Tag Archives: literature

A Tip of the Hat

Sir John's Hatter

Sir John’s Hatter

Today is Mad Hatter Day. (At least in the US. I guess it’d be June 10th in Europe.) Mad Hatter Day was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland.

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Some Untidy Spot

Landscape with fall of Icarus

Musee des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden

 

About suffering they were never wrong,

The old Masters: how well they understood

Its human position: how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting

For the miraculous birth, there always must be

Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating

On a pond at the edge of the wood:

They never forgot

That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course

Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot

Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse

Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

 

 

In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away

Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may

Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,

But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone

As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green

Water, and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen

Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,

Had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.

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Read Banned Books

I always intend on a really ambitious classic reading binge around banned books week, and then I get there I look up from the book I’m reading, get a little embarrassed and figure maybe next year.

 

Of course, at this point so many books are being challenged that you can practically trip over them. I’m almost done with John Green’s Looking for Alaska, it was on my ‘I’ve been meaning to read’ list for ages, it apparently was also one of the top ten challenged books for last year. As was the excellent Thirteen Reasons Why, and Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories series which I remember fondly from elementary school.

A few years ago the New York Times had an article on ways to celebrate Banned Books Week. Interesting that they’ve not revisited it…

 

The More Things Change has a good look at the history of challenged books.

One of the standard arguments is that now books aren’t totally banned, they’re still available for purchase even if they aren’t available at the library-so there’s no need for this hoopla, right?

 

Challenging books in public libraries and schools is still a first amendment matter, and letting a small group of people choose what can and can’t be allowed in schools or libraries is a huge threat.

 

The ALA site has some fantastic quotes regarding intellectual freedom. There’s a long John Stuart Mill quote from On Liberty:

 

“If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

 

I’m not a George Bernard Shaw fan, but I do love quotes, so I need to add this one:

 

“All censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions. All progress is initiated by challenging current conceptions, and executed by supplanting existing institutions. Consequently the first condition of progress is the removal of censorship.”

 

Among the frequently challenged classics, my favorites are probably Fahrenheit 451 and Brave New World. Besides being pathetic, full stop, it also strikes me as pathetically hilarious that people keep trying to ban them. Missing the point much?

 

Soma anyone?

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A Riddle

A coworker the other day said something about having a riddle for her, which reminded me of the riddles I’d written as part of an assignment for my Tolkien and Lewis class ages ago.

 

So in honor of her and The Hobbit being in theaters, I thought I’d post one of them.

 

Relaxed, I am silent.
Calm, standing tall and straight.
Only in anger do I speak.
Temper bends me as
Reeds before a gale.
In peace, I say nothing.
In war, I smile as I sing.

 

What am I?

 

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5.5/apple/26

For an interesting and more contemporary metaphor for worlds ending (paradigms shifting?), read Sherman Alexie’s “The Powwow at the End of the World” at the Poetry Foundation.

 

There was a Poetry for the End of the World Party in Ottawa this past winter. How awesome is that? Sadly we missed it (hopefully they’ll have another when the next apocalypse is announced) but you need to go visit the site to read about VERSe, the group that put it on, and to go read Ian Ferrier’s winning poem.

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Happy Maybe Bard’s Birthday

Sonnet 130

William Shakespeare

 

 

My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;

Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;

If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;

If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.

I have seen roses damasked, red and white,

But no such roses see I in her cheeks;

And in some perfumes is there more delight

Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.

I love to hear her speak, yet well I know

That music hath a far more pleasing sound;

I grant I never saw a goddess go;

My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.

     And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare

     As any she belied with false compare.

 

 

This is one of my favorite sonnets. I just like how the woman in question is made very human, and all the hyperbole saved for one final punch. It keeps it grounded, almost slightly mocking of love poems, until in the end it caves.

 

“…he is a kind of literary equivalent of an electron–forever there and not there.”*

 

A Charles Vess illustration of Shakespeare with Titania and Oberon looking over A Midsummer Night's Dream.

No one knows the exact date of Shakespeare’s birthday. He was baptized on April 26, 1564. He was probably born on the 24th or 25th. Tradition holds it to be April 23rd, because that was the day he died in 1616 and would have a wonderful sort of symmetry. But it would be highly unusual for a family to wait three days for a baptism, especially in a time of such high infant mortality.

 

We don’t know much about William Shakespeare’s life. He existed, married an older woman, had three kids, went to London, acted, wrote, went home a reasonably prosperous gentleman, and died.

 

This dearth of information has led to a lot of crazy conspiracy theories. (Yes, I did research them, and decide they were all B.S. In high school. Which is why their persistence drives me nuts. And when it comes up at work I can’t even engage in debate with people who espouse it. Here’s a great article about this phenomenon by the very charming Joe Nickell.

 

The thing is, he lived a long time ago. We’re lucky we have as many of his writings as we do, for this we owe his colleagues dear. Only one or two have been lost. Those of us English geeks are lucky there’s a grave to visit. 400 years may seem like nothing in human history, but think of the sheer number of people who have lived (and pushed and thrown out paper!) in that time. We know more about him than we do about any of the other major dramatists of his age.

 

As someone once pointed out his life is more of a mystery to us than a drama. But we gained some beautiful poetry and plays, and some words and phrases that still linger in the English language. To “vanish into thin air,” a “foregone conclusion,” to lose everything in “one fell swoop”

 

*Bryson, Bill. Shakespeare: The World as Stage. HarperCollins 2007. p 9

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National Poetry Month

Happy April, the cruelest month of diamonds and poetry. (And showers too, though we’ve yet to get any…)

Another villanelle of mine had made the rounds on dA, so it seemed that I might as well continue to be brave and post some things here for national poetry month.

Masquerade

Life is a masquerade.
You’re only safe when in disguise.
Remove your mask and be betrayed.

There’s every reason to be afraid—
A stranger’s frozen face, flashing eyes,
Life is a perilous masquerade.

A look sharp as a tempered blade.
Honeyed words—do not listen to their lies.
If you remove your mask you’ll be betrayed.

Dance, smile, and nod; a silent shade,
Hide deep your heart and beware of spies.
Life is a dance, a whirling masquerade.

Difficulty comes with your temper frayed—
Take courage, and let no one hear your cries.
Dare you remove your mask, risk being betrayed?

Discover who you are, before you fade.
But keep part of yourself secret, if you are wise.
Life is nothing but an unending masquerade
Remove your mask and be betrayed.

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