Sunday, March 23, 2008

Dover Beach

Just as sometimes it takes repeated assaults on a particular book before it finally "takes", so too with poems. Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach has probably been on my reading horizon for thirty or more years: recognized, and two or three lines particularly remembered. For some reason, though, it is only recently I have begun to appreciate it in its entirety.
Dover Beach
by Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm to-night.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand;
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,

Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the A gaean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth's shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Manufactured Memories

A smile-inducing excerpt from Rosemary Sutcliff's Blue Remembered Hills.
For some years, I thought that I could remember being born. Later, I realised that I only remembered what I had been told about being born - by my mother, who was of the stuff minstrels are made, but singularly unaware of the effect that her stories might have on a small daughter who believed implicitly in every word she uttered. So then, my birth-memory, via my mother, was of being brought by the stork in the middle of a desparate snowstorm. I was really intended for Mrs. McPhee who lived next door, and who had, said my mother, made ready whole drawers full of baby-clothes including tiny kilts, and decided to call me Jeannie; but in the appalling snow he lost his way and came knocking on our door, begging to be taken in for the night, failing which he would have to go to the police, and I would be put in an orphanage. It was a very bad storm, and my teeth were chattering; so my mother took pity on us and let us come in and sit by the fire and gave us both hot cocoa, after which the stork departed, leaving me behind and promising to come back for me next day. He never came, and so there I still was, with Mummy and Daddy, two or three years later. I was a trusting child, or possibly just plain gullible. I never thought to wonder why, if the story were true, I had not merely been handed over the garden fence to my rightful owners next morning. Nor did it occur to me that at age zero, I would have been unlikely to have teeth to chatter.

It was a grief to me that I did not truly belong to my parents, but presumably I was unable to make this known; and when I was nearly four, and somebody said to me, in my mother's presence, 'What's your name, little girl?' to which I replied in a voice quivering with emotion, 'I'm really little Jeannie McPhee, but I'm living with Daddy and Mummy just now,' my mother was the world's most surprised and horrified woman. But she never learned.

As I tell our kids occassionally, we can know the story we tell but can't be certain about the story that is heard.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Evocation of a reading child's imagination

Hazel Wood has a wonderfully evocative description which I suspect resonates with every reading child, current and former.
"I grew up in a house on the edge of a cliff, looking out over a bay. There was an upstairs drawing-room which was never used, and in the evenings when I was a little girl, I would go up there and close the door. Kneeling on the window-seat, I would gaze out at the sunset over the sea and the clouds banking on the horizon, and escape into my imagination. In those clouds I saw horses and chariots, marching legions, the thronged streets of medieval towns, knights in armour, great ships in full sail on a golden sea - vivid images from the books my father read me. The worlds they conjured up were consoling and utterly real to me, and I lived in them more than I lived in the present."

From Slightly Foxed, No. 17 Spring 2008, The Truth of the Heart by Hazel Wood.

This essay is a review of Rosemary Sutcliff's works (Featured Author of TTMD, October 21, 2007) and her autobiographical work, Blue Remembered Hills, just re-released in pocket edition and available directly from Slightly Foxed.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Winston Churchill on Religion

From My Early Life by Winston Churchill

"My various readings during the next two years led me to ask myself questions about religion. Hitherto I had dutifully accepted everything I had been told. Even in the holidays I always had to go once a week to church, and at Harrow there were three services every Sunday, besides morning and evening prayers throughout the week. All this was very good. I accumulated in those years so fine a surplus in the Bank of Observance that I have been drawing confidently upon it ever since."

"I now began to read a number of books which challenged the whole religious education I had received at Harrow. The first of these books was The Martyrdom of Man by Winwood Reade. This was Colonel Brabazon's great book. He had read it many times over and regarded it as a sort of bible. It is in fact a concise and well-written universal history of mankind, dealing in harsh terms with the mysteries of all religions and leading to the depressing conclusion that we simply go out like candles. I was much startled and indeed offended by what I read. But then I found Gibbons evidently held the same view; and finally Mr. Lecky, in his Rise and Influence of Rationalism and History of European Morals, both of which I read this winter, established in my mind a predominantly secular view. For a time I was indignant at having been told so many untruths, as I then regarded them, by the schoolmasters and clergy who had guided my youth. Of course if I had been at a University my difficulties might have been resolved by the eminent professors and divines who are gathered there. At any rate, they would have shown me equally convincing books putting the opposite point of view. As it was I passed through a violent and aggressive anti-religious phase, which, had it lasted, might easily have made me a nuisance. My poise was restored during the next few years by frequent contact with danger. I found that whatever I might think and argue, I did not hesitate to ask for special protection when about to come under the fire of the enemy: nor to feel sincerely grateful when I got home safe to tea. I even asked for lesser things than not to be killed too soon, and nearly always in these years, and indeed throughout my life, I got what I wanted. This practice seemed perfectly natural, and just as strong and real as the reasoning process which contradicted it so sharply. Moreover, the practice was comforting and the reasoning led nowhere. I therefore acted in accordance with my feelings without troubling to square such conduct with the conclusions of thought.

It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations is an admirable work, and I studied it intently. The quotations when engraved upon the memory give you good thoughts. They also make you anxious to read the authors and look for more. In this or some other similar book I came across a French saying which seemed singularly apposite. 'Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connait pas.' It seemed to me that it would be very foolish to discard the reasons of the heart for those of the head. Indeed I could not see why I should not enjoy them both. I did not worry about the inconsistency of thinking one way and believing the other. It seemed good to let the mind explore so far as it could the paths of thought and logic, and also good to pray for help and succour, and be thankful when they came. I could not feel that the Supreme Creator who gave us our minds as well as our souls would be offended if they did not always run smoothly together in double harness. After all He must have foreseen this from the beginning and of course he would understand it all."

Monday, March 10, 2008

Alexander Woolcott Gibbs on the judgement of posterity

From a New Yorker comment by Alexander Woolcott Gibbs , February 12, 1949.
"Reading John Dickson Carr's biography of Conan Doyle, we learned that Doyle had a very low opinion of Sherlock Holmes... It occurred to us that a great many creative artists have been similarly afflicted, ranging all the way from R.L. Stevenson to Al Capp... We have even known the same indignation ourself. The only story we ever wrote that attracted any considerable attention struck us as a competently executed trick; the piece we liked most, a sad story of our lost youth was admired only by a man now confined in an institution for the hopelessly insane. The writer (or painter or musician) who suffers from what he is bound to consider the degraded taste of his time is apt to comfort himself with the idea that posterity will correct all such errors. The weight of the evidence, however, is against him. Posterity, if she doesn't ignore him altogether is far more likely to confirm and even emphasize the vulgar judgment of his contemporaries. The most discouraging thought of all is that the silly bitch will probably be right."

Friday, March 7, 2008

Mongrel Grey by 'Banjo' Paterson

Banjo Paterson, one of the iconic Australian poets, wrote Mongrel Grey, the story of an old horse, a small boy and a flash flood. Living in Australia at the time, we were able to find an old illustrated version of this poem which the kids all loved. Tension verging on terror but with a happy ending.
Story of Mongrel Grey
by Andrew Barton 'Banjo' Paterson

THIS is the story the stockman told,
On the cattle camp, when the stars were bright;
The moon rose up like a globe of gold
And flooded the plain with her mellow light
We watched the cattle till dawn of day
And he told me the story of Mongrel Grey.
He was a knock-about station hack,
Spurred and walloped, and banged and beat;
Ridden all day with a sore on his back,
Left all night with nothing to eat.

That was a matter of every-day
Common occurrence to Mongrel Grey.
We might have sold him, but someone heard
He was bred out back on a flooded run,
Where he learnt to swim like a waterbird, -
Midnight or midday were all as one.

In the flooded ground he could find his way,
Nothing could puzzle old Mongrel Grey.
'Tis a trick, no doubt, that some horses learn;
When the floods are out they will splash along
In girth-deep water, and twist and turn
From hidden channel and billabong.

Never mistaking the road to go,
For a man may guess - but the horses know.
I was camping out with my youngest son -
Bit of a nipper just learnt to speak -
In an empty hut on the lower run,
Shooting and fishing in Conroy's Creek.

The youngster toddled about all day,
And with our horses was Mongrel Grey.
All of a sudden the flood came down
Fresh from the hills with the mountain rain,
Roaring and eddying, rank and brown,
Over the flats and across the plain.

Rising and rising - at fall of night
Nothing but water appeared in sight!
'Tis a nasty place when the floods are out,
Even in daylight; for all around
Channels and billabongs twist about,
Stretching for miles in the flooded ground.

And to move was a hopeless thing to try
In the dark with the water just racing by.
I had to try it. I heard a roar,
And the wind swept down with the blinding rain;
And the water rose till it reached the floor
Of our highest room, and 'twas very plain

The way the water was sweeping down
We must shift for the highlands at once, or drown.
Off to the stable I splashed, and found
The horses shaking with cold and fright;
I led them down to the lower ground,
But never a yard would they swim that night!

They reared and snorted and turned away,
And none would face it but Mongrel Grey.
I bound the child on the horse's back,
And we started off with a prayer to heaven,
Through the rain and the wind and the pitchy black,
For I knew that the instinct God has given

To guide His creatures by night and day
Would lead the footsteps of Mongrel Grey.
He struck deep water at once and swam -
I swam beside him and held his mane -
Till we touched the bank of the broken dam
In shallow water - then off again,

Swimming in darkness across the flood,
Rank with the smell of the drifting mud.
He turned and twisted across and back,
Choosing the places to wade or swim,
Picking the safest and shortest track, -
The pitchy darkness was clear to him.

Did he strike the crossing by sight or smell?
The Lord that held him alone could tell!
He dodged the timber whene'er he could,
But the timber brought us to grief at last;
I was partly stunned by a log of wood,
That struck my head as it drifted past;

And I lost my grip of the brave old grey,
And in half a second he swept away.
I reached a tree, where I had to stay,
And did a perish for two days hard;
And lived on water - but Mongrel Grey,
He walked right into the homestead yard

At dawn next morning, and grazed around,
With the child on top of him safe and sound.
We keep him now for the wife to ride,
Nothing too good for him now, of course;
Never a whip on his fat old hide,
For she owes the child to that old grey horse.

And not Old Tyson himself could pay
The purchase money of Mongrel Grey.

The Brook by Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Brook
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

I come from haunts of coot and hern,
I make a sudden sally
And sparkle out among the fern,
To bicker down a valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorpes, a little town,
And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret
By many a field and fallow,
And many a fairy foreland set
With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
And here and there a grayling,

And here and there a foamy flake
Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
Above the golden gravel,

And draw them all along, and flow
To join the brimming river
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
I slide by hazel covers;
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
Among my skimming swallows;
I make the netted sunbeam dance
Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
In brambly wildernesses;
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses;

And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
But I go on for ever.

Mandalay by Rudyard Kipling

By Rudyard Kipling

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' eastward to the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
"Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can't you 'ear their paddles chunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

'Er petticoat was yaller an' 'er little cap was green,
An' 'er name was Supi-yaw-lat -- jes' the same as Theebaw's Queen,
An' I seed her first a-smokin' of a whackin' white cheroot,
An' a-wastin' Christian kisses on an 'eathen idol's foot:
Bloomin' idol made o'mud --
Wot they called the Great Gawd Budd --
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed 'er where she stud!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

When the mist was on the rice-fields an' the sun was droppin' slow,
She'd git 'er little banjo an' she'd sing "~Kulla-lo-lo!~"
With 'er arm upon my shoulder an' 'er cheek agin' my cheek
We useter watch the steamers an' the ~hathis~ pilin' teak.
Elephints a-pilin' teak
In the sludgy, squdgy creek,
Where the silence 'ung that 'eavy you was 'arf afraid to speak!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

But that's all shove be'ind me -- long ago an' fur away,
An' there ain't no 'busses runnin' from the Bank to Mandalay;
An' I'm learnin' 'ere in London what the ten-year soldier tells:
"If you've 'eard the East a-callin', you won't never 'eed naught else."
No! you won't 'eed nothin' else
But them spicy garlic smells,
An' the sunshine an' the palm-trees an' the tinkly temple-bells;
On the road to Mandalay . . .

I am sick o' wastin' leather on these gritty pavin'-stones,
An' the blasted Henglish drizzle wakes the fever in my bones;
Tho' I walks with fifty 'ousemaids outer Chelsea to the Strand,
An' they talks a lot o' lovin', but wot do they understand?
Beefy face an' grubby 'and --
Law! wot do they understand?
I've a neater, sweeter maiden in a cleaner, greener land!
On the road to Mandalay . . .

Ship me somewheres east of Suez, where the best is like the worst,
Where there aren't no Ten Commandments an' a man can raise a thirst;
For the temple-bells are callin', an' it's there that I would be --
By the old Moulmein Pagoda, looking lazy at the sea;
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay,
With our sick beneath the awnings when we went to Mandalay!
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Nevil Shute moment

Journalist and blogger, Megan McArdle, has a post over at her blog, Asymmetrical Information, relating her reading of a Nevil Shute novel, Most Secret.

Somewhere along the time when I was perhaps 15-20 years old, I read a series of Nevil Shute novels and, though not generally a reader or appreciator of fiction, enjoyed them for the subtelty of his story lines and language.

What is striking is not so much her original post, though it does contain some interesting observations. More striking is the high level of engagement and dialogue in the comments section with many recommendations of other Nevil Shute books as well as those of other writers. The first several commenters grapple with the politics of McArdle's original post with some of the snippiness and bile that is often charactersitic in so many blog comments. Then, mercifully, the conversation takes a turn and begins to build on both the observation McArdle originally made and in doing so, also begins to yield recommendations on other Shute novels as well as books by others. There is an interesting link to a pertinent but relatively obscure article. This is the blog world at its best: useful and respectful sharing of information.

Among the recommendations from the commenters:

Novels By Nevil Shute

Most Secret
On the Beach
A Town Like Alice
The Rainbow and the Rose
The Trustee from the Toolroom - I have never heard of this one but apparently a favorite among several of the commenters.
Slide Rule
Pied Piper
The Chequer Board
Beyond the Black Stump
Requiem for a Wren

By Other Authors

Night Soldiers by Alan Furst
The Polish Officer by Alan Furst
Headquarters Nights by Vernon L. Kellogg
A Desert Called Peace by Tom Kratman
C.S. Forester's Hornblower books such as Mr. Midshipman Hornblower
Brown on Resolution by C.S. Forester
The African Queen by C.S. Forester
A Rifleman Went to War by Herbert McBride
Patrick O'Brien's sea stories such as Master and Commander

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Little Orphant Annie by James Whitcomb Riley

Here is another of Riley's dialect poems. This was probably the favorite among our kids chiefly because of the refrain. There for a while, it was a routine that when one sibling commited some infraction the other two would happily chant:

An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

That line in the dedication was also a favorite for some reason: "and all the lovely bad ones."

Little Orphant Annie
by James Whitcomb Riley

Inscribed With All Faith and Affection

To all the little children: - The happy ones; and sad ones;

The sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones;

The good ones - Yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.

Little Orphant Annie's come to our house to stay,
An' wash the cups an' saucers up, an' brush the crumbs away,
An' shoo the chickens off the porch, an' dust the hearth, an' sweep,
An' make the fire, an' bake the bread, an' earn her board- an-keep;
An' all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an' has the mostest fun,
A-listenin' to the witch-tales 'at Annie tells about,
An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you
Ef you

Wunst they wuz a little boy wouldn't say his prayers, -
An' when he went to bed at night, away up-stairs,
His Mammy heerd him holler, an' his Daddy heerd him bawl,
An' when they turn't the kivvers down, he wuzn't there at all!
An' they seeked him in the rafter-room, an' cubby-hole, an' press,
An seeked him up the chimbly-flue, an' ever'-wheres, I guess;
But all they ever found wuz thist his pants an' roundabout: -
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' one time a little girl 'ud allus laugh an' grin,
An' make fun of ever' one, an' all her blood-an'-kin;
An' wunst, when they was "company," an' ole folks wuz there,
She mocked 'em an' shocked 'em, an' said she didn't care!
An' thist as she kicked her heels, an' turn't to run an' hide,
They wuz two great big Black Things a-standin' by her side,
An' they snatched her through the ceilin' 'for she knowed
what she's about!
An' the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

An' little Orphant Annie says, when the blaze is blue,
An' the lamp-wick sputters, an' the wind goes woo-oo!
An' you hear the crickets quit, an' the moon is gray,
An' the lightnin'bugs in dew is all squenched away, -
You better mind yer parunts, an' yer teachurs fond an' dear,
An' cherish them 'at loves you, an' dry the orphant's tear,
An' he'p the pore an' needy ones 'at clusters all about,
Er the Gobble-uns 'll git you
Ef you

The Raggedy Man by James Whitcomb Riley

I was not wild about these American dialect poems by Riley when I first came across them. However, Sally loved them as a child and in reading them to our kids, they seemed to exercise a particular and infectious fascination on the children. I have come around to enjoy these poems a lot and recommend them for a flavor of a different time and life.


The Raggedy Man
by James Whitcomb Riley
O the Raggedy Man! He works fer Pa;
An' he's the goodest man ever you saw!
He comes to our house every day,
An' waters the horses, an' feeds 'em hay;
An' he opens the shed -- an' we all ist laugh
When he drives out our little old wobble-ly calf;
An' nen -- ef our hired girl says he can --
He milks the cow fer 'Lizabuth Ann. --
Ain't he a' awful good Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

W'y, The Raggedy Man -- he's ist so good,
He splits the kindlin' an' chops the wood;
An' nen he spades in our garden, too,
An' does most things 'at boys can't do. --
He clumbed clean up in our big tree
An' shooked a' apple down fer me --
An' 'nother 'n', too, fer 'Lizabuth Ann --
An' 'nother 'n', too, fer The Raggedy Man. --
Ain't he a' awful kind Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' The Raggedy Man one time say he
Pick' roast' rambos from a' orchurd-tree,
An' et 'em -- all ist roast' an' hot! --
An' it's so, too! -- 'cause a corn-crib got
Afire one time an' all burn' down
On "The Smoot Farm," 'bout four mile from town --
On "The Smoot Farm"! Yes -- an' the hired han'
'At worked there nen 'uz The Raggedy Man! --
Ain't he the beatin'est Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

The Raggedy Man's so good an' kind
He'll be our "horsey," an' "haw" an' mind
Ever'thing 'at you make him do --
An' won't run off -- 'less you want him to!
I drived him wunst way down our lane
An' he got skeered, when it 'menced to rain,
An' ist rared up an' squealed and run
Purt' nigh away! -- an' it's all in fun!
Nen he skeered ag'in at a' old tin can ...
Whoa! y' old runaway Raggedy Man!
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' The Raggedy Man, he knows most rhymes,
An' tells 'em, ef I be good, sometimes:
Knows 'bout Giunts, an' Griffuns, an' Elves,
An' the Squidgicum-Squees 'at swallers the'rselves:
An', wite by the pump in our pasture-lot,
He showed me the hole 'at the Wunks is got,
'At lives 'way deep in the ground, an' can
Turn into me, er 'Lizabuth Ann!
Er Ma, er Pa, er The Raggedy Man!
Ain't he a funny old Raggedy Man?
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' wunst, when The Raggedy Man come late,
An' pigs ist root' thue the garden-gate,
He 'tend like the pigs 'uz bears an' said,
"Old Bear-shooter'll shoot 'em dead!"
An' race' an' chase' 'em, an' they'd ist run
When he pint his hoe at 'em like it's a gun
An' go "Bang! -- Bang!" nen 'tend he stan'
An' load up his gun ag'in! Raggedy Man!
He's an old Bear-shooter Raggedy Man!
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

An' sometimes The Raggedy Man lets on
We're little prince-children, an' old King's gone
To git more money, an' lef' us there --
And Robbers is ist thick ever'where;
An' nen -- ef we all won't cry, fer shore --
The Raggedy Man he'll come and "'splore
The Castul-halls," an' steal the "gold" --
An' steal us, too, an' grab an' hold
An' pack us off to his old "Cave"! -- An'
Haymow's the "cave" o' The Raggedy Man! --
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!

The Raggedy Man -- one time, when he
Wuz makin' a little bow-'n'-orry fer me,
Says "When you're big like your Pa is,
Air you go' to keep a fine store like his --
An' be a rich merchunt -- an' wear fine clothes? --
Er what air you go' to be, goodness knows?"
An' nen he laughed at 'Lizabuth Ann,
An' I says "'M go' to be a Raggedy Man! --
I'm ist go' to be a nice Raggedy Man!"
Raggedy! Raggedy! Raggedy Man!