Dostoevsky’s Nightmare

Raskolnikov’s horrible dream, from early on in Crime & Punishment: Raskolnikov had a fearful dream. He dreamt he was back in his childhood in the little town of his birth. He was a child about seven years old, walking into the country with his father on the evening of a holiday. It was a grey and heavy day, the country […]

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Archibald MacLeish, “Voyage West”

Archibald MacLeish, “Voyage West” There was a time for discoveries — For the headlands looming above in the First light and the surf and the Crying of gulls: for the curve of the Coast north into secrecy. That time is past. The last lands have been peopled. The oceans are known now. Señora: once the maps have all been made […]

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Ted Hughes – “Crow’s Song about God”

Ted Hughes – “Crow’s Song about God” Somebody is sittingUnder the gatepost of heavenUnder the lintelOn which are written the words: “Forbidden to the living.”A knot of eyes, eyeholes, lifeless, in the life-shapeA rooty old oak-stump, aground in the oozeOf some putrid estuary,Snaggy with amputations,His fingernails broken and bitten,His hair vestigial and purposeless, his toenails useless and deformed,His blood filtering […]

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H. D., “Sea Iris,” “Sea Violet”

Sea Iris I Weed, moss-weed, root tangled in sand, sea-iris, brittle flower, one petal like a shell is broken, and you print a shadow like a thin twig. Fortunate one, scented and stinging, rigid myrrh-bud, camphor-flower, sweet and salt – you are wind in our nostrils. II Do the murex-fishers drench you as they pass? Do your roots drag up […]

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Ezra Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme”

Ezra Pound, “Portrait d’une Femme” Your mind and you are our Sargasso Sea, London has swept about you this score years And bright ships left you this or that in fee: Ideas, old gossip, oddments of all things, Strange spars of knowledge and dimmed wares of price. Great minds have sought you – lacking someone else. You have been second […]

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W. B. Yeats, “Meru”

W. B. Yeats, “Meru” Civilisation is hooped together, broughtUnder a rule, under the semblance of peaceBy manifold illusion; but man’s life is thought,And he, despite his terror, cannot ceaseRavening through century after century,Ravening, raging, and uprooting that he may comeInto the desolation of reality:Egypt and Greece, good-bye, and good-bye, Rome!Hermits upon Mount Meru or Everest,Caverned in night under the drifted […]

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Carl Sandburg, “Chicago”

Carl Sandburg, “Chicago” Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler; Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders: They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys. And they tell me you are […]

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Amy Lowell, “Lilacs”

Amy Lowell, “Lilacs” Lilacs, False blue, White, Purple, Color of lilac, Your great puffs of flowers Are everywhere in this my New England. Among your heart-shaped leaves Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing Their little weak soft songs; In the crooks of your branches The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs Peer restlessly through the […]

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Edith Wharton, “Terminus”

Edith Wharton, “Terminus” Wonderful was the long secret night you gave me, my Lover, Palm to palm, breast to breast in the gloom. The faint red lamp Flushing with magical shadows the common-place room of the inn, With its dull impersonal furniture, kindled a mystic flame In the heart of the swinging mirror, the glass that has seen Faces innumerous […]

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Wordsworth & Eternity at St. Paul’s

I’m stunned every time I read this: one of Wordsworth’s best short poems (& that’s saying something), & perhaps one of the great poems period: St. Paul’s Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear I parted from thee, Friend! and took my way Through the great City, pacing with an eye Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless That were […]

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Dante, Through the Fire

Here’s one of the great moments in poetry: Canto 27 of Dante’s Purgatorio, where Dante passes through the fire, and Virgil crowns him on their way up to the summit of Mount Purgatory. This taken from the translation of Allen Mandelbaum, and the Digital Dante site at Columbia University. *** Just as, there where its Maker shed His blood, the […]

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The Unfinished Kafka

Reiner Stach, in the middle entry of his three volume biography of Franz Kafka, writes, “Anyone who studies bibliographies today will envy Kafka’s earliest readers, who knew very little about his life and could enjoy his work as literature and not as an accumulation of autobiographical codes.” (186) Stach’s biography (and its beautiful translation into English by Shelley Frisch) seems […]

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Adrienne Rich: 4 Love Poems

from 21 Love Poems: 1 Whenever in this city, screens flicker with pornography, with science-fiction vampires, victimized hirelings bending to the lash, we also have to walk . . . if simply as we walk through the rainsoaked garbage, the tabloid cruelties of our own neighborhoods. We need to grasp our lives inseparable from those rancid dreams, that blurt of […]

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Ship in Air

Here’s a nice anecdote told twice, first from some anonymous Irish source, and then Seamus Heaney’s version of it in verse. This was the first poem of Heaney’s I ever saw, back in high school when someone showed me the New York Times, perhaps when his book Seeing Things was reviewed there, or when he’d won the Nobel Prize. But […]

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Heaney Comes to Poetry

Here are some of Seamus Heaney’s memories of reading, writing, and poetry, from earliest schooldays to university, all taken from Dennis O’Driscoll’s wonderful book-length interview with him,  Stepping Stones. Yes, my memory of learning to read goes back to my first days in Anahorish School, the charts for the letters, the big-lettered reading books. But I don’t think I showed […]

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Robert Pinsky, “The Figured Wheel”

The Figured Wheel, by Robert Pinsky The figured wheel rolls through shopping malls and prisons, Over farms, small and immense, and the rotten little downtowns. Covered with symbols, it mills everything alive and grinds The remains of the dead in the cemeteries, in unmarked graves and oceans. Sluiced by salt water and fresh, by pure and contaminated rivers, By snow […]

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Heaney on Writing

Here’s Seamus Heaney talking about writing, from Dennis O’Driscoll’s book-length interview with him, Stepping Stones: On Inspiration On the week in May 1969 when he wrote “about forty poems”: It was a visitation, an onset, and as such, powerfully confirming. This you felt, was “it.” You had been initiated into the order of the inspired. Even though most of the […]

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What’s a Genius to Do?

It’s been said of Picasso: “At the age of sixteen, he produced two paintings which were of academic perfection…. So what do you do with your life if you’re producing academically perfect works at the age of sixteen? Every step afterwards is an innovation.” Indeed, whether you like where Picasso went or not, it’s undeniable that he never stopped moving. […]

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How Alice Munro Chose to Write Short Stories

  from the introduction to her Selected Stories: I did not “choose” to write short stories. I hoped to write novels. When you are responsible for running a house and taking care of small children, particularly in the days before disposable diapers or ubiquitous automatic washing machines, it’s hard to arrange for large chunks of time. A child’s illness, relatives […]

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The Best of Albert Camus’s Notebooks

A random scattering, some barely aphorisms, from the first two volumes of the notebooks of Albert Camus. They are gold: One must not cut oneself off from the world. No one who lives in the sunlight makes a failure of his life. My whole effort, whatever the situation, misfortune or disillusion, must be to make contact again. But even within […]

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Go Ahead and Fuck Up

  I’m not sure who the equivalent is for you, but Albert Camus was one of the first authors I found outside of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. The high school teacher who introduced me to him also laid an egg it took years to get over: the apparently insurmountable gulf between “popular” and “serious” literature. Even more than other […]

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5 Elegies by Seamus Heaney

from “Clearances” When all the others were away at Mass I was all hers as we peeled potatoes. They broke the silence, let fall one by one Like solder weeping off the soldering iron: Cold comforts set between us, things to share Gleaming in a bucket of clean water. And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes From each other’s work […]

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Picasso & Sex

from John Richardson’s biography of Picasso: When questioned much later about his earliest sexual experience, Picasso claimed that his sex life had started very early on: “Yes,” he says smiling, with a sparkle in his eye, “I was still quite small”—and he indicated a diminutive height wit his hand. “Obviously I didn’t wait for the age of reason. If I […]

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The Melancholy of William Blake

No matter how poor he got, and no matter what of his belongings he had to sell to get by, William Blake always held onto a print of Albrecht Dürer’s 1514 work, Melencolia I; it was found in his workroom when he died. And so it is worth looking in detail, again and again, at anything which an artist and […]

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Martin Luther Reinvents the German Language

When, in 1522, Martin Luther agreed to a staged kidnapping that would keep him safe from Catholic and other authorities, he soon found himself out of danger, but also bored to tears. Hiding out in castle called the Wartburg, near Eisenach, he soon admitted, “I sit here idle and drunk all day long.” Thomas Cahill picks up the story: …this […]

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Images: The Saint & the Lion

One of the great jazz standards of Medieval & Renaissance art, here’s only a selection of all the depictions of St. Jerome: studying indoors or out, with or without his lion or skull, probably translating the Bible as he goes, reading or writing always. All a good excuse for artists to place him in contemporary landscapes, or familiar book-lined rooms. […]

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Marc Chagall Struck by Lightning

  The artist Marc Chagall, meeting his wife Bella Rosenfeld in 1909; they were together for the next 35 years: I am at Thea’s, lying on the sofa in the consulting room of her father, a physician. I liked to stretch out that way near the window on that sofa covered with a black horsehair cloth, worn, with holes in […]

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William Blake Chooses Eternity

A wonderful paragraph from Peter Ackroyd’s biography of William Blake, where he shows how the poet slowly came to accept that if he was writing for anyone other than himself, it was for posterity; and how he charged ahead nevertheless: His independence meant that he could preserve his vision beyond all taint—and that integrity is an essential aspect of his […]

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Joseph Campbell’s Hero Sets Out

A piece of the beginning and end of The Hero with a Thousand Faces: Whether we listen with aloof amusement to the dreamlike mumbo jumbo of some red-eyed witch doctor of the Congo, or read with cultivated rapture thin translations from the sonnets of the mystic Lao-tse; now and again crack the hard nutshell of an argument of Aquinas, or […]

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Vermeer in Bosnia

If anyone asks you about the Why of art, especially in the face of atrocity or just its apparent impracticality—for the artist or the audience—this anecdote from Lawrence Weschler is about as good an answer as I know.   I happened to be in The Hague a while back, sitting in on the preliminary hearings of the Yugoslav War Crimes […]

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On Beethoven’s Deathbed

Here are two passages from Beethoven’s life. The first finds him on his deathbed, and is recorded in the memoirs of one of his friends. Beset by his final illness, the composer is rejuvenated for the last time by an astounding gift: the complete scores George Frederic Handel. The fact that Beethoven, so close to death, could still express an […]

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20th Century Poetry #2: A. E. Housman

One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here.   “Loveliest of trees, the cherry now” Loveliest of […]

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20th Century Poetry #1: Thomas Hardy

  One way to understand where poetry is now is to see where it was a hundred years ago. Every Saturday I’ll be posting not the best, but at least the most representative, poems from the last century, where we can see poetry constantly changing. You can read the other entries here. And it’s worth asking, as I start with […]

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Advice to a Young Poet, from Ezra Pound

The late poet and translator W. S. Merwin, who died only last month at ninety-one, has left us a remarkable account of visiting an aging and imprisoned Ezra Pound back in 1949, when Merwin was just starting out. I was in Washington, D.C., at Easter, during one of my last years as a student. I was visiting a college friend […]

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Hart Crane, High & Low

Here is one the my favorite moments from a writer’s life, followed by one of the saddest. Only seven months apart, they typify the pendulum of great highs and awful lows in Hart Crane’s life. Desperate to write, and giving in his letters as articulate a record of that burning desire as any writer I know, it is hard not […]

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Joyce’s Dirty Letters

When James Joyce returned to Ireland in the closing months of 1909, leaving his wife Nora Barnacle in Trieste, it was the first time they had been apart for so long since they had fled Ireland together in 1904. Their separation, prompted by a business scheme Joyce hoped to succeed in, instead gifted the world with some of the most […]

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Michelangelo & Leonardo da Vinci

From Walter Isaacson’s recent biography of da Vinci, here is about as concise and colorful a summary of how true genius can, in the same century and even the same city, manifest itself in entirely different ways: When Leonardo left Florence for Milan in 1482, Michelangelo was only seven years old. His father was a member of Florence’s minor nobility […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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Wordsworth & Eternity at St. Paul’s

St. Paul’s Pressed with conflicting thoughts of love and fear I parted from thee, Friend! and took my way Through the great City, pacing with an eye Downcast, ear sleeping, and feet masterless That were sufficient guide unto themselves, And step by step went pensively. Now, mark! Not how my trouble was entirely hushed, (That might not be) but how, […]

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Yeats Discovers Poetry

Here’s W. B. Yeats recalling his earliest experiences of poetry: ….This may have come from the stable-boy, for he was my principal friend. He had a book of Orange rhymes, and the days when we read them together in the hay-loft gave me the pleasure of rhyme for the first time. Later on I can remember being told, when there […]

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Yeats Comes to the Occult

Here is W. B. Yeats, remembering some of his early experiences with the occult and supernatural. All taken from his The Trembling of the Veil, collected in Autobiographies: When staying with Hyde in Roscommon, I had driven over to Lough Kay, hoping to find some local memory of the old story of Tumaus Costello, which I was turning into a […]

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Joyce & Proust Meet

From that greatest of literary biographies, Richard Ellmann’s James Joyce, here is the account of Joyce meeting Marcel Proust, only a few months before Proust’s death: On May 18, 1922, Sydney Schiff (“Stephen Hudson”), the English novelist whom Joyce had met a few times, invited him to a supper party for Stravinsky and Diaghilev following the first performance of one […]

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Kafka Executes Josef K.

Josef K. is arrested for no reason at the beginning of Kafka’s The Trial, and at its conclusion he is put to death for no reason as well. Kafka, who worked by day as a lawyer at a Prague insurance company, was well able to illustrate not just the absurdity and inscrutability of bureaucracy, but also its deep cruelty and […]

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Kafka’s Great Fable: “Before the Law”

From Kafka’s novel The Trial: Before the Law stands a doorkeeper. A man from the country comes to this doorkeeper and requests admittance to the Law. But the doorkeeper says that he can’t grant him admittance now. The man thinks it over and then asks if he’ll be allowed to enter later. “It’s possible,” says the doorkeeper, “but not now.” […]

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Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

From Virginia Woolf’s Diary on November 21, 1918: I was interrupted somewhere on this page by the arrival of Mr Eliot. Mr Eliot is well expressed by his name – a polished, cultivated, elaborate young American, talking so slow, that each word seems to have special finish allotted it. But beneath the surface it is fairly evident that he is […]

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A Twelfth Century Love Letter: Heloise Remembers Abelard

An amazing passage from a letter of Heloise to Abelard, those twelfth-century lovers who ended up in a nunnery and a monastery after their affair was discovered. Strip away the contemporary details (their religiosity and its attendant guilt, etc.), and Heloise might be writing a blog today: In my case, the pleasures of lovers which we shared have been too […]

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The best job application letter that didn’t work

James Murray (1837-1915), the Scottish lexicographer and philologist, sent the following letter regarding a job at the British Museum in late 1866. Largely self-taught, he later became the first editor of the Oxford English Dictionary. Before then, this letter somehow didn’t get him the British Museum gig: I have to state that Philology, both Comparative and special, has been my […]

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Ted Hughes: “Devon Riviera” (poem)

Strange to find a Hughes poem more populated by people than animals; & you can tell he’s not happy about it: Devon Riviera Under the silk nightie of the August evening The prepared resort, a glowing liner, Leans toward happiness, unmoving. The whole vessel throbs with dewy longing. Grey, dazed heads, promenading their pots, Their holiday shirts, their shrunk, freckled […]

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Picasso & the Gestapo

from Simon Schama’s Power of Art In the winter of 1941, Pablo Picasso was living and working at the top of an old house in the rue des Grands Augustins in Paris. The Seine was a stone’s throw away. Hard northern light swept in over the rooftops. Pigeons perched on the sills. But Picasso’s Left Bank life during the Occupation […]

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Hart Crane & His Father

In early January, 1924, the poet Hart Crane, twenty-four and basically broke, received a letter from his father offering to hire him into the family business. To a friend, Crane wrote, “Along comes a letter from my father this morning offering me a position with him as travelling salesman! This is unacceptable, of course, even though I now can’t complete […]

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T. S. Eliot & His Father

Here is a favorite bit from a youthful T. S. Eliot (he’s just turned thirty but that’s young to me now). After leaving America for England and abandoning the job at Harvard his family was expecting of him, he made an unfortunate marriage and started a literary life of day job, essays and reviews. He eventually had enough essays for […]

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George Orwell in the Coal Mines

As an addition to my last post, here is George Orwell’s complete description of going down into the coal mines of northern England, taken from the second chapter of his 1937 book, The Road to Wigan Pier.  The entire text of the book can be found here. *** When you go down a coal-mine it is important to try and […]

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George Orwell & Empathy

As usual, George Orwell says it better than anybody. Here he is in his 1937 book The Road to Wigan Pier, asking his readers not to give up using coal, but just to recognize whose labor is providing them with that coal. Nowadays I would only add to the coal miners all the people behind our conveniences; because if we […]

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Jung’s Great Dream

Jung traveled with Freud and others to America in late September, 1909, and on the boat returning to Europe, he had a dream. Whatever you make of Jung’s overarching theories and scholarship, it always seems better to think of him more as a poet or mystic, and so his strength seems to lie in descriptions of intense inner experiences, and […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 13: “The perfect image of a mighty mind, of one that feeds upon infinity”

Here are excerpts from the last book of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude.  Other excerpts  are here.   In one of these excursions, travelling then Through Wales on foot and with a youthful friend, I left Bethkelet’s huts at couching-time, And westward took my way to see the sun Rise from the top of Snowdon. Having reading The cottage at the mountain’s […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 12: “making verse deal boldly with substantial things”

Throughout the summer I hope to post my favorite bits from Wordworth’s 1805 Prelude. Book 12 continues his meditations in Book 11, which was titled “Imagination, How Impaired & Restored.” Other excerpts are here.   Such benefit may souls of humblest frame Partake of, each in their degree; ’tis mine To speak of what myself have known and felt – […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 11: “Habits of devoutest sympathy”

Excerpts from Book 11 of  Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he calls “Imagination, How Impaired and Restored.” Other excerpts are here.   Long time hath man’s unhappiness and guilt Defained us: with what dismal sights beset For the outward view, and inwardly oppressed With sorrow, disappointment, vexing thoughts, Confusion of the judgement, zeal decayed – And last, utter loss of hope […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 10: “In the very world which is the world of all of us, the place in which, in the end, we find our happiness, or not at all “

Excerpts from Book 10 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, where he concludes his story of being in France during the Revolution. Other excerpts are here.   A poor mistaken and bewildered offering, Should to the breast of Nature have gone back, With all my resolutions, all my hopes, A poet only to myself, to men Useless, and even, beloved friend, a […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 9: “I saw the revolutionary power toss like a ship at anchor”

Excerpts from Book 9 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, where he begins his story of being in France during the Revolution. Other excerpts are here.   ’Tis mine to tread The humbler province of plain history, And, without choice of circumstance, submissively Relate what I have heard. Book 9, 642-645 Oft then I said, And not then only, “What a mockery […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 8: “A weight of ages did at once descend upon my heart”

Excerpts from Book 8 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, which he titles “Love of Nature Leading to Love of Mankind.” Other excerpts are here.   With deep devotion, Nature, did I feel In that great city what I owed to thee: High thoughts of God and man, and love of man, Triumphant over all those loathsome sights Of wretchedness and vice, […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 6: “No absence scarcely can there be, for those who love as we do.”

Excerpts from Book 6 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his friendship with Coleridge. Other excerpts are here.   There is no grief, no sorrow, no despair, No languor, no dejection, no dismay, No absence scarcely can there be, for those Who love as we do. Book 6, 253-256 I too have been a wanderer, but, alas, How different is the […]

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Speaking of Short Stories

Back when I used to do a lot of readings, I would start out by sharing somebody else’s work, and I realize that I should do the equivalent of that with the release of my book of stories, The Lonely Young & the Lonely Old. The person that comes to mind is the late William Trevor, whose Last Stories was […]

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Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 2: “The self-sufficing power of solitude”

Excerpts from Book 2 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude. Other excerpts are here.   Thus the pride of strength And the vainglory of superior skill Were interfused with objects which subdued And tempered them, and gradually produced A quiet independence of heart. And to my friend who knows me I may add, Unapprehensive of reproof, that hence Ensued a diffidence and […]

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Ted Hughes: 2 War Poems

Six Young Men The celluloid of a photograph holds them well – Six young men, familiar to their friends. Four decades that have faded and ochre-tinged This photograph have not wrinkled the faces or the hands. Though their cocked hats are not now fashionable, Their shoes shine. One imparts an intimate smile, One chews a grass, one lowers his eyes, […]

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Emily Dickinson Affirms a Soul

#1142 The Props assist the House Until the House is built And then the Props withdraw And adequate, erect, The House support itself And cease to recollect The Augur and the Carpenter – Just such a retrospect Hath the perfected Life – A Past of Plank and Nail And slowness – then the scaffolds drop Affirming it a Soul –

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Allen Ginsberg, “Paterson”

Paterson What do I want in these rooms papered with visions of money? How much can I make by cutting my hair? If I put new heels on my shoes, bathe my body reeking of masturbation and sweat, layer upon layer of excrement dried in employment bureaus, magazine hallways, statistical cubicles, factory stairways, cloakrooms of the smiling gods of psychiatry; […]

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Robert Frost: “Out, Out – ”

“Out, Out – ” The buzz saw snarled and rattled in the yard And made dust and dropped stove-length sticks of wood, Sweet-scented stuff when the breeze drew across it. And from there those that lifted eyes could count Five mountain ranges one behind the other Under the sunset far into Vermont. And the saw snarled and rattled, snarled and […]

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The Poet Speaks #13: Richard Wilbur & John Berryman: “The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him”

Even though I’ve never read a word of his poetry, John Berryman has been haunting me lately. Two friends who are also poets that I admire deeply have both praised his work, and recently I’ve come across remarks from a handful of Berryman’s peers, reflecting on his life and his suicide in 1972. Here are two quotes, the first from […]

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The Poet Speaks #11: George Eliot, Ernest Hemingway, Philip Levine, Stephen King, Seamus Heaney: “struggling erring human creatures”

George Eliot, on empathy: The greatest benefit we owe to the artist, whether painter, poet, or novelist, is the extension of our sympathies…. Art is the nearest thing to life; it is a mode of amplifying experience and extending our contact with our fellow-men beyond the bounds of our personal lot. The only effect I ardently long to produce by […]

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The Poet Speaks #9: Geoffrey Hill, Robert Frost, Allen Ginsberg, James Merrill, Ursula K. Le Guin: “We are difficult”

On the supposed “difficulty” of his poetry: We are difficult. Human beings are difficult. We’re difficult to ourselves, we’re difficult to each other. And we are mysteries to ourselves, we are mysteries to each other. One encounters in any ordinary day far more real difficulty than one confronts in the most “intellectual” piece of work. Why is it believed that […]

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The Poet Speaks #8: Patti Smith, Toni Morrison, T. S. Eliot, Hart Crane: “I shall make every sacrifice toward that end”

As even “nerd culture” and all the rest just becomes another snobby fad and pop culture corner to hide in, Patti Smith suggests where the real “next” actually is, out of view completely:…when people ask me Who’s the new people?, well to me the new people are the unknown people. The new people that I embrace are the people that […]

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Art Must Be Political

Should anyone tell you that the primary duty of art (and of life) is to be political, to constantly choose sides and to turn one another into mere categories and the most minute identities, here are a few replies by Jean Guéhenno, written while living in Nazi-Occupied Paris. All come from his Diary of the Dark Years: December 23, 1940 […]

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Heaney’s Bog Poems (Forerunners)

Originally posted on Underfoot Poetry:
Here’s Seamus Heaney, first talking about his poems on the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, in Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones, and then the bog poems themselves, spanning three of his collections: Wintering Out, North, and District and Circle. Also, since I hope to do a post on the bog bodies at some point, interested…

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The State of Poetry Now?

Are poets today largely talking to themselves? Are many of them happy to do so, locked away in academia or whatever other cloister? Are the ones who want a wider public, and who want to take on larger subjects, just curating their shelf of books for future generations to find? I heard somewhere that after September 11, Bruce Springsteen was […]

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Classic Jam Hits

Going through my computer the other day, I found the .pdfs of these classic book sets, and thought to post them here for whoever wants them: Frazer’s The Golden Bough, The Mythology of All Races, and Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Whatever their limitations now, they are still great resources. I can’t remember where I found […]

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Daniel Paul Marshall (6 Poems)

I would encourage anyone with an interest in poetry to check out the work of Daniel Paul Marshall. He has kindly allowed a handful of his poems to appear below, but many more are available at his website. Originally from England, he now lives on Jeju Island, Korea, where he runs a café and guesthouse which he built with his […]

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Kafka’s Diaries

  My recent post about Thomas Wolfe elicited a handful of comments like, “I loved to read him when I was young, but as I get older he no longer holds up.” My own versions of Wolfe are people like Hesse and Dostoevsky, but Kafka has remained one of those authors I latched onto in high school who has never lost […]

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The State of Poetry … in 1993

The following essay was published in the New Criterion in February, 1993, and reflects a view of American poetry from at least the 1970s forward. It’s quite depressing to read this two decades later, since the status of poetry as a subculture can’t help but be worse than it was then, and worse in part because the technology noted as […]

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Heaney’s Bog Poems

Here’s Seamus Heaney, first talking about his poems on the bog bodies of Iron Age Europe, in Dennis O’Driscoll’s Stepping Stones, and then the bog poems themselves, spanning three of his collections: Wintering Out, North, and District and Circle. Also, since I hope to do a post on the bog bodies at some point, interested readers would do well to […]

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Allen Ginsberg, “Kaddish”

I’d like to say that after Four Quartets, I don’t know of another long poem from the last century that’s meant as much to me as Allen Ginsberg’s elegy for his mother, Kaddish for Naomi Ginsberg, 1894-1956. But it’s so powerful that even describing it as a poem seems silly: it really doesn’t matter what you call it, as it […]

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Whitman Last

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper in one of his sentences […]

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Whitman First

It has always seemed significant to me that, at the beginning of the first and the end of the last edition of his great book of poems, Walt Whitman gives us a long essay in prose. I thought to only give selections of them, but it is impossible to edit Whitman, to put a stopper in one of his sentences […]

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T. S. Eliot on Dante

Is there anything better than T. S. Eliot talking about his debt to Dante? Here is the majority of his famous essay “What Dante Means to Me” (hence my own “What Eliot Means to Me”), which can be found in his collection of essays, To Criticize the Critic and Other Writings. The essay was originally presented as a speech given […]

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Wallace Stevens, Intergalactic Planetary

Here are some bits on writing, nature, and anonymous everyday life from Wallace Stevens, that quiet murmur of American poetry who may well outlast nearly everybody. The following are from his letters and journals, from 1898 to 1955, only a few months before his death at seventy-five. That a poet so technically isolated (and gladly so) from all the clichés […]

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Yeats & Lady Gregory

(photo from the LG/WBY Heritage Trail) In the single-volume Autobiographies of W. B. Yeats, which collects all of Yeats’s autobiographical writings from throughout his life, the great Irish poet mentions the memoirs of one John O’Leary. O’Leary was apparently taking his good old time at it, writing “passages for his memoirs upon postcards and odd scraps of paper, taking immense […]

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Classic Joyce

Too much to choose from, but here’s some classic bits from James Joyce that are always worth keeping in mind: On Writing: “Don’t you think there is a certain resemblance between the mystery of the Mass and what I am trying to do? I mean that I am trying in my poems to give people some kind of intellectual pleasure […]

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Jean Guéhenno (Favorite Passages)

Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944: Collaboration, Resistance, and Daily Life in Occupied Paris, by Jean Guéhenno Guéhenno bio A selection from one of the best documents of occupation during wartime, and one of my favorite diaries of a writer: [Guéhenno, on how he was a pacifist after WWI, but not after WWII started] I will never believe that men […]

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Albert Camus, Notebooks (Favorite Passages)

Albert Camus: Notebooks, 1935 – 1951 Volume 1: 1935-1942 What I mean is this: that one can, with no romanticism, feel nostalgic for lost poverty. A certain number of years lived without money are enough to create a whole sensibility. 3 It is in this life of poverty, among these vain or humble people, that I have most certainly touched […]

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Hieronymus Bosch

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Albrecht Dürer

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper - People in the Sun

Entries in the Anthology series organize my favorite anecdotes about artists, writers, and historical events, and are always being updated. While I love and depend on the exhaustive biography or study, in many ways the disconnected stories and fragments have been more important in my day-to-day living with art, literature and history. As such, nothing original is assumed here, and […]

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Cyril Edwards (Interview)

I’ve relied on many translators and scholars in the writing of To the House of the Sun, and over the years I’ve been lucky enough to correspond with a few of them. Their specialties vary widely—Greek religion, Hinduism/Indo-European studies, Egyptology, Arthurian romance, etc.—and it seems that their enthusiasm and love for language, history, and religion are worth sharing. Especially since […]

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What Eliot Means to Me

(for Eliot’s essay “What Dante Means to Me,” go here) I. Late in life, T. S. Eliot hoped the essays of his that would last would be those “appreciations of individual authors,” saying he had written best “about writers who have influenced my own poetry.”[1] He had come a long way from the essays written in his youth, essays famously […]

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