Tuesday, June 17, 2014


Here is a a snippet from Irish writer James Joyce's [1882-1941] famous novel Ulysses after all the revelry of yesterday, which was Bloomsday--the day on which the book takes place, from morning to night--read it here. If you like modern or experimental prose, or allusion heavy works, be sure to try it:

—No, Ben, Tom Kernan interfered. The Croppy Boy. Our native Doric.
—Ay do, Ben, Mr Dedalus said. Good men and true.
—Do, do, they begged in one.
I'll go. Here, Pat, return. Come. He came, he came, he did not stay. To me. How much?
—What key? Six sharps?
—F sharp major, Ben Dollard said.
Bob Cowley's outstretched talons griped the black deepsounding chords.
Must go prince Bloom told Richie prince. No, Richie said. Yes, must. Got money somewhere. He's on for a razzle backache spree. Much? He seehears lipspeech. One and nine. Penny for yourself. Here. Give him twopence tip. Deaf, bothered. But perhaps he has wife and family waiting, waiting Patty come home. Hee hee hee hee. Deaf wait while they wait.
But wait. But hear. Chords dark. Lugugugubrious. Low. In a cave of the dark middle earth. Embedded ore. Lumpmusic.
The voice of dark age, of unlove, earth's fatigue made grave approach and painful, come from afar, from hoary mountains, called on good men and true. The priest he sought. With him would he speak a word.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Let us look at the famous ancient Greek epic of Homer, the Odyssey [Greek: Ὀδύσσεια]. Read Butler's famous translation here. This excerpt below is a nice look at ancient hospitality and how important it was. It was partially a way of ensuring peace and allowing any foreigner, called xenos [Greek: ξένος], to pass by or rest without violence.

Homer's epic poem underlines everything those who knew each other felt they had to do for their friends--a beautiful scene to imagine, with all its lovely, well-wrought objects:

Thus did he speak. The others all of them applauded his saying, and sent their servants to fetch the presents. Then Euryalus said, "King Alcinous, I will give the stranger all the satisfaction you require. He shall have my sword, which is of bronze, all but the hilt, which is of silver. I will also give him the scabbard of newly sawn ivory into which it fits. It will be worth a great deal to him."
As he spoke he placed the sword in the hands of Ulysses and said, "Good luck to you, father stranger; if anything has been said amiss may the winds blow it away with them, and may heaven grant you a safe return, for I understand you have been long away from home, and have gone through much hardship."
To which Ulysses answered, "Good luck to you too my friend, and may the gods grant you every happiness. I hope you will not miss the sword you have given me along with your apology."
With these words he girded the sword about his shoulders and towards sundown the presents began to make their appearance, as the servants of the donors kept bringing them to the house of King Alcinous; here his sons received them, and placed them under their mother's charge. Then Alcinous led the way to the house and bade his guests take their seats.
"Wife," said he, turning to Queen Arete, "Go, fetch the best chest we have, and put a clean cloak and shirt in it. Also, set a copper on the fire and heat some water; our guest will take a warm bath; see also to the careful packing of the presents that the noble Phaeacians have made him; he will thus better enjoy both his supper and the singing that will follow. I shall myself give him this golden goblet—which is of exquisite workmanship—that he may be reminded of me for the rest of his life whenever he makes a drink offering to Jove, or to any of the gods." 70
Then Arete told her maids to set a large tripod upon the fire as fast as they could, whereon they set a tripod full of bath water on to a clear fire; they threw on sticks to make it blaze, and the water became hot as the flame played about the belly of the tripod. 71Meanwhile Arete brought a magnificent chest from her own room, and inside it she packed all the beautiful presents of gold and raiment which the Phaeacians had brought. Lastly she added a cloak and a good shirt from Alcinous, and said to Ulysses:
"See to the lid yourself, and have the whole bound round at once, for fear any one should rob you by the way when you are asleep in your ship." 72
When Ulysses heard this he put the lid on the chest and made it fast with a bond that Circe had taught him. He had done so before an upper servant told him to come to the bath and wash himself. He was very glad of a warm bath, for he had had no one to wait upon him ever since he left the house of Calypso, who as long as he remained with her had taken as good care of him as though he had been a god. When the servants had done washing and anointing him with oil, and had given him a clean cloak and shirt, he left the bath room and joined the guests who were sitting over their wine. Lovely Nausicaa stood by one of the bearing-posts supporting the roof of the cloister, and admired him as she saw him pass. "Farewell stranger," said she, "do not forget me when you are safe at home again, for it is to me first that you owe a ransom for having saved your life."
And Ulysses said, "Nausicaa, daughter of great Alcinous, may Jove the mighty husband of Juno, grant that I may reach my home; so shall I bless you as my guardian angel all my days, for it was you who saved me."

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


Here's a great moment from the famous Irish poet W.B. Yeats [1865-1939] who wrote in many styles--read more of his work here. It's short but very interesting:


Though leaves are many, the root is one;
Through all the lying days of my youth
I swayed my leaves and flowers in the sun;
Now I may wither into the truth.


The 1485 book Le Morte d'Arthur [The death of Arthur, ie. the famous King Arthur of England] by Sir Thomas Malory [d. 1471] is a very interesting collection of tales--read it all here. Be sure to look at the incredible, famous illustrations done by William Flint for it. Let us look at a small excerpt from 'Book II' about the unique Lady of the Lake:

CHAPTER III. How the Lady of the Lake demanded the knight's head that had won the sword, or the maiden's head.

THE meanwhile, that this knight was making him ready to depart, there came into the court a lady that hight the Lady of the Lake. And she came on horseback, richly beseen, and saluted King Arthur, and there asked him a gift that he promised her when she gave him the sword. 

That is sooth, said Arthur, a gift I promised you, but I have forgotten the name of my sword that ye gave me. The name of it, said the lady, is Excalibur, that is as much to say as Cut-steel. Ye say well, said the king; ask what ye will and ye shall have it, an it lie in my power to give it. 

Well, said the lady, I ask the head of the knight that hath won the sword, or else the damosel's head that brought it; I take no force though I have both their heads, for he slew my brother, a good knight and a true, and that gentlewoman was causer of my father's death. 

Truly, said King Arthur, I may not grant neither of their heads with my worship, therefore ask what ye will else, and I shall fulfil your desire. I will ask none other thing, said the lady. 

When Balin was ready to depart, he saw the Lady of the Lake, that by her means had slain Balin's mother, and he had sought her three years; and when it was told him that she asked his head of King Arthur, he went to her straight and said, Evil be you found; ye would have my head, and therefore ye shall lose yours, and with his sword lightly he smote off her head before King Arthur. 

Alas, for shame! said Arthur, why have ye done so? ye have shamed me and all my court, for this was a lady that I was beholden to, and hither she came under my safe-conduct; I shall never forgive you that trespass. Sir, said Balin, me forthinketh of your displeasure, for this same lady was the untruest lady living, and by enchantment and sorcery she hath been the destroyer of many good knights, and she was causer that my mother was burnt, through her falsehood and treachery. 

What cause soever ye had, said Arthur, ye should have forborne her in my presence; therefore, think not the contrary, ye shall repent it, for such another despite had I never in my court; therefore withdraw you out of my court in all haste ye may.

Then Balin took up the head of the lady, and bare it with him to his hostelry, and there he met with his squire, that was sorry he had displeased King Arthur and so they rode forth out of the town. Now, said Balin, we must depart, take thou this head and bear it to my friends, and tell them how I have sped, and tell my friends in Northumberland that my most foe is dead. Also tell them how I am out of prison, and what adventure befell me at the getting of this sword. 

Alas! said the squire, ye are greatly to blame for to displease King Arthur. As for that, said Balin, I will hie me, in all the haste that I may, to meet with King Rience and destroy him, either else to die therefore; and if it may hap me to win him, then will King Arthur be my good and gracious lord. 

Where shall I meet with you? said the squire. In King Arthur's court, said Balin. So his squire and he departed at that time. Then King Arthur and all the court made great dole and had shame of the death of the Lady of the Lake. Then the king buried her richly.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Eric the Red

Ancient epics span the globe--here's an excerpt from the 1200s Norse discovery of America chronicle Saga of Eric the Red [Eiríks saga rauða] on a norse magic [or seiðr] user in Greenland--this type of magic includes divination and manipulative sorcery:

Now, when she came in the evening, accompanied by the man who had been sent to meet her, she was dressed in such wise that she had a blue mantle over her, with strings for the neck, and it was inlaid with gems quite down to the skirt. On her neck she had glass beads. On her head she had a black hood of lambskin, lined with ermine. A staff she had in her hand, with a knob thereon; it was ornamented with brass, and inlaid with gems round about the knob. Around her she wore a girdle of soft hair, and therein was a large skin-bag, in which she kept the talismans needful to her in her wisdom. She wore hairy calf-skin shoes on her feet, with long and strong-looking thongs to them, and great knobs of latten [ie. brass or bronze] at the ends. On her hands she had gloves of ermine-skin, and they were white and hairy within.

En er hon kom um kveldit ok sá maðr, er móti henni var sendr, þá var hon svá búin, at hon hafði yfir sér tuglamöttul blán, ok var settr steinum allt í skaut ofan. Hon hafði á hálsi sér glertölur, lambskinnskofra svartan á höfði ok við innan kattarskinn hvít. Ok hon hafði staf í hendi, ok var á knappr. Hann var búinn með messingu ok settr steinum ofan um knappinn. Hon hafði um sik hnjóskulinda, ok var þar á skjóðupungr mikill, ok varðveitti hon þar í töfr sín, þau er hon þurfti til fróðleiks at hafa. Hon hafði á fótum kálfskinnsskúa loðna ok í þvengi langa ok á tinknappar miklir á endunum. Hon hafði á höndum sér kattskinnsglófa, ok váru hvítir innan ok loðnir.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Titus Groan

Anyone who likes eerie, strange fiction should be sure to try the long series Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake. It is I think for people who liked Vonnegut, Poe and especially Henry James' Turn of the Screw. You need to enjoy Victorian horror, ie. Gothic fiction, to truly love this, the first in the Gormenghast series [which is the name of Titus' castle, also]. 

Some other Gothic horror fiction includes Walpole's 1763 The Castle of Otranto, Ann Radcliffe's 1794 The Mysteries of Udolpho, M.G. Lewis' 1796 The Monk and Clara Reeve's 1778 The Old English Baron. In France this genre was called the 'black novel' or roman noir. Here's a little excerpt:

The crumbling castle, looming among the mists, exhaled the season, and every cold stone breathed it out. The tortured trees by the dark lake burned and dripped, their leaves snatched by the wind were whirled in wild circles through the towers. The clouds mouldered as they lay coiled, or shifted themselves uneasily upon the stone skyfield, sending up wreathes that drifted through the turrets and swarmed up hidden walls.



While the Epic of Gilgamesh from ancient Mesopotamia, written in Sumerian cuneiform on tablets, is quite difficult to take a stab at, it's also very interesting. Gilgamesh was the fifth king of Uruk [now called Iraq] in the 2500 B.C. time period. You can read it here and Here's a neat little excerpt:
He wrapped himself in regal garments and fastened the sash.
When Gilgamesh placed his crown on his head,
a princess Ishtar raised her eyes to the beauty of Gilgamesh.
"Come along, Gilgamesh, be you my husband,
to me grant your lusciousness.'
Be you my husband, and I will be your wife.
I will have harnessed for you a chariot of lapis lazuli and gold,
with wheels of gold and 'horns' of copper.
It will he harnessed with great storming mountain mules!
Come into our house, with the fragrance of cedar.

Paul Hoover

Sometimes poetry can be enjoyed just for a few of its lines--for example, the American Paul Hoover [b. 1946] has an excellent opening to his poem "Audience in the Dark". Now it's quite a small thing to quote, but it has a real gorgeousness to it. Even small pieces of poetry can transport you.

It often aids people if they read poetry, or complex literature, alone. Then you can truly soak in it, let the words infuse you.

There are more of Hoover's poems here. Here's the start:

The lavishness
and candor

of a sun-
filled house


The Irish poet Jeremiah Joseph Callanan [1795-1839] has some great work. This excerpt from his poem 'The outlaw of Loch Lene' is quite interesting, with an exceptional ending. Look closely at this last stanza; it's something that will stay with you.

Read the whole short poem here, and then read the rest of the Irish verse there if it pleases you.

She stretch'd forth her arms; her mantle she flung to the wind, 
And swam o'er Loch Lene, her outlaw'd lover to find. 
O would that a freezing sleet-wing'd tempest did sweep, 
And I and my love were alone, far off on the deep;  
I'd ask not a ship, or a bark, or a pinnace, to save— 
With her hand round my waist, I'd fear not the wind or the wave. 
'Tis down by the lake where the wild tree fringes its sides, 
The maid of my heart, my fair one of Heaven resides: 
I think, as at eve she wanders its mazes among,  
The birds go to sleep by the sweet wild twist of her song.


Despite not being great fans of the famous, early American poet Whitman [1819-1892], there is still something to discover in him. All the greats are that way, in a sense. Even as someone who doesn't love Bach, we can find passages that move us. Hopefully the singer Lana del Rey's music can bring more people to try Whitman [ie. like her song 'I sing the body electric', etc.] 

Here is a short poem by Walt Whitman that is both simple and yet has depth from his famous 1855 volume Leaves of Grass, read it all here:

The Pallid Wreath

  Somehow I cannot let it go yet, funeral though it is,
  Let it remain back there on its nail suspended,
  With pink, blue, yellow, all blanch'd, and the white now gray and ashy,
  One wither'd rose put years ago for thee, dear friend;
  But I do not forget thee. Hast thou then faded?
  Is the odor exhaled? Are the colors, vitalities, dead?
  No, while memories subtly play—the past vivid as ever;
  For but last night I woke, and in that spectral ring saw thee,
  Thy smile, eyes, face, calm, silent, loving as ever:
  So let the wreath hang still awhile within my eye-reach,
  It is not yet dead to me, nor even pallid.


Let's look at a little moment in the famous Irish writer James Joyce's [1882-1941] book of easy to read short stories Dubliners--from his most famous story, the last one in the collection, The Dead; read it all here.

This excerpt is a great moment of passion, of fire. Many people can relate to the feelings coursing through Gabriel as he thinks about his wife; how often are we electrified by our emotions? How easily the rest of our mind, the reason or logos, slips away and we do not see it go. He is caught up in a second of intensity:

She was walking on before him with Mr. Bartell D'Arcy, her shoes in a brown parcel tucked under one arm and her hands holding her skirt up from the slush. She had no longer any grace of attitude, but Gabriel's eyes were still bright with happiness. The blood went bounding along his veins; and the thoughts went rioting through his brain, proud, joyful, tender, valorous.
She was walking on before him so lightly and so erect that he longed to run after her noiselessly, catch her by the shoulders and say something foolish and affectionate into her ear. She seemed to him so frail that he longed to defend her against something and then to be alone with her. Moments of their secret life together burst like stars upon his memory. A heliotrope envelope was lying beside his breakfast-cup and he was caressing it with his hand. Birds were twittering in the ivy and the sunny web of the curtain was shimmering along the floor: he could not eat for happiness. They were standing on the crowded platform and he was placing a ticket inside the warm palm of her glove. He was standing with her in the cold, looking in through a grated window at a man making bottles in a roaring furnace. It was very cold. Her face, fragrant in the cold air, was quite close to his; and suddenly he called out to the man at the furnace:
"Is the fire hot, sir?"

Tuesday, June 3, 2014


One great piece of travel writing to try is Sterne's 1768 A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy--read it all here. The narrator is called Yorick, a callback to 'Hamlet'. Here is an interesting excerpt that is an example of Sterne's usual appreciation for beauty and women--a grisette is a French working class woman, by the way.

The above illustration by the Austrian artist Angelica Kauffman [1741-1807] is from an earlier part of the story, with a ladies maid, the narrator on the right and a monk on the left. Not the woman's interesting outfit.

Sterne's character Yorick [a self-insert/autobiographical narrator] goes into the Paris shop she's in and asks for directions, and then forgets them after leaving:


I will not suppose it was the woman’s beauty, notwithstanding she was the handsomest grisette, I think, I ever saw, which had much to do with the sense I had of her courtesy; only I remember, when I told her how much I was obliged to her, that I looked very full in her eyes, - and that I repeated my thanks as often as she had done her instructions.

I had not got ten paces from the door, before I found I had forgot every tittle of what she had said; - so looking back, and seeing her still standing in the door of the shop, as if to look whether I went right or not, - I returned back to ask her, whether the first turn was to my right or left, - for that I had absolutely forgot. - Is it possible! said she, half laughing.  ’Tis very possible, replied I, when a man is thinking more of a woman than of her good advice.

As this was the real truth - she took it, as every woman takes a matter of right, with a slight curtsey.
Attendez! said she, laying her hand upon my arm to detain me, whilst she called a lad out of the back shop to get ready a parcel of gloves.  I am just going to send him, said she, with a packet into that quarter, and if you will have the complaisance to step in, it will be ready in a moment, and he shall attend you to the place. - So I walk’d in with her to the far side of the shop: and taking up the ruffle in my hand which she laid upon the chair, as if I had a mind to sit, she sat down herself in her low chair, and I instantly sat myself down beside her.

- He will be ready, Monsieur, said she, in a moment. - And in that moment, replied I, most willingly would I say something very civil to you for all these courtesies.  Any one may do a casual act of good nature, but a continuation of them shows it is a part of the temperature; and certainly, added I, if it is the same blood which comes from the heart which descends to the extremes (touching her wrist) I am sure you must have one of the best pulses of any woman in the world. - Feel it, said she, holding out her arm.  So laying down my hat, I took hold of her fingers in one hand, and applied the two forefingers of my other to the artery. -

- Would to heaven! my dear Eugenius, thou hadst passed by, and beheld me sitting in my black coat, and in my lack-a-day-sical manner, counting the throbs of it, one by one, with as much true devotion as if I had been watching the critical ebb or flow of her fever. - How wouldst thou have laugh’d and moralized upon my new profession! - and thou shouldst have laugh’d and moralized on. - Trust me, my dear Eugenius, I should have said, “There are worse occupations in this world than feeling a woman’s pulse.” - But a grisette’s! thou wouldst have said, - and in an open shop!  Yorick -

- So much the better: for when my views are direct, Eugenius, I care not if all the world saw me feel it.


Even a poet one isn't fond of can still have gems that sparkle to an unwilling eye. This excerpt is from 'Amen' by the famous Christina Rossetti [1830-1894]. Even though this poem is simple and clear, it has a strange beauty that is not often reached in 'obvious/classic/usual' poetic forms and styles. Read more here.
Spring shall bloom where now the ice is,
 Roses make the bramble sightly,
 And the quickening sun shine brightly,
 And the latter wind blow lightly,
And my garden teem with spices.

Monday, June 2, 2014


One great medieval work is The Song of Roland. This Old French epic poem follows the adventures and doomed life of the Christian hero Roland, who served Charlemagne and fought Muslims in Spain. The big battle is based on the 778 a.D. Battle of Roncevaux. It was composed around 1040 to 1115 in the Middle Ages.

This little excerpt is a beautiful little show of how the medieval Europeans saw the world, how they wanted to see themselves and others. It's a great look at history and is also lovely verse.

Here's a little excerpt; read it all here:

  Merry and bold is now that Emperour,
  Cordres he holds, the walls are tumbled down,
  His catapults have battered town and tow'r.
  Great good treasure his knights have placed in pound,
  Silver and gold and many a jewelled gown.
  In that city there is no pagan now
  But he been slain, or takes the Christian vow.
  The Emperour is in a great orchard ground
  Where Oliver and Rollant stand around,
  Sansun the Duke and Anseis the proud,
  Gefreid d'Anjou, that bears his gonfaloun;
  There too Gerin and Geriers are found.
  Where they are found, is seen a mighty crowd,
  Fifteen thousand, come out of France the Douce.
  On white carpets those knights have sate them down,
  At the game-boards to pass an idle hour;—
  Chequers the old, for wisdom most renowned,
  While fence the young and lusty bachelours.
  Beneath a pine, in eglantine embow'red,
  Stands a fald-stool, fashioned of gold throughout;
  There sits the King, that holds Douce France in pow'r;
  White is his beard, and blossoming-white his crown,
  Shapely his limbs, his countenance is proud.
  Should any seek, no need to point him out.
  The messengers, on foot they get them down,
  And in salute full courteously they lout.