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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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. […]

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 […]

Bruce Springsteen on “Nebraska,” & When the Demo is the Album

Two passages from Bruce Springsteen talking about his 1982 album Nebraska. You can hear the entire album here: Nebraska began as an unknowing meditation on my childhood and its mysteries. I had no conscious political agenda or social theme. I was after a feeling, a tone that felt like the world I’d known and still […]

Harold Bloom Discovers That What Writers Work Hardest On Isn’t What Readers Remember Most

from Bloom’s 1991 interview with The Paris Review: You know, I’ve learned something over the years, picking up copies of my books in secondhand bookstores and in libraries, off people’s shelves. I’ve written so much and have now looked at so many of these books that I’ve learned a great deal. You also learn this […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

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, […]

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 […]

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 […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 7: “This parliament of monsters”

  Excerpts from Book 7 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his time living in London. Other excerpts are here.   Above all, one thought Baffled my understanding, how men lived Even next-door neighbours, as we say, yet still Strangers, and not knowing each other’s names. Book 7, 117-120   Shall I give way, Copying the […]

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, […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 4: “Need I say, dear friend, that to the brim my heart was full?”

  Excerpts from Book 4 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his time home from college. Other excerpts are here.   Why should I speak of what a thousand hearts Have felt, and every man alive can guess? Book 4: 33-34 Delighted did I take my place again At our domestic table; and, dear friend, Relating […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 3: “Unknown, unthought of, yet I was most rich”

Excerpts from Book 3 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, on his years at Cambridge. Other excerpts are here.   Things they were which then I did not love, nor do I love them now: Such glory was but little sought by me, And little won. But it is right to say That even so early, from […]

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 […]

Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude, Book 1: “Invigorating thoughts from former years”

Excerpts from Book 1 of Wordsworth’s 1805 Prelude. Other excerpts are here.   Time, place, and manners, these I seek, and these I find in plenteous store, but nowhere such As may be singled out with steady choice – No little band of yet remembered names Whom I, in perfect confidence, might hope To summon […]

“the shining days when the world was new”: Virgil Greets the Spring

From the second of Virgil’s Georgics, translated by David Ferry: It’s spring that adorns the woods and groves with leaves; In spring the soil, desiring seed, is tumid, And then the omnipotent father god descends In showers from the sky and enters into The joyful bridal body of the earth, His greatness and her greatness […]

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 […]

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 […]

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. […]

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 […]

The Poet Speaks #2: Leonardo, Williams, Bishop, Meredith, Ashbery

Quotes from all over on art & creativity: [Leonardo] was always less concerned with the finishing of a picture than with its conception. His ideal would consist of imagining the picture and getting someone else to paint it: invention was what mattered most to him. Painting was above all “a thing of the mind.” As […]

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 […]

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 […]

Edward Hopper

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 […]