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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The Detective (poem)

The Detective The detective, he’s a father too, and when he plays with his girls in the park he remembers some dead girl’s hairdo, and the hill or ravine or tree reminds him of some old crime scene where a rape or attack got out of hand. The grit of dirt like sand, the lay of certain land, the shadow […]

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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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One of the Most Haunting Paintings

At least for me, John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit” is one of the more haunting paintings. What it appears to say about family, isolation, childhood, the lives of women and girls, and perhaps even the deleterious effects of being rich, seem quite endless. And the history of each of the girls’ later lives only adds to […]

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Eleanor Roosevelt Finds Herself

From Geoffrey Ward’s biography of the Roosevelts comes this moving account of Eleanor Roosevelt’s Dickensian childhood, complete with neglectful mother and alcoholic father. Following the early death of both parents, the intervention of an aunt changes her life:    …[Eleanor’s father] Elliott was delighted at her birth, and called her “Little Nell” after the relentlessly virtuous orphaned heroine of Dickens’s […]

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Missing Child (poem)

Missing Child The sound of them woke me in the morning, feet kicking up careful spirals of leaves and lean, low voices under my window. All the way to the woods there’s a line of them, a missing boy overnight their care won’t solve: the world is too small to search all of it. I find one to say about […]

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