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

Friday, 12 April 2019

Book Review: Murphy by Samuel Beckett

Many ways lead to enlightenment. Some of them – like religion and other established spiritual practice – are conventional and almost generally accepted, while others are so individual that they seem rather absurd, even completely crazy from an outsider’s point of view. They all have in common that it requires great determination and perseverance to pursue them because all along it remains uncertain when or if at all the ultimate goal will be reached. On the other hand, we are only beginning to learn here in the West that following the way is actually more important than arriving. The Irishman in London of the 1930s who is the title hero of Murphy by Samuel Beckett, the 1969 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, tries to reach a presumably blissful state of non-existence through complete inactivity, but just like his earlier lover his new one urges him to take on a job...

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