Sunday, January 31, 2010
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
And yet thou art the nobler of us two:What dare I dream of, that thou canst not do,Outstripping my ten small steps with one stride?I'll say then, here's a trial and a task--Is it to bear?--if easy, I'll not ask:Though love fail, I can trust on thy pride.
I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young:
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years
Of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backwards by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,--
“Guess now who holds thee?”—“Death,” I said. But there,
The silver answer rang,--“Not death, but Love.”
Love hauls her away by the hair! Can you believe it?
Barrett Browning's sonnets are bizarre and amazing: delicately constructed, musical, yet packed with physical imagery and full of feeling. But they are also quintessentially Victorian. I can see why her husband must have envisioned her as ideally patient, dutiful, and pure; and the complications are exciting.
I've since read that Emily Dickinson was a fan, and I can see why. What I don't see is this: Why is Robert Browning now more famous than his wife? Why has she been slotted into the Boring Genteel Poetess category while he retains the position of Serious Intellectual Poet? What's gone wrong?
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Monday, January 25, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Saturday, January 23, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Thursday, January 21, 2010
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Allison: I agree that, of all the challenges involved in reading Shakespeare with a middle schooler, dealing with sexual innuendo is one of the trickiest. It's everywhere: in the jokes, in the characters' inner motivations, in the plot. Paul has the ability to completely ignore anything that doesn't interest him (which currently includes R-rated Elizabethan asides), but I still feel obliged to be prepared. Which really, I suppose, is my job anyway.Conor: I like "dullest nostril" a lot also. It sounds like someone has a head cold.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Monday, January 18, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
Friday, January 15, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
A Dream JourneyMilly JourdainThe rain is falling cold and grey,But spring is in the air;And thinking of a warmer landI wish that I were there.I see around me in the grass,Like stars of tender blue,The little crocus growing wildAnd making all things new.I lie upon a sun-warmed hillAnd thundering hear the waves below,A breath from hidden violetsComes when the wind doth blow.Anemones with coloured headsAnd hidden deep-black eyesAre growing near the glimpse of sea,Whose slow noise never dies.At last I wake in evening lightAnd hear the sky-larks singAbove the fields all glistening-wetAnd green with early spring."The Floods Are Risen . . . "Milly JourdainThe great white sea has flooded all the land,And little waves are blown against the pathWith tiny sounds like dry and restless throbs:A white-sailed boat skims like a frightened mothInto the dusk: the grey clouds grow darkerAnd dim the yellow light; we turn and leaveThe cold wind blowing on the ruffled sea.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
from Any Wife to Any HusbandRobert BrowningMy love, this is the bitterest, that thou--Who art all truth, and who dost love me nowAs thine eyes say, as thy voice breaks to say--Shouldst love so truly, and couldst love me stillA whole long life through, had but love its will,Would death that leads me from thee brook delay.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Even as I acknowledge the gifts of rereading, I discount myself. What a dolt I am to keep returning to the same predictable tales—Nicholas Nickleby and Persuasion and Barchester Towers and their staid cohort. Get with the times; read the new books; surely a story must wear itself out eventually. And I’m not alone in self-deprecation: even Coleridge, even Samuel Johnson seemed embarrassed by their lifelong pleasure in certain books. According to Bishop Percy,
when a boy [Johnson] was immoderately fond of reading romances of chivalry, and he retained his fondness for them through life, so that . . . spending part of a summer at my parsonage-house in the country [this was when Johnson was fifty-four] he chose for his regular reading the old Spanish romance of Felixmarte of Hircania, in folio, which he read through. Yet I have heard him attribute to these extravagant fictions, that unsettled turn of mind which prevented his ever fixing in any profession.
Oh, I could make the same claim for my own scrappy, indefinite career. But just the same, I find myself, in a half-idle hour, propped over Dr. Johnson’s well-thumbed biography, imagining him, porpoise-like in his garden chair, balancing that folio on his knee. A robin hops over the sheep-cropped grass; a squirrel shrills in the hedgerow. The doctor lifts his eyes to the band of sunlight trimming the portico. He sighs. He drops his tired eyes back to the story, the same old story, blundering down its dear familiar road.
And then a line leaps forth, and it speaks to him.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Topic 1: books I reread even though I don't like themPossible authorial exemplars: Ivy Compton-Burnett, Philip Roth, Malcolm XTopic 2: books I reread because the setting matters so much to mePossible authorial exemplars: Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Alice Munro
Sunday, January 10, 2010
The Bed, from Christmas at the RamadaDawn Potter
It lurks round every Ramada corner,
this bed, single-minded as Sparta.
Once the door chunks shut behind them,
once they inspect all the drawers and snigger
at the Oriental-ish art screwed
to the beige wallpaper, once they suck down
a quick roach at the icy casement,
time runs out for everything but the bed
and K and O—the gravitational pull
of this motel mattress, Charlemagne-
sized, its flowered coverlet severe;
a bed royally firm yet dim as a cave
in the shadow of the light fixtures.
Sex is the heart of the matter:
and perhaps, thinks O,
there is something vital in ugliness,
this reduction to famine,
we two thrown together like phantom
Barbarellas, and all the while the ice machine
crashes in the hall, handyman snowmen
whirr and clack, the fat guys in the lounge
switch to Friars hockey and whiskey sours,
and a tow truck finally drags a smashed-up
Chevy from the parking lot.
In the distance, a siren.
K leans back against the somber headboard,
silken and shy, open-eyed.
What magic to be awaited by a man
whose every rib she must have kissed
at least once in the half-life
they’ve dreamed away.
Though this bed demands a new,
a starker obeisance—
This stripped-down polyester
battlement, this outcast star—
No shepherd awake to guard his ewe lamb.
[forthcoming in How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)]
Saturday, January 9, 2010
Conversation Starters for A Winter's Tale, act 1, scene 1 through scene 2, line 1081. What word or phrase in this section was most beautiful, or strange, or annoying, or disturbing, or in any other way particularly noteworthy? Why?2. What surprised you about the characters or their conversation?3. What confused you about the characters or their conversation?4. Who's your favorite character so far, and why?
Friday, January 8, 2010
In the June of 1797 some long-expected friends paid a visit to the author's [Coleridge's] cottage; and on the morning of their arrival, he met with an accident, which disabled him from walking for the whole time of their stay. One evening, when they had left him for a few hours, he composed the following lines in the garden-bower.
Ch. and Mary Lamb--dear to my heart, yea, as it were my Heart--S.T.C. Aet. [age] 63; 1797-1834 = 37 years!
This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison
dedicated to charles lamb
Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Well, they are gone, and here I must remain,
This lime-tree bower my prison! I have lost
Beauties and feelings, such as would have been
Most sweet to my remembrance even when age
Had dimm’d mine eyes to blindness! They, meanwhile,
Friends, whom I never more may meet again,
On springy heath, along the hilltop edge,
Wander in gladness, and wind down, perchance,
To that still roaring dell, of which I told;
The roaring dell, o’erwooded, narrow, deep,
And only speckled by the mid-day sun;
Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock
Flings arching like a bridge—that branchless ash,
Unsunn’d and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves
Ne’er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still,
Fann’d by the water-fall! and there my friends
Behold the dark green file of long lank weeds,
That all at once (a most fantastic sight!)
Still nod and drip beneath the dripping edge
Of the blue clay-stone.
Now, my friends emerge
Beneath the wide wide Heaven—and view again
The many-steepled tract magnificent
Of hilly fields and meadows, and the sea,
With some fair bark, perhaps, whose sails light up
The slip of smooth clear blue betwixt two Isles
Of purple shadow! Yes! They wander on
In gladness all; but thou, methinks, most glad,
My gentle-hearted Charles! for thou hast pined
And hunger’d after Nature, many a year,
In the great City pent, winning thy way
With sad yet patient soul, through evil and pain
And strange calamity! Ah! slowly sink
Behind the western ridge, thou glorious Sun!
Shine in the slant beams of the sinking orb,
Ye purple heath-flowers! richlier burn, ye clouds!
Live in the yellow light, ye distant groves!
And kindle, thou blue Ocean! So my friend
Struck with deep joy may stand, as I have stood,
Silent with swimming sense; yea, gazing round
On the wide landscape, gaze till all doth seem
Less gross than bodily; and of such hues
As veil the Almighty Spirit, when yet he makes
Spirits perceive his presence.
Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad
As I myself were there! Nor in this bower,
This little lime-tree bower, have I not mark’d
Much that has sooth’d me. Pale beneath the blaze
Hung the transparent foliage; and I watch’d
Some broad and sunny leaf, and lov’d to see
The shadow of the leaf and stem above
Dappling its sunshine! And that walnut-tree
Was richly ting’d, and a deep radiance lay
Full on the ancient ivy, which usurps
Those fronting elms, and now, with blackest mass
Makes their dark branches gleam a lighter hue
Through the late twilight: and though now the bat
Wheels silent by, and not a swallow twitters,
Still the solitary humble-bee
Sings in the bean-flower! Henceforth I shall know
That Nature ne’er deserts the wise and pure;
No plot so narrow, be but Nature there,
No waste so vacant, but may well employ
Each faculty of sense, and keep the heart
Awake to Love and Beauty! and sometimes
’Tis well to be bereft of promis’d good,
That we may lift the soul, and contemplate
With lively joy the joys we cannot share.
My gentle-hearted Charles! when the last rook
Beats its straight path along the dusky air
Homewards, I blest it! deeming its black wing
(Now a dim speck, now vanishing in light)
Had cross’d the mighty Orb’s dilated glory,
While thou stood’st gazing; or, when all was still,
Flew creeking o’er thy head, and had a charm
For thee, my gentle-hearted Charles, to whom
No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
The public for whom these tales are written require strong contrasts, broad effects and the fiercest kind of "intense" writing generally. . . . [Such writing] is a power in the land, not without great significance in its way, and very deserving of more careful consideration than has hitherto been accorded it.
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
Sunday, January 3, 2010
Saturday, January 2, 2010
Play “Sister Morphine” four or five times an hour,
sleet jittering the window, and what is it about that song
yanking the chain so tight I have to cover my eyes
before walls collapse? A lover can set bounds to love,
but then, is it still love, or some kinder emotion?
Trollope’s married ladies esteem their ample lords;
but look at crazy Bradley Headstone, he doesn’t
esteem Lizzie one bit, though he loves her
like a man from hell.
The novels say I’m reaching the prime of life
when I ought to forget about skin by firelight,
but I’ve always been a sucker for desire, I can’t stop now
just because my friends have marriageable daughters.
Girls these days, they don’t grow up watching Virginia
Woolf stir the soup, Juliet behind the barn dying for love.
What girl wants to be Virginia-thinking-of-Juliet anymore?
You’re stuck with me, dear boy, pockets full of rocks,
though at least the river’s frozen, no drownings till spring.
You’ll have to give up the ghost and let me love you;
it’s the best I can do, this dark age.
[forthcoming in How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010)].
Friday, January 1, 2010
from Speak, MemoryVladimir NabokovIn a sense, all poetry is positional: to try to express one’s position in regard to the universe embraced by consciousness, is an immemorial urge. The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are the better. Tentacles, not wings, are Apollo’s natural members. Vivian Bloodmark, a philosophical friend of mine, in later years, used to say that while the scientist sees everything that happens in one point of space, the poet feels everything that happens in one point of time. Lost in thought, he taps his knee with his wandlike pencil, and at the same instant a car (New York license plate) passes along the road, a child bangs the screen door of a neighboring porch, and old man yawns in a misty Turkestan orchard, a granule of cinder-gray sand is rolled by the wind on Venus, a Docteur Jacques Hirsch in Grenoble puts on his reading glasses, and trillions of other such trifles occur—all forming an instantaneous and transparent organism of events, of which the poet (sitting in a lawn chair, at Ithaca, N.Y.) is the nucleus.