Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Daffodils

The Daffodils by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)

I wander'd lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretch'd in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed - and gazed - but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Oh, the beauty of daffodils in Spring makes my heart soar! I plant them often in autumn, but alas, the resident squirrels in our garden love to eat the bulbs! And so, our annual crop will never allow me to see even a hundred at a glance!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

'How' to interpret a poem when reading it aloud?

Please visit my new website:
to read and share your comments about how to interpret a poem when reading it aloud. Be sure to listen to the recorded readings of The Lake Isle of Innisfree.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

All Quiet on the Western Front

Written by Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front, was first published in German in 1929. Like the narrator of this novel, Remarque had enlisted in the German army at the age of eighteen. Years later, he noticed that he and his friends who had also been soldiers, were still being negatively affected by their war experiences. On that same day he began to write this novel, and finished it in six weeks. Like A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry (see blog for March 16), All Quiet on the Western Front focuses on the humanity of these young, young men as they are forced to confront the horrors of warfare. It is a tough book to read, but read it you should!

In the novel, the narrator tells us that his schoolmaster, Kantorek, had persuaded all the boys in his class to enlist.
Page 8
There was, indeed, one of us who hesitated and did not want to fall into line. That was Josef Behm, a plump, homely fellow. But he did allow himself to be persuaded, otherwise he would have been ostracized. And perhaps more of us thought as he did, but no one could very well stand out, because at that time even one's parents were ready with the word "coward"; no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for.
There were thousands of Kantoreks, all of whom were convinced that there was only one way of doing well, and that way theirs.
And that is just why they let us down badly.
For us lads of eighteen they ought to have been mediators and guides to the world of maturity, the world of work, of duty, of culture, of progress - to the future. We often made fun of them and played jokes on them, but in our hearts we trusted them. The idea of authority, which they represented, was associated in our minds with a greater insight and a manlier wisdom. But the first death we saw shattered this belief. We had to recognize that our generation was more to be trusted than theirs. They surpassed us only in phrases in cleverness. The first bombardment showed us our mistake, and under it the world as they had taught it to us broke in pieces.
While they continued to write and talk, we saw the wounded and dying. While they taught that duty to one's country is the greatest thing, we already knew that death-throes are stronger. But for all that we were no mutineers, no deserters, no cowards - they were very free with all these expressions. We loved our country as much as they; we went courageously into every action; but also we distinguished the false from the true, we had suddenly learned to see. And we saw that there was nothing of their world left. We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Finnegan's Wake

Here is a link to a YouTube posting of James Joyce reading from Finnegan's Wake.

I am making an exception for James Joyce! I have not yet read this book, but I can't help adding the clip so you can hear his voice too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Secret Life of Bees

I really loved reading The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, which came out in 2002. The kernel of the novel is that when people are blessed with inner kindness, they instinctively behave kindly towards other people. If only this were a more common trait! August is the woman who is abundantly wise, kind, and understanding. The novel is wonderful: the story is tough in places and heartwarming in others.

After running away from Lily's home, Rosaleen and Lily have just turned up at the home of August Boatwright and asked for her. They don't even know her but they want to stay with her. They pretend they just want to earn a little money on their way to find Lily's aunt in Virginia.

Page 74:
The narrator is Lily, and August is the first speaker here:
"I'm from Virginia myself," she said, and for some reason this stirred up the current that had moved in my limbs when I'd first entered the room. "All right, then. Rosaleen can help May in the house, and you can help me and Zach with the bees. Zach is my main helper, so I can't pay you anything, but at least you'll have a room and some food till we call your aunt and see about her sending some bus money."
"I don't exactly know her whole name," I said. "My father just called her Aunt Bernie; I never met her."
"Well, what were you planning to do, child, go door to door in Virginia?"
"No, ma'am, just Richmond."
"I see," said August. And the thing was, she did. She saw right through it.

The novel is wonderful

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Scarlet Letter

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne was published in 1850 and it was this novel that made him famous. It is totally absorbing and wonderful. We are filled with a range of mixed emotions for Hester: sadness, admiration, fear, pity, but never condemnation. Hester Prynne is an outsider and remains one. She holds very deep feelings of love and loyalty, even though they cause her great grief as she raises her child alone.

In the Puritan setting of the novel, an adulterer is usually put to death. In this case, the adulteress Hester Prynne, gets a lighter punishment. She is given a prison sentence with her infant, is put on public display for three hours, and she is forced to wear the letter 'A' on her clothing for the rest of her life.

Page 58:
...... - was that SCARLET LETTER, so fantastically embroidered and illuminated upon her bosom. It had the effect of a spell, taking her out of the ordinary relations with humanity, and enclosing her in a sphere by herself.
"She hath good skill at her needle, that's certain," remarked one of her female spectators; "but did ever a woman, before this brazen huzzy, contrive such a way of showing it!....................
"Oh, peace, neighbors, peace!" whispered their youngest companion; "do not let her hear you! Not a stitch in that embroidered letter, but she has felt it in her heart."

Efforts are made to ascertain who is the father of her baby, and she is told that she will be able to remove the scarlet letter if she names him. She steadfastly refuses.
Page 72:
........"And would that I might endure his agony, as well as mine!"

Sunday, April 12, 2009

William Butler Yeats (4th Poem)

Easter 1916 by William Butler Yeats

Listen to Yeats as he reads his poem about the 1916 Rising in Dublin.

Then please read some of the comments posted on YouTube in response to the way Yeats reads the poem. What do you think?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Emily Dickinson (2nd Poem)

Here's another poem by Emily Dickinson. It struck me as being quite optimistic and enjoyable. Remember how easy it is to enjoy more of the simple things in life that are all around us, if only we open our ears (as in this poem), or our eyes to enjoy the beauty of nature. If you'd like to read a little information about the poet, please look back at the blog: Emily Dickinson (1st Poem).
(Poem from The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson published by Barnes & Nobel, 1993.

Heart not so heavy as mine,
Wending late home,
As it passed my window
Whistled itself a tune, -

A careless snatch, a ballad,
A ditty of the street;
Yet to my irritated ear
An anodyne so sweet,

It was as if a bobolink,
Sauntering this way,
Carolled and mused and carolled,
Then bubbled slow away.

It was as if a chirping brook
Upon a toilsome way
Set bleeding feet to minuets
Without the knowing why.

To-morrow, night will come again,
Weary, perhaps, and sore.
Ah, bugle, by my window,
I pray you stroll once more!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Inheritance of Loss

Written by Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss was published in 2006.

As I read this novel, I was taken right into Sai's world with her, and could feel the invisible chains all around this young 17-year-old orphan, living with her cold and grouchy grandfather, in his delapidated and crumbling house. Though he is a retired judge, her grandfather simply cannot afford to make any repairs, and can just about manage to retain the services of his last servant, the cook. Likewise, they live their daily lives without any changes or improvements. Change is going on around them, however, as India experiences social unrest and insurgents roam around, some of whom even rob Sai's family. Sai is quite isolated in this environment and it is easy to understand how she might begin to fall in love with the only young man who regularly visits their home: her tutor.

I loved how Ms. Desai's developed the characters and thought that her ability to evoke sympathy for them was terrific. I understood the grandfather better after reading his experiences in England during his studies there as a young man. Because he was so lonely, he spent long hours studying.

Page 45
He retreated into a solitude that grew in weight day by day. The solitude became a habit, the habit became the man, and it crushed him into a shadow.

But shadows, after all, create their own unease, and despite his attempts to hide, he merely emphasized something than unsettled others. For entire days nobody spoke to him at all, his throat jammed with words unuttered, his heart and mind turned into blunt aching things,......


New York was portrayed as being a really harsh environment for the young son of the cook who came to make his fortune. But so too was India upon his return.


The writer's descriptive abilities are excellent and as example, I have to share with you the opening sentences. They are simply beautiful and very poetic.

Page 1
All day, the colors had been those of dusk, mist moving like a water creature across the great flanks of mountains possessed of ocean shadows and depths. Briefly visible above the vapor, Kanchenjunga was a far peak whittled out of ice, gathering the last of the light, a plume of snow blown high by the winds at its summit.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

For the love of poetry

I believe that all poetry is meant to be read out loud. I believe that when you read a poem aloud, you are giving it life, and you feel the words, and the meaning, and the passion much more than just reading it silently.

And so I was intrigued by the essay written by Jim Holt in tomorrow's The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, April 5, 2009). Essentially, Mr. Holt feels that we should memorize poetry, and then we should recite the poem or poems aloud, from memory. He says that this method is deeply pleasurable, because, he writes, "the sensation is far more powerful when the words come from within."

Nice essay, Mr. Holt!,%20Sunday%20April%205,%202009&st=cse

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Very Long Engagement

Un long dimanche de fiancailles by Sebastien Japrisot was first published in France in 1991 by Editions Denoel (sorry that I cannot put in the French accents with this keyboard). It was translated into English by Linda Coverdale.

This novel is set in World War I France, and introduces us to the lives of several soldiers, the horror of war and the mystery of their deaths. And we meet Mathilde, the young girl left at home to await the return of her boyfriend, Manech, from the war. She does not believe it when she is told that he has been killed. She tries to find out what really happened to him. A lot of intrigue is revealed as the story unfolds.

When we first meet Manech on page 15, we learn that:

he'd already spent more time at the front than the pitiful buffoon staggering along ahead of him, and, given his fevered imagination, he was even more tortured by fear than his companion.

And then there is a list of all his fears. It is such a compelling list that we know we would feel the fear too:

He was afraid of the war and of death, like almost everyone, but he was also afraid of the wind, that harbinger of gas attacks, afraid of a flare tearing through the night, afraid of himself, for he never knew what he might do when he was afraid, afraid of his own side's artillery, afraid of his own gun, afraid of the whine of aeriel torpedoes, afraid of mines that explode and engulf a whole section of infantry, afraid of the flooding that drowns you in the dugout,....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

That They May Face the Rising Sun

That They May Face the Rising Sun by John McGahern was published in 2002 by Faber and Faber. In this novel, McGahern shows his wondrous talent for writing beautiful descriptions of the most ordinary circumstances and weaving great stories out of everyday occurences. He is outstanding at character development and the people you will meet in this novel will almost come alive.

A couple have partially dropped out of their working life in London and have bought an old house in Ireland. The man is originally from the area and his wife is English. The novel's depiction of them and their interactions with the locals is beautifully written and a delight to read.

This is the first book by John McGahern that I have read. Since I had picked it up at Dublin Airport before the long flight back to the US, I was especially glad that it turned out to be really good. Just look at the opening paragraph below. I was, and still am, awed by the beauty, by the poetry, of it.

Page 1
The morning was clear. There was no wind on the lake. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for Mass, the strokes trembling on the water, they had the entire world to themselves.

Page 68
'What about Mary and Jamesie?'
'Mary's the best in the world,' his face brightened. There's none better than Mary. Jamesie would give you the shirt off his back. Once I was coming to borrow their mule. He had the mule tackled and was putting out topdressing. As soon as he saw me come he had the mule untackled in seconds. He declared before God that he was doing nothing with the mule. The mule was there for me to take.'