Category Archives: Words

Recent intermission

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Reading time has been rather gobbled up.

I may have selected this based on a subconscious connection with grass and the breaking of impenetrable sod:

Somehow I have managed to miss reading it down all the years; meeting as an adult, it raised quite a few questions.  One concerns the apparently reckless way the father takes his family off on a dangerous journey.  We have gone soft now.  Or perhaps it didn’t seem as dangerous, when any life was dangerous – even staying tucked into the most secure and prosperous home could not protect you from the epidemics of infectious disease which cut swathes through many a family.  Or perhaps pressure of poverty was strong enough to drive the migrants on. Then there’s the way Ingalls apparently makes the decisions without input from his wife (ah the good old days – ‘she for god in him’ etc.) And worst, of course, are the passages dealing with the native Americans.  Ingalls is portrayed as liberal, humane, but assumes that the western country is his to take because the inhabitants “weren’t using it”, and he is furious when, having illegally moved into Indian reservation land, he and other settlers were required to leave “their” farms. Ugly.

Then there is this delicate little sippet of a book.

Ah, the pure sensory pleasure of its satiny dust jacket, the smooth crispness of the coated paper, the careful balance of text and image, the reposeful colours, the spine coherent without wilful springiness, the clean smell rising from every page turn. This made it quite difficult to concentrate on the actual subject matter, but it too was charming in its miscellany of science, technology, art and history, and although the coverage is very slight, there’s a further reading list handy at the back.

One phrase, though originally intended to be satirical, spoke truth to me as an observer:  Thomas Tomkis in 1615 characterised a telescope as “an engine to catch starres”.

“Suddenly” we are GOING to *emphasise* and ‘use’ speech marks FOR no *apparent* reason as “if” we were randomly *shouting*

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Hmm.  Seems you can’t use italics in a blog post title.  Please take them as read between * and *.

See?  They are even on the cover.

It’s a long time since I was so comprehensively annoyed by typography.  The excessive use of inverted commas sometimes makes it difficult to tell if they are random noise or indicate a genuine quotation.  And then there are the italicised words plopped without apparent purpose into every sentence.  And the capitals.  Add to this the authorial voice, at once matey and preachy….  all so distracting that I found it almost impossible to grasp the content.  Whatever happened to formal prose?  I wish he had had a strong-minded editor.

I developed a technique for following the argument, in the end.  This consisted of hopping briskly from one quotation to another, like stepping from tussock to tussock in a bog.  Luckily the quotations were numerous and often full, so I read a certain amount of Buber, Tracy, Arendt, Schillebeeckx, Derrida, and such, and the merest modicum of Veling.

The prose came alive once, though.  Veling gives an account of a time when he attempted to actually apply his practical theology in a tricky social situation.  “No miracle of peace occurred”, he notes sadly.  Yep.  Ain’t that the truth.

The march of the blue labels

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They have reached W now.  Hurray!

In another vein, I found this little treasure.

I expect everyone else knows about Tan, but I didn’t.  Grandpa’s story had great charm, and Night of the turtle rescue was brief and bold (and tough).  But I think my favourite was Distant rain, about the reciprocal gravity of unread poems; close to my heart.

Books and legs

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Oh – and choirs and fudge.

Sitting between Salisbury cathedral choir on one side and a powerfully-singing companion on the other was a novel experience.  I squawked away happily under cover, as it were, only to have companion tell me later that he could hear every croak. Sigh.

Then legging it round the city so other companion could get her bearings. And tea. And a couple of happy hours in the Sarum College library. We had it to ourselves, spreading strange items out on tables, crawling about on the floor in the darker corners, reading out good bits to one another, and finding bizarre treasures in the bargain sale box.

My suitcase is going to be heavy tomorrow.

Photo update:  from the Chapter House.  I am usually so wowed by the ceiling I forget to take notice of the Genesis story.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: lxvi

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lxvi : Have a dream

… apparently induced by propping myself up, covers to chin, listening to the house for an hour as it rattled and creaked in the squalls.  It seems it was quite a cheerful dream, though the only wrack of it left behind was strange enough to grow a not-sonnet.  I’ve called it Superstition.

I procrastinate

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I procrastinate before jumping, but, once in, the water is fine.

judith

Returning to Treharne’s lovely fat anthology, I’ve reached the Old English Judith.  It took a while to read this relatively short poem.  I’m not fluent enough to cope on my own, but have to crib from the parallel translation, which requires protracted eye-swivelling between pages (ow!).  Also, there is not always a one-to-one verbal correspondence between each line of the two renderings, so if it isn’t obvious which OE word means what, one must have recourse to a dictionary. Luckily there are several online, though not always easy for a novice to find what is required.

Worth the bother?  Oh yes.  Especially if you like alliteration and onomatopoeia and polysyllables. And sounding the final e.

bealde byrnwiggende        bold mail-coated warriors

hloh ond hlydde,   hlynede ond dynede    he laughed and got loud, roared and clamoured

wundenlocc    braided hair

Obviously from now on part of my morning routine will involve doing my wundenlocc; but top favourite today was hildenædran.  Turns out that nædre means snake or viper, so perhaps we should say ‘a nadder’ rather than ‘an adder’.  Also turns out that hildenædran are war vipers = arrows.  Got to love those Anglo-Saxons.

And the poem?  Well, there’s a splendid dramatic irony as the Assyrians booze themselves drunk and incapable, while Judith, decorated with bracelets and rings, is brought to the intending rapist’s bed; and yes, a certain admiration, as she coolly arranges Holofernes’ neck so she can take a really good swing at him.  So I read Judith once, and then went to Michael Drout’s Anglo-Saxon Aloud website, following the written poem again while he pronounced it, with the thespian relish those lovely vowels deserve.

Oh all right then

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herbert

Well it had good reviews, but then, what do reviewers know?  Or Very Reverend Doctors, for that matter.

Naturally I had to buy it, but was overtaken by deep reluctance.  Nearly two years on, and mostly because of the £10 expended, I approached the first chapter crabwise, reading with my face (as it were) averted until well into chapter two, and backing off at intervals to squint from a safe distance.

With hesitant trust established, I gobbled the remaining eleven chapters at speed, scribbling notes as fast as possible so as not to interrupt the prose.  The biographical writing and critical analysis step gracefully in and out of one another, and Drury seems to have all the time in the world for his discussion.  He writes with zest and, I think, affection, and with enjoyable turns of phrase.  Almost all the argument rang true as I read – there were one or two small clonks, but then, what do I know either?  Drury also has a gift of quotation which makes one actually want to rush off and read the sermons of seventeenth century divines, so there’s a novelty.

So yes, all right, Drury can do Herbert. I am ridiculously relieved.