Because it’s late and I am scared…

Not quite sure why I came back to this blog of all places at a time like this. I just spent far too long reading about real-life atrocities on Wikipedia, and now I feel sickened and saddened, and fearful that sleep will only be accompanied by horrific dreams. My first thought was to read something really shallow and distracting, but somehow doing that would seem irreverent to the memory of those who I just read about who have suffered so much. I am supposed to feel sad and sickened by things that are sad and sickening, and I think it is right that I am as deeply affected as I am and that this knowledge and these feelings cannot be so easily brushed off. I have not written for so, so long, not just on this blog, but anywhere. Everytime I have thought to do so much as even journal, I have stopped because of some small laziness that is probably just fear in disguise. Oh Rachel, do not try to elude Writing!

Here is a poem from some months back:

Oh love
why do you wither and fade
why do you turn from bursting smiles
and breathlessness
to sighs and shortness of words?
Why must you grow old, and tired,
and ordinary?
I loved him like the wind in the night
I held him so tightly and loved him so fiercely,
pressed my cheek to his chest and dared
everyone to tell me I would ever feel otherwise.

I love him still, but I am tired
I feel alone and I wish the
strength had not left me.
Our love so taut has now
grown soft, and I am tired, tired.

Oh love, why did you ever come
at all?
I would rather you had died young
gone out with a bang, than suffer
through this slow lingering.
Shut the door and don’t look back, Love,
I am so, so tired.

Tess of the D’Urbervilles

I recently finished Tess of the D’Urbervilles, or, as I fondly call it, Tess O’ the Dubes. I was surprised at how much I liked this book. I once had to read Return of the Native for summer reading in high school and HATED it, and unwisely swore off Thomas Hardy ever since. I realize now my dislike was probably due to youth, and the fact that I waited until the night before the first day of school to begin reading. That, and I don’t think it’s considered one of Hardy’s best. Regardless, I loved, loved, LOVED Tess.

Nothing I can write about this book will do it justice. I think when people think of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, it’s the plot that arrests their memory or attention. That was true of me too…all I really knew about it was that a) she got raped and b) it was very sad. But this book is so, so much more than plot. First of all, I found it incredibly easy to read. In fact, the opening pages were so surprisingly accessible that I kept checking the cover to make sure I hadn’t accidentally bought a modern translation or an abridged version.

Another wonderful aspect of the book is the character of Tess herself…I’ll admit, it took me a little while to warm up to her, since she isn’t at all like the female characters I typically feel affinity with. All of my favorite literary heroines, as unique as they may be, are to some extent cut from the same cloth. Many of them love to read and write (Jo March, Betsy Ray, Anne Shirley, Cassandra Mortmain) and almost all of them are the spunky, brave, intelligent sort (Kit Tyler, Polly, Katherine Sutton, Amy from The Ordinary Princess, etc).

Tess is neither a great reader nor great writer (though through no fault of her own; perhaps such aspirations would have developed if she’d ever had the opportunity), nor is she what I would call spunky. However, she is certainly brave, and while not stereotypically intelligent, she’s not dumb. Tess has all the qualities that sound boring or vague on paper – sweetness, kindness, goodness, moral integrity, self sacrifice – but are really rather wonderful when witnessed in real life or enacted in actual circumstances, and Thomas Hardy shows these qualities at work so believably.

Which brings me to perhaps what is my favorite aspect of the book, and what makes it so good: the incredibly authentic and heartwrenching emotions of the main characters. Though most of the book is from Tess’s point of view, we do get a significant portion from Angel’s point of view, a smaller bit from Alec’s POV, and snippets of the thoughts and feelings of other more minor characters as well. Like I said, in trying to describe this book to someone (as I tried to my roommate, and failed), one would inevitably describe the various plot points, and it would end up sounding like a melodramatic Victorian novel. But again, it’s not the circumstances that make this book a classic, it is the characters and their incredibly well-wrought emotions. If you’ve ever loved anyone who hasn’t returned your love, at least not to the extent you need them too, then Tess’s love for Angel Clare will ring painfully true. And the characters are not without their complexities: even the villian Alec had earned some of my sympathy by the end of the book.

On top of all this, the book only gets better as it goes on. Though I was hooked pretty much right from the start, I had no idea while reading the first two sections how much more I would love it when I finished the last page.

This book will at first upset your heart, then make you believe it’s on it’s way to being mended, and finally, break it irrevocably. That being said, it is so, so worth the read!

*These pictures are from the most recent Masterpiece Theater adaptation, which is what inspired me to go out and buy this book in the first place. I have yet to watch the second half, but so far so good!

In Memory

This post is in memory of a beloved professor, Rich DuRocher, who lived from Sept. 2, 1955, until Nov. 16, 2010. I only wish I had a better poem to offer him.

Today I went about my business –
The wakings, the risings,
A meeting to talk of my future
A quick snack
Laughter at a misunderstanding,
and you died.
You died as the sun
rose and the frost melted,
As the birds flew south in
their asymmetrical V,
As he and she walked the
street, tripped, smiled, sobbed,
As I fell in and out of love,
Whispered in the dark and
wondered what would come of it all.
And I thought, as I passed
the bins of garbage and newspaper,
of cartons and glass,
that life is really
sorry and joy, comingled.

November Gray

She’ll come at dusky first of day
White over yellow harvest’s song
Upon her dewy rainbow way
She shall be beautiful and strong
The lidless eye of noon shall spray
Tan on her ankles in the hay
Shall kiss her brown the whole day long

I’ll know her in the windows tall
Above the crickets of the hay
I’ll know her when her odd eyes fall
One May-blue, one November-gray
I’ll watch her down the red barn wall
Take down her rusty scythe and call
And I will follow her away
I will follow her away

All Hallow’s Eve

I know it’s a little late to be writing a Halloween post, but this poem is so interesting and evocative that it doesn’t deserve to miss out on being shared just because I got too busy to post it. Thanks to my older sister Hannah who showed it to me – I don’t think I have ever seen it before.

The Stolen Child

W.B. Yeats

Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water rats;
There we’ve hid our faery vats,
Full of berrys
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand.
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.
Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim gray sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Away with us he’s going,
The solemn-eyed –
He’ll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal chest
For he comes the human child
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand
From a world more full of weeping than he can understand.

One Thousand Beautiful Things

Over the summer, Pete bought me a book from a used book sale intriguingly titled One Thousand Beautiful Things. Shame on me for not really looking at it until two days ago, for it is a wonderful book! The best way for me to describe the book’s contents and purpose is for me to include an excerpt from the intro:

“The great German poet, Goethe, was once asked by a friend what he would suggest as a daily exercise for spiritual betterment. He said:

‘I would like to read a noble poem. I would like to see a beautiful picture. I would like to hear a bit of inspiring music. I would like to meet a great soul. And for my fellow men I would like to sy a few sensible words.’

Because we recommend this wish of the great poet to you, we offer an anthology resplendent with beautiful things to enrich your daily life.”

The book includes poems, short stories, and quotes, some by very famous authors and some by lesser-known ones. I have already stumbled upon many that I love. Here is one of my favorites so far.

Inventory at Dawn                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Eleanor Saltzman

I have gathered violets in April
And watched the silent falling of a star.
The wind has touched my hair, and I have laid
My ear against the earth to hear the grasses
Whisper. I have shocked the new-bound oats
In summer and walked bareheaded in the rain,
Thrilling with the thunder. I have baked
A ham and sat with friends at supper. We talked
Of ghosts and Bach and vegetables, and filled
Our coffee cups again. I have kissed
My heart goodby at nightfall, and I have loved,
But deeply.
 
   And still to sit in the sun, to know
The breadth of tenderness deep as the earth.
And bread. And sleep. And waking after pain,
To eat my breakfast at Walden. To feel the hush
Of snow against my lips. And still to love,
But deeply.

Ode to Autumn

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-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed 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’erbrimmed 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-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed 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 cider-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 redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

-John Keats

My two favorite lines of this poem are “with patient look, thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours,” and the start of the final stanza, “Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they? Think not of them, thou hast thy music too.”

I like the first because it is so accurate – autumn oozes away, its departure out of our control, and all we can do is watch. The word “oozes” and phrase “hours by hours” at first make it seem as though fall is leaving slowly, which would be incongruous because fall is actually so fleeting. But note that it doesn’t say “weeks by weeks” or even “days by days”. When autumn finally flees from us, it does so in an afternoon or an evening, “hours by hours,” and we wake up to find it winter.  

I like the second passage because it’s as if the speaker is talking directly to Autumn, repeating a question autumn has already asked itself and then responding: “What? You want to know where spring is? Well, who cares. You have your own loveliness and lets just be in this moment, not always thinking ahead.”

I remember my professor, Jonathan Hill, saying that this poem is so extraordinary because poems about autumn usually focus on its nostalgia and fleetingness, and how it’s so sad precisely because of its transient passing (whereas poems of spring are usually happy and focus on a fresh start), but Keats with this poem manages to acknowledge that yes, fall is fleeting and thus sad, but ultimately says, “For once, lets not worry about that just now – let’s just enjoy the loveliness it gives us.”

Read these books…

They are especially good summer reads, and they will make you happy, I promise.

Hot Blood

 

“I pray thee, good Mercutio, let’s retire:
The day is hot, the Capulets abroad,
And, if we meet, we shall not ‘scape a brawl;
For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”

-Romeo and Juliet, Act III, Scene I

Shakespeare certainly knew what he was taking about when he wrote these  lines. Although I’m a young twenty-something living in the midwest and not a youthful gentleman from Renaissance Verona, I know how it feels to have my mad blood stirring.

Today was 93 with a heat index of 104 and humidity that was off the charts. All I could do was languish around feeling sweaty, sticky, and irritable.  I would’ve spent any amount of money for comfort or committed any level of crime for relief. If I had been strolling or lounging around the steps of an Italian piazza, wearing tights no less, and had seen anyone who even vaguely annoyed me, I guarantee I would’ve drawn my sword and BRAWLED. Although I admire Benvolio’s good intentions, I’m with Mercutio on this one.

On a side note, this painting is wondrously called To the Death: A Sword and Dagger Fight With One Hand Beats Cold Death Aside, and With the Other Sends it Back.

Castles in the Air

“There is a lovelier country even than that…”

Laurie’s Castle in the Air

“After I’d seen as much of the world as I want to, I’d like to settle in Germany, and have just as much music as I choose. I’m to be a famous musician myself, and all creation is to rush to hear me; and I’m never to be bothered about money or business, but just enjoy myself, and live for what I like. ”

Meg’s Castle in the Air

“I should like a lovely house, full of all sorts of luxurious things – nice food, pretty clothes, handsome furniture, pleasant people, and heaps of money. I am to be mistress of it, and manage as I like, with plenty of servants, so I never need to work a bit. How I should enjoy it! for I wouldn’t be idle, but do good and make everyone love me dearly.”

Jo’s Castle in the Air

“I’d have a stable full of Arabian steeds, rooms piled with books, and I’d write out of a magic inkstand, so that my works should be famous as Laurie’s music. I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle – something heroic or wonderful, that I won’t be forgotten after I’m dead. I don’t know what, but I’m on the watch for it, and mean to astonish you all some day. I think I shall write books, and get rich and famous: that would suit me, so that is my favourite dream.”

Beth’s Castle in the Air

“Mine is to stay home safe with Father and Mother, and take care of the family…since I had my little piano, I am perfectly satisfied. I only wish we may all keep well and be together; nothing else.”

Amy’s Castle in the Air

“I have ever so many wishes; but the pet one is to be an artist, and go to Rome, and do fine pictures, and be the best artist in the whole world.”

My Castle In the Air

I would have an old British mansion somewhere in the wild countryside, complete with hidden passageways, a secret garden, and a ballroom. There would also be a library with an excellent book collection. I would have endless amounts of time to read and write, and kindred spirits to discuss both with. I would also have a horse, and moors and heaths and forests to explore daily. I would write one really good novel that could stand the Test of Time.

Or…

I would have an ordinary house in the suburbs in the midwest, and cabin on the lake for the summer time. I would be able to read and write and watch movies, publish film reviews for a renowned paper, and occasionally work on film sets of projects I cared about. I would adapt all of my favorite young adult fiction books into quality movies. I would get really good at water skiing and snowboarding, tennis and piano. I would be able to take classes regularly with excellent teachers in all forms of dance. And I would be able to choreograph pieces for talented dancers.

But neither of these Castles in the Air would mean anything at all without the people I love to fill them will. So no matter where or what my castle is, they must be there too.

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