Friday, December 29, 2017

Or You May Guess

Winter: My Secret
by Christina Rossetti

I tell my secret? No indeed, not I:
Perhaps some day, who knows?
But not today; it froze, and blows, and snows,
And you’re too curious: fie!
You want to hear it? well:
Only, my secret’s mine, and I won’t tell.

Or, after all, perhaps there’s none:
Suppose there is no secret after all,
But only just my fun.
Today’s a nipping day, a biting day;
In which one wants a shawl,
A veil, a cloak, and other wraps:
I cannot ope to everyone who taps,
And let the draughts come whistling thro’ my hall;
Come bounding and surrounding me,
Come buffeting, astounding me,
Nipping and clipping thro’ my wraps and all.
I wear my mask for warmth: who ever shows
His nose to Russian snows
To be pecked at by every wind that blows?
You would not peck? I thank you for good will,
Believe, but leave the truth untested still.

Spring’s an expansive time: yet I don’t trust
March with its peck of dust,
Nor April with its rainbow-crowned brief showers,
Nor even May, whose flowers
One frost may wither thro’ the sunless hours.

Perhaps some languid summer day,
When drowsy birds sing less and less,
And golden fruit is ripening to excess,
If there’s not too much sun nor too much cloud,
And the warm wind is neither still nor loud,
Perhaps my secret I may say,
Or you may guess.

Christina Rossetti died December 29, 1894.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Music on My Mind

Neil Harrison, "The Windmills of Your Mind". The theme from the 1968 movie, The Thomas Crown Affair, with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway; it won the Oscar for Best Original Song, a well deserved award, I think.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Fortnightly Books Index 2017

December 10: G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday
Introduction, Review

November 26: Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Introduction, Review

November 5: Nathaniel Hawthorne, Twice-Told Tales
Introduction, Review, "Rappaccini's Daughter" on the Radio

October 22: Jules Verne, The Mysterious Island
Introduction, Review

October 8: Giuseppe di Lampedusa, The Leopard
Introduction, Review

September 24: Susan Cooper, The Dark Is Rising Sequence
Introduction, Review

September 10: Alexandre Dumas (and Auguste Maquet), The Three Musketeers
Introduction, Review

August 13: Murusaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji
Introduction, Review

July 30: Katherine Burdekin, Swastika Night
Introduction, Review

July 16: J. R. R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
Introduction, Review

July 2: Isaac Asimov, The Foundation Series
Introduction, Review

June 18: Miguel de Unamuno, San Manuel Bueno, mártir
Introduction, Review

June 4: Agatha Christie, And Then There Were None; The Murder of Roger Ackroyd; Murder on the Orient Express; Appointment with Death; 13 at Dinner; The Tuesday Club Murders; What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw!
Introduction, Review

May 21: Craig Williamson, The Complete Old English Poems
Introduction, Review

April 30: Teresa of Avila, The Life; The Interior Castle
Introduction, Review

April 16: Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Introduction, Review

March 26: Dante, Purgatorio
Introduction, Review

March 12: Dorothy Sayers, The Man Born to Be King
Introduction, Review

February 26: Mary Renault, Fire from Heaven
Introduction, Review

February 12: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone
Introduction, Review

January 29: John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
Introduction, Review

January 8: Ayako Sono, Watcher from the Shore
Introduction, Review


Fortnightly Books Index for 2016

Fortnightly Books Index for 2015

Fortnightly Books Index for 2014

Fortnightly Books Index for 2012-2013

Monday, December 25, 2017

Came a Message from Above

by Lewis Carroll

Lady dear, if Fairies may
For a moment lay aside
Cunning tricks and elfish play,
'Tis at happy Christmas-tide.

We have heard the children say -
Gentle children, whom we love -
Long ago, on Christmas Day,
Came a message from above.

Still, as Christmas-tide comes round,
They remember it again -
Echo still the joyful sound
'Peace on earth, good-will to men!'

Yet the hearts must childlike be
Where such heavenly guests abide:
Unto children, in their glee,
All the year is Christmas-tide!

Thus, forgetting tricks and play
For a moment, Lady dear,
We would wish you, if we may,
Merry Christmas, glad New Year!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday


Opening Passage:

The suburb of Saffron Park lay on the sunset side of London, as red and ragged as a cloud of sunset. It was built of a bright brick throughout; its sky-line was fantastic, and even its ground plan was wild. It had been the outburst of a speculative builder, faintly tinged with art, who called its architecture sometimes Elizabethan and sometimes Queen Anne, apparently under the impression that the two sovereigns were identical. It was described with some justice as an artistic colony, though it never in any definable way produced any art. But although its pretensions to be an intellectual centre were a little vague, its pretensions to be a pleasant place were quite indisputable. The stranger who looked for the first time at the quaint red houses could only think how very oddly shaped the people must be who could fit in to them. Nor when he met the people was he disappointed in this respect. The place was not only pleasant, but perfect, if once he could regard it not as a deception but rather as a dream....

Summary: Gabriel Syme, a poet is recruited to be a philosophical detective, destroying the roots of anarchy, by a mysterious many in a dark room. In the pursuit of his duties, he gets himself elected as Thursday to the Supreme Anarchist Council, in which each member is given the name of a day of the week. He and his fellow philosophical detectives must work together to foil the leader of the Council, Sunday. But nothing is what it seems.

The Man Who Was Thursday is not intended to convey the way the world is, but how it can seem to be to a pessimist, one who thinks there might be no meaning, no purpose, no deeper significance to the world, one who thinks that, in fact, the world is in the hands of anarchy. But going through life and being human is itself enough occasionally to get glimpses of something more -- whether it is as a philosopher, dividing light from darkness, or a poet, making the sun and moon and stars signs for the times and seasons, or as a scientist, making man to rule to the world, or in any other fundamental way by which human beings interact with the world. However pessimistic we may be, the world itself sometimes seems to disclose a deeper meaning, as if we had only ever been seeing the back of things. It is, perhaps, meaning in a nightmare, when everything seem for a moment to turn topsy-turvy, but it seems to be meaning, nonetheless.

One of the great beauties of the work, of course, is the Council of Days, whether as leader of the anarchists, or as detectives in pursuit of Sunday, or in the final masquerade of the world when they meet as the Seven Days of Creation. In a sense it almost works too well -- it makes the work seem more charged with significance than Chesterton had intended it to be. It is striking every time I read it -- particularly the scene in which Syme sees Monday dressed as the fundamental philosophical function, the First Day of Creation, the dividing of light from the darkness.

Favorite Passage:

As Syme strode along the corridor he saw the Secretary standing at the top of a great flight of stairs. The man had never looked so noble. He was draped in a long robe of starless black, down the centre of which fell a band or broad stripe of pure white, like a single shaft of light. The whole looked like some very severe ecclesiastical vestment. There was no need for Syme to search his memory or the Bible in order to remember that the first day of creation marked the mere creation of light out of darkness. The vestment itself would alone have suggested the symbol; and Syme felt also how perfectly this pattern of pure white and black expressed the soul of the pale and austere Secretary, with his inhuman veracity and his cold frenzy, which made him so easily make war on the anarchists, and yet so easily pass for one of them. Syme was scarcely surprised to notice that, amid all the ease and hospitality of their new surroundings, this man’s eyes were still stern. No smell of ale or orchards could make the Secretary cease to ask a reasonable question.

If Syme had been able to see himself, he would have realised that he, too, seemed to be for the first time himself and no one else. For if the Secretary stood for that philosopher who loves the original and formless light, Syme was a type of the poet who seeks always to make the light in special shapes, to split it up into sun and star. The philosopher may sometimes love the infinite; the poet always loves the finite. For him the great moment is not the creation of light, but the creation of the sun and moon.

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.