Friday, December 30, 2016

Ryokan: time and memory

This poem by Ryokan seems very appropriate for this time of year.

Time passes,
There is no way
We can hold it back---
Why, then, do thoughts linger on,
Long after everything else is gone? 

 from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf
trans. John Stevens

Another view, perhaps?

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A Vietnamese Poem: The Cherished Daughter

There's a suggestion of a story here in a poetic form.  It took me several readings to pick up several hints.  Part of my problem is my ignorance of Vietnamese culture, so I'm still not certain that I have correctly or fully grasped it. 

The Cherished Daughter

Mother, I am eighteen this year
and still without a husband.
What, Mother, is your plan?
The magpie brought two matchmakers
and you threw them the challenge:
not less than five full quan,
five thousand areca nuts,
five fat pigs,
and five suits of clothes.

Mother, I am twenty-three this year
and still without a husband.
What, Mother, dear, is your plan?
The magpie brought two matchmakers
and you threw them the challenge:
not less than three full quan,
three thousand areca nuts,
three fat pigs,
and three suits of clothes.

Mother, I am thirty-two this year
and still without a husband.
What, Mother, darling, is your plan?
The magpie brought two matchmakers
and you threw them the challenge:
not less than one full quan,
one thousand areca nuts,
one fat dog this time,
and one suit of clothes.

Mother, I am forty-three this year.
Still without a husband.
Mother, look, Mother,
will you please just give me away?

-- Anonymous  (c. 1700 AD)--
trans.  Nguyen Ngoc Bich
from World Poetry:  An Anthology of Verse from Antiquity to Our Time

I had to smile the first reading at the exasperation in the daughter's voice at the end.  On the second reading, I began detect perhaps a hint of desperation at the end, or perhaps more than a hint?   It wasn't until this point that I seriously considered the title.  Did the mother, perhaps, cherish the daughter a bit too much?

Sunday, December 25, 2016

A Minute Meditation

I found this on Pat Cadigan's blog Ceci N'est Pas Une

One night, Confucius had a dream about chopsticks.

In the dream, he was transported to Hell where he saw multitudes of people sitting at enormous tables set out with wonderful foods of all kinds.  There was so much food that the tables groaned under the weight and the various aromas were mouth-watering, promising incredibly delectable flavours.  But the people sitting at the tables had not touched any of it--they had been told they could eat as much as they liked but only if they ate with chopsticks that were five feet long.  None of them could figure out how to eat with five-foot-long chopsticks, so all they could do was stare hopelessly at this amazing feast and cry in hunger and misery.  

Then Confucius was taken to heaven where he again saw multitudes of people sitting around enormous tables laden with glorious foods.  They had also been told they were allowed to eat only if they used the five-foot-long chopsticks.  But, these people were not crying with hunger and frustration--they were eating their fill, talking, laughing, and enjoying themselves.

Because in heaven, they were feeding each other.

Simplistic, isn't it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

N. Scott Momaday and Emily Dickinson

The following excerpt comes from N. Scott Momaday's The Man Made of Words: Essays, Stories, Passages.   The chapter title is "A Divine Blindness:  The Place of Words in a State of Grace."   I have often found Dickinson's poetry to be puzzling and enigmatic, but this poem confounds me completely.

I am publishing this excerpt because of Momaday's first comment on the poem:  "This poem, written about 1866 by a then obscure woman poet in the Connecticut Valley of western Massachusetts, is one of the great moments in American literature."  I know what that means, but I can't relate it to Dickinson's poem.  Perhaps you will do better.

The excerpt--poem and commentary:

     "When the subtitle "The Place of Words in a State of Grace" occurred to me, in the back of my mind was this poem by Emily Dickinson.

                            Further in Summer than the Birds
                            Pathetic from the Grass
                            A minor Nation celebrates
                            Its unobtrusive Mass.

                             No Ordinance be seen
                             So gradual the Grace  
                             A pensive Custom it becomes
                             Enlarging Loneliness.

                             Antiquest felt at Noon
                             When August burning low
                             Arise this spectral Canticle
                             Repose to typify

                             Remit as yet no Grace
                             No Furrow on the Glow
                             Yet a Druidic Difference  
                             Enhances Nature now   

    This poem, written about 1866 by a then obscure woman poet in the Connecticut Valley of western Massachusetts, is one of the great moments in American literature.  The statement of the poem is profound;  it remarks the absolute separation between man and nature at a precise moment in time.   The poet looks as far as she can into the natural world, but what she sees at last is her isolation from that world.  She perceives, that is, the limits of her own perception.  But that, we reason, is enough.  This poem of just more than sixty words comprehends the human condition in relation to the universe:

                              So gradual the Grace  
                             A pensive Custom it becomes
                             Enlarging Loneliness. .

But this is a divine loneliness, the loneliness of a species evolved far beyond all others.  The poem bespeaks a state of grace.  In its precision, perception, and eloquence it establishes the place of words within that state.  Words are indivisible with the highest realization of the human being."

As I wrote above, I recognize that Momaday considers Dickinson's poem to be of supreme significance, but I cannot relate his words to the poem.

Any thoughts?

Poem 1068
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson
edited by Thomas H. Johnson

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Elizabeth Jennings: "The Diamond Cutter"

Here's another one by Elizabeth Jennings (1926-2001) , a recent discovery, for me anyway.  She was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, and moved to Oxford at age six and lived there for the rest of her life. 

The Diamond Cutter

Not what the light will do but how he shapes it
What particular colours it will bear.

And something of the climber's concentration
Seeing the white peak, setting the right foot there.

Not how the sun was plausible at morning
Not how it was distributed at noon,

And not how much the single stone could show
But rather how much brilliance it would shun;

Simply a paring down, a cleaving to
One object, as the star-gazer who sees

One single comet polished by its fall
Rather than countless, untouched galaxies.

-- Elizabeth Jennings --

I think the point is that one must not be distracted by external glories or brilliance to get to its heart.  But, isn't something lost when one does that?   Or, is she suggesting that there are some things that are too grand, too glorious, too magnificent for us to truly appreciate, that we need to focus on a more limited scale to gain at least some idea of just what it really is.

Your thoughts?  

Friday, December 16, 2016

Jane Austen's Fanny Price: A Taoist Sage at Mansfield Park

Jane Austen
Mansfield Park

Jane Austen was born on December 16, 1775 and died on July 18, 1817. 

Fanny Price, of Mansfield Park, (MP)  is probably the most maligned of Austen's heroines.  Just why is not clear to me, but I suspect it's a classic example of imposing 21st century standards on 19th century characters and a misreading of Austen in general.  Too many readers fall in love with Liz  Bennet's lively, outgoing, and cheeky behavior and therefore insist that all of Austen's heroines be the same.  In fact, three of Austen's heroines do fit this category:  Liz, of course,  Emma (Emma), and to a considerable extent Catherine (Northanger Abbey) , the youngest of  the heroines.

But, Austen also has three quiet, more reserved heroines:  Elinor (Sense and Sensibility), Anne (Persuasion), and Fanny (MP).  What I find interesting, is that, though the heroine is the quiet reserved type, there is another woman who exemplifies the more outgoing lively woman, the "Liz" type if I may so call her.  Paired off with Elinor is her sister Marianne, who exemplifies the romantic enthusiastic outgoing follower of sensibility; with Anne is again her sister Elizabeth (interesting choice for her name) who is certainly more outgoing and demonstrative than Anne; and with Fanny, of course, is Mary Crawford, whom some readers want to be the heroine of MP in spite of her selfish, egotistic, insensitive, amoral, and manipulative behavior.

Mary Crawford is Austen's point that being bright, lively, and vivacious does not necessarily make one a good person (notice how many male villains in Austen are the same type),  for those are external attributes.  Liz is a good person because of what's inside her, not because of  how she appears to others.   The same is true of Fanny, for it is what is inside her that makes her a good person. What makes Mary a bad person is what's inside of her and those who admire her  are those who see the surface only.  Telling this sort of critic that you can't tell a book by its cover is a waste of time, for they are enthralled, fooled, duped by external glamour and never get beyond that.

Many commentators have insisted that Fanny shouldn't be the heroine, nor does she deserve to be happily married at the end.  She has done nothing to deserve her fate.  Mary should be the real heroine and gain Edmund as her reward.  Of course, these are the same people who deride Edmund as being dull, uninteresting, and priggish.  I can only wonder how they could see Edmund and Mary together.   I wonder how long Mary would be a faithful wife to Edmund, a country minister, and also how long her brother Henry, who is the male version of a lively, outgoing, charming suitor,  would remain satisfied with the dull, priggish Fanny, as they see her.

One theme in MP that has surprised me is the number of characters in the story who have improved, inexplicably over the length of the novel.  In Austen's novels, it's usually the heroine and the hero who have learned something about themselves and have managed to more or less overcome their failings (Emma, I must admit, is a question mark here), but in this novel, a number of other characters, especially in the Bertram family, have developed, more or less, a sense of responsibility and concern for others, which was lacking in the beginning.

It is this that started me thinking.  I could find no particular or obvious reason for these changes in the characters.  No one lectures them and seldom are they called upon to recognize their shortcomings.  The changes seem to happen in a vacuum--mysteriously.

It was about this time, the third or fourth reading of MP,  that, from the depths of my sub- or unconscious that there is something Taoist about Fannie's behavior.  I wondered how a Taoist might view this novel.  I am not an expert in Taoism, but I have read a little ("a little learning is a dangerous thing"), just enough to get me in trouble here.  So, I dug out my copy of Laotse's (aka Lao Tzu) Tao Te Ching and found some intriguing characteristics of the Taoist Sage.

I am not saying that Jane Austen deliberately created Fanny as a Taoist Sage or even that she was aware of Taoism.  This is simply a view of MP as it might be seen by a Taoist. 


Just what is a Taoist sage and how does one recognize one?

Chapter 2
The Sage:one who manages affairs without action, preaches without words, acts, but does not appropriate claim or ownership, and accomplishes but claims no credit.

This clearly could be Fanny as many of her detractors point out that she is far too quiescent for their tastes.

Chapter 9
The Sage retires when the work is done:

Fanny seldom if ever claims credit for what she accomplishes.  She does what she is expected to do and says little about it.

chapter 17
But of the best sages,  when their task is accomplished and their work is done,
the people will all remark, "We have done it ourselves."

Fanny seldom gets credit for what she does, even though near the end of the novel, Lady Bertram declares she can't get along without Fanny.  This is the reason  Susan will move to Mansfield Park to take Fanny's place. 

Chapter 22
The Sage does not:reveal himself, justify himself, boast of himself, or act proudly.

He acts in accordance with the situation and does not force himself or his ideas on others.  He acts as an example for others, so his influence is subtle and non-assertive.

This is  true of Fanny.  She listens and observes and only expresses an opinion when asked.  And, few ask her besides Edmund.

All of the above observations come from the  Wisdom of LaoTse, translated and edited by Lin Yutang, 


I mentioned above that many of the characters had undergone significant changes by the end of the novel.  Here is a brief description of the major characters at the beginning of the novel and the changes they undergo to reach the place where they are at the end.     .

The Prices  (Fanny's family)

Fanny's brother in the navy who gets necessary sponsorship for promotion  from Sir Thomas.  Sir Thomas would never have met William if if weren't for Fannie and the impression she made on Sir Thomas.

her marriage, far above her class status to Edmund

Fanny's sister, ends up replacing Fanny at Mansfield Park. 

THE BERTRAMS  (at Mansfield Park)

Sir Thomas
In the beginning of the novel, he is an absent father and head of the household, and this is true whether he is off in the West Indies or at home.  He does not  take his proper place as father and lord of the manor.  He also knows that his wife is unable or unwilling to play her part, so he allows Aunt Norris to become a dictator and rule his household.  Later, though, he suddenly realizes the problems that his family is having are at least partially due to his abdication of responsibility, and he now begins to assert himself as head of household.

Lady Bertram
She seems totally detached from the family.  Her main concerns seem to be herself and her dog.  Again, near the end, when Tom becomes deathly ill, she rouses herself and spends most of her time at his bedside nursing him.  This is a considerable change from her earlier behavior when the reader isn't sure whether she really is aware of anyone, aside from her pet dog,  around her.

The eldest son plays to perfection the role of The Wastrel.  He shows no interest in his studies at college, and demonstrates little concern nor for his duties and responsibilities as heir to Mansfield Park.  It's party time is his philosophy.   Shortly after his illness, he also changes his behavior and settles down at the university and begins to show an interest in his role as heir to Mansfield Park.  There is also a hint of marriage, which is a major concern of every well-established family--the heir must marry and produce an heir of his own.

While he is  a serious and dedicated student, determined to be a good minister to his parish when he takes over, he also is infatuated by Mary Crawford, who would make a most inappropriate wife for the clergyman he wants to be.  Again, at the end, he recognizes the folly of his infatuation and gradually comes to realize that Fanny is the woman most suited for him and his role in life.

The oldest daughter, selfish and self-absorbed, thinks only of herself.  She makes a bad choice in her marriage, selecting a suitor who could never be a suitable partner but has a large house and a considerable fortune.  For her follies she ends up in exile, supported by Sir Thomas, but banned, at least for now, from Mansfield Park.

She is strongly influenced by her older sister.   Austen seems to suggest she would be a different person if she had a different older sister to model.

Aunt Norris
Sister to Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price (Fanny's mother)
She is the real power in the house.  Unfortunately she is also evil, greedy, and malicious.  She is the one who most deliberately torments Fanny, reminding regularly of her low position at Mansfield Park, barely one step above the servants.    At the end, she realizes that Sir Thomas has recognized his error and has finally become the head of household he should have been long ago, and she elects to go into voluntary exile with Maria. 

Mary and Henry Crawford
brother and sister, relatives to the minister at MP.  They are bright, outgoing, attractive, as well as shallow,  selfish, and self-absorbed.  They are classic examples of the cliche that one can't tell a book by its cover.  They are very popular at first, but by the end, they have revealed themselves take themselves off to London, perhaps to wonder for the rest of their lives just what they had missed out on.

Mansfield Park is the longest and most complex novel that Austen wrote.  It is. in my estimation, the most misunderstood and misread novel as well.  Austen's basic tenet, in all her works, is that one must look beneath the surface to determine the true nature of the other, and that true nature may be in opposition to what appears on the surface.  I believe that too many readers have taken the surface appearances of many of the characters and stopped there, and therefore missing their true nature.

In any case, read and enjoy.  I rank it a close second to Persuasion.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Kazuo Ishiguro: The Buried Giant

Kazuo Ishiguro
The Buried Giant

In a review, Neil Gaiman calls this novel one "that's easy to admire, to respect and to enjoy, but difficult to love."   That 's a strange comment, but one that I have to agree with.

The Buried Giant is a mix of legend, myth, fantasy, and some history.  It is set in medieval England shortly after the death of King Arthur.  One of the main secondary characters is the aged Sir Gawain, the nephew of King Arthur, who has a very dubious mission to fulfill.  Along the way, we encounter some enigmatic boatmen. And, here there bee dragons, also --well, only one dragon, Querig, who is also a bit beyond her prime years, and an ogre or two or three and apparently hundreds of pixies..  Oh yes, and several Saxons decide two elderly Britons might need protection on the road.

At this time, there has been a hiatus in the civil war between the native Britons and the invading Saxons, who seemingly have come to say, even though Arthur, who had managed to keep the peace, has gone on to the Westerly Isles.  However, a strange plague, the mist, has struck the British Isles--resulting in forgetfulness.  Peoples' memories are failing, both for recent and past events.  Only occasionally do some past memories emerge.  Moreover, not all are afflicted to the same degree and the degree of forgetfulness seems to fluctuate.  For example, Axl's memory seems to be improve as he proceeds on his quest.

Ishiguro has created a quest novel, one containing several quests actually.  One is that of the elderly couple, Alx and Beatrice, who set off on a search for their son.  They no longer remember why he left, but they do believe that they will be able to find him and that he will welcome them.  As it happens on all good quests, others join the elderly Britons--Wistan, a Saxon warrior, on a mission for his king; Edwin, a Saxon youth who has been injured; and Sir Gawain, who decides to aid the Britons and also to keep an eye on Wistan, whom he suspects is on a mission that may be opposed to his own mission, given him long ago by King Arthur.

Some of the episodes bring up echoes of other works.  One incident involving Wistan seems reminiscent of the Epic of Beowulf, while a second also involving Wistan, along with Edwin and a goat, seems Biblical in tone, specifically that of Abraham and Isaac.  But, again, I've often been accused of over-reading, so I'll leave it up to you to decide, if you read it.

If there is a downside, for me it would be Ishiguro's precise measured prose and the dialogue.  I had read his Remains of the Day and thought that style fit in perfectly with the setting of the novel--a mansion set in rural England, complete with numerous servants and landed gentry.  However, I felt it didn't fit in medieval rural England, most of whose inhabitants were peasants and country folk, and most of whom were illiterate.  However, the problem, to me anyway, was not distracting enough to cause me to stop reading and enjoying the novel.

Overall, I consider The Buried Giant a very interesting book with an unusual theme, well worth reading and thinking about.  I also plan on reading other works by Kazuo Ishiguro. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

A Minute Meditation

Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring, The Moon in Autumn

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If  your mind  isn't clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

 -- Wu-men --
Chinese  1183-1260
from Art and Nature

All seasons have their own beauty and attractions, in addition to or perhaps separate from the moods or psychological states attributed to them.  

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Basho: autumn haiku translations

Once before I had posted a number of different translations of a haiku by Basho.  Well, inspired by a discussion on at least one other blog that I follow, I decided to do it again, this time of an autumn haiku by Basho.

No. 38

on a withered branch                  from The Selected Poems of Matsuo Basho
a crow has settled                       trans.  David Landis Barnhill
autumn evening

A solitary                                    from The Sound of Water
crow on a bare branch--              trans. Sam Hamill
autumn evening

On dead branches                       from The Classic Tradition of Haiku
crows remain                              trans. Hiroaki Sato
perched at autumn's end

on a barren branch                       from The Classic Tradition of Haiku
a raven had perched ---                trans.  William J. Higginson
autumn dusk

On a leafless bough                       from The Classic Tradition of Haiku
A crow is sitting: -- autumn,          trans.  Harold Gould Henderson
Darkening now --

No. 120
on a bare branch                           from Basho:  The Complete Haiku
a crow settled down                      trans.:  Jane Reichhold
autumn evening

A black crow                                 from Matsuo Basho:  The Narrow Road
Has settled himself                        to the Deep North
On a leafless tree,                          trans:  Nobuyuki Yuasa
Fall of an autumn day.

I like the subtle differences found in these translations.  For example, that branch is described as "withered," "bare," "dead," "barren," and "leafless."  They are not identical, or so it seems to me.  Each suggests a different feeling.  "Withered" gives the impression of something dying, long past its youth, soon to be dead.  "Dead" has a finality about it: all life is gone.  "Barren" says to me that it may be alive,  but it is sterile; nothing can come from it.  "Bare" and "leafless," however, are factual statements: this is the way that branch is.  As we know the sequence of the seasons, we realize this is only a temporary state, and therefore it contains a element of hope.  They will be bare and leafless for a time, but then there's spring.

My favorite is the second one, the translation by Sam Hamill

A solitary                                    from The Sound of Water
crow on a bare branch--              trans. Sam Hamill
autumn evening

Which one do you favor?  

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXX

Quatrain  LXXX is linked closely to the previous quatrain, LXXIX.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXIX

With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man knead,
And there of the Last Harvast sow'd the seed:
     And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.

As you can see, the previous quatrain leads directly to today's quatrain. 

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXX

Yesterday, This Day's Madness did prepare:
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
    Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink!  for you know not why you go, nor where.

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXXIV

Yesterday This Day's Madness did prepare;
To-morrow's Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
    Drink! for you know not whence you came, nor why:
Drink!  for you know not why you go, nor where.

Aside from two punctuation changes, a dropped comma after "Yesterday," and the substitution of a semi-colon for a colon after "prepare" (which may have simply been a typesetter's errors), the two versions are the same.

The first two lines bring out a theme that has appeared before this--that of causality.  Today's events or happenings are the result of what happened in the past and will inevitably lead to future consequences.   This suggests predestination or a deterministic universe.   The first two lines still leave the past free if you want to see it that way.  Others may argue for an unbroken chain of events going back to . . .?   On  the other hand, to complicate the issue, we can always bring in Heisenberg's Uncertainty Principle and Chaos Theory which many now see as refuting any theory of a deterministic universe.

The last two lines restate a very familiar theme:  we don't know where we came from and we don't know where we are going, and we don't know why we are here.  This, of course, strikes directly into the heart of most religions whose basis for their existence is that THEY know all the answers.  The Poet/Narrator clearly has some doubts about this, which he has stated many times throughout the poem.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kevin J. Anderson and Gregory Benford: Mammoth Dawn

Kevin J. Anderson
Gregory Benford
Mammoth Dawn

This is a rather unusual book.  The core is the novella, "Mammoth Dawn," a collaboration by Gregory Benford and Keven J. Anderson.

Husband and wife geneticists, Alex and Helen Pierce, have developed a method of extracting DNA from the preserved remains of now extinct animals.  On their ranch in Montana, they have brought a number of extinct species back to life:  dodos, moas, mammoths, and saber-toothed tigers.  Others are at the development stage.

Of course, there is opposition.  One group, the Evos, argue that it was God's plan that these species went extinct and that the Pierces are violating that plan, usurping God's prerogative to decide what species live and which ones die.  In addition, it becomes a political, as well as a scientific and religious issue, and Congress becomes involved.   Some proposed legislation would stop such research.  The Pierces have to defend themselves on two fronts, a dangerous situation to be in.

Unfortunately, the Pierces make a mistake and underestimate the protestors camped outside the ranch's boundaries.  One night they pay for this when the Evos mount an armed attack, with disastrous results for the Pierces and their dreams. 

The novella, though, is just one of six parts of this book, as can be seen by the "Contents" page.

A.  "Introduction:  Cloning Mammoths"

The genesis of the novella, "Mammoth Dawn," was a conversation between Keven J. Anderson and Gregory Benford, inspired by the film Jurassic Park, about the possibilities of cloning dinosaurs. 

B.  "Mammoth Dawn: The Original Novella"

The novella as published in Analog in 2002. 

C. "Mammoth Dawn:  Full Treatment and Proposal
Benford and Anderson had decided that the short story wouldn't do justice to their thinking on the topic, so they planned  to expand the work to novel length.  What follows is their development of the ideas about cloning extinct species and a proposal for a full-length novel.

 D. "Overview"
    "Scientific Basis--Why Mammoths? Why Now?
      Self-explanatory-- four pages

What follows is an explication of the proposed novel.
E.  "Prologue--The Hunt"
     "Part I--Mammoth Ranch"
     "Part II--The Resurrection Preserve"
     "Part III--Survival of the Fittest"
     "Part IV--Pleistocene Rules"

Part I is an expansion of the novella while the following three parts relate the aftermath of the attack on the ranch and its consequences.

The last section of  Mammoth Dawn:  a discussion of the status of cloning research.
F. "Bringing Back the Mammoths"

Unfortunately the novel has yet to be written, and sadly, may never be written, for Anderson says in the "Introduction,"

     "The novel of Mammoth Dawn would be a huge project, even for a pair of seasoned writers, entailing a great deal of travel, research, and likely years of writing.  We loved the idea.
      We didn't have time for it, but we meant to."

It's an excellent action-packed short story, but I do wish that, in the near future, they do find the time to write the novel

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A Minute Meditation

The white blossoms of pear trees and the slashes of red earth in the grasses, the brown rivers high and roiling.  The sky is the very blue of serenity, and the horizons are so far away as to exceed the reach of vision.  But here, just here, is a small bird hopping.

-- N. Scott Momaday --
from Again the Far Morning:  New and Selected Poems

This quotation is from the section of the book titled "Notebook."   There are a number of entries in the section, some of which I recognize as related to poems in this book, but I don't recognize this one.  However, it is one of those statements that cause me to read and pause and reread and reread again, but I am never sure why. 

Is the bird simply a distraction or is Momaday making a point here,  one which I'm missing?

Thursday, November 24, 2016

John Muir: life in the mountains

The following is an excerpt from John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir.

"These beautiful days must enrich all my  life.  They do not exist as mere pictures--maps hung upon the walls of memory to  brighten at times when touched by association or will, only to sink again like a landscape in the dark;  but they saturate themselves into every part of the body and live always."

-- John Muir --
from John Muir: In His Own Words

It's the same when I listen to my favorite musical works, the ones that I don't just hear,  but I can feel in my bones

Monday, November 21, 2016

P. D. James: The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories

P. D. James
The Mistletoe Murder and Other Stories
Intro by Val McDermid
Preface by P. D. James

P. D. James is my favorite mystery writer.   The only works of hers that I haven't read are a true-crime work in collaboration with T. A. Critchley and her autobiography.   Consequently I was overjoyed to discover that there was now a collection of several of her short stories in print.  I hadn't even been aware that she had written any shorter works, so I immediately searched the public library for a copy.  I'm now thinking about getting my own

The first two stories are flashback tales, the third is a cold case mystery, and the fourth is a contemporary crime.  The third and fourth are a joy to read because I thought that there would be no more Adam Dalgliesh stories. 

"The Mistletoe Murder"

The anonymous 1st person narrator is a "bestselling crime novelist" who explains her part in a murder that happen many years ago.  The others are dead now, so it's safe to finally tell what happened.

It happened during WWII.  Her husband was an RAF  pilot who was killed two weeks after they were married.   That Christmas she received an invitation from her grandmother to spend the holidays with her.  There would be only one person there besides them, a first cousin, Paul, whom she had never met because of a family feud.

When she arrived, she found that her grandmother had misled her:  there was another person there.  He was Rowland Maybrick, a distant family relation and an antique dealer who specialized in old coins.  Her grandmother had invited him to evaluate a coin collection and possibly locate buyers.  The narrator found him obnoxious.

On the evening of  Christmas Day, Maybrick decides to evaluate the coins, for he has to leave the following morning.  The next day, Maybrick does not appear for breakfast, and he hasn't slept in his bed.  A search begins, and his body is found in the library (where else in a stately isolated mansion?), his head bashed in.  The local constabulary is called in, and he decides he must have been killed by an intruder.

So the matter rests until the narrator, the young woman who will become a "bestselling crime novelist" begins her own investigation.

"A Very Commonplace Murder"

Many years ago, a married woman was found stabbed to death in an apartment.  She had left a note for her friend, who had given her the key,  in which she explains that she was going to end the affair for her husband was getting suspicious.   Various witnesses placed him in the vicinity of the apartment on the evening she was murdered.  In spite of the circumstantial evidence against him, the young lover insisted he was innocent.  He had been there, but she never let him in.   It's all very ordinary, commonplace as the title suggests.  However, it is not quite so commonplace as believed..

She gave the old man the key to the apartment, but she'd been in real estate long enough to know he wasn't a serious inquirer.  Why he wanted to look around, she didn't know, but it wasn't any of her business.  She was  right, though; Ernest Gabriel did have his reasons. 

Gabriel had evidence in support of the young lover's story.  There was, however, a slight problem.  First, he would have to explain what he was doing in a place that he had no right to be in at that time.   Secondly, he would have had to explain why he was there, and that would have been even more embarrassing.   To sum up his problem: if he told the police what he know, he would most likely lose his job and be blacklisted by his former employer.  In addition, he would become an object of ridicule, such that the few people who knew him would laugh and sneer at him.  On the one hand, his job and reputation would be at risk; on the other hand, an innocent man's life was at risk.

The young lover is arrested, and Gabriel decides to wait, for the police may find more evidence and free the young man.  Then, Gabriel's sacrifice would have been in vain.  Best to wait until the lover is actually charged.  Then he would speak.  The young man is charged with the crime . . .

This is less of a mystery and more of a psychological study of a man caught in a trap of his own devising.  It wouldn't have occurred if he hadn't been where he shouldn't have been and doing what he knew he shouldn't be doing.

"The Boxdale Inheritance"

This, in a sense,  is a cold case mystery, one of my favorite types.  It's a bit unusual for, as best as I can remember, it's the only cold case that the Met's  Adam Dalgliesh has been involved in.  In addition, it's not a formal investigation, for Dalgliesh is doing this on his own time for his godfather, Canon Hubert Boxdale.

Great Aunt Allie had just left Canon Boxdale the tidy sum of fifty thousand pounds. His wife has serious medical problems, and the unexpected inheritance seems almost miraculous.  This, however, posed a problem for the Canon, and he wished Inspector Dalgliesh would look into it.   Ir was a matter of conscience.  Some sixty-seven years ago Great Aunt Allie, as a very young woman, married a rich older man.  The man's family was upset, for she was a few months younger than the old man's granddaughter, and he had made a new will that left her everything. You may decide for yourself which was the most distressing.

Several months later he died, and an autopsy revealed that he had been poisoned.  Great Aunt Allie was charged, tried, and found Not Guilty.  Now, some sixty-seven years later she dies and leaves Canon Boxdale fifty thousand pounds.  The Canon is worried that the money may be tainted in that she murdered her husband to get it.  He asks Dalgliesh to investigate and decide whether he can honestly and without any doubt accept the verdict of Not Guilty.

Chief Inspector Dalgliesh investigates with his usual thoroughness and does come to a conclusion, but not without undergoing a matter of conscience of his own.

"The Twelve Clues of Christmas"

The title, of course, is a play on the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."  And, there are twelve clues.  Unfortunately I didn't take the title seriously, so I wasn't really counting the clues as they appeared.  I did pick up a few though.

Sgt. Adam Dalgliesh is on his way to spend Christmas with his Aunt Jane, when occurs that cliched opening to an adventure.  He is driving down a lonely road, not far from his Aunt Jane's place, when a man "leaps from the side of the road in the darkness of a winter afternoon, frantically waving down the approaching motorist . . ."

Dalgliesh stops and Helmut Harkerville excitedly asks Dalgliesh to take him to a telephone.  He must call the police for his uncle has just committed suicide.  That task accomplished, Dalgliesh then takes him back to Harkerville Hall.  (These isolated mansions in the countryside keep popping up everywhere).   Dalgliesh unofficially looks around and then turns it over to the local constabulary.

Unfortunately, he's still involved.  He has just begun to relax at Aunt Jane's when Inspector Peck arrives.  Peck has called the Met and discovered that Dalgliesh is a bit of a fair-haired boy there and requests his help.  Dalgliesh sighs;  there goes that quiet evening in conversation with Aunt Jane in front of a fireplace with a drink in hand. (In an interview, James had said that her favorite author was Jane Austen.  The aunt's name is a coincidence, I'm sure),

He returns with Inspector Peck, and they conduct a thorough search of the place.  Afterwords, Inspector Peck asks, "So what stuck you particularly about this little charade?"

Sgt. Dalgliesh responds, "A number of oddities, Sir.  If this were a detective story, you could call it 'The Twelve Clues of Christmas.'"

(James is having some fun with us--doing a little post-modern stuff here.)

Dalgliesh continues:  "'It's taken a little mental agility to get the number to twelve, but I thought it appropriate.'

"'Cut out the cleverness, laddie, and get to the facts.'"

And, so Sgt.  Dalgliesh gets to the facts, the twelve clues.

As for the type of a story this is, Sgt Dalgliesh says it best in the last words of the tale: "My dear Aunt Jane, I don't think I'll ever have another case like it.  It was pure Agatha Christie."

These are four enjoyable tales, and they are pure P. D. James.  The only problem is that there are only four.  Now that I know that P. D., James has written some short stories, I will conduct a little investigation of my own: are there more?

Friday, November 18, 2016

Colin Dexter: The Last Bus to Woodstock

Colin Dexter
The Last Bus to Woodstock
Police Procedural
Oxford, UK
Detective:  Inspector Morse

This is the first in the highly acclaimed series featuring Inspector Morse.  I first encountered Morse in the BBC/WGBH TV adaptations on Mystery Theatre.  I think they produced most of the novels and then went on to televise another 20 or more shows based on the characters created by Colin Dexter.  The TV shows introduced me to Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis just as they introduced me to a several other mystery series, including P. D. James' Commander Adam Dalgleish.

In this novel, Morse and Lewis work together for the first time and establish their professional and personal relationships that will extend through another twelve novels.  In addition, the basic themes that permeate the series appear here.  Most prominent are, of course, his drinking and his irascibility.  In addition, he falls in love with one of the suspects,  a very questionable act in a murder investigation.  He also has a great love for classical music and is usually shown listening to some work while at home. 

Moreover, he works his way through several theories about the identity of the murderer, each of which he is absolutely convinced is the only possible solution.  This results in  the ongoing conflict between Morse and Sgt. Lewis, who is far more cautious and reluctant to settle on one theory when he sees other possibilities.  And, as usual, Sgt. Lewis does most of the tedious and tiresome research which ultimately produces the clues Morse jumps on to solve the case.

My major problem with this novel is the character of the killer.  I don't find it believable.  At the end of the novel, I was reminded of another mystery I had read in which I also found the identity of the killer hard to accept.  Something was wrong.

It so happened that I read that book for a mystery group, and the author attended the meeting.  Hoping to get some sort of discussion on the issue started, I asked the author if she plans out her novels in advance or begins with an incident or character and goes on from there. She said she had planned this one out, but when she got near the end, she felt it wasn't going to work with that character as the killer, so she changed and made another character the killer.  I think that was the problem, that there was inadequate preparation that tied the new character to the crime.

I wonder if something similar happened in Dexter's novel.  He had set it up so that one character would be the killer, but near the end, he changed his mind.

In any case, it was an enjoyable read.  He went on to write another 12 novels and short stories about the cases of Inspector Morse and Sgt. Lewis.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Ray Bradbury: Long After Midnight, "One Timeless Spring"

Ray Bradbury
"One Timeless Spring"
Long After Midnight

"One Timeless Spring" is the second story in the collection, Long After Midnight.  Just as the first story, "The Blue Bottle," could have been a part of  The Martian Chronicles, this story, at first glance, could have been included in Dandelion Wine (DW) .  It's the story of a young boy who lives in a small town. Moreover, his name is Doug, just as the young boy in DW is named Doug Spaulding.

One difference between this story and the others in DW  is that it is a flashback tale.  Doug is looking back at the events whereas the others are told in the present, if I remember correctly.  I think it would take a bit of revision to fit it in.  Perhaps another reason is the tone of the tale.  It doesn't seem to quite mesh with the overall tone of  DW.

For example, the story begins

That week, so many years ago, I thought my mother an father were poisoning me.  And now, twenty years later, I'm not so sure they didn't.  There's no way of telling.

He begins a journal.

"'I didn't know I was sick until this week,' I wrote.  'I've been sick for a long time.  Since I was ten.  I'm twelve now.'"

Doug then decides he doesn't want to grow up (the Peter Pan Principle?); he wishes to remain twelve.  Is he afraid of growing up, of joining that mysterious and possibly dangerous world of the adults?  He remains adamant about freezing at that age, and then he meets Clarisse.

Since I read this story, I heard about and eventually read Bradbury's sequel to Dandelion Wine, the title of which is Farewell Summer and have come to the conclusion that  "One Timeless Spring"  actually fits in better with Farewell Summer.  The overall theme is the same:  a fear of growing up.

Monday, November 14, 2016


                                                     November First

What I love best in autumn is the way that Nature takes her curtain, as the stage folk say.  The banner of the marshes furl, droop and fall.  The leaves descend in golden glory.  The ripe seeds drop and the fruit is cast aside. And so with slow chords in imperceptible fine modulations the great music draws to a close, and when the silence comes you can scarce distinguish it from the last far-off strains of the woodwinds and the horns.
-- Donald Culross Peattie --
from  Autumn:  A Spiritual Biography of the Season

A poetic description which ends with a musical motif.  My only quibble is that I don't think Nature has dropped the final curtain.  Nature is still around; it's just dropped the curtain for the end of  Act Three.  Act Four will be coming soon, and then, of course, it's not the end of the run.  Nature's Play is a long-running one and, while it may vary, it won't end (until the planet is no more). 

On a bitterly cold November night
The snow fell thick and fast---
First like hard grains of salt,
Then more like soft willow buds.
The flakes settled quietly on the bamboo
And piled up pleasingly on the pine branches.
Rather than turning to old texts, the darkness
Makes me feel like composing my own verse.
                                  -- Ryokan --
from Dewdrops on a Lotus Leaf
trans. John Stevens 

Interesting reaction; rejecting the past and turning to the future.   A wish for spring?

November Night

Listen . . .
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp'd \, break from the trees
And fall.

-- Adelaide Crapsey --
from  Art and Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry

I remember those nights growing up in Chicago. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

John Haines: "If the Owl Calls Again"

I'm not sure why, but this poem struck a chord in me.  I know nothing about John Haines; I had never even heard of him until I read this poem in a collection.

If the Owl Calls Again

at dusk
from the island in the river,
and it's not too cold,

I'll wait for the moon
to rise,
then take wing and glide
to meet him.

We will not speak,
but hooded against the frost
soar above
the alder flats, searching
with tawny eyes.

And then we'll sit 
in the shadowy spruce and
pick the bones
of careless mice,

while the long moon drifts
toward Asia
and the river mutters
in its icy bed.

And when morning climbs
the limbs
we'll part without a sound,

fulfilled, floating
homeward as
the cold wold awakens.

-- John Haines --
from  Art and Nature: An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry 

A dream?   A vision?    A linking?    If this is a dream,  I would be sad for it was only a dream, but I also would be grateful for such  dreams.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Tomorrow, November 8, 2016,  is Election Day.  It is one of the most controversial and troubled elections we've ever had.  Predictions of doom emanate from each camp.  Inquiries from US citizens regarding immigration to Canada have dramatically increased.  But, the human race and the USA have suffered through worse situations in the past and survived.  Some have learned from the past and have written about what they have learned. 

Perhaps the following may help alleviate some of our concerns. 

No. 292

If we have a long-range view, then we realize that equilibrium comes in the course of nature's progression.  Nature does not achieve balance by keeping to one level.  Rather, elements and seasons alternate with one another in succession.  Balance, as defined by Tao, is not stasis but a dynamic process of many overlapping alternations; even if some phases seem wildly excessive, they are balanced by others.

Everything has its place.  Everything has its seasons.  As events turn, balance is to know what is here, what is coming, and how to be in perfect harmony with it.  Then one attains a state of sublimity that cannot be challenged.   

-- Deng Ming-Dao --
365 Tao:  Daily Meditations

Chapter 3

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Ecclesiastes, 3:1-8.  KJV

     April's air stirs in
Willow-leaves--a butterfly
       Floats and balances
         -- Basho --
from A Little Treasury of Haiku 

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Andrey Kurkov: Death and the Penguin, a novel

Andrey Kurkov
Death and the Penguin

A Militia major is driving along when he sees a militiaman standing with a penguin.

'Take him to the zoo,' he orders.

Some time later the same major is driving along when he sees the militiaman still with the penguin.

'What have you been doing?' he asks.  'I said take him to the zoo.'

'We've been to the zoo, Comrade Major,' says the militiaman, 'and the circus.  And now we're going to the pictures.'"

This quotation begins the novel by Andrey Kurkov, titled Death and the Penguin.  Kurkov is a Ukrainian writer born in 1961.  This novel was published in 1996,  after Ukraine gained its freedom from the USSR.

The penguin is real.  Its name is Misha.  The main character is Viktor Alekseyevich Zolotaryov, a Ukrainian writer living in Kiev, Ukraine.  He's not very successful, unfortunately.    About a year before the story begins, his girlfriend had left him and he was lonely.  He heard that the local zoo was giving away animals because they couldn't afford to feed them.  He went to the zoo and came home with a king penguin.

Now, he has just been offered a job as an obituarist for a newspaper.  An obituarist is one who writes obituaries for living people.  At first he simply reads the papers and selects those who appear regularly in news articles and the gossip columns.  Shortly afterwords, his editor hands him a list of his next subjects, and soon he doesn't have time to select those he will write about.  But, it really makes no difference to him.

Then something strange happens.  Suddenly, his obituaries become needed shortly after he writes them.  His subjects are dying, unexpectedly, most violently.  Is there any connection? 

Well,  Viktor  seems to be involved in a way in some criminal activity, but it's in a very peripheral way.  He prefers to remain ignorant of what might be going on behind the lists he gets from his editor. He's just doing his job.   But the real world keeps impinging on his attempts to remain in the background.

The back cover blurb calls it  "A masterful tale set in post-Soviet Kiev that's both darkly funny and ominous."   I would add quirky to that description.

There is a sequel, Penguin Lost,  which picks up shortly after the events of Death and the Penguin. I will read that for the further adventures of Misha the Penguin.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXVII

Quatrain LXXVII of the Second Edition refers back to the previous quatrain in the Second Edition:

Second Edition, Quatrain LXXVI
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on:  nor all your Piety nor Wit
      Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

The Moving Finger reference comes from the Bible, Book of Daniel, chapter 5, in which Daniel interprets the words written on Belshazzer's palace wall during a feastThe words predict Belshazzar's death and nothing can be done to change that.

 Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXVII

For let Philosopher and Doctor preach
Of what they will, and what they will not--each
      Is but one Link in an eternal Chain
That none can slip, nor break, nor overreach.  

This quatrain appeared first in the Second Edition and was then dropped from all following editions.  FitzGerald apparently had second thoughts about it.  One possible reason may be the theme.  The theme of the previous quatrain was the immutability of the past.  What has happened, has happened and can't be changed.  This quatrain goes beyond that and appears  to extend it into the future:  the philosophers and doctors are "but one Link in an eternal Chain."  This, to me anyway, hints at predestination, which is rejected by most Christians and Moslems, as far as I know.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Shakespeare's Farewell

The Tempest:  Act IV Scene 1

Prospero:  Be cheerful, sir:
Our revels now are ended.  These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind.  We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

-- WS --

Note: The first mention of The Tempest is in the royal Account Books of the Revels Office: On Hallowmass night, November 1st 1611, a play called the "Tempest" was performed before that most cultured of kings, James 1.

line 8, inherit--occupy
line 10, rack--cloud

If and when I decide to end blogging, this will be my last post.

Monday, October 31, 2016

N. Scott Momaday: The Ancient Child, a novel

N. Scott Momaday
The Ancient Child

As I began reading this work, I was reminded of Momaday's, The Way to Rainy Mountain, which I posted on several years ago.  That work had a three part structure.  Each section began with a Kiowa legend, myth, or story and this was followed by a bit of factual information which related to the myth or legend.  For example, Momaday related a story about a famous arrow maker and this was followed by factual information about arrow-making among the Kiowa. The third part was a personal reminiscence by Momaday.

The Ancient Child  has four interwoven narrative threads: one is a Kiowa legend; the second is a bit of Western lore, part true and part myth; the third the story of a Kiowa/Navajo medicine woman; and the fourth the story of a Kiowa who was orphaned at eight, adopted by whites, and grew up far from the reservation and his people.

It took a while, but gradually, most of the threads merged or I could see the possibility of a merging. However, there is still one narrative thread that I haven't quite been able to meld with the others, so I will have to reread it to see what I have missed.

Momaday begins with an epigraph that provides a clue as to the nature of the work:

 "For myth is at the beginning of literature, and also at the end."     -- Borges --

And the cast of characters provides more clues.


LOCKE SETMAN,  called Set, an artist
GREY, a young medicine woman, a dreamer

HENRY McCarty, Billy the Kid, a notorious outlaw
KOPE'MAH, an old medicine woman
BENT SANDRIDGE, Set's adoptive father, a retired man, humane and wise
LALA BOURNE, a beautiful, ambitious woman
SET-ANGYA,  an old Kiowa man, Chief of the Kaitsenko Society, a Lear-like man, a man who carries about the bones of his favorite son                

THE BEAR, himself,  the mythic embodiment of wilderness
OTHERS, as they appear

THE BEAR, one of the four threads

Eight children were there at play, seven sisters and their brother.  Suddenly the boy was stuck dumb; he trembled and began to run upon his hands and feet.  His fingers became claws, and his body was covered with fur.   Directly there was a bear where the boy had been.  The sisters were terrified; they ran, and the bear after them.  They came to the stump of a great tree, and the tree spoke to them.   It bade them climb upon it, and as they did so it began to rise into the air.  The bear came to kill them, but they were beyond its reach.  It reared against the trunk and scored the bark all around with its claws.  The seven sisters were borne into the sky, and they became the stars of the Big Dipper. 

                      Kiowa story of Tsoai (Kiowa for rock tree)

Tsoai, the great stump of the tree, stood against the sky.  There was nothing like it in the landscape.  The tallest pines were insignificant beside it; many hundreds of them together could not fill its shadow.  In time the stump turned to stone, and the wind sang at a high pitch as it ran across the great grooves that were set there long ago by the bear's claws.  Eagles came to hover above it, having caught sight of it across the world.  No one said so, but each man in his heart acknowledged Tsoai and the first thing he did upon waking was to cast his eyes upon it, thus to set his belief, to know that it was there and that the world remained whole, as it aught to remain.  And always Tsoai was there.

This must be a true story, for I have seen Tsoai.  It is as it is described: it sits all alone on the plains, and there is nothing like it anywhere near it.   I have camped out there and it is so.  And many others have seen it, even those who have never been there, as it was prominently featured in the film Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  We call it Devils Tower and it is found in Wyoming.

Side Note:  The Sioux Nation has recently requested that the name be changed to Bear Lodge, saying that to associate it with the devil is misleading and insulting

Born Henry McCarty, he sometimes called himself William H. Bonnybut he is  best known as Billy the Kid. We are given both factual information and Grey's interactions with Billy the Kid.  Grey's interactions are actually dreams or visions in which she interacts with Billy, and at one time she helps Billy escape jail. 

He is a Kiowa whose parents died, and he was placed in an orphanage.  He was adopted by Bent Sandridge and grew up in San Francisco.  At the beginning of the novel, he had never returned to the reservation.  I wonder about the name of his adopted father and haven't been able to come up with anything significant.  As he is described in the Table of Contents, he is a wise and humane individual..

Set developed his talent for painting and became quite popular for his unique style and subject matter.  Unfortunately, as his popularity increased, he listened more and more to his agent, to art dealers, and to the buying public and gradually began doing less and less of what he wanted to paint.  Now he is depressed and lost, feeling that he has betrayed his talent and it is lost forever. 

She is a medicine woman and a dreamer  (these dreams are more like visions than dreams though).  Her father was a Kiowa and her mother Navajo.  Her basic language is English, but she knows some Kiowa and Navajo and knows much about both cultures, especially Kiowa lore and healing..  I bring her up last, not because she is the least important, but for the very opposite reason.  She is the most important human character in the novel for she is the central core that unites the novel. It is her visions of Billy the Kid and her knowledge of Kiowa medicine and lore that brings the three threads of Billy the Kid, the Bear, and Set together.

While she unites the three narratives in her, I still don't quite understand the relationship of her visions/dreams of Billy the Kid to the other two.  What I do know is that Momaday has a personal fondness for Billy the Kid.   I am now reading another work of his, In the Presence of the Sun, and it  contains a section called "The Strange and True Story of My Life with Billy the Kid."  This section fills 30 of the 145 pages in the book, and it contains poems, some stories, and personal reminiscences about his interest in Billy the Kid. 

It Is Grey who is responsible for bringing Set to the reservation and connecting him with his Kiowa heritage. She does this for one simple reason.  She is a medicine woman and she knows she is the only one who can help Set face the problems that are coming to him.   And, those problems have to do with the Bear.

This is my first, but certainly not my last reading of this work.  The Ancient Child is not a simple, feelgood work.  There is evil here, as there always is in that other world we call real.  The best way to conclude this preliminary commentary is to end the way N. Scott Momaday began--with Borges' epigraph:

               "For myth is at the beginning of literature, and also at the end."  

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A Minute Meditation

Today is surely a significant day in English Literature, if not in World Literature.  On this day Oct. 30, 1811,  Sense and Sensibility was published By a Lady.  This was followed by five more novels, all of which are still in print.  In addition, numerous film versions have been made of all of them, and, no doubt, more will come.  Just this year, a film version of one of her juvenalia just appeared.

She was only 42 when she died.  What else might she have written had she lived another decade or two?

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Minute Meditation

Being in a strange and perverse mood, I found this to resonate with today's headlines and stories about people in the news.     

                                                                       If you make
                                                                       yourself a dog
                                                                       make yourself
                                                                       a rich man's dog       
                                                                                        -- Anon --
                                                                      from Japanese Proverbs

Cynical?      Wise?     Practical?      

Monday, October 24, 2016

Robert Grudin: Weighed down by the future

No. III.22

The birth of our second child is one, maybe two weeks away.  The coming event looms over us, the way a big wave looms over a little boat; and our days are dimmed by its shadow.   The future can exert this force upon us, can totally suck the juice out of the present, turning it into something tense, dry, useless to memory.  How can we enjoy or profit from such a transitional state?  The practical answer is "Don't sit and wait; prepare."  The subtler answer is that no period in life is more or less transitional than any other, had we only the power to understand each.  

Robert Grudin
Time and the Art of Living 

I have experienced those times when some future event caused me considerable distress which distracted me and resulted in a blank period in which nothing seemed to happen until that event occurred and I was then able to take action.  

However, I have to disagree with him on one  point.  There are periods in which significant changes occur, and there are those periods that are quiet and life will go on as usual.  This isn't to say that  there are the unexpected occurrences that can happen during periods of change or during  relatively static periods which can bring about changes in a person's life.    

His statement regarding the "subtle answer" suggests that he is able to detect influences or trends which the rest of us are too dense to notice. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

More Autumn Poems


Sky full of autumn
earth like crystal
news arrives from a long way off following one wild goose.
The fragrance gone from the ten foot lotus
by the Heavenly Well.
Beech leaves
fall through the night onto the cold river,
fireflies drift by the bamboo fence.
Summer clothes are too thin.
Suddenly the distant flute stops
and I stand a long time waiting.
Where is Paradise
so that I can mount the phoenix and fly there?
          Ngo Chi Lan, Vietnamese, 15th Century
from Art and Nature.

Here's a cheerful view of autumnal themes by Emily Bronte

Fall, Leaves, Fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.
                 -- Emily Bronte --
from Art and Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry



Now constantly there is the sound,
quieter than rain,
of the leaves falling.

Under their loosening bright  
gold, the sycamore limbs
bleach whiter.

Now the only flowers
are beeweed and aster, spray
of their white and lavender
over the brown leaves.

The calling of the crow sounds
loud--a landmark--now
that the life of summer falls
silent, and the nights grow.
-- Wendell Berry --
from A Year in Poetry
Thomas E. Foster & Elizabeth C. Guthrie, eds.

By the Open Window

     In the calm of the autumn night
     I sit by the open window
     For whole hours in perfect
     Delightful quietness.
     The light rain of leaves falls.
     The sigh of the corruptible world
     Echoes in my corruptible nature.
But it is a sweet sigh, it soars as a prayer.
     My window opens up a world
     Unknown.  A source of ineffable,
     Perfumed memories is offered me;
     Wings beat at my window--
Refreshing autumnal spirits
     Come unto me and encircle me
     And they speak with me in their innocence.
     I feel indistinct, far-reaching hopes
     And in the venerable silence
Of creation, my ears hear melodies,
     They hear crystalline, mystical
     Music from the chorus of the stars.

-- C. F. Cavafy--
from  Art & Nature:  An Illustrated Anthology of Nature Poetry    


I hope you find one of these to your liking. 


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lawrence Durrell: "A Bowl of Roses"

A Bowl of Roses

'Spring' says your Alexandrian poet
'Means time of the remission of the rose.'

Now here at this tattered old cafe',
By the sea-wall, where so many like us
Have felt the revengeful power of life,
Are roses trapped in blue tin bowls.
I think of you somewhere among them -
Other roses - outworn by our literature,
Made tenants of calf-love or else
The poet's portion, a black black rose
Coughed into the helpless lap of love,
Or fallen from a lapel -  a night-club rose.

It would take more than this loving imagination
To claim them for you out of time,
To make them dense and fecund so that
Snow would never pocket them, nor would
They travel under glass to great sanatoria
And like a sibling of the sickness thrust
Flushed faces up beside a dead man's plate.

No, you should have picked one from a poem
Being written softly with a brush -
The deathless ideogram for love we writers hunt.
Now alas the writing and the roses, Melissa,
Are nearly over:  who will next remember
Their spring remission in kept promises,

Or even the true ground of their invention
In some dry heart or earthen inkwell.

-- Lawrence Durrell --

"Alexandrian poet"   Cavafy

"a night-club rose"    Melissa

"sanatoria"                Melissa ends up in a TB sanatorium

"Melissa"                  a night-club singer  and prostitute in Justine who loves


"A Bowl of  Roses" takes its inspiration from Durrell's Alexandria Quartet.   The "Alexandrian poet" is C. P. Cavafy, the 20th century Greek poet.  Durrell refers frequently to him throughout the Quartet and has written at least one poem celebrating Cavafy.  The title is "Cavafy" (of course) and the first stanza of the three stanza poem is as follows:


I like to see so much the old man's loves
Egregious if you like and often shabby
Protruding from the ass's skin of verse,
For better or for worse,
The bones of poems cultured by a thirst--
Dilapidated taverns, dark eyes washed
Now in the wry and loving brilliance
Of such barbaric memories
As held them when the dyes of passion ran.
No cant about the sottishness of man! 

-- Lawrence Durrell --

In one of his sonnets, Shakespeare claimed that his poem about her would make her immortal, long after everyone else would be forgotten.  Do you think the Poet/Narrator thinks the same way about Melissa?

It's been some time since I've last looked into any of Durrell's fiction.  Perhaps it's time to take another look.  

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Jane Austen: Lady Susan (Boo, Hiss)

Jane Austen
"Lady Susan"

"Lady Susan" is one of those works whose length makes it difficult to categorize it.  Is it a short novel or a novella?  I guess I will put it in the novella category.  It wasn't published until 1871, fifty-four years after she died in 1817.  Why it took the family so long to release it is beyond me.  I found it a thoroughly delightful story, featuring one of those villains we (at least I do anyway) love to hate.  If this was a Gaslight Theatre production, the audience would be expected to boo and hiss whenever she appeared.

To be honest, this is a one character tale.  This is Lady Susan's story. The supporting characters are just that, there to provide fodder for Lady Susan's manipulations.    They are well-drawn but are overshadowed by Lady Susan.   What contemporary readers may find disturbing is that it is an epistolary novel, so the plot is carried forward by a series of letters passing back and forth among the various characters.

The letters  that I find most fascinating are those from Lady Susan to her friend, Mrs. Johnson.  In those letters, she seems to be completely honest about what is going on, perhaps.  The letters remind me of that theater convention, the "aside," when characters directly address the audience to reveal their innermost thoughts and motives while the other characters are oblivious of  what is being said.  One gains a more or less true picture of  her and her actions  by comparing her letters to Mrs. Johnson with the other letters she writes, and, of course, the letters written by the others entangled in her
machinations give us a picture of her effect on them.

The first letter in the work provides an excellent example: 

From Lady Susan's letter to Charles Vernon, the brother of her recently deceased husband.

"My dear brother,
     I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of profiting by your kind invitation when we last parted, of spending some weeks with you at Churchill,  and therefore  if quite convenient to you and Mrs. Vernon to receive me at present, I shall hope within a few days to be introduced to a sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with."

This is followed by Lady Susan's letter to her friend, Mrs. Johnson.

"I take town in my way to that insupportable spot, a country village, for I am really going to Churchill.  Forgive me my dear friend, it is my last resort.  Were there another place in England open to me, I would prefer it.  Charles Vernon is my aversion, and I am afraid of his wife.  At Churchill I must remain till I have something better in view."

Some background information here is necessary.    Prior to Lord Vernon's death, there had been little contact between Charles and Lady Susan since Charles's marriage.   At that time, Lady Susan had worked hard to prevent Charles's marriage to that "sister whom I have so long desired to be acquainted with."  This is why she is "afraid of his wife."   Moreover, upon her husband's death, Charles had attempted to buy the family estate, but she had prevented it because she "could not endure that (her) husband's dignity should be lessened by his younger brother's  having possession of the family estate."  She did sell it eventually to someone else.  We never do learn why she was opposed to Charles's marriage or to the purchase of her deceased husband's estate.  I would think she would be happy to keep it in the family.

In the same letter to the Vernons,  Lady Susan also explains why she must leave the Manwarings at Langford:  "My kind friends here are most affectionately urgent with me to prolong my stay, but their hospitable and cheerful dispositions lead them to much into society for my present situation and state of mind; and I impatiently look forward to the hour when I should be admitted into your delightful retirement."

However, once again in her first letter to Mrs. Johnson, we learn a different tale.  Lady Susan writes of her position at Langford, "At present nothing goes smoothly.  The females of the family are united against me."  Mrs. Manwaring is jealous and "enraged" because Lady Susan "admitted no one's attentions but Manwaring's" and he has become madly in love with her.

We also learn of the engagement between the Manwarings's daughter and Sir James Martin.  But, as Lady Susan notes in her letter, she "bestowed a little notice (on Sir James Martin) in order to detach him from Miss Manwaring."   She goes on to say that, if people were aware of her motive, instead of condemning her,  "they  would honor me."  That motive was  "the sacred impulse of maternal affection," for she interfered with their engagement only in order to secure him for her own daughter.

She has a genius for duplicity, manipulation, and rationalization.  Regardless of how poorly she treats people, she always manages to find herself the injured party when they become angry at discovering just how she has used them or injured them.  And, no matter how difficult or embarrassing the predicament she finds herself immersed in, she manages to charm her way out of it.

She is a most marvelous character and I strongly urge you to make her acquaintance, if you haven't already done so..

Friday, October 14, 2016

Joseph Wood Krutch: Some thoughts on autumn

Joseph Wood Krutch, prior to moving to Tucson, lived in New England,  and some of his finest writings about nature relate to that period. The excerpt below is from The Twelve Seasons.

     "One day the first prematurely senile leaf will quietly detach itself in a faint breeze and flutter silently to the ground. All through the summer an occasional unnoticed, unregretted leaf has fallen from time to time. But not as this one falls. There is something quietly ominous about the way in which it gives up the ghost, without a struggle, almost with an air of relief. Others will follow, faster, and faster. Soon the ground will be covered, though many of the stubborner trees are still clothed. Then one night a wind, a little harder than usual, and carrying perhaps the drops of a cold rain, will come. We shall awake in the morning to see that the show is over. The trees are naked; bare, ruined choirs, stark against the sky."  (See Shakespeare, Sonnet 73)


(What follows is an expression of Krutch's attitude towards those who admire autumn. I must admit I'm one of those whom Krutch considers a bit perverse in my thinking.)

     "To me there always seems to be something perverse about those country dwellers who like the autumn best. Their hearts, I feel, are not in the right place. They must be among those who see Nature merely as a spectacle or a picture, not among those who share her own own moods. Spring is the time for exuberance, autumn for melancholy and regret. Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness? Yes, of course, it is that too. But promise, not fulfillment, is what lifts the heart. Autumn is no less fulfillment than it is also the beginning of the inevitable end.

     No doubt the colors of autumn are as gorgeous in their own way as any of spring. Looked at merely as color, looked with the eye of that kind of painter to whom only color and design are important, I suppose they are beautiful and nothing more. But looked at as outward and visible signs, as an expression of what is going on in the world of living things, they produce another effect.

     'No spring, nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face'--so wrote John Donne in compliment to an old lady. But Donne was enamored of death. Send not to know for whom the leaf falls, it falls for thee."  (See John Donne, "Meditation 17:  Devotions upon Emergent Occasions")

What Krutch doesn't mention is that the appreciation of the fall colors is also frequently tinged with sadness or melancholy.  In addition, autumn is the harvest season, the culmination of the farmer's efforts for the past six or seven months.   I think autumn is the most complex of the seasons, joy at the colors and the fullness of the harvest and also sadness at the end of the cycle,  or at the inescapable sign of the end of the cycle. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Short ones, but. . .

Must be in a strange mood this morning as I read these short poems and found that they brought a smile, not a laugh, but just a gentle smile. I hope they do the same for you.

Caged Birds

The young finch asked the old one why he wept:
"There's comfort in this cage where we are kept."
"You who were born here may well think that's so
But I knew freedom once, and weep to know."

-- Ignacy Krasicki --
from World Poetry,  trans. Jerszy Peterkiewicz and
Burns Singer

Rival  Beauties

Slanting their parasols against the blaze,
They smiled politely, went their separate ways. . .

-- Rskuten --
from A Chime of Windbells, Harold Stewart, ed.

Hunger for Beauty

Beside the road a pink hibicus flowered,
Which my discriminating horse devoured!

-- Basho --
from A Chime of Windbells, Harold Stewart, ed.

The Master and the Dog

Because of thieves, a dog barked all night through.
The master, sleepless, beat him black and blue.
On the next night the dog slept; and thieves came.
The silent dog was beaten all the same.

-- Ignacy Krasicki --
from World Poetry,  trans. Jerszy Peterkiewicz and
Burns Singer

I hope the above bring a smile this Monday morn.

Friday, October 7, 2016

The Rubaiyat: Second Edition, Quatrain LXXII

This quatrain continues the theme of the nature of the afterlife, or at least the Poet's thoughts on what it is.  The theme, therefore, ties this quatrain to the previous quatrain's last line: " . . .Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:".   Moreover, the last line of the previous quatrain ends with a colon, not a period, and thus this quatrain serves grammatically to amplify or extend or explain the previous one.

Second Edition:  Quatrain LXXII

Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
    Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire. 

Fifth Edition:  Quatrain LXVII

Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
    Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.  

The quatrain is identical in the two editions.

As I mentioned above, this quatrain follows the colon of the previous quatrain

Quatrain LXXI. . ..Behold, Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"

Quatrain LXXII     Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
                                 And Hell the Shadow of a Soul on fire,
                                      Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
                                 So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.

and explains the nature of that  Heav'n and Hell.   The two states are portrayed as a Vision and a Shadow, and not, seemingly, a location.   This would conflict with the views of Heaven and Hell as actual places in for both Islamic and Christian traditions.   Furthermore, the Poet has consistently held that nobody knows if there is an afterlife and what it would be if it exists, and that those who describe Heaven and Hell are talking about their own present psychological states of mind: they are a Vision and a Shadow.  Heaven is where we will get everything we want and Hell a state of guilt for our sins.

This Vision and this Shadow then are put forth onto the Void or Darkness from we have just emerged at birth and will return to shortly.  The Void signifies the unknown, from which we emerged and to which we will return, a constant theme in previous quatrains.  As the Poet has expressed it earlier: we don't know where we came from and we are equally ignorant of our destination.