Saturday, January 5, 2019

Image result for image walt whitman

Delycia and I are reading Walt Whitman's poetry now and then, usually for a few minutes after lunch, and it has reminded me, yet again, of what a large and wonderful influence he has been on my life, and my poetry. He wrote with his soul and heart wide-open, almost as if he had decided that writing poetry was as easy as opening yourself and letting words do what they wished. Not surprisingly, Delycia seems to love his poetry, too -- not surprising, because she, in her special way, is as wild and free as Whitman was. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Cia and I have been reading Jill Lepore's new book on the history of the US, called These Truths, and so far, it is a treasure of a book, both for the myriad historical details, and for the dramatic stories it tells, and for the elegance of the writing itself.

Here's a sample of the high quality of the writing:

"In the brutal, bloody century between Columbus’s voyage and John White’s, an idea was born, out of fantasy, out of violence, the idea that there exists in the world a people who live in an actual Garden of Eden, a state of nature, before the giving of laws, before the forming of government. This imagined history of America became an English book of genesis, their new truth."

We have also been sitting together after lunch and reading and discussing some of Margaret Gibson's poems. It's such fun, and so inspiring, to read, and re-read, and re-read again one of her poems. The many (countless!) meanings softly bubble up to the surface little by little with each re-reading. It's truly like magic. No, it IS magic. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

We have been reading a wonderful book by Willa Cather, called My Antonia. We have often said, as we read it, that the the book has a splendid simplicity, a complicated type of simplicity, you might say. Cather does not try to impress the reader. She seems to be interested in simply telling a heartfelt story and describing the story as carefully and accurately as possible. It's almost like the author disappears in the story, and we feel like we are simply listening to the narrator of the story, Jim Burden, tell the story exactly as he remembers it. I read this book many years ago, as did Delycia, but we both feel that it is coming alive in a wonderfully fresh way.

* * * * *
12:45 pm
Just read "Touch Me", a lovely poem by Stanley Kunitz. Cia brought it to me and asked if I would read it to her, and I was honored to do so. 


Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

I'm continuing to do mostly spiritual reading these days. Strange, but my careful reading of classic poems and novels has temporarily ceased, or at least slowed way down. I'm very much enjoying reading spiritual texts, and re-reading them sometimes over and over. I will get back to the classics before long, I'm sure, but for now it's spiritual texts almost entirely. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

I've been reading a book on centering prayer by Cynthia Bourgeault, and am enjoying it a lot. It's opening up for me, again, the central truths that are wonderfully common to all the major spiritual paths that I've become familiar with. She says, as the Buddha and Jesus and Lao Tzu and others have said, that the secret to spiritual renewal is simply letting go of our small self, surrendering our frightened little ego. It's really as simple as that, though not at all easy. 

I'm looking forward to continuing with the book. 
Lately Cia and I have been reading together -- and listening to the audio version of -- Annie Dillard's quite famous book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and we are both surprisingly disappointed with it. I think we both find it to be quite unnecessarily confusing at times, and I am not at all impressed by her apparent interest in "showing off" her writing skills. I get the distinct feeling that she was consciously trying to write with elegance and flair,  instead of simply telling her story honestly and letting the elegance and flair happen by itself, which it often does when the writer's ego steps out of the way. I see too much of Annie Dillard the skilled writer here, and not enough of Annie Dillard the sincere and keen observer of nature. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

As I Lay Dying

I am struggling with this classic novel, I guess mostly because I am suspicious of Faulkner, that perhaps he was just trying to show off when he wrote the book, trying to be "strange" and "different" and "mysterious" so he could gain a name for himself in the world of literature. Over the years, I have occasionally had this suspicion about authors, wondering if the bizarreness and eccentricity of their writing is simply an attempt to gain notoriety. It seems to me that the truly great writers are unique, yes, but also welcoming. They want to create a totally new kind of art, but they also want to invite the reader in to enjoy their art. It sometimes seems to me that Faulkner is purposely trying to keep the reader out  of his book by making it often totally bewildering.  There are whole pages in the book that seem to be closed, rather than, open doors. Books like Middlemarch and War and Peace invite the reader in, page after page, whereas As I Lay Dying seems to be saying "This book is too deep and  artistic for ordinary readers to comprehend. Better just read SparkNotes and stand back and be mystified." 

Monday, September 5, 2016

The Song of Solomon

Today, I guess my prudishness rose to the surface, or my "good Catholic boy" background, because I did not especially enjoy my reading of Morrison's book today. The pages contained very strange and eccentric behavior by some strange, eccentric characters, and I actually came close to putting the book down and being done with it. I guess what came back is my life-long love of reading books that somehow lift me up, inspire me, teach me how to be a better person. I have only so much time to read, and so I want to carefully choose the greatest books, the ones that show insights into the inner meaning of life. Today, this book didn't seem to be one of those. I'm hoping tomorrow's reading will be less repellant and more inspiring. 

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Song of Solomon

I started "Song of Solomon" the other day, and I realized pretty quickly that reading it will be a serious adventure. Morrison writes like a poet, streaming her sentences along like streams and rivers, and the reader has to huff and puff and keep his mind wide open. Her style does remind me, very much, of  Gabriel Marcia Marquez's work, he of the rambling, wide-open, free-for-all style of writing. Morrison's book will require severe work in my part, so I'm getting my reader's work gloves on to tackle the big challenge. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Paradise Lost

For the last few weeks, I've been re-reading some of Paradise Lost, and feeling amazed, again, by the lyrical beauty of the lines. Milton's vocabulary is strange and sometimes awkward, and many lines go right over my head (at least on the first reading), but somehow he manages to create lovely rhythms and melodies, line after line, page after page. Somewhere I read the Milton once said that he simply listened for the musical lines, and somehow they always came to him. He seemed to be implying that he didn't actually write the lines, but that they were somehow "given" to him, perhaps the way tunes are given to us when we whistle. Here is just one example of the music in Paradise Lost. Satan is standing on the lower step to heaven, and looking down at the newly created earth:

Satan from hence now on the lower stair 
That scaled by steps of gold to Heaven gate 
Looks down with wonder at the sudden view 
Of all this world at once. As when a scout
Through dark and desert ways with peril gone 
All night; at last by break of cheerful dawn 
Obtains the brow of some high-climbing hill, 
Which to his eye discovers unaware 
The goodly prospect of some foreign land 
First seen, or some renowned metropolis 
With glistering spires and pinnacles adorned, 
Which now the rising sun gilds with his beams.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

"True Refuge" and "Everyday Zen"

Recently I finished two marvelous books, both on spiritual topics -- True Refuge by Tara Brach, and Everyday Zen by Joko Beck. I was totally inspired by both of these books, highlighting and annotating page after page. I'm not sure I have ever read such clear and detailed explanations of how Buddhism can transform a person's life from fearfulness to peacefulness. Now that I am finished with the first reading, I may immediately start on the second!

"We release the suffering that can accompany pain by relaxing our resistance to unpleasant sensations and meeting them with an open, allowing presence." 
     -- Tara Brach

"Disappointment  is our true friend, our unfailing guide; but of course nobody likes such a friend." 
     -- Joko Beck

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Great Expectation

It's wonderful to go back to a book I have dearly loved, and that's whatI'm doing now, reading this classic by Dickens that makes me want to curl up on the couch and simply get to know these fascinating characters all over again. Our book group, called CLAM for Classic Literature At Mystic, is reading GE now (at my encouragement), and I'm fairly sure that there will be great enthusiasm during our first discussion this coming Monday.

In this story, even the mean and hateful characters seem somehow lovable. Miss Havisham is a spiteful  old witch, yes, but she's a spiteful old witch because of a shock she suffered when a young woman, a shock she hasn't been able to recover from. All the characters -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- seem worth getting to know. I want to put out my hand to them and offer encouragement and support. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

John Greenleaf Whittier

Lately I've been reading some wonderful poems by John Greenleaf Whittier. He is a sadly unappreciated American poet these days, but I'm resurrecting him for myself, loving the smooth-flowing lines, the surprising rhymes, and the heartfelt truths of the poems. He was a life-long Quaker-pacifist-abolitionist-free spirit, and all of that comes clearly through his poems.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Mosses from an Old Manse"

I am thrilled today to have re-discovered the beauty of Nathaniel Hawthorne's writing. It's been many years since I have read anything by Hawthorne, but somehow I recently stumbled upon this old collection of stories, and the smoothness and forcefulness of the sentences immediately captivated me. Here is just one of countless passages I highlighted as I was reading:
"The world should recline its vast head on the first convenient pillow, and take an age-long nap. It has gone distracted, through a morbid activity, and, while preternaturally wide-awake, is nevertheless tormented by visions, that seem real to it now, but would assume their true aspect and character, were all things once set right by an interval of sound repose." Good advice for our very troubled world of today!

Saturday, October 31, 2015

"The Maid of Sker"

I've started reading R. D. Blackmore's novel, The Maid of Sker, and I'm finding it to be every bit as beautiful and entertaining as Lorna Doone. Again, two things catch my attention in his writing: the flowing and detailed descriptions of the English countryside, and the humility and sense of humor of the narrator. I truly admired and "liked", almost as a friend, the narrator of Lorna Doone, and I feel similarly about The Maid of Sker's narrator. Reading the narration is like listening to a down-home, honest guy telling a fascinating story.

Thus far, Davy Lewellyn, the narrator, a disabled sailor in his 50s who has recently lost his wife, son, and daughter-in-law and is raising his 6-year-old grand-daughter, has discovered a small boat washed up on a beach, and containing a 2-year-old child . . . and thus begins a 600+ page tale!

Frontspiece of 1893 edition of
"The Maid of Sker"

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

"Lorna Doone"

I finished "Lorna Doone" today, and now I'm looking back on it as a seriously good book, a novel that  deserves to be ranked as a classic. I may even read it again, and fairly soon, just to be sure the beauty of the sentences and the story have truly sunk in.

Friday, October 23, 2015

"Lorna Doone"

I have been reading R. D. Blackmore's Lorna Doone for several months now, and am thoroughly enjoying it. Cia and I started reading it as preparation for our trip to Somerset in the UK, the place where the novel is set -- and we both fell in love with it pretty quickly. We finished about half of it before the trip, and it was great fun to visit places in England that are prominently mentioned in the novel. We felt like we were walking in Blackmore's and John Ridd's footsteps. 

We especially love the detailed and perfectly lovely descriptions of the countryside. Blackmore was truly a master at painting pictures with words, and I cam across a few more in my reading today. (Actually, I listened to a few chapters this morning as I took my walk. We are lucky to have found a recorded reading of the novel, performed by an outstanding reader.) 

Monday, October 19, 2015

Today I read a chapter from a book about Japanese poetry, for the class Cia and I are taking at Wesleyan College. I found it to be quite interesting, in the way that many scholarly books were interesting to me in the "old days" of graduate school. I learned a lot, but am not at all sure how to apply what I learned -- i.e. how to use the knowledge in a practical way to help me appreciate Japanese poetry more. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Saint Dorothea

I just finished Ch. 80-83, and simply loved the beautiful and inspiring way that Eliot described the transformation of Dorothea after feeling hurt by Will, and then coming to see the truth of his sincerity. There's a Buddhist feeling to the sentences, as if Dorothea understands that she is on the brink of discovering a whole new way of living and looking at her life -- as if she is "waking up" for the very first time. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Authentic Life, by Ezra Bayda

I finished re-reading this excellent book today, and really loved it. He writes in a graceful, modest way, and added greatly to my understanding of the Buddhist way of life.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

"Mansfield Park" by Jane Austen

I finished reading "Mansfield Park" last week, and since then I've been pondering something surprising that happened in the course of the reading: I slowly went from hating the book to absolutely loving it. It was similar, perhaps, to hiking up as mountainside, where the early going seems simply strenuous and uninteresting, but where the second half, as you ascend into the spectacular heights, opens out into a marvelous experience. This story dragged in a tedious way for many chapters, but slowly, very slowly, I started to see the beauties in the story, and especially in Austen's writing style. Her sentences, one after the other, shine with a sort of simple elegance. No unnecessary words are used, and the words and phrases seem set down in the exact right places, as though the author was placing jewels in necklaces, page after page. I also grew to love and admire the character of Fanny Price, whom many readers have belittled as overly shy and simple-minded. I find her to be a quietly heroic person, a woman who modestly but strongly stands up to some of the customs of her times.

It's a powerful, lovely novel -- and I'm glad I didn't abandon the climb up the mountain.

Friday, August 22, 2014

"The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" and "Agnes Grey" by Anne Bronte

I have just finished "Agnes Grey" by Anne Bronte, and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a quiet unpretentious story about a very ordinary young woman and her somewhat ordinary life. I loved the simple, straightforward style of Bronte's writing, all the sentences as smooth and clear as glass, which gave me the feeling I was looking through a clear window into the lives of the characters (always good feeling when reading). 

Before that, I read "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by the same author, and again, it was a pleasant reading  experience, mostly because the pictures she painted were clear, unconfusing, and unpretentious. It's a wilder story than "Agnes", with ridiculously reckless men and mindless women, but still, the sentences are graceful and lucid, making each page a pleasure to read. 

Anne Bronte has now become one my favorite authors!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Bronte

As part of our continuing study of the Bronte sisters, I have been reading Anne Bronte's "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" for the past few weeks, and it has not been an easy project. In fact, I was ready to abandon the book just last week, about half way through it. I complained to Delycia that it seemed monotonous and almost trivial at times, sort of like a cheap romance novel that wasn't especially well-written. Strangely, though, now, just a few days later, I am thoroughly enjoying the book and can't wait to get back to it each day. What happened? Well, Delycia kept quietly encouraging me to continue with it (she finished it a few weeks ago), hinting that there were some interesting chapters coming soon. Also, I went to a website called "", which is sort of a discussion site for devoted readers, and several readers championed the book as one of the best they've read. So . . . I started back into Chapter 32, and now the book has thoroughly grabbed my attention. For one thing, it's one of the bravest books I've read, written by a courageous 26-year-old Victorian woman about the debilitating treatment of a wife by her husband. Women in the 1840's were not supposed to write about such matters, but young Anne boldly stepped forward in this book. Historically, it's a very important novel, and I'm glad I'm staying with it. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

"The Bridge of San Luis Rey" by Thornton Wilder

This week, as part of our "read a book in a single day each month" promise to ourselves, we read Wilder's "The Bridge of San Luis Rey". (It actually took us two days. We're slow readers.) It's a strange book in many ways, filled with smooth-flowing sentences and fascinating characters, but also containing curves and swerves that threw me off now and then. I occasionally lost track of things ("Who is she again?" "What just happened?"), and I'm still not sure what the overall theme of the book is. I feel like we've just hiked up a beautiful mountain trail, and now I need to hike back down, slowly, and revisit some of the sights, maybe taking some "pictures" -- notes -- to reflect upon later. (Delycia, I think, understood the book better than I did, so it will be good to have her beside me on the return trip.)

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"The Life of Charlotte Bronte" by Elizabeth Gaskell

I have been thoroughly enjoying this book. It was written by a fellow novelist in 1857, several years after Bronte's death, and is filled with elegant sentences and heartfelt descriptions of Bronte, a good friend of Gaskell's. I have especially enjoyed the passages about the close friendship among the five Bronte sisters.  Living out on the remote and bleak moorland of North Yorkshire, and raised without a mother (she died when the girls were very young), the sisters stayed close and helped each other have  full and satisfying lives as they grew up. Gaskell describes them walking out on the moors, hand in hand, for hours, when the oldest, Maria, was not yet in her teens.  Here is how the author describes it:
"The [five] little creatures used to walk out, hand in hand, towards the glorious wild moors, which in after days they loved so passionately; the elder ones taking thoughtful care for the toddling wee things.”

Sunday, April 6, 2014

"The Professor" by Charlotte Bronte

Yesterday I read the chapter on "The Professor" in Janet Gezari's book on Charlotte Bronte's, and it was very helpful. Professor Gezari, who is an old friend and a parent of a former student of mine, discusses the motif of "hands" that threads its way through the entire story, something I certainly had not noticed. She points out that Bronte repeatedly describes characters shaking hands, touching hands, waving with their hands (or not), clenching their hands in anger or tension,  holding another's hands in friendship or love, and even just looking at another's hands in admiration. This is the type of motif that I often -- or usually -- miss in a first reading, and I'm always grateful to get the views of a devoted literary scholar like Janet. (She also points out the similarity between characters in this novel and those in Bronte's other novels, and discusses at length Bronte's strong anti-Catholic feelings -- very helpful information for me.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

"The Professor" by Charlotte Bronte

Yesterday I finished “The Professor” by Charlotte Bronte. There were times, early in the reading, when I was dismayed by the empty-headedness of some of the characters, and by the seeming tediousness of the story line. However, fortunately for me, I made a small commitment to stay with the book, and slowly the story started to blossom, chapter by chapter. Bronte’s writing – her graceful sentence structure, especially – was elegant almost from start to finish, and soon the characters starting seeming like people I could study and come to admire. The descriptions, both of the natural world and of the characters, grew better, it seemed, as I turned the pages. And her sentence structure, as I said, was so stylish. I made numerous highlights of sentences containing very pleasing examples of parallelism. Obviously, I am glad I didn’t give up on this somewhat forgotten but nonetheless impressive novel.

Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Warden" by Anthony Trollope

I finished reading The Warden" this evening, and am sort of basking in the enchantment of such a simply but beautifully written novel. An English professor told me several years ago that Trollope was "the sanest of all writers", and I think I'm beginning to understand what he meant. Trollope writes in a well-balanced manner, never shouting or proudly showing off his writing skills. He writes sensible and reasonable sentences, and the overall story seemed entirely levelheaded -- no extremes, no great heights or great depths, just prudent but powerful writing. I admire his talent greatly, and hope I can learn from it as I read more of his works. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"War and Peace"

     In Book 1, Part 2, Chapter 17, as Prince Andrei surveys the front lines just before a skirmish with the French, he notices the peculiar behavior of General Bagration, who never seems to be feeling or thinking anything. Andrei asks himself “Is there anything there behind that immobile face [of the general]?”
     However, by the end of the chapter, Andrei realizes that a strange, silent power exists in the general, a power that’s able to lighten the load in the soldiers’ hearts and help them hold themselves straighter and stronger. Wherever he goes, this reserved, settled, and unshakeable man makes people prouder of themselves than they were before.
     Thus, silence, instead of suggesting indifference and unresponsiveness, can imply a power greater than words. There’s equanimity in General Bagration, like a lake that’s calm while cannons roar around it -- and Prince Andrei admires it.


Friday, November 8, 2013

"The Crock of Gold" and "War and Peace"

      Delycia and I often feel like were traveling through mystifying wilderness areas as we read two of the books for our “classics book discussion group”.
     For our November meeting, we are reading a largely forgotten novel, “The Crock of Gold”, by the Irish poet James Stephens, written in 1912 and rarely read today, I gather. However, our discussion leader, a retired English professor at the University of Connecticut, assures us there is great wisdom and rare beauty in the book, so Delycia and I are valiantly hiking through the chapters, searching for signs of the magnificence the professor sees. For the first third of the book, we felt fairly lost and bewildered in a wilderness of words, but suddenly, just this morning, we felt like the forest of the book opened up somewhat and we were actually able to see some views of wonderful wisdom and splendor. Perhaps the hiking will be a bit easier and more inspiring from here on.
     For our March meeting, we are getting a head start on Tolstoy’s 1300 page mountain called “War and Peace”. The tricky part of the expedition through the book will be just keeping track of all the characters. Like wilderness travelers with detailed maps, we are taking notes as we read, and also – quite unashamedly – making good use of Sparknotes. For a journey through a book like this, Sparknotes (or Cliff’s Notes or Shmoop or Bookrags, etc.) can be like having an well-informed friend alongside to show us the highlights along the trail.
     So each day we shoulder our packs of pencils and stickies and strong minds and head out into the backcountry, the wilds, the bushland, the great outdoors of great books. How lucky can two old-timers get??     


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

"The Crock of Gold" by James Stephens

Delycia and I belong to a book group called "The Classics Book Club",  led by a retired English professor, and this month we're reading a book I had never heard of, called  "The Crock of Gold" (1912), by the Irish novelist and poet James Stephens. The professor called it a profound and inspiring book, and today we did read some pages that seemed to ring with wisdom and beauty. Here's just one of the many passages that gave us food for thought -- a description of a woman's ability to give comfort:
     "Gaiety is good to look upon and an innocent face is delightful to our souls, but no woman can resist sadness or weakness, and ugliness she dare not resist. Her nature leaps to be the comforter. It is her reason. It exalts her to an ecstasy wherein nothing but the sacrifice of herself has any proportion. Men are not fathers by instinct but by chance, but women are mothers beyond thought, beyond instinct which is the father of thought. Motherliness, pity, self-sacrifice—these are the charges of her primal cell, and not even the discovery that men are comedians, liars, and egotists will wean her from this."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Dreams of My Russian Summer, by Andrei Makine

Delycia and I are members of two book clubs (we're sort of swamped with reading these days), both of which meet at a bookstore in Madison, CT, and today I've been reading a wonderful novel by Andrei Makine -- "Dreams of My Russian Summers".  It was first published in French in 1995, and won the two most prestigious literary prizes in France. It's a novel, but it seems likely that most of it is based on Makine's on life as a Russian who emigrated to France. 

It is a remarkable book, filled with passionate accounts of the barbarism and beauty of the 20th century in Europe, including both world wars and the Russian revolution. Makine wrote the novel in French after having learned the language only a few years before, and the translation by Geoffrey Strachan seems to be a work of art. 

Here is just one example of the lyricism of the writing:
"A train whistle sounded in the distance. Its tone, softened by the warm air of the evening, had something of a sigh, a lament about it."

This book may even  interfere with my watching of the World Series tonight!

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Country Doctor, by Sarah Orne Jewett

I finished this novel this morning, and what a wonderful treat it was. I loved so many aspects of the writing, especially what I might call the modest simplicity of it. Jewett is not a pretentious writer. She doesn’t show off her writing skills, but simply tells a beautiful story. Mind you, in the telling of the story is embedded extraordinarily lovely writing, but it’s as if she did this by accident as she told her touching story. The sentences are as simple and beautiful as flowers in a modest garden. I lingered over many sentences the way I might study a few flowers as I walk through my wife’s garden.


Monday, August 5, 2013

The Education of Henry Adams

     Delycia and I are reading "The Education of Henry Adams" for a Classics Book Group that we recently joined, and it is one tough read so far. I find I have to reread sentences and whole paragraphs on every page, just to be sure I'm getting at least a little of what the author is saying. His sentences are marvelously smooth and elegant, and I don't get the feeling that he was "showing off" or being pretentious as he wrote, but still, the thoughts sometimes seem to be buried beneath layers of his silky, expressive sentences. 
     Adams positively hated school. At one point he wrote, speaking of himself: "He always reckoned his school days, from ten to sixteen years old, as time thrown away."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Sarah Orne Jewett

Read two beautiful short stories by Sarah Orne Jewett this morning -- "The Arrow in the Sunbeam" and "Miss Sydney's Flowers". I loved, once again, her lovely but very sincere and almost plain writing. She uses all the elegance that great writers use, but in a completely modest and unassuming manner.  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Gerard Manley Hopkins and George Eliot

I've gone back to reading Hopkins' distinctively odd poems, and once more I see the charm and force in his phrases. Somehow he captures the power inherent in words -- the power that has started all wars and all loves -- and I find myself getting swept away with the flow and tumble of his lines. Next to Shakespeare and Whitman (ahead of even Keats!), Hopkins may be my favorite poet. I look forward to spending some of my coming spring days with him, perhaps feeling his words (to quote him) "stealing as Spring through [me]."

Delycia and I are continuing to enjoy George Eliot's Middlemarch. It's a very long book, and I often get lost among the many confusing characters and sub-plots, but Delycia helps to straighten me out. The book, unlike Eliot's other novels, has very little of what we would call "excitement" in it -- very little rising action and tension. Instead, it's a quiet, accurate picture of life the way it probably was in a typical English village in the 1830's. This surely accounts for the "dullness" I sometimes see in some of the chapters, for no doubt a certain amount of dullness is commonplace among the lives of everyday people. Eliot seems to be seeking real life in these pages, as opposed to simple melodrama.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Walt Whitman

I've been reading Walt Whitman lately, and loving his work all over again. It takes me back to my bright and happy days at The University of Kansas in grad school, when I first discovered this wild and loving poet. Reading him these past few days, I feel again the sense that the universe is a large and spectacular place, and that I need to forget about my own bothersome concerns and focus more on the amazing details surrounding me on this vast planet. Reading his poetry makes me feel way more alive, more alert, more surrounded by small, fascinating wonders. 

Sunday, January 27, 2013

"The Country of the Pointed Firs"

Lovely writing  by Sarah Orne Jewett, describing a procession of guests at a family reunion in Maine ...

"There was a wide path mowed for us across the field, and, as we moved along, the birds flew up out of the thick second crop of clover, and the bees hummed as if it still were June. There was a flashing of white gulls over the water where the fleet of boats rode the low waves together in the cove, swaying their small masts as if they kept time to our steps. The plash of the water could be heard faintly, yet still be heard; we might have been a company of ancient Greeks going to celebrate a victory, or to worship the god of harvests, in the grove above. It was strangely moving to see this and to make part of it. The sky, the sea, have watched poor humanity at its rites so long; we were no more a New England family celebrating its own existence and simple progress; we carried the tokens and inheritance of all such households from which this had descended, and were only the latest of our line. We possessed the instincts of a far, forgotten childhood; I found myself thinking that we ought to be carrying green branches and singing as we went. So we came to the thick shaded grove still silent, and were set in our places by the straight trees that swayed together and let sunshine through here and there like a single golden leaf that flickered down, vanishing in the cool shade."

Friday, January 25, 2013

"The Country of the Pointed Firs" by Sarah Orne Jewett

I went back to this book today, and fell in love again with Jewett's smooth, modest prose and her humble but deep-rooted characters. These are stories, not of heroic soldiers and violence and striving after lost treasures, but of simple people as plain as most of us -- just everyday folks trying to take pleasure in their little lives. Reading her again today makes me see, again, that this is the kind of reading I most enjoy, and the kind I should spend most of my reading time with. Robert Louis Stevenson might write graceful sentences, but some of his writing seems shallow and ultimately unimportant to me. The Black Arrow had strong writing in it, but it was ultimately all about pretty wicked people doing wicked things to each other. Give me Sarah Jewett and her basically good people trying to be as good as possible.