Friday, 29 November 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: The Farewell Angel by Carmen Martín Gaite

Sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish dream from reality, especially for people with a vivid imagination who aren’t quite willing to face the hard facts of adult life. Often they build themselves comfortable castles in the clouds to look down at the world through rose-coloured spectacles, but the foundations easily get cracks. Inhabitants who don’t notice the damage or take it too easy, will hurt themselves badly falling freely to the ground, while the others will make an effort to see things as they truly are. At his release from prison, the dreamy protagonist of my bookish déjà-vu The Farewell Angel by Carmen Martín Gaite learns that his parents have been killed in a car accident. Completely on his own, he realises that he’ll never find his way in the real world unless he can break the freezing spell of The Snow Queen from Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale…
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Monday, 25 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: Versuch der Erinnerung – Attempt at Remembrance by Karl Kraus

Versuch der Erinnerung

(aus Worte in Versen IX: 1930)

Was hab ich nur heute geträumt?
Noch spür ich, wie ich im Schlaf
ohne Schwanken das Richtige traf,
und das Ding gehorchte aufs Wort.

Nicht war zwischen hier und dort
die letzte Entscheidung schwer.
Jetzt schwank ich, ob es nicht mehr
den Zweifel gab oder noch nicht.

Nichts hatte und alles Gewicht
und federleicht alle Last.
Noch fühl ich, wie es sich paßt,
noch mess ich mit anderem Maß.

Und weiß schon, daß ich's vergaß.
Und nur, daß es glich jener Lust,
bevor ich ins Leben gemußt,
und jener, wenn es vorbei.

Dazwischen ist alles versäumt,
und alles ist einerlei.
Wenn ich nur wüßt, was es sei,
wovon ich heute geträumt!

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
österreichischer Publizist, Satiriker, Lyriker,
Aphoristiker, Dramatiker, Förderer junger Autoren,
Sprach- und Kulturkritiker

Attempt at Remembrance

(from Words in Verse IX: 1930)

What did I dream about today?
Still I feel how while asleep I
Hit without wavering the right,
And the thing obeyed at a word.

Between here and there was not
Hard the last decision.
Now I waver whether no longer
There was the doubt or not yet.

Nothing had and all weight
And feather-light all burden.
Still I feel how it is fit,
Still I weigh with another measure.

And I know already that I forgot it.
And only that it was like that lust
Before I had to enter into life,
And that one when it is over.

In between everything is missed,
and everything is all the same.
If only I knew what it was,
what I dreamed of today!

Karl Kraus (1874-1936)
Austrian publicist, satirist, lyricist,
aphorist,dramatist, patron of young authors,
linguistic and cultural critic

Literal translation: Edith Lagraziana 2019

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Back Reviews Reel: November 2016

After a one-novel stay in the Far East a three-book tour of Europe was on my review schedule of this month three years ago. My point of departure was seventeenth-century Japan where I joined a Catholic missionary from Portugal whose faith was put to an atrocious test in the classical novel Silence by Endō Shūsaku. From there I travelled to Ancient Greece, or rather to Anatolia, to witness the cruel fate of Cassandra by contemporary German writer Christa Wolf who couldn’t save Troy with her prophecies. In modern-day Ireland I met The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle when she learnt that her violent husband had been killed by the police and she was finally free to start a new life with their children. At last, I plunged into a French classic only loosely set in place and time that revolves around The Fig Tree by Françoise Xénakis.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: Autumn in the Hills by Frances Fuller Victor

Autumn in the Hills

(from Poems: 1900)

November came that day,
⁠And all the air was gray
⁠With delicate mists, blown down
From hilltops by the south wind’s balmy breath;
⁠And all the oaks were brown
⁠As Egypt’s kings in death.
⁠The maple’s crown of gold
⁠Laid tarnished on the wold;
The alder, and the ash, the aspen and the willow,
⁠Wore tattered suits of yellow.

⁠The soft October rains
⁠Had left some scarlet stains
Of color on the landscape’s neutral ground;
⁠Those fine ephemeral things,
⁠The winged notes of sound,
⁠That sing the “Harvest Home“
⁠Of ripe Autumn in the gloam
Of the deep and bosky woods, in the field and by the river,
⁠Sang that day their best endeavor.

⁠I said: “In what sweet place
⁠Shall we meet, face to face,
⁠Her loveliest self to see—
Meet Nature, at her sad autumnal rites,
⁠And learn the mystery
⁠Of her unnamed delights?“
⁠Then you said: “Let us go
⁠Where the late violets blow
In hollows of the hills, under dead oak leaves hiding;—
⁠We’ll find she’s there abiding.“

⁠Do we recall that day?
⁠Has its grace passed away—
⁠Its tenderest, dream-like tone,
Like one of Turner’s landscapes limned on air—
⁠Has its fine perfume flown
⁠And left the memory bare?
⁠Not so; its charm is still
⁠Over wood, vale and hill—
The ferny odor sweet, the humming insect chorus,
⁠The spirit that before us

⁠Enticed us with delights
⁠To the blue, breezy heights.
⁠O, beautiful hills that stand
Serene ‘twixt earth and heaven, with the grace
⁠Of both to make you grand,—
⁠Your loveliness leaves place
⁠For nothing fairer, fair,
⁠And complete beyond compare,
O, lovely purple hills! O, first day of November,
⁠Be sure that I remember.

Salem. Or., 1869.

Frances Fuller Victor (1826-1902)
American historian, novelist and poet

Friday, 15 November 2019

Bookish Déjà-Vu: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

The return to the place of a happy childhood can be quite overwhelming for everybody, notably for a sensitive person who has been away for long. Faded and repressed memories are bound to resurface in the once familiar surroundings, but such a reencounter with the past will inevitably revive emotions, too. Sometimes it may even feel like a time warp with everything that this implies. In my bookish déjà-vu Snow by Orhan Pamuk, the 2006 recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, the Turkish poet Ka who has been living in political exile in Germany for many years, arrives in the Eastern Anatolian town of his early childhood. He hopes to overcome writer’s block meeting his recently divorced schoolmate İpek on whom he had a crush as a boy, when heavy snowfalls cut off the place and inspire the head of a travelling theatre troupe to seize power in town…
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Monday, 11 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: November’s Cadence by James Earl of Southesk

November’s Cadence

(from The Burial of Isis and Other Pems: 1884)

The bees about the Linden-tree,
When blithely summer blooms were springing,
Would hum a heartsome melody,
The simple baby-soul of singing:
And thus my spirit sang to me
When youth its wanton way was winging;
          ‘Be glad, be sad —thou hast the choice—
          But mingle music with thy voice.’

The linnets on the Linden-tree,
Among the leaves in autumn dying,
Are making gentle melody,
A mild, mysterious, mournful sighing:
And thus my spirit sings to me
While years are flying, flying, flying;
          ‘Be sad, be sad —thou hast no choice—
          But mourn with music in thy voice.’

James Earl of Southesk (1827-1905)
Scottish nobleman, explorer and poet

Monday, 4 November 2019

Poetry Revisited: In the Rushing Wind by Carmen Sylva

In the Rushing Wind

(from Sweet Hours: 1904)

THE wind hath whirled the leaves from off the tree.
The leaves were yellow, they had lived their time,
And lie a golden heap or fly away,
As if the butterflies had left their wings
Behind, when love's short summertime had gone,
And killed them. Lightly doth the leaves' great shower
Whirl on and skim the ground, where ancient leaves
Lie rotten, trampled on, so featureless,
That you can hardly tell what formed that mould,
That never-ending burial-place of leaves.
And then the wind will shake and bend the tree,
And twist its branches off, burst it asunder,
Uproot the giant and bring low his head,
Upheave the granite block round which the roots
Had taken hold for countless centuries.
On goes the wind! The corn is green and soft—
Earth's wavy fur. It does but ripple lightly
In childish laughter at the harmless fun
That was a death-blow. But the sea awakes
And frowns and foams and rises into anger
So wild with wrath, and yet so powerless,
As if a thousand chains had chained it down,
To howl, to suffer, to rebel against
The heartless merriment of stronger powers.
On goes the wind, to shake the rock, to blow
Into a flame, the wild incendiary,
And never doth he look behind, to see,
To feel, to understand the horror he
Hath worked. The breath—the robe of Destiny—
Sweeps on, sweeps past, and never lists that hell
And heaven have awaked, in shrieking anguish,
But blows the clouds away, laughs at the sun,
And falls into unconscious, dreamless sleep.

Carmen Sylva (1843-1916), real name Pauline Elisabeth Ottilie Luise of Wied
Queen Consort of Romania and Romanian writer