Sunday, April 30, 2017

Hopkins, "Spring," and the future of Informal Inquiries

Now, without fanfare, I offer you "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a sublime marriage of Nature and Christianity:

Nothing is so beautiful as Spring—
        When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
        Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
        The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
        The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
        A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
        Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
        Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

And here is a personal postscript: 

Is Hopkins correct about Nature and Christianity? Do you know of any other poem about springtime that measures up to this one?

While you ponder the poem and my questions, consider also this announcement:

I hope to use sensibly my limited opportunities and time for blogging in the future by posting poems, book reviews, miscellaneous commentary, and whatever suits my feckless fancy. Moreover, my previously announced reading plans have been abandoned, and I have no specific reading goals, but I hope to keep this blog and myself going in spite of the odds by taking one day at a time. Stay tuned. 

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Shakespeare & Co. by Stanley Wells (Pantheon, 2007)

As a longtime reader of Shakespeare's plays and poems, I am always looking for new books about William Shakespeare that achieve the important but elusive delicate balance between rigorous scholarship (essential for credibility) and accessibility (indispensable to readers like myself).

Shakespeare & Co., a book by noted Shakespeare scholar Stanley Wells, achieves that necessary balance and reliability.

By looking at Shakespeare within his professional contexts, Wells gives readers important perspectives that will remain useful for further examination of Shakespeare's works.

First, Wells introduces readers to the theatrical scene in Elizabethan and Jacobean London; then readers are able to more closely examine Shakespeare's involvement in that scene, especially as it relates to his roles as actor, playwright, and investor; from here, Wells moves on to 'sketch the shifting reputations and lasting achievements' of Shakespeare's fellow playwrights (Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Dekker, Ben Jonson, Thomas Middleton, John Fletcher, John Webster, and others).

While much of this information is available separately elsewhere, Wells provides a superb service by synthesizing and harmonizing the information in one single volume; more significantly, Wells' insightful and entertaining explorations of the Elizabethan and Jacobean theatrical world give readers an improved insight into just how the poet from Stratford was able to achieve remarkable 'singularity as the greatest writer in the English language.'

Shakespeare & Co. - now having earned a permanent place on my bookshelf - is intriguing, dynamic, and most highly recommended.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Herman Melville, the whale, and God's mercy

The following poem by Herman Melville, quite timely and appropriate, comes to you from me while I sit again in a hospital waiting room; I am, you see, waiting for God's mercy and power.

The ribs and terrors in the whale, 
Arched over me a dismal gloom, 
While all God’s sun-lit waves rolled by, 
And left me deepening down to doom. 

I saw the opening maw of hell, 
With endless pains and sorrows there; 
Which none but they that feel can tell— 
Oh, I was plunging to despair. 

In black distress, I called my God, 
When I could scarce believe him mine, 
He bowed his ear to my complaints— 
No more the whale did me confine. 

With speed he flew to my relief, 
As on a radiant dolphin borne; 
Awful, yet bright, as lightening shone 
The face of my Deliverer God. 

My song for ever shall record 
That terrible, that joyful hour; 
I give the glory to my God, 
His all the mercy and the power.

Blogging Note

Today is another long torturous adventure at the hospital, so blogging will be limited by time and internet access, neither likely to be very much available.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Emily Dickinson on dying and stumbling

First there is this from Emily Dickinson:

I heard a Fly buzz - when I died -
The Stillness in the Room
Was like the Stillness in the Air -
Between the Heaves of Storm -

The Eyes around - had wrung them dry -
And Breaths were gathering firm
For that last Onset - when the King
Be witnessed - in the Room -

I willed my Keepsakes - Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable - and then it was
There interposed a Fly -

With Blue - uncertain - stumbling Buzz -
Between the light - and me -
And then the Windows failed - and then
I could not see to see -

And there is this personal postscript:

Birth and death are not difficult. Living and dying, however, are significant challenges. As for my dying, I look forward to hearing that damned fly buzz, but at the same time I prefer not to hear anything else. Honestly, if I do not hear that fly, I will be quite disappointed.

True or False: searching for one and avoiding the other

First there is this from The History Channel:
On this day in 4977 B.C., the universe is created, according to German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, considered a founder of modern science. Kepler is best known for his theories explaining the motion of planets. Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, in Weil der Stadt, Germany. As a university student, he studied the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories of planetary ordering. Copernicus (1473-1543) believed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, a theory that contradicted the prevailing view of the era that the sun revolved around the earth. In 1600, Kepler went to Prague to work for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the imperial mathematician to Rudolf II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Kepler’s main project was to investigate the orbit of Mars. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler took over his job and inherited Brahe’s extensive collection of astronomy data, which had been painstakingly observed by the naked eye. Over the next decade, Kepler learned about the work of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who had invented a telescope with which he discovered lunar mountains and craters, the largest four satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, among other things. Kepler corresponded with Galileo and eventually obtained a telescope of his own and improved upon the design. In 1609, Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion, which held that planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles (as had been widely believed up to that time), and that planets speed up as they approach the sun and slow down as they move away. In 1619, he produced his third law, which used mathematic principles to relate the time a planet takes to orbit the sun to the average distance of the planet from the sun. Kepler’s research was slow to gain widespread traction during his lifetime, but it later served as a key influence on the English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his law of gravitational force. Additionally, Kepler did important work in the fields of optics, including demonstrating how the human eye works, and math. He died on November 15, 1630, in Regensberg, Germany. As for Kepler’s calculation about the universe’s birthday, scientists in the 20th century developed the Big Bang theory, which showed that his calculations were off by about 13.7 billion years.
Personal Postscript: 
Scientists can be quite mistaken sometimes, so be skeptical of scientists; seek and find the most important truths elsewhere.

Paradise Lost sold in 1667 (and lost in 2017)

April 27, 1667: 

Blind, bitter, and poor, Puritan poet John Milton sells for ten pounds the copyright for Paradise Lost—a book that would influence English thought and language nearly as much as the King James Version and the plays of Shakespeare. The theme of the epic appears in its opening lines: "Of man's disobedience, and the fruit / Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste / Brought death into the world, and all our woe, / With loss of Eden.

Personal Postscript:

I despair when I realize how often Milton and other despised DWM are being purged from the Western canon in university English departments. Yes, even my former schools, both where I studied and taught, have eliminated formerly required English literature courses: Chaucer, Shakespeare, and Milton, except for partial glances in survey courses, are gone. These canonical DWM have been replaced with PC writers chosen not because of literary merit or cultural importance but instead because of race, gender, and sexual preferences. So now a student can get both BA and MA degrees in English without those damned DWM courses. 

Yes, I despair. Tell me if you think I am wrong to feel and think this way. After all, these privileged DWM don't really matter any more in literature. Right? I'm just being insensitive. Right? I need to forget about the past and embrace the future. Right? Dead white men are irrelevant. Right?

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Robert Frost - "Dust of Snow"

The following poem by Robert Frost, "Dust of Snow," has given my heart a change of mood and saved some part of my day, and I hope it also brightens your day.

The way a crow 
Shook down on me 
The dust of snow 
From a hemlock tree 

Has given my heart 
A change of mood 
And saved some part 
Of a day I had rued.

Prayer, grasshoppers, and a question

First there is this:

April 26, 1877: Residents of Minnesota observe a state-wide Day of prayer, asking deliverance from a plague of grasshoppers that had ruined thousands of acres of crops. The plague ended during that summer.

And there is this:

April 26, 2017: I have good reasons for wondering about the efficacy of prayer. Does it achieve results? Is it worth the effort? Is it a waste of time? Why do people pray? What do you think?

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Robinson Crusoe and miscellaneous connections

First there is this from The History Channel: 
Daniel Defoe’s fictional work The Life and Strange Adventures of Robinson Crusoe is published [on this date in 1719]. The book, about a shipwrecked sailor who spends 28 years on a deserted island, is based on the experiences of shipwreck victims and of Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish sailor who spent four years on a small island off the coast of South America in the early 1700s. Like his hero Crusoe, Daniel Defoe was an ordinary, middle-class Englishman, not an educated member of the nobility like most writers at the time. Defoe established himself as a small merchant but went bankrupt in 1692 and turned to political pamphleteering to support himself. A pamphlet he published in 1702 satirizing members of the High Church led to his arrest and trial for seditious libel in 1703. He appealed to powerful politician Robert Harley, 1st Earl of Oxford, who had him freed from Newgate prison and who hired him as a political writer and spy to support his own views. To this end, Defoe set up the Review, which he edited and wrote from 1704 to 1713. It wasn’t until he was nearly 60 that he began writing fiction. His other works include Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxana (1724). He died in London in 1731, one day before the 12th anniversary of Robinson Crusoe’s publication.
And there is this personal postscript:
I know not enough about Defoe's island adventure book except for my miscellaneous encounters via (1) the Illustrated Classics comic book (when I was in elementary school), (2) a nearly forgettable movie version (at least half a century ago with the story set on Mars!), and (3) plenty of mentions in The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, but I read and enjoyed Moll Flanders, an entertaining, highly recommended, and some say the first actual novel in English. Tell me about your encounters with Defoe.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Blogging Note

Because of my time consuming responsibilities to home and hearth, especially to my wife following her surgery, once again I might be limiting my blogging activity for the foreseeable future. So, if my postings are less frequent, more impulsive, annoyingly contradictory, or increasingly confused, I beg your forgiveness. Onward!

William Shakespeare -- nothing else matters

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Robert Frost, a prayer, and a question

First, because I have been reading poetry by Robert Frost (the LOA edition) and a superb biography of Frost by Jay Parini, there is on this beautiful spring morning this offering to you:

               "A Prayer in Spring" 

Oh, give us pleasure in the flowers today;
And give us not to think so far away
As the uncertain harvest; keep us here
All simply in the springing of the year.

Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
And make us happy in the happy bees,
The swarm dilating round the perfect trees.

And make us happy in the darting bird
That suddenly above the bees is heard,
The meteor that thrusts in with needle bill,
And off a blossom in mid air stands still.

For this is love and nothing else is love,
The which it is reserved for God above
To sanctify to what far ends He will,
But which it only needs that we fulfill.

From Collected Poems, Prose & Plays
© The Library of America, 1995


And now there is this personal postscript:

Frost's poem reminds me that today is very much worth noticing while giving any thought to tomorrow is a needless distraction. Yes, carpe diem!

So, with flowers blooming outside, I stop inside my home to ponder more than this singular spring day. I also think about this not so simple question:

Why do poets become poets, and why do readers of poetry become readers of poetry? 

I think the question is complicated, and I very much look forward to your thoughts and responses while I sort through my own. 

So, what do you think?

Friday, April 21, 2017

Charlotte Bronte -- a birthday, a confession, and a question

First there is this from The Writer's Almanac:

Today is the birthday of Charlotte Brontë (books by this author), born in Thornton, Yorkshire, England in 1816, the third of six children. The family moved to nearby Haworth in 1820, when Charlotte was four, because her father had been appointed the town's minister, and there she grew up on the Yorkshire moors. Her mother died of cancer the following year, and Charlotte and her two older sisters, Maria and Elizabeth, were sent to boarding school. Conditions at the school were deplorable; the two older girls both contracted tuberculosis and were sent home, where they died in 1825.

Younger brother Branwell received a box of wooden soldiers from their father when Charlotte was 10, and soon the four remaining Brontë children - including Anne and Emily - began using them to populate imaginary kingdoms known as Angria and Gondal, about which they wrote and acted out detailed narratives.

As a young woman, Charlotte worked as a governess for a series of Yorkshire families, and even entertained the idea of opening a school with her sisters. She and Emily studied in Brussels with this goal in mind, but the school proved a nonstarter: their advertisements failed to raise a single response.

She and her sisters published a volume of poetry in 1846, under the masculine-sounding pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. She wrote, "We had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise."

Charlotte's most famous novel, Jane Eyre, was published in 1847, and in it she drew heavily upon her boarding school experiences and her early career to tell the story of a plain and penniless orphan governess who falls in love with her troubled - and married - employer. It was a best-seller, but critics called it "coarse" and "un-Christian," and the criticism only increased when it was revealed that Currer Bell was really a woman.

Within a year of the novel's publication, Charlotte's three remaining siblings died: Anne and Emily of tuberculosis, and Branwell of alcohol and laudanum abuse. Charlotte remained close to home, caring for their father, and in 1854 she married her father's curate, Arthur Bell Nicholls. She became pregnant soon after, but died of complications of pregnancy in 1855.


Personal Postscript:

I confess. I have not read Jane Eyre. That must be corrected immediately. 

But what about you? Have you read it? Comments?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

April 20, 1841 - the first detective story

First there is this:

Edgar Allen Poe’s story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, first appears in Graham’s Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine. The tale is generally considered to be the first detective story.

The story describes the extraordinary “analytical power” used by Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin to solve a series of murders in Paris. Like the later Sherlock Holmes stories, the tale is narrated by the detective’s roommate.

Following the publication of Poe’s story, detective stories began to grow into novels and English novelist Wilkie Collins published a detective novel, The Moonstone, in 1868. In Collins’ story, the methodical Sergeant Cuff searches for the criminal who stole a sacred Indian moonstone. The novel includes several features of the typical modern mystery, including red herrings, false alibis, and climactic scenes. 

The greatest fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, first appeared in 1887, in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel A Study in Scarlet. The cozy English mystery novel became popularized with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple series in the 1920s, when other detectives like Lord Peter Wimsey and Ellery Queen were also becoming popular. In the 1930s, sometimes called the golden age of detective stories, the noir detective novel became the mainstay of writers like Dashiell Hammet, Raymond Chandler, and Mickey Spillane. Tough female detectives such as Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Warshawski became popular in the 1980s.

And there is also this;

Poe's bizarre tale of monkey business in Paris might have been the first detective story, but it is not my favorite by Poe, and Poe is not my favorite writer of detective fiction; now, however, I ask for your feedback: tell me about your favorites in the detective fiction genre.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

"People Like Us" by Robert Bly

Here, as my first offering in a while, is a poem by Robert Bly, a lyric that says many things much better than I could ever say them; moreover, I ask you, "What does this poem say to you?"

There are more like us. All over the world
There are confused people, who can’t remember
The name of their dog when they wake up, and people
Who love God but can’t remember where
He was when they went to sleep. It’s
All right. The world cleanses itself this way.
A wrong number occurs to you in the middle
Of the night, you dial it, it rings just in time
To save the house. And the second-story man
Gets the wrong address, where the insomniac lives,
And he’s lonely, and they talk, and the thief
Goes back to college. Even in graduate school,
You can wander into the wrong classroom,
And hear great poems lovingly spoken
By the wrong professor. And you find your soul,
And greatness has a defender, and even in death you’re safe.

"People Like Us" by Robert Bly from Stealing Sugar from the Castle. © Norton, 2013.