Out into the world

Out into the world

Maxim Gorky’s childhood was a bed of harshness softened by rays of light and kindness, principally from his long-suffering grandmother.  His grandfather, while having a few admirable qualities, also believed in the patriarch’s right to violence even to...
Of books and life

Of books and life

This describes the reading philosophy of a Jewish village school teacher in Russia during the war.  One of Vasily Grossman’s magnficent short stories, he depicts a humble, brilliant man whose power of thought isn’t trampled by the horrors unfolding. Boris...
A gardener to the roots

A gardener to the roots

This gardener, who tends the castle grounds of the monstrous pile of Gormenghast, is driven by something more than the beauty and colour of the flowers he grows, rather by their vital sap or something similar.  He must have tapped into, or been made of, the same...
Ever-victorious life

Ever-victorious life

In this vivid story set in war time Russia, a Communist officer is billeted in a humble household to give birth to her baby. Here, the ancient grandmother of the house crams herself in to the tiny room to see the newborn, who, despite the chaos and horrors of war all...
Life simile

Life simile

What a surprising simile for life – at least in its easeful moments – likening it to a familiar tool worn to the shape of the fingers holding it, comfortably sitting in the palm of the hand which over time has itself shaped the handle. ‘… where...
An unmapped river

An unmapped river

A marvelous image for human destinies, usually well hidden no matter the efforts we make to discern them. Since this engaging classic revolves around a mill – and a related family – on the River Floss, the watery metaphor has particular resonance, and all...
Where life meets death

Where life meets death

A surprising metaphor for the inexorable link between life and death, with the same sense of something encroaching with age. From the slim, touching and spare novel by Robert Seethaler. ‘Death belonged to life like mould to bread.’   Source: Robert...
On living forever

On living forever

Listening time: 2 minutes. This long and winding quotation enchanted me to the extent that I wrote it out by hand some 20-30 times and sent individual copies to as many friends. It is one of a small trove of prose quotations I’ve learned by heart, to recite at dawn to...
Particles of human life

Particles of human life

This week, glad to share fine metaphors both written by journalists. Here The Economist pays a suitably eloquent and moving tribute to Vasily Grossman’s writing, capturing perfectly his skill in conveying the granular human effects of people being ground between...
Thoughts on modern life

Thoughts on modern life

I found this passage striking and moving, perhaps putting its finger on the pulse of much contemporary malaise. It feels a valid and thoughtful statement though you can take issue with certain elements; such as whether pre-modern life was any better for most people,...
The book of life

The book of life

‘A million species of animals and plants are threatened with extinction. Three-quarters of the world’s land and two-thirds of its marine environments have been “significantly altered” by human action.’  I read these lines in The...
Life lived as a rose trellis

Life lived as a rose trellis

One of Rilke’s translators used this surprising and touching metaphor to describe him. I like the idea of being – figuratively – a human trellis for beauty to grow upon. ‘Roses climb his life as if he were their trellis.’ Source: Quoted...

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