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Archive for December, 2014

When I heard that Mary Oliver’s new poetry collection ‘Blue Horses’ has come out, I couldn’t wait to get it and read it. I read it in one breath. Here is what I think.

Blue Horses By Mary Oliver

‘Blue Horses’ has thirty-eight poems. They are on topics which are close to Mary Oliver’s heart – nature, plants, trees, flowers, animals, insects, seasons. There are also poems on love, art, yoga, spirituality and other everyday topics. Each poem is different – each has a different number of lines, some are short some are long, there is no consistency in terms of form and structure – but all of them are beautiful. If one is new to Mary Oliver, one would expect that at some point she would unfurl all the poetic pyrotechnics and dazzle the reader – something that might intimidate the non-specialist reader of poetry – but one would be wrong. Mary Oliver doesn’t bother with metre and rhyme and rhythm and alliteration and the iamb and the dactyl and the trochee. She just writes one beautiful poem after another in free verse which is accessible to the general reader and touches our hearts with beautiful images and thoughts and in the process makes it look so deceptively simple, like the best poets do.

I loved every poem in the book. Here are a few of my favourites.

 

What I Can Do

 

The television has two instruments that control it.

I get confused.

The washer asks me, do you want regular or delicate?

Honestly, I just want clean.

Everything is like that.

I won’t even mention cell phones.

 

I can turn on the light of the lamp beside my chair

where a book is waiting, but that’s about it.

 

Oh yes, and I can strike a match and make fire.

 

 

No Matter What

 

No matter what the world claims,

its wisdom always growing, so it’s said,

some things don’t alter with time :

the first kiss is a good example,

and the flighty sweetness of rhyme.

 

No matter what the world preaches

spring unfolds in its appointed time,

the violets open and the roses,

snow in its hour builds its shining curves,

there’s the laughter of children at play,

and the wholesome sweetness of rhyme.

 

No matter what the world does,

some things don’t alter with time.

The first kiss, the first death.

The sorrowful sweetness of rhyme.

 

 

 

If I Wanted a Boat

 

I would want a boat, if I wanted a

boat, that bounded hard on the waves,

that didn’t know starboard from port

and wouldn’t learn, that welcomed

dolphins and headed straight for the

whales, that, when rocks were close,

would slide in for a touch or two,

that wouldn’t keep land in sight and

went fast, that leaped into the spray.

What kind of life is it always to plan

and do, to promise and finish, to wish

for the near and the safe? Yes, by the

heavens, if I wanted a boat I would want

a boat I couldn’t steer.

 

 

 

Do Stones Feel?

 

Do stones feel?

Do they love their life?

Or does their patience drown out everything else?

 

When I walk on the beach I gather a few

white ones, dark ones, the multiple colors,

Don’t worry, I say, I’ll bring you back, and I do.

 

Is the tree as it rises delighted with its many

Branches,

each one like a poem?

 

Are the clouds glad to unburden their bundles of rain?

 

Most of the world says no, no, it’s not possible.

 

I refuse to think to such a conclusion.

Too terrible it would be, to be wrong.

Have you read ‘Blue Horses’? What do you think about it? 

Other reviews

Emily (from Books, the Universe and Everything)

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Today is the start of the ‘Lolita’ readalong. So, if you haven’t decided yet, you are welcome to join my friend Delia (from Postcards from Asia) and me and read Nabokov’s classic and join in some fascinating discussion and conversation at the end of the month. You can find Delia’s introductory post here and my introductory post here. You can comment on either of these places to let us know that you are joining the readalong. We will link to your blogs and readalong posts. In case you don’t have a blog, you can leave your thoughts on the book at the readalong posts either here or in Delia’s blog.


Here are the details of the readalong.

      Readalong start date – December 7th, 2014

      Readalong posts and discussions start from – December 27th, 2014

You can continue posting till the end of December.

 

Delia was kind enough to create a couple of beautiful badges for the readalong. You can use them while posting about the book. Here they are.

Lolita Readalong Badge 1

Lolita Readalong Badge 2

 

‘Lolita’ doesn’t need an introduction, but in case you are interested in it, here is the book blurb (copied from the inside flap of the edition I have).

“When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause célèbre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist, Humbert Humbert, and his two principal interlocutors, the pre-pubescent Lolita, and the magnificently weird playwright, Mr.Clare Quilty. But Nabokov’s wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes it stature as one of the twentieth century’s classic novels not to the controversy its material aroused, but to the fact that its author used that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness.

Welcome to the readalong and happy reading

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GLM 2014 Badge

Today it is the first of December. It means that this year’s German Literature Month is over. It is my favourite reading event of the year and so it is a bittersweet moment for me. Now I have to wait for one more year for next year’s edition.

I read eight books for this year’s GLM. That sounds pretty impressive, but it is not. Halfway through GLM, I had read only one book. But like any self-respecting Indian, I finished ninety percent of the work in the eleventh hour – in the last four days, I read four books. But I read a wide variety of books and so I am happy about that. I read two novels, three novellas, one collection of short stories, two plays and one essay in book form.

My favourite was the novella ‘Three Paths to the Lake’ by Ingeborg Bachmann. It is a book which I will be definitely reading again.

ThreePathsToTheLakeByIngeborgBachmann

‘The Art of Hearing Heartbeats’ by Jan-Philipp Sendker, ‘Flight Without End’ by Joseph Roth and ‘Rock Crystal’ by Adalbert Stifter weren’t far behind.

The Art Of Hearing Heartbeats By Jan Philipp Sendker      Flight Without End By Joseph Roth

Rock Crystal By Adalbert Stifter

I didn’t review one book – ‘In Berlin : Day and Night in 1929’ by Franz Hessel. 

In Berlin By Franz Hessel

It was a twenty-something page essay on the author’s experience in Berlin during one day in 1929. It mostly had descriptions of nightlife and bar hopping, and though it might have had some historical interest, I didn’t find it insightful enough. 

I finally got around to reading a German play – I actually read two of them (‘La Ronde’ by Arthur Schnitzler and ‘The Robbers’ by Friedrich Schiller), which I am quite happy about. 

The Austrian contigent was heavily represented in my selection – four of the eight books I read were by Austrian writers and three of my four favourites were by Austrians. I seem to be clearly leaning in a particular direction.

I had hoped to read my favourite writer Marlen Haushofer’s ‘Nowhere Ending Sky’ and another favourite writer Ingeborg Bachmann’s collection of poems ‘Darkness Spoken’, but I couldn’t. These have to wait for another time. 

Nowhere Ending Sky By Marlen Haushofer

Darkness Spoken By Ingeborg Bachmann

Here are the books I read, with the links to their reviews. 

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan-Philipp Sendker 

Immensee by Theodor Storm

Three Paths to the Lake by Ingeborg Bachmann (Part 1 / Part 2)

In Berlin : Day and Night in 1929 by Franz Hessel

Flight Without End by Joseph Roth

Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter

La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler

The Robbers by Friedrich Schiller 

 

I had a wonderful German Literature Month, as always. This year’s GLM seems to have broken all records – last time I checked there were 176 posts, which is totally awesome. Many thanks to the hostesses Caroline (from Beauty is a Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (from Lizzy’s Literary Life) for hosting this wonderful event every year, and especially for this wonderful fourth edition. I can’t wait for next year’s GLM.

Did you participate in German Literature Month this year? Which was your favourite GLM book this year?

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GLM 2014 Badge

‘The Robbers’ by Friedrich Schiller was first published in 1781. Is it the earliest German book that I have ever read? Possibly. I first got to know about it when I read the book ‘German Literature : A Very Short Introduction’ by Nicholas Boyle. This is what Boyle says about Schiller’s play : 

“a rebellious schoolboy in Stuttgart, Friedrich Schiller, began drafting the definitive treatment of the theme, his first play, ‘The Robbers’, which took the reading public by storm on its publication in 1781, and reduced its audience to sobs and swoons when it was first performed the following year.” 

“A modern, international audience can still be gripped by the story of Karl and his band, a prescient analysis of the logic of self-righteous terrorism in a moral void. The huge success of the play in Germany in its own time and subsequently was no doubt due to the ferocity with which it dramatized the conflict between the two value systems available to the middle class in its struggle against princely rule – self-interested materialism or university-educated idealism – while it left prudently unassailed the structure of power itself.” 

“…Schiller focussed, with the penetrating clarity of a born dramatist, on the political and moral fault-lines in his contemporary society. With ‘The Robbers’ an independent modern German literary tradition begins.”


How can you resist a description like that? Since I read that, I have wanted to read ‘The Robbers’. I managed to squeeze it in yesterday, on the last day of this year’s German Literature Month. Here is what I think.

The Robbers By Friedrich Schiller

‘The Robbers’ is about two brothers Karl and Franz. Karl is the eldest son and so is the natural heir to his father’s estates. Their father loves Karl. Everyone does. Karl is also engaged to a beautiful woman called Amalia. Franz resents this. He resents everything that Karl has, but which he desires. He covets his father’s name and estates. He wants to win the hand of Amalia. So, he plots against Karl. Karl himself seems to aid that venture. While he is away from home, he gets into debt and runs away from the law. Franz uses that and convinces his father to disinherit Karl. Karl has plans of coming back home and hopes that his father will forgive him for his indiscretions. But when he receives the letter from his brother Franz stating that his father has disinherited him, he is hurt and angry. And before he knows what he is doing, he joins with his companions and starts a band of robbers and becomes a fugitive who is hunted by the law. Franz meanwhile continues with his nefarious plots – he wants his father, the elderly Count, to die, so that he can take over the estates, but the Count, eventhough feeble, has a sound constitution. Using psychological threats and false news that his son Karl has died in a battle, Franz upsets the Count immeasurably that the Count dies in a shock. Franz takes over his father’s name and estates. The household staff serves him loyally. However, his plans to win Amalia come to naught. Amalia spurns his advances and decides to be faithful to her supposedly dead fiancé Karl. Meanwhile, Karl, as the head of his band of robbers, has adventures that robbers have. He saves one of his band members from near certain death and while saving him, burns down the whole town. Karl, though he is a robber, is noble. He doesn’t want any money for himself and helps poor people in need. He is a robber – he kills, he burns – but he is also kind. One day he hears some news about Amalia and comes to his father’s castle in disguise. There he discovers the truth about how Franz was responsible for his father’s death and how Franz usurped his rightful inheritance. Karl is wild with anger

What happens next? Does Karl exact revenge? What happens to Franz? Does he reach the end that is reserved for all villains? Do Karl and Amalia get married? What happens to the band of robbers? The answers to these questions form the rest of the story.

 

There were many things that I liked about ‘The Robbers’. The first thing I liked was the way the characters of Karl and Franz were portrayed. Karl, though he is the noble hero, is also a robber. Schiller doesn’t shy away from portraying that part of Karl’s personality. Karl robs people, kills them, burns houses and towns. Schiller doesn’t condone that. So, we see two sides of Karl – the noble kind side and the ruthless robber side. Karl is not a traditional, hero, but a complex character. Franz, the villain, is quite complex too. He is an atheist and a materialist. Though I didn’t like him much – it is hard to like a villain – I loved many of the lines that he spoke. They were insightful and profound. My favourite lines were a soliloquy by him : 

Francis (soliloquy) : “…he is thy father! He gave thee life, thou art his flesh and blood – and therefore he must be sacred to thee! Again a most inconsequential deduction! I should like to know why he begot me; certainly not out of love for me – for I must first have existed.”

“Could he know me before I had being, or did he think of me during my begetting? Or did he wish for me at the moment? Did he know what I should be? If so I would not advise him to acknowledge it or I should pay him off for his feat. Am I to be thankful to him that I am a man? As little as I should have had a right to blame him if he had made me a woman. Can I acknowledge an affection which is not based on any personal regard? Could personal regard be present before the existence of its object? In what, then consists the sacredness of paternity?”

“Is it in the act itself out of which existence arose? As though this were aught else than an animal process to appease animal desires. Or does it lie, perhaps, in the result of this act, which is nothing more after all than one of iron necessity, and which men would gladly dispense with, were it not at the cost of flesh and blood? Do I then owe him thanks for his affection? Why, what is it but a piece of vanity, the besetting sin of the artist who admires his own works, however hideous they may be? Look you, this is the whole juggle wrapped up in a mystic veil to work on our fears. And, shall I, too be fooled like an infant?”

It made me remember those famous lines from ‘Paradise Lost’ which Mary Shelley quotes in the first pages of ‘Frankenstein’“Did I request thee maker, from my clay, to mould me man? Did I solicit thee from darkness to promote me?”

Franz was a villain, but he was also intelligent, smart and philosophical, like the best of them are. 

The next passage is probably spoiler-ish, and so if you are planning to read the play, please be sufficiently forewarned. 

One more thing I liked about the story was the internal conflict that Karl undergoes towards the end of the story, when he has to choose between his band of robbers who have sworn loyalty to him and his sweetheart Amalia. I have seen this scene in countless movies, but I think Schiller probably was the first to write this scene. So three cheers to him. 

There were two surprises at the end of the story. One of them was unexpected but in a nice way. The second one was also unexpected but it was not-so-nice and I felt that it was not required. It just had shock value and I was upset with Schiller for doing that – upset in the way an anonymous twenty-first century reader can be upset at a legendary German playwright who lived more than two hundred years earlier, an affectionate anger which stretches across time and the centuries.

The ending of the story is interesting – not the regular good-guys-win-and-the-bad-guys-die kind of ending, but one which is more complex than that. 

One word on the translation. One of the things I hated about the translation I read was that Karl was called ‘Charles’ and Franz was called ‘Francis’. Really? Is that anglification of characters’ names really necessary? What were you thinking, my dear Mr.Translator?? 

I enjoyed reading ‘The Robbers’. I am happy that I have finally been able to read one of the great landmark plays of German literature. By that born dramatist of penetrating clarity, Friedrich Schiller 🙂 I would like to read some of his poems and his essays on aesthetics some day. 

I will leave you with one of my favourite passages from the play. This one is spoken by Karl to Schwarz, one of his robber companions. 

Karl (to Schwarz) : “Why should man prosper in that which he has in common with the ant, while he fails in that which places him on a level with the gods. Or is this the aim and limit of his destiny?” 

“Brother, I have looked at men, their insect cares and their giant projects, – their god-like plans and mouse-like occupations, their intensely eager race after happiness – one trusting to the fleetness of his horse, – another to the nose of his ass, – a third to his own legs; this checkered lottery of life, in which so many stake their innocence and their leaven to snatch a prize, and, – blanks are all they draw – for they find, too late, that there was no prize in the wheel. It is a drama, brother, enough to bring tears into your eyes, while it shakes your side with laughter.”

 

Have you read Schiller’s ‘The Robbers’? What do you think about it?

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