Category Archives: literature

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

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

Jiménez, “Platero yo”

 

 

 

Posted here:

A complete recording of Platero y yo (Elegía analuza), by Juan Ramón Jiménez,

One of my favorite books.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

 

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See also my post

Juan Ramón Jiménez reading his poetry (in Spanish)

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Part I

 

 

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Part II

 

 

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Part III

 

“The Pit and the Pendulum”

 

In my junior year in high school, as one of our first assignments in English class, we read Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum.”

I took my homework very seriously and was a highly motivated student — in English for certain. I would go to my bedroom upstairs after dinner and pretty much lock myself in for the rest of the evening.

I read the story. It didn’t scare me. I lay down on my bed (does this sound stupid?) and tried to imagine being the character tortured mentally in the story, with an imagined pendulum swinging overhead:

Looking upward, I surveyed the ceiling of my prison. … In one of its panels a very singular figure riveted my whole attention. It was the painted figure of Time as he is commonly represented, save that, in lieu of a scythe, he held what, at a casual glance, I supposed to be the pictured image of a huge pendulum such as we see on antique clocks. … While I gazed directly upward at it (for its position was immediately over my own) I fancied that I saw it in motion. …

… What I then saw confounded and amazed me. The sweep of the pendulum had increased in extent by nearly a yard. As a natural consequence, its velocity was also much greater. But what mainly disturbed me was the idea that had perceptibly descended. I now observed — with what horror it is needless to say — that its nether extremity was formed of a crescent of glittering steel, about a foot in length from horn to horn; the horns upward, and the under edge evidently as keen as that of a razor.

The story did not have much of an effect on me. In retrospect, I would be inclined to say that Poe the writer never did.

The next day in English class, I raised my hand and said that I had expected Poe’s horror story, to scare me. But it hadn’t.

This was entirely normal, to be expected, our English teacher, Mr. Tighe said. Fiction, he said, is fiction. (This is a paraphrase of what he said.) It’s not supposed to be “real.” We read it from a different, detached perspective.

This seems obvious now, but Mr. Tighe’s observations were very instructive for me at this point in my life, when I was an eager student hoping to be a good student of literature.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 2022

Victor Hugo, “Le Dernier Jour d’un Condamné”

 

Hugo, Dernier Jour

the last day of a condemned man – english (2)

 

 

J’ouvris les yeux, je me dressai effaré sur mon séant. En ce moment, par l’étroite et haute fenêtre de ma cellule, je vis au plafond du corridor voisin, seul ciel qu’il me fût donné d’entrevoir ce reflet jaune où des yeux habitués aux ténèbres d’une prison savent si bien reconnaître le soleil. J’aime le soleil. …

I opened my eyes, and sat up startle. At this moment, through the high and narrow window of my cell, I saw on the ceiling of the next corridor (the only firmament I was allowed to see) that yellow reflection by which eyes accustomed to the darkness of a prison recognize sunshine. And oh, how I love sunshine! …

 

“On voit le soleil!”

Fyodor Dostoevsky, letter to his brother Mikhail, December 23,1849 (quoting Hugo; the letter was written on the day of Dostoevsky’s mock execution)

 

See complete French text and English translation as Word documents (posted above).

Plus, the complete audiobook of the original.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

    March 2022

 

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Appendix:

Я прошу извинения у моих читателей, что на сей раз вместо «Дневника» в обычной его форме даю лишь повесть. Но я действительно занят был этой повестью большую часть месяца. Во всяком случае прошу снисхождения читателей. Теперь о самом рассказе. Я озаглавил его «фантастическим», тогда как считаю его сам в высшей степени реальным. Но фантастическое тут есть действительно …

Дело в том, что это не рассказ и не записки. Представьте себе мужа, у которого лежит на столе жена, самоубийца, несколько часов перед тем выбросившаяся из окошка. Он в смятении и еще не успел собрать своих мыслей. Он ходит по своим комнатам и старается осмыслить случившееся, «собрать свои мысли в точку». Притом это закоренелый ипохондрик, из тех, что говорят сами с собою. Вот он и говорит сам с собой, рассказывает дело, уясняет себе его. Несмотря на кажущуюся последовательность речи, он несколько раз противуречит себе, и в логике и в чувствах.

Он и оправдывает себя, и обвиняет ее, и пускается в посторонние разъяснения: …. Ряд вызванных им воспоминаний неотразимо приводит его наконец к правде … процесс рассказа продолжается несколько часов, с урывками и перемежками и в форме сбивчивой: то он говорит сам себе, то обращается как бы к невидимому слушателю, к какому-то судье.

… Если б мог подслушать его и всё записать за ним стенограф, то вышло бы несколько шершавее, необделаннее, чем представлено у меня, но, сколько мне кажется, психологический порядок, может быть, и остался бы тот же самый. Вот это предположение о записавшем всё стенографе … и есть то, что я называю в этом рассказе фантастическим. Но отчасти подобное уже на раз допускалось в искусстве: Виктор Гюго, например, в своем шедевре «Последний день приговоренного к смертной казни» употребил почти такой же прием и хоть и не вывел стенографа, но допустил еще большую неправдоподобность, предположив, что приговоренный к казни может (и имеет время) вести записки не только в последний день свой, но даже в последний час и буквально в последнюю минуту. Но не допусти он этой фантазии, не существовало бы и самого произведения — самого реальнейшего и самого правдивейшего произведения из всех им написанных.

 

I apologize to my readers that this time instead of the “Diary” in its usual form I give only a story. But I’ve been really busy with this story for almost a month. In any case, I ask for the indulgence of my readers. Now about the story itself. I have titled it “fantastic” when I myself consider it eminently real. But there really is something fantastic here. …

The fact is that this is not a story and not a note. Imagine a husband whose wife is lying on a table, a suicide who jumped out of a window a few hours earlier. He is confused and has not yet had time to collect his thoughts. He paces in his rooms and tries to comprehend what happened, “to collect his thoughts to a point.” Moreover, he is an inveterate hypochondriac, one of those who talk to themselves. So he talks to himself, tells the story, clarifies it to himself. Despite the apparent consistency of speech, he contradicts himself several times, both in logic and in feelings.

He justifies himself and accuses her, and indulges in extraneous explanations … A series of memories evoked by him irresistibly leads him finally to the truth. … the process of storytelling continues for several hours, with fits and starts, and in a confused form: now he speaks to himself, then he addresses himself, as it were, to an invisible listener, to some kind of judge.

… . If a stenographer could overhear him and write everything down afterwards, it would come out a little more unfinished, less polished than what I have presented, but, as far as it seems to me, the psychological order, perhaps, would remain the same. This assumption about the stenographer who wrote everything down … is what I call fantastic in this story. But in part, something like this has already been seen in art: Victor Hugo, for example, in his masterpiece “The Last Day of a Condemned Man,” used almost the same technique and, although he did not introduce a stenographer, he concocted an even greater improbability, suggesting that the man sentenced to death can (and has time) to keep notes not only on his last day, but even at the last hour and literally at the last minute. But if he did not allow for this fantasy, the work itself would not exist –the most real and most truthful work of all he wrote.

— Dostoevsky, Preface, Кроткий (Krotkiy, “The Meek One”; a short story)

 

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Acknowledgment: I wish to thank Jean-Baptiste Pétillot for assisting me in preparing a transcript of the original.

 

 

 

 

the Great American Novel II

 

As an addendum to my post

the Great American Novel

the Great American Novel

I got to thinking today about what I wrote there.

As my friend Charles Pierre told me one evening when we both working the night shift in a Boston warehouse and he was reading Moby-Dick (at around the time when I myself read the novel), it is such an American book — could have only been written here. The famous first line, “Call me Ishmael,” is so American, informal. It greets the reader (and sets the tone of the book) in a way that we and only we address and relate to one another — did in those days.

And the subject matter — whaling and everything else — the characters, the dialogue the political undertones with a war between the states a threat and possibility — Moby-Dick is immediately identifiable as an American book in the way that War and Peace could only be Russian.

 

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Entering that gable-ended Spouter-Inn, you found yourself in a wide, low, straggling entry with old-fashioned wainscots, reminding one of the bulwarks of some condemned old craft. …

Upon entering the place I found a number of young seamen gathered about a table, examining by a dim light divers specimens of skrimshander. I sought the landlord, and telling him I desired to be accommodated with a room, received for answer that his house was full—not a bed unoccupied. “But avast,” he added, tapping his forehead, “you haint no objections to sharing a harpooneer’s blanket, have ye? I s’pose you are goin’ a-whalin’, so you’d better get used to that sort of thing.”

I told him that I never liked to sleep two in a bed; that if I should ever do so, it would depend upon who the harpooneer might be, and that if he (the landlord) really had no other place for me, and the harpooneer was not decidedly objectionable, why rather than wander further about a strange town on so bitter a night, I would put up with the half of any decent man’s blanket.

“I thought so. All right; take a seat. Supper?—you want supper? Supper’ll be ready directly.” …

Supper over, the company went back to the bar-room, when, knowing not what else to do with myself, I resolved to spend the rest of the evening as a looker on.

Presently a rioting noise was heard without. Starting up, the landlord cried, “That’s the Grampus’s crew. I seed her reported in the offing this morning; a three years’ voyage, and a full ship. Hurrah, boys; now we’ll have the latest news from the Feegees.”

A tramping of sea boots was heard in the entry; the door was flung open, and in rolled a wild set of mariners enough. …

No man prefers to sleep two in a bed. In fact, you would a good deal rather not sleep with your own brother. …

“Landlord! I’ve changed my mind about that harpooneer.—I shan’t sleep with him. I’ll try the bench here.”

“Just as you please; I’m sorry I can’t spare ye a tablecloth for a mattress, and it’s a plaguy rough board here”—feeling of the knots and notches. “But wait a bit, Skrimshander; I’ve got a carpenter’s plane there in the bar—wait, I say, and I’ll make ye snug enough.” So saying he procured the plane; and with his old silk handkerchief first dusting the bench, vigorously set to planing away at my bed, the while grinning like an ape. The shavings flew right and left; till at last the plane-iron came bump against an indestructible knot. The landlord was near spraining his wrist, and I told him for heaven’s sake to quit—the bed was soft enough to suit me, and I did not know how all the planing in the world could make eider down of a pine plank. So gathering up the shavings with another grin, and throwing them into the great stove in the middle of the room, he went about his business, and left me in a brown study.

I now took the measure of the bench, and found that it was a foot too short; but that could be mended with a chair. But it was a foot too narrow, and the other bench in the room was about four inches higher than the planed one—so there was no yoking them. I then placed the first bench lengthwise along the only clear space against the wall, leaving a little interval between, for my back to settle down in. But I soon found that there came such a draught of cold air over me from under the sill of the window, that this plan would never do at all, especially as another current from the rickety door met the one from the window, and both together formed a series of small whirlwinds in the immediate vicinity of the spot where I had thought to spend the night.

The devil fetch that harpooneer, thought I, but stop, couldn’t I steal a march on him—bolt his door inside, and jump into his bed, not to be wakened by the most violent knockings? It seemed no bad idea; but upon second thoughts I dismissed it. For who could tell but what the next morning, so soon as I popped out of the room, the harpooneer might be standing in the entry, all ready to knock me down!

Still, looking round me again, and seeing no possible chance of spending a sufferable night unless in some other person’s bed, I began to think that after all I might be cherishing unwarrantable prejudices against this unknown harpooneer. … But though the other boarders kept coming in by ones, twos, and threes, and going to bed, yet no sign of my harpooneer.

“Landlord!” said I, “what sort of a chap is he—does he always keep such late hours?” It was now hard upon twelve o’clock.

The landlord chuckled again with his lean chuckle, and seemed to be mightily tickled at something beyond my comprehension. “No,” he answered, “generally he’s an early bird—airley to bed and airley to rise—yes, he’s the bird what catches the worm. But to-night he went out a peddling, you see, and I don’t see what on airth keeps him so late, unless, may be, he can’t sell his head.”

“Can’t sell his head?—What sort of a bamboozingly story is this you are telling me?” getting into a towering rage. “Do you pretend to say, landlord, that this harpooneer is actually engaged this blessed Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, in peddling his head around this town?” …

This account cleared up the otherwise unaccountable mystery, and showed that the landlord, after all, had had no idea of fooling me—but at the same time what could I think of a harpooneer who stayed out of a Saturday night clean into the holy Sabbath, engaged in such a cannibal business as selling the heads of dead idolators?

“Depend upon it, landlord, that harpooneer is a dangerous man.”

“He pays reg’lar,” was the rejoinder.

— CHAPTER 3, “The Spouter-Inn”

 

It was quite late in the evening when the little Moss came snugly to anchor, and Queequeg and I went ashore; so we could attend to no business that day, at least none but a supper and a bed. The landlord of the Spouter-Inn had recommended us to his cousin Hosea Hussey of the Try Pots, whom he asserted to be the proprietor of one of the best kept hotels in all Nantucket, and moreover he had assured us that Cousin Hosea, as he called him, was famous for his chowders. …

Two enormous wooden pots painted black, and suspended by asses’ ears, swung from the cross-trees of an old top-mast, planted in front of an old doorway. The horns of the cross-trees were sawed off on the other side, so that this old top-mast looked not a little like a gallows. Perhaps I was over sensitive to such impressions at the time, but I could not help staring at this gallows with a vague misgiving. A sort of crick was in my neck as I gazed up to the two remaining horns; yes, two of them, one for Queequeg, and one for me. It’s ominous, thinks I. A Coffin my Innkeeper upon landing in my first whaling port; tombstones staring at me in the whalemen’s chapel; and here a gallows! and a pair of prodigious black pots too! Are these last throwing out oblique hints touching Tophet?

I was called from these reflections by the sight of a freckled woman with yellow hair and a yellow gown, standing in the porch of the inn, under a dull red lamp swinging there, that looked much like an injured eye, and carrying on a brisk scolding with a man in a purple woollen shirt.

“Get along with ye,” said she to the man, “or I’ll be combing ye!”

“Come on, Queequeg,” said I, “all right. There’s Mrs. Hussey.”

And so it turned out; Mr. Hosea Hussey being from home, but leaving Mrs. Hussey entirely competent to attend to all his affairs. Upon making known our desires for a supper and a bed, Mrs. Hussey, postponing further scolding for the present, ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said—“Clam or Cod?”

“What’s that about Cods, ma’am?” said I, with much politeness.

“Clam or Cod?” she repeated.

“A clam for supper? a cold clam; is that what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?” says I, “but that’s a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain’t it, Mrs. Hussey?”

But being in a great hurry to resume scolding the man in the purple Shirt, who was waiting for it in the entry, and seeming to hear nothing but the word “clam,” Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out “clam for two,” disappeared.

“Queequeg,” said I, “do you think that we can make out a supper for us both on one clam?”

However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained.

— CHAPTER 15, “Chowder”

 

– posted by Roger W. Smith

   January 2022

Hemingway

 

I dutifully watched the three-part Ken Burns documentary “Hemingway” on PBS this week.

At times, I felt restless and wished the segments would end. But I learned a lot from the series, and the comments of critics and Hemingway biographers were illuminating.

Learning more about Hemingway’s life, his struggles as a writer, his failings as a person and husband, his devotion to this craft, his times was not a waste.

That said, something came to me at the end of the series tonight.

Why have I never particularly cared for — perhaps never cared, really — for Hemingway? Because, it struck me, his writing is monotonous and “anti-intellectual.” It does not engage the mind.

I read primarily for intellectual stimulation and enrichment. Words do have a powerful emotive aspect. I take delight in them. Embedded in passages of narration or description. And, yes, there is a rhythm to good prose, an authorial voice, the effect that good music also has, a cadence. But in the case of Hemingway, that cadence, that rhythm — unvarying, continual — becomes for me monotonous and unfulfilling. At times, if not often, it seems to be an affectation.

Compare the following “specimens” from Hemingway and two great writers — one American and the other English: Herman Melville and Daniel Defoe.

 

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When I came back to the front we still lived in that town. There were many more guns in the country around and the spring had come. The fields were green and there were small green shoots on the vines, the trees along the road had small leaves and a breeze came from the sea. I saw the town with the hill and the old castle above it in a cup in the hills with the mountains beyond, brown mountains with a little green on their slopes. In the town there were more guns, there were some new hospitals, you met British men and sometimes women, on the street, and a few more houses had been hit by shell-fire. It was warm and like the spring and I walked down the alleyway of trees, warmed from the sun on the wall, and found we still lived in the same house and that it all looked the same as when I had left it. The door was open, there was a soldier sitting on a bench outside in the sun, an ambulance was waiting by the side door and inside the door, as I went in, there was the smell of marble floors and hospital. It was all as I had left it except that now it was spring. I looked in the door of the big room and saw the major sitting at his desk, the window open and the sunlight coming into the room. He did not see me and I did not know whether to go in and report or go upstairs first and clean up. I decided to go on upstairs.

I was alone in the room. It was cool and did not smell like a hospital. The mattress was firm and comfortable, and I lay without moving, hardly breathing, happy in feeling the pain lessen. After a while I wanted a drink of water and found the bell on a cord by the bed and rang it, but nobody came. I went to sleep.

When I woke I looked around. There was sunlight coming in through the shutters. I saw the big armoire, the bare walls, and two chairs. My legs in the dirty bandages stuck straight out in the bed. I was careful not to move them. I was thirsty and I reached for the bell and pushed the button. I heard the door open and looked and it was a nurse. She looked young and pretty.

‘Good morning,’ I said.

‘Good morning,’ she said and came over to the bed. …

— Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell To Arms

 

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By this time it blew a terrible storm indeed; and now I began to see terror and amazement in the faces even of the seamen themselves. The master, though vigilant in the business of preserving the ship, yet as he went in and out of his cabin by me, I could hear him softly to himself say, several times, “Lord be merciful to us! we shall be all lost! we shall be all undone!” and the like. During these first hurries I was stupid, lying still in my cabin, which was in the steerage, and cannot describe my temper: I could ill resume the first penitence which I had so apparently trampled upon and hardened myself against: I thought the bitterness of death had been past, and that this would be nothing like the first; but when the master himself came by me, as I said just now, and said we should be all lost, I was dreadfully frighted. I got up out of my cabin and looked out; but such a dismal sight I never saw: the sea ran mountains high, and broke upon us every three or four minutes; when I could look about, I could see nothing but distress round us; two ships that rode near us, we found, had cut their masts by the board, being deep laden; and our men cried out that a ship which rode about a mile ahead of us was foundered. Two more ships, being driven from their anchors, were run out of the Roads to sea, at all adventures, and that with not a mast standing. The light ships fared the best, as not so much labouring in the sea; but two or three of them drove, and came close by us, running away with only their spritsail out before the wind. …

Any one may judge what a condition I must be in at all this, who was but a young sailor, and who had been in such a fright before at but a little. But if I can express at this distance the thoughts I had about me at that time, I was in tenfold more horror of mind upon account of my former convictions, and the having returned from them to the resolutions I had wickedly taken at first, than I was at death itself; and these, added to the terror of the storm, put me into such a condition that I can by no words describe it.

— Daniel Defoe, The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe

 

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Call me Ishmael. Some years ago—never mind how long precisely—having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.

There now is your insular city of the Manhattoes, belted round by wharves as Indian isles by coral reefs—commerce surrounds it with her surf. Right and left, the streets take you waterward. Its extreme downtown is the battery, where that noble mole is washed by waves, and cooled by breezes, which a few hours previous were out of sight of land. Look at the crowds of water-gazers there.

Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?—Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep. But these are all landsmen; of week days pent up in lath and plaster—tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks. How then is this? Are the green fields gone? What do they here?

But look! here come more crowds, pacing straight for the water, and seemingly bound for a dive. Strange! Nothing will content them but the extremest limit of the land; loitering under the shady lee of yonder warehouses will not suffice. No. They must get just as nigh the water as they possibly can without falling in. And there they stand—miles of them—leagues. Inlanders all, they come from lanes and alleys, streets and avenues—north, east, south, and west. Yet here they all unite. Tell me, does the magnetic virtue of the needles of the compasses of all those ships attract them thither? …

Now, when I say that I am in the habit of going to sea whenever I begin to grow hazy about the eyes, and begin to be over conscious of my lungs, I do not mean to have it inferred that I ever go to sea as a passenger. For to go as a passenger you must needs have a purse, and a purse is but a rag unless you have something in it. Besides, passengers get sea-sick—grow quarrelsome—don’t sleep of nights—do not enjoy themselves much, as a general thing;—no, I never go as a passenger; nor, though I am something of a salt, do I ever go to sea as a Commodore, or a Captain, or a Cook. I abandon the glory and distinction of such offices to those who like them. For my part, I abominate all honorable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever. It is quite as much as I can do to take care of myself, without taking care of ships, barques, brigs, schooners, and what not. …

No, when I go to sea, I go as a simple sailor, right before the mast, plumb down into the forecastle, aloft there to the royal mast-head. True, they rather order me about some, and make me jump from spar to spar, like a grasshopper in a May meadow. And at first, this sort of thing is unpleasant enough. It touches one’s sense of honor, particularly if you come of an old established family in the land, the Van Rensselaers, or Randolphs, or Hardicanutes. And more than all, if just previous to putting your hand into the tar-pot, you have been lording it as a country schoolmaster, making the tallest boys stand in awe of you. The transition is a keen one, I assure you, from a schoolmaster to a sailor, and requires a strong decoction of Seneca and the Stoics to enable you to grin and bear it. But even this wears off in time. What of it, if some old hunks of a sea-captain orders me to get a broom and sweep down the decks? What does that indignity amount to, weighed, I mean, in the scales of the New Testament? Do you think the archangel Gabriel thinks anything the less of me, because I promptly and respectfully obey that old hunks in that particular instance? Who ain’t a slave? Tell me that. Well, then, however the old sea-captains may order me about—however they may thump and punch me about, I have the satisfaction of knowing that it is all right; that everybody else is one way or other served in much the same way—either in a physical or metaphysical point of view, that is; and so the universal thump is passed round, and all hands should rub each other’s shoulder-blades, and be content.

Again, I always go to sea as a sailor, because they make a point of paying me for my trouble, whereas they never pay passengers a single penny that I ever heard of. On the contrary, passengers themselves must pay. And there is all the difference in the world between paying and being paid. The act of paying is perhaps the most uncomfortable infliction that the two orchard thieves entailed upon us. But being paid,—what will compare with it? The urbane activity with which a man receives money is really marvellous, considering that we so earnestly believe money to be the root of all earthly ills, and that on no account can a monied man enter heaven. Ah! how cheerfully we consign ourselves to perdition!

Finally, I always go to sea as a sailor, because of the wholesome exercise and pure air of the fore-castle deck. …

— Herman Melville, Moby-Dick; or, The Whale

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

  April 7, 2021

Charles Pierre, “Urban Nomad “

 

Charles Pierre, ‘Urban Nomad’

 

I walk a random path through this desert
of concrete and asphalt, an urban nomad,
a caravan of one, with thick-soled shoes
and shoulder bag, who treks arid miles
where myriad people and vehicles
swirl around me like sand, in all seasons,
by day or night, while I pass unnoticed,
listening to jazz from clubs and hymns
from churches, the chatter in schoolyards
and parks, the haggle of markets
and gossip on corners, the stadium cheers
and barroom talk: each oasis of sound
refreshing my spirit as I walk by
on a lone route through trackless terrain.

— Charles Pierre, “Urban Nomad”

from Circle of Time: Poems (New York, Halyard Press, 2020)

posted with permission of Charles Pierre

 

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Yes, refreshes the spirit. I can relate from my own experience to what this poem describes and says so well.

Charles Pierre’s Circle of Time is “filled with poems of quiet lyricism and great economy” [back cover copy, Circle of Time].

Pierre is the author of five poetry collections. He lives in Manhattan.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

an exchange about (Russian, American literature) – UPDATED

 

Between me and my Russian collaborator Nataliya this morning. We are working together on translations of Pitirim Sorokin’s early works from Russian into English.

 

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NATALIYA

I don’t see a problem with the translation of the poem.* I know that there are many good translations of nineteenth-century Russian poetry into English. I myself saw such publications in the Library of Valdosta State University.

Lermontov is a great Russian poet of the nineteenth century, the second after Alexander Pushkin. Unfortunately, he did not live long. He was killed in a duel when he was only twenty-seven years old. Of course, his poems were translated into English.

We just need to find these translations. If I could go to Moscow or St. Petersburg, I would find them in the library, but this is not possible yet. Let’s not rush it. This is not the only poetic quote in Sorokin’s book. While we can find translations on the internet, then we will check and search in high-quality and reliable publications. We don’t need professors for that.

*Дума (Mediation), a poem by Mikhail Lermontov, from which Sorokin quotes several lines

 

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ROGER

Thanks for the message and wishes, Natalia.

An internet friend of mine, Elisabeth van der Meer, has a site in English devoted to Russian literature. I like her site. She always reads my stuff. She had a recent post about Lermontov:

The most Scottish of the Russian writers – Mikhail Lermontov

Of course, I had heard of Lermontov but knew very little about him, and still do (know little).

I will get back to Sorokin soon.

You might like this post of mine:

spring (as seen by The Bard, by Tolstoy; and felt by us all, myself included)

 

I became engrossed in Tolstoy in my mid-twenties. I read his major novels pretty much in a row. When I read the passage about spring at the opening of Воскресение [Resurrection], it made a powerful impression on me. Around that time, I also got into Chekhov, briefly — but, again, I found his works unforgettable.**

All of this was in English translation.

The thing about the passage about spring (Tolstoy’s) that impresses me greatly is how Tolstoy is the great realist, descriptive novelist — nothing is fanciful — “All is true,” as Balzac said at the beginning of one of his most famous novels novels, Père Goriot — yet there is always a weighty level of deep philosophical meaning.

Herman Melville comes closest to achieving this among the great American writers.

** Especially, in my case, a lesser known Chekhov work:  Остров Сахалин (translated as The Island: A Journey to Sakhalin); not the most artistic of Chekhov’s works, but I found it very powerful.

 

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NATALIYA

Dear Roger,

Elisabeth has a wonderful website. Her post about Lermontov is great. I knew about Lermontov’s Scottish roots, but she told about it so interestingly and beautifully. I’m going to the North Caucasus in the summer, just in those places that are associated with the biography of Lermontov and his death. There are very beautiful museums and monuments there. I’ll send you photos.

I also love Leo Tolstoy and believe that at every age, at different stages of life, people discover new content in his works. He is a child of his own time and at the same time timeless. That makes him great.

 

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ROGER

Tolstoy is the best novelist ever! Competitors? I would say Herman Melville (one great book), Victor Hugo (same), Charles Dickens. And, yes, Tolstoy is timeless.

P.S. The House by the Dvina by Eugenie Fraser is an interesting book. I bought it in London during a trip overseas.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

   March 7, 2021; updated March 10