Category Archives: Writing

What are you sitting on?

With all we strive for in this world, it helps to remember what Montaigne observed:

“It is an absolute perfection and virtually divine to know how to enjoy our being rightfully. We seek other conditions because we do not understand the use of our own, and go outside of ourselves because we do not know what it is like inside. Yet there is no use our mounting on stilts, for on stilts we must still walk on our own legs. And on the loftiest throne in the world we are still sitting only on our own rump.”

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Polish writers are so good…

A friend recently gave me a book of her favorite poet translated. My friend is Polish, as is the poet, the 1996 Nobel Laureate, Wistawa Szymborska. Check it out.

Conrad, one of my favorite authors, wrote wonderfully in English so his place as a great writer is all the more remarkable for being attained in a non-native tongue. But Poles seem to translate well into English.

In the ’80s I heard Czeslaw Milosz read and was smitten by his verse. He read to us his own English translations and was completely disarming. Milosz was one of Symborska’s early influences, though her work is utterly original. But before my friend’s gift, I had never read this wonderful, quirky, light/dark poetess. Her translations also hold up extremely well. Here is a small taste:

CLASSIFIEDS

WHOEVER’S found out what location

compassion (heart’s imagination)

can be contacted at these days,

is herewith urged to name the place;

and sing about it in full voice,

and dance like crazy and rejoice

beneath the frail birch that appears

to be upon the verge of tears.

I TEACH silence

in all languages

through intensive examination of:

the starry sky,

the Sinanthropus’ jaws

a grasshopper’s hop

an infant’s fingernails,

plankton,

a snowflake.

I RESTORE lost love.

Act now! Special offer!

You lie on last year’s grass

bathed in sunlight to the chin

while winds of summers past

caress your hair and seem

to lead you in a dance.

For further details, write: “Dream.”

WANTED: someone to mourn

the elderly who die

alone in old folks’ homes.

Applicants, don’t send forms

or birth certificates.

All papers will be torn,

no receipts will be issued

at this or later dates.

FOR PROMISES made by my spouse,

who’s tricked so many with his sweet

colors and fragrances and sounds —

dogs barking, guitars in the street —

into believing that they still

might conquer loneliness and fright,

I cannot be responsible.

Mr. Day’s widow, Mrs. Night.

Wistawa Szymborska, 1957

I especially love that final ad. I think every spouse must disavow their partner from time to time.  And of course Night is Day’s widow…

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Who is the most politically incorrect Nobel Prize winner?

I would assert that Rudyard Kipling wins the award for the most politically incorrect person to ever win a Nobel Prize. It wasn’t that long ago that poems like “The White Man’s Burden” and “The Betrothed” were unapologetic pieces considered serious literature. I don’t bring them up now to say that progress in modern thoughts on imperialism and women’s rights are unimportant.

But demonizing “incorrect thoughts” is inherently evil – antithetical to an informed and free society.  A modern day author has no more ability to share these type of thoughts and be thought to have a legitimate point of view, than would an advocate of infanticide — oh, wait. That’s just a matter of “choice…”

Thoughts, ideas and points of view may or may not be correct. But stigmatizing them and preventing civil discord and debate is always incorrect.

The White Man’s Burden

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple,
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit,
And work another’s gain.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
The savage wars of peace–
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper–
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard–
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–
“Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Ye dare not stoop to less–
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Have done with childish days–
The lightly proferred laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!

— Rudyard Kipling, 1899

I wonder if this one makes it on to the syllabus in many ‘Gender Studies” courses…

The Betrothed

“You must choose between me and your cigar.” — BREACH OF PROMISE CASE, CIRCA 1885.

Open the old cigar-box, get me a Cuba stout,
For things are running crossways, and Maggie and I are out.

We quarrelled about Havanas — we fought o’er a good cheroot,
And I know she is exacting, and she says I am a brute.

Open the old cigar-box — let me consider a space;
In the soft blue veil of the vapour musing on Maggie’s face.

Maggie is pretty to look at — Maggie’s a loving lass,
But the prettiest cheeks must wrinkle, the truest of loves must pass.

There’s peace in a Larranaga, there’s calm in a Henry Clay;
But the best cigar in an hour is finished and thrown away —

Thrown away for another as perfect and ripe and brown —
But I could not throw away Maggie for fear o’ the talk o’ the town!

Maggie, my wife at fifty — grey and dour and old —
With never another Maggie to purchase for love or gold!

And the light of Days that have Been the dark of the Days that Are,
And Love’s torch stinking and stale, like the butt of a dead cigar —

The butt of a dead cigar you are bound to keep in your pocket —
With never a new one to light tho’ it’s charred and black to the socket!

Open the old cigar-box — let me consider a while.
Here is a mild Manila — there is a wifely smile.

Which is the better portion — bondage bought with a ring,
Or a harem of dusky beauties, fifty tied in a string?

Counsellors cunning and silent — comforters true and tried,
And never a one of the fifty to sneer at a rival bride?

Thought in the early morning, solace in time of woes,
Peace in the hush of the twilight, balm ere my eyelids close,

This will the fifty give me, asking nought in return,
With only a Suttee’s passion — to do their duty and burn.

This will the fifty give me. When they are spent and dead,
Five times other fifties shall be my servants instead.

The furrows of far-off Java, the isles of the Spanish Main,
When they hear my harem is empty will send me my brides again.

I will take no heed to their raiment, nor food for their mouths withal,
So long as the gulls are nesting, so long as the showers fall.

I will scent ’em with best vanilla, with tea will I temper their hides,
And the Moor and the Mormon shall envy who read of the tale of my brides.

For Maggie has written a letter to give me my choice between
The wee little whimpering Love and the great god Nick o’ Teen.

And I have been servant of Love for barely a twelvemonth clear,
But I have been Priest of Cabanas a matter of seven year;

And the gloom of my bachelor days is flecked with the cheery light
Of stumps that I burned to Friendship and Pleasure and Work and Fight.

And I turn my eyes to the future that Maggie and I must prove,
But the only light on the marshes is the Will-o’-the-Wisp of Love.

Will it see me safe through my journey or leave me bogged in the mire?
Since a puff of tobacco can cloud it, shall I follow the fitful fire?

Open the old cigar-box — let me consider anew —
Old friends, and who is Maggie that I should abandon you?

A million surplus Maggies are willing to bear the yoke;
And a woman is only a woman, but a good Cigar is a Smoke.

Light me another Cuba — I hold to my first-sworn vows.
If Maggie will have no rival, I’ll have no Maggie for Spouse!

— Rudyard Kipling, 1886

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The Second Daughter – A first class read

A friend of mine has published his first novel and it is marvelous.

The Second Daughter is a book of charm and wit but ultimately, it shows us great emotional depth too. Its characters are very well drawn. My friend does an exceptional job of making readers empathize and care for a set of people who (with one exception) are not really likable or empathetic – at least in a conventional way. The initial love story pairs a classic odd couple of opposites and yet you can see how they come together and their relationship never seems implausible.  The narrative makes the reader take the same emotional journey as the characters and introduces us to a wonderful cast of unique individuals. It strikes a remarkable balance — a very fun and funny book that ultimately also is sad, profound and redeeming.

It is a story about the Gale family. An uptight mother, her spontaneous, irresponsible husband and their two daughters; but ultimately it is about love in all its changing forms – romantic love, spousal love (and how it can be lost), sibling rivalry and parental love (and how it evolves.)

While the plot is a familiar well-worn journey, as told here, it is an intimate journey nevertheless. The anticipation of predictable events adds to the engagement with the reader – “I know what’s coming, I dread what’s coming, I have to read what’s coming next…”

I have to confess that I am jealous. My friend’s writing style is really engaging and readable. While it is funny and light, it still succeeds in painting detailed portraits. This book is so accessible in all the best ways – not insipid at all – but it never runs the risk of losing a reader by appearing to be written over someone’s head (the author is a very accomplished university philosophy professor.) I wish that I could write this well.

Finally this book’s subject and mastery of displaying the intimate connections that we make in families and screw up and regret and redeem against all odds is truly exceptional. My friend writes so well about women and relationships, establishing such strong empathy that this book while “chick-flickesque” in its subject matter, is a very good read for men or women alike. Check it out.

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Two rape poems that aren’t about rape…

Neither Donne nor Yeats were writing about rape when they used these images of one of man’s most brutal and dehumanizing acts to put spotlights on the respective natures of faith and destiny.

Holy Sonnets: Batter my heart, three-person’d God

BY JOHN DONNE

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Leda and the Swan

by W. B. Yeats
A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push
The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
And how can body, laid in that white rush,
But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there
The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
And Agamemnon dead.
                    Being so caught up,
So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
Did she put on his knowledge with his power
Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

 

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What is this all about?

What makes you think?

In a world where it is possible to gather incredible amounts of information from credible sources  — to skeptically analyze that information and share your conclusions with a virtually limitless audience — why has the world dialogue grown so insipid?

With access to so much, most of us read what we agree with, post in forums that support our preconceptions, and if we engage with an opposing view point it is generally just to insult its source and deride that opinion without considering it.

A forum where people can come to disagree in a civil dialogue not only sounds like a good idea. It sounds really interesting (at least to me.) That is what I hope to establish here.

I am interested in: politics, both domestic and international; outdoor sports – climbing, sailing, hunting and shooting; international travel, primarily for business and; good writing — fiction, poetry and history. If you are too, welcome and please join the dialogue.

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Dover Beach

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast, the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin, 
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring 
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Aegean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

-- Matthew Arnold 1867

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