Of words, wording and eternity

Part of my blogophyte journey has been to learn about some of the technical workings of the online world, among which Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a big deal. Thankfully there are excellent bits of software you just plug in that will tell search engines your...

Freedom gained?

What is freedom? Options? Room for manoeuvre? Time? Carte blanche and blank cheques? Absence of censorship? Self-mastery? Purpose? Recently I’ve had time and cause to think about leadership, and self-mastery has emerged as a front-runner at least as a necessary...

The poet’s role

I am interested in ideas about the role and nature of poetry, and have featured a number on WritingRedux. Featuring them doesn’t mean I fully agree with them, or consider them to be definitive. The poet’s role is sometimes to shed tears and feel sympathy for the...

On poetry and human feeling

Apart from pointing me to some translations of Catullus that may propel to me a new level of human feeling, this gives me much to think about. Poetry being a question of ‘speaking with full human feeling’ is already a bold idea, and a good test for meaning and...

The aim of aimlessness

This made me think - surrendering to aimlessness to write poetry (and other things?  A good letter?  A story?).  Perhaps I misinterpret Eyres’ advice, but I sense in it the need, when putting pen to paper, to allow a moment of emptiness, reflecting the blank page or...

Poetry as redemption

Harry Eyres’ book is as much about the nature of poetry as about Horace, and I was struck by this quotation of Wallace Stevens, along with a comment by Ezra Pound that poets and artists could both be viewed as the ‘antennae of the race’, a role I believe is probably...

Appreciation is a better mode for the understanding of achievement than are all the analytical kinds of accounting for the emergence of exceptional individuals.  Appreciation may judge, but always with gratitude, and frequently with awe and wonder.  

By ‘appreciation’ I mean something more than ‘adequate esteem’.  Need also enters into it, in the particular sense of turning to the genius of others in order to redress a lack in oneself, or finding in genius a stimulus to one’s own powers, whatever these may emerge as being.

Source: Harold Bloom, Genius (London: Fourth Estate, 2002), p. 5

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Of wine and poetry

Here we have a poet and a vintner who connects the magic between wine and poetry.  Wine can be poetic in its effects, and poetry can be an outpouring.  They both involve alchemy. May you find joy and bedazzlement in the unplanned, the unexpected and the pathless....

Be sweet, be useful, and even be true

It seems Horace wanted to fulfill this injunction, intending his poems to be ‘helpers of humanity’. Perhaps another reason his poetry endures is that humanity (at least parts of it) is still striving to live meaningfully, joyfully and wisely, and in this (other...

Rules of engagement

Where I have failed to appreciate some of the most enduringly esteemed works of literature, it has often been due to falling flat on my face in terms of the translation I happened to pick up.  I’ve learned not to dismiss a work I read in translation if it has been...

On writing letters

The wryness of Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days is captured here in describing the cultural activity of choice for his younger brother. Harold wraps his arm around his paper to protect it from the prying eyes of his older sister. When she tries to wrestle it from him, the...

The poetic dragon

One of the most imaginative tales in Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days concerns a reluctant dragon. He has no interest in dragonly archetypes: forget fighting and hoarding treasure and burning things up with the breath of death. This dragon prefers to hang out on a...

A sensible sort of room

The boy slips out of a deadly dull afternoon tea in which two ladies are talking about clothing. He finds himself in the book-lined library next door and finding one door-stopper packed with pictures, he lies on the thick hearth-rug to flick through a glorious book...

Autumn mornings

Romanian Furrow is an account of months spent living and wandering in Romania in the early 1930s, learning Romanian and helping with the harvests.  First published in 1933, it captured a world soon to be trampled by the juggernauts of war.  A lyrical account of rural...

Summer send-off

This lyrical quotation captures that brightness of summer as it matures, as if it doesn’t want to leave the seasonal stage without taking an extravagant bow. ‘The air was clear, the earth glistened, and the trees shone with a brighter green in defiance of the autumn...

The cusp of autumn

There is a ‘sad sweetness in summer’s passing’, perhaps due to the earthy warmth of autumn’s approach. Autumn tends not to come storming in, but steps gently across the landscape. Today is the ‘official’ change and it seems the season is keeping time – I woke to a...

Leaves lapping at your feet

The Runaways is a bestellar children’s book I will review on these pages. And Ambrose the dream uncle, though you don’t mess with him. As in other books by Elizabeth Goudge, the children stumble upon adventures which have them give short shrift to a secret curse...

Your chosen family

Most readers, particularly those who make little distinction between the past and present in seeking their sustenance, will be able to think of people they would choose for their ‘literary family’ across millennia.   I love the image of imaginative mitochondria...

Scobie and the sea

This quote has haunted me since I first read Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet about thirty years ago. It is still on my wall in calligraphy. Scobie was a wonderful character. ‘Clea once asked him: “Do you not miss the sea, Scobie?” and the old man replied simply, without...

Bees and trees

This captures what I feel when I see sage and valiant bees and the genius of trees. ‘The earth is not as you see it. There is a sagacity in bees, there is a genius in trees.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts (London: Chatto & Windus,...

Pebble pusher

Keats, known as a poet, was also one of history’s great letter writers.  He loved life and seized it even as it slipped away from him, embracing moments of joy centuries before anyone talked about ‘mindfulness’. He was also immensely playful, contrary to the image we...

The art of living fully

And how!   May you be ever inventive in living a full life. I will find some images that merit this quotation and make cards and posters. ‘Living a full life requires invention.’ Source: Molly Peacock, The Paper Garden (London: Bloomsbury, 2012), p....

Thalassa, thalassa

Osip Mandelstam is a favourite poet whose prose I only recently discovered.  His Journey to Armenia is a marvelous, textured complement to Vasily Grossman’s An Armenian Sketchbook. This quotation captures for me the hypnotic and curative effects a sight of the sea can...

An event, a happening

Mandelstam lived in a brutal place and time, costing him years of freedom and ultimately, his life.   All the more impressive and touching that he managed to cherish the existence of a single plant. ‘A plant in the world, that is an event, a happening, an arrow.’...

Life as gift

A strong statement by a man whose life was taken from him in the harshest circumstances, and who lived at a time when life was considered neither a gift, nor inalienable. ‘Life is a precious gift, inalienable.’ Source: Osip Mandelstam, Journey to Armenia, trans....

Located and alive

What a great way to spend a day, a perfectly Daoist state. Hoping you can also take in the brilliant facts of the world by being located and alive. ‘She was calm, engaged, located, and alive. … able to begin to take in the brilliant facts of the world.’ Source: Molly...

Immortality by reading

This wonderful quotation was published in El Pais in the days following Umberto Eco’s passing.  Wishing you 5,000 years of reading-endowed life, backwards, forwards, or sideways. ‘By the age of 70, he who doesn’t read will have lived only one life.  He who reads will...

All about revolutions

Fine understatement given how many billions of human hours have been lost obliging people to listen to revolutionary speeches. ‘That is slightly the problem with revolutions. There are an awful lot of speeches to sit through.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road: a...

Green on green

A lovely description and an idyllic image of an English county. ‘Herefordshire is green on green, lichen on old apple branches, ivy in the woods, the rot in the floorboards.’ Source: Edmund de Waal, The White Road: a pilgrimage of sorts (London: Chatto & Windus,...

Continue

Found in a letter by a distant and anonymous imperial Chinese official in response to the trials and complaints of the Imperial Commissioner for Porcelain.  A marvel of arms’ length sympathy offering no solutions. ‘I read everything. I understand. Continue.’ Source:...

A blank map

‘You’ll start with a blank map, that doesn’t do more than show roughly what’s water and what isn’t.’ What a metaphor!   Doesn’t that describe so many of the journeys we begin?  The book even includes a black ink sketched version of this rudimentary map, allowing...

This is my life

This statement of arrow-straight simplicity could serve as an occasional sanity check. If it rings true, we’re on track. If it causes a flinch or a wince, we probably aren’t living as we could or would wish to. Flipped to the past tense, it would be a perfect epitaph...

Awake!

Coming from someone who lived and died in one of the most terrifying times in history, a reinforcement to those of us living in gentler times but not without our own fears. ‘You’re awake, don’t be afraid of your own time.’ Source: Osip Mandelstam, Journey to Armenia,...

Spirited innocence

Mary Delany lived at a time when most women, particularly of her class, were given anything but ‘full career’, yet she managed to carve out a great space in which to expand, and made that space available to others. She combined enormous generosity of spirit with...

Close questioning

I found this marvelous mention of Moishe the Beadle in The Economist’s obituary of Elie Wiesel. Given how much religious and ideology-driven effort has been exerted over centuries to stop people questioning too much, Moishe seemed to turn faith on its head by...

Watching the sun rise

This line stands out in the book as a contrast to the father’s generally benighted, crushing behaviour towards his sons, as if some part of him still inclined towards light. ‘He wanted to make sure we had witnessed the sunrise.  This was the first duty of living...

Street stories

The street as a fount of stories, conveying the detail and complexity of human lives, even those which may appear humdrum to outsiders. ‘Now I know one thing: no street is small. They all hide never-ending stories, they all conceal countless secrets.’ Source: Mia...

Silence & music

Music is everywhere, this seems to imply; even silence is gravid with it! ‘Every silence contains music in a state of gestation.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans. David Brookshaw (Biblioasis, 2012 (2009)), p. 13

How to help a bird fly

Wise words for human lives, all the more poignant for watching fledglings make mistakes and still persist in flying, even after surviving collisions with window reflections that look like open sky. ‘You don’t help a bird to fly by holding onto its wings. A bird flies...

Shaping words and forming letters

It’s unusual to read such a detailed comment on the act of writing by hand.  But once you have the paper chosen and the pen filled, it’s an absorbing motion.  And such care taken by someone who is writing letters he never sends. 'He cleared his bench and began to...

To live?

Another fine definition of what it is to be alive. I like not only the ‘dreams fulfilled’ but also Couto’s reference to ‘receiving news’. ‘To live? Surely, to live is to see dreams fulfilled, to look forward to receiving news.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of...

From here to eternity

This feels a perfect metaphor for living in the present and for the long run. Perhaps it is intended to be a choice, you do one or the other, but I see it as twofold advice, embracing the world from the big things down to its details. ‘He who seeks eternity should...

Life & understanding

Food for thought this one. Does it mean you are more alive when you are most baffled by it all? Or that you are most alive when you stop trying to understand too much? ‘Life only happens when we stop understanding it.’ Source: Mia Couto, The Tuner of Silences, trans....

Life wasn’t made to be …

This quotation has become a companion, a reminder that life is – or at least should be - bigger than the daily concerns that often plague it. ‘Life wasn’t made to be fleeting and of little consequence. And the world wasn’t made to have boundaries.’ Source: Mia Couto,...

Reading as a meandering canoe

This is a beautiful metaphor for a boy discovering the magic of reading and writing, both of which were forbidden to him. ‘With his index finger, he roamed again and again over the print, like a canoe drifting drunkenly down imaginary rivers.’ Source:  Mia Couto, The...

Past into future will go

I like this concept of an inheritance as something solidly rooted in the past, but ‘willable forward again and again and again’. Not a burden the past imposes on us, but something we can take up and use with forward momentum, if we choose. 'And now this is ‘an...

Fate goes as ever fate must

This translation by Seamus Heaney rings like a proverb on the immutability of fate. Elsewhere, he brings it up close and personal: ‘His fate hovered near, unknowable but certain.’ We would probably question the certainty part, as our culture veers towards assuring us...

Poetry as a boat

Another maritime metaphor in Heaney's introduction to a poem set in a sea-world.  The ‘big quay’ of language and literature can be a powerful deterrent to even building one's little craft, let alone docking it at the quay. That's where the current of creativity can...

The poetry of endurance

Endurance is intrinsic to the poem of Beowulf, and is vividly and touchingly depicted here as a bedrock of humanity. And I like the notion of poetry rising like an emanation from a fissure in human endurance. This is … poetry of a high order, in which passages of...

Poetry as a ship at sea

The sea flows through Beowulf's culture as much as any Greek epic, and its warriors are likewise mariners.  Heaney uses the metaphor of a boat at sea to convey a reader’s response to the poem.  May you be also 'buoyantly down-to-earth' while swaying in the element of...

Translation as hammering

Heaney conveys in a simple image the difficulty of translating poetry. Elsewhere, he refers to his progress as being ‘scriptorium slow’. If you have ever tried to translate anything of substance, you will know the slowness of 'scriptorium slow', and the sense of...

Language as anchor and mooring

Heaney uses several maritime metaphors in discussing a poem set in a sea-faring culture. Here he refers to speech that is 'unmoored' and then to lodging his own 'linguistic anchor' on the 'Anglo-Saxon sea-floor'.  If you have ever felt, in being immersed in another...

Long ago and still to come

This sweetly evocative opening refers to a quieter world 'long ago'.  But it also evokes, for me at least, a better world with less stress and pollution and hardship. A single sentence that captures something of the spirit of the ambitious aims laid out in the UN's...

Wisdom for a merrier world

Not a bad outline of what it would take to make the world merrier: the simple enjoyment of food, cheer and song. “There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and...

Farewell wishes (and how to not turn up for work)

I love these leave-taking wishes between Gandalf the wizard and the Elvenking. I keep turning over the implications of the last injunction to turn up ‘where you are most needed and least expected’. I guess if we all followed that, most of us would never turn up for...

For use in a mouthwash advert

How did they miss this, those toothpaste and mouthwash marketing executives? Smaug the Dragon’s own glorious description of himself (my capitals): “Then I was but young and tender.  Now I am old and strong, strong, strong, Thief in the Shadows!” he gloated.  “My...

Seek and you shall find … something

A piece of sage advice - you will always find something if you look.  But is it what you (thought you) were looking for? ‘There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something … You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the...

Breakfast before a journey

Thorin the chief dwarf places his breakfast order having invited himself to stay at Bilbo Baggins’ house. “I like six eggs with my ham, when starting on a journey: fried not poached, and mind you don’t break ‘em.” Source: JRR Tolkien, The Hobbit (London:...

What is a house for?

A near perfect description of what makes a perfect house, beyond practical issues such as storm-proofing; similar to the wonderful Italian song Voglio una casa.  ‘His house was perfect, whether you like food, or sleep, or work, or story-telling, or singing, or just...

Write me some moon-letters

The love of letters, maps and handwriting all bundled into one exuberant quotation.  I now need to figure out the technicalities of writing this way. “What are moon-letters?” asked the hobbit full of excitement. 'He loved maps, as I have told you before; and he also...

The trouble with quests

Baggins has a healthy reaction to being confronted with endless roaming in the gloaming of a boundless, friendless forest.  But quests, by their nature, seem to entail ‘getting to the other side’ of something, and the something is rarely easy. The wizard’s blithe...

The charm of trolls

One of many examples of pawky humour in The Hobbit.  A few pages later the same trolls are discussing what to do with the dwarves they have captured: ‘arguing whether they should roast them slowly, or mince them fine and boil them, or just sit on them one by one and...

Away with adventures!

Bilbo Baggins has no use for adventures, as he asserts, before heading off into the greatest adventure of his life, replete with goblins, dragons, dwarves, elves, the wizard Gandalf, and gloopy-eyed Gollum. “We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. ...

A dream hotel

What more could a host do for travelling guests?   If any hotel chain is clever enough to adopt this as their charter, please let me know; I will go and stay, and if they meet the charter, will promote their hospitality.  The full quotation alongside. Source: JRR...

Foresight meets hindsight

Being a wizard, of course, would mean that Gandalf would know exactly when to look ahead and when to look back, and not get tangled up doing too much of the one or the other.  A life lesson for all of us? “Where did you go to, if I may ask?” said Thorin to Gandalf as...

Key questions for job interviews

Next time you are interviewing a candidate for a job, be aware of what they are really asking you: what am I going to get out of it, and will I come back alive?   Next time you are being interviewed for a job, this is the correct way to ask: what am I going to get out...

Letters unopened

We use the term ‘back of the envelope’ to capture the notion of jotting down an idea or plan on the spur of the moment. The film director Roberto Rossellini clearly made use of his, but it’s quite a quirk never to open letters, which of course would make it impossible...

The merry mind

The actress Ingrid Bergman had a short relationship with the photographer Robert Capa. I love this quotation from a letter he sent her, with its idea of a ‘merry mind’.  I started thinking about people I know who can be described this way. Ingrid’s autobiography was...

Letters unwritten

When a friend mentioned the special paper she’d bought to write me a letter, which she hadn’t yet done, I started thinking about unwritten letters, the ones we plan or even half compose in our heads, but never write.  Years ago, my brother sent me a card; at the...

Key Penmanship Indicators (KPIs) – III

I like this aesthetic amalgam proposed by Harold Bloom - another high-held yardstick by which to measure quality of writing.  Including my own, for which here is my self-report: ‘Falls far short of a bar high set’.  Or ‘aims high, falls short’. And if you missed other...

How making triggers invention

After reading a few wonderful books by makers and writers, I have come to the conclusion that their passing observations say more about creativity and innovation than a shelf-load of books dedicated to telling you how creativity and innovation work.  And while the...

Ambition and acting

This marvelous quotation comes from a conversation with family and friends as they were trying to decide which Shakespeare play to perform together.  They settled on Romeo & Juliet, and Zachariah then volunteered himself to play Romeo, on the grounds that “I like...

A long day’s night

As the month of June stretches to a close, I wanted to share this, an image of the day staying awake long enough to kiss the night. 'In the month of June daylight lingers long enough to make love to the moonlight.' Source: Elizabeth Goudge, The Runaways (London:...

Birthday blooms

Summer arrived just in time for its own birthday this year, but what a flurry of colour and bursting of bloom it has pinned to its bonnet, captured in this description. 'The sweet-smelling flowers of June were in bloom now, bergamot, lavender, roses, and honeysuckle.'...

Truly cultured, at last!

Although I never lose the desire for books, there have been moments when I felt overwhelmed by the unread ones, whether owned or just known (luckily I never worried about the unknown unread books).  At some point I even had an inner puritanical demon propose the...

Cherish a pebble

Fanny (Frances) Burney’s (1752-1840) letters and journals show her, like Mary Delany a generation earlier, as managing to navigate the stifling controls placed on women of her class and time, to find deep happiness in marriage and fulfillment in friendships and...

Civilization, seriously

What really holds civilization together? Women, according to someone Lawrence Durrell once tussled with. But is this as glorious a role as it sounds?  Hold on, ladies, or let go...? ‘Once we were arguing about the respective rights and roles of men and women in...

Civilization, one scoop or two?

‘What is civilization?’ A deep and vital question we need to keep asking. I liked this pithy response, particularly one scoop coffee-flavoured with one scoop raspberry and one of mango sorbet. In a silver cup on a sunny terrace. That's civilization. ‘What is...

Futility worth reading about

I like the idea that something about futility is written so splendidly that it’s worth reading before you give up on all human pretensions.   If I get around to it, I’ll review it here. 'My favourite piece of prose is Sir Thomas Browne’s magnificently resigned and...

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