Monday, 30 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: To Autumn by John Keats

To Autumn

(from Lamia, Isabella, The Eve of St. Agnes and Other Poems: 1820)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,—
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats (1795-1821)
English Romantic poet

Friday, 27 September 2019

Book Review: The Women at the Pump by Knut Hamsun fate strikes badly and turns life completely upside down thwarting all plans, it’s usually a very unsettling experience that can make feel at a loss even the most flexible mind. Some people quickly pull themselves together and take life back into their own hands trying to make the best of the situation, while others give in to despair and just drift on with the current unwilling to set a new course because it just doesn’t seem worthwhile or at least possible. The protagonist of The Women at the Pump by Knut Hamsum, the recipient of the 1920 Nobel Prize in Literature, is one of the latter. Having lost one leg in an accident aboard a cargo steamer and unfit to work as a sailor again, Oliver Andersen takes to brooding and idling away his time. Not even for the sake of his growing family, he is able to change.

Monday, 23 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: Thoughts by Marjorie L. C. Pickthall


(from Little Songs. A Book of Poems: 1925)

I gave my thoughts a golden peach,
A silver citron tree;
They clustered dumbly out of reach
And would not sing for me.

I built my thoughts a roof of rush,
A little byre beside;
They left my music to the thrush
And flew at eveningtide.

I went my way and would not care
If they should come and go;
A thousand birds seemed up in air,
My thoughts were singing so.

Marjorie L. C. Pickthall (1883-1922)
London-born Canadian writer and poet

Friday, 20 September 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider

Peculiarities that make a person stand out of her or his social circle often result in marginalisation and even exclusion, be it out of disgust or out of awe. In either case, fear of the different and the inexplicable plays an important role in how people behave towards her or him. In former times, many may have concealed – if possible – what singled them out to avoid being accused of dealing with the Devil or exercising witchcraft. Nonetheless, even those with enviable, presumably godly gifts used (and use) to have difficulty in finding their place in society and to develop a sense of belonging. The protagonist of Brother of Sleep by Robert Schneider, which I chose as a bookish déjà-vu, is doubly afflicted: his looks are highly unusual, especially after his tenth birthday, and he is a musical genius among eighteenth-century mountain farmers who only know church hymns and folk dance.
Read my review »

Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Back Reviews Reel: September 2016

With the reviews of five books, three classics and two contemporary works, I filled my blog this month three years ago. I started my tour in Barcelona of the 1930s with the coming-of-age of a recently married girl In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda. Then Black Rain by Ibuse Masuji took me to Hiroshima to see what the Atomic bomb did to the city and its people after 6 August 1945. Afterwards, I travelled to Europe to join an Austrian girl of the 1970s who can’t bear her comfortable life as stay-at-home wife in Why Is There Salt In the Sea? by Austrian writer Brigitte Schwaiger and to observe the changes that the Muslim Brotherhood introduces in France of the 2020s as Submission by Michel Houellebecq imagines them. And finally, I returned to Japan between 1928 and the 1950s with the committed primary teacher of Twenty-four Eyes by Tsuboi Sakae.

Monday, 16 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: Alter Ego by Æ

Alter Ego

(from The Nuts of Knowledge: 1903)

All the morn a spirit gay
Breathes within my heart a rhyme,
'Tis but hide and seek we play
In and out the courts of Time.

Fairy lover, when my feet
Through the tangled woodland go,
'Tis thy sunny fingers fleet
Fleck the fire dews to and fro.

In the moonlight grows a smile
Mid its rays of dusty pearl—
'Tis but hide and seek the while,
As some frolic boy and girl.

When I fade into the deep
Some mysterious radiance showers
From the jewel-heart of sleep
Through the veil of darkened hours.

Where the ring of twilight gleams
Round the sanctuary wrought,
Whispers haunt me—in my dreams
We are one yet know it not.

Some for beauty follow long
Flying traces; some there be
Seek thee only for a song:
I to lose myself in thee.

Æ (1867-1935), real name George William Russell
Irish writer, editor, critic, poet, painter and nationalist

Friday, 13 September 2019

Book Review: Fear and His Servant by Mirjana Novaković
Sometimes there are rumours about extraordinary, even mysterious events that give us the creeps no matter how erudite and rational we happen to be because – if only for an instant – they make us speculate what would be if it were true. Authors even like to toy with such musings in books and films. Take for instance zombies, revenants and vampires. For us today they may be delightfully scary creatures because they belong to the realm of superstition and ancient religions, but for our ancestors it was a real threat to be haunted by one of these undead or even worse to become one of them instead of passing on into eternal life after death. In the modern Serbian novel Fear and His Servant by Mirjana Novaković the Devil himself travels to Belgrade out of fear that the vampires whispered about all around may be real and presage his impending end.

Monday, 9 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: In an Apple Tree by Kate Greenaway

In an Apple Tree

(from Marigold Garden: 1885)

In September, when the apples were red,
To Belinda I said,
“Would you like to go away
To Heaven, or stay
Here in this orchard full of trees
All your life?” And she said, “If you please
I'll stay here where I know,
And the flowers grow.”

Kate Greenaway (1846-1901)
English Victorian artist and writer

Friday, 6 September 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach

When love takes on the nature of obsession, it can do a lot of harm. In a way that strongly reminds of a drug, it can cloud even the sharpest mind and make the affected act like a fool and do really stupid things against her or his better judgement. Even worse if the target of obsession is somebody cold, calculating and manipulative who only thinks of her or his own advantage and doesn’t mind sacrificing others for her or his own sake. Lucky are those who wake up in time and find the strength to escape the harmful influence of such obsessive love like the first-person narrator of my Swiss bookish déjà-vu, namely Lyric Novella by Annemarie Schwarzenbach. In Berlin of the 1930s, the law student from a well-to-do family falls for a charismatic cabaret singer although everybody around warns him against her and begins to neglect his studies….
Read my review »

Monday, 2 September 2019

Poetry Revisited: Harvest by John Charles McNeill


(from Songs, Merry and Sad: 1906)

Cows in the stall and sheep in the fold;
Clouds in the west, deep crimson and gold;
          A heron's far flight to a roost somewhere;
          The twitter of killdees keen in the air;
The noise of a wagon that jolts through the gloam
          On the last load home.

There are lights in the windows; a blue spire of smoke
Climbs from the grange grove of elm and oak.
          The smell of the Earth, where the night pours to her
          Its dewy libation, is sweeter than myrrh,
And an incense to Toil is the smell of the loam
          On the last load home.

John Charles McNeill (1874-1907)
Amercan poet