Monday, 15 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Autumnal Walk by George Crabbe

The Autumnal Walk

(from Tales of the Hall: 1819)

It was a fair and mild autumnal sky,
And earth’s ripe treasures met the admiring eye,
‘As a rich beauty, when her bloom is lost,
Appears with more magnificence and cost;
T3ie wet and heavy grass, where feet had stray’d,
Not yet erect, the wanderer’s way beiray’d;
Showers of the night had swell’d the deepening rill,
The morning breeze had urged the quickening mill;
Assembled roots had wing’d their seaward flight,
By the same passage to return at night,
While proudly o’er them hung the steady Idle,
Then turn’d them back, and left the noisy throng.
Nor deign’d to know them as he sail’d along.
Long yellow leaves, from osiers, strew’d around,
Choked the dull stream, and husb’d its feeble sound,
While the dead foliage dropt from loftier trees,
Our squire beheld not with his wonted ease;
But to his own reflections made reply,
And said aloud, “Yes; doubtless we must die.”

“We must” said Richard; “and we would not live
To feel what dotage and decay will give;
But we yet taste whatever we behold;
The morn is lovely, though the air is cold:
There is delicious quiet in this scene,
At once so rich, so varied, so serene;
Sounds, too, delight us—each discordant tone
Thus mingled, please, that Ml to please alone;
This hollow wind, this rustling of the brook.
The farmyard noise, the woodman at yon oak—
See! the axe falls! —now listen to the stroke;
That gun itself, that murders all this peace,
Adds to the charm, because it soon must cease.”

“No. doubt,” said George, “the country has its charms!”
My farm behold! the model for all farms!
Look at that land — you find not there a weed,
We grub the roots, and suffer none to seed.
To land like this no botanist will come.
To seek the precious ware he hides at home;
Pressing the leaves and flowers with effort nice.
As if they came from herbs in Paradise;
Let them their favourites with my neighbours sec,
They have no — what?— no habitat with me.
Now see my flock, and hear its glory; — none
Have that vast body and that slender hone;
They are the village’s boast, the dealer’s theme,
Fleece of such staple! flesh in such esteem!”

“Brother,” said Richard, “do I hear aright?
Does the land truly give so much delight?”

“So says my bailiff: sometimes I have tried
To catch the joy, but nature has denied;
It will not be — the mind has had a store
Laid up for life, and will admit no more:
Worn out in trials, and about to die,
In vain to these we for amusement fly;
We farm, we garden, we our poor employ,
And much command, though little we enjoy;
Or, if ambitious, we employ our pen.
We plant a desert, or we drain a fen;
And— here, behold my medal! — this will show
What men may merit when they nothing know.”

“Yet reason here,” said Richard, “joins with pride: — ”
“I did not ask th’ alliance,” George replied —
“I grant it true, such trifle may induce
A dull, proud man to wake and be of use;
And there are purer pleasures, that a mind
Calm and uninjured may in villas find;
But where th’ affections have been deeply tried.
With other food that mind must be supplied:
‘Tis not in trees or medals to impart
The powerful medicine for an aching heart;
The agitation dies, but there is still
The backward spirit, the resisting will.
Man takes his body to a country seat,
But minds, dear Richard, have their own retreat;
Oft when the feet are pacing o’er the green
The mind is gone where never grass was seen.
And never thinks of hill, or vale, or plain,
Till want of rest creates a sense of pain.
That calls that wandering mind, and brings it home again.
No more of farms: but here I boast of minds
That make a friend the richer when he finds;
These shalt thou see; — but, Richard, be it known.
Who thinks to see must in his turn be shown: —
But now farewell! to thee will I resign
Woods, walks, and valleys! take them till we dine.”

George Crabbe (1754 -1832)
English poet, surgeon and clergyman

Friday, 12 October 2018

Book Review: Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck, it’s an innate impulse to go in search of a better place to live in when for some reason things turn tough where we are and it’s thanks to it that, in the course of tens of thousands of years, human race colonised virtually the entire planet. However, as soon as our ancestors began settling down, migration became a problem because it’s in our nature, too, to protect kith and kin as well as resources from rapacious outsiders. Huge migration waves as in ancient times no longer happen, but a stream of refugees like in the summer of 2015 suffices to put us into a state of alarm. In Go, Went, Gone by Jenny Erpenbeck a recently retired classics professor gets involved in the lives of a group of asylum seekers who camp on a central square in Berlin to become visible as human beings in need.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: Sonnet On the Approach of Autumn by Amelia Opie

Sonnet On the Approach of Autumn

(from The Warrior’s Return and Other Poems: 1808)

Farewell gay Summer! now the changing wind
That Autumn brings commands thee to retreat;
It fades the roses which thy temples bind,
And the green sandals which adorn thy feet.

Now flies with thee the walk at eventide,
That favouring hour to rapt enthusiasts dear;
When most they love to seek the mountain side,
And mark the pomp of twilight hastening near.

Then fairy forms around the poet throng,
On every cloud a glowing charm he sees....
Sweet Evening, these delights to thee belong:....

But now, alas! comes Autumn's chilling breeze,
And early Night, attendant on its sway,
Bears in her envious veil sweet Fancy's hour away.

Amelia Opie (1769-1853)
English author of the Romantic Period

Friday, 5 October 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys

No matter where, the lot of an immigrant can be terribly hard, especially when all hopes are crushed and things still continue to turn from bad to worse barring even the way back into the bosom of the family. It needs a strong character and an unbending will to go on struggling under such adverse circumstances instead of giving way to such deep desperation that drifting through life seems just as well because nothing that could happen really matters anymore. Sometimes they even watch their own fall in amusement like the protagonist of Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, which I chose as a bookish déjà-vu. By the late 1930s, the Englishwoman who rather stranded in Paris than she settled down there has gone so far downhill that she has no strength left to even try to get back on her feet and to take life into her own hands… 

Monday, 1 October 2018

Poetry Revisited: In October by Bliss Carman

In October

(from Later Poems: 1921)

Now come the rosy dogwoods,
The golden tulip-tree,
And the scarlet yellow maple,
To make a day for me.
The ash-trees on the ridges,
The alders in the swamp,
Put on their red and purple
To join the autumn pomp.
The woodbine hangs her crimson
Along the pasture wall,
And all the bannered sumacs
Have heard the frosty call.
Who then so dead to valor
As not to raise a cheer,
When all the woods are marching
In triumph of the year?

Bliss Carman (1861-1929)
Canadian poet

Friday, 28 September 2018

Book Review: X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates

To everybody the world may occasionally seem unreal like the scenario of a fairy-tale or a dream because something unusual and improbable is happening. The situation may even be so dumbfounding that those living it behave like sleepwalkers or automatons for a while. Unshakable optimism and absolute trust in a person, a system or even an idea can produce a similar effect because they often distort the view of things to allow seeing them as desired instead of as they are. The novel X Out of Wonderland by David Allan Cates surrounds a protagonist who was taught to believe firmly and unquestioningly in the forces of the global free market and in its power to provide the best for all. Even when misfortune strikes him hard all of a sudden leaving him jobless, homeless and without the most intriguing woman that he just met, he endures everything without losing faith.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: Knights and the Dragon by Robin Hyde

Knights and the Dragon

(from The Desolate Star and Other Poems: 1929)

I found no dragon, and the maid,
His prey, was dead these many years
And slumbered in a little glade
Of purple flowers, bright with tears.
They said all mortal swords must fail
Against the necromancer-thing
That dimmed her beauty as a veil,
And hid her tresses’ glimmering.
The pluméd (sic) knights would come and go
About her gates; but none was bold
To seek the icy, mocking foe
That stole away her white and gold,
Her purple flowers filled with dew.
There in the dusk, I knew the truth—
This dragon was the locust, who
Had eaten all her leaves of youth.

Robin Hyde (1906-1939)
New Zealand poet

Friday, 21 September 2018

Book Review: Cyclops by Ranko Marinković

Most legendary creatures are archetypical manifestations of certain aspects of human nature, good or evil, and the myths surrounding them represent a general idea of the world, i.e. of how it came into being and of how it works. Classical education made many of them household names and so, they found their way quite naturally into literature as allegorical figures or less easily explainable symbols. With World War II threatening to spread to Yugoslavia, the protagonist of Cyclops by Ranko Marinković sees himself doomed to end as helpless prey of the man-eating one-eyed giant Polyphemus from Greek mythology. Like other young men he must expect being called up any time, but although patriotic, the intellectual hopes to avoid national service systematically reducing his body to bones and skin. He wanders through Zagreb daydreaming and yearning for the woman he loves without hope or drinks heavily with friends.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Back Reviews Reel: September 2015

In my reviews of three years past, I evoked classical love as well as a modern dystopia starting my tour in Japan and returning there via New York and Germany. Confessions of Love by Uno Chiyo centres on a doomed love in Tōkyō of the 1920s. About 30 years later and thousands of miles east, the famous protagonist of Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote frequents well-to-do circles to find a husband to give her the happiness and glamour that she yearns for. In futuristic Germany of The Method by Juli Zeh, on the other hand, a woman who lost her brother finds herself prosecuted by a relentless State for letting herself go. The protagonist of The Changeling by Ōe Kenzaburō, the recipient of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Literature, takes to imaginary conversations with his late youth friend and brother-in-law on the other side with the help of tapes.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: That Bright Chimeric Beast by Countee Cullen

That Bright Chimeric Beast

(from Black Christ and Other Poems: 1929)

That bright chimeric beast
Conceived yet never born,
Save in the poet's breast,
The white-flanked unicorn,
Never may be shaken
From his solitude;
Never may be taken
In any earthly wood.

That bird forever feathered,
Of its new self the sire,
After aeons weathered,
Reincarnate by fire,
Falcon may not nor eagle
Swerve from his eyrie,
Nor any crumb inveigle
Down to an earthly tree.

That fish of the dread regime
Invented to become
The fable and the dream
Of the Lord's aquarium,
Leviathan, the jointed
Harpoon was never wrought
By which the Lord's anointed
Will suffer to be caught.

Bird of the deathless breast,
Fish of the frantic fin,
That bright chimeric beast
Flashing the argent skin,—
If beasts like these you'd harry,
Plumb then the poet's dream;
Make it your aviary,
Make it your wood and stream.

There only shall the swish
Be heard of the regal fish;
There like a golden knife
Dart the feet of the unicorn,
And there, death brought to life,
The dead bird be reborn.

Countee Cullen (1903- 1946)
American poet, novelist, children's writer,
and playwright of the Harlem Renaissance

Friday, 14 September 2018

Book Review: The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch, legends and myths have always been key sources of inspiration for writers. Among the most striking examples of this doubtlessly count the plays credited to William Shakespeare, but there must be countless others who during their careers borrowed more or less generously and palpably to varying degrees from them. In the 1960s, it seems to have been fashionable to write novels with titles referring to a mythological creature that symbolises the protagonist. The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch is one of these. At its centre is a young woman resigned to living like a prisoner on her estate in a remote part of Ireland. Her almost complete passivity pains the newly arrived governess (or rather lady companion) who finds out about the tragic events that made her husband shut her up and who is determined to give her amiable mistress back freedom as well as the joys of real life.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Splithead by Julya Rabinowich

All kinds of bizarre, often magical creatures from fairy-tales and ancient legends inhabit the minds of people young and old everywhere on the planet. There are figures of light that use to enjoy great popularity because they are associated with the good and said to bring happiness along with luck. The nightmarish ones, on the other hand, seem to have krept directly from hell to spread evil and misfortune. Consequently, people fear and avoid them as best they can. A thought-eating and soul-sucking head without body from the rich treasure of Russian myths that is hardly known outside its cultural context is the title-giving creature in Splithead by Julya Rabinowich that I picked as a bookish déjà vu. As a seven-year-old the narrator leaves Leningrad of the 1970s with her parents and finds herself newly planted in Vienna where she and her family are having a hard time striking roots.
Read my review »

Monday, 3 September 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Sphynx by Alfred Douglas

The Sphynx

(from The City of the Soul: 1899)

I gaze across the Nile; flamelike and red
The sun goes down, and all the western sky
Is drowned in sombre crimson; wearily
A great bird flaps along with wings of lead,
Black on the rose-red river. Over my head
The sky is hard green bronze, beneath me lie
The sleeping ships; there is no sound, or sigh
Of the wind's breath, — a stillness of the dead.

Over a palm tree’s top I see the peaks
Of the tall pyramids; and though my eyes
Are barred from it, I know that on the sand
Crouches a thing of stone that in some wise
Broods on my heart; and from the darkening land
Creeps Fear and to my soul in whisper speaks.

Alfred Douglas (1870-1945), full name Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas
British author, poet, translator, and political commentator

Friday, 31 August 2018

Book Review: The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez be an artist usually implies many struggles, some of them useless not to say quixotic. Part of the problem are people who feel called upon to decide what true art should or should not be and thus influence public opinion including potential buyers. Notably religious leaders along with other rich and powerful personalities have inspired and supported, but also limited artists in their work during most of human history. In Spain, the Holy Inquisition left its mark in art as well as in the minds of people as the painting protagonist of the classical novel The Naked Lady by Vicente Blasco Ibáñez is painfully aware. His convent-educated, bourgeois wife gets into a tantrum over models taking off their clothes before him in his workshop. He abides by her wishes and becomes a celebrated painter of “decent” pictures dreaming all the while of producing a nude like Francisco de Goya.

Monday, 27 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: Summer Hours by Helen Gray Cone

Summer Hours

(from The Ride to the Lady: 1893)

Hours aimless-drifting as the milkweed’s down
In seeming, still a seed of joy ye bear
That steals into the soul when unaware,
And springs up Memory in the stony town.

Helen Gray Cone (1859-1934)
American poet and professor of English literature

Friday, 24 August 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Betty Blue by Philippe Djian

To write a book doesn’t necessarily mean that its writer is ready to show it to another person or even to see it published. Convinced that nobody could possibly be interested or even like their literary output, many prefer to hide it ashamedly on the bottom of a seldom opened drawer or in a password-protected computer file in a folder created just for this purpose as is more in line with modern times. The protagonist of Betty Blue by Philippe Djian that I chose as a bookish déjà vu hoards his notebooks in a storing box and only when his raging girlfriend throws it out of the window with everything else that he owns, it comes out that he actually is a writer and according to the girl who doesn’t lose time reading all his notebooks he is even one destined for great success and fame. Alas, publishers think differently.
Read my review »

Monday, 20 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: Sunshine by Allen Upward


(from Songs in Ziklag: 1888)

Bathed in balmy odours
     Sitting upon flow’rs,
By the rippling waters,
     Thus we pass the hours.
In the trees above us
     Gaily sing the birds,
Making pleasant music
     To our whisper’d words.
Yonder in the open
     Pours the sunshine down
On the stooping reapers,
     And the harvest brown.
In the stream the fisher
     Lightly drops his cast.
All around is happy;
     Would that it might last!

Allen Upward (1863-1926)
British poet, lawyer, politician and teacher

Friday, 17 August 2018

Book Review: The Door by Szabó Magda’s one of the greatest possible achievements of a writer – at least in my opinion – to be able to write fiction that leaves the reader wondering from beginning to end whether the story told is true or just invented and whether the protagonist is reasonably faithful portrait of a live model or most succeeded fruit of a vivid imagination. This was the effect that the novel The Door by Szabó Magda had on me. In it a narrator, who obviously bears striking resemblance with the Hungarian author herself, patches together bits and pieces of information that her much adored, but always-furtive domestic help granted her in over twenty years about the life before she worked for her. The result is a rough biography of an amiable stranger who went through all the crucial periods of twentieth-century Hungarian history and learnt to literally keep locked the door to her private life.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Back Reviews Reel: August 2015

The travel destinations of My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights in August 2015 were Scotland, the USSR, the USA, and Sweden. Two of my reads were classics, though very different ones. While the historical English novel The Galliard by Margaret Irwin retells the legendary love story between Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, and James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet recipient of the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature, powerfully evokes the daily fight for survival in Stalin’s GULAGs in Siberia. The contemporary reads on my tour brought me closer to the Arctic Circle. The American novel And She Was by Cindy Dyson reveals the cruel history of the Native Aleut population on the islands off the Alaskan coast after their discovery in 1741 and in Italian Shoes by Henning Mankell a retired surgeon is forced to face his past.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: The City Tree by Isabella Valancy Crawford

The City Tree

(from Old Spookses’ Pass, Malcolm’s Katie, and Other Poems: 1884)

I stand within the stony, arid town,
    I gaze for ever on the narrow street;
I hear for ever passing up and down,
    The ceaseless tramp of feet.

I know no brotherhood with far-lock'd woods,
    Where branches bourgeon from a kindred sap;
Where o'er moss'd roots, in cool, green solitudes,
    Small silver brooklets lap.

No em'rald vines creep wistfully to me,
    And lay their tender fingers on my bark;
High may I toss my boughs, yet never see
    Dawn's first most glorious spark.

When to and fro my branches wave and sway,
    Answ'ring the feeble wind that faintly calls,
They kiss no kindred boughs but touch alway
    The stones of climbing walls.

My heart is never pierc'd with song of bird;
    My leaves know nothing of that glad unrest,
Which makes a flutter in the still woods heard,
    When wild birds build a nest.

There never glance the eyes of violets up,
    Blue into the deep splendour of my green:
Nor falls the sunlight to the primrose cup,
    My quivering leaves between.

Not mine, not mine to turn from soft delight
    Of wood-bine breathings, honey sweet, and warm;
With kin embattl'd rear my glorious height
    To greet the coming storm!

Not mine to watch across the free, broad plains
    The whirl of stormy cohorts sweeping fast;
The level, silver lances of great rains,
    Blown onward by the blast.

Not mine the clamouring tempest to defy,
    Tossing the proud crest of my dusky leaves:
Defender of small flowers that trembling lie
    Against my barky greaves.

Not mine to watch the wild swan drift above,
Balanced on wings that could not choose between
The wooing sky, blue as the eye of love,
    And my own tender green.

And yet my branches spread, a kingly sight,
    In the close prison of the drooping air:
When sun-vex'd noons are at their fiery height,
    My shade is broad, and there

Come city toilers, who their hour of ease
    Weave out to precious seconds as they lie
Pillow'd on horny hands, to hear the breeze
    Through my great branches die.

I see no flowers, but as the children race
    With noise and clamour through the dusty street,
I see the bud of many an angel face—
    I hear their merry feet.

No violets look up, but shy and grave,
    The children pause and lift their chrystal eyes
To where my emerald branches call and wave—
    As to the mystic skies.

Isabella Valancy Crawford (1846-1887)
Irish-born Canadian writer and poet

Friday, 10 August 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: My Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler

There is no way round it, that an author’s inspiration is fuelled by all kinds of experience, be it personal, from hearsay or from books. When setting out to tell a story, every writer has to decide whether to turn this input into the most imaginative fiction or to just put it into words staying as true to individual reality as possible. Usually, the result is something between the two. The epistolary novel My Heart by Else Lasker-Schüler that I picked as a bookish déjà vu is firmly anchored in the now lost world of Bohemian circles frequenting the Café des Westens in Berlin only a few years before World War I, but ever again the eccentric author prefers to hide her grief over another failed marriage, her constant struggles to make ends meet and her trivial love affairs in expressionist, if not fairy-tale-like imagery that adds humour to melancholy.
Read my review »

Monday, 6 August 2018

Poetry Revisited: A Sight from the Shore by H. H. Dugmore

A Sight from the Shore

(from A. Wilmot: The Poetry of South Africa: 1887)

I look upon the ocean. Far away,
A fleet of thunder-clouds is sailing by.
High in mid heaven the aërial canvas swells,
And proudly scorns the breeze’s proffered aid;
Instinct with its own spirit’s breath of life,
That bears it onward in its majesty:
While ever and anon the signal flash
From van, and rear, and centre, tells of might
Resistless. Stern, and slow, and dark, and grand,
Its shadows sweep o’er ocean’s heaving billows;
While avant couriers, on the lightning’s wing,
Herald its coming to the distant realms
Beyond the horizon’s verge.

Henry Hare Dugmore (1810-1896)
English missionary in South Africa, writer and translator

Friday, 3 August 2018

Book Review: Youth by J. M. Coetzee one point or another in life many people feel the urge to write the memoirs of their young years and to share them with others, be it only the family, be it the whole world if they can find a publisher. Writers seem even more inclined to reminisce and portray themselves. In the autobiographical novel Youth by J. M. Coetzee, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature of 2003 takes on the role of his own biographer. Almost like a stranger he looks back on the late 1950s and early 1960s, when he was just a young man aspiring to be a writer one day. He knows that in the initial stage he won’t be able to earn his livelihood writing and so after graduation from university in Cape Town he becomes a computer programmer in London. His first job depresses him, but the second one stimulates him.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Summer’s Sun by Mary Grant

The Summer’s Sun

(from One Hundred Modern Scottish Poets: 1880)

I would the Summer’s sun was bright,
     As Summer’s sun was wont to be;
I would the flowers were half as fair
     As those that used to grace the lea;
I would the moon would sink to rest
     As soft behind the pathless sea;
And that the little birds I love
     Would sing as sweet a song to me.

I would that brook that wanders now
     So sadly down the faded dell,
Would charm mine ear with gladsome sound,
     Like chimings of a silver bell.
I would the stars —Heaven’s beauteous eyes—
     Would look on me with gaze as true;
Or that the veil ‘twixt heaven and earth
     Would beam as softly, sweetly blue.

I know not why fair summer time
     Appears so sadly changed to be;
The snow-clad hills are quite as fair,
     And Robin’s song as sweet to me.
Yet, looking back, I can recall
     One fair and blooming Summer’s day.
When lying ‘mang the flowers, I wept
     To think that earth should pass away.

It was so fair, so softly grand,
     That virgin month of perfumed May,
So simple in her girlish bloom,
     So sweetly, chastely, purely gay.
And now methinks I’d little care
     Though time and earth had passed away;
So cheerless beams the Summer’s sun,
     So winter-like the Summer’s day.

Oh! foolish heart, the Summer’s sun,
     Stars, moon, and flowers, and birds, and sea,
Are pure, and fair, and sweet, and grand,
     As long ago they used to be;
Tis thou hast lost thy hope and joy,
     They faded with thy youth’s bright day,
When all the year was Summer time,
     And every month was gentle May.

Mary Grant (1855-1914)
Scottish poet

Friday, 27 July 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Grape Harvest by Miguel Torga

It’s true that all year round the plants cultivated in fields, gardens and vineyards need a lot of attention and work, but when it’s time to yield the fruits of the earth many more helping hands may be needed unless there are machines that can do the work of men just as well or even better. In the famous wine region of the Douro valley in Portugal of the 1940s picking grapes and pressing them was still very hard, even dangerous manual work as shows the classical novel Grape Harvest by Miguel Torga that I chose for a bookish déjà vu. Every autumn men, women and even children from remote mountain villages move to the valley for two weeks to do a literally backbreaking job for wine producers who don’t care about them. Board and lodge are a shame, wages are scandalously low, and yet, it’s a change of scene… 
Read my review»

Friday, 20 July 2018

Book Review: Jalna by Mazo de la Roche
To the outsider, the life of a gentleman farmer on a country estate somewhere not too far from town may look pretty agreeable, if not splendid, and yet, it doesn’t warrant prosperity and happiness. Gentleman farmers aren’t spared the usual sorrows and worries of human existence. They too need to make a living which may be quite a challenge with prices for agricultural products constantly falling on the world market while costs keep rising and regulations getting stricter. They too have families and maybe some of its members give them a hard time. In the classical Canadian novel Jalna by Mazo de la Roche three generations of Whiteoaks live together in the old family mansion of a country estate. The spirited grandmother does her best to live to celebrate her one hundredth birthday, while two of her grandsons bring into the house young wives along with the imponderables of love.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Back Reviews Reel: July 2015

For My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights I read in July 2015 five more books set in countries with Arctic territories. The contemporary German novel The Discovery of Slowness by Sten Nadolny allowed me to accompany a fictionalised version of nineteenth-century explorer Sir John Franklin, before meeting the impoverished working-class family from the French-Canadian classic The Tin Flute by Gabrielle Roy in Montréal in February 1940. Then I time-travelled to the year 1700 to join a poor farmer sentenced to be beheaded in the classical novel Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness, the Nobel laureate in literature of 1955. At my next destination, modern-day Greenland, a series of suicides serves as backbone of the Anatomy of a Night by Austro-Korean writer Anna Kim first released in 2012. From there I half rounded the planet for A Wild Sheep Chase in Northern Japan in the late 1970s with Haruki Murakami.

Monday, 16 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wild White Rose by Ellen H. Willis

The Wild White Rose

(from I Left It All With Jesus and Other Poems: 1875)

Oh, that I might have my request, and that God would grant me the thing that I long for.—Job 6:8.

It was peeping through the brambles, that little wild white rose,
Where the hawthorn hedge was planted, my garden to enclose.
All beyond was fern and heather, on the breezy, open moor;
All within was sun and shelter, and the wealth of beauty's store.
But I did not heed the fragrance of flow'ret or of tree,
For my eyes were on that rosebud, and it grew too high for me.
In vain I strove to reach it through the tangled mass of green,
It only smiled and nodded behind its thorny screen.
Yet through that summer morning I lingered near the spot:
Oh, why do things seem sweeter if we possess them not?
My garden buds were blooming, but all that I could see
Was that little mocking wild rose, hanging just too high for me.

So in life's wider garden there are buds of promise, too,
Beyond our reach to gather, but not beyond our view;
And like the little charmer that tempted me astray,
They steal out half the brightness of many a summer's day.
Oh, hearts that fail with longing for some forbidden tree,
Look up and learn a lesson from my white rose and me.
'Tis wiser far to number the blessings at my feet,
Than ever to be sighing for just one bud more sweet.
My sunbeams and my shadows fall from a pierced Hand,
I can surely trust His wisdom since His heart I understand;
And maybe in the morning, when His blessed face I see,
He will tell me why my white rose grew just too high for me.

Ellen H. Willis (dates of birth and death unknown)
Victorian poet and hymn writer

Friday, 13 July 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse

Up to this day it means a lot of hard work to run a farm and without doubt it’s even harder to start one from scratch proving right the ancient wisdom from the Holy Bible that reads: “Thou shalt earn thy bread in the sweat of thy brow!” Certainly, the achievements of technology facilitate the lives of modern farmers, but agriculture has become an industry with the same negative aspects as any other. Much of today’s “sweat” will therefore come from worries rather than physical strain. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the protagonist of the documentary-historical novel The Tea Lords by Hella S. Haasse, which I chose as a bookish déjà vu, had to work hard with his own hands to turn an almost virgin plot of land on the Dutch East Indian island of Java into a thriving tea plantation that can support a growing family.
Read my review »

Monday, 9 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Wonderful World by William Brighty Rands

The Wonderful World

(from Lilliput Lectures: 1871)

Great, wide, beautiful, wonderful World,
With the wonderful water round you curled,
And the wonderful grass upon your breast,
World, you are beautifully drest.

The wonderful air is over me.
And the wonderful wind is shaking the tree—
It walks on the water, and whirls the mills,
And talks to itself on the top of the hills.

You friendly Earth, how far do you go,
With the wheat-fields that nod and the rivers that flow,
With cities and gardens, and cliffs and isles,
And people upon you for thousands of miles?

Ah! you are so great, and I am so small,
I hardly can think of you, World, at all;
And yet, when I said my prayers today,
A whisper within me seemed to say:

“You are more than the Earth, though you are such a dot!
You can love and think, and the Earth can not.”

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882)
British writer

Friday, 6 July 2018

Book Review: The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger
From the perspective of someone like me who has always lived in a bustling, though not too big city, country life seems enviably quiet, simple and stress-free. But put to the test of reality, the rural idyll like any other soon turns out to be just a utopia, a creation of the (ignorant) mind longing for the perfect life. The novel The Earth and the Fullness Thereof by Peter Rosegger, a much lauded, but today rather forgotten Austrian master of rural fiction and three-time nominee for the Nobel Prize in Literature, evokes daily life on a remote mountain farm through the Sunday letters of a journalist from the city turned farmhand for the entire year of 1897 to win a bet. Sharing the joys and sorrows of the mountain farmers, he comes to love not just the family, notably the daughter, but also the old magic of cultivating the land.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Poetry Revisited: Ode to the Poppy by Henrietta O’Neill

Ode to the Poppy

(first published in Charlotte Smith’s novel Desmond: 1792)

Not for the promise of the labor’d field,
Not for the good the yellow harvests yield,
I bend at Ceres’ shrine;
For dull, to humid eyes appear,
The golden glories of the year;
Alas!—a melancholy worship’s mine!

I hail the Goddess for her scarlet flower!
Thou brilliant weed,
That dost so far exceed,
The richest gifts gay Flora can bestow;
Heedless I pass’d thee, in life’s morning hour,
(Thou comforter of woe,)
’Till sorrow taught me to confess thy power.

In early days, when Fancy cheats,
A various wreath I wove;
Of laughing springs luxuriant sweets,
To deck ungrateful love:
The rose, or thorn, my numbers crown’d.
As Venus smil’d, or Venus frown’d;
But Love, and Joy, and all their train, are flown;
E’en languid Hope no more is mine,
And I will sing of thee alone;
Unless, perchance, the attributes of grief,
The cypress bud, and willow leaf,
Their pale, funereal, blend with thine.

Hail, lovely blossom!—thou can’st ease,
The wretched victims of disease;
Can’st close those weary eyes, in a gentle sleep.
Which never open but to weep;
For, oh! thy potent charm,
Can agonizing pain disarm;
Expel imperious memory from her seat,
And bid the throbbing heart forget to beat.

Soul-soothing plant!—that can such blessings give,
By thee the mourner bears to live!
By thee the hopeless die!
Oh! ever “friendly to despair,”
Might sorrow’s pallid votary dare,
Without a crime, that remedy implore,
Which bids the spirit from its bondage fly,
I’d court they palliative aid no more;
No more I’d sue, that thou shouldst spread,
Thy spell around my aching head,
But would conjure thee to impart,
The balsam for a broken heart;
And by thy soft Lethean power,
(Inestimable flower)
Burst these terrestrial bonds, and other regions try.

Henrietta O’Neill (1758-1793)
Irish poet

Friday, 29 June 2018

Book Review: The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat

However pleasant island life can be, it can also have serious disadvantages when it comes to assuring supply with all those things that nature can’t offer at all or not in sufficient quantities. In war times, for instance, the watery enclosure can turn into an almost unsolvable, even life-threatening problem, notably when the island is located in a strategically important place and becomes target of military action. In history, the latter has been more than once the fate of the small island of Malta in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa as shows the historical novel The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat. During World War II Father Salvatore takes it upon him to look after the bombed-out sheltering in catacombs and to improve their morale speaking to them about the many challenges that their forefathers faced and survived in more than two millennia.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Midsummer Noon by Robert Laurence Binyon

Midsummer Noon

(from London Visions:1908)

At her window gazes over the elms
A girl; she looks on the branching green;
But her eyes possess unfathomed realms,
Her young hand holds her dreaming chin.

Drifted, the dazzling clouds ascend
In indolent order, vast and slow,
The great blue; softly their shadows send
A clearness up from the wall below.

An old man houseless, leaning alone
By the tree—girt fountain, only heeds
The fall of the spray in the shine of the sun,
And nothing possessing, nothing needs.

The square is heavy with silent bloom;
The tardy wheels uncertain creep.
Above in a narrow sunlit room,
The widower watches his child asleep.

Robert Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)
English poet, dramatist and art scholar

Friday, 22 June 2018

Book Review: Island of Shattered Dreams by Chantal T. Spitz beauty and wealth especially of tropical islands always attracted adventurers, fortune-hunters and eventually colonists from other parts of the world, ancient cultures thriving there were – are? – quite routinely written off as savage and worthless. Thus many non-European civilisations have disappeared since the great age of discoveries. Colonial powers imposed their own culture and language on people thus imbibing the autochthones with a feeling of inferiority that made them loathe the assumedly primitive traditions of their ancestors and look down on those who refused to adapt to the new ways stubbornly holding on to their old ones. Tahiti in French Polynesia was no exception there as shows the novel Island of Shattered Dreams by Polynesian writer Chantal T. Spitz. It’s the story of a Tahitian family in the twentieth century that within only three generations loses its identity and even its ancestral lands to be swallowed by Western civilisation.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Back Reviews Reel: June 2015

In the month of June of three years ago I started My Reading Summer of Nordic White Nights that led me around the Arctic Circle making a literary stop in each country with territory that far north. The contemporary novel Eight White Nights by André Aciman brought me to the USA, though to a Christmassy New York City instead of Alaska during a Midsummer’s night simply because the title caught my attention. In the following, I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to land in Scandinavia with two twentieth-century classics, first Norwegian Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel and then Finnish People in the Summer Night by Frans Eemil Sillanpää, laureate of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Literature. For my final stop I returned to the American continent, more precisely to Canada with the modern short-story collection Dear Life by Alice Munro who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013.

Monday, 18 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Rose of Love by Isabel Ecclestone Mackay

Rose of Love

(from Between the Lights: 1904)

               Many a rose
               In the hot-house grows,
Holding its charm for the wealthiest buyer;
               Out in the air,
               In the garden there,
Blossoms the rose of my only desire.

               Languid are these,
               Shut from the breeze,
Blowing all sweet from the meadows of clover;
               Out where she grows,
               My little rose
Lifts up a face with the dew sprinkled over.

               Roses are dear,
               In the hot-house here;
I would not buy were their beauty perfection.
               Roses as rare,
               Sweet and as fair.
Blossom and bloom, asking only affection.

               Oh, for one day
               To cast all away,
Just to be free for a few golden hours;
               To lose all regret,
               To enjoy, to forget,
Near to my rose in a garden of flowers.

Isabel Ecclestone Mackay (1875-1928)
Canadian writer

Friday, 15 June 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante

A small island can be a very quiet and private place to live in provided that it’s sparsely populated and outside the usual shipping routes. In our ever closer connected world – really and digitally – there may be only few such islands left, but until not too long ago even the people living on the islands in the Gulf of Naples were quite on their own although the big city on the mainland is all but far-off. A boy who grew up on one of these islands, on Procida to be precise, in the 1920s and 1930s is the protagonist of the Italian classical novel Arturo’s Island by Elsa Morante that I picked as another bookish déjà-vu. With his mother died in childbirth and his father away most of the time, Arturo enjoys a carefree and unrestricted childhood until his father takes a new wife hardly older than the adolescent boy.
Read my review »

Monday, 11 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: O, Gather Me the Rose by William Ernest Henley

O, Gather Me the Rose

(from A Book of Verses: 1888)

O, gather me the rose, the rose,
     While yet in flower we find it,
For summer smiles, but summer goes,
     And winter waits behind it!

For with the dream foregone, foregone,
     The deed forborne for ever,
The worm, regret, will canker on,
     And time will turn him never.

So well it were to love, my love,
     And cheat of any laughter
The death beneath us and above,
     The dark before and after.

The myrtle and the rose, the rose,
     The sunshine and the swallow,
The dream that comes, the wish that goes,
     The memories that follow!

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903)
English poet, critic and editor

Friday, 8 June 2018

Book Review: Islands of the Dying Light by Rolf Lappert
Islands, especially small ones that aren’t to be found on any map, often have an aura of the secret and the mysterious. And not without reason. The water surrounding them protects them from curious eyes and makes it almost impossible to enter them unnoticed. In other words, they are good hideaways for people who don’t wish to be seen because they are a little paranoid or – which is more likely – because they are engaged in activities that are morally questionable, if not illegal. The latter happens on the Islands of the Dying Light that Swiss author Rolf Lappert evokes in his novel about a brother and a sister who have come all the way from Ireland to the Philippines, the one to find out what happened to his sister, the other a while earlier to work with primates. Neither is welcome and both are drawn into a life-threatening sham.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Poetry Revisited: Ein Jahr – A Year by Maria Janitschek

Ein Jahr

(aus Im Sommerwind: 1895)

Träumende Blumen, nickendes Gras,
Von Käfern ein gülden Gewimmel,
Ein Rauschen wie rieselnder Blätter Fall
Und drüber der blaue Himmel.

Am Boden flimmerndes Silber verstreut,
Die Sträuche in weißen Schleiern,
Kein Windhauch, kein wachsender Vogellaut,
Nicht enden wollendes Feiern.

Es klopft wie mit Kinderfingern
Ans sonnenlaue Eis,
Und in den nassen Zweigen,
Da regt sich’s fragend leis.

Um Rosen braune Falter,
Ein Neigen von Ast zu Ast,
Die Blüten voller Honig,
Die Nester voll junger Last.

Und wieder träumende Blumen,
Der Käfer gülden Gewimmel,
Der müden Blätter Rieseln,
Und drüber der blaue Himmel.

Maria Janitschek (1859-1927)
Österreichische Schriftstellerin und Journalistin

A Year

(from In the Summer Wind: 1895)

Dreaming flowers, nodding grass,
Of beetles a golden swarming,
A rustling like the fall of rippling leaves
And above it the blue sky.

Spattered on the ground glittereing silver,
The shrubs in white veils,
No breath of wind, no growing bird sound,
Unending celebrating.

It knocks with children’s fingers
At the sunny warm ice,
And in the wet branches
There it moves inquiringly low.

Around rose brown butterflies,
A bowing from bough to bough,
The flowers full of honey,
The nests full of young load.

And again dreaming flowers,
The beetles’ golden swarming,
The tired leaves’ rippling,
And above it the blue sky.

Maria Janitschek (1859-1927)
Austrian writer and journalist

Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2018

Friday, 1 June 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness

Every island is a world of its own with people formed by the sea that surrounds them and cuts them off other civilisations to a bigger or lesser degree depending on distances and state of tecnology. With the ongoing globalisation many peculiarities of islanders risk to get lost, notably ancient traditions and even languages. But this isn’t a phenomenon of modern times. It’s a process that has been going on for centuries, even millennia. As a bookish déjà-vu dealing with island life from a historical point of view, I picked Iceland’s Bell by Halldór K. Laxness, the so far only en-NOBEL-ed writer of the country located in the North of the Atlantic Ocean. The novel’s protagonist is a poor uncultured man living in the early 1700s when Iceland still was part of Denmark. He is sentenced to death for murder, escapes his fate to the mainland and seeks justice.
Read my review»

Monday, 28 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: The Time of Roses by Laurence James Nicolson

The Time of Roses

(from Songs of Thule: 1894)

It was the time of roses,
We met, my love and I;
And Beauty’s hand had crown’d the land,
And music filled the sky.
Our souls were thrilled with rapture,
I know not how or why,
We wandered on by wood and stream,
And love was life, and life a dream.
Whate’er the spell,
I know full well
It was the time of roses
We met, my love, and I.

But when the first pale snowdrop
Was opening into flower.
My own! my own! was stricken down:
But saved from wind and shower
To keep my heart from breaking,
One little bud for dower.
One little bud a tender care
From my dead flower that was so fair,
So I will trace
A vanished face,
When my own little snowdrop
Is opening into flower.

Laurence James Nicolson (1844-1901)
Scottish poet from the Shetland Isles

Friday, 25 May 2018

Book Review: The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay change of scenery is a good idea sometimes, but it has hardly the power to do wonders, at least not promptly. The world that each one of us lives in is more than the environment that we perceive with our senses. Memories and experiences give everything a unique tint no matter where we are or go, i.e. we can’t run away from them – nor from ourselves. The novel The World My Wilderness by Rose Macaulay is about Barbary, a tomboy whom her mother sends away from Provence to live with her father in London and to drop her savage habits adopted in the French Resistance. Emotionally scarred by the experience of occupation and war as well as by the separation from her mother, she feels completely out of place in her father’s new family and roams the ruins left by air raids seeking the company of outcasts like herself.

Monday, 21 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: Crows by Mary Eliza Fullerton


(from The Breaking Furrow: 1921)

At an old water-hole,
Bones lay in the hide
And teeth gibbered up
Of things that had died.

Tortured of thirst,
There came to the mud
A son of the plain,
Who sank where he stood.

Then the crows from afar,
Where the water was good,
Came nearer, for heaven
Had given them food.

Mary Eliza Fullerton (1868-1946)
Australian feminist poet, short story writer,
journalist and novelist

Friday, 18 May 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen

The world of emotions is so powerful that it can easily confuse, even overwhelm us making us blind for the physical world as it really is. Undeniably, emotions can give strength, but they can just as well drain it and bring people on the verge of desperation or madness. Sometimes they drive people to do things – good or evil – that seem completely out of their line and that they themselves might have thought impossible before. And memories can revive them in an instant as the young protagonist of the 1955 novel A World of Love by Elizabeth Bowen, which I picked as a bookish déjà-vu this week, learns when she finds a packet of old love letters in a trunk in the attic and unintentionally sets in motion a maelstrom of long suppressed emotions in the people whom she has known all her life mentioning her find at table.
Read my review»

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Back Reviews Reel: May 2015

My reads of this month three years ago were an intriguing time travel into the past, notably the 1920s and 1930s. The Swiss classic Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach took me to Berlin in the 1930s with a young man in love with a cabaret singer who takes advantage of him. The suffocating atmosphere of Lisbon in 1938 when Salazar’s fascist terror regime was in power filled the contemporary Italian novel Pereira Maintains by Antonio Tabucchi. The passionate dancers of the contemporary Spanish novel Heart of Tango by Elia Barceló stumbled across a crime committed in Buenos Aires during the 1920s. The French satirical classic Penguin Island by Nobel laureate Anatole France unfolded the history of a fictitious country from legendary times through the future. And finally the classical Austrian novel in five scenes Yellow Street by Veza Canetti brought to life a whole neighbourhood in Vienna of the 1930s.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: Early One Morning by Edward Thomas

Early One Morning

(from Poems: 1917)

Early one morning in May I set out,
And nobody I knew was about.
               I’m bound away for ever.
               Away somewhere, away for ever.

There was no wind to trouble the weathercocks.
I had burnt my letters and darned my socks.

No one knew I was going away,
I thought myself I should come back some day.

I heard the brook through the town gardens run.
O sweet was the mud turned to dust by the sun.

A gate banged in a fence and banged in my head.
“A fine morning, sir,” a shepherd said.

I could not return from my liberty,
To my youth and my love and my misery.

The past is the only dead thing that smells sweet,
The only sweet thing that is not also fleet.
               I’m bound away for ever,
               Away somewhere, away for ever.

Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
British poet, essayist, and novelist

Friday, 11 May 2018

Book Review: The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore crammed on the same fragile planet, we all live our daily lives in quite different worlds. According to temperament, possibility and situation it may be a small, more or less secluded world in one moment and a wide one with few limitations in another. Passing between these worlds can be a rather confusing, sometimes even unwanted experience. In the classical Indian novel The Home and the World by Rabindranath Tagore, the recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1913, the Maharajah’s wife Bimala falls under the spell of charismatic political leader Sandip Babu who seems to be the complete opposite of her always poised husband Nikhil. For the first time in her life she feels passion, both for the man as well as for his uncompromisingly nationalist ideas, but book knowledge and the sheltered life in the purdah left her quite unprepared for the challenges of the outside world.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Poetry Revisited: Past and Future by Sarojini Naidu

Past and Future

(from The Golden Threshold: 1905)

The new hath come and now the old retires:
And so the past becomes a mountain-cell,
Where lone, apart, old hermit-memories dwell
In consecrated calm, forgotten yet
Of the keen heart that hastens to forget
Old longings in fulfilling new desires.

And now the Soul stands in a vague, intense
Expectancy and anguish of suspense,
On the dim chamber-threshold… lo! he sees,
Like a strange, fated bride as yet unknown,
His timid future shrinking there alone,
Beneath her marriage-veil of mysteries.

Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
Indian poet and freedom fighter

Friday, 4 May 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

Considering that we are living at a time firmly based on human reason, natural sciences and technological progress, the physical world around us can still be awfully mysterious and confusing at times. How much more puzzling, even terrifying must it have been for our forefathers who didn’t have the means or the courage to look into the secrets of God’s creation! Only in the Age of Enlightenment natural sciences began to take over from religion (and superstition) the task to explain the world… and to fathom its various aspects. Two eminent and very different paragons of natural sciences in Germany around 1800 were explorer Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauß (1777-1855) who are the protagonists of Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, the bestselling novel from 2005 that I picked as another bookish déjà-vu this week. One travelled the world. The other never left his country.  

Monday, 30 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: Corinna’s Going a-Maying by Robert Herrick

Corinna’s Going a-Maying

(from Hesperides: 1648)

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
See how Aurora throws her fair
Fresh-quilted colours through the air:
Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept and bow’d toward the east
Above an hour since: yet you not dress’d;
Nay! not so much as out of bed?
When all the birds have matins said
And sung their thankful hymns, ’tis sin,
Nay, profanation to keep in,
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Rise and put on your foliage, and be seen
To come forth, like the spring-time, fresh and green,
And sweet as Flora. Take no care
For jewels for your gown or hair:
Fear not; the leaves will strew
Gems in abundance upon you:
Besides, the childhood of the day has kept,
Against you come, some orient pearls unwept;
Come and receive them while the light
Hangs on the dew-locks of the night:
And Titan on the eastern hill
Retires himself, or else stands still
Till you come forth. Wash, dress, be brief in praying:
Few beads are best when once we go a-Maying.

Come, my Corinna, come; and, coming, mark
How each field turns a street, each street a park
Made green and trimm’d with trees: see how
Devotion gives each house a bough
Or branch: each porch, each door ere this
An ark, a tabernacle is,
Made up of white-thorn neatly interwove;
As if here were those cooler shades of love.
Can such delights be in the street
And open fields and we not see’t?
Come, we’ll abroad; and let’s obey
The proclamation made for May:
And sin no more, as we have done, by staying;
But, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

There’s not a budding boy or girl this day
But is got up, and gone to bring in May.
A deal of youth, ere this, is come
Back, and with white-thorn laden home.
Some have despatch’d their cakes and cream
Before that we have left to dream:
And some have wept, and woo’d, and plighted troth,
And chose their priest, ere we can cast off sloth:
Many a green-gown has been given;
Many a kiss, both odd and even:
Many a glance too has been sent
From out the eye, love’s firmament;
Many a jest told of the keys betraying
This night, and locks pick’d, yet we’re not a-Maying.

Come, let us go while we are in our prime;
And take the harmless folly of the time.
We shall grow old apace, and die
Before we know our liberty.
Our life is short, and our days run
As fast away as does the sun;
And, as a vapour or a drop of rain
Once lost, can ne’er be found again,
So when or you or I are made
A fable, song, or fleeting shade,
All love, all liking, all delight
Lies drowned with us in endless night.
Then while time serves, and we are but decaying,
Come, my Corinna, come, let’s go a-Maying.

Robert Herrick (1591-1674)
English lyric poet and cleric

Friday, 27 April 2018

Book Review: Train to Budapest by Dacia Maraini the fall of communism, cities like Krakow, Prague and Budapest have regained their status as popular tourist destinations. During the Cold War, on the other hand, not many Westerners will have dreamt of visiting them one day, probably above all those who yearned for meeting family still there or who were homesick for the places of a memorable youth before World War II. Even fewer will actually have ventured at getting a visa. Set in 1956, Train to Budapest by Dacia Maraini evokes a Europe divided into East and West by the Iron Curtain. Hoping to find out the fate of her childhood friend Emanuele, whose last letters scribbled into an exercise-book in the ghetto of Lodz date from 1943, a young Florentine journalist visits Auschwitz, Vienna and eventually Budapest. In the Hungarian capital she becomes eye-witness of one of the most dramatic periods in the country’s recent history.

Monday, 23 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: When Willows Green by Helen Gray Cone

When Willows Green

(from The Ride to the Lady and Other Poems: 1893)

When goldenly the willows green,
And, mirrored in the sunset pool,
Hang wavering, wild-rose clouds between:
When robins call in twilights cool:
What is it we await?
Who lingers and is late?
What strange unrest, what yearning stirs us all
When willows green, when robins call?

When fields of flowering grass respire
A sweet that seems the breath of Peace,
And liquid-voiced the thrushes choir,
Oh, whence the sense of glad release?
What is it life uplifts?
Who entered, bearing gifts?
What floods from heaven the being overpower
When thrushes choir, when grasses flower?

Helen Gray Cone (1859-1934)
American poet and professor of English literature

Friday, 20 April 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras

Since times immemorial, the Strait of Gibraltar kindles the imagination of people, not least because at the same time it connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and separates Africa from Europe. According to ancient Greek mythology adopted by Etruscans and Romans, Hercules marked the end of the world on the pillars on both sides, namely on the Rock of Gibraltar and on Monte Hacho or Jebel Musa on the North-African coast, but I doubt that this ever prevented anyone from dreaming about what might be beyond the portal. Today we know, and yet, Gibraltar keeps being a special place, a British pene-exclave on the Iberian peninsula with the only wild population of monkeys or more precisely Barbary macaques in Europe. However, The Sailor from Gibraltar by Marguerite Duras, the French novel from 1952 that I picked for this week’s bookish déjà-vu, refers only indirectly to the place.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Back Reviews Reel: April 2015

The Colonial era and the tumultuous times around its end are the red thread connecting my reads of this month three years ago. I started with a wonderfully satirical novel from 1927 about a Protestant missionary on a remote Pacific island that Sylvia Townsend Warner titled Mr. Fortune’s Maggot. Then I made a detour to Lisbon to watch The Return of the Caravels from Portuguese territories in Asia and Africa after 1974 as António Lobo Antunes described it fourteen years later breaking the boundaries of time. Back to the British Empire, more precisely to India in the 1940s, I witnessed the Clear Light of Day and the country’s way to independence with two dissimilar sisters brought to life by Anita Desai in 1980. And with a 1947 classic from the pen of Naguib Mahfouz, the 1988 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, I visited the people living in Midaq Alley in Cairo in Egypt under British protectorate during World War II.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: As estrelas – The Stars by João da Cruz e Sousa

As estrelas

(de Faróis: 1900)

Lá, nas celestes regiões distantes,
No fundo melancólico da Esfera,
Nos caminhos da eterna Primavera
Do amor, eis as estrelas palpitantes.

Quantos mistérios andarão errantes,
Quantas almas em busca da Quimera,
Lá, das estrelas nessa paz austera
Soluçarão, nos altos céus radiantes.

Finas flores de pérolas e prata,
Das estrelas serenas se desata
Toda a caudal das ilusões insanas.

Quem sabe, pelos tempos esquecidos,
Se as estrelas não são os ais perdidos
Das primitivas legiões humanas?!

João da Cruz e Sousa (1861-1898)
poeta brasileiro

The Stars

(from Lighthouses: 1900)

There, in the distant heavenly regions,
In the melancholy ground of the sphere,
In the paths of eternal spring
Of love, there are the pounding stars.

How many mysteries will go wandering,
How many souls in quest of the chimera,
There, from the stars in this austere peace
They will sigh in the radiant high skies.

Delicate flowers of pearls and silver,
From the peaceful stars breaks
All the flow of crazy illusions.

Who knows, for the forgotten times,
If the stars are not the lost ohs
Of the primitive human legions?!

João da Cruz e Sousa (1861-1898)
Brazilian poet
Translation: Edith LaGraziana 2018

Friday, 13 April 2018

Book Review: The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum are many reasons why Italy is a country of longing for so many people worldwide. The mild climate allures winter-weary Northerners craving for the sun, the remains of ancient Roman civilisation stir the nostalgia of history as well as classics enthusiasts, priceless works of art from more than two millennia mesmerise art lovers and the Pope as living idol of millions of faithful Roman Catholics brings streams of pilgrims to Rome. In the 1975 satirical novel The Road to Gandolfo by Robert Ludlum highly decorated US army veteran Lieutenant General MacKenzie Hawkins makes out a fictitious Pope Francesco I as his ticket to retirement without financial worries. He blackmails army lawyer Sam Deveraux into helping him to put his audacious plan into practice with hush money squeezed out of four international crooks and with the willing support of his ex-wives. But the Pope doesn’t react as expected.

Monday, 9 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: Reality by Anna Wickham


(from The Contemplative Quarry: 1915)

Only a starveling singer seeks
The stuff of songs among the Greeks.
Juno is old,
Jove's loves are cold;
Tales over-told.
By a new risen Attic stream
A mortal singer dreamed a dream.
Fixed he not Fancy's habitation,
Nor set in bonds Imagination.
There are new waters, and a new Humanity.
For all old myths give us the dream to be.

We are outwearied with Persephone;
Rather than her, we'll sing Reality.

Anna Wickham (1883-1947), real name Edith Alice Mary Harper
English-Australian modernist poet

Friday, 6 April 2018

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque

There are places that fill most of us with a certain kind of nostalgia, if we have been there or not. With regard to Lisbon it’s probably more apt to talk of saudade, this special mix of longing, wistfulness and melancholia regarding something lost and irretrievable that seems to have no name in any language except Portuguese. During World War II the city attracted people from all over Europe for quite existential reasons, though. Lisbon was one of the last ports on the continent where a refugee from Germany or German-occupied territory could still hope to board a ship taking him or her to a safe and peaceful life abroad. The protagonist of today’s bookish déjà-vu, i.e. of The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque, belongs to the few lucky ones who secured visa and tickets for the USA, but then he doesn’t want to leave after all…

Read my review »

Monday, 2 April 2018

Poetry Revisited: Easter Week by Charles Kingsley

Easter Week

(from The Works of Charles Kingsley, Volume I. Poems: 1879)

(Written for music to be sung at a Parish Industrial Exhibition)

See the land, her Easter keeping,
     Rises as her Maker rose.
Seeds, so long in darkness sleeping,
     Burst at last from winter snows.
Earth with heaven above rejoices;
     Fields and gardens hail the spring;
Shaughs and woodlands ring with voices,
     While the wild birds build and sing.

You, to whom your Maker granted
     Powers to those sweet birds unknown,
Use the craft by God implanted;
     Use the reason not your own.
Here, while heaven and earth rejoices,
     Each his Easter tribute bring—
Work of fingers, chant of voices,
     Like the birds who build and sing.

Eversley, 1867

Charles Kingsley (1819-1875)
English clergyman, university professor, historian, and novelist

Friday, 30 March 2018

Book Review: Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton fire is a strong natural force that turns everything inflammable within its reach into ashes. Most of us see only its destructive power although clearing the ground it lays the foundations for renewal… or resurrection. Sometimes it smoulders beneath the surface unnoticed by us and sometimes it burns gently before our very eyes lulling us into a false sense of security, both literally as well as metaphorically. Sleeping Fires by Gertrude Atherton is the story of a young woman in San Francisco of the 1860s whose husband loves her as a beautiful and pleasant addition to his household, but can’t imagine her to have a mind worthwhile knowing. When a journalist from New York arrives, he brings her mental stimulation in the form of serious books and the opportunity for meaningful discussions that her husband refuses her. And almost unnoticed by themselves, they kindle the fire of forbidden love.