Friday, 19 April 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

It’s never easy to find the place in life that feels right, but if we do, it’s like heaven. Some people, however, lack the courage and/or the stamina to reach for the stars and to truly live their potential. They content themselves with playing a minor part in the play of life, often one that is less exciting, less satisfying and less respectable, but at the same time safer. The reasons for it may be manifold although often they have to do with previous – usually childhood – experiences that undermined self-esteem and self-confidence. And it shouldn’t be underestimated how strong the social pressure to follow in the footsteps of the ancestors and not to cross class limits can be even today. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery as my latest bookish déjà-vu shows a lower-class concierge in her fifties and a bourgeois teenager learning to show their true selves.
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Monday, 15 April 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Enkindled Spring by D. H. Lawrence

The Enkindled Spring

(from Amores: 1916)

This spring as it comes bursts up in bonfires green,
Wild puffing of emerald trees, and flame-filled bushes,
Thorn-blossom lifting in wreaths of smoke between
Where the wood fumes up and the watery, flickering rushes.

I am amazed at this spring, this conflagration
Of green fires lit on the soil of the earth, this blaze
Of growing, and sparks that puff in wild gyration,
Faces of people streaming across my gaze.

And I, what fountain of fire am I among
This leaping combustion of spring? My spirit is tossed
About like a shadow buffeted in the throng
Of flames, a shadow that’s gone astray, and is lost.

David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930)
English writer and poet

Monday, 8 April 2019

Poetry Revisited: April by Letitia Elizabeth Landon


(from Literary Gazette: 5th April 1823)

Of all the months that fill the year,
     Give April’s month to me,
For earth and sky are then so filled
     With sweet variety.

The apple blossoms’ shower of pearl,
     Though blent with rosier hue,
As beautiful as woman’s blush,
     As evanescent too.

The purple light, that like a sigh
     Comes from the violet bed,
As there the perfumes of the East
     Had all their odours shed.

The wild-briar rose, a fragrant cup
     To hold the morning’s tear;
The birds-eye, like a sapphire star,
     The primrose, pale like fear.

The balls that hang like drifted snow
     Upon the guelderose,
The woodbine’s fairy trumpets, where
     The elf his war-note blows.

On every bough there is a bud,
     In every bud a flower;
But scarcely bud or flower will last
     Beyond the present hour.

Now comes a shower-cloud o’er the sky,
     Then all again sunshine;
Then clouds again, but brightened with
     The rainbow’s coloured line.

Aye, this, this is the month for me!
     I could not love a scene
Where the blue sky was always blue,
     The green earth always green.

It is like love; oh love should be
     An ever-changing thing,—
The love that I could worship must
     Be ever on the wing.

The chain my mistress flings round me
     Must be both brief and bright;
Or formed of opals, which will change
     With every changing light.

To-morrow she must turn to sighs
     The smiles she wore to-day;
This moment's look of tenderness
     The next one must be gay.

Sweet April! thou the emblem art
     Of what my love must be;
One varying like the varying bloom
     Is just the love for me. ⁠

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1839)
English poet and novelist

Friday, 5 April 2019

Book Review: S. by John Updike
Sooner or later for the less lucky among us comes the moment, when we realise that, for one reason or another, the life that we had so far doesn’t feel right any longer. Often such existential crises go hand in hand with a search for identity and meaning that can make us susceptible to outside influence. A longing for guidance in an unsettling phase of change like this can lead some of us (back) to religion and drive others into the hands of charismatic leaders as is the case in the epistolary novel S. by John Updike. Its protagonist is a well-to-do housewife from Boston who left her doctor husband to join a dubious Hindu ashram in Arizona and to reinvent herself in the spirit of Eastern philosophy, but she never loses from sight her personal advantage and tries to keep her old world under control sending letters and tapes.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Poetry Revisited: Under the Leaves by Albert Laighton

Under the Leaves

(from Poems: 1878)

Oft have I walked these woodland paths.
     Without the blessed foreknowing
That underneath the withered leaves
     The fairest buds were growing.

To-day the south-wind sweeps away
     The types of autumn’s splendor.
And shows the sweet arbutus flowers,—
     Spring’s children, pure and tender.

O prophet-flowers! —with lips of bloom,
     Surpassing in your beauty
The pearly tints of ocean shells,—
     Ye teach me faith and duty!

Walk life’s dark ways, ye seem to say,
     With love’s divine foreknowing.
That where man sees but withered leaves,
     God sees sweet flowers growing.

Albert Laighton (1829-1887)
American poet

Friday, 22 March 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Red Rose, White Rose by Eileen Chang

However hard we try to reach perfection, we’ll never succeed because we are just flawed human beings. In love preconceived ideas and great expectations of the perfect partner-to-be usually are a sure way to unhappiness. This is even more true when they combine with the general desire to create a world that is right in the sense that it always corresponds perfectly with personal plans and with set social standards. But life is in a state of continuous change – πάντα ῥεῖ or everything flows, as the Ancient Greek said – that naturally defies absolute control. Besides, the imperfect often has a very strong appeal. My bookish déjà vu Red Rose, White Rose by Eileen Chang proves all of this against the backdrop of Shanghai, China, in the 1940s where Tong Zhenbao lives torn between his wild lover and his (seemingly) perfect wife as well as between old traditions and modern times.
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