Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Seal of identity

"And in a hollow voice he spake, and said --
'Sohrab, that were a proof that could not lie.
If thou show this, then thou art Rustum's son.'

Then, with weak hasty fingers, Sohrab loosed
His belt, and near the shoulder bared his arm,
And show'd a sign in faint vermilion points
Prick'd: as a cunning workman, in Pekin,
Pricks with vermilion some clear porcelain vase,
An emperor's gift --at early morn he paints,
And all day long, and, when night comes, the lamp
Lights up his studious forehead and thin hands: --
So delicately prick'd the sign appear'd
On Sohrab's arm, the sign of Rustum's seal."

Sohrab and Rustum  Matthew Arnold

Sunday, 26 January 2014


"I am the tomb of one that was shipwrecked: but sail you on, for on the day that we perished the other ships sailed on."

from The Greek Anthology
[and see  Stephen Pentz on Callimachus, at First Known When Lost]

Sunday, 19 January 2014

"...Kingfishers catch fire,"

"Dearest Bridges,

I am sorry to hear of our differing so much in taste; I was hardly aware of it. (It is not nearly so sad as differing in religion.)  I feel how great is the loss of not reading, as you say; but if I did read I do not much think the effect of it would be what you seem to expect, either on my compositions or on my judgments.

…The effect of studying masterpieces is to make me admire and do otherwise.  So it must be on every original artist to some degree,  on me to a marked degree.  Perhaps then more reading would only refine my singularity, which is not what you want …"

Letter to Robert Bridges,  sent from University College, St. Stephen's Green, Dublin.  Sept. 25 1888.  Gerard Manley Hopkins

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

"Benighted Travellers"

"A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone,
A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth,
A candle and a written page.
Il Penseroso's Platonist toiled on
In some like chamber, shadowing forth
How the daemonic rage
Imagined everything.
Benighted travellers
From markets and from fairs
Have seen his midnight candle glimmering."

From Meditations in Time of Civil War  W. B. Yeats

"Or let my Lamp at midnight hour,
Be seen in som high lonely Towr,
Where I may oft out-watch the Bear,… "

Il Penseroso  John Milton

Monday, 6 January 2014

"Hence vain deluded joys…"

"They went up to Proctor-Gould's room, a dark, lofty chamber on the third floor, furnished in the characteristic Imperial  baroque, and looking out over the Kremlin.  Proctor-Gould appeared to be not so much occupying the room as camping in it, like a rambler in some corner of the lawns at Versailles. An open suitcase lay on the floor at the foot of the bed, a tangled heap of possessions straggling out across the carpet.  Suspended on plastic hangers from the dark furniture all about the room were wet shirts and socks, dripping into antique ornamental bowls or on to pages of the Soviet newspapers.

…[Proctor-Gould] rummaged in the suitcase, found a little aluminium camper's kettle with a folding handle, and disappeared with it into the corridor.  Manning sat down in an uncomfortable carved chair, with brass lions' heads beneath his hands, and gazed about him, steeping himself in the profound melancholy of the room.  On a table in the corner were stacked dozens and dozens of English books, all still in their dust jackets.  Manning put his head on his shoulder to read the titles.  He made out Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, The Human Use of Human Beings, Philosophical Investigations, five copies of Lucky Jim, and seven copies of the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

'I see you're looking at my beads,' said Proctor-Gould, coming back into the room holding the kettle, now steaming, at arm's length.
'Your what?'
'My beads.  Presents for the natives.  I always bring a suitcase full of English books when I come over  -- they're like gold-dust here.'
He felt under the clothes in his case again, and produced two stout plastic mugs.  Inside a spare suede shoe he located a Woolworth's apostle spoon, and beneath a pile of dirty socks, the old familiar tin.

'Do you mind Nescafe?' he asked."

The Russian Interpreter  Michael Frayn

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Who was Warrender Chase?

"God knows where I got Warrender Chase from; he was based on no one that I knew.

I know only that the night I started writing Warrender Chase I had been alone at a table in a restaurant near Kensington High Street Underground eating my supper.  I rarely ate out alone, but I must have found myself in funds that day.  I was going about my proper business, eating my supper while listening-in to the conversation at the next table.  One of them said, 'There we were all gathered in the living-room, waiting for him.'

It was all I needed.  That was the start of Warrender Chase, the first chapter.  All the rest sprang from that phrase.

But I invented for my Warrender a war record, a distinguished one, in Burma, and managed to make it really credible even although I filled in the war bit with a very few strokes, knowing, in fact, so little about the war in Burma.  It astonished me later to find how the readers found Warrender's war record so convincing and full when I had said so little -- one real war veteran of Burma wrote to say how realistic he found it -- but since then I've come to learn for myself how little one needs, in the art of writing, to convey the lot, and how a lot of words, on the other hand, can convey so little…..

All these years since, the critics have been asking whether Warrender was in love with his nephew.  How do I know?  Warrender Chase never existed, he is only some hundreds of words, some punctuation, sentences, paragraphs, marks on the page.  If I had conceived Warrender Chase's motives as a psychological study I would have said so.  But I didn't go in for motives, I never have."

Loitering with Intent   Muriel Spark