A poet’s prayer

A poet’s prayer

In fact, a prayer for any writer. Having just read John Drury’s marvelous appreciation of George Herbert’s life and his vivifying skills of poetry, I am more conscious than usual of the need for such fortifying.  Drury’s Music at Midnight is, among...
Learning to write

Learning to write

How do you learn to write? My belief is that if fine writing comes from you, mostly it is due to fine reading, even if (or particularly when?) you forget the detail of what you have read but keep the imprint.Here Dante acknowledges Virgil not only as his travel and...
The piling up of beauty

The piling up of beauty

Clive James’ spent decades working on his splendid translation of Dante, sometimes in ‘back burner’ mode, other times full on.  It’s the best translation I have read so far, judged as poetry – I am not in a position to comment on any...
A fair request

A fair request

In an age where you are expected to shout, tweet, bluster and generally blather about everything you do, it is heartening to read Virgil’s pithy injunction that reasonable requests should be responded to by silent action.  “The answer to a fairRequest...
Wasps quick-bending

Wasps quick-bending

One of the many stretch metaphors used by Homer. When you see a comma followed by ‘as …’ it can be a signal to take a good intake of breath to carry you through to the end of the image. Here it is feisty bees and quick-bending wasps who convey the...
Sweet-running river

Sweet-running river

Flowing like the sweet-running river it evokes, a meandering metaphor for Hector’s strength and movement, likened to a thoroughbred horse breaking free and seeking out its remembered watering spots and pastures.  Other riverine triologisms include:...
Something more pressing

Something more pressing

Yes, you can find a thousand things more urgent than writing, or at least more insistent. Writing for this and other websites takes precedence over a series of children’s stories I have begun. Blogs have a rhythm or schedule, books are open-ended. I find time...
Being never wholly so

Being never wholly so

This line from a poem concerns being and being written or heard about.  If it isn’t written (and presumably, read) or told (and presumably, heard), it cannot fully be. I don’t believe I fully agree but it’s something to think about. ‘… what is...
Roughing out poems

Roughing out poems

Hand-written notes and journals have a magic to them. Durrell is a favourite poet and his house in Greece was as close to the coast as you can be without getting your feet wet.  Were these spatterings the voice of the sea telling him when he had a fine turn of phrase,...
Diving in head first

Diving in head first

Keats was a bold player, keeping his eye determinedly focussed on achieving enduring greatness, not on the fads and fashions of the critical present. His letters reveal his willingness to fly in the face of, and transcend, the vagaries of reviewers. Here he uses a...
Insubstantial rock-hard durability

Insubstantial rock-hard durability

The durability of things and of cultures intrigues me; and particularly when those artefacts are themselves physically fragile or insubstantial. Here, Adam Nicolson demonstrates that durability need not be carved in stone; in many cases it is simply continuing...
Barefoot erudition

Barefoot erudition

Patrick Leigh Fermor wore his vast learning lightly, as real scholars often do. Here he more than meets his match – and sees through his own presumption – when an old man instantly discerns the metre of a local dirge. Long live lay learning! ‘A...
Fine writing, fine doing

Fine writing, fine doing

My earliest impressions of Keats were as a languishing poetic type, not a man of action.  Now, after getting to know him through his letters (among the best I have read), he comes across as a vital, life-loving and out-stepping person, even though destroyed by illness...
The sonnet never written

The sonnet never written

This is one of the longest and most entertaining chapters in Machado de Assis’ novel Don Casmurro, a fictional memoir of the eponymous narrator.  Many of the other chapters are shorter than a sonnet, but I liked this one, describing the sonnet he almost wrote,...

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