Monday, August 24, 2015

Theodore Sturgeon: "It," a short story

Theodore Sturgeon:  "It"

As I began reading, I found myself doing something strange:  I was pausing more often than I usually do when reading prose.  The more I looked at it, the more it struck me as poetry: a poem about the birth of a monster.  These are the first two paragraphs of the story, as I saw them.  Below I have added the same two paragraphs as printed in the version I have.

It walked in the woods.

It was never born.
                            It existed.

Under the pine needles
                            the fires burn,
                            deep and smokeless in the mold.

In heat and darkness and decay
                            there is growth.

There is life
                            and there is growth.

It grew,
            but it was not alive.

It walked unbreathing 
                             through the woods.
                                   and  thought and saw 
                                   and was hideous and strong
                                   and it was not born
                                   and it did not live.

It grew
              and moved about 
                                 without living.

It crawled out of the darkness
                          and hot damp mold
                                  into the cool of a morning.
It was huge.

It was lumped  and crusted
                         with its own hateful substances,
                         and pieces of it dropped off
                         as it went its way,
                                      dropped off and lay writhing
                                      and stilled, and sank putrescent

into the forest loam.                    
-      -     -     -     -     -   

Now, the prose version as Theodore Sturgeon wrote it:

It walked in the woods.

It was never born.  It existed.  Under the pine needles the fires burn, deep and smokeless in the mold. In heat and darkness and decay there is growth.  There is life and there is growth. It grew, but it was not alive.  It walked unbreathing through the woods. and  thought and saw and was hideous and strong and it was not born and it did not live.  It grew and moved about without living.

It crawled out of the darkness and hot damp mold into the cool of a morning.  It was huge.  It was lumped  and crusted  with its own hateful substances, and pieces of it dropped off as it went its way, dropped off and lay writhing and stilled, and sank putrescent into the forest loam.                     

What do you think?   Is there a difference, aside from structure of course, between the two formats?  What is that difference, if any?                        

Several commentators have remarked on possible sources for "It," one being Frankenstein's monster, in which there is a scene similar to one in Sturgeon's tale and the other being a golem.   I think there might be a third source:  Genesis.

"7.  And the LORD GOD formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul."

.     .     .     .     .

21.  And the LORD GOD caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept:  and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof;

22  And the rib, which the LORD GOD had taken from the man, made he a woman, and brought her to the man."

Genesis 2: 7, 21-22
Authorized King James Version

In Genesis, all the LORD required was a rib, whereas Sturgeon's creation of clay needed a complete skeleton.

The monster is a strange one, innocent and naive.  In its innocence it is destructive, but it is neither deliberately evil nor cruel; it is not immoral, but amoral.  It has no sense of right and wrong.  And this, not so much its shape or appearance, is what makes it a monster.


As usual, Sturgeon provides a little surprise, an unexpected turn to the tale.  And, in this story, it's the demise of the monster.  What would be expected is a climactic struggle, with the monster resisting to the very end, perhaps even killing one or two more in its death throes.  But Sturgeon goes a different route with a very different end for his monster.   First is the "poetic" format, and at the end, the prose format of Sturgeon

The monster
             lay in the water.
It neither liked
                               disliked this new element.
It rested on the bottom,
                     its massive head 
                               a foot beneath the surface,
                                       and it curiously considered the facts
                                                                           that it had garnered.
There was the little humming noise of Babe's voice
                                               that sent the monster questing
                                                                                       into the cave.
There was the black material
                                    of the brief case
                                               that resisted so much more
                                                      than green things when he tore it.
There was the little two-legged one
                        who sang and brought him near,
                                         and who screamed when he came.
There was this new cold moving thing
                                            he had fallen into.
It was washing his body away.
                       That had never happened before.
                                                               That was interesting.
The monster decided
                                to stay
                                       and observe this new thing.
It felt no urge to save itself;
                             it could only be curious.

The brook came laughing
                      down out of its spring,
                              ran down from its source
                                      beckoning to the sunbeams
                                               and embracing freshets and
                                                                        helpful brooklets.
It shouted and played
                         with streaming little roots,
                                  and nudged the minnows
                                                and pollywogs about
                                                              in its tiny backwaters.
It was a happy brook.
                     When it came to the pool
                                    by the cloven rock
                                                it found the monster there,
                                                                             and plucked at it.
It soaked the foul substances
                   and smoothed and melted the molds,
                                       and the water below the thing
                                              eddied darkly with its diluted matter.
It was a thorough brook.
                       It washed all it touched,
Where it found filth,
                   it removed filth;
                            and if there were layer on layer of foulness,
                                              then layer by foul layer it was removed.
It was a good brook.
                   It did not mind
                             the poison of the monster,
                                                    but took it up
                                                            and thinned it and spread it
                                                      in little rings
                                                              round rocks downstream,
                                                                                    and let it drift
                                                      to the rootlets
                                                                   of water plants,
                                                                           that they might grow
     and lovelier.

And the monster melted.

The monster lay in the water.  It neither liked nor disliked this new element.  It rested on the bottom, its massive head a foot beneath the surface, and it curiously considered the facts that it had garnered.  There was the little humming noise of Babe's voice that sent the monster questing into the cave.  There was the black material of the brief case that resisted so much more than green things when he tore it.  There was the little two-legged one who sang and  brought him near, and who screamed when he came.  There was this new cold moving thing he had fallen into.  It was washing his body away.  That had never happened before.  That was interesting.  The monster decided to stay and observe this new thing.  It felt no urge to save itself;  it could only be curious.

The brook came laughing down out of its spring, ran down from its source beckoning to the sunbeams and embracing freshets and helpful brooklets.  It shouted and played with streaming little roots, and nudged the minnows and pollywogs about in its tiny backwaters.  It was a happy brook.  When it came to the pool by the cloven rock it found the monster there, and plucked at it.  It soaked the foul substances and smoothed and melted the molds, and the water below the thing eddied darkly with its diluted matter.  It was a thorough brook.  It washed all it touched, persistently.  Where it found filth, it removed filth; and if there were layer on layer of foulness, then layer by foul layer it was removed.  It was a good brook.  It did not mind the poison of  the monster, but took it up and thinned it and spread it in little rings round rocks downstream, and let it drift to the rootlets of water plants, that they might grow greener and lovelier.  And the monster melted.

There is a little more after this, but I will leave that for you to discover, if you so choose to read this charming little horror tale.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman, conclusion

Harper Lee:  Go Set a Watchman

Several days ago I finished Go Set a Watchman, and I can see why some would call it a mess, probably because it can't be resolved with To Kill a Mockingbird.  But, in my opinion, that's the reader's problem, not the novel's problem or failing.

Jean Louise has three confrontations: one with her Uncle Jack, one with her father, and one with Henry,  her possible/potential fiance.  It was not an easy process overall, for Jean Louise had grown up in the South, and she does share many of the political beliefs regarding States Rights and also the people's rights to live their lives as they wish, free from government interference (mostly Federal Government interference for nobody seems to be concerned about State Government interference which is just as intrusive, if not more so).  

I find the resolution to be very satisfying, because it's the resolution the novel has been pointing to from the beginning.  That is, the resolution is satisfying if one realizes that the novel is about Jean Louise and not about Atticus or Maycomb or civil rights or any of the great issues of the day.  They are there, they are important, they provide the texture to the times Jean Louis lives in and the demands made upon her as a person, but they are not what the novel is about.  I will repeat: the novel is about Jean Louise.

I have also come to the conclusion that To Kill a Mockingbird is a myth, a myth created by Jean Louise about her own childhood, the Myth of a Golden Age, long past.  Jean Louise believes in that myth, and so one day she discovers that she couldn't remain in that myth.  The real world is waiting and she must act. Perhaps the myth is related to that bit of conventional wisdom that one can't go "home" again because sometimes that "home" has changed and sometimes because that "home" never existed.

If you find my comments short, brief,  and less than satisfying--Good.  Go read Go Set a Watchman and then come back and argue with me. 

I stated earlier that I thought that Go Set a Watchman could turn out to be one of the ten best novels that I read in 2015, and now, after having finishing the novel, I still believe the same.   Moreover, it deserves to be read again. 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman, Pt. 2

Harper Lee:  Go Set a Watchman

I have now finished approximately two-thirds of the book.  It covers the period of roughly twenty-four hours that began when Jean Louise first discovered that her father was reading racist material and that he and Henry belong to the Citizen's Council, of which her father was one of the directors.

The meeting is held in the courthouse, and Jean Louise climbs into the balcony where she remembers, long ago, watching her father defend a young black man from a false charge of rape. It is this reminiscence that is most likely the source for To Kill a Mockingbird.  In this version, though, Atticus Finch wins the case, setting the young black man free.

Now she hears a speaker spew forth the most vile racist nonsense and trash, not much different, unfortunately,  than what one can find on the Internet on many websites today.  She is shocked, both by what the man is saying and that her father is sitting up there, condoning what was being said.  And, Henry?, whom she was considering marrying, he is a staunch member of the council according to her aunt Alexandra.

Later, at home, she finds Alexandra in complete agreement about the ingratitude of the blacks, though she uses language that is far more gentle. The next day she visits Calpurnia, the black housekeeper who raised her and her brother Jem when her mother died.  There is a polite welcome only, for there is now a wall between blacks and whites.

The major "problem" is the NAACP which comes in, stirring up the blacks, making them dissatisfied and, worse, ungrateful for all the whites had done to help and protect blacks from themselves.  Blacks no longer know their place and are no longer happy with being second class citizens. 

At this point, Jean Louise has not yet confronted her father and Henry about their beliefs.  Part of this comes from her own confusion.  How could such a change take place in two people she thought she knew and loved?  Or was it that she had been blind all this time, and only now awakened to see the world of Maycomb as it really is?  She swears to herself that, in all the years she spent growing up, she had never heard anyone refer to blacks by the "N" word.  And now, she has heard it maybe a dozen times or more in the last 24 hours.  Everything she believed about her past life in Maycomb with her father and her friends and relatives has now been called into question in the past twenty-four hours. 

This is speculation, of course, but I expect that the last third of the novel will tell us about Jean Louise' confrontation with her father and with Henry. 

I am also beginning to get the feeling that I have been reading the novel with a preconceived idea of what the novel is about.  Again, I'm just guessing, of course, since I haven't finished the novel, and the last third may prove me wrong.  My initial focus has been on Atticus Finch, to try to understand what happened, to understand the disparity between the Atticus of  To Kill a Mockingbird and the Atticus of Go Set a Watchman. Perhaps I have missed the real core of the novel: it just may be that the novel is really about Jean Louise, and while what Atticus says and does is important, the novel is about her and her response to the destruction of her myth.  

While most, no doubt, have been aware of the  true focus of the novel, I'm a bit slow, but I occasionally get there, sometimes long after the train has pulled out. The real problem is that I have to read and evaluate Go Set a Watchman on its own terms and not try to fit it in with TKaMThis is not easy for the novel and the film version of  TKaM  came out first, and I have read the novel and watched the film a number of times, most recently being last year.

If there's any "fitting in" to be done, it must be the other way around.  To Kill a Mockingbird must be reconciled, if possible, with Go Set a Watchman.    I know that's obvious, but I'm a bit slow.

Time to settle down and finish Go Set a Watchman.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Harper Lee: Go Set a Watchman, Pt. 1

Harper Lee:  Go Set a Watchman

I am now a bit over 1/3 of the way through the novel.  It is, as purported, an account of  Jean Louise' trip home.  I keep wanting to call her Scout.  Her father, Atticus Finch, is suffering from arthritis, and she wants to see for herself just how bad it is.

We meet her Aunt Alexandra; Henry, the man in love with her and who has asked her to marry him; Atticus, her father; and various other inhabitants of  Maycomb.  There are, as should be expected, many "remember when" and "that was the time" reminiscences, and much catching up on what has happened since her last visit.  We also learn about her relationship with Henry and about Dill, who is based on Harper Lee's friend, Truman Capote, and, of course, a bit of the history of Maycomb itself.

I am now at the point when Jean Louise discovers that Atticus reads derogatory material about blacks and that he and Henry are on their way to attend a Citizen's Council meeting (see note below).  Atticus is on the board of directors, and Henry is one of its "staunchest members," according to Alexandra.  "Not that we really need one.  Nothing's happened here in Maycomb yet, but it's always wise to be prepared," Alexandra reassures Jean Louise.  Jean Louise is shocked to hear this and is now on her way to the Citizen's Council meeting to see for herself what is going on.
I have read several derogatory reviews and heard about others, including one that called the novel "a mess."  I don't see it, at least so far.  Perhaps the "mess" comes later.  On the other hand, it just may be that I'm insensitive to those flaws in the novel which are obvious to more astute readers who are trained to analyze and dissect literary works.

Well, there's still almost 2/3 of the novel to go.

From the Wikipedia article

"The Citizens' Councils (also referred to as White Citizens' Councils) were an associated network of  white supremacist organizations in the United States, concentrated in the South. The first was formed on July 11, 1954.   After 1956, it was known as the Citizens' Councils of America. With about 60,000 members across the United States, mostly in the South, the groups were founded primarily to oppose racial integration of schools, but they also supported segregation of public facilities during the 1950s and 1960s. Members used severe intimidation tactics including economic boycotts, firing people from jobs, propaganda, and occasionally violence against civil-rights activists.
By the 1970s, following passage of federal civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s and enforcement of constitutional rights by the federal government, the influence of the Councils had waned considerably. The successor organization to the White Citizens' Councils is the  Council of Conservative Citizens, founded in 1985.'_Councils

Friday, August 14, 2015

Wallace Stevens: The Night-Wind of August

The Night-Wind of August

The night-wind of August
Is like an old mother to me.
It comforts me.
I rest in it,
As one would rest,
If one could,
Once again--
It moves about, quietly
And attentively.
Its old hands touch me.
Its breath touches me. 
But sometimes its breath is a little cold,
Just a little,
And I know
That it is only the night-wind.

-- Wallace Stevens --
from Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

I rest in it,
As one would rest,
If one could,
Once again--

Does this suggest that his mother has died?  He would "rest" if he "could/Once again" which I see as saying that he can no longer do this, which leaves the night-wind as a substitute and perhaps a reminder.

It is that "breath" that is a "little cold" that I wonder about.   The comfort of having an old mother attentive once again is qualified by that breath that is a little cold.  Is that the cold of the grave?  

As usual, I find Stevens' poetry to be intriguing as well as enigmatic.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Rubaiyat: 2nd Edition, Quatrain XLVIII

This is another quatrain that FitzGerald introduced in his Second Edition and which remained through the succeeding editions.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XLVIII

When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long long while the World shall last,
     Which of our Comings and Departures heeds
As much as Ocean of a pebble-cast.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XLVII 

When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
     Which of our Comings and Departures heeds
As the Sea's self should heed a pebble-cast.

Aside from a comma added in line 2, perhaps correcting a printing error, the major change occurred in the fourth line where the term "the Ocean"  became "the Sea's self."  My opinion is that he should have left that line alone.  The "Ocean" is perfectly clear whereas I'm not sure about what is meant by "the Sea's self."

The meaning, as far as I can see, is still the same.  In the World, which will last long after we have died, our arrival and departure will have about as much effect as a pebble thrown into the Ocean.   This carries forth the theme introduced in the previous quatrain, that of our insignificance in the Universe:  there are millions just like us and we were not especially noticed when we appeared nor will we be missed when we leave.  In other words, we are not the center of the universe nor is the universe created solely as a testing device.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Anthony Powell: A Dance to the Music of Time--the dance is over.

Sad to say, but I've finished Anthony Powell's magnificent work--A Dance to the Music of Time.  The music has stopped, the lights are dimming, the musicians are slowly putting away their instruments, and the place is slowly emptying out.  But, soon the lights will come back on and the musicians will return and, once again, dancers will gather on the floor for the ritual goings and comings, arrivals and departures, losings and findings.

As I have mentioned before, this is a four volume work.  Each volume contains three novels, approximately 250 pages in length.  The first two volumes cover the period between WWI and WWII.  The third volume covers WWII and the four is of the post-war period, up until the 80s perhaps.  Powell is not very good at providing dates.

I have seen several different names applied to the volumes: one is Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter.  I had found a well-used copy of  Spring and purchased that on the strength of the BBC adaption of the work.  I finished the first novel and decided to get the complete set. I found a new set, in which the volumes were labelled 1st Movement, 2nd Movement, 3rd Movement, and 4th Movement.  This new labeling scheme seems more appropriate considering the musical nature of the title.

A Dance to the Music of Time is a first person narrative, the voice that of Nicholas Jenkins, Nick to friends and relatives.  The work is not solely about Nick, but about Nick and his friends, relatives, and acquaintances.   In the first novel, Nick is in his last year of school and we meet him and those about him, mostly his schoolmates as they look forward to moving on to the University the following year.

As in the real world, Nick loses track of some of his friends but maintains contact with others.  He also meets and makes new friends and friends of friends and relatives, both his and those of his friends.  We also meet some of his teachers.  This is the format of the work: Nick meets people, loses some, gains others, and then, some who have gone, suddenly return in unexpected ways, and places.  Some change, some seemingly do not as Nick goes through the university and then into the world to establish his career as a writer, and in the various occupations to support himself.  This continues through his military commitment as WWII breaks out, where he meets old friends and relatives in the military.

After having read the work, my impression is that Nick is a rather ordinary person who knows some original and unusual people, the strangest of whom is Kenneth Widmerpool.  No matter what Nick does and where he goes, Widmerpool always manages to appear in some way.  Widmerpool is one of the most fascinating characters I have ever encountered in English fiction.  There may be others whom I haven't met, but for now, Kenneth Widmerpool stands alone.

I may be doing Nick Jenkins a disservice, but when I do the next reading, I will spend more time observing Nick to see what I missed.   But, it just may be that Powell deliberately keeps Nick at a low level because he wanted the focus to be on those around Nick.  If Nick were too striking a character, readers may be distracted and miss Powell's theme of the recurring or cyclic nature of life, or perhaps a spiral would be more apt than a cycle.  For while various characters appear, disappear, and return in Nick's life, they have changed and while their interactions may resemble past interactions in many ways, they are never the same.  

This is about all I can say at the present, for there's too much here for me to make more sense of it and this, at best, can't be more than a superficial commentary.   Perhaps after a second reading, I may be able to be more intelligible and coherent.  For now, let's end this with the penultimate paragraph of the final novel.

Powell concludes with a quotation from Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy.  Although it isn't initially apparent, it is appropriate because Nick has been writing a book about Burton and his works and because there's a shift in tone at the end of the paragraph.  At first, the quotation consists of a series of lists, but then it changes into something quite different.  The quotation is all in paragraph form, but when I think there's a change in tone, I change the format:

"Now come tidings of weddings, maskings, mummeries, entertainments, jubilees.  .  .trophies, triumphs, revels, sports, plays .  .  . treasons, cheating tricks, robberies, enormous villainies in all kinds, funerals, burials, deaths of Princes, new discoveries, expeditions;

now comical, then tragical matters.

Today we hear of new Lords and officers created,
tomorrow of some great men deposed,
and then again of some fresh honours conferred;

one is let loose, another imprisoned,

one purchaseth, another breaketh;

he thrives, his neighbor turns bankrupt;

now plenty, then again dearth and famine;

one runs, another rides,

wrangles, laughs, weeps, &c."

-- Robert Burton --
from Anatomy of Melancholy

Does this sound familiar to you?

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Some Short Stuff from the Early Greeks

Just some short poems and aphorisms from pre-Christian era Greece.  Nothing heavy here.

Fox knows many
Hedgehog one 
Solid trick.

-- Archilochus --
trans.  Guy Davenport

I suppose I've missed the whole point here, but I like the fox better than the hedgehog.  I've known humans who are like foxes--active, mobile, inventive--and I've know humans who are like hedgehogs--solid, immovable, imperturbable--and I like the foxes for things happen when they are around.  In a situation controlled by hedgehogs, little if anything new happens, and what little energy is expended is spent on maintaining the status quo.


I don't give a damn if some Thracian ape strut
Proud of that first-rate shield the bushes got.
Leaving it was hell, but in a tricky spot
I kept my hide intact. Good shield can be bought.

-- Archilochus --
trans. Stuart Silverman

He's definitely not a Spartan or a poor Spartan at best, for their motto was to come home carrying their shields or on it.


Go tell the Spartans, thou that passest by,
That here, obedient to their laws, we lie.

-- Simonides --
trans. by William Lyle Bowles

True Spartans here.

Because of these men's courage, no smoke rose
Skyward from Tegea's burning.  They chose
To leave their children the broad land's township green
With freedom, while in the front line they went down.

-- Simonides --
trans. by Peter Jay

Perhaps not Spartans, but certainly closer in behavior than to the mercenary mentioned earlier.

The poet Hipponax lies here.
In justice, this is only fair.
His lines were never dark or deep.
Now he enjoys  (like his readers) sleep.

-- Theocritus --
trans. by Fred Chappell

Hipponax doesn't seem to have been loved by all.

I've never feared the setting of the Pleiades
or the hidden reefs beneath the waves
or even the lightning at sea

like I dread friends who drink with me
and remember what we say.

-- Antipater of Thessalonica --
trans. by Sam Hamill

Dangerous friends to have. 

All poems are from World Poetry: The Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time.
edited by Katherine Washburn and John S. Major, with Clifton Fadiman as General Editor

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Robert Frost: Putting in the Seed

Putting in the Seed

You come to fetch me from my work tonight
When supper's on the table, and we'll see
If I can leave off burying the white 
Soft petals fallen from the apple tree
(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,
Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)
And go along with you ere you lose sight
Of what you came for and become like me,
Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.
How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed
On through the watching for the early birth
When, just as the soil tarnishes with the weed,
The sturdy seedling with arched body comes
Shouldering its way and and shedding the earth crumbs.

-- Robert Frost --

Why do I get the feeling that there's something going on behind the words on the page?  

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Eric Hoffer: The downside of some revolutions

No. 63

The link between ideas and action is rarely direct.  There is almost always an intermediary step in which the idea is overcome.  De Tocqueville points out that it is at times when passions start to govern human affairs that ideas are most obviously transformed into political action.  The translation of ideas into action is usually in the hands of people least likely to follow rational motives.  Hence it is that action is often the nemesis of ideas, and sometimes of the men who formulated them.

One of the marks of a truly vigorous society is the ability to dispense with passion as a midwife of action--the ability to pass directly from thought to action. 
-- Eric Hoffer --
from Reflections on the Human Condition

Within the past decade or so, how many popular revolutions or coups have we seen that successfully replaced dictatorships or tyrannies with regimes that are as bad or worse, in spite of the rhetoric that accompanied them?

Is Hoffer suggesting that the great majority of people can't be moved to act through reason or by intelligent thought but that they have to be stirred up by strong emotions or passion to accomplish something?

Are shouting, bullying, insulting comments, or emotionally laden slogans more likely to move people to act than calm reason and facts?

Friday, July 17, 2015

William H. Davies: Leisure


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?

No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

-- William H. Davies --
from Art and Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry
The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A very simple poem but a profound thought, I think.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Ray Bradbury: The Lake

One of Ray Bradbury's strengths is that he can take the simplest elements and create a memorable tale from them:  two twelve year-old children, a summer at the lake, a half-finished sand castle, a sudden parting and perhaps an equally sudden and unexpected reunion.   Bradbury tells the story much better than I can, so I will give you some excerpts from this brief tale, but haunting (that may be a pun, but I'll let you decide)  nevertheless.

"The wave shut me off from the world, from the birds in the sky, the children on the beach, my mother on the shore.  There was a moment of green silence.  Then the wave gave me back to the sky, the sand, the children yelling.  I came out of the lake and the world was waiting for me, having hardly moved since I went away. 

      I ran up on the beach.

.  .  .  .  .

It was September.  In the last days when things are getting sad for no reason.  The beach was so long and lonely with only about six people on it.  The kids quit bouncing the ball because somehow the wind made them sad, too, whistling the way it did, and the kids sat down and felt autumn come along the endless shore.

All of the hot dog stands were boarded up with strips of golden planking, sealing in all the mustard, onion, meat odors of the long, joyful summer.  It was like nailing summer into a series of coffins.  One by one the places slammed their covers down, padlocked their doors, and the wind came and touched the sand, blowing away all of the million footprints of July and August.  It got so that now, in September, there was nothing but the mark of my rubber tennis shoes and Donald and Delaus Schabold's feet, down by the water curve.

.  .  .  .  .

I called her name.  A dozen times I called it.

   'Tally!  Tally!  Oh, Tally!'

.  .  .  .  .

   I thought of Tally, swimming out into the water last May, with her pigtails trailing, blonde.  She went laughing, and the sun was on her small twelve-year-old shoulders.  I thought of the water settling quiet, of the life-guard leaping into it, of Tally's mother screaming, and of how Tally never came out. . . .

.  .  .  .  .

And now in the lonely autumn when the sky was huge and the water was huge and the beach was so very long, I had come down for the last time, alone.

.  .  .  .  .

Turning, I retreated to the sand and stood there for half an hour, hoping for one glimpse, one sign, one little bit of Tally to remember.  Then, I knelt and built a sand-castle, shaping it fine, building it as Tally and I had often built so many of them.  But this time, I only built half of it.  Then I got up.

   'Tally, if you hear me, come in and build the rest.'

.  .  .  .  .

The next day I went away on the train.
.  .  .  .  .

I lengthened my bones, put flesh on them, changed my young mind for an older one, threw away clothes as they no longer fitted, shifted from grammar to high school, to college books, to law books.  And then there was a young woman in Sacramento.  I knew her for a time, and we were married."

There is more to this story--a return to the lake and another half-finished castle and .  .  .

I won't say any more, but if you are interested--this is a link to an online version of the story.  It's a short one.

If you read it, come back and let me know what you think of it.

Friday, July 10, 2015

That Desert Island Thing

R.T., on Beyond Eastwood, issued a challenge to come up with a six-pack of last reads.  I struggled for a while and came up with six, but I'm unhappy with the list because there are so many others I want to include.  In addition. I didn't include any works that I hadn't already read, or rather completely read.  I'm now almost 3/4 of the way through Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, and I've come nowhere near reading all of Frost's poetry, and I still have a few plays by Shakespeare to read. 

So, I'm going to modify R.T.'s .challenge a bit and expanded it to the magic Ten, so popular among all sorts of listings.  This will be my response to the Desert Island Challenge of Last Reads:  Which ten books would you want to be marooned with you on that Desert Island Paradise?

Shakespeare:  complete plays and poems

Proust:  In Search of Lost Time

Anthony Powell:  A Dance to the Music of Time

Frost:  complete poems and plays

Melville:  Moby Dick

Thomas Mann:  The Magic Mountain

Walter van Tilburg Clark: The City of Trembling Leaves

Loren Eiseley:  The Immense Journey

Jane Austen:  Mansfield Park or Persuasion  (a last minute decision)

Lawrence Durrell:  The Alexandria Quartet

George Eliot:  Middlemarch

Miklos Banffy:  The Transylvanian Trilogy
This is something I'm taking a chance on as I haven't read any of the three works.  However, the reviews sound interesting, and my father was born in what is now Transylvania, so I thought I would risk adding this trilogy.  The work is set in pre-WWI Hungary and is the account of two cousins who followed two very different paths.

Those who are less math challenged than I am will have noted that there are twelve works listed here-not ten.  Well, if one starts out with a six-pack, then it's only logical to expand to two six-packs, isn't it?

  I'm now working on a third six-pack, so I'd  better stop here.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Rubaiyat: 2nd Edition, Quatrain XLVII

This is Quatrain XLVII, one of the new quatrains FitzGerald introduced with the publication of the second edition.  It also appears in the Fifth Edition.

Second Edition:  Quatrain XLVII

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, should lose, or know the type no more;
    The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour. 

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain XLVI

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
    The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour. 

Lines 1, 3, and 4 are identical, with the only changes occurring in the second line.  The most significant effect is that the Poet/Narrator now includes himself along with the reader, perhaps to remove any suspicion the reader may have had that the Poet felt himself to be unique.

Overall, I would not call this a very cheerful quatrain for it argues that we all will die some day.   Moreover, it dispels those fond delusions that we may have had that we are special or unique in some way, for there are millions like us who have already appeared and millions more who will follow us.  And, being compared to a bubble strongly evokes the idea of the ephemeral nature of our being. Perhaps it's time for a cup of wine.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Paul Laurence Dunbar: In Summer

In Summer

Oh, summer has clothed the earth
        In a cloak from the loom of the sun!
And a mantle, too, of the skies' soft blue,
       And a belt where the rivers run. 

And now for the kiss of the wind,
      And the touch of the air's soft hands,
With the rest from strife and the heat of life,
      With the freedom of lakes and lands.

I envy the farmer's boy
       Who sings as he follows the plow;
While the shinning green of the young blades lean
      To the breezes that cool his brow.  

He sings to the dewy morn,
       No thought of another's ear;
But the song he sings is a chant for kings
      And the whole wide world to hear.

He sings of the joys of life,
     Of the pleasures of work and rest,
From an o'erfull heat, without aim or art;
     'Tis a song of the merriest.
O ye who toil in the town,
     And ye who moil in the mart,
Hear the artless song, and your faith made strong
     Shall renew your joy of  heart.

Oh, poor were the worth of the world
         If never a song were heard,--
If the sting of grief had no relief,
        And never a heart were stirred.

So. long as the streams run down,
      And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
      And sing in the face of ill.

-- Paul Laurence Dunbar --
from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season

The last two stanzas suggest something more is going on here than a simple paean to the joys of summer labor.  Singing can do something other than just reflect one's joy at that particular moment:

Oh, poor were the worth of the world
         If never a song were heard,--
If the sting of grief had no relief,
        And never a heart were stirred.
So. long as the streams run down,
      And as long as the robins trill,
Let us taunt old Care with a merry air,
      And sing in the face of ill.

Music bypasses the brain and goes directly to your soul.   You can feel the best music in your bones. Martial music and marches and national anthems are far more effective in moving people than any lecture on patriotism.  The most rousing speeches and sermons are almost sung or chanted.  If you listen carefully you can hear the music underlying the words and that's what moves the listeners.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Russell Hoban: Eau de Hippogriff

Russell Hoban
Angelica Lost and Found

Warning:  Spoilers Present

 Roger délivrant Angélique (1824) by Louis-Édouard Rioult depicts the scene of Orlando Furioso where Ruggiero rescues Angelique while riding on a hippogriff. 

Russell Hoban has fun with the medieval romance in general and Ludovico Ariosto's poem, Orlando Furioso, in particular.  Angelica Lost and Found  takes off from a subplot of Orlando Furioso and the subject of a painting by Girolamo da Carpi which depicts a young woman, Angelica, chained naked to a cliff on a small island as a sacrifice to a sea monster.  Ruggiero, a secondary character, aboard a hippogriff, comes to rescue her. 

Volatore, the hippogriff, having once seen all of Angelica's maidenly charms then falls madly in love with her.   He somehow manages to break free of the literary world and the painting and emerges in the 21st century, where he meets Angelica Greenberg, the owner of an art gallery in (where else) San Francisco.

As is typical of the medieval romance, the young lovers (well, for convention's sake they are the young lovers)  meet early in the work, plight their everlasting love for each other (well, sort of anyway), and then are separated for the rest of the novel.   Most of the novel, therefore, consists of a series of Angelica's adventures, many of which are brought about by Volatore as he strives to be reunited with her.  Volatore is seen only in very brief chapters from this point on. 

Angelica's adventures are rather unique.  She is searched out by a number of men, all of whom have, to a greater or lesser degree, the distinct hippogriff odor.  Volatore, now trapped in between the real world and the literary world, desperately searches for Angelica by tapping into the psyche of  males in her vicinity.   Unaware of  the source of their motivation, they respond by seeking her out.  But, the chemistry is not right, and Volatore must again look for another male who would be a perfect fit for a lovesick hippogriff.  

Medieval romances have happy endings, so you can guess how this one will end.  

I would rank this an interesting and enjoyable and a not-too-heavy read. 

On the other hand, there may be something going on here that I'm missing.  One should always be careful when reading anything by Hoban.  Consequently, Angelica Lost and Found is on the "must read again" list, just to see if I take a different view the second time around.

Friday, June 26, 2015



Not to say what everyone else is saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did,
then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

-- Clere Parsons --(1908-1931)
from A Poem a Day
edited by Karen McCosker and Nicholas Albery

I had never heard of him until I encountered this poem listed in the above mentioned volume.  While at Oxford, he edited the 1928 edition of Oxford Poetry and formed a group of poets that included Stephen Spender, Lewis MacNeice and several others.

I found the poem intriguing as it seems to suggest a strange intellectual journey from trying to be different to understanding that one really wasn't. I'm going to do a search to see if I can find any more of his poems on-line. 

A late thought--arriving some time after this was posted.  Could these three stages be considered levels of development which happens to many, if not to most people?

1.  Children growing up frequently demonstrate their individuality by taking a stand that is the opposite of everything their parents and other old folks accept and believe in.

Not to say what everyone else is saying
not to believe what everyone else believed
not to do what everybody did,

 2. As they grow and mature, they begin to come up with reasons for their opposition, reasons that support their positions and which go beyond mere opposition to the status quo. 

 then to refute what everyone else was saying
then to disprove what everyone else believed
then to deprecate what everybody did,

 3.  Then as they age and gain more experience of the world, they begin to change or modify their positions and finally find themselves as holding ideas which are common to many.  After all, there are only a limited number of positions that can be held on various issues:  completely for, partially for, partially against, completely against, and indifferent.

was his way to come by understanding

how everyone else was saying the same as he was saying
believing what he believed
and did what doing.

What do you think?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Summer Solstice

I thought I would post this, the first known poem in English about summer today, since it is the Summer Solstice, or the First Day of Summer. No doubt you have seen it before, as I have, but I enjoy it each time for its simplicity and brevity.

Cuckoo Song

Summer is y-comen in, 
  Loude sing, cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth meed
  And spring'th the woode now--
                         Sing cuckoo!

Ewe' bleateth after lamb,
  Low'th after calfe cow;
Bullock starteth, bucke farteth.
  Merry sing cuckoo!

  Cuckoo, cuckoo!
Well sing'st  thou, cuckoo:
  Ne swike thou never now!

Sing cuckoo, now!  Sing cuckoo!
Sing cuckoo!  Sing, cuckoo, now!
                          -- Anon --


from the Wikipedia entry;
"The song is composed in the  Wessex dialect of Middle English.  Although the composer's identity is unknown today, it may have been  W. de Wycombe.  The manuscript in which it is preserved was copied between 1261 and 1264."

Here is one from the other side of the world--China--a poem by T'ao Chien (365-427 AD).

Reading the Book of Hills and Seas

In the month of June the grass grows high
And round my cottage thick-leaved branches sway.
There is not a bird but delights in the place where it rests:
And I too--love my thatched cottage.
I have done my ploughing: 
I have sown my seed.
Again I have time to sit and read my books.
In the narrow lane there are no deep ruts:
Often my friends' carriages turn back.
In high spirits I pour out my spring wine
And pluck the lettuce growing in my garden.
A gentle rain comes stealing up from the east
And a sweet wind bears it company.
My thoughts float idly over the Story of King Chou
My eyes wander over the pictures of Hills and Seas.
At a single glance I survey the whole Universe.
He will never be happy whom such pleasures fail to please.
-- T'ai Ch'ien --
from Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season
Edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch

 This is a repeat for I had posted this about three years ago, but I thought it captures the sense of summer--paradoxically a time of work and also play or rest or meditation or just being.

#172  Solstice

"The summer solstice is the time of greatest light.  It is a day of enormous power.  The whole planet is turned fully to the brilliance of the sun.

This great culmination is not static or permanent.  Indeed, solstice as a time of culmination is only a barely perceptible point.  The sun appears to stand still.  Its diurnal motion seems to nearly cease.  Yesterday, it was still reaching this point; tomorrow, it will begin a new phase of its cycle.

Those who follow Tao celebrate this day to remind themselves of the cycles of existence.  They remember that all cycles have a left and a right, an up side and a down side, a zenith and a nadir.  Today, day far surpasses night, and night will gradually begin to reassert itself.  All of life is cycles.  All of life is balance."
-- Deng Ming-Dao --
from 365 Tao

While the Summer Solstice inevitably brings to mind the Winter Solstice, the time of the longest night, we shouldn't let that thought spoil our enjoyment of the present.  Good times will be followed by sad times, but those sad times are no more permanent than are the good times. The wisest know that nothing is permanent: even the mountains will eventually erode away, and then, in some far distant future, will be raised up once again.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Nightfall: Lord Byron, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Silverberg

Lord Byron:                                             "Darkness"  1816, a poem
Ralph Waldo Emerson:                            "Nature"      1836, an essay  
Isaac Asimov:                                          "Nightfall"   1941, a short story
Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg:       Nightfall, a novel, 1990


Near the end of May I visited R.T.'s blog, Beyond Eastwood, which featured a poem by Lord Byron.  I'm not a great fan (or even a little fan) of Lord Byron, but I was curious to see what had interested R.T. to post this poem.  I got about 4 or 5 lines into it when I had to stop and go back to check that what I thought I was reading was really what I was reading.

In the poem the sun disappears, and chaos follows!   I couldn't help but think of Isaac Asimov's most famous short story, "Nightfall."  This, then, reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson's Essay, "Nature,"  and then the expanded version of the short story, Nightfall, by Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg. 

 Following are three works--the poem by Lord Byron, an excerpt from Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Nature," and a quotation from Isaac Asimov's most famous short story, "Nightfall"-- all of which speculate about the effects of the sudden loss of the sun.

           "Darkness" by Lord Byron

I had a dream, which was not all a dream.
The bright sun was extinguished, and the stars
Did wander darkling in the eternal space,
Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earth
Swung blind and blackening in the moonless air;
Morn came and went -and came, and brought no day,
And men forgot their passions in the dread
Of this their desolation; and all hearts
Were chilled into a selfish prayer for light;
And they did live by watchfires -and the thrones,
The palaces of crowned kings -the huts,
The habitations of all things which dwell,
Were burnt for beacons; cities were consumed,
And men were gathered round their blazing homes
To look once more into each other's face;
Happy were those which dwelt within the eye
Of the volcanoes, and their mountain-torch;
A fearful hope was all the world contained;
Forests were set on fire -but hour by hour
They fell and faded -and the crackling trunks
Extinguished with a crash -and all was black.
The brows of men by the despairing light
Wore an unearthly aspect, as by fits
The flashes fell upon them: some lay down
And hid their eyes and wept; and some did rest
Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;
And others hurried to and fro, and fed
Their funeral piles with fuel, and looked up
With mad disquietude on the dull sky,
The pall of a past world; and then again
With curses cast them down upon the dust,
And gnashed their teeth and howled; the wild birds shrieked,
And, terrified, did flutter on the ground,
And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutes
Came tame and tremulous; and vipers crawled
And twined themselves among the multitude,
Hissing, but stingless -they were slain for food;
And War, which for a moment was no more,
Did glut himself again; -a meal was bought
With blood, and each sate sullenly apart
Gorging himself in gloom: no love was left;
All earth was but one thought -and that was death,
Immediate and inglorious; and the pang
Of famine fed upon all entrails -men
Died, and their bones were tombless as their flesh;
The meagre by the meagre were devoured,
Even dogs assailed their masters, all save one,
And he was faithful to a corse, and kept
The birds and beasts and famished men at bay,
Till hunger clung them, or the drooping dead
Lured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,
But with a piteous and perpetual moan,
And a quick desolate cry, licking the hand
Which answered not with a caress -he died.
The crowd was famished by degrees; but two
Of an enormous city did survive,
And they were enemies: they met beside
The dying embers of an altar-place
Where had been heaped a mass of holy things
For an unholy usage: they raked up,
And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands
The feeble ashes, and their feeble breath
Blew for a little life, and made a flame
Which was a mockery; then they lifted up
Their eyes as it grew lighter, and beheld
Each other's aspects -saw, and shrieked, and died -
Even of their mutual hideousness they died,
Unknowing who he was upon whose brow
Famine had written Fiend. The world was void,
The populous and the powerful was a lump,
Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless -
A lump of death -a chaos of hard clay.
The rivers, lakes, and ocean all stood still,
And nothing stirred within their silent depths;
Ships sailorless lay rotting on the sea,
And their masts fell down piecemeal; as they dropped
They slept on the abyss without a surge -
The waves were dead; the tides were in their grave,
The Moon, their mistress, had expired before;
The winds were withered in the stagnant air,
And the clouds perished! Darkness had no need
Of aid from them - She was the Universe!

To borrow from Spock: "Fascinating"

This is the Wikipedia entry about the poem:

" Darkness is a poem written by Lord Byron in July 1816. That year was known as the Year Without a Summer, because Mount Tambora had erupted in the Dutch East Indies the previous year, casting enough ash into the atmosphere to block out the sun and cause abnormal weather across much of north-east America and northern Europe. This pall of darkness inspired Byron to write his poem."

.  .  .

"1816, the year in which the poem was written, was called 'the year without summer', as strange weather and an inexplicable darkness caused record-cold temperatures across Europe, especially in Geneva. Byron claimed to have received his inspiration for the poem, saying he 'wrote it... at Geneva, when there was a celebrated dark day, on which the fowls went to roost at noon, and the candles were lighted as at midnight.'  The darkness was (unknown to those of the time) caused by the volcanic ash spewing from the eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The search for a cause of the strange changes in the light of day only grew as scientists discovered sunspots on the sun so large that they could be seen with the naked eye.  A scientist in Italy even predicted that the sun would go out on 18 July, shortly before Byron's writing of "Darkness". His "prophecy" caused riots, suicides, and religious fervour all over Europe."


From the Wikipedia entry on "Nightfall"
"According to Asimov's autobiography, Campbell asked Asimov to write the story after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson:

'If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown!'"
--Ralph Waldon Emerson --
from Nature

Campbell's opinion to the contrary was: "I think men would go mad."

Isaac Asimov then wrote the story, which followed Campbell's opinion most closely:

"Theremon staggered to his feet, his throat constricting him in breathlessness, all the muscles of his body writing in a tensity of terror and sheer fear beyond bearing.  He was going mad, and knew it, and somwehre deep inside a bit of sanity was screaming, struggling to fight off the helpless flood of back terror. It was very horrible to go mad and know that you were going mad--to know that in a little minute you would be here physically and yet all the real essence would be dead and drowned in the black madness.  For this was the Dark--the Dark and the Cold and the Doom.  The bright walls of the universe were shattered and their awful black fragments were falling down to crush and squeeze and obliterate him."

-- Isaac Asimov --
from "Nightfall"

As you can easily see,  Asimov's story presents Campbell's and Lord Byron's views. In Asimov's story, after the suns have been eclipsed, the astronomers go mad and off in the distance a red glow appears in the sky over the nearby city.


 A later collaboration between Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg in 1990 expands the short story into a novel, with Silverberg's contribution being the first and last parts while Asimov's short story with some minor changes, becomes the middle section.  The last part  extends the story beyond the point where the short story ends and portrays the destruction of civilization after the stars emerge.  It is this extension that Bryon's poem could easily substitute for Asimov's or rather Silverberg's  depiction of the aftermath.