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Posts Tagged ‘Scotland’

Michael Bruce’s “Elegy—Written in Spring”

March 27, 2014 | by

Marianna Saska, Edinburgh Castlehill in Spring

Edinburgh Castlehill in spring. Photo: Marianna Saska, via Flickr

Michael Bruce has a purchase on the springtime. He was born on March 27, 1746, just as spring was coming to Scotland, and his most enduring poem is “Elegy—Written in Spring.” The guy knows greenery.

Bruce—a Scotsman, as you may have guessed—was the son of a weaver; growing up, “his attendance at school was often interrupted because he had to herd cattle on the Lomond Hills in summer, and this early companionship with nature greatly influenced his poetry.”

And so it did: “Elegy” is a plain-and-simple celebration of companionship with nature; it’s unadorned and all the more beautiful for it. Bruce wrote the poem toward the end of his life, and its last stanza, which turns to gaze at death, is quietly devastating, especially since it comes after so many words devoted to the bliss and beauty of pastoral Scotland. The images here are classically, achingly bucolic: flowers, plains, furze. Verdant ground, ample leaves, and dewy lawns. On a day like today, when, in New York, the new season struggles to shuck off the dreariness of the last, “Elegy” is an ideal balm. If only it could bring the balmy weather with it. Read More »

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All Your Favorite Shipwrecks in One Convenient Place, and Other News

March 25, 2014 | by

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Johan Christian Dahl, Shipwreck on the Norwegian Coast (detail), 1831.

  • If you woke up this morning and wondered, Will today finally be the day that the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS) puts together an interactive map of all known shipwrecks that have occurred off the treacherous Scottish coastline?, congratulations: the answer is yes.
  • Shut up the surly teenager in your life—remind him of how viciously teens were treated in medieval Europe. “A lord’s huntsman is advised to choose a boy servant as young as seven or eight: one who is physically active and keen sighted. This boy should be beaten until he had a proper dread of failing to carry out his master’s orders.”
  • Vis-à-vis cruelty: in Britain, it’s now illegal to send books to prisoners. Authors are protesting.
  • Back in the day, Orson Welles performed ten Shakespeare plays on the radio. You can listen to them.
  • “Not since the heyday of Dickens, Dumas, and Henry James has serialized fiction been this big.” Behind Wattpad, a new storytelling app.
  • What if classic writers wrote erotica? (Hats off to Camus’ Sutra, which is especially inspired.)

 

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The Knight’s Tale, and Other News

June 12, 2013 | by

knightpostbox

 

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The Worst Poet in the World

February 19, 2013 | by

220px-William_McGonagallThe handwritten manuscript of a poem by the man considered the worst poet in the English language, William Topaz McGonagall, is expected to fetch up to £3,000 at auction. While the doggerel-esque verse, “In Praise of the Royal Marriage,” is certainly no threat to Tennyson, it  doesn’t seem worthy of the dead-fish and rotten-egg tributes the Scottish bard’s performances regularly elicited on the music hall stage. His most infamous work is probably “The Tay Bridge Disaster,” commemorating an 1879 bridge collapse in which numerous train passengers were killed; it is either a masterpiece of outsider art or of insensitivity.

 

Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay! Alas! I am very sorry to say That ninety lives have been taken away On the last Sabbath day of 1879, Which will be remember’d for a very long time.

 

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Sir George Douglas’s “The Strange Visitor”

January 16, 2013 | by

When my brother and I were small, our parents would read to us each evening. When it was my mother’s turn, she generally read poetry. I don’t know from which children’s collection she read, but it was terrifying: in particularly heavy rotation (at my request) were “Don’t Care,” in which the insouciant protagonist is made to care by being “put in a pot / and boiled til he was done,” “Ozymandias” (I found the idea of the head lying in the sand frightening), and my favorite, “Strange Visitor.”

When I decided to find the poem online, I came across several variations; in the original, compiled by the folklorist Sir George Douglas, the dialect is Scottish; in other adaptations (including that anthologized by George Jacobs) more modern English. The plot is always the same: a woman, sitting at her spinning wheel, wishes for company. A series of mismatched, disembodied parts come in—knees, shoulders, neck, hands—and the figure gives a series of gnomic answers to her questions. “What have you come for?” she asks at last. “FOR YOU!” the reader shouts, leaving any listening children in a state of blissful petrification. The following is Douglas’s transcription, and his stage directions.

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Advice to Our Scottish Readers

August 19, 2011 | by

Late last Tuesday night, a crowd gathered in an antique circus tent, in Edinburghs Charlotte Square, to shelter from the rain, drink whiskey, and hear readings by Paris Review contributor Donald Antrim and Southern editor John Jeremiah Sullivan, both introduced by editor Lorin Stein. The program—The Paris Review Presents New American Writing at the Edinburgh Book Fair—received mixed reviews. One tweeter called itbloomin superb. A blogger asked, Why cant there be events like this in Edinburgh all the time? One young festival volunteer, less enthusiastically, described it as wordy. What did she expect? Last year when McSweeneys came, the editor got up on stage and shaved his head.

For some, head shaving is not an option. Instead, at the end of the night, the Paris Review delegates opened the floor to requests for advice, which were submitted on scraps of paper. Most were answered on the spot; others were tucked into a notebook and reviewed on the road, as editors Sullivan and Stein recuperated from the book fair triumph/fiasco.

Could you recommend a travel book about either Japan or Spain?
—Anon.

We are composing this response under deadline in the West Highlands—specifically, in the self-proclaimed “oldest pub in Scotland,” the Lachlann Inn, on the banks of Loch Lomond. As everyone knows, they didn’t have WiFi in 1734 (although they do appear to have had video poker). For this reason, we can’t answer your question in the kind of depth that American readers have come to expect from The Paris Review. We can only recommend, in Lorin’s case, Robert Hughes’s Barcelona and, in John’s case, Journey of a Thousand Miles, the famous series of travel haiku by Basho. (John would also like to recommend the Laura Veirs song “Rapture,” which is not strictly speaking a travelogue, but does include a tribute to “lovely Basho / his plunking ponds and toads.”)

Please recommend a good book for our book club. We are currently reading Jennifer Egans novel A Visit From the Goon Squad and have recently read such books as So Much for That, The Dice Man, Middlesex, Half of a Yellow Sun, Oryx and Crake, and Rebecca.
—Marion & Co.

When we see the title The Dice Man, we both think of the scandal-plagued comedian of our youth, the “Dice Man,” Andrew Dice Clay—and that can’t possibly be what you have in mind. Still, we are struck by the breadth of your reading. Your question has been on our minds. Yesterday we wandered into a small used bookstore at the foot of the Castle mound and both ogled a complete 1910 Robert Louis Stevenson in twenty volumes. John proposed that we donate it to your book club; Lorin found it “too rich” for The Paris Review’s “blood.” As a backup, John recommends Ghost Light, Joseph O’Connor’s fictional re-creation of John Millington Synge’s hopeless love affair with the Abbey Theatre actress Molly Allgood. And we both recommend—in the strongest possible terms—our colleague Donald Antrim’s short novel The Verficationist, about an academic meeting gone horribly wrong amid the hustle and bustle of an International House of Pancakes.

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