Monthly Archives: December 2013

What Is Love? Famous Definitions from 400 Years of Literary History

CupidLove has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only with what you are expecting to give — which is everything.”

After those collections of notable definitions of art, science, and philosophy, what better way to start a new year than with a selection of poetic definitions of a peculiar phenomenon that is at once more amorphous than art, more single-minded than science, and more philosophical than philosophy itself? Gathered here are some of the most memorable and timeless insights on love, culled from several hundred years of literary history — enjoy.

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,800 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

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The poetry of P.K. Page was ‘daring in scope’

P. K. Page

P. K. Page

Thanks to Josie and Susan, our P.K. Page exponents on January 23, for this link to an article about the poet in The Globe and Mail:

As elegant as she was curious, as vibrant as she was discreet, as prolific as she was experimental, P.K. Page, the poet, painter and prose writer – of every form imaginable – was a supremely creative person. “Dam it there,” she said, jabbing one arm with a finger from the opposite hand, during an interview in her Victoria home in 2008, and “it comes out there. I can’t not be doing something. I’m not a johnny-one-note.”

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A joyous Christmas and a happy, healthy and poetic 2014 to all Roundhouse Poetry Circle members and their families

oxenLooking forward to more great poetry in the New Year. Meanwhile, a favourite Christmas poem:

The Oxen

By Thomas Hardy

Christmas Eve, and twelve of the clock.

Now they are all on their knees,”

An elder said as we sat in a flock

By the embers in hearthside ease.

We pictured the meek mild creatures where

They dwelt in their strawy pen,

Nor did it occur to one of us there

To doubt they were kneeling then.

So fair a fancy few would weave

In these years! Yet, I feel,

If someone said on Christmas Eve,

Come; see the oxen kneel,

In the lonely barton by yonder coomb

Our childhood used to know,”

I should go with him in the gloom,

Hoping it might be so.

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Poems to Fight Against the Dark

Mid-winterClick the link below to listen to:

Christmas poetry full of love and light.

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Poetry in Motion

bellaOccasionally, it warrants going off topic – or is it off topic?

Love Can Come from the Oddest of Places: Tarra the elephant and Bella the dog give us an unforgettable lesson in love.” Watch Video

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The Verbal Equivalent of a Homemade Bomb

Andrew ElliottMortality Rate
Andrew Elliott
CB editions, £10.

Mortality Rate inhabits Belfast, Glasgow, London, Berlin, America—or maybe, as Kafka had it, Amerika. Its world is that of the everyday absurd, in which stories (one poem is “a novel condensed”) run on relentlessly, and characters, such as “Amy” and “Sabrina” (possibly an allusion to Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being), pop up in unexpectedly louche places, a lending library, for example. These poems are not disjunctive in the usual jump-cutting ways; the syntax is grammatical, even complex, and the structure is sequential, but in a manner that makes sequentiality feel more than a touch deranged.

Poems begin in the familiar and veer towards the strange. Reading, one is nudged through a looking glass, usually unawares, until at some point, which may be the end of the poem—it can be hard to stop reading—one looks up and asks, “Where am I?” and “How did I get here from there?” Think of Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Now think of it without the framing device, nothing to tip one off to the nested boxes and ground one, as Calvino does, in the cozy world of bookstores and libraries. Elliott strips away any illusion of solidity, leaves one reeling.

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Shakespeare at work

Shakespeare-in-CompanySHAKESPEARE IN COMPANY 384pp. Oxford University Press.£25 (US $45)
Bart van Es

Not much is known about the Elizabethan actor John Sincler, a colleague of Shakespeare’s in the Lord Chamberlain’s Men and the King’s Men, but we do have a pretty good idea of what he looked like – very thin, bony, pasty-faced. We know this because in the quarto edition of Henry IV Part 2 (1600) his name appears in a stage direction – “Enter Sincklo and three or foure officers” – which shows that he played the part of the First Beadle. In a short scene resounding with the complaints of Mistress Quickly and Doll Tearsheet, whom he has arrested, the beadle is variously described as a “thin thing”, a “famished correctioner”, a “starved bloodhound”, a “nut hook”, an “atomy” (emended in the Folio text to “anatomy”, i.e. a corpse ready for dissection) and “goodman bones”; he is also called “tripe-visaged” and “paper-faced”. It is generally agreed that the copy used for the quarto was Shakespeare’s own “foul papers” or working draft of the play (rather than a marked-up prompt copy), so the casting of Sincler is in Shakespeare’s mind as he writes the part, and the actor’s particular physical characteristics condition the writing of it. It can further be argued – or at least intelligently guessed – that Sincler played other skinny Shakespearean characters such as Starveling in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Abraham Slender in The Merry Wives of Windsor (who as well as being slender has a “whey face”) and Sir Andrew Aguecheek in Twelfth Night, though he is perhaps unlikely to have tackled the more serious part of “lean and hungry” Cassius in Julius Caesar. His last known appearance was in a King’s Men production of John Marston’s The Malcontent, performed at the Globe in 1604. In a new prologue, specially written for this production by John Webster, five members of the company appear on stage as themselves; one of them is Sincler. There are further physique-related jokes about him looking like a viola da gamba, and having “four elbows”.

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Happy 243rd birthday to Ludwig van Beethoven

BeethovenOn Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!
Reject me not into the world again.
With you alone is excellence and peace,
Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain.
Enchanted in your air benign and shrewd,
With limbs a-sprawl and empty faces pale,
The spiteful and the stingy and the rude
Sleep like the scullions in the fairy-tale.
This moment is the best the world can give:
The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
Reject me not, sweet sounds; oh, let me live,
Till Doom espy my towers and scatter them,
A city spell-bound under the aging sun.
Music my rampart, and my only one.

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Pulling the Thread

threadOngoing thanks to Graeme Hughes for his frequent comment contributions to the blog. They add interest, interactivity and help make the whole project worthwhile. I would like to encourage similar comment contributions from others.

William Stafford’s poem “The Way It Is,” which Graeme quoted, adds to the countless poems and mythologies with “thread” as the theme. To reverse and concretize the metaphor, I’m reminded of an incident in my life many years ago when I was scuba-diving with the Vancouver Underwater Archeological Society. We were diving on a wreck in Porteau Cove. There had been a diving fatality in that wreck on the previous weekend. A group of five divers had gone looking for the wreck and after a fruitless search were about to abandon the dive when one of them spotted the wreck. According to one of the survivors, he had only 500lbs of air pressure left in his tank. It’s drilled into you in scuba school that you must surface when your tank gets this low. To compound the problem, the wreck was at depth of 90ft. At that depth a tank of air doesn’t last long. Anyway, having spent so much time seeking the wreck, this one diver couldn’t resist the temptation to enter. It was a large, old wooden boat, full of narrow passageways that could only accommodate one diver at a time. This fellow went in, couldn’t find his way out, and drowned. Our purpose on this dive was to string a line (thread) through the wreck, to prevent a recurrence of this tragedy, which we did. Had we done it a week earlier, a young life would have been saved. It makes me think of the poem, ”There are seven that pull the thread,” by W. B. Yeats. Edward Elgar set the poem to music in 1901. Yeats placed the poem in Act I of his play Grania and Diarmid, co-written in poetic prose by Yeats and the Irish novelist George Moore. This song and the incidental music that Elgar wrote for the play form his Op. 42.

Life imitates art. Maybe we have a session topic here.

There are seven that pull the thread –
There is one under the waves,
There is one where the winds are wove,
There is one in the old grey house
Where the dew is made before dawn.
One lives in the house of the sun,
And one in the house of the moon,
And one lies under the boughs of the golden apple tree,
And one spinner is lost.
Holiest, holiest seven
Put all your pow’r on the thread
That I’ve spun in the house tonight.

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