Monday, February 13, 2017

Definition of Poetry by Boris Pasternak (trans. Eugene M. Kayden)

Definition of Poetry

It's a summons sternly swelling,
The cracking of shattered icicles,
The night that blasts young leaves,
The contest of two nightingales,

The stifled sweet pea on the vine,
The cry of a world at birth,
Figaro from flutes and the platform
In a crashing fall among rose beds.

It's all that night will reveal
In the steep depths of a pool--
To carry a star to the lake
Alone in its trembling wet arms.

Like dank wood, the stifling air,
When the sky is chocked by alders;
Gay stars could rock with laughter
At blockheads sunk flat in mud.

An English Lesson by Boris Pasternak (trans. Eugene M. Kayden)

An English Lesson

When Desdemona came a-singing,
And a little time to live had she--
Not love, her fatal star, she sobbed:
It was a willow, willow tree.

When Desdemona came a-singing,
With firmer voice and lifted head,
Her demon at her death prepared
A psalm of a weeping river bed.

And when Ophelia came a-singing,
And a little time to live had she--
Like storms that sweep a hayloft clean
Her soul was swept of misery.

And when Ophelia came a-singing,
Sick with bitter dreams and grief,
What trophies in her grave had she?
Sweet celandine and willow leaf.

Their passions fell away like rags,
And silent into the pool of night
And time they went, with aching hearts,
Their loving forms transfused in light.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Eighteen Sixty-One by Walt Whitman

Arm'd year--year of the struggle.
No dainty rhymes or sentimental love verses for you terrible year.
Not you as some pale poetling seated at a desk lisping cadenzas piano,
But as a strong man erect, clothed in blue clothes, advancing, carrying a rifle on your shoulder.
With a well-gristled body and sunburnt face and hands, with a knife in in the belt at your side.
As I heard you shouting loud, your sonorous voice ringing across the continent,
Your masculine voice O year, as rising amid the great cities,
Amid the men of Manhattan I saw you as one of the workmen, the dwellers in Manhattan,
Or with large steps crossing the prairies out of Illinois and Indiana,
Rapidly crossing the West with springy gait and descending the Alleghanies,
Or down from the great lakes or in Pennsylvania, or on deck along the Ohio river,
Or southward along the Tennessee or Cumberland rivers, or at Chattanooga on the mountain top,
Saw I your gait and saw I your sinewy limbs clothed in blue, bearing weapons, robust year,
Heard your determin'd voice launch'd forth again and again,
Year that suddenly sang by the mouths of the round-lipp'd cannon,
I repeat you, hurrying, crashing, sad, distracted year.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Ephemera: The Brontes, Hemingway, and Joe Reader

One day while visiting my local used bookshop, I found a letter inside one of the books dated from the 1960s, I felt like I had found some sort of hidden treasure. Steve, the bookshop owner, was less enthusiastic, saying that these items dropped through his hands all the time on their way to the trash. So he had no problem parting with it. I went home, eager to explore this lost heirloom, something that was certain to shed light on a secret world long gone.

It turned out to be rather tepid: the mother of a college student relating all the social happenings in their obviously affluent world. And though it didn't come close to the interest level of the postcard collection I own from one turn-of-the-other-century woman in downstate Illinois, I still liked it; the address indentation is also something from a bygone era. And the daughter certainly didn't seem to treasure it enough to recall where she'd put it. That in itself is a story. 

Which brings me to the subject of today's post: literary ephemera. Apparently I'm not the only one who finds this sort of thing fascinating: there's an entire book with pictures of similar items called Forgotten Bookmarks. The author is himself a used bookstore owner who has kept a record of these lost bookmarks. What makes Forgotten Bookmarks so interesting is that he not only shows the letters, photos, and other fascinating/dull ephemera found in the middle of books but he also shows the books in which these items were found. Some of them make fascinating connections.

What about the ephemera of famous authors? When I first realized that there was a book on the Bronte's regarding some of their personal items, I somehow imagined a coffee table book. Never mind that the title contains the number nine, as in The Bronte Cabinet: Three Lives in Nine Items (duh!). But once I got over my ignorance-based disappointment, I came to see that The Bronte Cabinet is a brilliant idea for a book. Considering that these beloved authors left behind so little of their actual selves, it's fascinating to view their lives from the prism of some of their belongings, such as their handmade journals, their portable writing desks, etc. The author not only looks at these key items in themselves but as they appear throughout all of the Bronte novels.

And finally, the glossiest, most impressive-looking book in the group belongs to Ernest Hemingway, or at least a group of authors who decided to publish a book on the holdings of the Ernest Hemingway archives in Oak Park, IL, Hemingway's birthplace and boyhood suburb. 

I must admit that I am not a fan of either the man or his writing, even though my husband and I sing at the Birthplace Home each Boxing Day and I've volunteered in the archives. I just can't understand what the fuss is all about and far prefer the writing of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway's tortured compatriot. But the archive holdings certainly tell a story and if The Bronte Cabinet tells a detailed story of three authors from the point of view of a few pieces of ephemera, Hidden Hemingway tells the story of the ephemera. It doesn't necessarily shed any additional light on its subject but fans of the writer will certainly find much to enjoy within its glossy pages. 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Alcohol-enjoying librarians are honored in a Barbara Pym quote

"'I think I should prefer a glass of lemon squash,' said Miss Lydgate.

This was a relief, if only a slight one, Digby felt, as he assured Miss Clovis that he and Mark never drank in the middle of the day.

'I feel one shouldn't go into learned societies or libraries smelling of drink,' said Mark, at his most prim. 'It might create the wrong impression.'

'Oh, I hadn't thought of that,' said Miss Clovis, sipping her dark foamy drink. 'I don't suppose anyone would notice. Of course, it's all right for librarians to smell of drink,' she added jovially.

'Of course,' said Digby enthusiastically."

From chapter eight of Barbara Pym's Less Than Angels

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Scary Mary

When I first encountered this spoofy video on Facebook, I found it highly amusing. Yes, perhaps the cool primness of Julie Andrews' Mary Poppins bordered on the frigid. But she was nothing like the Mary Poppins of the book, a fact I realized when I finally read it a few years ago.

But even that icy creature is nothing compared with the Mary Poppins featured in the first few chapters of the sequel, Mary Poppins Comes Back. In this section are two scenes which paint her didactic personality with even colder, darker strokes.

For instance, just after Miss Poppins reenters the Banks household, following close on her heels is Euphemia Andrew, Mr. Banks' enormous, terrifying former governess. Miss Andrew has come to stay, unannounced, doling out unwelcome child-rearing advice to anyone who will listen. Mary Poppins will definitely not listen:

"'Thank you, ma'am' said Mary Poppins with icy politeness, 'But I bring the children up in my own way and take advice from nobody.'"

The miffed and shocked Miss Andrew makes a fatal mistake: during her retort, she refers to Mary, not by her name (she hasn't bothered to ask), but as "Young woman." All her subsequent demands for Mary's sacking are nothing to this.

So when Mary discovers that the formidable Miss Andrew keeps a caged lark, she speaks to the creature and discovers that it was once free. To make a long story short, Mary wields her magic and soon the lark is flying through the air, carrying in its beak a cage inhabited by a screaming Miss Andrew.

After a survivable crash, and a forced apology, Miss Andrew hightails it out of the Banks household quicker than you can say, "My, that was little creepy."

But the creepiness has, apparently, come to stay. In the very next chapter, "Bad Wednesday," Mary punishes a grumpy Jane by leaving her all alone in a room with a demonic plate; that is, a plate with painted figures who lure Jane into their Hotel California world, then refuse to let her leave.

Terrified, Jane begins to shout for Mary Poppins who eventually pulls her out of her captor's encircling arms. She's safe, yes, but apparently post-traumatic stress wasn't yet a thing back in Edwardian England.

I haven't yet continued reading, but yes, this Mary is a little scary.