A luminous spot in Chicago

What makes a city great?  What makes a civilization? How about a bright, quiet, dazzling new building in the heart of a town, housing 30,000 volumes of poetry?  A place where you can step off the street into poetry through a single glass door. Before going to Chicago,...

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A bookshop in Chicago – Open Books

In preparing our trip to Chicago we looked up the 'ten best' bookshops in the city.  Most proved too far, except for Open Books, a not-for-profit selling new and secondhand books to invest in literacy programmes in the city, some of which take place in the children's...

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Well, well, well – dragons amid clouds

On a joyous day walking around the Art Institute in Chicago, I spotted this beautiful, pristine celadon writing box with three ink wells and an underglaze moulded decoration of dragons amid clouds. An ever unfurling surprise to me is the simplicity and timelessness of...

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Steady as she goes

When I created a category dedicated to the accoutrements of writing and drawing, I had in mind pens and their ilk and the ink or carbon they deploy.  I never thought of a bracelet until I saw this short video about two young women, one a graphic designer, the other an...

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A packet of air mail envelopes

You may not have noticed, but air mail envelopes and the corresponding lightweight letter paper are dying out.  I am by now resigned to the decline, and am simply stocking up for the duration.  A while ago a Brazilian friend visited and offered to bring me some...

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A quote to note

Drawing on thousands of sparkling, moving and inspiring quotations amassed during decades of attentive reading. These will be added in the days and months ahead, to delight the mind and spirit, take care of your gift-giving needs, and improve the world’s Powerpoint presentations beyond belief. And coming soon, in searchable form.

Of tea and stars

A charming juxtaposition of homeliness and magnificence - people drinking tea but noticing a sky sprinkled with stars. 'I found them at Tea.  There were a thousand stars in the Sky.'  Thursday 12 November 1801.   Source: Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere and...

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The moon shone upon the water below

I liked this expansive moon-scape and the detail of Wordworth keeping his curtains open to see it. 'The moon shone upon the water below Silver-how, & above it hung, combining with Silver how on one side, a Bowl-shaped moon the curve downwards – the white fields,...

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The cow looked at me looking at the cow

Having done this a number of times, I smiled when I read Dorothy's dilemma in passing the cow.  They have an unnerving way of staring you out, which may be nothing more than the vaguest bovine curiosity.  I have usually ended up doing a great meander to avoid them. ...

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Butterflies of all colours

Dorothy Wordsworth's eye for details, and her care in noting them, are a wonder, allowing her to converse with people born centuries after her.  Feeling this easy affinity, I have to wonder if anything we say or write or think will resonate with people 200 years from...

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Metaphorically speaking

More marvelous metaphors on Mondays … Monday, metaphor day.

Spring cleaning your burrow

If you read Sea Room, you will fall in love with puffins, utterly endearing, quirky birds.  Here Nicolson describes their appearance after the annual return to their burrows.  They never change burrow and the spring cleaning is done by both parties in the lifelong...

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Waiting for the pub to open

Puffins are curious and unafraid of humans, and very sociable among themselves. I loved this image of their crowding around your boat, like drinkers hovering at the pub door. 'You can take your boat in among them.  They scatter to start with, but then slowly seep back...

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Puffin as scientist

The way Nicolson describes puffins makes you wonder if their name comes from 'puffed up' or 'puffed out', as there's always a sense of their parading about inspecting things, and just a touch of pomposity.  Here, their examination of a rope reminds him of a biologist...

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The proprieties of the puffin

Sociable and lovable, puffins have elaborate rituals, like chaps gathered around a fireplace to smoke postprandial cigars in 1908. 'Ludicrous and lovable puffins!  Their sociability is as stiff and predictable as an evening in an Edwardian London.  Gestures of...

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Bringing you pithy, evocative imagery in the form of three-legged microcosms of meaning. Updated on Tuesdays … Tuesday, triologism day!  You’ll never see this day of the week in the same way again.

Battle-haunted fens

Having spent many teenage summer holidays in the fens of England, this struck me, though I never heard or saw the battle hauntings there.  Perhaps too engrossed in high kaleidoscopic skies. '... the battle-haunted fens came to an end on the other side of the river.'...

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Tree reflecting banks

A river lined on both sides with tree-covered banks, reflected in the water and in each other.   As you follow Leigh Ferro's pre-war crossing of Europe, knowing what came after in destruction and mayhem, you keep asking how much of what he describes survived and how...

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Weather-fretted Abbots

Assuming these are carved in stone, though my first reading had me picturing a human 'weather-fretted' abbot. Wishing you more blessings than admonishments. 'Meditating, admonishing and blessing, a team of sainted and weather-fretted Abbots postured with operatic...

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Many-legended island

Are those legends still alive or did they die with the war, or with the people who told them?  And what if we made our own mental 'many-legended island' to retire to? 'I slept in the village of Grein that night, just upstream from a wooded and many-legended island.'...

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Dun-coloured flax

I eat flaxseed and have seen blonde hair described as 'flaxen', but in reading this I realize I have never seen flax grow.  And what a refreshing image of a river plaiting a long green strand of clear water through the flax fields. 'The river Enns ... came winding out...

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Hard-favoured rage

The rage of feeling hard done by, is how I read this.  I like 'disguise fair nature with...', meaning you have to overcome your happy nature to drum up some fake fury.   That final 'etc' gives it away as a feint. 'But when the blast of war blew in their ears, they...

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Sharing words that sparkle, appeal, intrigue or otherwise grab me, including those in other languages.  And adoring alliteration, new words will be added on Wednesdays… Wednesday, word day.   See you back here then.


Scottish Gaelic: plural clàran.  A dish, three to four feet long, 18" wide, made of deal, with straw or grass on the bottom; a communal dish from which the family ate, with the food crumbs and straw being given to the animals after. Other meanings given by Wiktionary...

Syke (or sike)

Scottish & N. English: Alternative spelling of 'sike' meaning a small stream or rill, typically one that flows through marshy ground and is often dry in summer. Source: Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere and Alfoxden Journals, ed. and introduction by Pamela Woof...


Scottish: this seems to be bound up with many place names and to refer to an old church which, for one reason or another, was abandoned and subsequently replaced at a different site. Source: Adam Nicolson, Sea Room: An Island Life (London: Harper Collins, 2013...


Scottish: no, not the man who keeps asking you for huge chunks of your hard-earned money.  This refers to a man who holds a tack from another, a tenant.  In Scottish law, a tack is a contract by which something is let, hired or leased to another. 'Tacksman's house.'...


Machair refers to low-lying arable or grazing land formed near the coast by the deposit of sand and shell fragments by the wind, in Scotland, particularly in the Western Isles. '... the beautiful, easily worked machair of Barra itself.' Source: Adam Nicolson, Sea...


Scottish.  An agricultural system whereby each year narrow strips of arable land were parcelled out among the families of the community, each family receiving different lots each year, as a form of communal fairness. Source: Adam Nicolson, Sea Room: An Island Life...

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  1. Jess

    Submitting one of my favorite Kurt Vonnegut quotes:

    “I tell you, we are here on Earth to fart around, and don’t let anybody tell you different”

    • beatriceotto

      Wonderful quotation indeed, many thanks for sharing. At last, the meaning of life.

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