After Leaves Come.
I may notice evergreens less. I will miss the antics of squirrels in bare trees. I will not know trees by their skeletal grandeur. There will be less sky to view sunrise, sunset, and the holy, still twilight. There will be less sky view at night. There will be glorious canopies of green.
I Want To Continue To Look Up.
To read the weather by sky colors and clouds. To know constellations and their movements. To know planets. To enjoy the magic show of meteors and meteor showers. To look deep into the sky and to know some of its depth and to realize our place below it.
Check List for Arriving Spring, Week of March 22.
Daffodils, yellow and white – yes
Forsythia, bright yellow – yes!
Early light green of neighbor’s weeping willow tree – yes!
Small blue ground flowers – yes
Purple flowers of clover – yes
First yellow-green dusting of some hardwood trees – yes
Purple, pink, white blossoms on fruit trees – yes
Large purple flowers on tulip poplar trees – yes!
Grackles returned – yes
Frogs croaking lustily at Henry and Teresa’s farm – yes!
Grass greening and growing to mowing – yes
Increased bird song in early morning – yes!
Live Broadcast, Metropolitan Opera.
Rossini, La Donna del Lago. (The Lady of the Lake) It was a treat to relax and enjoy this bel canto opera, based on a work by Sir Walter Scott. The improbable story with happy ending was presented on a steeply raked stage with a cyclorama which indicated sky at different times of day. The raked stage proved versatile in blocking the large chorus and in the placement of various sets. It was incongruous to hear impassioned Italian music sung in kilts and set in bleak Scotland, but–hey! That’s opera.
Notes on Reading. Fiction.
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Stories (1886). Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003. Since most readers know before they read that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde are the same person, they enjoy Stevenson’s masterful plot, how he leads to the revelation. The other five stories are chosen to exhibit humankind’s darker side. “The Suicide Club” is memorable, with overlapping stories. “Thrawn Janet,” written in Scottish dialect, is a chilling story of the demonic. Stevenson’s characters’ names are fun: Mr. Utterson, Bartholomew Malthus, Silas Q. Scuddamore, Mme Zephyrine, Brackenbury Rich.
Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle (1963). Dell, 1970. From the listing of the chapters (127 of them, for a 191-page book), readers might expect that they will have a zany reading experience. They will. Often hilarious satire exposes foibles of scientific inquiry, warfare, Mid-Westerners, scientists, religious and political leaders, and above all, organized religion, through Broknon, a religious “cynically and playfully” invented, a religion that boldly proclaims its inanity. The end-of-the-world ending is appropriate.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening. (1889) Capricorn Books, 1964. This is a great novel. The author presents the difficult, if not impossible, challenge of self-actualization in a repressive and judgmental culture. Contrasting the needs of three characters (the protagonist, a man, and another woman) with those who have found meaning in their culture, Chopin presents psychological and spiritual insights about humanity. Set in New Orleans and Grand Isle, Louisiana, the novel, through specific details, gives us insight into the social life and values of the time. I particularly like the character Dr. Mandelet, who advises the husband not to try to stop the controversial actions of his wife, and who offers the protagonist perspective: “I know I would understand, and I tell you there are not many who would–not many, my dear.” It’s a novel which invites discussion with others. It merits several re-readings.
Henry James, Daisy Miller. (1878) in Great Short Works of Henry James, Perennial, 1966. Mr. Winterbourne, the protagonist, is attracted to the free spirit of Daisy Miller, a fellow American in Switzerland and Rome. Her actions and attitudes contrast outlandishly with the staid and conservative expectations of society of the time. It is interesting to see Winterbourne’s reactions change during the course of this short novel. The famed description of the Coliseum by moonlight does nothing for me.
Notes on Reading. Poetry.
Jim Melnyk and Will Melnyk. Ukrania: Songs of a Beloved Land. Two Cossacks Press, 2010. In the Preface the authors explain that these poems are “a record in verse” of a trip that two brothers take to their ancestral home in 2006. They explain that the themes the poems explore are “the struggle for freedom, the agony of war, and the celebration of the land and her people.” My favorite is “Pepper Vodka” a tanka by Jim, quoted here in entirety: “Pepper Vodka shots– / lots of Pepper Vodka shots, / One too many? ‘ Oh, that’s just the ship swaying. / Another round for us all!”
Stephin Merritt, 101 Two-Letter Words. Illustrations by Roz Chast. W. W. Norton & Company, 2014. Merritt collected the 101 two-letter words in The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary and wrote a rhyming 4-line poem for each one. Most are humorous. Some are sardonic, some witty, some provocative. Two of my favorites: “AS” As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner’s / seventh novel, made him. / He got some cash, a Novel sash, / and trashy ladies laid him.” “FA” “Fa, sings Father, “la, la, la,” / driving the family crazy. He’s never learned another song, / because he’s fackin’ lazy.” Poems are enhanced by excellent illustrations by Chast.
Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems (1916) in Complete Poems of Carl Sandburg. Harcourt, Brace & World, 1950. Most of these 143 short poems are not distinguished. There are the famous “Chicago” and “Fog” and the often anthologized “The Harbor.” Many of the poems present scenes of city life and portraits of people, mostly workers. “Buttons, ” in the section “war Poems (1914-1915) is a particularly effective contrast of life on the front and that at home. “The Junk Man,” long a favorite of mine, is an extended metaphor of God as a junk dealer, coming to take away the tired, broken, and useless. I most admire several of the poems which show the influence of the Imagist Movement: “White Shoulders,” “Under the Harvest Moon,” “Back Yard,” “On the Breakwater,” “Pearl Fog,” “Follies,” “Nocturne in a Deserted Brickyard,” “Window,” and “Child Moon.” Effective in showing ordinary working people are “Halsted Street Car,” “The Shovel Man,” “Mag,” “Onion Days,” “Cripple,” “Mamie,” “Ice Handler,” and “Jack.” The poems mentioned will serve as a good introduction to early Sandburg.
Notes on Reading. Nonfiction.
Aiofe Curran. Ireland: Legend and Folklore. Metro Books, 2012. Curran gives overviews: stories from cycles of mythology, stories of saints and kings, descriptions of fairies, fairy folklore, folk tales, and a tour of ancient, sacred sites. Even better than the writing are the many colorful photographs of sites and art. Of special interest to me was the text of the prayer, St. Patrick’s Breastplate, which I had never read in entirety. It’s an excellent reference for travel and meditation.
John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights. Del Rey, 1976. This is a posthumous work. According to editor Chase Horton, the manuscript was never completed, corrected, or edited. Steinbeck worked from Malory’s Winchester Manuscripts and other sources and presents several of the stories and adds some new ones. I was impressed by gory and bloody details of battle scenes and Steinbeck’s skillful use of plot, with stories following one another non-stop. I was glad to see Steinbeck’s mention of the likeness of these legends and characters and events of Westerns. The appendix is a selection of letters from Steinbeck to Horton and to Elizabeth Otis, his literary agent, in which he describes his work with the legends. They give insight into how he, as a writer, worked. The Appendix is thus interesting reading apart from the literary work.
Steven Pinker, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century. Viking, 2014. The book explains, illustrates, and exemplifies the qualities of good writing style and offers sound advice about how to improve writing. There are chapters on audience, coherency, syntax, and usage. Ideas are illustrated through examples of contemporary prose, cartoons, and records of speech. The index is useful for self-editing.
Brad Gooch, Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. Back Bay Books, 2009. The writing shows thorough scholarship, impeccable choice of detail, obvious love of the life and times, and understanding the influences of this brilliant writer. I was not surprised to learn of O’Connor’s interest in Hawthorne, Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Merton, Eudora Welty. I was glad to see six references to a Wake Forest English professor, Tom Gossett. During a course in American fiction I took with Dr. Gossett, he told of one of the visits he had with O’Connor and writer Katherine Anne Porter. When Gooch reported the visit, I had a good smile of remembrance.