Sunday, 27 July 2014

The Sailor's Mother

   One morning (raw it was and wet,

   A foggy day in winter time)

   A Woman in the road I met,
   
Not old, though something past her prime:

   Majestic in her person, tall and straight;

And like a Roman matron's was her mien and gait.

   The ancient Spirit is not dead;

   Old times, thought I, are breathing there;

   Proud was I that my country bred

   Such strength, a dignity so fair: 

   She begged an alms, like one in poor estate;

I looked at her again, nor did my pride abate.

   When from these lofty thoughts I woke,

   With the first word I had to spare
   I said to her, 'Beneath your Cloak

   What's that which on your arm you bear?'
   She answered soon as she the question heard,

‘A simple burthen, Sir, a little Singing-bird.’

   And, thus continuing, she said,

  ‘I had a Son, who many a day 

   Sail'd on the seas; but he is dead;

   In Denmark he was cast away;

  And I have been as far as Hull, to see

What clothes he might have left, or other property.

  ‘The Bird and Cage they both were his;

  'Twas my Son's Bird; and neat and trim

   He kept it: many voyages

   This Singing-bird hath gone with him;

   When last he sailed he left the Bird behind;

As it might be, perhaps, from bodings of his mind.

  ‘He to a Fellow-lodger's care

   Had left it, to be watched and fed,

   Till he came back again; and there
   
I found it when my Son was dead;

  And now, God help me for my little wit!

I trail it with me, Sir! he took so much delight in it.’

                                      William Wordsworth

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Saw Your Site. Liked it. Thought I’d, um…add a comment… Instead… Yes… Exactly.

Homage to QWERT YUIOP.  Oh how the memories come back.  I lived with this book for years.  When I did eventually leave off reading it the cover had disintegrated and the pages had fallen out; free at last to float back to that looser wilder world of the newspapers and magazines.  What a book! At least that is how I remember it.  A degree course in literature in the years when I needed it most.  Though Urgent Copy is the better collection, I think.  Slow reviewing as opposed to fast.  There is a lot of fast in QWERT YUIOP.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

A Class Act

A person changes.  The effects are at first so subtle nobody notices them, although very quickly a threshold is crossed and we discover that a new kind of person has emerged out of the chrysalis of the old.  An increase in confidence, an assurance in one’s own opinions and an ability to articulate them are all signs that Arati is now a working woman.  She has the spirit of independence, which the household recognises before she does.  This is not what anyone expected.  The balance of power has shifted.  And it is too late to turn back. For once a culture goes it cannot be reclaimed; one change leads to a thousand changes, until nothing is left of the old ways except superannuated custom.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

The Temperate Zone

The public domain.  It is a peculiar place.  A man-made construction existing all around us but whose foundations are invisible to the five senses.  We know it is there.  We see its signs. Read its words.  Hear its voices.  While numerous pictures pop in and out of our memories.  And yet… when he look too closely it dissolves before our all too piercing, our all too empirical, eyes.  Of course there are places where public activities occur - the Houses of Parliament, a local town hall, the lecture halls of Cambridge University; the secondhand bookshop, the unsung hero of Western culture.  But it is in not these buildings where we will find the public domain.  Look for it there and you will never stop looking; for always it will be just out of reach; even when, miraculously, you find it.  Or you think you do.  You enter an office.  You are puzzled.  It sounds like home or a local cafe; an official touching you on the arm tells you about her pension rights, the increased hours, the clients who complain when they have no right to complain - “I’m doin’ my job aren’t I?”  You are surprised.  You do not know how to respond… “Oh, would you like a tea?”  She praises your dress, she likes its delicate pleats; loves the long sleeves, and the filigree work around the cuffs.  She asks where you bought it….

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Wise Words

Sainte-Beuve’s great work does not go very deep.  The celebrated method which, according to Paul Bourget and so many others, made him the peerless master of nineteenth-century criticism, this system which consisted of not separating the man and his work, of holding the opinion that in forming a judgement of an author - short of his book being “a treatise on pure geometry” - it is not immaterial to begin by knowing the answers to questions which seem at the furthest remove from his work (How did he conduct himself? etc.), to surround oneself with every possible piece of information about a writer, to collate his letters, to pick the brains of those who knew him - talking to them if they are alive, reading whatever they may have written about him if they are dead - this method ignores what a very slight degree of self-acquaintance teaches us: that a book is the product of a different self from the self we manifest in our habits, in our social life, in our vices.  If we would try to understand that particular self, it is by searching our own bosoms, and trying to reconstruct it there, that we may arrive at it.  Nothing can exempt us from this pilgrimage of the heart.  There must be no scamping in the pursuit of this truth, and it is taking things too easily to suppose that one fine morning the truth will arrive by post in the form of an unpublished letter submitted to us by a friend’s librarian, or that we shall gather it from the lips of someone who saw a great deal of the author.  Speaking of the great admiration that the work of Stendhal aroused in several writers of the younger generation, Sainte-Beuve said:  “If I may be allowed to say so, in framing a clear estimate of this somewhat complex mind and without going to extremes in any direction, I would still prefer to rely, apart from my own impressions and recollections, on what I was told by M. Mérimée and M. Ampère, on what I should have been told, had he lived, by Jacquemont - by those, in short, who saw him often and appreciated the actual man.”

Why so?  In what way does the fact of having been a friend of Stendhal’s make one better fitted to judge him?  For those friends, the self which which produced the novels was eclipsed by the other, which may have been very inferior to the outer selves of many other people.  Besides, the best proof of this is that Sainte-Beuve, having known Stendhal, having collected all the information he could from M. Mérimée and M. Ampère, having furnished himself, in short, with everything that according to him would enable a critic to judge a book to  a nicety, pronounced judgement on Stendhal as follows: “I have been re-reading, or trying to re-read, Stendhal’s novels; frankly, they are detestable.”  (Marcel Proust, By Way of Sainte-Beuve)

Friday, 6 June 2014

Roses Amongst Weeds

It’s all there in the description.  These facts speak to us, now that we have learned their language.  The differences between Innstetten and the von Briests - his seriousness against their light-heartedness, their cultivated inertia against his prosaic careerism - are precisely elucidated for us; while dull Kessin, a provincial town that squeezes the spirit out of Effi’s lively soul, is described with unforgiving accuracy.  There they all are!  We remember the words we have recently written; see an old Saxony castle collapse under the demolition men; and watch a new government building rise out of its ruins; a dull rectangle built in stone and brick, with a folk dance of decoration over its lintels and in its friezes.  A porch, a huge mouth smothered in a walrus moustache, waits patiently to ingest us.  We ruminate on our decision.  To enter or no…  Then…shouting; a young girl yells out a vulgar comment; a crumpled man talks politics…  An old woman, slim and attractive and dressed in a short red dress, walks past us and tells him to shut up - she stamps her high heels: alles ist scheisse -; a mob surrounds us… There is a false note; solecisms slide into the sentences; phrases become incomprehensible, and we find ourselves stumbling through paragraphs searching for words to grasp.  Professor Roy Pascal has started to speak a different dialect.  He is talking of an outmoded Junker class struggling to survive in a new Germany.  Our hand grabs a nettle, and we yell out in pain.