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  1. Today
  2. Jean de La Ville de Mirmont, The Sundays of Jean Dezert
  3. Possibly the most perfect novella I have ever read. Subtle in the charming gaze it lends to the beautiful prosaic existence we emptily experience every single day of our lives. Most books I read are about men searching for something, but this is about a man who is content to watch and to know, in the watching, that he has accomplished as much as anyone can. Jean Dezert loves his Sundays. He goes for walks, notices the simplicity of the world, allows it to wash over him as a veil of immutable certainty. He chats with his friend Léon. He is bored of life because he already knows what it is. He enjoys the banal days of work, the little things. Then he meets a girl. They have a whirlwind romance. He meets her father who warns him that she is capricious and changes her mind on a whim. Sure enough, she tells him one day that she doesn't like his face and the marriage is off. Jean Dezert then contemplates how to deal with this apparent heartache. He embraces drink. After this, he concludes that suicide is the best option. He considers hanging, poison, a revolver, but then settles on drowning himself in the Seine. But as he stands by the bank, watching the people in the cafes, noticing the little boats... "suicide struck him as useless when balanced against his awareness of being an interchangeable part of the crowd and truly unable to completely die." Effortlessly brilliant. 10/10
  4. Yesterday
  5. Yet if his majesty our sovereign lord Should of his own accord Friendly himself invite, And say "I'll be your guest to-morrow night." How should we stir ourselves, call and command All hands to work! "Let no man idle stand. Set me fine Spanish tables in the hall, See they be fitted all; Let there be room to eat, And order taken that there want no meat. See every sconce and candlestick made bright, That without tapers they may give a light. Look to the presence: are the carpets spread, The dazie o'er the head, The cushions in the chairs, And all the candles lighted on the stairs? Perfume the chambers, and in any case Let each man give attendance in his place." Thus if the king were coming would we do, And 'twere good reason too; For 'tis a duteous thing To show all honour to an earthly king, And after all our travail and our cost, So he be pleas'd, to think no labour lost. But at the coming of the King of Heaven All's set at six and seven: We wallow in our sin, Christ cannot find a chamber in the inn. We entertain him always like a stranger, And as at first still lodge him in the manger. Thomas Ford - 'Yet if his majesty our sovereign lord'
  6. Spirits of the Season: Christmas Hauntings (Tales of the Weird) by Tanya Kirk
  7. Last week
  8. The bells of waiting Advent ring, The Tortoise stove is lit again And lamp-oil light across the night Has caught the streaks of winter rain In many a stained-glass window sheen From Crimson Lake to Hookers Green. The holly in the windy hedge And round the Manor House the yew Will soon be stripped to deck the ledge, The altar, font and arch and pew, So that the villagers can say 'The church looks nice' on Christmas Day. Provincial Public Houses blaze, Corporation tramcars clang, On lighted tenements I gaze, Where paper decorations hang, And bunting in the red Town Hall Says 'Merry Christmas to you all'. And London shops on Christmas Eve Are strung with silver bells and flowers As hurrying clerks the City leave To pigeon-haunted classic towers, And marbled clouds go scudding by The many-steepled London sky. As we are now in Advent and public places are now, or about to be, gaily decorated, I give you the seasonally appropriate first half of Christmas by John Betjeman
  9. CHORUS O for a Muse of fire, that would ascend The brightest heaven of invention, A kingdom for a stage, princes to act And monarchs to behold the swelling scene! Then should the warlike Harry, like himself, Assume the port of Mars; and at his heels, Leash'd in like hounds, should famine, sword and fire Crouch for employment. But pardon, and gentles all, The flat unraised spirits that have dared On this unworthy scaffold to bring forth So great an object: can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt? O, pardon! since a crooked figure may Attest in little place a million; And let us, ciphers to this great accompt, On your imaginary forces work. Suppose within the girdle of these walls Are now confined two mighty monarchies, Whose high upreared and abutting fronts The perilous narrow ocean parts asunder: Piece out our imperfections with your thoughts; Into a thousand parts divide on man, And make imaginary puissance; Think when we talk of horses, that you see them Printing their proud hoofs i' the receiving earth; For 'tis your thoughts that now must deck our kings, Carry them here and there; jumping o'er times, Turning the accomplishment of many years Into an hour-glass: for the which supply, Admit me Chorus to this history; Who prologue-like your humble patience pray, Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play. Shakespeare, Henry V : prologue
  10. At hawthorn-time in Wiltshire travelling In search of something chance would never bring, An old man’s face, by life and weather cut And coloured,—rough, brown, sweet as any nut,— A land face, sea-blue-eyed,—hung in my mind When I had left him many a mile behind. All he said was: “Nobody can’t stop ’ee. It’s A footpath, right enough. You see those bits Of mounds—that’s where they opened up the barrows Sixty years since, while I was scaring sparrows. They thought as there was something to find there, But couldn’t find it, by digging, anywhere.” To turn back then and seek him, where was the use? There were three Manningfords,—Abbots, Bohun, and Bruce: And whether Alton, not Manningford, it was, My memory could not decide, because There was both Alton Barnes and Alton Priors. All had their churches, graveyards, farms, and byres, Lurking to one side up the paths and lanes, Seldom well seen except by aeroplanes; And when bells rang, or pigs squealed, or cocks crowed, Then only heard. Ages ago the road Approached. The people stood and looked and turned. Nor asked it to come nearer, nor yet learned To move out there and dwell in all men’s dust. And yet withal they shot the weathercock, just Because ’twas he crowed out of tune, they said: So now the copper weathercock is dead. If they had reaped their dandelions and sold Them fairly, they could have afforded gold. Many years passed, and I went back again Among those villages, and looked for men Who might have known my ancient. He himself Had long been dead or laid upon the shelf, I thought. One man I asked about him roared At my description: “’Tis old Bottlesford He means, Bill.” But another said: “Of course, It was Jack Button up at the White Horse. He’s dead, sir, these three years.” This lasted till A girl proposed Walker of Walker’s Hill, “Old Adam Walker. Adam's Point you’ll see Marked on the maps.” “That was her roguery,” The next man said. He was a squire’s son Who loved wild bird and beast, and dog and gun For killing them. He had loved them from his birth, One with another, as he loved the earth. “The man may be like Button, or Walker, or Like Bottlesford, that you want, but far more He sounds like one I saw when I was a child. I could almost swear to him. The man was wild And wandered. His home was where he was free. Everybody has met one such man as he. He is English as this gate, these flowers, this mire. And when at eight years old Lob-lie-by-the-fire Came in my books, this was the man I saw. He has been in England as long as dove and daw, Calling the wild cherry tree the merry tree, The rose campion Bridget-in-her-bravery; And in a tender mood he, as I guess, Christened one flower Love-in-idleness, And while he walked from Exeter to Leeds One April called all cuckoo-flowers Milkmaids. From him old herbal Gerard learnt, as a boy, To name wild clematis the Traveller’s-joy. Our blackbirds sang no English till his ear Told him they called his Jan Toy ‘Pretty dear.’ (She was Jan Toy the Lucky, who, having lost A shilling, and found a penny loaf, rejoiced.) For reasons of his own to him the wren Is Jenny Pooter. Before all other men ’Twas he first called the Hog’s Back the Hog’s Back. That Mother Dunch’s Buttocks should not lack Their name was his care. He too could explain Totteridge and Totterdown and Juggler’s Lane: He knows, if anyone. Why Tumbling Bay, Inland in Kent, is called so, he might say. “But little he says compared with what he does. If ever a sage troubles him he will buzz Like a beehive to conclude the tedious fray: And the sage, who knows all languages, runs away. Yet Lob has thirteen hundred names for a fool, And though he never could spare time for school To unteach what the fox so well expressed, On biting the cock’s head off,—Quietness is best,— He can talk quite as well as anyone After his thinking is forgot and done. He first of all told someone else’s wife, For a farthing she’d skin a flint and spoil a knife Worth sixpence skinning it. She heard him speak: ‘She had a face as long as a wet week’ Said he, telling the tale in after years. With blue smock and with gold rings in his ears, Sometimes he is a pedlar, not too poor To keep his wit. This is tall Tom that bore The logs in, and with Shakespeare in the hall Once talked, when icicles hung by the wall. As Herne the Hunter he has known hard times. On sleepless nights he made up weather rhymes Which others spoilt. And, Hob being then his name, He kept the hog that thought the butcher came To bring his breakfast ‘You thought wrong,’ said Hob. When there were kings in Kent this very Lob, Whose sheep grew fat and he himself grew merry, Wedded the king’s daughter of Canterbury; For he alone, unlike squire, lord, and king, Watched a night by her without slumbering; He kept both waking. When he was but a lad He won a rich man’s heiress, deaf, dumb, and sad, By rousing her to laugh at him. He carried His donkey on his back. So they were married. And while he was a little cobbler’s boy He tricked the giant coming to destroy Shrewsbury by flood. ‘And how far is it yet?’ The giant asked in passing. ‘I forget; But see these shoes I‘ve worn out on the road And we’re not there yet.’ He emptied out his load Of shoes for mending. The giant let fall from his spade The earth for damming Severn, and thus made The Wrekin hill; and little Ercall hill Rose where the giant scraped his boots. While still So young, our Jack was chief of Gotham’s sages. But long before he could have been wise, ages Earlier than this, while he grew thick and strong And ate his bacon, or, at times, sang a song And merely smelt it, as Jack the giant-killer He made a name. He too ground up the miller, The Yorkshireman who ground men’s bones for flour. “Do you believe Jack dead before his hour? Or that his name is Walker, or Bottlesford, Or Button, a mere clown, or squire, or lord? The man you saw,—Lob-lie-by-the-fire, Jack Cade, Jack Smith, Jack Moon, poor Jack of every trade, Young Jack, or old Jack, or Jack What-d’ye-call, Jack-in-the-hedge, or Robin-run-by-the-wall, Robin Hood, Ragged Robin, lazy Bob, One of the lords of No Man’s Land, good Lob,— Although he was seen dying at Waterloo, Hastings, Agincourt, and Sedgemoor too,— Lives yet. He never will admit he is dead Till millers cease to grind men’s bones for bread, Not till our weathercock crows once again And I remove my house out of the lane On to the road.” With this he disappeared In hazel and thorn tangled with old-man’s-beard. But one glimpse of his back, as there he stood, Choosing his way, proved him of old Jack’s blood, Young Jack perhaps, and now a Wiltshireman As he has oft been since his days began. Edward Thomas - 'Lob'
  11. Beyond all this, the wish to be alone: However the sky grows dark with invitation-cards However we follow the printed directions of sex However the family is photographed under the flagstaff - Beyond all this, the wish to be alone. Beneath it all, the desire of oblivion runs: Despite the artful tensions of the calendar, The life insurance, the tabled fertility rites, The costly aversion of the eyes away from death - Beneath it all, the desire of oblivion runs. Philip Larkin, "Wants"
  12. The woods decay, the woods decay and fall, The vapours weep their burthen to the ground, Man comes and tills the field and lies beneath, And after many a summer dies the swan. Me only cruel immortality Consumes: I wither slowly in thine arms, Here at the quiet limit of the world, A white-hair'd shadow roaming like a dream The ever-silent spaces of the East, Far-folded mists, and gleaming halls of morn. Alas! for this gray shadow, once a man— So glorious in his beauty and thy choice, Who madest him thy chosen, that he seem'd To his great heart none other than a God! I ask'd thee, 'Give me immortality.' Then didst thou grant mine asking with a smile, Like wealthy men, who care not how they give. But thy strong Hours indignant work'd their wills, And beat me down and marr'd and wasted me, And tho' they could not end me, left me maim'd To dwell in presence of immortal youth, Immortal age beside immortal youth, And all I was, in ashes. Can thy love, Thy beauty, make amends, tho' even now, Close over us, the silver star, thy guide, Shines in those tremulous eyes that fill with tears To hear me? Let me go: take back thy gift: Why should a man desire in any way To vary from the kindly race of men Or pass beyond the goal of ordinance Where all should pause, as is most meet for all? Alfred, Lord Tennyson - from 'Tithonus'
  13. really liked it A glorious epic of political satire. The year is 1913. A celebration is planned for the 70th jubilee of emperor Franz Joseph's reign in the upcoming year of 1918; a committee is brought together to come up with a theme for this celebration and noted thinkers, politicians, and artists are invited to the meetings held at the house of Ermelinda Tuzzi, better known as Diotima. Her cousin is Ulrich, a 32-year-old mathematician who is also invited. Ulrich is the man without qualities. Where to begin with this book? Firstly, it's huge, at over a 1000 pages long in three volumes, and is quite daunting as a result of that; but the writing is Proustian in its exquisiteness. Every single chapter is like a work of art in its own right with magnificent prose, lyrical fluidity, and beautiful metaphors. That being said there are chapters that probably don't need to exist, where details are provided in sumptuous language for something that quite frankly doesn't add anything to the story. And that brings me to my second point: there is no story here. Hence why I loved it so much. Despite its 19th century style of flowing language, this book is very much considered a modern novel, this most prominently seen in its utter lack of a plot. The details I gave above essentially cover everything, several characters discussing a theme for the celebration and thus, discussing art, politics, morality, progress, philosophy, meaning, you name it. The book is a satire on western European civilisation and its inability to capture purpose without endless contradiction. The book revels in the big ideas of existence, society, and progress. It delves into philosophical discussion on virtually every page and has characters embodying these debates and questions. Yet the most opinionated character of all is the third person narrator, his thoughts and ideas being the most thoroughly explored and expressed (not sure I've encountered such an opinionated omniscient third person narrator in a book before). There's a host of characters that orbit Ulrich such as Count Leindsdorf, his childhood friend Walter and his wife Clarisse (who is in love with Ulrich). His mistress Bonadea, the Prussian business man Arnheim, his black servant Soliman, and the maid Rachel. Then there's the murderer Moosbrugger who serves as a kid of floating question throughout the book on human nature and morality . They all spiral around Ulrich and add to his search for meaning and understanding. Then, towards the very end of the book, Ulrich (and Musil) abandons all of them entirely and spends several chapters focusing exclusively on Ulrich's sister Agathe, a woman with whom he has a quasi incestuous relationship (Musil is very deliberately vague on this yet equally quite clear). She is a stand-out character but only emerges at the very end of the book as a kind of other half for Ulrich, a Siamese twin as they describe it. This book contains some of the most astonishingly wonderful writing I've come across but I wouldn't recommend it lightly. It's far too long (despite being unfinished) and many chapters, while being beautifully written, offer little in terms of the themes being explored. For that reason, it's a 9 rather than a 10. I've already purchased the much shorter 'The Confusions of Young Törless' which will hopefully being heavier than a brick.
  14. Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away; Lengthen night and shorten day; Every leaf speaks bliss to me, Fluttering from the autumn tree. I shall smile when wreaths of snow Blossom where the rose should grow; I shall sing when night's decay Ushers in a drearier day. Emily Brontë
  15. Philosophy in the Tragic Age of the Greeks, Friedrich Nietzsche
  16. Spirits of the Season: Christmas Hauntings (Tales of the Weird) edited by Tanya Kirk
  17. Earlier
  18. The chestnut casts his flambeaux, and the flowers Stream from the hawthorn on the wind away, The doors clap to, the pane is blind with showers. Pass me the can, lad; there's an end of May. There's one spoilt spring to scant our mortal lot, One season ruined of your little store. May will be fine next year as like as not: Oh ay, but then we shall be twenty-four. We for a certainty are not the first Have sat in taverns while the tempest hurled Their hopeful plans to emptiness, and cursed Whatever brute and blackguard made the world. It is in truth iniquity on high To cheat our sentenced souls of aught they crave, And mar the merriment as you and I Fare on our long fool's-errand to the grave. Iniquity it is; but pass the can. My lad, no pair of kings our mothers bore; Our only portion is the estate of man: We want the moon, but we shall get no more. If here to-day the cloud of thunder lours To-morrow it will hie on far behests; The flesh will grieve on other bones than ours Soon, and the soul will mourn in other breasts. The troubles of our proud and angry dust Are from eternity, and shall not fail. Bear them we can, and if we can we must. Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale. A.E. Housman - 'The Chestnut Casts his Flambeaux'
  19. Maigret Goes to School, Georges Simenon
  20. Cut grass lies frail: Brief is the breath Mown stalks exhale. Long, long the death It dies in the white hours Of young-leafed June With chestnut flowers, With hedges snowlike strewn, White lilac bowed, Lost lanes of Queen Anne's lace, And that high-builded cloud Moving at summer's pace. Philip Larkin, "Cut Grass"
  21. MACBETH: I have lived long enough: my way of life Is fallen into the sere, the yellow leaf, And that which should accompany old age, As honor, love, obedience, troops of friends, I must not look to have; but, in their stead, Curses, not loud but deep, mouth-honor, breath, Which the poor heart would fain deny, and dare not. From Macbeth Act 5 Scene 3 - William Shakespeare
  22. Never heard of it but since I enjoyed Les Chants de Maldoror by Conte De Lautreamont I decided to give this a try. I got mine new from Amazon : Stephen Vincent Benet Poetry Collection (3 Books): John Brown’s Body, Young Adventure, Nightmare at Noon and other Poems so am looking forward to it. Will get it next week though.
  23. Has anyone else read this? It is a novel in verse, with a few prose sections which could be called prose poems. It also includes a number of lyric poems like 'Thirteen sisters beside the sea'. After a prelude set on a slave ship, the story follows the American Civil War in detail, from John Brown's uprising to the shooting of Lincoln. There are a number of characters whose stories are intertwined - Jack Ellyat the Northern volunteer, Clay Wingate from a rich Southern family, Spade the runaway slave, and many more. Real people of the time also appear: Lincoln, Lee, Jackson, Grant. The book was written in 1928, and the depiction of the slaves would not satisfy a modern audience. Benét himself apologised that he was too white to tell black people's stories properly, but he did his best for the time he lived in. He also did his best to make both sides sympathetic - and succeeds. They're all human, with their own needs and fears. Almost no one is a monster, though the captain of the slave ship might be an exception. Anyway, I highly recommend it. I read it years ago, and recently spotted that I could download it to my Kindle for 49p. However, the lines on my Kindle are nothing like long enough for poetry set in long lines unless the print is tiny, so I bought a second-hand copy from Abe Books instead. This is the route I would recommend. I don't think it's in print, so you can't buy new. I decided to post it here, rather than in the novels section, because most poetry-lovers also like novels, while the reverse is certainly not true.
  24. A windy night was blowing on Rome, The cressets guttered on Caesar's home, The fish-boats, moored at the bridge, were breaking The rush of the river to yellow foam. The hinges whined to the shutters shaking, When clip-clop-clep came a horse-hoof raking The stones of the road at Caesar's gate; The spear-butts jarred at the guard's awaking. " Who goes there? " said the guard at the gate. " What is the news, that you ride so late? " " News most pressing, that must be spoken To Caesar alone, and that cannot wait. " " The Caesar sleeps; you must show a token That the news suffice that he be awoken. What is the news, and whence do you come? For no light cause may his sleep be broken. " " Out of the dark of the sands I come, From the dark of death, with news for Rome. A word so fell that it must be uttered Though it strike the soul of the Caesar dumb. " Caesar turned in his bed and muttered, With a struggle for breath the lamp-flame guttered; Calpurnia heard her husband moan: " The house is falling, The beaten men come into their own. " " Speak your word, " said the guard at the gate; " Yes, but bear it to Caesar straight, Say, " Your murderer's knives are honing, Your killer's gang is lying in wait." " Out of the wind that is blowing and moaning, Through the city palace and the country loaning, I cry, " For the world's sake, Caesar, beware, And take this warning as my atoning. " Beware of the Court, of the palace stair, Of the downcast friend who speaks so fair, Keep from the Senate, for Death is going On many men's feet to meet you there." " I, who am dead, have ways of knowing Of the crop of death that the quick are sowing. I, who was Pompey, cry it aloud From the dark of death, from the wind blowing. " I, who was Pompey, once was proud, Now I lie in the sand without a shroud; I cry to Caesar out of my pain, " Caesar, beware, your death is vowed." The light grew grey on the window-pane, The windcocks swung in a burst of rain, The window of Caesar flung unshuttered, The horse-hoofs died into wind again. Caesar turned in his bed and muttered, With a struggle for breath the lamp-flame guttered; Calpurnia heard her husband moan: " The house is falling, The beaten men come into their own. " John Masefield - 'The Rider at the Gate'
  25. ANTONY This was the noblest Roman of them all: All the conspirators save only he Did that they did in envy of great Caesar; He only, in a general honest thought And common good to all, made one of them. His life was gentle, and the elements So mix'd in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world 'This was a man!' Shakespeare, Julius Caesar V/v
  26. How can I, that girl standing there, My attention fix On Roman or on Russian Or on Spanish politics, Yet here's a travelled man that knows What he talks about, And there's a politician That has both read and thought, And maybe what they say is true Of war and war's alarms, But O that I were young again And held her in my arms. W.B. Yeats - 'Politics'
  27. Amazon puts it best : In a series of episodes set during and after the American Civil War Faulkner profiles the people of the South - who might surrender but could never be vanquished. What's not clear from that is that the episodes are chapters in the book and the people of the South are the one family (Sartoris) and the lives they touch during the Civil War. Faulkner's prose is stunning as always, and I took my time reading this so that I could enjoy it for as long as possible. Generally speaking what you read about is how the women fared when their men were off fighting the war and Faulkner does mention that the women didn't get to decide to go to war nor did they decide to surrender but just had to deal with what the situation threw at them. And naturally they coped very well. A story of black and white, rich and poor, women and children in a time and place that has elsewhere been described as Gone With the Wind. Very recommended and not stream of consciousness
  28. I have absolutely no idea how many books we have, must be well over 2000 even though I try to have a good cull twice a year for the charity book sale. The books are all over the house, novels in my office, the bedrooms, the kitchen, travel mostly in the passage, biography, history and bound copies of the Strand Magazine and the Yellow Book in the so-called library (a short passage with a tall bookcase.
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