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Posts Tagged ‘Percy Bysshe Shelley’

Smoke This Book, and Other News

September 8, 2014 | by

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The novelist Martha Baillie turned her book into installation art. Photo via Publishers Weekly

  • In praise of the footnote1: “Many readers, and perhaps some publishers, seem to view endnotes, indexes, and the like as gratuitous dressing—the literary equivalent of purple kale leaves at the edges of the crudités platter. You put them there to round out and dignify the main text, but they’re too raw to digest, and often stiff … Still, the back matter is not simply a garnish. Indexes open a text up. Notes are often integral to meaning, and, occasionally, they’re beautiful, too.”
  • One way of arguing for the necessity of print: “Rather than stand on a street corner yelling, ‘Literature is not commodity!’ I decided to inflict a series of physical experiments on my published work, to take several copies of the new book, go at them with my hands, and see what might result. I stripped the book of its cover, bought a pouch of tobacco, tore the pages, rolled the words.”
  • Among the many treasures of the Bodleian Libraries: “A bivalve locket with locks of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s hair. ‘Blessed are the eyes that saw him alive,’ an inscription reads in Latin.”
  • Metaphor is actually a fundamental constituent of language … In the seemingly literal statement ‘He’s out of sight,’ the visual field is metaphorized as a container that holds things … Ordinary language is saturated with metaphors. Our eyes point to where we’re going, so we tend to speak of future time as being ‘ahead’ of us. When things increase, they tend to go up relative to us, so we tend to speak of stocks ‘rising’ instead of getting more expensive.”
  • Really, though, if humanity discovered evidence of extraterrestrial life, could we be expected to behave ourselves? “There might be happiness and celebration to mark the end of isolation, or the news might be met with a shrug. But human nature suggests it’s more probable that this discovery triggers a chain of events that lead to utter disaster. Suddenly your safe haven is threatened by an unknown ‘them.’ Your time-tested principles of governance and social order are put under pressure. Gossip, rumor, and conjecture will gnaw away at your stable home.”

1. And the endnote, too.

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Shopping for Groceries with the Romantic Poets

October 25, 2013 | by

Jason Novak is a cartoonist in Oakland, California.

 

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William Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways”

September 10, 2013 | by

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One recent evening, my father and I were sharing a bottle of wine when our conversation turned, as if often does, to his father. We like to call my paternal grandfather “the Judge,” and we use this moniker in a spirit of camaraderie. My grandfather, who died eighteen years ago, was a forceful sort of person. The discipline that he exercised on my father, his eldest son, bordered on tyranny, but in my life, this seasoned toughness was inspiring, fun, and a recognizable expression of love. My grandfather, Frank J. Murray, was a self-made man. Born in 1904, he grew up in the rough Dorchester neighborhood of Boston and played football at Commerce High, a school for clever, working-class kids. A field goal in the final game of his high-school career caught the attention of a Dartmouth College scout, but he was saved from the Protestants—at his mother’s insistence—by a priest, who secured a place for him at the Catholic Georgetown University. At Georgetown, he was quarterback, although he had no depth perception, due to a childhood accident that had left him blind in one eye. He went on to Georgetown Law, during which period he himself scouted for the Georgetown football team, and—in a series of successes—became a well-respected Boston lawyer, married my grandmother (who came from better circumstances), had three sons, bought a house in the solidly middle-class West Roxbury, sent his kids to the prestigious Roxbury Latin for high school, ascended to the Bench—Massachusetts Superior Court—and, some time in there, was appointed a federal district judge. When my father and I talk about this man, there certainly is a lot to cover, but on this particular evening, we were thinking of the Judge’s love of poetry.

My grandfather did not have an innate sense of good taste, but he could recognize it, and, as one might assume from his career successes, he was a quick study. As an adult, he wore nothing but Brooks Brothers suits, playing it safe; his one fashion adventure, a salmon-colored sports coat, also came from Brooks Brothers. He had a learned poise, and even his accent, which was an acceptable Back Bay Boston, was an acquired thing—the Dorchester snarl packaged away, placed securely in the past. This need to acquire the accoutrements of privilege gave my grandfather the passion of a convert. He wanted you to appreciate the fine wine, the prime rib, the Royal Brougham—but more than all of that, he wanted you to appreciate the great gift of his education, which was not law, but poetry.

As a law student at Georgetown, he had taught both poetry and math to the freshman. For the math, as is part of the legend, he cowrote his own textbook, but for the poetry, he used the standard reference of the time, The Golden English Treasury, edited by Francis T. Palgrave, commonly referred to as Palgrave’s. I remember the Judge—at this point reluctantly retired—bringing this book out on evenings, when I stayed at his house in Cohasset, on Boston’s south shore. Mostly, when I visited him, it was just two of us. We would go out for lobster, then return for tea, and if the Celtics, Red Sox, or Patriots weren’t playing, we’d continue to sit at the dining room table, each with a glass of Gewürztraminer, and he’d read me poems. Read More »

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And Tremble

August 2, 2013 | by

As a child, I had a morbid fear of the Shelley sonnet “Ozymandias.” (In the pantheon of night terrors, it ranked only behind the cover of the Sweeney Todd LP, which lived in our living room, and the ghost of Ty Cobb, who lived in my closet.) I guess it was in the children’s poetry anthology my mother would sometimes read from. I interpreted the poem extremely literally: any messages about the way of all flesh and the death of empires was lost on me, and I envisioned, instead, merely a series of monstrous limbs, and a sneering head, coming to life Bedknobs-and-Broomsticks-style, and chasing me around. (Later, in high school, I took to secretly calling this one really arrogant nerd with excellent posture Ozymandias, because I was cool like that, but really that’s a story for another day.)

I would have been absolutely terrified of this Breaking Bad promo, in which Bryan Cranston reads the poem to the accompaniment of an ominous drumbeat. In fact, I still sort of am.

 

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George Oppen’s “Boy’s Room”

March 15, 2012 | by

George Oppen.

“It is possible,” George Oppen wrote, in early 1962, “to find a metaphor for anything, an analogue: but the image is encountered, not found; it is an account of the poet's perception, the act of perception; it is a test of sincerity, a test of conviction, the rare poetic quality of truthfulness.” “Boy’s Room,” which is about just such a perceptual encounter, and truthful almost to a fault, appears in Oppen’s 1965 collection, This in Which, his second after a silence of more than twenty-five years. Between Discrete Series (1934) and The Materials (1962), Oppen raised a daughter; he worked as a carpenter; he joined, then became disillusioned with, the Communist party; he lived in Mexico; he fought in World War II (not necessarily in that order). What he did not do, for the most part, is write. When he returned to poetry in 1958 it was with a vigor that “Boy’s Room” amply demonstrates. The collection that followed, Of Being Numerous (1968), would win him the Pulitzer Prize. He died in 1984, and though the details of his personal life are salacious enough—an affluent childhood, his mother's suicide; a car accident in which his passenger was killed, a first date that led to his future wife’s expulsion from college (they stayed out all night and she missed her curfew)—he is largely forgotten. It’s a real pity. “No ideas but in things” is a line from a William Carlos Williams poem, but Oppen’s work fits the bill as well as Williams’s does.

I can remember the first time I read “Boy’s Room” because of the physical sensation that accompanied it: I felt like I was falling. The drop occurs in the gulf between the first and second stanza: “A friend saw the rooms / of Keats and Shelley / At the lake, and saw ‘they were just / Boy’s rooms’ and was moved // By that.” I, too, was moved by that.

Of course, the friend is right in a purely literal sense: Keats died at twenty-five, Shelley at twenty-nine. Confronted with their actual rooms, there's a sense of surprise and sympathetic feeling: these towering figures of romantic poetry were not only real people, they were youngsters who had not quite outgrown their adolescence. But from the discrete thing—the rooms of Keats and Shelley—comes the broader idea: “indeed a poet’s room / Is a boy’s room.” Such a sheepish admission for the poet to make, to indict himself. Read More »

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Staff Picks: Henry Darger’s Room, Shelley’s Ghost

March 2, 2012 | by

Henry Darger, Study of a Vivian Girl with Doll, mid-twentieth century, watercolor, carbon tracing, and pencil on paper, 12 x 9 inches. Courtesy of the American Folk Art Museum.

“The dustbin of history was, to the revolutionary of the thirties, what Hell was to the Maine farmer. To fall out of history, to lose your grip upon its express train, to be buried in its graveyard—the conflicting metaphors descriptive of that immolation recurred again and again. But who could have believed that it could happen to so many so young?” So writes Murray Kempton in A Part of Our Time, his series of biographical essays on radicals of the 1930s. First published in 1955, the essays have lost none of their sparkle, and as a great newspaperman (who just happened, sometimes, to write like Lytton Strachey) Kempton can dash off a portrait or render an absolute judgment or paint the entire sweep of the New Deal in a matter of column inches. —Lorin Stein

I was at the New York branch of the Japanese bookstore Kinokuniya over the weekend, perusing their extensive selection of art publications, and I came across the 2007 book Henry Darger’s Room. The outsider artist’s work will be familiar to most people, but if you haven’t seen images of his tiny Chicago apartment—left intact for twenty-five years after his death and partially reassembled in the Intuit Museum—then have a look at this volume, by his former landlords. The book is somewhere between creepy and magical. —Sadie Stein

The New York Public Library’s exhibition “Shelley’s Ghost” is a pleasant place to spend an hour after lunch if you happen to be in midtown. You can examine “Ode to the West Wind” and “Ozymandias” as well as Laurence Olivier’s copy of The Cenci (he once contemplated a production). There are also a few Shelleyean relics, some cute and some a little bizarre: the poet’s gold-chased baby rattle, his Neapolitan guitar (see “With a Guitar, to Jane”), and some fragments of skull that survived his cremation near Viareggio. —Robyn Creswell

Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, a collection of dark and sensual feminist fairy tales based on traditional legends, has me spellbound. —Elizabeth Nelson

The entire collection of love letters between Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning were put online earlier this month. They aren’t exactly tied in a pink ribbon, but they are fascinating to browse. —Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn

This Is Not a Film, a collaboration between Iranian filmmakers Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtamhmasb, opened this week in New York. Made right before Panahi was sent to an Iranian prison on a six-year stint for antigovernment propaganda, the movie is a portrait of a filmmaker in crisis, a yawp over the roofs of the world. —Josh Anderson

I’m just saying: The Room is playing this Saturday at Landmark Sunshine. Get your spoons out. —S.S.

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