Monday, 20 May 2019

Poetry Revisited: Eolie by Edith May


(from Poems by Edith May: 1850)

Oh ! you are welcome as the dew
       To the worn feet of pilgrim day.
And wild and fresh as flowers that keep
       The virgin bloom and breath of May;
Yet wilful as a hawk set free
       Ere whistle lure or huntsman tame her.
Capricious as the bridal smile.
       Spring half denies the skies that claim her.
You've slept since morning unbetrayed
       By waving grass, or whispering tree,
You're loitering now through grove and glade,
                                                 Wild Eolie

Oh! we were playmates long ago.
       And then I chased your flying feet
Over the brave rock-terraced hills,
       Over the valleys green and sweet.
Your kisses woke me, if I slept
       Where boughs unclasp and shadows play,
And, starting from my childish dreams,
       I heard your low laugh far away.
Most gentle in your wily mirth.
       Yet elfin half, you seemed to me,
I loved you more than I can tell.
                                                 Wild Eolie!

I love you still; when evening comes,
       I hear you tread my chamber floor,
You sweep aside my curtain's fold,
       And close the page I linger o'er.
For sunset is our trysting time.
       Our tryst we keep till stars convene,
Till, Thetis-like, from deeps of blue
       Upwends the silver-footed queen—
Breaking the crystal calm of night.
       As light wings break a glassy sea,
Your low voice hymns me to my rest,
                                                 Wild Eolie!

When through the heavens' serenest blue
       Move car-like clouds with lingering flight
I image you a nymph like those
       That urge the shell of Amphitrite.
At morn you are a huntress fleet;
       And cloistered from the heats of noon,
You seem at night a sister pale,
       Low chanting to the halved moon.
By morn, and noon, and saintly night,
       I imagine what I cannot see,
And give your elfin tones a soul,
                                                 Wild Eolie!

Edith May (1827-1903), real name Annie Drinker
American poet

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Back Reviews Reel: May 2016

Among my four reviewed books of three years ago there were three focusing on the lives of women. The 2008 historical novel The Enchantress of Florence by Salman Rushdie revolves around a sixteenth-century Indian princess whose good looks and charms made her the companion of powerful men and brought her from her native India via Florence to the Americas. Much less glamorous than hers is the life of the protagonist’s mother in the forgotten Austrian classic The Red House by Else Jerusalem because the renowned beauty is a prostitute in Vienna before 1900. In contrast, The Blue Flowers by Raymond Queneau is an experimental novel pacing through French history from the thirteenth century through the 1960s in a dream-like plot. In The Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Koomson the seemingly perfect life of a woman turns into a nightmare after her husband’s arrest for attempted rape in Brighton of today.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Poetry Revisited: Mis Mai – To May by Daniel Evans

Mis Mai

(o Gwinllan y Bardd: 1831)

Mor dêg a hyfryd ydyw Mai,
Pob peth heb’drai sy’n ddedwydd,—
Mor hardd eu drych yw bloda’'r drain
A geir yn gain ar gynnydd,—
Aderyn bach, mor bêr dy big,
A’th gân ar frig y gwinwydd.

Y ddaear rwydd sydd oll yn wres,
A glân yw tês y glennydd,—
Mor fwyn y gwenyn sydd yn gwau,
Gan sugno diliau'r dolydd.
Ac arwain adre ‘u llwythau llawn
Ar dynnion iawn adenydd.

Mor lwys a llon yw meillion Mai,
Y lili a’i chwiorydd,—
Fel llawn yr afon pan bo lli’,
Llawn clod a bri yw’r bröydd:
A daethost tithau ‘nol yn iach,
Gu wennol fach I’n gweunydd.

Mor felus clywed llais y gôg,
A gweled clôg y coedydd,
Mewn llawen fraint a’u lliw yn frith,
Ac arnynt wlith boreuddydd,—
A gwrando wrth fachludiad sêr
Ar ganiad pêr uchedydd.

I roeso Mai, O deued myrdd,
A’i wên yn wyrdd ar wawrddydd;—
E ddarfu’r gauaf oer ei naws
Fu’n hir yn draws-reolydd,
Mae Mai mewn braint uwch unrhyw bris,
Y goreu Fis i faesydd.

Coroner Mai trwy’r byd ar g’oedd
Yn ben y miaoedd mwynrydd
A blodau teccaf trwy y tir,
Nes byddo’n wir ysblennydd,—
A doed i ganu ‘i fawl yn ffrwd
Mewn cariad brwd bob prydydd.

Daniel Evans (1792-1846)
Clerigwr a bardd o Gymru

To May

(from The Bard’s Vineyard: 1831)
How fair and fragrant art thou, May!
Replete with leaf and verdure,
How sweet the blossom of the thorn
Which so enriches nature,
The bird now sings upon the bush,
Or soars through fields of azure.

The earth absorbs the genial rays
Which vivify the summer,
The busy bee hums on his way
Exhausting every flower,
Returning to its earthen nest
Laden with honied treasure.

How cheerful are the signs of May,
The lily sweet and briar,
Perfuming every shady way
Beside the warbling river;
And thou, gay cuckoo! hast returned
To usher in the summer.

How pleasant is the cuckoo’s song
Which floats along the meadow,
How rich the sight of woodland green,
And pastures white and yellow,
The lark now soars into the heights
And pours her notes so mellow.

To welcome May, let thousands hie
At the sweet dawn of morning,
The winter cold has left the sky,
The sun is mildly beaming,
The dew bright sparkles on the grass,
All nature is rejoicing.

Let May be crown’d the best of months
Of all the passing year,
Let her be deck’d with floral wreaths,
And fed with juice and nectar,
Let old and young forsake the town
And shout a welcome to her.

Daniel Evans (1792-1846)
Welsh cleric and poet

Translation as found in
John Jenkins, Esq. (ed.): The Poetry of Wales.
London 1873

Friday, 10 May 2019

Book Review: The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
When life doesn’t take the expected turn, it’s often easier to come up with the idea of a conspiracy than to search for the real cause of events. Especially misanthropists (but not only they) are prone to blaming others for all and nothing. They need a scapegoat and who is better suited for it than the weak, be it an individual or a whole group like the Jewish minority spattered all across Europe. In The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco a man in his late sixties looks back on his life as unscrupulous informer and forger of documents whose every action has been marked by the blind hatred against Jews, Freemasons and Jesuits that he contracted in his youth. Writing down his adventures, it slowly dawns on him that he has an alter ego, a Jesuit priest of all things, who got active in the periods that he can’t remember…

Monday, 6 May 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Hot-House Rose by Charlotte Turner Smith

The Hot-House Rose

(from Conversations Introducing Poetry: 1804)

An early rose borne from her genial bower,
Met the fond homage of admiring eyes,
And while young Zephyr fanned the lovely flower,
Nature and Art contended for the prize.

Exulting Nature cried, “I made thee fair,
‘T was I that nursed thy tender buds in dew;
I gave thee fragrance to perfume the air,
And stole from beauty’s cheek her blushing hue.”

“Cease, goddess, cease,“ indignant Art replied,
“And ere you triumph, know that, but for me,
This beauteous object of our mutual pride
Had been no other than a vulgar tree.

“I snatched her from her tardy mother’s arms,
Where sun-beams scorch and piercing tempests blow;
On my warm bosom nursed her infant charms,
Pruned the wild shoot, and trained the straggling bough.

“I watched her tender buds, and from her shade
Drew each intruding weed with anxious care,
Nor let the curling blight her leaves invade,
Nor worm nor noxious insect harbour there.

“At length the beauty’s loveliest bloom appears,
And Art from Fame shall win the promis’d boon,
While wayward April, smiling through her tears,
Decks her fair tresses with the wreaths of June.

“Then, jealous Nature, yield the palm to me,
To me thy pride its early triumph owes;
Though thy rude workmanship produced the tree,
‘Twas Education formed the perfect Rose.”

Charlotte Turner Smith (1749-1806)
English Romantic poet and novelist

Friday, 3 May 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

Dreams of a better future are an exceptionally strong driving force as prove millions of people on the move on our planet. Unlike the latter – who must be really desperate – most of us chase after opportunities promising a better life without ever leaving home and family. Actually, we are taught to reach for the stars although often we are painfully aware that the dream is quite an impossible one. Despite all, we go on trying… and hoping even when we feel like Don Quixote fighting against his windmills because we meet obstacle after obstacle or people who do everything in their power to stop us or lead us astray. In Berlin of the 1920s, the protagonist of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin, another one of my bookish déjà-vu, is determined to lead an honest life after four years in prison, but everything and everybody seem to have conspired against him…
Read my review »

Monday, 29 April 2019

Poetry Revisited: A Picture by Victor J. Daley

A Picture

(from At Dawn and Dusk: 1898)

THE sun burns fiercely down the skies;
The sea is full of flashing eyes;
The waves glide shoreward serpentwise

And fawn with foamy tongues on stark
Gray rocks, each sharp-toothed as a shark,
And hiss in clefts and channels dark.

Blood-purple soon the waters grow,
As though drowned sea-kings fought below
Forgotten fights of long ago.

The gray owl Dusk its wings has spread;
The sun sinks in a blossom-bed
Of poppy-clouds; the day is dead.

Victor J. Daley (1858-1905)
Australian poet

Monday, 22 April 2019

Poetry Revisited: Easter by Emily Pauline Johnson


(from The White Wampum: 1895)

April 1, 1888

Lent gathers up her cloak of sombre shading
          In her reluctant hands.
Her beauty heightens, fairest in its fading,
          As pensively she stands
Awaiting Easter’s benediction falling,
          Like silver stars at night,
Before she can obey the summons calling
          Her to her upward flight,
Awaiting Easter’s wings that she must borrow
          Ere she can hope to fly—
Those glorious wings that we shall see to-morrow
          Against the far, blue sky.
Has not the purple of her vesture’s lining
          Brought calm and rest to all?
Has her dark robe had naught of golden shining
          Been naught but pleasure’s pall?
Who knows? Perhaps when to the world returning
          In youth’s light joyousness,
We’ll wear some rarer jewels we found burning
          In Lent’s black-bordered dress.
So hand in hand with fitful March she lingers
          To beg the crowning grace
Of lifting with her pure and holy fingers
          The veil from April’s face.
Sweet, rosy April—laughing, sighing, waiting
          Until the gateway swings,
And she and Lent can kiss between the grating
          Of Easter’s tissue wings.
Too brief the bliss—the parting comes with sorrow.
          Good-bye dear Lent, good-bye!
We’ll watch your fading wings outlined to-morrow
          Against the far blue sky.

Emily Pauline Johnson (1861-1913)
Canadian writer and performer

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.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Back Reviews Reel: April 2016

Five reviews of contemporary and classical novels from Europe and the Americas were on my review schedule this month three years ago. The Italian novel The City and the House by Natalia Ginzburg from the 1980s follows the correspondence of a nostalgic Italian living in the USA and his kin back home in Rome. In Serpent’s Child by contemporary writer Peter Truschner a typical Austrian childhood and youth come back to life. On the other hand, both the classical English novel South Riding by Winifred Holtby and Satan in Goray by en-NOBEL-ed Isaac Bashevis Singer focus on the inhabitants of a fictional place living hard times in Yorkshire of the 1930s and in Poland of the mid-seventeenth century respectively. The Argentinean historical novel Tierra del Fuego by Sylvia Iparraguirre traces the life of an Indian taken from his native islands to live in England among “civilised” people.

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.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 20 March 2019

Back Reviews Reel: March 2016

This month three years ago, it was the turn of the letters E, F, U and V in my double alphabet of writers. I started with the fictionalised memoir A Man’s Place by Annie Ernaux that evokes the author’s father raising her in a small town in post-war Normandy, France. Then I moved on to Germany with the comical novel Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes about Adolf Hitler who one day miraculously regains consciousness in present-day Berlin instead of on the sofa in his Führerbunker beside his newly-wed wife Eva in 1945 as he last remembers. Another fictionalised childhood, this time from New Zealand, is at the centre of the 1957 autobiographical satire Owls Do Cry by Janet Frame. My final read of March 2016 was the classical collection Abel Sanchez and Other Stories by Miguel de Unamuno containing three tales revolving each around a protagonist caught in suffering.

Monday, 18 March 2019

Poetry Revisited: My Star by Robert Browning

My Star

(from Men and Women: 1855)

               All that I know
                   Of a certain star,
               Is, it can throw
                   (Like the angled spar)
               Now a dart of red,
                   Now a dart of blue,
               Till my friends have said
                   They would fain see, too,
My star that dartles the red and the blue!
Then it stops like a bud, like a flower hangs furled
     They must solace themselves with the Saturn above it.
What matter to meif their star is a world?
     Mine has opened its soul to me therefore I love it.

Robert Browning (1812-1889)
English poet and playwright

Monday, 11 March 2019

Poetry Revisited: Farewell to a Happy Day by Frances Sargent Osgood

Farewell to a Happy Day

(from Rufus Wilmot Griswold: The Female Poets of America. 1873)

Good-by, good-by, though gracious, golden day:
Through luminous tears thou smilest, far away
In the blue heaven, thy sweet farewell to me,
And I, though my tears, gaze and smile with thee.

I see the last faint glowing amber gleam
Of thy rich pinion, like a lovely dream,
Whose floating glory melts within the sky,
And now thou’rt passed for ever from mine eye!

Were we not friends –best friends– my cherished day?
Did I not treasure every eloquent ray
Of golden light and love thou gavest me?
And have I not been true – most true to thee?

And thou – thou camést like a joyous bird,
Whose sacred wings by heaven’s own air were stirred,
And lowly sang me all the happy time
Dear, soothing stories of that blissful clime!

And more, oh! more than this, there came with thee,
From Heaven, a stranger, rare and bright to me —
A new, sweet joy – a smiling angel-guest,
That softly asked a home within my breast.

For talking sadly with my soul alone,
I heard far off and faint a music-tone:
It seemed a spirit’s call – so soft it stole
On fairy wings into my waiting soul.

I knew it summoned me to something sweet,
And so I followed it with faltering feet —
And found – what I had prayed for with wild tears —
A rest, that soothed the lingering grief of years!

Sor for that deep, perpetual joy, my day!
And for all lovely things that came to play
In thy glad smile – the pure and pleading flowers
That crowned with their frail blom thy flying hours:

For these – for all – bear thou to Heaven for me
The grateful thanks with which I mission thee!
Then should thy sisters, wasted, wronged, upbraid:
Speak thou for me – for thou wert not betrayed!

‘T was little, true, I could to thee impart —
I, with my simple, frail, and wayward heart;
But that I strove the diamond sands to light,
In Life’s rich hour-glass, with Love’s rainbow flight:

And that on generous spirit owed to me
A moment of exulting ecstasy;
And that I won o’er wrong a queenly sway —
For this, thou ’lt smile for me in Heaven, my Day!

Frances Sargent Osgood (1811-1850)
American poet

Friday, 8 March 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck

As Charles Darwin impressively proved in his key works On the Origin of Species (1859) and The Descent of Man (1871), the ability to adapt to new conditions helped the human race enormously not just to survive, but to “fill the Earth and govern it” as the Holy Bible puts it. Nonetheless, it’s undeniable that we all have a conservative streak in us – some more, some less – because as a rule it assures us when things stay as they are and we aren’t forced to try out something new that could well turn out wrong. The protagonist of my bookish déjà vu, The Winter of Our Discontent by en-NOBEL-ed American author John Steinbeck, is a middle-aged man of old lineage who proudly holds fast to the principles and morals passed on to him by his forefathers although he realises that they prevent his success in a much changed modern world.
Read my review »

Monday, 4 March 2019

Poetry Revisited: Old Winter is Gone by George Murray

Old Winter is Gone

(from One Hundred Modern Scottish Poets. Volume 1: 1880)

The stormy and blustering Old Winter is gone,
And Spring hath her sweet virgin blushes put on;
And blushing, and smiling, the tender young Queen
Is robed in a robe of the greenest of green.
Tho’ morning comes in with a tear in her eye,
All blithely and gladly she’ll smile by and by,
And the tear in the West ere the day’s well begun
Shall be dried by a smile from the eye of the sun.

O, spring hath returned with her sunshine and showers,
Bedecking the earth with her loveliest flowers;
And murmuring, and singing, each streamlet and rill
Comes dancing adown yon time-beaten hill.
Old Winter with many a scowl and a frown,
His head hides in grief ‘neath a storm-woven crown;
While his young virgin daughter, all beauty and grace,
Releases the earth from his icy embrace.

The breezes of morning trip down o’er the hill,
Inspiring and fresh after Winter’s long chill;
The old earth rejoices in youth yet again,
While Spring robes in beauty each woodland and glen;
At noon the glad birds carol joyous and loud
From the song-land above in yon feathery cloud,
The dew slakes the earth’s thirst at eve, and at morn
Shall sparkle like gems on the blossoming thorn.

O, fresh is the meadow, and fresh is the wood,
And fresh is the bank overhanging the flood;
And fresh are the flowers that are scatter’d abroad
The brae-side adorning, bedecking the sod.
O, sweet is the fragrance perfuming the air,
And sweet are the melodies heard everywhere;
And sweet are the hopes Fancy pictures to me
As I wander at eve o’er the gowany lea—

Sweet hopes of the dawn of a bright happy day;
Sweet hopes of a fair sunny land far away;
Sweet hopes of the present, as onward it flies;
Sweet hopes of the future, with sunnier skies;
Sweet hopes of the earth yielding plenty again;
Sweet hopes of success if we quit us like men;
Sweet hopes, gladsome hopes, that when spring-time be past
Our lives shall be one glorious Summer at last!

George Murray (birth and death dates unknown)
Scottish poet of Irish parentage

Friday, 1 March 2019

Book Review: The Golden Hills by Clara Viebig

Click on the index card to enlarge it!
We all know moments when we feel like Job from the Holy Bible because nothing goes right and the whole universe seems to be against us. The longer such a spell of bad luck lasts, the more likely it is that we give way to despair although already the wise men of Ancient Greece coined the expression πάντα ῥεῖ – everything flows – knowing that nothing ever stays the same without end (and without hope). In the classical regional novel The Golden Hills by Clara Viebig the vineyards along the Moselle in Western Germany a few years after World War I are the stunning scene of growing misery and desperation. Economic crisis and caprices of weather bring ever more winegrowers in the region on the brink of ruin and even the old Bremm family of Porten is already hard up, when the eldest daughter Maria enters service as a maid in town.

Monday, 25 February 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Snowdrop by Letitia Elizabeth Landon

The Snowdrop

(from Fisher's Drawing Room Scrap Book 1936: 1935)

Thou beautiful new comer,
     With white and maiden brow;
Thou fairy gift from summer,
     Why art thou blooming now?
This dim and sheltered alley
     Is dark with winter green;
Not such as in the valley
     At sweet spring time is seen.

The lime tree’s tender yellow,
     The aspen’s silvery sheen,
With mingling colours mellow
     The universal green.
Now solemn yews are bending
     ‘Mid gloomy fires around;
And in long dark wreaths descending,
     The ivy sweeps the ground.

No sweet companion pledges
     Thy health as dewdrops pass;
No rose is on the hedges,
     No violet in the grass.
Thou art watching, and thou only
     Above the earth’s snow tomb,
Thus lovely, and thus lonely,
     I bless thee for thy bloom.

Though the singing rill be frozen,
     While the wind forsakes the west,
Though the singing birds have chosen
     Some lone and silent rest;
Like thee, one sweet thought lingers
     In a heart else cold and dead,
Though the summer’s flowers, and singers,
     And sunshine, long hath fled:

‘Tis the love for long years cherished,
     Yet lingering, lorn, and lone;
Though its lovelier lights have perished,
     And its earlier hopes are flown.
Though a weary world hath bound it,
     With many a heavy thrall,
And the cold and changed surround it,
     It blossometh o’er all.

Letitia Elizabeth Landon (1802-1838), aka L.E.L.
English poet and novelist

Friday, 22 February 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Accabadora by Michela Murgia

There is no way round it: times are and have always been changing. It’s true, however, that in some places life always seems to stay the same because people hold on to ancient traditions not seeing any need to improve anything adopting new ways. But even at the back of beyond time never stands still. New ideas and views just take root at a slower pace than elswhere allowing mores and routines to alter almost unnoticed. Thus it happens that some customs become obsolete and once perfectly natural actions are no longer socially accepted. My bookish déjà vu Accabadora by Michela Murgia evokes one of the last women in Sardinia of the 1950s who offers a century-old service to the sick and decrepit that is a serious crime according to state law. The girl whom she took in as her fill’e anima according to ancient Sardinian rules, too, is appalled…
Read my review »

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Back Reviews Reel: February 2016

The second review month of 2016 I opened with two contemporary works set in Switzerland of the 1970s and the USA of the early 1950s respectively. The award-winning Swiss novel The Encyclopaedia of Good Reasons by Monica Cantieni tells the story of a foster girl in line for adoption trying to fathom her new life in Zurich, while self-published Bells Above Greens by David Xavier is about a nineteen-year-old who just returned from the Korean War that cost his idealised brother’s life and finds it difficult to adjust to university routine in Indiana. Then I presented two classics, namely The Loving Spirit by Daphne du Maurier from 1931 and The Tree of Man by Australian Nobel laureate Patrick White from 1955. The first is the four-generation saga of a Cornish family devoted to the sea and the latter is the life story of a farmer in the greater Sydney area.

Monday, 18 February 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Winter Lakes by William Wilfred Campbell

The Winter Lakes

(from Lake Lyrics and Other Poems: 1889)

Out in a world of death far to the northward lying,
     Under the sun and the moon, under the dusk and the day;
Under the glimmer of stars and the purple of sunsets dying,
     Wan and waste and white, stretch the great lakes away.

Never a bud of spring, never a laugh of summer,
     Never a dream of love, never a song of bird;
But only the silence and white, the shores that grow chiller and dumber,
     Wherever the ice winds sob, and the griefs of winter are heard.

Crags that are black and wet out of the grey lake looming,
     Under the sunset's flush and the pallid, faint glimmer of dawn;
Shadowy, ghost-like shores, where midnight surfs are booming
     Thunders of wintry woe over the spaces wan.

Lands that loom like spectres, whited regions of winter,
     Wastes of desolate woods, deserts of water and shore;
A world of winter and death, within these regions who enter,
     Lost to summer and life, go to return no more.

Moons that glimmer above, waters that lie white under,
     Miles and miles of lake far out under the night;
Foaming crests of waves, surfs that shoreward thunder,
     Shadowy shapes that flee, haunting the spaces white.

Lonely hidden bays, moon-lit, ice-rimmed, winding,
     Fringed by forests and crags, haunted by shadowy shores;
Hushed from the outward strife, where the mighty surf is grinding
     Death and hate on the rocks, as sandward and landward it roars.

William Wilfred Campbell (1858-1918)
Canadian poet

Friday, 15 February 2019

Book Review: The Wild Geese by Mori Ōgai, the world would be a rather hostile place to live in without the written and unwritten rules that determine more or less strictly our behaviour towards each other. Society is firmly based on these codes of conduct although only their most essential parts are universal like the canon laid down in maybe seven of the Ten Commandments in the Christian Bible. Other social norms are inseparably connected to a more or less confined cultural sphere. In the Japanese classic The Wild Geese by Mori Ōgai the paths of medical student Okada and a moneylender’s beautiful young concubine called Otama cross in Tōkyo in 1880, but the unwritten rules of society prevent them from becoming more than just a regular passer-by and the resident of a house who know each other only from sight. However, as time advances their glances and greetings begin to mean more than they outwardly express…

Monday, 11 February 2019

Poetry Revisited: As from Dreams Awaking by Caroline Sheridan Norton

As from Dreams Awaking

(from The Undying One and Other Poems: 1830)

AS when from dreams awaking
The dim forms float away
Whose visioned smiles were making
Our darkness bright as day;
We vainly strive, while weeping,
From their shining spirit track,
(Where they fled while we were sleeping,)
To call those dear ones back!

Like the stars, some power divides them
From a world of want and pain;
They are there, but daylight hides them,
And we look for them in vain.
For a while we dwell with sadness,
On the beauty of that dream,
Then turn, and hail with gladness
The light of morning’s beam.

So, when memory’s power is wringing
Our lonely hearts to tears,
Dim forms around us bringing
That brightened former years:
Fond looks and low words spoken,
Which those dreamy days could boast,
Rise; till the spell be broken,
We forget that they are lost!

But when the hour of darkness rolls
Like heavy night away;
And peace is stealing o’er our souls,
Like the dawn of summer day:
The dim sweet forms that used to bless,
Seem stealing from us too;
We loved them—but joy’s sunniness
Hath hid them from our view!

Oh could day beam eternally,
And Memory’s power cease,
This world, a world of light would be,
Our hearts were worlds of peace:
But dreams of joy return with night,
And dwell upon the past—
And every grief that clouds our light,
Reminds us of the last!

Caroline Sheridan Norton (1808-1877)
English social reformer and author

Monday, 4 February 2019

Poetry Revisited: Le temps perdu – Lost Time by Sully Prudhomme

Le temps perdu

(de Les Vaines Tendresses: 1875)

Si peu d’oeuvres pour tant de fatigue et d’ennui!
De stériles soucis notre journée est pleine:
Leur meute sans pitié nous chasse à perdre haleine,
Nous pousse, nous dévore, et l’heure utile a fui...

«Demain! J’irai demain voir ce pauvre chez lui,
«Demain je reprendrai ce livre ouvert à peine,
«Demain, je te dirai, mon âme, où je te mène,
«Demain je serai juste et fort... Pas aujourd’hui.»

Aujourd’hui, que de soins, de pas et de visites!
Oh! l’implacable essaim des devoirs parasites
Qui pullulent autour de nos tasses de thé!

Ainsi chôment le coeur, la pensée et le livre,
Et pendant qu’on se tue à différer de vivre,
Le vrai devoir dans l’ombre attend la volonté.

Sully Prudhomme (1839-1907),
vrai nom René François Armand Prudhomme
poète français et
lauréat du Prix Nobel de literature 1901

Lost Time

(from Vain Endearments: 1875)

So few works considering the strain and hassle!
Of sterile concerns our day is full:
Their pack hunts us pitylessly without losing breath,
pushes us, devores us, and the useful hour is gone…

“Tomorrow! Tomorrow I’ll visit this poor one at home,
“Tomorrow I’ll resume this book hardly opened,
“Tomorrow, I’ll tell you, my soul, where I take you,
“Tomorrow I’ll be just and strong… Not today.”

Today, how many cares, steps and visits!
Oh! The unremitting swarm of parasite duties
That multiply around our tea cups!

Thus rest the heart, the thought and the book,
And while killing oneself to postpone living,
The true duty in the shadow waits for the will.

Sully Prudhomme (1839-1907)
real name René François Armand Prudhomme
French poet and
laureate of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1901
Literal translation: Edith LaGraziana 2018

Friday, 1 February 2019

Book Review: The Republic of Dreams by Nélida Piñon times immemorial people have been dreaming and telling stories. Ancient myths and legends are part of the cultural heritage that shapes our view of the world and helps us to cope with life. But as we grow older the longing to live our own adventures and to weave our own legends grows. Determined “to make the Americas” thirteen-year-old Madruga, the central character of The Republic of Dreams by Nélida Piñon, left his native Galicia and arrived in Brazil in 1913. By the early 1980s, he is head of a numerous family and of a profitable group of companies, but almost lost his beloved grandfather’s ancient Galician legends. When his wife announces that death is coming for her, he and all the people who are integral part of their lives look back on the memorable events, joys and tragedies of seventy years thus start a new – Brazilian – legend. 

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

*New* Decade Challenge 2019 @ GOODREADS Bookcrossers: The List

Click on the image to go straight
to the *New* Decade Challenge post
in the GOODREADS Bookcrossers group

1 January – 31 December 2019

A Literary Voyage Through Twelve Decades
in Ten Plunges and Two Extra Deep Dives 

The Two Extra Deep Dives

Victor Català: Solitude (1905), original Catalan title: Solitud
Mori Ōgai: The Wild Geese (1911-13), original Japanese title:

The Ten Plunges

Clara Viebig: The Golden Hills (1927), original German title: Die goldenen Berge
Samuel Beckett: Murphy (1938)
Natalie Sarraute: Portrait of a Man Unknown (1948), original French title: Portrait d'un inconnu
Per Olov Enquist: The Magnetist's Fifth Winter (1954), original Swedish title: Magnetisörens femte vinter
Pak Kyongni: The Curse of Kim's Daughters (1962), original Korean title: 김약국의 딸들
Francisco Umbral: A Mortal Spring (1975), original Spanish title: Mortal y rosa
Nélida Piñon: The Republic of Dreams (1984), original Brazilian-Portuguese title: A República dos Sonhos
Gao Xingjian: One Man's Bible (1999), original Chinese title: 一個人的聖經
Olga Tokarczuk: Flights (2007), original Polish title: Bieguni
Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery (2010), original Italian title: Il cimiero di Praga

Monday, 28 January 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Garden in Winter by Lucy Maud Montgomery

The Garden in Winter

(from The Watchman & Other Poems: 1916)

Frosty-white and cold it lies
Underneath the fretful skies;
Snowflakes flutter where the red
Banners of the poppies spread,
And the drifts are wide and deep
Where the lilies fell asleep.

But the sunsets o'er it throw
Flame-like splendor, lucent glow,
And the moonshine makes it gleam
Like a wonderland of dream,
And the sharp winds all the day
Pipe and whistle shrilly gay.

Safe beneath the snowdrifts lie
Rainbow buds of by-and-by;
In the long, sweet days of spring
Music of bluebells shall ring,
And its faintly golden cup
Many a primrose will hold up.

Though the winds are keen and chill
Roses' hearts are beating still,
And the garden tranquilly
Dreams of happy hours to be­
In the summer days of blue
All its dreamings will come true.

Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1942)
Canadian author

Friday, 25 January 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Greater Hope by Ilse Aichinger

The racist frenzy of the Nazis that drove them to commit the most barbaric deeds in order to “protect” the actually only imagined purity of the Aryan bloodline of the German people didn’t spare the children. The smaller they were, the less they understood why they were banned from schools and playgrounds or why their friends shunned them all of a sudden. What is more, they certainly sensed the growing fear of the adults around them, not least because they were urgently warned against overstepping any of the new discriminating rules and they quickly learnt that it didn’t even need a transgression to experience violence. Family members vanished from their lives thanks to deportation or – like in the case of the only half-Jewish protagonist of the Austrian post-war classic The Greater Hope by Ilse Aichinger that I feature as a bookish déjà vu – to the flight to a safe haven.

Read my review »

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Epistolary Reading Challenge 2019: The List

Click on the image to go straight
to the challenge on Whatever I Think Of

1 January – 31 December 2019

My 2019 Literary Mail Portion of
100 Novels in Letters

– planned and reviewed –
(subject to change)

  • Rashid Al-Daif: Dear Mr. Kawabata (1995), original Arabic title: عزيزي السيد كواباتا (actually read in 2018, but reviewed in 2019)
  • José Maria de Eça de Queiros: Correspondence of Fradique Mendes (1900), original Portuguese title: Correspondência de Fradique Mendes
  • Kathrin Kessman Taylor: Address Unknown (1938)
  • John Updike: S. (1988)
  • Thornton Wilder: The Ides of March (1948)
  • Anne Youngson: Meet Me at the Museum (2018)

Monday, 21 January 2019

Poetry Revisited: The Darkling Thrush by Thomas Hardy

The Darkling Thrush

(from Poems of the Past and the Present: 1901)

I leant upon a coppice gate
     When Frost was spectre-grey,
And Winter's dregs made desolate
     The weakening eye of day.
The tangled bine-stems scored the sky
     Like strings of broken lyres,
And all mankind that haunted nigh
     Had sought their household fires.

The land's sharp features seemed to be
     The Century's corpse outleant,
His crypt the cloudy canopy,
     The wind his death-lament.
The ancient pulse of germ and birth
     Was shrunken hard and dry,
And every spirit upon earth
     Seemed fervourless as I.

At once a voice arose among
     The bleak twigs overhead
In a full-hearted evensong
     Of joy illimited;
An aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small,
     In blast-beruffled plume,
Had chosen thus to fling his soul
     Upon the growing gloom.

So little cause for carolings
     Of such ecstatic sound
Was written on terrestrial things
     Afar or nigh around,
That I could think there trembled through
     His happy good-night air
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
     And I was unaware.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)
English novelist and poet

Friday, 18 January 2019

Book Review: Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow
The experience of the holocaust marked forever the lives of the survivors, no matter how much they would have liked it to be differently. Many of them will have pushed aside all thoughts of the past because they couldn’t bear the pain any more and they had to concentrate on building a future from virtually nothing. And yet, the indescribable suffering that they had seen and endured must have lingered on in their souls adding subconscious overtones to their actions, thoughts and ways of life. This is also the genesis of Mr. Sammler’s Planet as brought to literary life by Saul Bellow, the 1976 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature. In the summer of 1969, Artur Sammler is a holocaust survivor well in his seventies who lives in New York City and indulges in intellectual musings on the increasingly vulgar and brutal comedy of modern life that surrounds him.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Back Reviews Reel: January 2016

The reviews of three classics and two contemporary works rang in 2016. On New Year’s Day I presented the classical Italian satire The Man Who Searched for Love by Pitigrilli surrounding a judge who gives up his job and becomes a clown. After this I set out to fill A Double Alphabet of Writers for Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks. The 1988 Canadian novel Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood about a renowned painter whose visit to the city where she grew up evokes unpleasant childhood memories started the female alphabet followed by The Diary of a Lost Girl by Margarete Böhme, a forgotten German classic that tells the story of an unmarried teenager of the fin-de-siècle who gets pregnant. For the retrograde male alphabet I reviewed Softcore by Tirdad Zolghadr, a novel from 2007 set in Tehran, and the Japanese historical fiction classic The Heiké Story by Yoshikawa Eiji.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Poetry Revisited: Falling Snow by Amy Lowell

Falling Snow

(from Pictures of the Floating World: 1919)

The snow whispers around me
And my wooden clogs
Leave holes behind me in the snow.
But no one will pass this way
Seeking my footsteps,
And when the temple bell rings again
They will be covered and gone.

Amy Lowell (1874-1925)
American poet of the imagist school
from Brookline Massachusetts

Friday, 11 January 2019

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

During the years of Hitler’s Third Reich, many saw their only realistic chance to survive Nazi terror and later war in vanishing from the scene, if possible without leaving a trace. Life on the run, however, wasn’t a bed of roses. No place remained safe for more than a while, not even other countries because it didn’t take long before German troops began to overrun their borders and to occupy their territories. In addition, it became increasingly difficult, sometimes virtually impossible to get enough to eat and drink without attracting unwanted attention from Nazi supporters and other mean spirits. Despite all, some managed to reach one of the few places that still promised salvation in the 1940s. The protagonists of The Night in Lisbon by Erich Maria Remarque, which I chose as bookish déjà-vu, made their way to the last open European port, but fate follows its course without mercy.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

The Good Rule Reading Challenge: The List

Click on the image to go straight
to the challenge on Becky’s Book Reviews

1 January – 31 December 2019

My Literary Balance of Books First Released

             Before 1970

As From 1970               

  1. Marga Minco: Bitter Herbs. A Little Chronicle (1957); original Dutch title: Het bittere Kruid. Een kleine Kroniek
  2. Mori Ōgai: The Wild Geese (1911-13), original Japanese title:  
  3. Clara Viebig: The Golden Hills (1927), original German title: Die goldenen Berge
  • Samuel Beckett: Murphy (1938) 
  • Victor Català: Solitude (1905), original Catalan title: Solitud 
  • Heimito von Doderer: Every Man a Murderer (1938), original German title: Ein Mord, den jeder begeht
  • José Maria de Eça de Queiros: Correspondence of Fradique Mendes (1900), original Portuguese title: Correspondência de Fradique Mendes
  • Knut Hamsun: The Women at the Pump (1920), original Norwegian title: Konerne ved Vandposten 
  • Pak Kyongni: The Curse of Kim's Daughters (1962), original Korean title: 김약국의 딸들 
  • Natalie Sarraute: Portrait of a Man Unknown (1948), original French title: Portrait d'un inconnu 
  • Kathrin Kessman Taylor: Address Unknown (1938)  
  • Thornton Wilder: The Ides of March (1948)
  1. Saul Bellow: Mr. Sammler’s Planet (1970)
  2. Umberto Eco: The Prague Cemetery (2010), original Italian title: Il cimitero di Praga
  3. Nélida Piñon: The Republic of Dreams (1984), original Brazilian-Protuguese title: A República dos Sonhos
  4. John Updike: S. (1988) 
  • Rachid Al-Daif: Dear Mr. Kawabata (1995), original Arabic title: عزيزي السيد كواباتا
  • Mathias Énard: Compass (2015), original French title: Boussole 
  • Gao Xingjian: One Man's Bible (1999), original Chinese title: 一個人的聖經 
  • Günter Grass: Crabwalk (2002), original German title: Im Krebsgang 
  • Peter Handke: Short Letter, Long Farewell (1972), original German title: Der kurze Brief zum langen Abschied 
  • Laila Ibrahim: Paper Wife (2018) 
  • Inka Parei: What Darkness Was (2005), original German title: Was Dunkelheit war 
  • Domnica Radulescu: Train to Trieste (2008), original Romanian title: Trenul de Trieste  
  • Olja Savičević: Farewell, Cowboy (2010), original Croatian title: Adio kauboju 
  • Ilse Tielsch: The Final Year (2006), original German title: Das letzte Jahr 
  • Francisco Umbral: A Mortal Spring (1975), original Spanish title: Mortal y rosa

Monday, 7 January 2019

Poetry Revisited: Snow at Morning by Thomas MacDonagh

Snow at Morning

(from An Macaomh Vol. I, No. 2: Christmas 1909)

As with fitful tune,
All a heart-born air,
Note by note doth fall
The far vision fair
From the Source of all
On the dreaming soul,
Fall to vanish soon.

From the darkening dome,
Starlight every one
Brightening down its way,
Each a little swan
From a cygnet grey,
Wave on wave doth sail,
Whitening into foam.

Late unloosed by God
From their cage aloft
Somewhere near the sky
Snow flakes flutter soft,
Flutter, fall, and die
On the pavement mute,
On the fields untrod.

Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916)
Irish poet, playwright, educationalist,
political activist, and revolutionary leader

Friday, 4 January 2019

Book Review: Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco horrors that alleged “enemies of the Third Reich”, most of all those with Jewish ancestors, had to endure under Nazi reign were so appalling that at the time many simply couldn’t believe rumours about them. When eye witnesses and hard facts of systematic atrocities turned up eventually – as they use to, in general –, the world was dumbfounded and reluctant to take them at face value. In a modern European country like Germany people couldn’t be so barbarous as that, could they? Therefore even when their countries were annexed or occupied, many Jews lulled themselves into a false sense of security until it was too late for escape. The narrator of Bitter Herbs by Marga Minco observes the growing concern of her apparently calm family, notably her parents, as race laws are gradually implemented in the German-occupied Netherlands and deportation to the Polish concentration camps becomes a daily threat.