24 August 2011

from Pale Fire, Canto Three (Vladimir Nabokov)

And yet
It missed the gist of the whole thing; it missed
What mostly interests the preterist;
For we die every day; oblivion thrives
Not on dry thighbones but on blood-ripe lives,
And our best yesterdays are now foul piles
Of crumpled names, phone numbers and foxed files.
I'm ready to become a floweret
Or a fat fly, but never, to forget.
And I'll turn down eternity unless
The melancholy and the tenderness
Of mortal life; the passion and the pain;
The claret taillight of that dwindling plane
Off Hesperus; your gesture of dismay
On running out of cigarettes; the way
You smile at dogs; the trail of silver slime
Snails leave on flagstones; this good ink, this rhyme,
This index card, this slender rubber band
Which always forms, when dropped, an ampersand,
Are found in Heaven by the newlydead
Stored in its strongholds through the years.

20 August 2011

from The Old Wives' Tale, book two, Constance, chapter 2, Christmas and the Future (Arnold Bennett)

All these changes in six years! The almanacs were in the right of it. But nothing had happened to her. Gradually she had obtained a sure ascendency over her mother, yet without seeking it, merely as the outcome of time's influences on her and on her mother respectively. Gradually she had gained skill and use in the management of her household and of her share of the shop, so that these machines ran smoothly and effectively and a sudden contretemps no longer frightened her. Gradually she had constructed a chart of Samuel's individuality, with the submerged rocks and perilous currents all carefully marked, so that she could now voyage unalarmed in those seas. But nothing happened. Unless their visits to Buxton could be called happenings! Decidedly the visit to Buxton was the one little hill that rose out of the level plain of the year. They had formed the annual habit of going to Buxton for ten days. They had a way of saying: 'Yes, we always go to Buxton. We went there for our honeymoon, you know.' They had become confirmed Buxtonites, with views concerning St. Anne's Terrace, the Broad Walk and Peel's Cavern. They could not dream of deserting their Buxton. It was the sole possible resort. Was it not the highest town in England? Well, then! They always stayed at the same lodgings, and grew to be special favourites of the landlady, who whispered of them to all her other guests as having come to her house for their honeymoon, and as never missing a year, and as being most respectable, superior people in quite a large way of business. Each year they walked out of Buxton station behind their luggage on a truck, full of joy and pride because they knew all the landmarks, and the lie of all the streets, and which were the best shops.

19 August 2011

from True at First Light (Ernest Hemingway)

'Everybody was so serious,' Miss Mary said. 'I never saw all of you joke people get so serious.'

'Honey, it would have been awful if I had had to kill her. And I was worried about you.'

'Everybody so serious,' she said. 'And everybody holding on to my arm. I knew how to get back to the car. Nobody had to hold on to my arm.'


The day after a heavy rain is a splendid day for the propagation of religion while the time of the rain itself seems to turn men's minds from the beauty of their faith. All rain had stopped now and I was sitting by the fire drinking tea and looking out over the sodden country. Miss Mary was still sleeping soundly because there was no sun to wake her. Mwindi came to the table by the fire with a fresh pot of hot tea and poured me a cup.

'Plenty rain,' he said. 'Now finished.'

'Mwindi,' I said. 'You know what the Mahdi said. "We see plainly in the laws of nature that rain comes down from the heavens in the time of need. The greenness and verdure of the earth depend upon heavenly rain. If it ceases for a time the water in the upper strata of the earth gradually dries up. Thus we see that there is an attraction between the heavenly and the earthly waters. Revelation stands in the same relation to human reason as heavenly water does to the earthly water."'

'Too much rain for campi. Plenty good for Shamba,' Mwindi announced.

'"As with the cessation of heavenly water earthly water begins gradually to dry up; so also is the case of the human reason which without the heavenly revelation loses its purity and strength."'

'How I know that is Mahdi?' Mwindi said.

'Ask Charo.'

Mwindi grunted. He knew Charo was very devout but not a theologian.


Miss Mary was writing a great poem about Africa but the trouble was that she made it up in her head sometimes and forgot to write it down and then it would be gone like dreams. She wrote some of it down but she would not show it to anybody. We all had great faith in her poem about Africa and I still have but I would like it better if she would actually write it. We were all reading the Georgics then in the C. Day Lewis translation. We had two copies but they were always being lost or mislaid and I have never known a book to be more mis-layable. The only fault I could ever find with the Mantovan was that he made all normally intelligent people feel as though they too could write great poetry. Dante only made crazy people feel they could write great poetry. That was not true of course but then almost nothing was true and especially not in Africa. In Africa a thing is true at first light and a lie by noon and you have no more respect for it than for the lovely, perfect weed-fringed lake you see across the sun-baked salt plain. You have walked across that plain in the morning and you know that no such lake is there. But now it is there absolutely true, beautiful and believable.


That night Mary said she was very tired and she went to sleep in her own bed. I lay awake for a while and then went out to sit by the fire. In the chair watching the fire and thinking of Pop and how sad it was he was not immortal and how happy I was that he had been able to be with us so much and that we had been lucky to have three or four things together that were like the old days along with just the happiness of being together and talking and joking, I went to sleep.

05 August 2011

The Return of Odysseus (George Bilgere)

When Odysseus finally does get home
he is understandably upset about the suitors,
who have been mooching off his wife for twenty years,
drinking his wine, eating his mutton, etc.

In a similar situation today he would seek legal counsel.
But those were different times. With the help
of his son Telemachus he slaughters roughly
one hundred and ten suitors
and quite a number of young ladies,
although in view of their behavior
I use the term loosely. Rivers of blood
course across the palace floor.

I too have come home in a bad mood.
Yesterday, for instance, after the department meeting,
when I ended up losing my choice parking spot
behind the library to the new provost.

I slammed the door. I threw down my book bag
in this particular way I have perfected over the years
that lets my wife understand
the contempt I have for my enemies,
which is prodigious. And then with great skill
she built a gin and tonic
that would have pleased the very gods,
and with epic patience she listened
as I told her of my wrath, and of what I intended to do
to so-and-so, and also to what's-his-name.

And then there was another gin and tonic
and presently my wrath abated and was forgotten,
and peace came to reign once more
in the great halls and courtyards of my house.

04 August 2011

from The Moving Toyshop, chapter 10, The Episode of the Interrupted Seminar (Edmund Crispin)

They were assembled by a means peculiar to Oxford - vague promises of excitement accompanied by more definite promises of drink.