Sunday, May 31, 2015

Diary of a Church Mouse

Daily Dose

From The Collected Poems, by John Betjeman

Phone for the fish knives, Norman
As cook is a little unnerved;
You kiddies have crumpled the serviettes
And I must have things daintily served.

Are the requisites all in the toilet?
The frills round the cutlets can wait
Till the girl has replenished the cruets
And switched on the logs in the grate.

It's ever so close in the lounge dear,
But the vestibule's comfy for tea
And Howard is riding on horseback
So do come and take some with me

Now here is a fork for your pastries
And do use the couch for your feet;
I know that I wanted to ask you-
Is trifle sufficient for sweet?

Milk and then just as it comes dear?
I'm afraid the preserve's full of stones;
Beg pardon, I'm soiling the doileys
With afternoon tea-cakes and scones.

Saturday, May 30, 2015

If I Could Tell You

Daily Dose

From Gulliver's Travels, by Jonathan Swift


"The king hovered over them several days to deprive them of the sun and the rain."

From Part 3, Chapter III

Friday, May 29, 2015

A Bookstore Bird

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"It is only oppression that can keep human beings as they are.  Oppression never crushes natural instincts.  All history proves that it does but intensify them."

From A Cloud of Pinafores

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Pulley by George Herbert

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"The perfect caricature is not mere snapshot.  It is the outcome of study; it is the epitome of its subject's surface, the presentment (once and for all) of his most characteristic pose, gesture, expression."

From The Spirit of Caricature

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Morning by John Clare

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"In fact, Beauty had existed long before 1880.  It was Oscar Wilde who managed her d├ębut."

From 1880

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

A Blume Doodle

Daily Dose

From The Prince of Minor Writers: The Selected Essays of Max Beerbohm, edited by Phillip Lopate


"I maintain that though you would often in the fifteenth century have heard the snobbish Roman say, in a would-be-off-hand tone, 'I am dining with the Borgias to-night,' no Roman ever was able to say 'I dined last night with the Borgias."

From Hosts and Guests

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Miscellaneous Essays, by Thomas Carlyle


"The latest Gospel in this World is know thy work and do it. 'Know thyself:' long enough has that poor 'self' of thine tormented thee: thou wilt never get to 'know' it, I believe!  Think it not thy business, this of knowing thyself; thou art an unknowable individual: know what thou canst work at; and work at it, like a Hercules! That will be thy better plan."

From Labour

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Walking Away by Cecil Day Lewis

Daily Dose

From The Selected Rambler, by Samuel Johnson


"Such, Mr. Rambler, are the changes which have happened in the narrow space where my present fortune has fixed my residence.  So true is it that amusement and instruction are always at hand for those who have skill and willingness to find them; and so just is the observation of Juvenal, that a single house will show whatever is done or suffered in the world."

From Rambler 161, A Garret and Its Tenants

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Aging Indies Doodles

Daily Dose

From Three Men in a Boat, by Jerome K. Jerome


"Then Harris tried to open the tin with a pocket-knife, and broke the knife and cut himself badly; and George tried a pair of scissors, and the scissors flew up, and nearly put his eye out.  While they were dressing their wounds, I tried to make a hole in the thing with the spiky end of the hitcher, and the hitcher slipped and jerked me out between the boat and the bank into two feet of muddy water, and the tin rolled over, uninjured, and broke a teacup."

From Chapter 12

Friday, May 22, 2015

Dirge Without Music

Daily Dose

From After the Tall Timber: Collected Nonfiction, by Renata Adler


"An early surprise was the number of utterly deadly films that came out, tolerable to sit through, nearly impossible to discuss."

From A Year in the Dark, Introduction

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Breakfast at the Book Store with Brad and Nick #32

Daily Dose

From The Odd Woman and the City: A Memoir, by Vivian Gornick


"We fell into bed and astonished ourselves with a strong, sweet hapiness neither of us could have dreamed was coming."

From page 58.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Selected Writings of John Jay Chapman, edited by Jacques Barzun


"But let no one think that dishonesty or anything else begins at the top.  These big business men were once little business men."

From Society

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Young Lochinvar Quite Gone in the Teeth

"O young Lochinvar is come out of the west..."

There was a time every school-child could reel off that poem, when that first line was a punchline to jokes that needed no explanation, when writing narrative poetry could make a fellow's fortune and guarantee his fame if not, alas, his immortality.  Of all the products of Sir Walter Scott's pen, none I should think had a wider reading, was more often parodied, and it seems none was ever put to so many commercial uses, selling everything from flour to bicycles.

In Scott's epic poem, Marmion (1808) Lochinvar is but an episode from Canto Five, albeit the best known and most charming.  Our hero is a frustrated suitor who arrives unannounced at the wedding of Ellen, his beloved.  She is about to be married to “a laggard in love and a dastard in war.” Can't have that, now can we?  So, young Lochinvar claims one dance with the bride and promptly dances her out the door, onto his horse, and off they go, hotly pursued, etc.!

Marmion, A Tale of Flodden Field was Scott's second great poem after The Lay of the Last Minstrel (1805.)  So successful had been his first epic, Scott was offered a thousand guineas by the publisher Archibold Constanble for his second, sight unseen.  That rather pricey first edition sold out it's printing of two thousand copies in less than a month. Twelve more editions followed between 1808 and 1825. Marmion and the rest of Scott's poems were never out of print in the English speaking world for the next hundred years or better.

As can be seen here, over the century and better of its great popularity, Young Lochinvar was set to music, variously illustrated, made into a comic book, distributed as a free promotion by The Canadian Flour Mills, and used to sell just about anything; lending romance to an orange-crate and dash to a bike-ride, with poor Ellen presumably balancing on the back wheel.  Ubiquitous was the word.

I've been trying to think of some contemporary equivalent and the nearest I've come would be a song by the Beatles: something with which everyone from Granny to the nippers might sing along down to the pub, if they still do that sort of thing, or in the car on a road-trip, or at karaoke, come to that.  Needs something with words so familiar as to punctuate a joke by a late-night host and or #hashtag on the Internet without further explanation.  The comparison requires something so popular for so long already as to potentially last 100 years and Lennon & McCartney seems likelier than anything I can think of from the pop-charts just now.  The only other poems I can think of with anything near the staying power of Scott's would be Henley's "Invictus", maybe "Casey at the Bat", and certainly "A Visit from Saint Nicholas" by Clement Moore, with only Ernest Thayer's baseball mock-epic coming close to anything like the narrative drive of Scott.

I read my way through Scott's poems this year, between novels and chapters from the biography.  There was no struggle to it, no special effort or study required -- though the small print in my edition did necessitate a magnifying glass at last.  I'm confident that the modern reader need not know the history -- both in the poems and of the poems -- any better than I did when I started to enjoy the experience.  I find it's more the idea of heroic couplets and rhyme that puts people off rather than the actual reading.  The form's now unfamiliar, not to say foreign entirely to most readers.  The trick of it is though that the very things that now put readers off: the uniform lines, the history, the romance, are the very things that can carry us quite happily along, as they did our ancestors, if we let them.  Admittedly, there's little enough reason for any but the eccentric to read straight through Scott's poems as I did, but Marmion proper might serve for any who might be inclined to try, if just for curiosity's sake, one of the last triumphs of one of the oldest forms of literature.  Byron's Don Juan would offer a more recognizably modern attitude, but hardly in a less antique fancy-dress than Scott's.

That may be the problem for modern readers, the ease of the thing.  Not that there aren't unfamiliar words and bits of Scots, there are, but reading Scott's poems may feel too easy, like reading something written for long-dead children.  Marmion was no more written for kids than Ivanhoe was.  We are just out of the habit of heroes and honour and rhyme.

Far be it from me to argue for the return of the epic hero.  Never could much stand the chivalrous or the mystic destiny of ancient peoples.  No.  If Lochinvar is no longer young, is in fact  all but gone in the teeth and forgotten, I'll not much mourn his passing.  Unlike Scott's novels which I am convinced might have more readers than they now do and deserve more, I can't tell anyone he or she ought or must when it comes to wicked Lord Marmion and the virtuous Clara de Clare, et al.  All I can say is, why not?  There's fun to be had in Flodden yet, there's real history there, and romance, yes, and a genuine mastery of verse-making.   So why not know a little something of what set great-great-grandma's heart aflutter when America was herself but young and gay?

“Look back, and smile on perils past!” 

I've had more hours entertainment from Scott's poetry now than from a shelf or more of the poetry I owned and read well before I took up with this old-fashioned fellow, Scott, the Last Minstrel.

Daily Dose

From The Odd Woman and the City, by Vivian Gornick


"Ever since I could remember, I had feared being found wanting.  If I did the work I wanted to do, it was certain not to measure up; if I pusued the people I wanted to know, I was bound to be rejected; if I made myself as attractive as I could, I would still be ordinary looking.  Around such damages to the ego a shrinking psyche had formed itself: I applied myself to my work, but only grudgingly; I'd make one move toward people I liked, but never two; I wore makeup but dressed badly."

From page 130 - 131

Monday, May 18, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Proust, by Edmund White


"Everyone worried about his memoirs, which were to be published posthumously.  The book, however, turned out to be a monument to vanity but fairly innocuous in its account of other people.  His cousin the comtesse Greffulhe found it boring, saying, 'It's not quite what one expects of a dead man.'"

From Chapter 11

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The Street of Crocodiles, by Bruno Schulz, translated by Jerzy Ficowski


"But slowly, little Nimrod (for that was the proud and martial name we gave him) began to like life better.  His exclusive preoccupation with longing forv a return to the maternal womb gave way before the charms of plurality."

From Nimrod

Saturday, May 16, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Memory Garden, by Robert Creeley


Its fears are
particular, head,

hands, feet, the
toes in two

patient rows,
and what comes

now is less,
least of all it

knows, wants in
any way to know.

Friday, May 15, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From 84 Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff


“I do love secondhand books that open to the page some previous owner read oftenest. The day Hazlitt came he opened to “I hate to read new books,” and I hollered “Comrade!” to whoever owned it before me.”

(Helene would have been 99 years old today!)

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #31

Daily Dose

From The Cultivation of Hatred: The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud, by Peter Gay


“Civilization itself, with its exigent demands on individuals and the individuals’ efforts to gratify their desires, is an interminable contest, only intermittently peaceful, between Eros and its great adversary, aggression."

From the Introduction

Peter Gay, 1923 - 2015, Rest in Peace

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From Words in Time and Place, by David Crystal


"A 'pea pod' -- an unlikely source of a curse, but evidently used by some seventeenth-century playwrights as a mock imprecation.  In John Day's The Isle of Gulls (1606, 5.1), Mopsa curses the absent Dorus with 'A peascod on him.'"

From Oaths and Exclamations

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

A Caricature

Daily Dose

From The "Rebecca" Notebook and Other Memories, by Daphne Du Maurier


“Living as we do in an age of noise and bluster, success is now measured accordingly. We must all be seen, and heard, and on the air.”

Monday, May 11, 2015

Picturing Alice

"and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"

Ah, the books I do not need!  The list is long, sometimes illustrious and full of things I want.  It's not as if everything I already own will ever be read.  There's that to keep in mind, if only I would.  Then there are all the books I can never afford, but that's entirely too awful to think about at all, so let's don't.  All I mean just here are those books that actually pass through my hands at the bookstore, books new and used that I no more need than I need another slice of cake: art books, graphic novels, reprints in better covers and variant editions of books I already own in various editions, new biographies of people whose lives I've already read and read and read again, better copies of books I own and better books than the books I'm reading, books about books and books about books about books.  There must be some rules even if I intend to break them regularly, no?  Yes.

Thus I have avoided collecting books about books generally and gotten rid of most of the books about books that I ever owned.  More, while I love certain children's books and have, for example, no less than three editions of Lew Carroll's Alice books already on my shelves, I have tried very hard to avoid collecting Alice in any serious way, as I know this could easily become one of those obsessions that end up as segments in rather depressing reality TV.  You know the one's I mean, where some terribly cheerful little fellow invites the film-crew in to admire his Disney memorabilia or his storage shed full of vintage lunch-boxes, or his library of Little Golden Books which preclude him access to his shower or any way to escape in case of an electrical fire.  My books as they are are bad enough, thank you, but I like to think that even my Dickens, by and about, still not so unreasonable as to threaten a visit from the fire inspectors.

The great illustrators, from Caldecott to Searle, are a great temptation to me.  I try not to allow myself too many books the only point of which is to have the illustrations.  Books I already own in other editions, books I don't ever want to read again, about the only thing that can make my fingers twitch these covetously from the bookstore shelves are great illustrations.  A new introduction can be read at a lunch.  Ronald Searle's Animal Farm requires study: snorting, cackling, google-eyed admiration and close, close study.

For me, the illustrations of classic children's books tend to fall into one of three kinds: 1) the insupportable -- think anime-influenced anything; big-eyed version of Dorothy and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, or The Three Musketeers "reimagined" as comic-book robots   2) the unnecessary but inoffensive, as in Tasha Tudor's Wind in the Willows, inferior to Paul Bransom, Ernest H. Shepard, and Arthur Rackham, etc., but not so bad as all that, and finally, 3) Pictures inseparable from the text.  As I've just read in this little book, the idea of Lewis Carroll's Alice with Sir John Tenniel's pictures is as unimaginable as "Gilbert without Sullivan."  'deed.

So then, very much in the category of books I do not need, I offer Tenniel's Alice: Drawings by Sir John Tenniel for Alice's Adventure in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, copyright 1978, from the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts, Harvard College Library in Association with The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

It's a slight thing; all of ten pages of informative, curatorial introduction, followed by roughly thirty plates.  Facing each plate there is the usual and repetitive description of materials used, to wit: pencil, ink, and "china white," which turns out to be neither the band nor heroin but a kind of wax or chalk. (Who knew?)  More helpfully, each plate faces a brief quotation from the text illustrated.  (Among my Alice books, there's an edition with Lew Carroll's own illustrations, which are charming and quite goofy in a way that seems quite modern now.  These were deemed to be too amateurish to be used in the original publication, a fact all the more astonishing to consider when reminded that the author paid for the original publication himself!  Still, without that bit of editorial snobbery, we wouldn't have the Tenniel pictures and that would be a great loss indeed.)

Lewis Caroll had some very specific ideas for the illustration, even if the pictures were not to be his.  Only fair, even if he hadn't been paying.  The very idea of illustration means making art in service to the words or it's just so many arbitrary interruptions of the text (see every book of poetry ever "illustrated" by some second-hand copy of Rothko drawings or equally abstract blocks of gray.)  It is fascinating then to see these so familiar pictures when still, as it were, in conversation; subject to suggestion and correction, unfinished, some of 'em, even a bit crude, at least as compared to the printed pictures if to nothing else on earth.

The finished pictures, I learn here, were the result of wood-block-printing, a process that even once described still sounds to me impossibly fine and now hopelessly lost, I should think.  Imagine, each drawing basically copied onto a thick square of hard wood and then everything that will be white on the page is painstakingly cut away, leaving only these finest of lines.  What craftsmanship!  Worth it just to have handled this little book to learn something like that!  (Do any of those blocks still exist anywhere in the world?  Have any of the ones that illustrated Dickens survive?  There must be a book on this somewhere...)

Having pawed the thing for days, I've finally decided to put a tag on it and put it out for sale.  I don't need it.  Glad to have had the chance to read it, and to stare at the pictures and turn the pages many many times now.  I don't need to own every book.  Better a real scholar of either Tenniel or Alice find it.  Still, I'm glad I saw it.

And now to find something on the Brothers Dalziel, master English block-cutters.  Now that's a book I'd have to buy.

Daily Dose

From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll


"But she went on all the same, shedding gallons of tears, until there was a large pool all round her, about four inches deep and reaching half down the hall..."

From Chapter 2

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Done With

Daily Dose

From The Poems of William Cullen Bryant


Is this a time to be cloudy and sad, 
When our mother Nature laughs around; 
When even the deep blue heavens look glad, 
And gladness breathes from the blossoming ground? 

There are notes of joy from the hang-bird and wren, 
And the gossip of swallows through all the sky; 
The ground-squirrel gaily chirps by his den, 
And the wilding bee hums merrily by.
The clouds are at play in the azure space, 
And their shadows at play on the bright green vale, 
And here they stretch to the frolic chase, 
And there they roll on the easy gale.
There's a dance of leaves in that aspen bower, 
There's a titter of winds in that beechen tree, 
There's a smile on the fruit, and a smile on the flower, 
And a laugh from the brook that runs to the sea.
And look at the broad-faced sun, how he smiles 
On the dewy earth that smiles in his ray, 
On the leaping waters and gay young isles; 
Ay, look, and he'll smile thy gloom away.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The Enkindled Spring

Daily Dose

From Sir Philip Sydney: The Complete Poetical Works, edited by Albert Feuillerat


"For me, in sooth, no Muse but one I know,
Phrases and problems from my reach do grow;
And strange things cost too deare for my poor sprites."
From Astrophel and Stella, III 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Eyesight by A. R. Ammons

Daily Dose

From The Works of Anne Bradstreet, edited by Jeannine Hensley


All things within this fading world hath end,
Adversity doth still our joys attend;
No ties so strong, no friends so dear and sweet,
But with death’s parting blow are sure to meet.
The sentence past is most irrevocable,
A common thing, yet oh, inevitable.
How soon, my Dear, death may my steps attend,
How soon’t may be thy lot to lose thy friend,
We both are ignorant, yet love bids me
These farewell lines to recommend to thee,
That when the knot’s untied that made us one,
I may seem thine, who in effect am none.
And if I see not half my days that’s due,
What nature would, God grant to yours and you;
The many faults that well you know I have
Let be interred in my oblivious grave;
If any worth or virtue were in me,
Let that live freshly in thy memory
And when thou feel’st no grief, as I no harmes,
Yet love thy dead, who long lay in thine arms,
And when thy loss shall be repaid with gains
Look to my little babes, my dear remains.
And if thou love thyself, or loved’st me,
These O protect from stepdame’s injury.
And if chance to thine eyes shall bring this verse,
With some sad sighs honor my absent hearse;
And kiss this paper for thy dear love’s sake,
Who with salt tears this last farewell did take.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Breakfast at the Bookstore with Brad and Nick #30

Daily Dose

From Chicago Poems, by Carl Sandburg


Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness.

From Poems Done on a Late Night Car

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

April 5, 1974

Daily Dose

From Poems Of William Butler Yeats, Revised Edition


(Song from an Unfinished Play)

My mother dandled me and sang,
“How young it is, how young!”
And made a golden cradle
That on a willow swung.

“He went away,” my mother sang,
“When I was brought to bed,”
And all the while her needle pulled
The gold and silver thread.

She pulled the thread and bit the thread
And made a golden gown,
And wept because she had dreamt that I
Was born to wear a crown.

“When she was got,” my mother sang,
“I heard a sea-mew cry,
And saw a flake of the yellow foam
That dropped upon my thigh.”

How therefore could she help but braid
The gold into my hair,
And dream that I should carry
The golden top of care?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Song by Louise Bogan

Daily Dose

From The Complete Poems of Emily Dickenson


Nature — the Gentlest Mother is,
Impatient of no Child —
The feeblest — or the waywardest —
Her Admonition mild —

In Forest — and the Hill —
By Traveller — be heard —
Restraining Rampant Squirrel —
Or too impetuous Bird —

How fair Her Conversation —
A Summer Afternoon —
Her Household — Her Assembly —
And when the Sun go down —

Her Voice among the Aisles
Incite the timid prayer
Of the minutest Cricket —
The most unworthy Flower —

When all the Children sleep —
She turns as long away
As will suffice to light Her lamps —
Then bending from the Sky —

With infinite Affection —
And infiniter Care —
Her Golden finger on Her lip —
Wills Silence — Everywhere —

Monday, May 4, 2015

Spring by Mary Oliver

Daily Dose

From Leaves of Grass, by Walt Whitman


Unfolded out of the folds of the woman, man comes unfolded, as is always to come unfolded,
Unfolded only out of the superbest woman of the earth, is to come the superbest man of the earth,
Unfolded out of the friendliest woman, is to come the friendliest man,
Unfolded only out of the perfect body of a woman, can a man be formed of perfect body,
Unfolded only out of the inimitable poem of the woman, can come the poems of man—only thence have my poems come,
Unfolded out of the strong and arrogant woman I love, only thence can appear the strong and arrogant man I love,
Unfolded by brawny embraces from the well-muscled woman I love, only thence come the brawny embraces of the man,
Unfolded out of the folds of the woman's brain, come all the folds of the man's brain, duly obedient,
Unfolded out of the justice of the woman, all justice is unfolded,
Unfolded out of the sympathy of the woman is all sympathy;
A man is a great thing upon the earth, and through eternity—but every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of woman,
First the man is shaped in the woman, he can then be shaped in himself.