Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LIX

This quatrain brings back a theme that was first introduced in quatrains XXXIV-XXXVII  (34-37)  and LIII (53).  The motif is that of the Creator, potter, clay, earth, and humanity.  And, this theme is dominant from this quatrain through quatrain 66.

First Edition:  Quatrain LIX

Listen again.  One evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
    In that old Potter's Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXXIX

As under cover of departing Day
Slunk hunger-stricken Ramazan away,
   Once more within the Potter's house alone
I stood, surrounded by the Shapes of Clay.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXII
As under cover of departing Day
Slunk hunger-stricken Ramazan away,
   Once more within the Potter's house alone
I stood, surrounded by the Shapes of Clay.

As you can see, FitzGerald made considerable changes between the first and second editions, while the fifth is identical to the second.  There is also a marked change in the tone, as well as the language, between the first and second editions.  In the first version, the poet just refers to the ending of Ramazan with the coming of the new moon. I guess it is "better" because it is new and not tired and worn out as the old moon was.  "Ramazan" is a variant spelling for "Ramadan," the term which we are probably most familiar with.  Ramadan is the monthly fast that occurs once a year which all followers of Islam must partake in, except for certain exceptions--those who would find fasting a hardship or dangerous to their health or those  who are traveling.

While the reference in the first two lines of the first edition seems fairly objective, the tone in the second and succeeding editions is quite different.  We no longer read about the appearance of the new moon, but "under cover of departing day,"  which sounds as though someone or something is sneaking off in the dark.  In the second line, Ramazan doesn't just "Close," but it "slunk" away, suggesting something guilty or perhaps evil, or something unwelcome.  The language implies a thief sneaking off, unseen in the dark.

The ending of Ramazan now has a much more unpleasant feel to it than it does in the first edition.  Does the Poet find the daily routine of fasting during the daylight hours and then feasting after sunset unpleasant for some reason?  Just why the Poet decided to change the tone escapes me. 

The most significant change in the third line is the suggestion--"once more"--in the second and fifth editions that the Poet has been in the Potter's shop before, something that doesn't appear in the first edition.  In the fourth line, "clay Population" in the first version is replaced by "Shapes of Clay" in the second and fifth versions.  Perhaps the Poet felt that "clay Population" is too vague while "Shapes of Clay" is more specific.

This quatrain doesn't seem to put forth any particular idea and seems to be an introductory quatrain, just telling us where the Poet is and what is about him.   Now that the setting has been identified, the following quatrains should present the Poet's point.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Loren Eiseley on empathy

I don't think the following statement could be any clearer:

No, it is not because I am filled with obscure guilt that I step gently over, and not upon, an autumn cricket.  It is not because of guilt that I refuse to shoot the last osprey from her nest in the tide marsh.  I possess empathy;  I have grown with man in his mind's growing.  I share that sympathy and compassion which extends beyond the barriers of class and race and form until it partakes of the universal whole.  I am not ashamed to profess this emotion, nor will I call it a pathology.   Only through this experience many times repeated and enhanced does man become truly human.  Only then will his gun arm be forever lowered.  I pray that it may sometime be so.

Loren Eiseley (1907-1977)
from The Lost Notebooks of Loren Eiseley   

Most people, I believe, have reached that stage where they have empathy for others who are like them in culture and beliefs and color and economic status.   Going beyond that to embrace all humans is a long way off as anyone can see from reading the latest headlines.  Loren Eiseley has gone beyond that stage to have empathy for all life--two evolutionary stages beyond most of us. Who knows?  Maybe in a few centuries, the human race might be only one stage behind him.  Unfortunately, I don't believe I shall be around to see it.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Marta Randall: " Islands"--an SF novel

One of the most common themes found in SF is that of the unique individual, someone who possesses powers or physical attributes not found in the ordinary human being, and therefore may be forced to hide or disguise oneself to avoid detection by others.  This could be any of the ESP powers, such as telepathy, telekinesis, teleportation, or even precognition.  It could also mean special physical attributes such as immense strength far exceeding that of the normal human being or the ability to regenerate limbs or to suffer catastrophic wounds and still survive.  Probably the most threatening of any of these would be immortality.   I think many could accept others possessing the powers or attributes mentioned above, mainly because that individual still faces the same end as the rest of us.  However, the immortal individual faces the greatest amount of hostility from others, for while not all might want the ability to read the minds of others nor resent that ability in others, the wish to avoid death is almost universal.   I think that is the one attribute  that the mass of humanity could not accept in the unique individual.

Marta Randall's novel, Islands, focuses on the issue of immortality, and Tia is a very unique in that respect.  Only, Randall has worked a switch on the usual plot:  Tia is not the only immortal among mortals, but she is the only mortal among immortals.  Centuries in the future, medical research has perfected a treatment that makes one immortal, or at least no one has died since the treatment became available, except, of course, by accident.  In addition there is something that nobody talks about, the disappearances.  Almost everybody knows someone who just disappeared and was never seen again.

Tia is unique in that the treatment won't work on her. Various attempts were made and tests were taken, but for some unknown  reason, her body rejected the treatment..  She alone is going to die at some time in the future, probably around a century or perhaps a decade or more later, as medical research has developed techniques to solve many of the problems associated with aging and also has perfected the art of transplants.  Her medical treatments are free and in fact one doctor who became interested in gerontology adopted her as his special patient.  She was the only one around he could study.

When she went for her treatment, she and Paul, her lover, had planned to go on a exploratory journey in space that was planned to last many decades. Now, considering her shortened life span, she couldn't leave earth for that length of time. Paul's treatment was successful, and he left.

At first it wasn't hard because Tia was young and looked no different than the others.  She had lovers just as any of them.  But, as she grew older, the signs of aging became more apparent and it was now that she began to be isolated from others--how much by her behavior and how much the result of others, she never quite knew.  She also became aware of another difference between her and the others.  She was more willing to take risks than they were.  They had so much more to lose than she did. 

The novel begins when Tia is nearing 70.  She is an active, healthy person in her 70s, but she stands out for there's nobody who looks like her.   She has joined a diving expedition that is searching the ruins of the sunken cities on what was once Hawaii.  The seas have risen and the Hawaiian Islands have sunk beneath the sea.   When she meets the rest of the expedition's crew, she is disturbed to discover that  Paul, whom she hasn't seen in decades, is there along with his most recent lover.

The focus of the novel is on Tia's thoughts and feelings as she struggles to handle the distance that grows between her and the immortals. People, especially the young people,  no longer are familiar with the signs of aging.  She is unique, and there's no way to disguise her situation.  It is exacerbated when Paul appears, but she is shocked to find Paul wants to reestablish their former relationship.  The others don't know how to take this, especially his lover.

The title puzzled me, although the islands could refer to the Hawaiian Islands, the location of their dives.  The sense of isolation that Tia felt, a mortal among immortals, suggested that perhaps the islands referred to had more to do with John Donne, than with Hawaii.  Donne's famous meditation on death begins  "No man is an island" and goes on to declare that we are all part of each other. The loss of one person affects all,  and he ends his meditation with  "Send not to ask for whom the bell tolls/ It tolls for thee."

This may be true in a society where all are mortal,  but is it also applicable in a society where all are immortal?  And, how does Tia, the sole mortal in this immortal society, fit in.  The last words of Donne's meditation are ironic in Tia's situation, for the bell now will never toll except for when it is for her.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Carl Sandburg: a definition (nine actually) of poetry

Poets and critics and scholars have long debated the nature of poetry.  However, I don't think anyone has come up with one definition that satisfies everybody.   Carl Sandburg has come up with nine himself.

Nine Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry

1.  Poetry is a projection across silence of cadences arranged
               to break that silence with definite intentions of echoes,
              syllables, wave lengths.

2.  Poetry is the harnessing of the paradox of earth cradling
                life and then entombing it.

3.  Poetry is a series of explanations of life, fading off into 
               horizons too swift for explanations. 

4Poetry is a sky dark with a wild-duck migration.

5.  Poetry is a search for syllables to shoot at the barriers of
                the unknown and the unknowable.

6.  Poetry is a packsack of invisible keepsakes.

7.  Poetry is a phantom script telling how rainbows are made
               and why they go away. 

8.  Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and

9.  Poetry is the capture of a picture, a song, or a flair, in a
               deliberate prism of words.

Is this a poem?

I think Sandburg is really saying here that poetry can't be defined.  My favorite definition, though, comes from Robert Frost who once said, when asked what poetry was, that poetry is what gets lost in the translation.   But, if I had to choose one of Sandburg's,  I guess I'd go with No. 4.

   The sea darkening  .  .  .
Oh voices of the wild ducks
   Crying, whirling, white
                    -- Basho --

from A Little Treasury of Haiku
trans.  Peter Beilenson

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Joseph Conrad: An Outcast of the Islands

Joseph Conrad's An Outcast of the Islands is an excellent example of why we shouldn't  decide  to read a book based on the information given on the back cover.  We are told that "The theme of  An Outcast of the Islands is the enslavement and eventual destruction of a white man marooned by his own people on the shore of an Malayan island."  This reads as though Willems is a victim, rather than the cause of his own destruction.

When the novel opens, Willems is the confidential clerk at Hudig and Co. which was in the business of buying and selling, sometimes legitimate merchandise, and sometimes smuggling firearms, opium, and gunpowder.  He brags openly and frequently of his position for he is "boastfully and inordinately proud" of the confidence the owner of Hudig and C. had in him.  When we are told this in the first chapter, we should expect to see Willems headed for a fall  (as in "Pride goeth .  .  .)  Sadly, he has no idea of how quickly it will come.

"Willems walked on homeward weaving the splendid web of his future.  The road to greatness lay plainly before his eyes, straight and shining, without any obstacle the he could see.  He had stopped off the path of honesty, as he understood it, but he would soon regain it, never to leave it any more!  It was a very small matter.  He would soon put it right again.  Meantime his duty was not to be found out, and he trusted in his skill, in his luck, in his well-established reputation that would disarm suspicion if anybody dare to suspect.  But nobody would dare! True, he was conscious of a slight deterioration.  He had appropriated temporarily some of Hudig's money.  A deplorable necessity.  But he judged himself with the indulgence that should be extended to the weaknesses of genius.   He would make reparation and all would be as before;  nobody would be the loser for it, and he would go on unchecked toward the brilliant goal of his ambition.
Hudig's partner!"

However, a resentful subordinate at Hudig discovers Willems' embezzlement and loses no time in informing on him   Willems is fired and his wife and children immediately desert him.  He now has nothing--no fine position, no family, no glowing future, and no reputation, for who will hire a man who stole from his employer.  But Willems does have a guardian angel, one who saved him once long before.

Captain Tom Lindgard owner of a small trading vessel, once again comes to Willems' rescue.  Many years ago, Captain Lindgard had given the 17 year old Willems a job on his ship, the Flash.  Once aboard the Flash, Willems learned his trade from Captain Lindgard and became his most trusted subordinate.  Eventually he left and joined Hudig and Co., thus leading to his present disastrous situation.

Captain Lindgard takes Willems aboard once again and offers to take him to his secret trading post and let him work there.  Years ago, Lindgard had discovered a way to navigate a river on one of the islands, and once inland he established a trading post in a small community.  Since no one else knew the secret of maneuvering an ocean going vessel on that river,  he alone was able to deal with the inhabitants. Lindgard frequently found himself followed by his competitors, but he always managed to lose them before entering the river mouth.     

Once there, Willems finds that he can't get along with  Almayer, the trading post master.  He also becomes obsessed with Aissa, a young woman in the community.  She seems interested in him, but her interest is that he is a white man and therefore powerful.  In his present position, though, he is not very important.  Desperate,  he succumbs to the promises of one of Capt. Lindgard's competitors and betrays the secret of maneuvering a large ship up the river.  When Lindgard returns, he finds that he has lost control of the trading post and is, in fact, shut out completely.  He is naturally upset, but he is also a practical man.  It's time to move on, for this island and this trading post are not the entire world.

Willems, expecting a considerable financial reward and a place at the side of the competitor, gains neither the financial reward nor the coveted position.  After all, a man who betrayed his employer and also his benefactor and friend is not someone who can be trusted.  So, Willems comes to his end.  If he is a victim, he is the cause of his destruction.

An Outcast of the Islands  is Conrad's second novel and its success convinced him to go on writing.  His first novel, Almayer's Folly, actually takes place chronologically after Outcast, for Almayer is the major character in the first and an important though secondary character in Outcast. It is one of the novels in the "Lindgard trilogy" who, along with Marlow, is one of Conrad's significant recurring characters. Conrad describes Lindgard as follows:

Tom Lindgard was a master, a lover, a servant of the sea.  The sea took him young, fashioned him body and soul; gave him his fierce aspect, his loud voice, his fearless eyes, his stupidly guileless heart.  Generously it gave him his absurd faith in himself, his universal love of creation, his wide indulgence, his contemptuous severity, his straightforward simplicity of motive and honesty of aim.  .  .  .  Tom Lindgard grew rich on the sea and by the sea.  He loved it with the ardent affection of a lover, he made light of it with the assurance of perfect mastery, he feared it with the wise fear of a brave man, and he took liberties with it as a spoiled child might do with a paternal and good-natured ogre.  He was grateful to it,  with the gratitude of an honest heart.  His greatest pride lay in his profound conviction of its faithfulness--in the deep sense of his unerring knowledge of its treachery.

While The Rescue is Conrad's last novel, it is also the first in the Lingard series.  This is the story of Lingard's rescue of a yacht that is briefly mentioned in An Outcast of the Islands.  The chronological sequence of the three novels is, therefore,  The Rescue,  An Outcast of the Islands, and  Almayer's Folly.   An Outcast of the Islands is the only one of the three that I have read, so I've decided to read the series in the proper order.

I find Captain Lindgard an interesting character and also one who would be difficult to get along with daily, or at least I would, considering  his absurd faith in himself, his universal love of creation, his wide indulgence, his contemptuous severity, his straightforward simplicity of motive and honesty of aim.  He is a very paradoxical person. 

Along with the characters Willems and Lindgard and several others I haven't mentioned  (Aissa, who is Lindgard's obsession, and Babalatchi,  the obsequious and politically astute servant, counselor, and, above all, survivor) one of the strengths of the novel is Conrad's descriptions of the island itself--almost dreamlike in effect.  Conrad said in the introduction to one of his novels that  "My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is above all, to make you see."  Conrad's skill in describing the island surely is an excellent example of  how successful he could be.

This is not one of his best novels, but it is an excellent read. There are several well-defined characters and a very strong sense of place.  It doesn't have to be read in conjunction with the other two novels, and  though there are hints of the events of the first chronological novel in the series, they do not play any role in the novel..

Recommended for those who enjoyed exotic settings and an interesting depiction of a man unknowingly on a self-destructive path.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Eric Hoffer on responsibility

The following quotations come from Eric Hoffer's The Passionate State of Mind.  It is said to be a sign of maturity and inner strength to accept responsibility for our own actions.  It is this that distinguishes us from the children and the immature.

"There is a powerful caving in most of us to see ourselves as instruments in the hands of others and thus free ourselves from the responsibility of acts which are prompted by our own questionable inclinations and impulses.  Both the strong and the weak grasp at this alibi.  The latter hide their malevolence under the virtue of obedience: they acted dishonorably because they had to obey orders.  The strong, too, claim absolution by proclaiming themselves the chosen instruments of a higher power--God, history, fate, nation or humanity."

At one time, ministers and preachers would claim the support of the deity for their actions, that God told them what to say and do, but today we see politicians and legislators now insisting that the deity has told them what is right and what they must do.  They imply, of course, that a vote for them is a vote for God; voting for their opponents is voting against God.  It's God's responsibility, not theirs.

Who was the comedian whose tagline became instantly famous and quoted and revised innumerable times?
--The Devil made me do it.   There's some truth in humor, I think.

"The awareness that the misfortunes which befall us are some sort of retribution for past transgressions often evokes in us a sense of relief.  We are relieved of immediate responsibility for whatever it is that is happening to us.  For if our difficulties can be ascribed to something that has happened in the past, they cannot serve as evidence of our present inadequacy and cannot blemish our self-confidence and self-esteem."

Doesn't it say somewhere in the Bible that the sins of  the fathers shall fall even onto the third generation?  And Buddhists speak of Karma which means that actions in our past lives can have an effect on us in the present incarnation.  

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Rubaiyat: Quatrain LVIII

Quatrain LVIII is related to the previous one by its opening  and by its focus on sin, something that hasn't come up in earlier quatrains.

First Edition:  Quatrain LVIII

Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And who with Eden didst devise the Snake,
    For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd, Man's Forgiveness give--and take!

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXXVIII

Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Eden didst devise the Snake:
    For all the Sin the Face of wretched Man
Is black with--Man's Forgiveness give--and take!

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXXI

Oh, Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake,
    For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd--Man's Forgiveness give--and take!

As usual, FitzGerald made some changes to the Second Edition, but what is unusual,  he restored some of the changes by the Fifth Edition.  He dropped the term "wherewith" from the second quatrain but put it back in by the fifth edition.  I suspect FitzGerald may have felt that the original version flowed much more smoothly than did the revision.

The first line is the same in all three versions.  In the second line, FitaGerald refers to Eden in the first and second editions but replaces it with "Paradise" in the fifth.  Why the change is not clear to me. "Eden" clearly refers to the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve resided until the Fall.  The snake, of course, is Satan the tempter of Eve.  "Paradise," on the other hand, could refer to the Garden of Eden, but it could also refer, and does so much more frequently, to heaven.  In this case, the Snake would then suggest Hell, where Satan lives.  FitzGerald also dropped "didst" in the second line after the second edition, which necessitated another syllable, which could explain the substitution of  "Paradise" which has three syllables for "Eden" which has only two.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the second quatrain in which the Poet brings up the issue of Sin.  And, as in the previous quatrain, he discusses it in a way that isn't in line with received dogma, either in Islam or Christianity, at least as far as I can tell.  In the previous quatrain, he suggests that Man should not be blamed for giving into temptations because the Creator created them. If there were no temptations, then Man would not give into them.

In this quatrain, the Poet goes considerably further in the last two lines of the quatrain when he insists that the Creator not only forgive Mankind for its transgressions but also accept Man's forgiveness!  He seems to  be saying that if the Creator insists on attributing certain behaviors as sins or transgressions against him, then the Creator also needs to be forgiven for putting temptations in the path of humanity.  I believe none of the major religions would accept this for this would mean that the Creator is imperfect, something none of the monotheistic religions could accept--an imperfect Creator--and that the Creator must accept Man's judgement just as It judges Man.

I couldn't but help think of Robert Frost here:

Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee
And I'll forgive Thy great big one on me.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Han Shan: a poem

Han Shan, which, I"m told, means Cold Mountain, was one of the numerous hermit/monk/poets who flourished during the 7th, 8th, and 9th centuries.  As far as I can tell, his real name is unknown for he took the name of the mountain, Cold Mountain, on which was located the cave he lived in.  According to tradition, most of his poems were found on the walls of his cave, nearby trees, and rock faces after his death.

This is one of them:

No. 4
Looking for a refuge
Cold Mountain will keep you safe
a faint wind stirs dark pines
come closer the sound gets better
below them sits a gray-haired man
chanting Taoist texts
ten years unable to return
he forgot the way he came

-- Han Shan/Cold Mountain --
from The Collected Songs of Cold Mountain 
translated by Red Pine

The note to this poem:  "The recitation of sacred writings, such as Lao-Tzu's Taoteching, and the chanting of incantations are among the techniques used by Taoists in their quest to transcend the mortal state."
Perhaps that is why he forgot the way he came.

I think it is written in The New Testament somewhere that a man asked Christ what should he do to be saved.  Christ said he should give up everything, including his family and possessions, and follow him.  IN the past, religious traditions in various cultures seemed to agree that to achieve enlightenment or salvation, one must put aside the things of this world.  I wonder if that belief is still held today.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Two mysteries by unexpected authors

One of these I discovered by accident, browsing I no longer remember where, while the second I learned of from Yvette over at her blog, In So Many Words.  One of her regular features is a commentary on a forgotten book and this was one she mentioned.  I was so intrigued by the author and the subject that I immediately searched out the book.

I do reveal significant plot elements and developments.

C. P. Snow
Death Under Sail
Mystery Type:  talented amateur
Setting: England
Time:  1930's

C. P. Snow was a distinguished physicist and novelist, best known for his lecture The Two Cultures, in which he laments the gulf between scientists and "literary intellectuals."  According to Snow, it was the job of the literary intellectuals who were supposed to make science available to the non-scientific world, and they had failed to do so.  Snow is also known for his series of novels collectively called Strangers and Brothers,  which  concentrated on "depicting intellectuals in academic and government settings in the modern era."  Consequently it was a surprise when I stumbled across Death Under Sail a short  time ago, especially since it was his first published novel. (Quotations from the Wikipedia entry on C. P. Snow.)

Several nights ago I watched a dramatized version of P. D. James Death in Holy Orders.  It also included a short film of P. D. James discussing writers and settings.  She talked about mystery writers and what they do when setting up and writing a story.  One of the points she brought up was that it was very useful to set the story so that there were only a limited number of suspects.  The English country estate is a classic setting for many mysteries.

C; P. Snow was well aware of this for he set his mystery and murder on a small private yacht, with only six people aboard, all of whom, supposedly, were friends.   But, as in all good mysteries, the surface view bears little relationship to the real situation.  Roger, the host and owner of the yacht, has invited five of his friends about his yacht for a cruise. And, it is Roger, who is murdered, by someone he considered a friend.

He is found one morning at the tiller of the yacht, dead from a gunshot.  No weapon can be found, but some items, a cord and the ship's logbook, are missing.  Since no gun could be seen and autopsy showed that he died instantly, suicide was ruled out.  However,  I would suggest that fans of Sherlock Holmes might recognize the situation as being similar to one of his cases, "The Problem of Thor Bridge."  So, I was sure that I had cracked the case, very early on.  However, as the story progressed, the situation became more complex and I began to have doubts, still convinced though that it would turn out to be a suicide.

The crime actually was not solved by the police, although the office in charge, blessed with some unusual characteristics, wasn't as dumb as the others thought.  The narrator, a late arrival on the yacht, persuaded the others to invite a friend of his, Finbow by name, to join them on the yacht.

Finbow was a civil servant in the diplomatic corp who had spent considerable time in various obscure places about the planet.  But what was most important was "his only passion--the watching of men and women as they performed their silly antics for his amusement.  He watched in a curious, detailed, scientific way;  I  remember the astonishment I felt when he told me more than I knew myself about an absurd romance I had whilst I was in China. The chief impression which he made on me was of an amused and rather frightening detachment."  I think there's definitely a Sherlockian flavor here.   The narrator's idea, of course,  is that Finbow would be able to identify the killer.

While dragging the river at the point where the murder had been committed, the police found the gun tied with the missing cord to the missing heavy logbook. But, as Finbow points out,  the question is, therefore, whether Roger committed suicide and tried to make it look like a murder so as to get even with those aboard the yacht, or was this a murder which was first set up to look like a murder, but eventually would be revealed to be a suicide, and therefore allow the killer to go free.

The major disappointment is this:  I wish C. P. Snow had written at least one more mystery featuring Finbow.

Recommended for those who have enjoyed  C. P. Snow's novels and would interested in reading his first novel; for those who enjoy the more cerebral type of mystery; and for those who enjoy the mysteries of what is called "The Golden Age" of mysteries.

-     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -     -

T. H. White
The Darkness at Pemberley
Mystery Type:  first part is police procedural; the second part is thriller.
Setting:  first part at Cambridge University; the second at Pemberley Estate in Derbyshire
 Time:  the 1930s

Having just read P. D. James novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, I had to read this one when Yvette featured it on her blog:  T. H. White?   the author of one of my favorite fantasies--The Once and Future King.    Coincidentally, it was published in 1932, the same year that  C. P. Snow first published Death Under Sail.  This was White's second or third novel.

And, yes, Pemberley is the marvelous estate that Lizzy Bennett thought being mistress of would be wonderful.  The present inhabitants of Pemberley are Charles and Elizabeth Darcy, brother and sister, who are descendents of THE Lizzie and Darcy of Pride and Prejudice.

Part One takes place at barely disguised Queen's College, Cambridge and is a traditional police procedural.  Several murders have been committed, one of which takes place in a very ingenious locked-room setting.  Mr. Beedon, a history don, was found dead with a gun nearby in a  locked room,  That gun was later found to be the same gun that had killed a student at about the same time, and, therefore,  it seemed clear that Beedon had killed the student and then committed suicide because of guilt. 

Inspector Buller, of the Cambridge police, was not satisfied.  for there were several anomalies, one of which was that Beedon, it was later discovered, had died first.  The first part,  therefore, is of Inspector Buller's investigation in which he finally works out the identity of the killer.  Unfortunately, he lacks proof, but he informs the killer that he is known, hoping I suppose, to dissuade the killer from committing any more murders because the police are now aware of him.

It is at this point where the novel gets strange.  Buller is invited down to Pemberley for a vacation and participation in war games, with small, but very real, cannons.  It was a passion of Charles Darcy.  Buller had met Charles and Elizabeth Darcy several years ago on a vacation trip.  He had been driving by the estate when his front tyre was destroyed by a cannon shell that came over the wall.  Invited in while his tyre was replaced, he became friends with the Darcys, and eventually fell in love with Elizabeth.  Being a police officer, he was of a much lower social status than the Darcys, even though Charles had a prison record, and Buller, therefore, considered his situation hopeless.  But, being fiction, I could only wonder just how hopeless his situation was.

Buller tells the Darcys about his last case and that the killer, even though known, couldn't be arrested for the two murders.  Charles Darcy, a bit on the headstrong side, goes to Cambridge and  confronts the killer.  The killer immediately decides, once Darcy's connection to Inspector Buller is revealed, to kill Darcy for revenge and to show Buller just how helpless he is.

At this point, the novel turns into a thriller in which Buller desperately attempts to keep Charles alive.  It soon becomes clear that the killer has somehow managed to invade the Pemberley mansion and seemingly moves freely about the place regardless of the efforts of Buller and the estate staff, all of whom are devoted to the Darcys. Buller knows, though, that it's just a matter of time before the killer tires of the game and will move to kill Charles.  But, where is the killer hiding and how can he move about the mansion without being discovered?

Overall Comments:  it's a strange mix of cerebral mystery and an action-oriented novel   What makes it even stranger is the tie-in with Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.   For those looking for something a little bit different, I would recommend this one.

While I no longer have the room to keep everything I read,  I have decided that these two are keepers.

Friday, June 8, 2012

T'ao Ch'ien: a June poem

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 wind comes stealing up from the east
And a sweet wind bears it company.
My thoughts float idly over the story of the king of 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'ao Ch'ien --
(Chinese, 365-427)
from Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

 Common themes found among the hermit poets of China:  nature, gardening, reading, isolation--a mix of hard work with ploughing and setting seeds and the relaxation with a book or just seeing.  He has friends, but he doesn't encourage them and many find it to hard to visit him.  I suspect they choose their places with this in mind.

Perhaps there's a contrast western hermits who went out into the desert and the Wilderness to focus their lives on God.  But, I don't remember reading about them with a garden for many depended upon the people nearby to feed them or perhaps animals inspired by God fed them.   The focus of the Eastern and Western hermits differed: one solely on the Deity and therefore not on this world and the Eastern hermit on day-to-day living, as well as reading and poetry and the created universe.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

IN MEMORIAM Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury:  August 22, 1920  to  June 5, 2012

We shall not see his like again.


The Martian Chronicles

Fahrenheit 451

Dandelion Wine

The Illustrated Man

Some Short Stories

"The Fog Horn"

"There Will Come Soft Rains"

"A Sound of Thunder"

"All Summer in a Day"


"The Pedestrian"

"The Crowd"

"The Playground"

"The Veldt"

"The Murderer"

    Poet nightingale .  .  .
Will I hear your later verses
     In the vale of death?
                   -- Anon --

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Thomas Hardy: June 2, 1840--Jan. 11, 1928

I frequently read comments that Thomas Hardy's works seem morbid or pessimistic or gloomy.  I guess Hardy's works are like the Bible in that one can always find what one is looking for.  I don't consider the following poem to be either morbid, pessimistic, or gloomy.

How does it seem to you?

The Ruined Maid

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who  could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"--
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

--"You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and  bright feathers three!"--
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

--"At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon,' and 'theas oon,' and 't'other; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compa-ny!"--
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

--"Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched  by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"--
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

--"You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!"--
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.

--"I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!"--
"My dear--a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that.  You ain't ruined," said she. 

A touch of gloating here?