Author Archives: Roger W. Smith

About Roger W. Smith

Roger W. Smith is a writer and independent scholar based in New York City. His experience includes freelance writing and editing, business writing, book reviewing, and the teaching of writing and literature as an adjunct professor at St. John’s University. Mr. Smith's interests include personal essays and opinion pieces; American and world literature; culture, especially books and reading; classical music; current issues that involve social, moral, and philosophical views; and experiences of daily living from a ground level perspective. Sites on WordPress hosted by Mr. Smith include: (1) rogersgleanings.com (a personal site comprised of essays on a wide range of topics) ; (2) rogers-rhetoric.com (covering principles and practices of writing); (3) roger-w-smiths-dreiser.site (devoted to the author Theodore Dreiser); and (4) pitirimsorokin.com (devoted to sociologist and social philosopher Pitirim A. Sorokin).

The path leading them wherever they choose.

 

 

Around 4 p.m. on Father’s Day.

I am sitting, rather bored, in a bar on Seventh Avenue.

I have a good view of the street.

It’s a lovely Sunday afternoon. A stream of pedestrians keeps passing by.

Where are they going?

Who knows? They themselves probably don’t.

They are walking on air. The energy of the City propels them along.

Multiple attractions, things to do. Oh, to be a part of it.

The path leading them wherever they choose.

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 19, 2022

my French teacher

 

Eileen McCauley began her career as a French teacher at Canton High School in Canton, MA.

 

I had her for two years of French in my freshman and sophomore years. I loved her class.

She had a great influence on me, like most good teachers, in awakening and fostering in me a love for learning languages, for the languages themselves. It got me started on a lifelong course of language study which has been pure joy.

No high tech audio or language lab back then. I would monologue and recite the French passages in my French textbook over and over again while doing my homework. I would assiduously apply myself to memorizing the vocabulary list at the end of each chapter.

I once said to my older brother, who also took French: when I recited “le train” out loud,  it seemed different to me than the English “train.”

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2020

carpe diem

 

When my father would get into an argument with his second wife Jan — my stepmother — he would, as she told me, grit his teeth and say, “I’m not going to let it ruin my day.”

We (siblings and stepmother) had a surprise birthday party at my father’s home on Cape Cod on his 65th birthday.

At the end of the day, after the guests had left, he said to us that he almost didn’t want to go to bed. He didn’t want his wonderful day to be over.

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

  June 2022

sea-shouldring whales

 

But th’heedfull Boateman strongly forth did stretch
His brawnie armes, and all his body straine,
That th’vtmost sandy breach they shortly fetch,
Whiles the dred daunger does behind remaine.
Suddeine they see from midst of all the Maine,
The surging waters like a mountaine rise,
And the great sea puft vp with proud disdaine,
To swell aboue the measure of his guise,
As threatning to deuoure all, that his powre despise.

The waues come rolling, and the billowes rore
Outragiously, as they enraged were,
Or wrathfull Neptune did them driue before
His whirling charet, for exceeding feare:
For not one puffe of wind there did appeare,
That all the three thereat woxe much afrayd,
Vnweeting, what such horrour straunge did reare.
Eftsoones they saw an hideous hoast arrayd,
Of huge Sea monsters, such as liuing sence dismayd.

Most vgly shapes, and horrible aspects,
Such as Dame Nature selfe mote feare to see,
Or shame, that euer should so fowle defects
From her most cunning hand escaped bee;
All dreadfull pourtraicts of deformitee:
Spring-headed Hydraes, and SEA-SHOULDRING WHALES,
Great whirlpooles, which all fishes make to flee,
Bright Scolopendraes, arm’d with siluer scales,
Mighty Monoceroses, with immeasured tayles.

— Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene: Book II, Canto xii

 

It was an image, which, figuratively speaking (according to my former professor Aileen Ward’s magnificent biography), overpowered the future poet John  Keats in his late teens when he began to read avidly.

I took an English course in college (in which I somehow got the grade of B) — Literature of Transition: Classic to Romantic — in which we read The Faerie Queene. I could not get into Spenser and did not appreciate The Faerie Queene.

What a magnificent image. A man shoulders his way through a crowd, brushing aside others in his way. The whale swims the ocean, shouldering aside the waves.

– posted by Roger w. Smith

   June 2022

two of my favorite Chekhov stories

 

Chelovek v futlyare (The Man in a Case; read in the original)

 

Dama s sobachkoy (The Lady with a Dog; read in the original)

 

Above are recorded readings of two Chekhov stories:  “The Man in a Case” and “The Lady with a Dog.”

 

‘The Man in a Case’

‘The Lady with a Dog’

Also, posted above as Word documents: the text of both stories in Russian and English.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

 

Mikhail Lermontov, “Vykhozhu odin ya na dorogu” (Alone I set out on the road)

 

Михаил Лермонтов

Выхожу один я на дорогу

 

Выхожу один я на дорогу;

Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит;

Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу,

И звезда с звездою говорит.

В небесах торжественно и чудно!

Спит земля в сиянье голубом…

Что же мне так больно и так трудно?

Жду ль чего? жалею ли о чём?

Уж не жду от жизни ничего я,

И не жаль мне прошлого ничуть;

Я ищу свободы и покоя!

Я б хотел забыться и заснуть!

Но не тем холодным сном могилы…

Я б желал навеки так заснуть,

Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы,

Чтоб дыша вздымалась тихо грудь;

Чтоб всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,

Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,

Надо мной чтоб вечно зеленея

Тёмный дуб склонялся и шумел.

 

Mikhail Lermontov

Alone I set out on the road

 

Alone I set out on the road;

The flinty path is sparkling in the mist;

The night is still. The desert harks to God,

And star with star converses.

The vault is overwhelmed with solemn wonder

The earth in cobalt aura sleeps. . .

Why do I feel so pained and troubled?

What do I harbor: hope, regrets?

I see no hope in years to come,

Have no regrets for things gone by.

All that I seek is peace and freedom!

To lose myself and sleep!

But not the frozen slumber of the grave…

I’d like eternal sleep to leave

My life force dozing in my breast

Gently with my breath to rise and fall;

By night and day, my hearing would be soothed

By voices sweet, singing to me of love.

And over me, forever green,

A dark oak tree would bend and rustle.

 

*****************************************************

 

This poem is recited from memory by Mikhail Gorbachev at the conclusion of Werner Herzog’s stupendous film Meeting Gorbachev.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

 

*****************************************************

addendum, June 1, 2022

Elisabeth van der Meer, host of the site A Russian Affair, has sent me a translation of Lermontov’s poem (which I regard as a better than the translation I posted) by Michael Longley:

Night-Walk

I come out alone onto the boreen,
A flinty path glimmering through mist,
Stilly night, wilderness listening to God,
The constellations in conversation,

Astonishing things up there in the sky,
The earth dozing in pale-blue radiance.
Why, then, am I so downhearted? What
Am I waiting for? What do I regret?

I’ve stopped expecting anything from life,
I don’t feel nostalgic about the past.
I long for freedom and tranquility,
I long for forgetfulness and sleep,

But not the grave’s spine-chilling coma.
I would prefer to fall asleep for ever
With the life force snoozing in my breast
As it rises and falls imperceptibly,

Night and day a kind voice soothing my ears
With affectionate lullabies about love
And over me, green for eternity,
A shadowy oak leaning and rustling.

— translated by Michael Longley

See Elisabeth van der Meer’s post

The most Scottish of the Russian writers – Mikhail Lermontov

The most Scottish of the Russian writers – Mikhail Lermontov

Keats

 

 

I don’t have a good ear for poetry, usually. But (paradoxically), it seems to help when I hear it read out loud.

This is true of of this recording of the poetry of John Keats, read by Frederick Davidson.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

Walt Whitman’s New York

 

Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, in the farming community of West Hills, Long Island, in western Suffolk County. At the age of three, Whitman was moved to Brooklyn with his family, and it was there that he spent his childhood. While still in his teens, Whitman left the family home in Brooklyn, and spent some five years at several occupations at various locations on Long Island. He served as a school­teacher, and as writer, editor, and printer for newspapers. During this period he lived and worked in what are now the urban and suburban counties of Queens, Nassau, and Suffolk. At that time, however, this area was rural, with only small scattered villages.

While in his early twenties, Whitman returned to the city, living and working in both Manhattan and Brooklyn as writer, editor, and printer for various newspapers. This was to be his life for the next twenty years until the Civil War brought about his move to Washington, D.C. Probably his most famous post during this period-was his tenure as editor of the Brooklyn Eagle.

By the summer of 1855, Whitman had published the first edition of Leaves of Grass. A second edition appeared the following year, and, in 1860, a third edition. Whitman was forty-two years old and something of a local personage when, on June 8, 1861, the Brooklyn Standard published the first of an unsigned series of his articles to which the newspaper gave the title of Brooklyniana.” …

It is of interest, and useful, to review very briefly some of the major changes in geographical and governmental entities that have taken place since Whitman wrote this work. New York City then included only what are today the Borough of Manhattan and part of the Borough of the Bronx; and, in practice, when these articles were written, “New York City” or “Manhattan” meant lower Manhattan. Manhattan north of Forty-second Street was largely rural. When Whitman wrote these articles, Brooklyn was an independent city, consisting of what are today the Brooklyn Heights, downtown Brooklyn, South Brooklyn, and Williamsburg areas. Kings County—which today comprises New York City’s Borough of Brooklyn—was mostly rural, and, in addition to Brooklyn, contained other, independent communities such as Flatbush and Gravesend. What is today New York City’s Borough of Queens was also rural, with independent communities such as Jamaica and Flushing; and what is today suburban Nassau County did not even exist at that time; it was part of rural Queens County. Nassau County was formed later by splitting the original Queens County into two new counties.

Whitman, though a native of the New York area, loved it and wrote of it with the zeal and zest usually found only in those from elsewhere who have made New York their chosen home [italics added]. One of Whitman’s favorite pastimes was to stroll through the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn, observing people, and making new friends. He became an enthusiastic devotee of the opera. And he also enjoyed the natural beauty to be found in the meadows and on the beaches of rural Long Island. In these very articles, Whitman writes with deep affection of both the urban Manhattan-Brooklyn area and of rural Long Island, which he preferred to call by its original Indian name of “Paumanok.”

Yet Whitman did not merely use the New York area for his own pleasure; he was active in civic life. Through his association with newspapers, he encouraged and participated in crusades for social and civic improvement. He fought municipal corruption, working to expose the graft that seemed to flourish continually in every municipal department and every municipal enterprise. He was in the forefront of those defending what has become New York City’s collection of beautiful parks, helping to fight off the real-estate speculators of the day. And hospitals were a special interest of Whitman’s; he made particular efforts to publicize the services and needs of worthy hospitals.

All these activities are, of course, generally of the conventional “good government” variety—but some of Whitman’s other civic views were less conventional. He was a strong critic of the law-enforcement, judicial, and penal systems as they were applied against the outcasts of society such as the prostitutes. It appalled Whitman to see the prostitutes of the city abused by brutal police and sanctimonious politicians who themselves were notoriously corrupt. Whitman also was a sharp critic of the hypocrisy he found among the clergy of the city.

Political activity of his day centered upon three parties—the Democrats, the Republicans, and the “Know-Nothings,” more formally referred to as the Native American Party. The Democratic Party was split into two factions. The “Old Hunkers” were conservative Democrats, strongly pro-business, and pro-slavery. They were opposed within the party by progressive Democrats who were anti-slavery and who advocated greater social and economic democracy. Whitman was an active member of this latter faction, even serving as an official delegate to various Democratic Party conventions and gatherings.

Indeed, Whitman was a very active citizen, serving his city in a variety of ways. And it should be kept in mind that when Whitman wrote this work—articles dealing with Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Long Island—he had spent his en­tire life in this region, excepting only a brief stay in New Orleans. Interestingly, his best journalism on the subject of New York regional history came just at the time that the approach of the Civil War already had begun to disrupt and transform the region and the entire nation. In regard to Whitman personally, it is perhaps ironic that, so soon after he sang the praises of the New York area in this work, he was destined to leave this region of his birth and youth.

Whitman went to the Washington, D.C., area in December of 1862 in search of a brother in the Union Army who had been reported as wounded in action. He found his brother, only slightly wounded, safe in one of the Union camps. Thereafter, Whitman turned to visiting the Washington hospitals, seeking out wounded soldiers from the New York area. Whitman was so affected by his experiences in Washington hospitals that he undertook volunteer, unpaid nursing service there. Remaining in Washington, Whitman accepted a clerkship in the Federal government, giving all his spare time to the hospitals and to his writing. He was to spend the next ten years in Washington, and his final twenty years in Camden, New Jersey, where he died on March 26, 1892, at the age of seventy-two.

Whitman’s New York years not only constituted his formative period but also comprised the greater part of his life. The first forty-two of Whitman’s seventy-two years were spent in the New York area. It was in this region that he formed his philosophy of life and art—in short, the ideas and the style that distinguish his writings. This work is tangible evidence of the deep affection with which Whitman regarded the New York area, and the significance he attached to its history and traditions.

Walt Whitman’s New York: From Manhattan to Montauk, edited by Henry M. Christman

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   May 2022

post updated (Old Norse poetry)

 

my post

“Hávamál” (“Sayings of the High One”; translated from Old Norse)

“Hávamál” (“Sayings of the High One”; translated from Old Norse)

has been updated.

There were errors in my transcription, which I have corrected.

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2022