her bows,
She drifted a dreary wreck,
And a whooping billow swept the crew
Like icicles from her deck.

She struck where the white and fleecy waves
Looked soft as carded wool,
But the cruel rocks, they gored her side
Like the horns of an angry bull.

Her rattling shrouds, all sheathed in ice,
With the masts went by the board;
Like a vessel of glass, she stove and sank,
Ho! ho! the breakers roared!

At daybreak, on the bleak sea-beach,
A fisherman stood aghast,
To see the form of a maiden fair,
Lashed close to a drifting mast.

The salt sea was frozen on her breast,
The salt tears in her eyes;
And he saw her hair, like the brown sea-weed,
On the billows fall and rise.

Such was the wreck of the Hesperus,
In the midnight and the snow!
Christ save us all from a death like this,
On the reef of Norman's Woe!

The Internet and the Web

via Books Inq.  The Internet and the Web

Being One of the Foremost Fans of Invertebrates

I am delighted to be able to introduce you, however indirectly, to "Important Insects"--here's one where I can truthfully say, I wish I had written this.

An Online Poetry Anthology

Blogalicious has been accepted into


A Cleverness Approaching that of Odysseus Himself


Not Free, but, Perhaps Worthwhile

Stanford Online Writing Courses

A Tribute to Frank Kermode and Bernard Knox

May they rest in peace--Frank Kermode and Bernard Knox--gentlemen and scholars.

And an obituary for Frank Kermode 

And Bernard Knox

Quoting Others

Tea at Trianon, quoting others, but enunciating principles that she has well demonstrated, asks us to consider the importance of kind words in an unkind world.   I hold with her principles so closely that I'm considered something of a misfit--for example, I also hold that a salutation in an e-mail as well as a valedictory is a way of recognizing and honoring the person with whom you are communicating.  I know in business it is an unfashionable idea to consider that a person is deserving of respect, after all we have phrases that range from "resources" to "commodities" to "human capital" to describe those with whom we work; however, if we take just a moment to recognize that when we write, we write to a person--a person who, by virtue only of being a person, is deserving of our respect whether or not that person has chosen to show the same, we are making the world a better place by a small margin.  And all of that selvage eventually adds up to real capital--goodness.

Unpopular, and demanding, I know.  But certainly not beyond the capabilities of anyone who uses the electronic medium to communicate--even in those business e-mails and communications, but especially in those that are social.

If Ms. Vidal should see fit to add more, I might go further and discuss my theory of how one should begin one's emersion in acquaintance.  Hint: it involves progressively more antiquated words such as Mr., Mrs. Miss, and Ms. (depending upon the preference of the person being addressed).  And then we can talk about the marvels of Sir, and Mame.  Think of them as sort of English versions of Japanese honorifics.

While on the topic, you may want to visit Miss Janice for both elegance and etiquette.

Another Review of Thousand Autumns

Hungry Like the Woolf reviews Mitchell's latest and makes some good points, but points that I don't think Mitchell accomplished particularly well in the novel.

Another Enthusiastic Review for Tana French

Faithful Place reviewed

I started one of Ms. French's books--Into the Woods, I think.  The writing was superb, but the subject matter so intense and so deeply disturbing I could not read far into it, even though I desperately wanted to follow the characters.  If ever I find the intestinal fortitude to do so, this is one writer to read.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Some Reflections from Rumi

Ghazal 838 


if you pass your night and merge it with dawn for the sake of heart what do you think will happen if the entire world is covered with the blossoms you have labored to plant what do you think will happen if the elixir of life that has been hidden in the dark fills the desert and towns what do you think will happen if because of your generosity and love a few humans find their lives what do you think will happen if you pour an entire jar filled with joyous wine on the head of those already drunk what do you think will happen go my friend bestow your love even on your enemies if you touch their hearts what do you think will happen

Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
Cal-Earth, September 1994

In looking for this translation, I stumbled upon an interesting poetry site:  The Poet-Seers

For example, take a look at this excerpt from the Rubaiyat of Rumi.

Or this from Christina Rossetti.

Could There Be a Better Combination?

Butterflies and Chaucer

Reviewing Sarah Waters

Mookse and the Gripes review The Little Stranger--a book that has long been on my "to read" list.

Heaven Knows I Need It!

Aquinas: A Beginner's Guide reviewed at First Things

Everytime I think about my time with Aquinas I am reminded of this anecdote:

from St. Thomas Aquinas: The Dumb Ox
Gilbert Keith Chesterton

A lady I know picked up a book of selections from St. Thomas with a commentary; and began hopefully to read a section with the innocent heading, "The Simplicity of God." She then laid down the book with a sigh and said, "Well, if that's His simplicity, I wonder what His complexity is like."

I also recall, without chagrin, with something approaching simplicity myself (though not in this noble Aquinian sense) remarking on a philosopher's blog when he had solicited comment on a new explanation of God's Simplicity that, "I hadn't realized it had changed."

Michael Chabon

A review of Manhood for Amatuers that makes me think perhaps I ought to take it up again--perhaps my initial queasiness at TMI was a mood-driven alienation.

Some Book Reviews

Book Reviews--mostly of speculative fiction, some of biography, a few religious artifacts thrown in, a nice harvest in all.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've Changed This One at Least Three Times Today

Meander Plain

It's amazing the way you work and shape and then let lie fallow and wait, and find that there is yet more shaping and moving to do.

Was Franklin a Communist?

This quotation taken from Edmund S. Morgan's Benjamin Franklin is sure to spike the blood pressure in the terminally conservative.  Or perhaps I miscalculate:

"And in a letter to a friend Franklin gave his view that, "what we have above what we can use, is not properly ours, tho' we possess it."

There are a great many ways to read this line, and I suspect that it will rapidly become one of my favorites.

A Treasure from the Comments Box

A happiness from the Happy Catholicre: Joyce

Thanks, Julie!

Maverick Philosopher Considers the Value of Truth

Is truth a value if Materialism is True?  Maverick Philosopher considers the question.

(And afterwards, go back to the top and page down for a fascinating discussion of the mathematics of infinite sets.)

John O'Hara and Laurence Sterne

A review of a John O'Hara biography triggers thoughts of Laurence Sterne

A Different Nazi History

A Memory Theatre gives a view of Jo Walton's great alternative history series

The Poetry of Melville

Wuthering Expectations looks at "The Maldive Shark"

Even the title of the entry is evocative "Pale ravener of horrible meat."

Another Joyce

I think anyone with even a passing acquaintance with this blog knows that I love Ulysses.  But that fails to cover it--except for the poetry, I love James Joyce's writing.  And A Building Roam gives a nice consideration of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

On Peter Carey

Frisbee considers Peter Carey as a potential recepient of the Booker Prize.

My one experience with Carey failed to move--and so I'm not certain I'm prone to taking up more--but this most recent novel sounds as though it might have something of interest.

A Hemingway to Remember

Or, how to appreciate Hemingway in one easy step--Shelf Love reviews A Moveable Feast.  For much of my life I have not been a Hemingway fan--one thing or another disturbed me about the writing and the style.  But of recent date I have engaged once again with Hemingway and have discovered, once again, how my blind prejudices and theories had deprived me of the great pleasure of acquaintance with a master writer.  Too often typified as "macho" or "ham-fisted", unsubtle, and unnuanced--one who holds these views would do well to read A Moveable Feast and then reconsider the first novel--The Sun Also Rises.

A Common Lament, too Infrequently Spoken

One of the refreshing things about University Diaries is that the author says unpopular things that need to be spoken.  Take this reflection on the NMSU athletic program.

Having graduated from a University where sports was, if not all, so predominate that one couldn't wrap a thought around academics, I witnessed depredations of education in every sector--from the salaries of the top-paid Professors (some of them winners of the Nobel Prize) to the means used to make certain that key members of the sports teams passed their classes.

An Interview with Rick Moody

Big Think has Rick Moody speaking on the internet, the digital age and literature.

(via Mark Atithakis's American Fiction Notes)

Franklin's View of Sin

from Benjamin Franklin
Edmund S. Morgan

He never came to accept the Bible as a divine revelation or Jesus as the son of God. But he characteristically discover a new basis for Christian morality in the usefulness that was so unhappily missing from what he had earlier taught his friends about the rightness of everything. His new view was "that tho' certain Actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it [the Bible], or good because it commanded them, yet probably, those actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us."

This is how Franklin remember his change of heart and change of mind in the autobiography, and it seems to have been a accurate description. He enunciated the same view of moral in Poor Richard's Almanack for 1739, in slightly different form: "Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden but it is forbidden because it's hurtful. . . . Nor is a Duty beneficial because it is commanded, but it is commanded, because it's beneficial." Franklin arrived at this formula for reading the biblical Commandments only after a great deal of thinking on his own about what was hurtful and what was beneficial to himself and to the rest of God's creation.

Morgan typifies Franklin's thought as Deist--although I'm not quite certain that that is the appropriate categorization.  It is certainly Arian and I must trust Mr. Morgan, I suppose on the matter of the range of deist thought--it is conceivable that all deist thought is arian, but not all arianism is deist, but it will take a better theologian than I am to prove the case either way.  Regardless of the error with respect to the divinity of Christ, does that cause all theological propositions from Franklin to be wrong?  I don't think so, and there is much here in the understanding of sin that would help us find the way back on track.  If one were to stop trying to convince people to avoid certain actions--let us say premarital sex--on the basis of Biblical restriction and start delivering the same proposition in terms of the harm to the person and society--one might not convince more people to avoid it, but one would present the religion of Christ in a more Christian manner.  When the thought is directed, as I must suppose God's thought is, first to the good of the individual and a society of which he or she is a part, compassion comes to the fore rather than condemnation.  Franklin's approach would allow him to confront sin (had he chosen to do so) and retain his respect for the dignity of persons--something that a lot of so-called Christian palaver seems to abrogate.

The downside of this utilitarian view of sin is that one is likely to keep one's peace regarding it.  It is but a short way from commandment to logical proposition to inaction based on one's view of what a logical proposition requires from the person holding it.  But that argument is for another time and another place.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Today at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . ."


Adventures in Asia

Mini sequence

Herodotus considered

A nice ongoing blog on The Histories.

Authors Pick the "Lost Classics"

Lost Classics that Authors will like to see revised

via Neglected Books (sorry for the delay)

Franklin Observed

It has been a while since I have enjoyed or appreciated a first paragraph so much.

from Benjamin Franklin
Edmund S. Morgan

The first thing to do is overcome the image of a man perpetually at his desk, scribbling out the mountain of words that confronts us. Because Franklin wrote so well and so much, it is natural to think of him with pen in hand. But the man we will find in his writings likes to be in open air, walking the city streets, walking the countryside, walking the deck of a ship. Indoors, he like to be with people, sipping tea with young women, raising a glass with other men, playing chess, telling jokes, singing songs.

Already I'm inclined to like Franklin.  Whether or not this is the man as he was, I cannot say.  But it is certainly a description of a man who I would give much to meet and converse with.

Mr. Morgan also contributed the guiding essay for the monumental Franklin Papers site--a truly astounding online resource that anyone with an interest in American History would do well to visit.

Taking on Elizabeth Strout

Biblio reviews Olive Kitteridge in a way far more positive than I could bring myself to do.

Olive Kitteridge was supposed to be endearing.  I saw Kathy Bates in both Dolores Claiborne and Misery, nothing at all endearing and much that is freakishly horrifying in her attitude toward others.  But being a mood-driven reader, perhaps I didn't catch this wave.

New Apocalypses

Biblioklept warns us againt Justin Cronin's most recent run at it--The Passage.

If true, what a pity--I was so looking forward to reading this eventually. Sounds like Mr. Cronin has read not only Stephen King, but also Robert McCammon's magnificent Swan Song (derivative of and in many ways better than The Stand--certainly better than the unbridged mess that Stephen King couldn't resist offering to us.  Indeed, the unabridged version of The Stand stands (pardon the pun) as a definitive warning against those who constantly malign the editorial profession.  There comes a time in an author's life when his editors cease to edit--and what we get can be. . . unfortunate.)

Interesting Aphorisms

The Bed of Procrustes

Via Books, Inq.

I would post an excerpt to encourage you to read, but the copyright line suggests it would be better not to.  It is a work in progress--so I'll be interested to see where progress leads.

Freedom Reviewed

Jonathan Franzen's Freedom reviewed

While I have enjoyed Franzen's writing--the novels, the essays, the memoir, I have to say that The Corrections seemed to be obsessively self-involved and the whole to-do resulting from his reaction to being taken up by Oprah is one of those episodes any writer would rather forget.  His comments about "middle-brow" readers certainly raise the hackles and tell you a bit about what Mr. Franzen thinks of himself (rightly or wrongly).  His persistent and peculiar desire to be ranked in the legions of William Gaddis and his like (see the clever but obvious e-mails in The Corrections) bespeaks a man who has not come to terms with who he is as a writer.  I hope this book represents more of a relaxation into the talented and provocative writer who is hidden under all the apparent self-involvement.

This just in: Biblioklept offers us a Franzen Video against Videos.

I guess this is just the author's shtick.  Sometimes it's simply better to leave the exposition to the book.

Goia and Woods on Poetry

Not necessarily the main thrust of the blog entry--this portion of an exchange between James Wood and Dana Gioia on poetry is quite fine.

Fine enough indeed to prompt me to encourage you to look at the entire thing--Gioia v. Wood

From Gioia's opening foray:

Reacting against this soggy status quo, the Modernists refashioned American poetry in a variety of ways. Robinson, Frost, and Jeffers created what might be called a tough-minded Naturalist style. Moore, Eliot, and Pound worked out a hard-edged objective approach. Stevens explored a different sort of impersonality steeped in metaphysical speculation. Cummings, Williams, Ransom, Crane, and Hughes each made his own contribution. Ultimately, the Modernists not only changed our poetry, but together they constituted perhaps the greatest cluster of talent in the history of American literature. Although they represented a range of aesthetics, they shared a conviction that poetry benefited from compression, intensity, and evocative lyricality.

From the Poet Who Brought You "The Wreck of the Hesperus"

A bit of Purgatory as the poem of the week

It is a shame that Longfellow is so little read these days.  A fine poet with a great hand at meter, he did produce a few potboilers in the way of verse, but he also produced poetry that sticks in one's head--the imagery and the song stay long after the poem has left--I remember from sixth grade "The Village Smithy"  and how we subtly varied it--"The muscles of his brawny arms are as strong as rubber bands."

It's easy to take shots at some of the poems--but the body of work as a whole is as strong and as flexible and resilient as that of any other poet of his time.  He has merely suffered the fate of over-reading of his lesser work--resentful school-children grew to resentful adults and refuse to read his verse.  C'est dommage ça!

A Veritable Institution

From Suetonius to Garrison Keillor--the comb-over then and now

More Poems About Insects and Candlelight

Thomas Hardy's "An August Midnight"

Friday, August 13, 2010

Two Poems

Boston Cobblestones

A Litany of Miracles

What We Mean When We Say God is Father

What We Mean When We Say God is Father

If you're interested or inclined to, please join me as I entertain this question in a systematically unsystematic fashion.  At least I'll start and we'll see where we get.

Rebuttals to Overrated.

One comment on the 15 most overrated authors

And another commenting on how overrated is overrated.

Green Dolphin Street

Green Dolphin Street--a giveaway, but also a short synopsis.

I have to admit to not having read everything.  This has come up again and again, and I have dismissed it in a way that I do not dismiss Georgette Heyer--as frivolous and light-weight romance.  Perhaps it is time I have given it a more fair hearing.

Simone Weil Considered

On Waiting for God.

A wonderful, cogent, concise and interesting review from a blogger who never fails to be interesting.

More on Josipovici

On What Happened to Modernism?--by Gabriel Josipovici

From A Blog a Good Friend Recently Remind Me of

I have been too infrequent a visitor to Tea at Trianon, a delightful Catholic blog with literary diversions.  Today's on Isak Dinesen.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Flip Side of the Coin

The most underrated writers.  And I'm gratified to see on this List Anthony Hecht and Shirley Jackson.  Oh, and the enormously underrated Georgette Heyer.  Her books are out in reprint and you owe yourself the favor of indulging in at least one of them.  Rather like Angela Thirkell--you must find at least one to enjoy.

For Your Delectation and Delight

I must admit to a certain joy in seeing icongraphic figures hauled down to size.  Let's face it, we aren't in the era of incipient Shakespeares regardless of the adulatory acclaim some garner.

Most overrated contemporary American Writers (Guardian)

Most overrated contemporary American Writers (Huffington Post)

My personal favorite victims--William T. Vollman,  John Ashbery,  and Jonathan Safran Foer.  Oh, and Michael Cunningham whose The Hours must be one of the most highly overrated books of the past decade.

World Heritage App

Again from Open Culture an iPhone/iPad app to visit more than 850 world heritage sites.

A Fellow Jamesian

How rare to find a person who loves Henry James as much as I have come to.  I am fortunate because my early repugnance has kept me away a long time and now I have nearly the full opus to savor at my leisure--having dispatched only a few of the more prominent works.

But go here to read a review of Wings of the Dove and understand why those of us who love him do so.

From the Anatomy

Laudator Temporis Acti blogs from what I consider to be one of the most daunting books in two or more languages: The Anatomy of Melancholy.  But does so to amusing purpose.

Even so--reading through the excerpt, I stumbled upon this and found it lovely and worthy of preservation as a fragment of a fragment--" & are hot in a cold cause"

Of how many others, wreaking what harm could the same be said?  


Or, perhaps not really--perhaps just the spontaneous overflow that any parent might be subject to.

The son who lights the days and nights with the joy he brings to the house has been working, and I mean working hard--four to five hours a day--composing a new piece of music. 

When I first heard it, I was stunned.  He has composed other pieces of which I have been unduly proud in light of this most recent accomplishment.  He calls it Valse in C# Minor--Hommage á Chopin--(I suggested the latter half because he wanted to get the subject of his inspiration in the title).

Because I have always wanted to be a composer, I find that these compositions, regardless of what the world of music might think of them, move me nearly to tears.  And more so knowing that if all goes well, I will spend many years of my life hearing music no one in the world has heard--new music--a brand new creation.  It is overwhelming to think of--a sound that no one has ever heard before, and I am blessed to be one of those who get to hear it!

Reflecting on a Title

Reflecting on a title for a piece that is rumbling around in my head, I came upon this lovely poem.

Gilbert Bécaud

Comme un souffle fragile
Ta Parole se donne
Comme un vase d'argile
Ton amour nous façonne.

Ta Parole est murmure
Comme un secret d'amour
Ta Parole est blessure
Qui nous ouvre le jour

Ta Parole est naissance
Comme on sort de prison
Ta Parole est semence
Qui promet la moisson.

Ta Parole est partage
Comme on coupe du pain
Ta Parole est passage
Qui nous dit un chemin.

Because this is new to me, I won't venture the damage of a translation but you can try the google translator and see what you get--there doesn't appear to be a lot of colloquialisms or idiosyncratic usages.

What the heck--let me give a bit of a try at least:

As a Fragile Breath

As a fragile breath
Your word is given
As a clay vase
Your love shapes us.

Your word is a murmur
Like love's secret
Your word is a wound
That opens our day.

Your word is birth
As when one leaves prison
Your word is the seed
That promises the harvest.

Your word is sharing
as cutting the bread
You word is a movement
that shows us a road.

Cross posted at ". . . recollected in tranquility. . ." to appease the vast audience there, with this note:

Looking to see if the title of the previous had been taken, I stumbled across this poem and for a moment my breath was taken away.  I know nothing of the poet, and I realize that my own translation is too literal and too close to the original--too crude.  But I hope it gives a little sense of the beauty that captured me as I stumbled through my morning routine.

So let me show the fullness of my ignorance by including this performance of the piece (seems it is a song--which makes sense from the simplicity of structure)

Monday, August 9, 2010

Mary Karr

Mary Karr's conversion story--from agnostic to cafeteria Catholic.  (Caution: somewhat "salty" language and metaphor.) I found Lit distressing to the point of being unable to finish--but perhaps I should try again.

And given that I started my Catholicism as a cafeteria Catholic, and it is only through force of will and acknowledgment of my own inadequacies that I don't slip back myself, I have enormous respect for those who find the strength to make the leap.  It is far more difficult to move from agnosticism to faith than it is to make the same leap from point of view of an atheist.  At least an atheist starts from faith--a negative faith, but faith nevertheless.

Found at Reading for Believers

A Biography of Roald Dahl

A extract of a forthcoming book about Roald Dahl.

via Books Inq.

Hard to believe the life behind the man who wrote "Lamb to the Slaughter" and "The BFG."  How terrible--every parent's nightmare.

In a follow-up this morning we learn of Ms. Neal's recent passing

Argentina's Cruel Winter

Record Lows in Argentina--gearing up for 2012?

Via Books Inq.

A Room of Books

Gives new meaning to Book Room

Via Books Inq.

Ms. Thompson on Ms. Hepburn

Ms. Thompson on Ms. Hepburn--which goes to show that a great actress may not have great taste or great insight.

Via Books Inq.

Two from Time's Flow Stemmed

A quotation from Josipovici that intrigues me enough to make me want to look into the book (Whatever Happened to Modernism?) .

And a shorter poem to complement our longer read of The Prelude.

"The Sorrow of Love" Poem of the Week

Poem of the Week, by W.B. Yeats, "The Sorrow of Love"

Not the poem I would have chosen, even from the early work.  But a beautiful poem, beautifully wrought, with a low admittance barrier.  It's a nice way to become acquainted with Yeats if you were not already.

Google Estimates 130 M Books

130 M Books!  How many do you own?

Flannery Revisited

A revisit to A Good Man is Hard to Find.

A splendid book that everyone would do well to add to their repertoire.

"The Dangerous Craft of Culling Term and Phrase"

Today our visit with Wordsworth pauses to consider youthful reading and youthful errors in understanding.  (Additionally, we enter triumphantly into book 6 of The Prelude.

from The Prelude Book VI
William Wordsworth

On the vague reading of a truant youth
'Twere idle to descant. My inner judgment
Not seldom differed from my taste in books,
As if it appertained to another mind,
And yet the books which then I valued most
Are dearest to me now; for, having scanned,
Not heedlessly, the laws, and watched the forms
Of Nature, in that knowledge I possessed
A standard, often usefully applied,
Even when unconsciously, to things removed
From a familiar sympathy.—In fine,
I was a better judge of thoughts than words,
Misled in estimating words, not only
By common inexperience of youth,
But by the trade in classic niceties,
The dangerous craft of culling term and phrase
From languages that want the living voice
To carry meaning to the natural heart;
To tell us what is passion, what is truth,
What reason, what simplicity and sense.

Let me use this passage to show you a little trick in reading that can help you with any poetry, but which is too often missed by those who early on cultivate our reading.  Too often, they teach from texts and poems that are completely end-stopped, and that does not serve us well as we try to understand poetry.

For many, this will be an unnecessary lesson, but for some, it may help to read a poem more naturally.

Poetry is about words--rhythm, rhyme, sound.  It often takes a shape on the page that reflects some of these internal elements.  However, it is important to recall that all of those attributes in language do not necessarily allow the poet to express his thought in one completely wrapped up line.  So, taking today's reading, let's look at the second sentence.  The shape on the page cues us to the fact that it is poetry, but the thought is expressed in the same ways as a thought on a prose page--sentences and paragraphs.

My inner judgment
Not seldom differed from my taste in books,
As if it appertained to another mind,
And yet the books which then I valued most
Are dearest to me now; for, having scanned,
Not heedlessly, the laws, and watched the forms
Of Nature, in that knowledge I possessed
A standard, often usefully applied,
Even when unconsciously, to things removed
From a familiar sympathy.

Now, let's reformat it to read it as it actually sounds if one is reading the poem aloud and to make some visual sense as fragments of though:

My inner judgment Not seldom differed from my taste in books,

As if it appertained to another mind,
And yet the books which then I valued most Are dearest to me now;
for, having scanned, Not heedlessly, the laws,
and watched the form Of Nature,
in that knowledge I possessed A standard, often usefully applied,
Even when unconsciously,
to things removed From a familiar sympathy. 

Aside from the erratic capitalization which preserves the original line breaks, these lines now record the thought in a fashion more akin to prose.  It is still poetry--it will never become prose by mere reordering of its syllables.  But what has happened is that it makes more sense to those more accustomed to prose than poetry.

Poetry is not meant to be read end-stopped.  Most of us came to understand that with Shakespeare.  But if we are not accustomed to reading poetry, we forget it.  And in forgetting it, we struggle with the lines, we struggle to have them make sense as individual lines, as fragments of meaning.  But a line in poetry is not necessarily a fragment of meaning--it is a visual trace of some of the important elements of the poem--rhyme, rhythm, meter.  In that visual traces some of the essentials of the poem are captured--some of the things that most make it a poem.  However, the visual trace can hide the real fluidity of the the thought and meaning.  And this is only captured when the poem is read first for its visual effect and then for the actual flow of the words.  This happens more often when we slow down and read as though reading aloud.  Then we must shift the stress to understand the relationships of the words.  Let's consider these lines:

for, having scanned,
Not heedlessly, the laws, and watched the forms
Of Nature, in that knowledge I possessed
A standard, often usefully applied,
Even when unconsciously, to things removed
From a familiar sympathy.
Let's read it carefully--

 "for, having scanned, not heedlessly, the laws. . . " and here the reader pauses and asks, "What laws?"  --and the answer is forthcoming--" and watched the forms of Nature. . ."  Ah, so the thought is around the law of forms of nature.  I've scanned the laws and watch the forms.  What next?  "In that knowledge I possessed a standard. . ."  In what knowledge?  The knowledge of laws and forms of nature.  We have from that knowledge a standard which is "often usefully applied,"  but notice how the poet leaves off the joining phrase that a prose artist might have used,  there is no "which was"  or "which is" between the two phrases.  So, it is often usefully applied "even when unconsciously."  So, Wordsworth may not have been aware that this standard was being brought into contact with the things that he was reading, but it was this standard that searched out the thought and judged it--even when this thought was among those "things removed from a familiar sympathy."

I hope this little guide offered to those who are poetry shy a way of breaking down the literal meaning of the poem, because first the lines must make some sort of literal sense--or in more contemporary poetry, perhaps provide a place from which to take flight (I seriously doubt that anyone can make any literal sense of "Altarwise by owl-light in the half-way house"  until contextualized by the whole poem.  And that is the other "trick" of reading poetry--it does not begin to mean until it is whole and taken whole.  It can sound and it can provoke emotions, but if one thinks that one has grasped the entire meaning through reading a line, one has missed one of the most valuable and interesting aspects of poetry.  It does not necessarily make sense line by line, but rather in the grasp of the whole. 


Dominus Jesus: Liberal or Conservative

I have often contended that a person who truly followed the teachings of the Church (not necessarily the actions of its leaders) could find no true home among the so-called liberals (who rarely are anything of the sort) or the equally so-called conservatives--who seem conservative only in that they deny anything spoke by a person perceived to be liberal.

Peter Kreeft gives us an article of Dominus Jesus.

My chief problem with it is that he does not go on to give us the list of 30 Liberal points and 38 Conservative points. But Kreeft's separation of L and C is so clear that one could pick up the task oneself and probably come to a similar determination.