Tag Archives: memory

In Favor of Wool-gathering: A Crocheter’s Meditations Upon Both the Craft and Life

Though I begin by entitling this post “In favor of,” in actual fact it might more accurately be termed “for and against,” or “pro and con” due to the fact that nothing in life is perfect and all things have their down sides.  But beginning that way would lack the literary resonance of “in favor of,” which precedes other essays on life of more worth and importance than my modest effort, so I lay what claims for it I can, to belong to that fellowship.  Also, I am taking poetic license by calling it “wool-gathering,” because while this is a noteworthy pun in the case, in actual fact for a lot of people including me, it’s more like “acrylic-gathering,” since I often work in the less soft and more resilient acrylic yarns which are cheaper and bulkier both.  These caveats aside, I can justifiably refer to myself by the crafter’s jolly appellation “a happy hooker” (a bit of a hokey punning cognomen in use since the madam Xaviera Hollander’s bestseller came out in the 1970’s, a name supposedly adding more dash to crochet’s use of a single hook as opposed to the milder knitter’s pun of “knit-wit” for the use of two needles).

And now to begin, actually.  Crochet, like knitting, is a craft which abounds in opportunities for error, because in order to render even the simplest pattern, one must count stitches, so that I can see it being excellent homeopathic therapy for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Or maybe it would be more accurate to say it is probably a good way to acquire a roaring case of said disorder.  One thing’s for sure, unless one has crocheted a good long while and is only doing a simple single crochet or double crochet pattern (two of the basic stitches), it is nearly impossible to carry on an intelligent conversation or watch an exciting television program at the same time.  Such frivolity of approach brings on dropped stitches (missed stitches) and other unintentional and erroneous embellishments of one’s work.  The down side is that one is often working merrily along on a complicated and repetitive pattern, sure that because the repetition has become second nature that one is “sitting pretty” in one’s rocker or easy chair, so to speak, when suddenly two rows from where one made the original error, one discovers a flaw that necessitates the intervening work being pulled out and reworked, with more humility this time.  Probably the best secondary activity is to listen to music of a non-controversial or balmy nature, which is better than Muzak but doesn’t require singing along while muttering to oneself over and over again “one, two, three, four, five, three stitches in that one, one, two, three, four, five, skip two, one, two, three, four, five, three stitches,” etc.  Even classical music could become too disruptive, especially if it is a stirring piece that one feels compelled to hum or utter “ta-da-da” along with.  Many things in life, occupation-wise, call for tedious and unwavering attention to a specific thing, but crocheters (and knitters too) are among the crafters who most needlessly and relentlessly punish themselves with this form of self-abuse as a hobby.

One is also given a lesson about memory.  For example, try to repeat an afghan or piece of clothing that you have done before, and without a written set of instructions with exact stitches recorded (and books of patterns are surprisingly expensive for what they are), you are doomed to hours of frustration.  I have recently learned even more about the faults of memory, the necessity for patience, and the occasional failings of expert advice.  Taking down an afghan that I wanted to repeat but no longer have a pattern for, I looked at the pattern intently and tried to remember just what I’d done.  But memory could only take me so far:  I kept making things that just didn’t resemble what I was looking at.  So, I had to keep trying (patience, jackass, patience).  Then, to my great joy and regret (joy because I found a store pattern which was like part of what I was trying to accomplish, regret that I had to pay so much for it), I noticed after putting in the first row that the pattern writers weren’t perfect either (the limits of experts).  True, they were only a stitch off, but it left me trying to think up clever ways of coming up with the extra needed stitch at the end of the row.  I fudged it, and am proud to say that the gods sometimes aid the diligent and well-intentioned (and sheerly stubborn, or as a British friend of mine used to say, “bloody-minded”–so much more poetic!)

And now, I’m well on my way to accomplishing my goal of figuring out the (as it turns out) quite complicated pattern I once did blithely  in my foolish youth, when success was only a few stitches away, and I had plenty of time and patience, excellent memory and ingenuity.  Creativity, it turns out, can take many forms, and is often made up of these things almost exclusively.  What one realizes with this craft at least is that time is finite, patience and memory often decrease with age, and ingenuity is called upon more frequently to make up for the shortages of the other three.  As one of my favorite refrigerator magnets has it, “Age and guile always overcome youth and skill.”  So now you have it, my completed post.  Last but not least:  this post was inspired by the reflection which visited me this morning that I have obligations willingly incurred to my readers and blogging buddies as well, and it was high time I produced another post.  As to those of you who are waiting for me to respond to their posts, take it as read that i will do so very soon.  Right now, I’m still wool-gathering, and have to finish a bit more in order to be satisfied!


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

The Perennial Appeal and Vision of Tennyson’s “Tears, Idle Tears”

Though I was planning to post in a few days on another work entirely, today I happened to read Caroline’s post at BeautyIsASleepingCat , and was struck with an exchange she and I had about the material of a book she was reviewing, and which she is currently receiving comments on (for those who have read it or are interested in reading it, as am I).  Her review topic was J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country, and I’ll just repeat the part of our discussion that is pertinent to my own topic today:  in effect, we talked about the way that sometimes, happy memories from the past can make us unhappy in the present because they are no longer a part of our current experience.  This is part of the character’s experience in the book she is discussing, and for some reason–and it turns out to be a fairly good one–I was unable to dismiss my own faint memory of some other work, at some other time, which had been on the same general subject.

As it so happens, it was one of my favorite of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poems, short and to the point though it is, in contrast with his several lengthier poems which have won worldwide acclaim.  The poem is “Tears, Idle Tears,” and I am able to give it here in complete form, because it is available elsewhere on the Internet as well:

“Tears, idle tears, I know not what they mean,/Tears from the depth of some divine despair/Rise in the heart, and gather to the eyes,/In looking on the happy autumn-fields,/And thinking of the days that are no more./”  “Fresh as the first beam glittering on a sail,/That brings our friends up from the underworld,/Sad as the last which reddens over one/That sinks with all we love below the verge;/So sad, so fresh, the days that are no more./”  “Ah, sad and strange as in dark summer dawns/The earliest pipe of half-awakened birds/To dying ears, when unto dying eyes/The casement slowly grows a glimmering square;/So sad, so strange, the days that are no more./”  “Dear as remembered kisses after death,/And sweet as those by hopeless fancy feigned/On lips that are for others; deep as love,/Deep as first love, and wild with all regret;/O Death in Life, the days that are no more!/”

I’ve always said that no one can milk an emotion like Tennyson!  But how does the poem actually work?  It seems to work by an intricate set of connecting words and phrases which rely on experiences everyone has either had or has imagined having, so that its universal appeal can easily be understood.  In the first stanza, Tennyson begins with the rhetorical trope of paralipsis, or denying something that he is in fact going to affirm, when he first says, “I know not what they mean,” and then goes on to tell us exactly what they mean.  The tears are “idle” only in the same sense that they are “vain,” not as in “vain’ equalling “empty” or “egotistical,” but “vain” as in “useless,” “hopeless,” “having no worthwhile issue.”  The present “autumn-fields” are “happy,” but the speaker is sunk in recollection by what they call up to memory.  There have been other autumn days and fields which were happier still.

In the second stanza, it’s not just the memories that are said to be past, but also what would be a rather eerie visitation by friends “up from the underworld,” were it not a welcome visitation.  The beam of sunlight which the speaker can imagine “glittering” on the underworld sail as it rises is challenged in its “fresh” quality by the nearly concurrent “sad” quality (a word reiterated throughout the poem) which “sinks with all we love below the verge,” so that “the days that are no more,” the phrase repeated in the end of each stanza, has a focus on the distant horizon, whether in the rise of memories or their return to the underworld which apparently stores them, the horizon often being a symbol of life’s bourne, limits, and of death.

The subject of death having been well-introduced by now, the speaker makes a tie between an experience everyone has perhaps had, that of “dark summer dawns” and hearing “the earliest pipe of half-awakened birds,” and links it with an experience that awaits everyone but which only those who are already gone could actually have, “the dying ears” hearing the sounds, and the “dying eyes” which see the casement “slowly grow[] a glimmering square.”  This stanza uses the word “sad” as well to describe this imagined experience, but whereas in the second stanza it was  living persons watching those from the underworld approach and leave, at least in imagination, so here it is the imagined dying people who have the “strange” experience of watching the dawn of a day which they possibly will not live to see the end of.  In this respect, the poem reminds me a little of Emily Dickinson’s poem “I Heard a Fly Buzz When I Died,” which also discusses a moment when “I could not see to see,” and purports to be talking from a time after that moment, to judge by its past tense.

Lost causes seem to be the subject of the fourth stanza, whether that of kisses that are no longer accessible, or fantasies about love and lovers that did not bear fruit, and the word “hopeless” emphasizes the whole tenor of the poem, which acknowledges happiness only to grieve its short tenure.  The days that are no more are “deep as love,/Deep as first love,” which is another repetition emphasizing what is missing from the present that was available in the past, love itself, since the speaker seems not to anticipate any further happiness from the current moment or day.  And then, of course, “wild with all regret,” whether of things not done at all or things that can be no longer done, we get the strongest statement yet of the speaker’s dilemma, “O Death in Life, the days that are no more!”  Here, the grieving requires emphatic punctuation at the end of the line, and Tennyson caps off his line with an exclamation point, to emphasize that death is a main concern to the speaker, whether actual deaths that he is mourning or the loss of happier times which he cannot conceive will come again or be followed by more happy times.

Now, having written about this poem and having lived with it again for a short space, I can say that there is a sort of catharsis one experiences when reading a poem such as this one, so that as well as turning out an inspired bit of work, Tennyson has provided a vision with a workaday or utilitarian use.  My older teachers in grade school and even in high school were excessively fond of poems with this quality, which in Samuel Johnson’s words could “point a moral” and “adorn a tale.”  Their own confreres amongst the more exalted academic circles at the time of their own youth must have surely pooh-poohed this approach to literature, and it has its limits.  But I do have to say that having re-read the poem after a long time of not seeing it in front of me, I do feel not only admiration and reverence for its aesthetic qualities, but appreciation as well for the cathartic release it engenders.  I think it likely that the book Caroline is reviewing, A Month in the Country, may well have similar cathartic capabilities.  Why not visit her site and see?


Filed under Articles/reviews, What is literature for?

“The Kraken”–The overflow of the gratuitous magical, and its redress

Yes, I’ve just read another of China Miéville’s book, this one entitled The Kraken, in which the legendary sea monster the kraken is a giant squid, namely one that is preserved in a glass tank in London’s Natural History Museum and Darwin Centre, both real places about which the author has chosen to spin fantasy.  This book is so complicated, so involved, with so many different characters and so many various changes of direction in the plot and the nefarious fictional plots some of the villains dream up, that it is hard to center a discussion on any one aspect of the story.

The main protagonist, Billy Harrow, works at the Darwin Centre as the person who has been responsible for preserving the giant squid in its tank, and he has also had the job of acting as tour guide for some of the tours of the center; the main spectacle that many of his patrons come to see, impatiently waiting through the other items of the tour, is, of course, the squid.  So imagine Billy’s surprise when one day he leads the tour group in only to find that the squid is missing!  Someone has purloined something from under his care, and he himself becomes one of the suspects.

Little by little, various “facts” come to light, such as that there is a private society, a religious group, which worships the squid, and one of Billy’s fellow employees turns out to be a follower.  As the two of them team up together as at first unwilling companions and gradually loyal friends, they discover together the seamy side of London’s magical world, and do battle with many different villains with many different agendas, but all of them seeming to have to do something with the squid.  There is even a special police squad devoted to policing the magical world and keeping its denizens in a kind of order, and Billy and his friend must not only hide from and try to outwit the villains, but also hide from and outwit the special police squad, which suspects them of having taken the squid.

London itself is a character in this book, and supports many different kinds of “knacking,” or witchery.  There are those who hunt down others like Billy and his friend Dane, there are key villains like the Tattoo, a face inked on a man’s back, who not only controls the man but controls a criminal empire of such subordinates as people half-made into devices, and gunfarmers, whose bullets when wedged in flesh grow little guns, like maggot eggs.  Then, there’s Grisamentum, a villain supposedly dead, who yet lives on in his employee’s fervor and comes back to life in odd ways which I won’t ruin the surprise by describing.  There are familiars who go on strike and refuse to work, memory angels in the museums and libraries who defend the magic stores therein, and many twists and turns of loyalties and subplots to keep the avid reader busy.

So complex is this book that I feel I should stop reviewing it at this point, and leave you to follow up on it for yourself, only making the further remark that no one in the book with the exception of Billy’s non-knacking friend Leon, who meets with a sad end, is who or what they first seem, not even Billy, who is surprised to discover some odd and totally unexpected talents in himself as he is exposed more and more to the magical world.  Let’s leave it at this:  this book celebrates cityscape, London’s in particular, and yet does so by exploring it as a magical land full of strange omissions, missions, and contradictions.  It’s one of the books I had intended to offer as a Halloween treat, only I had problems getting a copy of it to finish reading at that time.  Suffice it to say that there are campy comical passages which will simultaneously chill your blood and make you laugh aloud with the shiver, while also requiring a careful attention to your own particular memory angel in order to keep track of what’s happening.  So read this book, won’t you, and enjoy yet another of this phenomenal author’s gifted output:  I can promise you won’t regret taking the time to peruse this exploration of godhood, the end of time, schemes, dreams, and patched-together tactics, and the joyous good humor behind it all, which drops both dated and more contemporary references side by side, in a romp through what could be London’s magical history, if anyone had been keeping track.


Filed under Articles/reviews

Picture this tale for Halloween….

In the play Hamlet, Hamlet’s father’s ghost tells the young prince “But that I am forbid/To tell the secrets of my prison-house,/I could a tale unfold whose lightest word/Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,/Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,/Thy knotted and combined locks to part,/And each particular hair to stand an end,/Like quills upon the fearful porpentine.”  This is, of course, what every good Halloween story tries to do, and so today I’m going to put before you, readers, a supposititious summary of a tale and see if you think you might like to read it.  If so, then I can tell you where to find it.  Here goes:

Picture a tale in which the characters range from extreme youth to old age, and in which a highly imaginative and susceptible child is sometimes treated like a mere encumbrance and even worse, locked up in fearsome places by itself without food or water, where a ghost is thought to roam.  Feature strange lights coming and going in this place, which the child cannot translate into any portion of its known experience.  Imagine next that this child tries to escape this punishing system, only to be put in another wherein children are treated as a matter of course in somewhat the same way by some adults, receiving random kindnesses from other adults, but with no asssurance that this kindness will be available when most necessary, due to the interference of more powerful adults who are mean and petty.  Next, figure to yourself (as the French say) that the child’s best friend dies of a lingering and contagious illness, and that many of the other children around are stricken with another illness due to bad sanitation and poor victuals.  But if the central child of the tale died at this point, the story couldn’t continue, so you must allow in your imagination for the child’s survival.

Say that we are given some improvements to the main character’s state to up the ante, and then the character begins again to experience more mysterious events, such as hearing dragging sounds, animals snarls, and strange unholy laughter in the nighttime as she is trying to sleep.  The child is now a young adult, and is sharing an old and seemingly haunted manor house with another child, servants who are friendly but keep close-mouthed about the nighttime disturbances, and a saturnine, ironical, and equally mysterious male owner, who deceives her about the sum total of the house’s occupants.

Think next about what the main character experiences when the male owner seems to be responsible for a frightening fire in the middle of the night, and when bedroom doors must be locked at night to prevent strange and unknown dangers from approaching.  And of course we have a seemingly happy interlude to take us off our guard:  guests come to the house, there is festivity and enjoyment, and we unwisely relax and think things are improving.  But then, an ancient and gnarled Gypsy woman appears, who, though she predicts eventual happiness for the central character, is not equally as generous in her predictions towards all the party.  And that very same night, there are blood-curdling screams in the night, animal growls, and one of the guests is stabbed; it would seem to be time for the house’s owner, something like an animal himself in some particulars of appearance, to be more forthcoming with the protagonist,  yet his responses to what has happened are still dark and quizzical, and he only is able to satisfy her fears and curiosity in part.

Now participate in the vision of the protagonist agreeing to marry the owner, only to find at the inception of her new relationship that her own clothes have been vandalized by a hideous vision who wakes her in the night, having somehow gained entrance to her sleeping chamber.  The owner tells her that she must have imagined it, or that it is a servant, and yet this only temporarily solves the manifold problems, one of which is that for some time past, all the frightening incidents in the night and mysteries in the day have caused the main character to have nightmares about crying infants whom it’s impossible to soothe.  With short surcease for joy, the prospective marital pair approach the altar, where the ceremony is stopped and the protagonist finds out that a madwoman locked in the attic of the old manor is not only the source of all the chaos in the house, but that the lunatic is also the homicidal first wife of the erstwhile bridegroom, and is still living!

Is this sounding strangely familiar?  By now it should–it’s the story, re-told with a slight emphasis on its fantastical and seemingly supernatural side, of Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel Jane Eyre.  The rest of the novel focuses, as you may already know, on the year Jane spends apart from her male lead, Mr. Rochester, her receipt of another proposal from someone she cannot bring herself to love, and her eventual return to the old manor house, Thornfield, when she learns that the mad wife is dead, having burned the house to the ground and incidentally maimed Mr. Rochester in the process.  There is only one real supernatural feature of this portion of the novel, and that occurs just before Jane returns, when she is thinking about whether or not to marry “the other guy,” and has a sort of auditory hallucination of Mr. Rochester calling out to her in grief and misery.  It is later when she sees him again that she hears from his own lips that he was in fact calling out to her that very night at that time.  And then, of course, we have our requisite moderately happy ending, charming and no doubt satisfying to Charlotte Brontë in its moral aspects (which I have largely suppressed in order to make the point that this novel resembles a standard Gothic in many of its characteristics).

So there you have it:  a good, suspenseful read for Halloween, which neither neglects the necessary chill in the blood nor disallows that a woman may love a man whom both the more squeamish moralist and the self-appointed judge of male beauty might scorn, a sort of precursor to the love of “monsters” in contemporary horror cult classics.  Why did I deceive you and say “picture this tale”?  Because this novel first reached me (when I was nine or ten) in the Classics Illustrated comic book edition, my generation’s version of the graphic novel. This post represents my third time through the “real thing.”  Now, it’s your turn to have another look at this “bootiful” novel.


Filed under A prose flourish, Articles/reviews

The Tale of a Journey, and Its Ending (Back at Home)

Well, folks, I’ve recently returned from a trip with my immediate family to my and my brother’s undergraduate institution for fun, merriment, and one of those notable trips down Memory Lane, and though we had a great time going there, I have to report that Cornell University and the environs have changed considerably.  A lot of businesses which one thought would be there forever are no longer, and ones which remain have changed almost out of recognition, though sometimes for the better.  We eschewed the formal reunions and the organized trips and went where we remembered things being the best, the most interesting, or sometimes the most grueling (because of course since we had my young nephew with us, we had to impress him with tales of just how horrific things could be, as well as reassuring him that should he go there later, he would be able to surmount difficulties as well).  We started out the trip with breakfast near the beginning of our trip, and then met a good friend in another town later for lunch at a Belgian restaurant, which was a new cuisine for us.  Suffice it to say, it was excellent.  Then, we headed straight for Ithaca.  We got to our motel, and then went to an exceptional Thai restaurant down on The Commons (what the level ground is called downtown, which is not on one of the two mountainsides where Cornell University and Ithaca College are respectively located).  It was called Thai Basil, and was one of the best restaurants around of any kind.  Not only did they make special room for us on a very crowded night when we somewhat inconsiderately came by without a reservation, but the food and the ambience were outstanding.  The waitstaff was accomodating and very polite, coming by the table quite frequently to see what else we needed even though they were filled to capacity and clearly expecting many more.  It was a happy, happy time to end the first leg of our trip.

The next morning and day were the heart of our trip, as we toured around the campus and saw what had changed.  After taking the car around to show my nephew all the places my brother and I had lived (he came through 6 years after me), we parked it (though so booming and hearty, Ithaca is still a city where even up around the university it’s possible to find parking fairly quickly).  Then, I went (like a city dweller) to sit on the corner of College Ave. at Collegetown Bagels.  This is a place with a rich history, and one of the places that has changed much since our first exposure to it.  In the old days, there was no seating; you went into a large room and up to a counter where there were bins of numerous different kinds of bagels, and the man or woman behind the counter took your order and slathered whatever you’d chosen onto your bagel.  Someone rang you up at the register and you left.  Because I didn’t come from a bagel-conscious area, and I got to Ithaca back in the 1970’s, before bagels were popular all over the U.S., I’d never tasted one before; it was a real novelty, one which I hastened to introduce my family to when they came up to visit.  When my mother first tasted them years ago, she wasn’t impressed, being used to the softer bread products of our own hometown.  But in about six months or so, she was strangely longing to have one again.  And thus another cuisine touched our family.  Still, Collegetown Bagels has vastly expanded its operations in the time since even my brother was there after me.  The whole corner of College Ave. is now Collegetown Bagels, and they have tons of outdoor seating.  As well, the counter space is totally new (at least to me) with a complicated “filing-past” procedure of ordering, and beer choices, and a very innovative and ornate menu of items, as well as additional food and juice items of every sort that you could want.  So, I chose to sit and take in the pedestrian traffic and watch the crowds (and incidentally, save a table) for my mother, brother, and nephew, who were planning to hike down one of the several gorges–the motto?  “Ithaca is Gorges”–before having a late breakfast.  I had chosen a plain whole wheat bagel with butter, a bit of yoghurt, and a juice to wait for them with, and soon got into conversation with someone who’d been there when I was and had been in the town since.  He was able to tell me that sadly, some campus traditions no longer prevailed.  For example, dogs are no longer allowed to roam free on the Cornell campus (into the classrooms and etc., where before they were always good for a diversion from our studies); students no longer “borrow” lunch trays from the main dining halls to slide down the steep slope behind Uris Library in the snow anymore; and other such sad passings.  But when I queried as to why there were now such big nets underneath the bridges, he was able to reassure me that at least one unenviable tradition had changed for the better:  despairing students have been prevented from “gorging out” (jumping into the gorges in mostly successful and regrettable suicide attempts).  As well, when my family rejoined me for a late breakfast (and like a hobbit, I had a little something else to help fill up the spaces), they had to report that the gorge they had hiked up was perhaps a bit less scenic than before, because it had had to be paved along the side and reinforced due to a recent flood, which had washed some trees away.  We ate then moved on to tour the campus.

There were people waving to us from the bell tower of the library as the carillon concert began.  As if just to please my nephew (who had at his first sight of the campus up on the hill from a distance said that it reminded him of Harry Potter’s school Hogwarts), students were playing a non-levitational form of quidditch when we got to the Arts Quad.  We watched for a while, and then went round looking at the old buildings, noticing as well places where new constructions had been added (nothing’s ever totally the same way you left it, and I suppose that’s as it should be).  Nevertheless, I was dismayed to learn that the coffeehouse “The Temple of Zeus” in the English building of Goldwin Smith Hall is no longer there or perhaps not what it was, and I saw no happy outpouring of students from “The Green Dragon” in the Architecture and Fine Arts building of Sibley Hall, though that’s not to say they weren’t there at least lurking in spirit somewhere.  I was nostalgic for this area because it’s where I spent most of my time, as an English major in Goldwin Smith and as a dual Theatre major in Lincoln Hall.  But I have to be happy for the English majors that they are getting a new Humanities Building right next door, and the Theatre students now have a grand new performing arts center in Schwarz, which I saw when I was sitting having breakfast in the morning, as it was centrally located.

Next, we went to show my nephew where my brother and I had lived in our respective dorms on North Campus, and the North Campus Union, and other sights.  I, of course, was mournful to observe that the Pancake House–scene of many an early and riotous breakfast after a night of heavy carousing for me and my undergraduate friends–was no longer above the power house along another waterway, but we were rewarded with the sight of a baby blue egret perched on the dam fishing, so it wasn’t all bad.  Finally, we went back to the car and once again my nephew was rewarded in his hopes and ambitions:  earlier, when we had been driving past a sign on the road that said “Deer Crossing,” he had hoped to be able to see a deer.  Now, however, as we were parked just by someone’s backyard in hillside Ithaca, we saw a deer, an older female, standing quietly feeding on someone’s flower bed.  My brother pointed out the tumor which had unfortunately formed on her back knee joint.  She was not really afraid of us, but just kept a watchful eye out as we quietly started the car and pulled out.  We had our last group touring session of the day by going down to Lake Cayuga and sitting there in Stewart Park, under the willows.  It was very warm and yet breezy in a pleasant way; we in fact had good weather the entire weekend.  Next, my brother wanted to take my mother to see the falls at Taughhannock Park, so we went there.  I, however, had worn my weary legs out, so while the three of them hiked five miles in and five miles back out, I sat in the car park under a shade tree and watched all the young families and their kids and dogs coming to enjoy the lawns and water.  Finally, it was time to go out to dinner again, and man! were we ready for it this day!

My brother found us a wonderful Indian restaurant up on the hill on Eddy St., where though I was very sad to see that the magnificent Cabbagetown Café of vegetarian fame and excellence was no longer on a corner, I was amply requited with a fine Indian dinner.  I wish I could remember the exact name of the restaurant, but there were two Indian restaurants side by side, and my brother left us to choose one, and as they both looked very inviting and hospitable, I cannot recall which one we visited.  But both had a five-star rating, so if you happen to be visiting, we went to the one a little further down the hill of Eddy Street toward Martin Luther King St., and if you can’t find room there, maybe the one a little further just up the hill will have room for you.  Again, we were welcomed without a reservation, which was excellent, and the dinner moreover was absolutely first-rate.  We ended the evening by driving downtown to Purity Ice Cream, a favorite haunt of my brother’s in the old days, and my nephew was rendered replete with good fare and happy memories.

The next morning, we had to go, but we started out in a leisurely fashion and went to see some more falls at the bottom of another gorge (my brother is clearly training my nephew to be a vigorous fellow).  Then, we went to another fine restaurant (I know, it sounds like all we did was walk and eat!).  We had our breakfast at the Sunset Grill, which was up on one of the high hills of Ithaca, and from which we could see Cornell University sitting on another mountaintop at a distance.  It was several notches up from the average diner food, everything was pristine and clean and bright and cheery, they had an “endless cup of coffee,” and we got to eat out on their porch area, in the gorgeous morning air.  Now, it really was time to go.  We gassed up the car and headed back, stopping in the evening to have dinner at a restaurant just an hour from my brother’s house, where we were not let down either from all the fine fare we had already been served.  It was a “country style” restaurant, but though I’d had premonitions of everything being covered in cheap gravy and being served overboiled vegetables, that’s not what it was about at all.  It was instead just as fine a dining experience as all the rest, and concluded our trip in a perfect manner.

We drove to my brother’s house full of our experiences and adventures, and busy discussing the traditions which still seemed to be observed, and the things that had changed for the better or worse.  One thing is certain:  as one might expect (though older people like us never quite seem to get the gist of this the first time they encounter it, and need repeated exposures to this awareness to “get the picture”), the torch has been passed to a new generation, and they are happy with what they have in the main, just as we were happy with what we had, mostly.  And that’s all as it should be!  Heaven only knows what my nephew will see if and when he goes to Ithaca.  Or maybe he will break tradition and go somewhere else, where he will likely discover his own favorite things to expose his family to.  Only time will tell!  In the meantime, we had a great family outing, and yet another good experience of family bonding.  And after all, that’s what it was all about!

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Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days...., What is literature for?

“School days, school days, dear ol’ Golden Rule days….”

There was a song current in my mother’s youth, now complete with anachronisms, the first verse of which went “School days, school days, dear ol’ Golden Rule days; Reading and writing and ‘rithmetic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick; I was your maid in calico, you were my bashful, barefoot beau; And you wrote on my slate, ‘I love you so!’/When we were a couple of kids.”  Of course, hickory sticks were replaced by paddles in my mother’s youth, and they were no longer using slates, but there was still some corporal punishment by teachers (now mostly and happily a thing of the past), and there is, was, and one hopes always will be youthful romances to tide us over until the long school day is through.

And though this is a song largely about those who are in school pre-university, this post is just by way of saying that I will in fact be away from posting at length for a few days, because I am going with my immediate family to visit my undergraduate alma mater.  I hope to have lots to write about when I get back; if I don’t have much of anything to write about the trip itself, I will I hope have a renewed spirit to return to my literary posting with.  Until then, have a great autumn!


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

Halloween, wolves, lights out!–and whimsy

Today, I am going to tell you the very brief, horrific (and admittedly whimsical) tale of a naughty little girl of my acquaintance and how she (for some time at least) lost the friendship of a near relative through a lie about wolves, radiators, and lights out! time.  If you suspect that I know that little girl a bit better than I am letting on, so be it (heaven forbid you should think it is actually myself I am talking about, though they do say that confession is good for the soul).

Cast your mind back to the early 1960’s, when little girls still wore puffy petticoats with short skirts over them, and either had to have pigtails and ponytails or Shirley Temple curls (made arduously, if not “natural,” by painstaking mothers using bobby pins, at least on school nights, when everyone the next day had to believe the curls were genuine).  Picture to yourself a weedy young imp who preferred to lie curled up with a good book all day, and hated being told to go outside and play (hey! that rhymes!).  This young person of the female persuasion only liked going out to play or even playing inside with dolls, for that matter, when one or the other of her female cousins were around to make the game interesting.

Of course, Halloween comes in the fall of the year, and at that time, vampires, spooks, and werewolves are in the juvenile mind in abundance, not only for trick-or-treat, but even after, to spice up daily conversation and slumber parties.  And, of course, to supply material for ghastly nightmares, which, once they’re over continue to supply a pleasurable frisson of fright, a harking back to horror.

Well, it so happened that this little girl had never acquired a fear of the dark.  She was afraid of many things, but unlike her female cousins, had never become afraid of the dark, or required a night-light to sleep.  But she was afraid of wolves.  Not just werewolves, but the real animal, which she’d never seen except in books, nor was likely to.  But her cousins slept with a night-light, because it was decreed that parents had different verdicts about what was the best way to deal with nightmares, and theirs had been known to give way more easily to the specific of waking only to find the light shining, and nothing wrong.

Now, our little girl, we’ll call her Beth (for nothing would induce me to reveal her true identity), abhorred a night-light.  She was proud of not needing one, and when she had an occasional fright in the night, she simply stumbled out of bed and went to her parents’ room for comfort and reassurance, or better yet, and more often, called out for the long-suffering (and perhaps overindulgent) parent(s) to come to her.  But one other thing that she was perhaps less rational about than even wolves was floor registers to radiator systems, the kind that have a few little slots in the floor that can be made to shut firmly by pushing the knob.  Doing so of course shut off the warm air flow to the room, but it at least produced a firm surface which didn’t show a long, mysterious floor passageway below it, leading off into who knew where.  Nevertheless, Beth had been warned to leave the floor vents open, and by and large she was a good child and not too terribly mischievous.  She did tell the occasional untruth when it was advisable in her view, but as she usually got found out and punished, it didn’t often strike her as a viable option.

There was one notable occasion, however, when Beth found it to be the sine qua non, the absolutely necessary element, to add comfort to her existence.  And this was when her cousin Bella came to stay the night.  Now Bella was about a year or two younger, and wasn’t used to being lied to by Beth, so she was unprepared for what happened when the two girls were left alone for the night.  Just as Bella had requested, there was a night-light burning to one side of the bedroom, and while Bella found this a fine method of reassurance in a strange place, Beth found it irksome and just knew she wouldn’t be able to sleep a wink with it on.  She had been warned by her mother to leave the light burning if Bella wanted it on, as a mark of courtesy to her guest, yet since it was her bedroom they were sleeping in, in her nice warm bed, and everything was beckoning for an evening of confidences and strange stories in the dark, she just knew there must be some other way to arrange things to her satisfaction.

Suddenly, it came to her in a flash of inspiration!  She’d share with Bella one of her own nightmares that had happened once or twice to trouble her own sleep; only, she’d pretend that it had really happened, and surely Bella couldn’t refuse to allow her to turn off the light then!  So, slowly and carefully, trying to suit her story to what Bella was likely to believe, Beth explained, with many a gesture and fearsome expression:

“Well, see, Bella, it’s not that I don’t want the light on; but at night, there’s a big, fat, mean ol’ wolf that comes up in the floor register, and if he can see us, he might eat us.  Or tear us up to pieces, and then eat us.  But if we have the lights all out, then he can’t even see where we are, and all we have to do is go to sleep, and he’ll leave us alone and go away.”

Bella’s eyes grew large.  “But won’t he hear us talking?” she asked, her voice shaking with the faithful tremors of the new convert, gullible but still with questions.  “Naw,” said Beth airily, “He never hears me when I sing to myself in the dark.”  “Well, then, won’t he smell us?” Bella persisted, not liking this strange mutated creature of frightful fairy tales at all.  “NO!  He doesn’t smell; something is wrong with his nose.”  “Well, can’t we just close the register and keep him out?”  This example of independent thinking, which moreover had all the marks of her own previous thoughts on the subject, riled Beth.  “NO!  Not unless you want to be a baby and freeze all night, without any heat.  I’m telling you, the only thing to do is to turn out the light.  And we’d better hurry, because I think I hear him coming now!”

Had Beth had time to think the matter through at leisure, before her parents had sprung the surprise on her that she was expected to endure a night-light all night, she might probably have thought of a better solution.  Because this one clearly had serious drawbacks, one of which was that Bella now wailed in a loud voice, “I want my mama!  I want my mama, and I want to go home!”  Why this lie?  Especially since no wolf or even any self-respecting werewolf was likely to come up through a floor register in a modern house at night?  Suffice it to say that this took place back in the 1960’s, when naughty children were still likely to be punished with at least a mild spanking, as well as having privileges taken away, and such methods were enough to reassure the erring Beth that whatever wolves lurked below the floorboards were best left unmentioned when company came.  Bella went home still frightened, though in a huff as well for a few weeks when she was assured that Beth had only been “telling a story,” as such matters were euphemistically called by the children’s doting grandmother.

And there ends this whimsical (and true) tale of the fall season, my second early contribution to the Halloween holiday which will come next month.  But you should know that if it’s ever a choice between being in the dark all night and managing to sleep, or sleeping with a light on in a room with a floor register, old memories have convinced me that the dark room is the best (and for good measure, I might even pile up extra blankets on the bed and shut the floor register as Bella suggested–after all, even a cousin who’s a ‘fraidy-cat can’t be all wrong!).


Filed under A prose flourish, Other than literary days....

The Learning Curve of Life and Death–Richard Gilbert’s fine memoir “Shepherd”

Today, I am sitting inside a comfortable beachside  condo, enjoying a precious tea that a Russian friend kindly provided me with, taking in both its nearly indescribable aroma and its delicate perfumed taste.  It’s a Basilur family tea imported from Sri Lanka, flavored with “natural cornflower, jasmine buds, blue malva, and flavor roasted almond.”  The whiff seems at first to be that of an expensive chocolate, and then one thinks “No, not chocolate exactly–what is that delicious smell?”  I have had the luxury of consuming the tea not only as a wonderful gift, but as something I didn’t have to question or think about much, except that I do sometimes after having a tea from Sri Lanka wonder about how they ever got their crops back in order after that frightful tsunami a number of years ago.

I’ve usually had lamb in the same way, especially enjoying having it with my brother, because he appreciates the visceral element in eating meat from the bone, possibly a holdover from our more carnivorous forebears, but when you see the two of us nibbling along the bones held aloft at a private family dinner (one where our company can’t judge us savages), you know we must be kin.  And as I say, I’ve not usually given a thought to where the sheep come from, how they are raised, how deprived of life, not much in fact beyond what cut I’m eating and how much it costs.  A standard consumer, then.  And this in spite of the fact that we are only two generations away from Appalachian small-time farmers ourselves on our father’s side, though I don’t think they had sheep.

Since I’m trying to be as honest as the book I’m reviewing today is, I will confess that my word picture of the tea above is an attempt to make tea lovers (at least) salivate and want to know more.  And it’s the very word pictures of the Appalachian countryside, scattered from beginning to end of Richard Gilbert’s book Shepherd, the gorgeous imagery and word poetry which demonstrate not only his love itself of the land, his accomodation to its demands that change with where it’s located in the country, but which also in a literary manner justify that love and draw in the eager reader for more.  There is a price to be paid, of course, and that is the price of empathizing with both sheep and shepherd as they suffer as well as glory in life; still, the book itself is true as true can be to living especially in this sense:  despite the pain endured and the trials encountered, one can imagine few who would rather go without it.

A general statement from a little past the middle of the book itself which expresses the author’s feel for his subject is this home truth:  “Something is always going awry, getting out of control, and otherwise cheating one’s fantasies on a farm.”  This might almost be juxtaposed with the statement of a friendly elderly neighbor from another section of the memoir, from a time when the author lived in Bloomington, Indiana in a more residential community before the farm in Athens, Ohio was even thought of except as a remote dream:  “You’re happier than you know.”  Yet, as one reads forward in the book but back and forth in time in the memoir structure of past juxtaposed to present and then retroactively again, one sees a man and his family going through a much-desired learning experience.  One begins to appreciate that it’s the price in lives and lifetime which gives one the right to speak in tropes and epigrams, which are scattered throughout the book, both from the author’s own words and those of the many farmers and breeders whom he acknowledges as his teachers.

One famous epigram I can recall from our own neck of the Appalachian countryside, and which I also found when I went to college for the first time at a school that was located in the midst of an agrarian community, was this punning one:  one seems to praise someone by saying “He’s outstanding in his field,” but a sly grin changes this into “He’s out standing in his field,” idly, of course, not a desirable condition for a farmer or an academic.  And Richard Gilbert has worn many hats during his lifetime, among others those of both an academic and a sheep farmer, while keeping his sense of humor and his modesty intact as if he were constantly mindful of this very epigram.  I first encountered him as a blogger not too long after I signed onto my own site in summer of 2012, and I’ve read his many excellent posts on narrative, memoir and memoir writers, teaching creative non-fiction to students, music, featured guest bloggers, and more (see Richard Gilbert).  And this summer, I was finally able to read his memoir Shepherd, which I recommend not just for anyone who has an interest in farming or raising livestock, but for those with a sincere interest in memoir or even narrative fiction:  the whole aggravated question of pacing, whether of restraining oneself when one desperately wants to go ahead with a treasured project or of knowing how to pace a memoir or fiction and make it suspenseful and fulfilling and true-to-life is at stake, and Richard Gilbert satisfies, even though he himself is constantly questioning and re-evaluating his own motives.

Like Socrates, the wise man knows only that he knows not, and Gilbert allows us to follow him along in his path across the farming scene, and lets us watch him make mistakes, celebrate successes, and confront the long learning curve of life and death that attends upon even the canniest farmer.  He shows us himself in his most soul-searching, depressed, angry, and perhaps even unjust moments, a man willing to learn and seeking answers. He asks at one point, “Was I really just starting to see, so late, that having strong feelings didn’t make me special?  That they certainly didn’t make me good?”  Again and again, he evaluates himself (even to his genetic inheritance of a weak back) against his father’s plans, disabilities, desires, and accomplishments, and those of other farmers he knows.  He describes his struggle to fit into an agrarian community that has its own traditions, suspicions, and ways of doing things, the most innocuous of which perhaps is what he calls “Appalachian Zen”: his friend and employee Sam’s advice to get to work, “Let’s do something even if it is wrong.”  And of his imitation of his father, he finally concludes, after a visionary dream which comes to him near the end of his farming venture, “I’ve never seen that while I tried to emulate him, I also tried to outdo him.”

His farming wisdom and advice?  As he says, “Many of my breeding-stock customers had [a] broader perspective from the beginning.  They didn’t aim to make money.  They came to farming seeking aesthetic pleasure and solace from an angry world.  And a word had arisen to honor food produced with less control but more craft:  artisanal.  The goal wasn’t high production per acre, but food infused with love and time.  Like art….For the highest quality, nothing beats small, slow, and inefficient.”

His philosophy?  His philosophy is not of the cut-and-dried kind which can be communicated in one heartbeat, but of that learning curve, there is certainly at least one wise lesson to be taken in by all of us, and it can be found by tracing an arc from his first sentence (“Childhood dreams cast long shadows into a life”) through to the very last paragraph of his book, when he describes a “sacred moment” which comes back to him as he gets ready to depart his sheep farm for yet another home elsewhere.  He remembers his Georgia boyhood on a farm, when he was four or five and was surrounded on a hillside by butterflies which “infuse[d] me with wonder and joy.  Because I’m so young, I can’t name, but only receive, their gift:  a revelation of life’s unfolding daily abundance:  a miracle.”  And in that word “miracle” is after all the solution to the vexed question of the learning curve of life and death, given us by an articulate, gifted, and knowledgeable memoirist who, while not mincing words about the negatives, avers that they are only the other side of the positives we prefer to see.  But this is to anticipate the reader’s travels with Gilbert, which must be experienced as a whole and followed from beginning to end to fully appreciate such a grand American adventure, and to place the right value on such an inestimable gift to the reading community.  Though it may not lead you to adopt a lamb, it will certainly lead you to ponder, laugh, cry, and dream dreams with at least one academic who has earned his agrarian stripes, and that human shepherd is Richard Gilbert.


Filed under Articles/reviews, What is literature for?

Fame Versus a Moment in Time–Joyce Carol Oates’s “Three Girls”

Have you ever read a story and been so enthralled by what it reveals about a famous person that you feel a strong impulse to research it and find out whether or not it’s a true story?  But then, you decide that it tells you something more essential about what we all are, and think that of course it’s true, whether or not it actually took place as described in exact detail?  That’s how I feel about Joyce Carol Oates’s short story “Three Girls.”

This story is addressed to a “you,” which means of course that it is written in the hard-to-master second person singular, and retells an event which happened to the narrator and the person addressed, two of the “three girls.”  It’s all about the romance of books and book lovers, and what it is like to be young and lost in the infinite (or nearly so) world of words and word enthusiasts.  The story is set in “Strand Used Books on Broadway and Twelfth one snowy March early evening in 1956,” and the book descriptions are as important as the descriptions of physical space:  “No bookstore of merely ‘new’ books with elegant show window displays drew us like the drafty Strand, bins of books untidy and thumbed through as merchants’ sidewalk bins on Fourteenth Street, NEW THIS WEEK, BEST BARGAINS, WORLD CLASSICS, ART BOOKS./50% OFF, REVIEWERS’ COPIES, HIGHEST PRICE $1.98, REMAINDERS./ 25¢–$1.00.  Hard-cover/paperback.  Spotless/battered.  Beautiful books/cheaply printed pulp paper.  And at the rear and sides in that vast echoing space massive shelves of books books book rising to a ceiling of hammered tin fifteen feet above!  Stacked shelves so high they required ladders to negotiate and a monkey nimbleness (like yours) to climb.”

It is significant that the story takes place where it does, because it doesn’t take place where the narrator and her friend would expect it to, in surroundings such as “Tiffany’s,” or “the Plaza,” or the “Waldorf-Astoria,” or on “the Upper East Side.”  Instead, it takes place on their own home turf, where they have often been and browsed through the books before, at a stage in their relationship with each other which causes them all too eagerly to incorporate their enthusiasms with a certain event that takes place there, quite unexpectedly.  The event?  They sight a third girl poring through the sections of books, a girl older than they by about 9 years, but dressed like a girl still, in contrast to her usual famed appearance:  they see Marilyn Monroe, intently perusing books in the modern poetry section, first of all, then picking up Darwin’s Origin of Species, then going through shelves marked “Judaica.”  Unseen by her for most of the story, they watch her read, astonished to conclude that she apparently wants to be like them, as they see themselves, two girls with a love for poetry and writing and reading.

They have previously considered Monroe’s world to be beneath them, to be frivolous and airheaded and needful of men–whom they pride themselves on doing without–to make it meaningful.  But now they see that Marilyn Monroe has a more serious side, wants to share the world they two share with each other especially, and when she hesitates near the checkout, fearful apparently of being recognized, they take her money and buy her books for her, rather than doing the more pedestrian thing of asking for her autograph.  She lends her magic aura to their friendship, however, more, perhaps, to their love relationship.  She gives them as a thank-you one of the books she bought, and they treasure it as a talisman both of their adventure in the bookstore and of their connection with each other.  The last paragraph of the story reads:  “That snowy early evening in March at Strand Used Books.  That magical evening of Marilyn Monroe, when I kissed you for the first time.”  Thus, Marilyn, far from being a force which causes them to scorn their enthusiasm and surroundings, instead consecrates these things for them because she turns out to have a side which is equal to the more serious topics (than movie fame) which engage them.

Though I hesitate to expose my own dubiousness about whether or not Marilyn Monroe was “bookish,” I should at least reveal that I was curious as to whether or not Joyce Carol Oates meant for her two main characters to have been correct or deluded in their notion that the woman they saw was Monroe.  For one thing, she commented on the “blue eyes” of Marilyn:  in all the photos I’d seen of her, I’d thought Monroe had chocolate brown eyes, and the movies of hers I’d seen were too long ago for me to be sure.  Though the experience of the two girls was still significant regardless of whether or not it was actually Monroe (just as the story was significant whether or not it was autobiographical), I was intrigued by what Oates’s intentions were in this respect.  So, I actually looked up a gallery of photos of Marilyn Monroe.  A lot of the shots were in black and white, and those which weren’t seemed to suggest that her eyes were dark.  In two of the photos taken close up and in color with Monroe’s eyes very wide open, however, the eyes were clearly a deep and pellucid blue!  It was just the excessive dark eye makeup of the time which had deceived me.  Thus, apparently Oates meant for the experience of the two girls to be a genuine one, in literary terms at least.  And also in literary terms (with particular reference now to postmodernism), Monroe’s cameo appearance is meant to signify an interpenetration of the “realism” of films and the eerie hyperreality of seeing a film star in actual life, which is rather like seeing where the “toys” are put away after we are finished “playing” with them.

To the two girls, however, the experience joins them even more strongly to each other, as does the one book Monroe gives them to share (a book of poems by Marianne Moore, another M. M.).  The glamor of the film world is therefore bestowed like a halo upon a world which for the main characters already had its crown of light; to find an unexpected “ally” of sorts involved in their dreams and fantasies of literary excellence, however, gives the experience a validity from an unexpected quarter, and somehow these situations always impress us humans the most.  I still remember once back in the mid-70’s, when I was briefly in Cannes, and came back with a photo of a startling redhead whose picture had been accidentally taken while I was filming a town square:  my family and I argued amongst ourselves for days as to whether or not it was Ann-Margret (the stage name of Ann-Margret Olsson).  The square was still beautiful and historic regardless of who the intruding redhead was, but somehow to others looking at the photos with us, the photo became not “And this is the such-and-such Place in Cannes” but “Here’s the square in Cannes where we think Ann-Margret walked in front of the camera.”

Such is fame, and such is the significance of a moment in time in Oates’s story:  the fame is there for everyone to see, and gets as near to immortality as humans can perhaps conceive of, but the moment in time in which ordinary people think they brush up against fame in non-typical or unexpected surroundings often becomes the touchstone for a private moment of their own when they felt they were in communication with infinity because of something they were sharing with others who, like them, “just happened to be there.”


Filed under Articles/reviews, Full of literary ambitions!

Dylan Thomas and “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”–The perpetual present tense

“One Christmas was so much like another, in those years around the sea-town corner now and out of all sound except the distant speaking of the voices I sometimes hear a moment before sleep, that I can never remember whether it snowed for six days and six nights when I was twelve or whether it snowed for twelve days and twelve nights when I was six.”

With this magical beginning, the spirit of the Christmases of one particular childhood is brought alive into the special awareness we all share, by reference to the moment of brightness just before sleep, and Dylan Thomas begins his tale of all the events of many Christmases, as if they were all rolled into one, all astounding and equally miraculous.

His second paragraph goes thus:  “All the Christmases roll down toward the two-tongued sea, like and cold and headlong moon bundling down the sky that was our street, and they stop at the rim of the ice-edged fish-freezing waves, and I plunge my hands in the snow and bring out whatever I can find.  In goes my hand into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea, and out come Mrs. Prothero and the firemen.”

This second paragraph not only strengthens the half-hallucinatory quality of memory, but also strengthens the poetic qualities and aspects of the narration, all while centering on one particular Christmas at the beginning as a way of leading into the wider, more general story of how all the Christmases were alike when Dylan Thomas was young, focusing thus also on the aspect of repetition as a characteristic of tradition.  The odd previously unexplained reference to “Mrs. Prothero and the firemen” draw out one’s curiosity as well, and provoke further attention.

To participate in this poetic piece of prose most fully, it is necesssary to read it aloud, and it comes as no surprise that the work was intended for the radio, full of many “tongued” voices as it is through the narrator’s memory.  There is a vague quality to many of the very items that strike us as most picturesque:  for example, the acts of the aunts and uncles in the story are both traditional and highly characteristic of celebrating adults, yet the identities of some of the uncles are unclear, and one aunt is remembered mainly for getting tipsy whenever possible, without really being an alcoholic, “because it was only once a year.”

The short work is almost like a work of music, starting with a brief flourish, alternating details and word pictures as a piece of music would vary themes, building to several minor crescendos and then featuring moments of what one feels must be a modern Christmas, when a voice or two undefined urges the speaker on to tell of specific details already known to the listeners.  As the time of day changes, so does the elegiac tone increase, until finally night comes.  The last sentence reads, “I said some words to the close and holy darkness, and then I slept.”

I don’t know what your Christmas traditions are if you have them, but in our family we always read something together on Christmas Eve.  Usually it has been the whole of “A Christmas Carol” (which is long) or for a less attentive audience and a younger one “The Night Before Christmas.”  But if you are looking for something to read together this Christmas Eve, you could do much worse than to be Welsh for a season and to read together “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas.  There are no difficult dialectal words to master or explain, and the whole piece is immensely accessible for young and old alike, regardless of nationality or political affections.  To find this piece on the internet, simply go to Google.com and get on the link www.bfs.media.com/MAS/Dylan/Christmas.html .  And have a happy and blessed holiday in bringing to mind a perpetual present-day vision of your own Christmases past, this season!


Filed under A prose flourish, Articles/reviews, What is literature for?