Monday, 31 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Time and We by Zitella Cocke

Time and We

(from A Doric Read: 1895)

Improve the moments while you may.
For Time is flying, mortals say;
               But Time saith nay.
‘T is we, alas! who come and go,
               And Time doth stay;
For Time doth like a river flow.
Yet in its secret depths below,
               Sweet fountains play,
And youth perpetual bestow,
               While swift away
Our frail barks drift to weal or woe.

Zitella Cocke (1840-1929)
American poet, translator and educator

Friday, 28 July 2017

Book Review: An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro Very popular subjects of the famous Japanese colour woodblock prints from the seventeenth century on are scenes from ephemeral life in the pleasure districts which accounts for their being called ukiyo-e (浮世絵), i.e. “pictures of the floating world”. But life is in constant flow elsewhere too: πάντα ῥεῖ. In turbulent times, the flow even seems to accelerate and turn into a maelstrom that threatens to crush whatever or whoever gets caught in the strong current. In 1948, once famous painter Masuji Ono from An Artist of the Floating World by Japanese-English writer Kazuo Ishiguro finds himself stranded in a world where his art work has become an unwanted reminder of totalitarian ideals that led the Japanese Empire into disaster and where his daughter is no suitable match for any decent man because of his shameful part in the terror before and during the war. As he looks back, time passes, wounds heal and bitterness fades.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Summer Wind by William Cullen Bryant

Summer Wind

(from Poems: 1840)

It is a sultry day; the sun has drunk
The dew that lay upon the morning grass;
There is no rustling in the lofty elm
That canopies my dwelling, and its shade
Scarce cools me. All is silent, save the faint
And interrupted murmur of the bee,
Settling on the sick flowers, and then again
Instantly on the wing. The plants around
Feel the too potent fervours: the tall maize
Rolls up its long green leaves; the clover droops
Its tender foliage, and declines its blooms.
But far in the fierce sunshine tower the hills,
With all their growth of woods, silent and stern,
As if the scorching heat and dazzling light
Were but an element they loved. Bright clouds,
Motionless pillars of the brazen heaven,
Their bases on the mountains, their white tops
Shining in the far ether, fire the air
With a reflected radiance, and make turn
The gazer's eye away. For me, I lie
Languidly in the shade, where the thick turf,
Yet virgin from the kisses of the sun,
Retains some freshness, and I woo the wind
That still delays its coming. Why so slow,
Gentle and voluble spirit of the air?
Oh, come and breathe upon the fainting earth
Coolness and life. Is it that in his caves
He hears me? See, on yonder woody ridge,
The pine is bending his proud top, and now
Among the nearer groves, chestnut and oak
Are tossing their green boughs about. He comes!
Lo, where the grassy meadow runs in waves!
The deep distressful silence of the scene
Breaks up with mingling of unnumbered sounds
And universal motion. He is come,
Shaking a shower of blossoms from the shrubs,
And bearing on their fragrance; and he brings
Music of birds, and rustling of young boughs,
And sound of swaying branches, and the voice
Of distant waterfalls. All the green herbs
Are stirring in his breath; a thousand flowers,
By the road-side and the borders of the brook,
Nod gayly to each other; glossy leaves
Are twinkling in the sun, as if the dew
Were on them yet, and silver waters break
Into small waves and sparkle as he comes.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878)
American romantic poet, journalist,
and long-time editor of the New York Evening Post 

Friday, 21 July 2017

Book Review: The Giraffe's Neck by Judith Schalansky the ancient Greeks knew that everything is in flow or as Heraclitus of Ephesus put it: πάντα ῥεῖ. In bad times this may be a great consolation, in good times it’s more often a terrible threat. Consequently, only few people unreservedly welcome even big change as a challenge that makes life interesting. Most people are less favourable, some downright adverse to all kinds of alteration because in general it goes hand in hand with uncertainty and it requires an effort to adapt to new circumstances. Not everybody is up to such challenge. For more than half a century the East German biology teacher in The Giraffe’s Neck by Judith Schalansky did her best to lead a dutiful and inconspicuous life, i.e. to survive in the Darwinian sense, but after the German reunification this is no longer enough. Her ways are called antiquated and she is criticised for her lack of sympathy for her students.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Back Reviews Reel: July 2014

At this time three years ago, I read two contemporary European novels and two classics by recipients of the Nobel Prize in Literature, one of them actually a bit forgotten. My first literary trip took me to present-day Lisbon with a Dutchman who wonders in The Following Story by Cees Nooteboom at how he got there overnight. From the Iberian Peninsula I moved to Western Germany in the 1970s to gorge myself at The Mussel Feast by Ingeborg Bachman Prize winner Birgit Vanderbeke for a tyrannical father. Then I followed the tracks of a young Galician Jew immigrating from the Austro-Hungarian monarchy to Palestine in 1910 in the classic novel Only Yesterday by S. Y. Agnon, the 1966 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature from Israel. And finally, I landed in Korea between 1881 and 1945 with The Living Reed by American Nobel laureate in literature Pearl S. Buck.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Life’s Gifts by Olive Schreiner

Life’s Gifts

(from Dreams: 1890)

I saw a woman sleeping. In her sleep she dreamt Life stood before her, and held in each hand a gift—in the one Love, in the other Freedom. And she said to the woman, “Choose!”

And the woman waited long: and she said, “Freedom!”

And Life said, “Thou hast well chosen. If thou hadst said, ‘Love,’ I would have given thee that thou didst ask for; and I would have gone from thee, and returned to thee no more. Now, the day will come when I shall return. In that day I shall bear both gifts in one hand.”

I heard the woman laugh in her sleep.


Olive Schreiner (1855-1920)
South African author, poet and political campaigner

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias’s not a particularly secret wisdom that those who have wealth are likely to have power too. After all, it’s money that makes the world go round… at least a materialistic world like ours. Little wonder that our society produces considerable numbers of men and women whose primary goal in life is to gain money and ever more money. In The Green Pope by Miguel Ángel Asturias, Guatemalan winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 1967 “for his vivid literary achievement, deep-rooted in the national traits and traditions of Indian peoples of Latin-America”, a young American who cares for nothing but wealth and power starts a banana plantation in Guatemala mercilessly ruining, driving out or even killing small local farmers and opponents on his rise. Neither the suicide of his fiancé, the death of his wife in childbirth or the pregnancy of his unmarried daughter make him reconsider his priorities.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda Suffocating Village:
Death in Spring by Mercè Rodoreda

Less than a year ago I reviewed a novel by Catalan author Mercè Rodoreda (1908-1983) who is much celebrated in her country but virtually unknown elsewhere. I was so impressed by the book that I felt like reading also others of her works and from the two novels published posthumously, both of them unfinished, I eventually picked the one available in English translation, namely Death in Spring or in the original Catalan La mort i la primavera, i.e. Death and Spring. At first the title seems a bit strange, if not contradictory because it links death with nature’s rebirth after winter, but given that the novel flows over with powerful as well as poetical symbols and metaphors of life and death it’s quite appropriate. It’s a complex and well-constructed story about society that reminds me a lot of the works of Franz Kafka although it’s different in style.

Read more » (external link to Lagraziana's Kalliopeion)

related reviews on Edith's Miscellany:
»»» In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda

Monday, 10 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: Quite by Chance by Frederick Langbridge

Quite by Chance

(from Poets at Play. A Hand-Book of Humorous Recitations: 1888)

She flung the parlour window wide
          One eve of mid-July,
     And he, as fate would have it tide,
          That moment sauntered by.
     His eyes were blue and hers were brown,
          With drooping fringe of jet;
     And he looked up as she looked down,
          And so their glances met.
               Things as strange, I dare to say,
               Happen somewhere every day.

A mile beyond the straggling street,
          A quiet pathway goes;
     And lovers here are wont to meet,
          As all the country knows.
     Now she one night at half-past eight
          Had sought that lonely lane,
     When he came up, by will of fate,
          And so they met again.
               Things as strange, I dare to say,
               Happen somewhere every day.

The parish church, so old and gray,
          Is quite a sight to see;
     And he was there at ten one day,
          And so, it chanced, was she.
     And while they stood, with cheeks aflame,
          And neighbours liked the fun,
     In stole and hood the parson came,
          And made the couple one.
               Things as strange, I dare to say,
               Happen somewhere every day.

Frederick Langbridge (1849-1922)
English clergyman and author

Friday, 7 July 2017

Book Review: To Arms! by Marcelle Tinayre is a terrible curse, but a man-made one that its advocates and profiteers always tried to sell as necessary to protect or restore the country’s safety, strength, honour, identity, or whatever else society sees at risk. More than once wars spread to other countries because of alliances made in times of peace. World War One is only one of the most notorious examples. When Emperor Francis Joseph I. of Austria-Hungary declared war to Serbia on 28 July 1914 it was the beginning of a chain reaction turning huge parts of Europe (and the world) into ghastly battlefields for over four years. As early as in summer 1915, the novel To Arms! by Marcelle Tinayre thematised the anxiety that a dissimilar group of Parisians lived in the last hours before France was drawn into the war and first soldiers left their families to move into their barracks.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Poetry Revisited: A Summer’s Day by Dora Sigerson

A Summer’s Day

(from Verses: 1893)

Well, love, so be it as you say,
Just the hours of a summer's day,
And no sighing for what comes after,
Whether it be tears or laughter.

Take my hand, and we go together
Into love's land of golden weather.
You to be king and I for queen;
Right royally to reign, I ween.

Cool amber wine in cups of gold
Bring maids, in rosy fingers' hold,
Lip-pledged, but, you'll say ere your drinking,
My kiss were sweeter to your thinking.

And youths shall rob the spring for me
Of all the perfumed flowers that be;
I'll seek your eyes, and they refusing,
I'll answer only at your choosing.

So, love, your hand, and we away,
Just the hours of a summer's day,
And no weeping for what comes after—
If it be tears, we've had our laughter.

Dora Sigerson, later Dora Sigerson Shorter (1866-1918)
Irish poet and sculptor