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»