Letters and the lapse of time

A moving comment on the effects of time and separation, and the hiatus of news caused by war. Firstly, the sorrow and regret of discovering the death of a loved one after months of silence, only thanks to the efforts of strangers.  Then the question of how many other...

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Straight as an avenue of poplars

When was the last time you received - or wrote - an 18 page letter?  I think I have managed to write one or two in my life and that's even allowing for my quite large handwriting. What was in this letter, completely covered in a tall, straight hand that evoked a line...

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A letter by boat and about a boat

This letter is magical. It is delivered by boat and announces the arrival of another boat at an assignation point. So much promise!  May the whole world seem to be open before you. 'Tonight a letter by boat from her.  “I have bought us a twenty-foot cutter, carvel...

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In mourning

In the 19th century, it was customary to use black-bordered paper and envelopes to inform someone of a death.  Here Sebastian finds unused sheets in some forgotten bureau in the vast pile that is Brideshead, and decides to inform his friend Charles of the death of his...

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War and letters

Letters were a lifeline for people in war, whether fighting it or waiting for someone who was, or simply trying to avoid becoming collateral damage.  So, hard to imagine the communication vacuum this short sentence implies; a population essentially held incommunicado....

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A bundle of letters

It is now so rare to receive a letter (not talking about bills or other officialese, but real letters) that it's hard to imagine receiving more than could be read at a sitting, let alone being able to stuff a bundle of them in your bag.  I sorely miss receiving...

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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.

Maps for all comers

I wonder if such a mecca of maps exists?  A map for all seasons, all reasons.  Maps for thieves to find targets and for the police to find thieves. 'He sold maps to poets that showed where thoughts of power and clarity had come to other poets.  He sold well-digging...

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Maps imagined

I love maps and regularly buy them. Here you have a map inside the map-seller's mind, drawing on his knowledge of the world and its ways. If only one could buy some of these maps, such as 'journeys to hidden sources of wisdom'. 'He would close his eyes, seeing clear...

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Hello for the first time and goodbye for the last

This beautiful, gentle woman provides a haven to one of the protagonists.  A father finding himself, a son finding his father, and maps and lions in between. ‘You make love as if you’re saying hello for the first time and goodbye for the last.’   Source: Russell...

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Where place and time meet

Russell Hoban's is one of the most imaginative, limpid novels I have ever read.  Maps loom large in it, real and imagined.  I loved this meeting of time and place.  See you there? "‘There is only one place,’ he said, ‘that place is time, and that time is now.  There...

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Metaphorically speaking

More marvelous metaphors on Mondays … Monday, metaphor day.

Dancing light, rippling reflections

Having occasionally lain in bed practically hypnotised by the dappling and dancing of light bouncing from water up to ceiling, I liked Hoban's reference to flashes of mystic writing, like a watery, visual morse. '... dancing light reflected from the water rippled on...

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Womanhood slung over your shoulder

A surprising description which conveys a certain insouciance and strident, even defiant, confidence. 'She seemed to carry her womanhood the way men on the docks carried baling hooks on one shoulder – shiny, pointed, sharp.' Source: Russell Hoban, The Lion of...

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A well of terror

In this convincing tale of a urban lions, Hoban manages to capture the grip of fear, both as a serpent of panic and a bottomless well of terror. 'The snaky black and brilliant panic that had surged up in him when he had closed his eyes in the presence of the lion had...

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Of sleepy lighthouses

Dwarfed by daylight, the lighthouse is a nocturnal creature like an owl, and so might similarly nod off to sleep when it has nothing to do. '... its lighthouse now standing sleepy like an owl in strong sunlight.' Source: Russell Hoban, The Lion of Boaz-Jachin and...

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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.

Wild-looking grass

One of the landscape changes of recent years is the steady return of wild-looking grass where previously there were endless, weedless swards of emerald green lawn.  The more varied it is, the more I wonder how many insects and small creatures live there relatively...

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Silver-plated water

I have seen beaten-bronze and copper-coloured water, but never silver-plated. 'The cool, placid, silver-plated water at even coolly awaits the frost.' 16 Oct 1859 Source: Henry David Thoreau, The Journal 1837-1861, Damion Searls (ed.), preface by John R. Stilgoe (New...

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Craven-hearted neighbours

This refers to Thoreau's outrage at the callous reaction of his neighbours to the death of John Brown on the grounds that he 'threw his life away! - what way would they have thrown their lives, pray?' 'It galls me to listen to the remarks of craven-hearted neighbors...

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Finger-cold evening

A great way to convey a chill in the air cold enough to affect the extremities.  Also like the idea of improving an evening by pulling up turnips. 'Another finger-cold evening, which I improve in pulling up turnips.'   21 Nov 1860 Source: Henry David Thoreau, The...

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Glaucous-green field

I found myself wondering just what shade of green is glaucous, and learning that it is either 'a dull greyish-green or blue', or a 'pale greyish or bluish' and also refers to being covered in a powdery bloom as on grapes.  A fine alliterative colour combination, in...

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Slate-colored snowbirds

Firstly, I like the idea of a 'snow' bird being the colour of slate.  And being obsessed with colours and the names we give them, I notice how many hues and shades can only be described in reference to something of that colour.  Elsewhere Thoreau describes slate as...

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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.


The sheep are ‘hefted’, taught a sense of belonging to a place by their mothers when they are lambs.   They never lose the memory of that place, such as a specific hill-side.

A scrawny, buttermilk-faced young besom

A besom is a broom made of twigs tied around a stick, though in Scottish & Northern English it's also a derogatory term for a woman or girl. 'A scrawny, buttermilk-faced young besom, allus askin' questions an' pokin' tha' nose where it wasna' wanted.'  ...

Graidely or gradely

Graidely seems an alternative spelling to 'gradely' which means fine and good; promising and likely; being in good health or physically attractive; fitting and proper. "He's took a graidely fancy to thee.  He wants to see thee and he wants to see Soot an' Captain."...

Fair moithered

Bothered or bewildered.  'Moither' can also mean to ramble or speak in a confused way. 'Mother's a good-tempered woman, but she gets fair moithered.'   Source: Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, illus. Inga Moore (London: Walker Books, 2009) (1911), p....

An abundance of afflatus

A divine creative impulse or inspiration, from Latin afflare, 'to' plus 'to blow'. Wishing you an abundance of afflatus.   Source: Adam Nicolson, Sea Room: An Island Life (London: Harper Collins, 2013 (2002)), p. 11


Another and charming word for 'daffodils', which are also more commonly referred to as 'daffs'. "Crocuses an' snowdrops an' daffydowndillys.  Has tha' never seen them?"   Source: Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, illus. Inga Moore (London: Walker Books,...

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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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