Category Archives: literature

why academic criticism leaves me cold

 

 

When asked to describe my activities as a research/writer, I say that I am “independent scholar.” I am not and never have been an academic or professorial type, despite having taught literature and writing as an adjunct professor briefly. I have no academic credentials, other than a B.A. degree in the humanities, that would qualify me as an English professor.

My interest in literature comes from a lifetime love of books and reading, of literature and good writing.

I love the books I read for their own sake and am interested usually (very interested) in learning about the authors themselves — their lives and times. I take a great interest in learning about the writers I read qua writers: their style; how they compare to others writers; how they fit into the literary landscape and tradition; their development. Which is to say that, besides reading books for their own sake, I am constantly reading them from a scholarly/critical point of view. But, I never lose sight of the works themselves, which for me are paramount. To put it another way, the pleasure for me of reading is elemental. Yet, at the same time, there is great intellectual pleasure (the greatest I have derived, for the most part) in reading. And, I like to be challenged by deep writers who make one think and earn my admiration.

I am thoroughly uninterested in academic criticism such as that in the latest issue of the journal American Literary History (published by Oxford University Press), the contents of which are below. What this sort of criticism has to do with the actual works, with literature, is problematic — to put it bluntly, there is no connection. This is tendentious, polemical criticism. It shows what academia is up to when it comes to the study of literature, and it seems to be getting worse.

It’s depressing to contemplate.

 

— Roger W. Smith

  November 2018

 

 

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American Literary History Table of Contents

Volume 30 Issue 4

Winter 2018

 

ARTICLES

 

What Was Black Nostalgia?

Jonathan D S Schroeder

 

American Alternatives: Participatory Futures of Print from New York City’s Nineteenth-Century Spanish-Language Press

Kelley Kreitz

 

Crime Fiction and Black Criminality

Theodore Martin

 

The Book Reads You: William Melvin Kelley’s Typographic Imagination

Kinohi Nishikawa

 

The Novel and WikiLeaks: Transparency and the Social Life of Privacy

Scott Selisker

 

Liberalism and the Early American Novel

Stephen Shapiro

 

Attention Spans

Elizabeth Duquette

 

Debunking Dehumanization

Jeannine Marie DeLombard

 

Queer Sociality After the Antisocial Thesis

Benjamin Kahan

 

Archives of Ecocatastrophe; or, Vulnerable Reading Practices in the Anthropocene

Nicole M Merola

 

Four Theses on Economic Totality

Mitchum Huehls

 

Rethinking Pauline Hopkins: Plagiarism, Appropriation, and African American Cultural Production

Richard Yarborough; JoAnn Pavletich; Ira Dworkin; Lauren Dembowitz

 

 

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See also my post:

 
“Theodore Dreiser under the microscope (of a nutty professor or two)”

 

https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/12/16/theodore-dreiser-under-the-microscope-of-a-nutty-professor-or-two/

 

to autumn

 

 

 

 

Madison Square Park 12-20-p.m. 11-16-2016.jpg

Madison Square Park, New York City; November 2016 (photograph by Roger W. Smith)

 

 

 

Vassar College 12-05 p.m. 10-11-2018.JPG

Poughkeepsie, NY; October 2018 (photograph by Roger W. Smith

 

 

 

Pushkin’s favorite month was October.

Spring starts out wet and raw and often wintry at the outset. Fall starts out just plain nice and within a couple of weeks or so has become just plain gorgeous.

By the end of the season, fall has become indistinguishable from winter. But, in the first month or so, fall features clear, sunny days without oppressive heat, which in summer can be unbearable.

By the end of spring, summer is already here and one experiences days that suffuse the senses of old and young with sheer delight. Ask Shakespeare, who wrote of “springtime, the only pretty ring time, / Sweet lovers love the spring.” (As You Like It).

Ask Edvard Grieg or Carl Nielsen.

Autumn has its proponents too.

 

 

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Let Autumn spread his treasures to the sun.
Luxuriant and unbounded …

From heaven’s high cope the fierce effulgence shook
Of parting Summer, a serener blue,
With golden light enliven’d, wide invests
The happy world. Attemper’d suns arise,
Sweet-beam’d, and shedding oft thro’ lucid clouds
A pleasing calm; while broad, and brown, below
Extensive harvests hang the heavy head. …

The sultry south collects a potent blast.
At first the groves are scarcely seen to stir
Their trembling tops; and a still murmur runs
Along the soft-inclining fields of corn.
But as the aerial tempest fuller swells,
And in one mighty stream, invisible.
Immense! the whole excited atmosphere
Impetuous rushes o’er the sounding world;
Strain’d to the root, the stopping forest pours
A rustling shower of yet untimely leaves. …

 

– James Thomson, The Seasons (1726-1730)

 

 

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Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue.

 

John Keats, ‘To Autumn” (1820)

 

 

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Октябрь уж наступил — уж роща отряхает

Последние листы с нагих своих ветвей;

Дохнул осенний хлад — дорога промерзает.

Журча еще бежит за мельницу ручей,

Но пруд уже застыл; сосед мой поспешает

В отъезжие поля с охотою своей,

И страждут озими от бешеной забавы,

И будит лай собак уснувшие дубравы.

 

 

Теперь моя пора: я не люблю весны;

Скучна мне оттепель; вонь, грязь — весной я болен;

Кровь бродит; чувства, ум тоскою стеснены.

Суровою зимой я более доволен,

Люблю ее снега; в присутствии луны

Как легкий бег саней с подругой быстр и волен,

Когда под соболем, согрета и свежа,

Она вам руку жмет, пылая и дрожа!

 

 

Ох, лето красное! любил бы я тебя,

Когда б не зной, да пыль, да комары, да мухи.

Ты, все душевные способности губя,

Нас мучишь; как поля, мы страждем от засухи;

Лишь как бы напоить, да освежить себя —

Иной в нас мысли нет, и жаль зимы старухи,

И, проводив ее блинами и вином,

Поминки ей творим мороженым и льдом.

 

— Александр Пушкин, Осень (1833-1841)

 

 

 

October has arrived – the woods have tossed

Their final leaves from naked branches;

A breath of autumn chill – the road begins to freeze,

The stream still murmurs as it passes by the mill,

The pond, however’s frozen; and my neighbor hastens

to his far-flung fields with all the members of his hunt.

The winter wheat will suffer from this wild fun,

And baying hounds awake the slumbering groves.

 

This is my time: I am not fond of spring;

The tiresome thaw, the stench, the mud – spring sickens me.

The blood ferments, and yearning binds the heart and mind..

With cruel winter I am better satisfied,

I love the snows; when in the moonlight

A sleigh ride swift and carefree with a friend.

Who, warm and rosy ‘neath a sable mantle,

Burns, trembles as she clasps your hand. …

 

O, summer fair! I would have loved you, too,

Except for heat and dust and gnats and flies.

You kill off all our mental power,

Torment us; and like fields, we suffer from the drought;

To take a drink, refresh ourselves somehow –

We think of nothing else, and long for lady Winter,

And, having bid farewell to her with pancakes and with wine,

We hold a wake to honor her with ice-cream and with ice.

The latter days of fall are often cursed,

But as for me, kind reader, she is precious

In all her quiet beauty, mellow glow.

 

 

— Alexander Pushkin, “Autumn” (1833-1841)

 

 

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“Europeans coming to America are surprised by the brilliancy of our autumnal foliage. There is no account of such a phenomenon in English poetry, because the trees acquire but few bright colors there. … October is the month for painted leaves. Their rich glow now flashes round the world.”

— Henry David Thoreau, “Autumnal Tints” (1862)

 

 

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And, Roger W. Smith.

And, yes, the foliage is unmatched in the Northeast. I grew up in Massachusetts like Thoreau, and I never can or will forget the September and October days of my childhood.

 

 

— Posted by Roger W. Smith

   October 2018

Çalikuşu (The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl) now available in a complete, new English translation

 

 

The book is available on Amazon:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calikusu cover

 

 

 

 

Çalikuşu (The Wren)

by Reşat Nuri Güntekin

The Complete English Translation

Parts 1-4 Translated from The Turkish by Sir Wyndham Deedes

Part 5 Translated from The Turkish by Tugrul Zure and Edited by Angel Garcia

 

 

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Çalikuşu (The Wren, 1922) is a novel by the Turkish author Reşat Nuri Güntekin (1889-1956). The novel was published in English translation in 1949 under the title of The Autobiography of a Turkish Girl. The English translation, by Sir Wyndham Deedes, was incomplete.

Deedes did not translate the entire novel. The Deedes translation has long been out of print and is almost impossible to acquire.

Now a new, complete translation has been published.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   October 2018

 

 

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PREFACE TO THE NEW EDITION

by Angel Garcia

 
This book is the result of an unexpected journey down a rabbit hole.

My mother loves foreign dramas. She fell in love with Feride and Kamran, the main characters of a Turkish drama that is available on Netflix. The drama is based on a Turkish book and she pleaded with me to find an English translation (if you know Filipino mothers, you will know the power of their soulful dark eyes and singsong voices). I figured the task would be an easy one, and the perfect Christmas present.

On Netflix, the drama is called Lovebird in English and Çalikuşu in Turkish. A bit of digging online revealed that Çalikuşu actually means “wren” and that the book is a Turkish classic written by Reşat Nuri Güntekin in 1922. An English translation by Sir Wyndham Deedes was written in 1949 but I could not find any available hardcopies. More digging, however, led me to an online file of the English translation, on which I spent many post-workday evenings manually typing it up and formatting it into a manuscript. Mission accomplished! I printed an actual physical book for my overjoyed mother that Christmas.

But I wasn’t fully content. My investigation also revealed that the English translation was incomplete. Fortunately, my engineering colleague and good Turkish friend, Tugrul Zure, was willing to check. I purchased the original Turkish version for him to compare with my manuscript and it was confirmed: the English version of Part 5 had left out many, many pages. Having now watched all the episodes on Netflix and also having read Deedes’ translation, I was intrigued and emotionally invested in Feride’s 192o’s Turkish life. The Netflix version of the story has deviations from the Turkish classic novel and ends much earlier than the classic novel, omitting Feride’s teaching adventures. How did Çalikuşu really end? If I could somehow procure a complete Part 5, would I even be allowed to put it together with Deedes’ Parts 1 to 4?

Luck was on my side. I began a search for the rights holder to Deedes’ work. Sir Wyndham Deedes passed away in 1956 without a wife or children. I instead found his grandnephew, Jeremy Wyndham Deedes, who was kind enough to allow me to use his great uncle’s work in assembling a complete English translation of Çalikuşu. To top it all off, my friend Tugrul was willing to help me translate the complete Part 5. Despite having moved away and preparing to have a baby with his wife on the other side of Canada, be continued to help me remotely.

So, a gigantic thank you Tugrul Zure and also to Jeremy Wyndham Deedes, who has graciously given his permission on behalf of the Deedes’ family. I can only hope that Reşat Nuri Güntekin and Sir Wyndham Deedes would approve.

Mom, enjoy! That goes for you too, Netflix Lovebird fans.

 

 

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a (2).jpg

 

b (3).jpg

 

c (2).jpg

The first page of Part Five, which has hitherto not been translated into English.

 

 

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See also my post:
“A Turkish Novel”
https://rogersgleanings.com/2017/01/03/a-turkish-novel-2/

an early take by Walt Whitman on his conception of himself as America’s poet

 

 

Walt Whitman began his writing career as a journalist. He was known early on for writing anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass — in other words, reviewing himself, in laudatory terms. A motivation for his doing this was that he clearly felt his poetic endeavor would not be understood by the literati or his countrymen, and indeed his poetry initially baffled most and offended many because of its frankness, or what one might call lack of reticence when it came to topics not discussed in polite society. Even his own family seems not to have for the most part read his poetry or understood it.

Below is an unpublished puff piece by Whitman that was in his papers. It is not un-similar to anonymous reviews of Leaves of Grass he actually wrote. His conception of himself as a sort of literary gatecrasher is amusing. It has more than a grain of truth.

 

— Roger W. Smith

   August 2018

 

 

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We suppose it will excite the mirth of many of our readers to be told that a man has arisen, who has deliberately and insultingly ignored all the other, the cultivated classes as they are called, and set himself to write “America’s first distinctive Poem,” on the platform of these same New York Roughs, firemen, the ouvrier class, masons and carpenters, stagedrivers, the Dry Dock boys, and so forth; and that furthermore, he either is not aware of the existence of the polite social models, and the imported literary laws, or else he don’t value them two cents for his purposes.

 

Notes and Fragments, edited by R. M. Bucke; in Complete Writings of Walt Whitman, vol. IX (New York, 1902), pg. 70

“The Poet”

 

 

In the “Divinity School Address” [given at Harvard Divinity School in 1838, Ralph Waldo] Emerson at times made it sound as though his understanding of Christ had transformed that figure into a type of the artist, a man who … had seen “further” than others with more limited vision–An example is Emerson’s statement of how Christ recognized “that God incarnates himself in man, and evermore goes forth anew to take possession of his World.” … in his later essay “The Poet,” … [Emerson] lambasted contemporary theologians for thinking it “a pretty air-castle to talk of the spiritual meaning of a ship or a cloud, of a city or a contract.” Such men prefer, he noted sardonically, “to come again to the solid ground of historical evidence,” not realizing “the highest minds of the world have never ceased to explore the double meaning, or shall I say the quadruple or centuple or much more manifold meaning, of every sensuous fact.” If his friends were to be faulted for any religious shortcomings, then, it was because they … did not perceive the literal presence of the miraculous in nature’s commonplace facts.

One of Emerson’s most revealing paragraphs in this essay deals specifically with his sense of the poet as a universal Christ-figure. … In “The Poet” Emerson thought it important to suggest how much his contemporaries needed another redeemer, one whose grasp of language and symbol, as well as of divine truth, was comparable to Christ’s, or at least to others among the world’s great prophets. …

Throughout the essay Emerson elaborates the intended equation between Christ and the poet. Like Christ, who stood as ransom before his Father for the entire human race, so, too, the poet is “representative” and “stands among partial men for the complete man.” Further, like the Christ who freed mankind again to the possibility of entering heaven, so the poet is a liberator who “unlocks our chains and admits us to a new thought.” When men are exposed to the truths the poet expresses, they recognize how “the use of his symbols has a certain power of emancipation for all men.” And like the Savior who called all unto him as children, when the poet speaks men “seem to be touched by a wand which makes [them] dance and run about happily, like children.” “Poets,” Emerson brazenly declares, “are thus liberating gods.”

Indeed, throughout the essay Emerson intends to make his readers aware that he means no deception when he equates the work of the Sayer with a process of salvation, for the poet provides a feeling akin to what those of an earlier generation (and, indeed, what some evangelicals of Emerson’s own day) would have called a conversion experience. As he continues in this vein, Emerson sounds as though he were making a narration of the influence of saving grace upon his soul. “With what joy,” he exclaims, “I begin to read a poem which I confide in as an inspiration! And now my chains are to be broken; I shall mount above these clouds and opaque airs in which I live . . . and from the heaven of truth I shall see and comprehend my relations.” The “new birth” is complete, for at such moments, Emerson announces confidently, he becomes “reconcile[d]” to live, while all nature becomes “renovate[d].” “Life will no more be a noise” to him who has experienced the effects of the poet’s vision; and, as self-righteously as any of his seventeenth-century New England ancestors, Emerson claims that then is he able to “see men and women and know the signs by which they may be discerned fools and satans.” The rebirth of his soul is complete, for “this day [when the poet’s message is heard] shall be better than my birthday: then I became an animal; now I am invited into the science of the real.”

This remarkable reworking of the morphology of conversion into an aesthetic experience takes on more significance when the reader is aware of how closely the older forms of religious vocabulary have been melded with terms from the idealistic philosophy to which Emerson had been exposed: He details this dream-vision of transcendence with reference to an explicitly Coleridgean term. “This insight,” Emerson declares, “expresses itself by what is called Imagination” and is best understood not by reference to any religious terminology but as “a very high sort of seeing, which does not come by study, but by the intellect being where and what it sees . . . by sharing the path or circuit of things through forms … ” In the presence of the poet wielding his liberating symbols, man stands, Emerson mystically suggests, “before the secret of the world, there where Being passes into Appearance and Unity into Variety.”

But it is imperative that the poet also become the “Sayer or Namer” and openly declare what has been hidden from his contemporaries because of their imperfect nature and limited vision. “The world being thus put under the mind for verb and noun, the poet is he who can articulate it.” The secret of the universe, to paraphrase Robert Frost, literally sits in the middle of men, and the poet must do all in his power to make the secret apparent.

For through that better perception he stands one step nearer to things, and sees the flowing or metamorphosis; perceives that … within the form of every creature is a force impelling it to ascend into a higher form; and following with his eyes the life, uses the form which expresses that life, and so his speech flows with the flowings of nature.

For the poet the world becomes “a temple whose walls are covered with emblems, pictures and commandments of the Deity,” and it becomes his job to convey the meaning behind those emblems as evocatively as he can. … Emerson indeed believed that “Nothing walks, or creeps, or grows, or exists, which must not in tum arise and walk before him [the poet] as an exponent of his meaning.” Thus, the lessons from men like [the American Swedenborgian Sampson] Reed and {Guillaume] Oegger were assimilated, but along with the important corollary that man must not, like the self-centered mystic, “nail a symbol to one sense, which was a true sense for a moment, but soon becomes old and false.” The poet is he who knows that “all symbols are fluxional; all language is vehicular and transitive, and is good, as ferries and horses are, for conveyance, not as farms and houses are, for homestead.” When man reads the true poet’s works, Emerson believes, he finds himself on a version of Jacob’s ladder, the rungs of which are assembled from the world’s natural facts and by which he is to climb to view the world of spirit.

— Philip F. Gura, The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the American Renaissance

 
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I have been reading a fascinating and enlightening monograph: The Wisdom of Words: Language, Theology, and Literature in the American Renaissance by Philip F. Gura (Wesleyan University Press, 1981), from which the above passages are quoted.

Who is the poet whom Emerson foresaw and spoke of? Walt Whitman, as has often been noted.

 
— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

house-building

The house-builder at work in cities or anywhere,
The preparatory jointing, squaring, sawing, mortising,
The hoist-up of beams, the push of them in their places, laying them regular,
Setting the studs by their tenons in the mortises according as they were prepared,
The blows of mallets and hammers, the attitudes of the men, their curv’d limbs,
Bending, standing, astride the beams, driving in pins, holding on by posts and braces,
The hook’d arm over the plate, the other arm wielding the axe,
The floor-men forcing the planks close to be nail’d,
Their postures bringing their weapons downward on the bearers,
The echoes resounding through the vacant building;
The huge storehouse carried up in the city well under way,
The six framing-men, two in the middle and two at each end,
carefully bearing on their shoulders a heavy stick for a
cross-beam,
The crowded line of masons with trowels in their right hands
rapidly laying the long side-wall, two hundred feet from front to rear,
The flexible rise and fall of backs, the continual click of the trowels striking the bricks,
The bricks one after another each laid so workmanlike in its place, and set with a knock of the trowel-handle,
The piles of materials, the mortar on the mortar-boards, and the steady replenishing by the hod-men;

 

— Walt Whitman, “Song of the Broad-Axe”

 

 

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As I told my students when I was teaching at St. John’s University, Walt Whitman the poet used the simplest words, images, and tropes he could find. He built his poems out of all-original materials that were, so to speak, close at hand (sort of like a bird using twigs on the ground to build a nest) — nothing was “literary” or derived.

Here we see minute observation.

The particular made universal. The concrete, the here and now, timeless.

Wonderful.

Whitman had a genius for using so called deverbal nouns, as is explained by James Perrin Warren in a fascinating book I have been reading: Walt Whitman’s Language Experiment (The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1990).

 

 

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Walt Whitman’s father, Walter Whitman, was a carpenter and house builder. Whitman was living in Brooklyn when Leaves of Grass was first published. His father was making a living then as a house builder. It was there that Ralph Waldo Emerson called in the year 1855 upon the poet, who in the frontispiece to the first edition of Leaves of Grass was pictured as a common working man, a Christlike carpenter-poet.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   July 2018

Beethoven; nature

 

I was listening to the fifth movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 (Pastorale) conducted by Simon Rattle:

 

 

“Hirtengesänge – Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm” (Shepherds’ song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm).

Great rendition.

It made me think of music celebrating the countryside. Earlier writers and composers knew it, knew nature, in a way we no longer do.

Springtime.

 

 

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Beethoven was a student of Haydn’s and was influenced by him. Below is a movement from the first part (Spring) of Haydn’s oratorio Die Jahreszeiten (The Seasons).

 

 

 

Nr. 2 – Chor des Landvolks

 

LANDVOLK

Komm, holder Lenz,
Des Himmels Gabe, komm!
Aus ihrem Todesschlaf
Erwecke die Natur!

WEIBER UND MÄDCHEN

Er nahet sich, der holde Lenz;
Schon fühlen wir den linden Hauch, Bald lebet alles wieder auf.

MÄNNER

Frohlocket ja nicht allzufrüh!
Oft schleicht, in Nebel eingehüllt,
Der Winter wohl zurück und streut Auf Blüt’ und Keim sein starres Gift.

ALLE

Komm, holder Lenz,
Des Himmels Gabe komm!
Auf unsere Fluren senke dich, Komm, holder Lenz, o komm!
Und weile länger nicht!

 

2. Chorus

Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
Out of her wintry grave bid drowsy nature rise.
At last the pleasing Spring is near; the softening air is full of balm.
A boundless song bursts from the groves.
As yet the year is unconfirmed, and Winter oft at eve resumes the breeze,
and bids his driving sleets deform the day and chill the morn.
Come, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness come!
and smiling on our plains descend, while music wakes around.

 

On January 24 of this year, I saw a performance of Die Jahreszeiten by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by Franz Wesler-Möst, at Carnegie Hall. It was an incredible experience for me and a revelation to see the work performed live, with me holding the libretto in my hands and following the words.

 

 

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book cover - Thomson, 'The Seasons'.jpg

 

 

The libretto is based on a long poem by the English poet and playwright James Thomson (1700-1748): The Seasons. With some difficultly, I was able to find and purchase a copy of this book length poem, which I am reading by fits and starts. It’s quite good. It conveys a sense, with Miltonic scope (Thomson’s work has echoes of the cadences of Paradise Lost), of the essence of the countryside in all its various guises and in its plenitude — the rhythms of work and daily life as the seasons change — and how they were experienced by people at the time, which is to say before the Industrial Revolution. Haydn captured this brilliantly. The libretto of Haydn’s oratorio was written by Gottfried van Swieten, who adapted Thomson’s poem for the oratorio. (van Swieten was closely associated with Mozart. He introduced both Mozart and Haydn to Handel.)

 

COME, gentle Spring, ethereal mildness, come;
And from the bosom of yon dropping cloud,
While music wakes around, veiled in a shower
Of shadowing roses, on our plains descend. …

And see where surly Winter passes off
Far to the north, and calls his ruffian blasts:
His blasts obey, and quit the howling hill,
The shattered forest, and the ravaged vale;
While softer gales succeed, at whose kind touch,
Dissolving snows in livid torrents lost,
The mountains lift their green heads to the sky. …

White through the neighbouring fields the sower stalks
With measured step, and liberal throws the grain
Into the faithful bosom of the ground:
The harrow follows harsh, and shuts the scene.

— James Thomson, The Seasons, “Spring”

 

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A few days after the concert, I wrote in an email to a relative of mine:

In “The Creation,” you feel you are experiencing nature and the countryside as people did in 1800. You’re right there: a farmer plowing a field, dawn, a loaded cart with produce from the harvest, lovers under a tree (and the male throwing a chestnut when climbing it at the unsuspecting girl he admires as a joke), a thunderstorm, a hunt for hares, etc. Haydn is totally unpretentious, he can be funny, and the music perfectly fits the text.

Haydn is the consummate composer. He never overreaches. The music is unpretentious, yet he is a master of form.

The program notes for the performance note: “fresh feeling of innovation” … “[we] are never overpowered by the orchestrations” … “balances expression with refinement.” All of this is very true.

 

 

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page from score of Haydn's 'The Seasons'.jpg

 

 

Here is a page from Haydn’s score for the appropriate part of Die Jahreszeiten. The score, which I purchased in book form after the concert, is 309 pages long. It kind of shows graphically — for the uninitiated such as myself — what effort must be involved in composing a musical work of this magnitude.

 

 

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And, while we are talking about nature (as experienced in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries), the following is a favorite Keats poem of mine. It came alive for me when I heard it out loud. I wish I could find a good recording to share.

 

 

To Autumn

By John Keats

 

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, Where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   June 2018

 

 

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Addendum:

 

 

 

 

I found a great recorded reading of Keats’s poem “To Autumn.” The reading is by Frederick Davidson. I know of no better audiobook reader.

The reading is on a CD and I can’t post it individually. The CD track is about ten minutes long. The poem “To Autumn” starts at a point 3:42 minutes into the track.