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Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Take the last part of Isidora and the Greek for god rather than an Egyptian goddess and you've got Dorothea: "Gift from God."  Interesting, the progression of cities and names so far and how their descriptions reflect not only themselves but each other.  As the last city, Isidora, a near-anagram of its predecessor, Diomira, dealt as much with desire as memory and yet was a "City and Memory," does Dorothea, as a "City of Desire" fit the progression?
  1. Compare our introduction to the city of Dorothea--the opening lines--to that of the first two cities.
  2. Similarly, is there a negative aftertaste here as previously?
  3. Clearly Dorothea is a desirable city.  Is there a thematic issue of memory to go with it, as the Cities of Memory had both memory and desire, though the latter left untitled, and if so, how/where?
  4. Invisible Cities appears to deal with some big philosophy: cities, desire, memory, time, deity....  Another shows up here: paths.  These are similar issues, though in even smaller literary contexts, as those treated by Jorge Luis Borges.  What's the draw for the author?  What's the draw for the reader?  
  5. So the two ways of describing Dorothea: the one is to describe it physically--its architecture and its citizens and their activity; the second is what?  (Notice, by the way, that this second "way" begins much more like the first two cities.)  Apparently connected to the definition of this "way," what has happened to Dorothea in the years since the camel driver's initial visit in his "first youth"?
There is always room to comment on something that I don't mention in the questions.  Where poetry is concerned, any single mind--or mine at least--will always miss something.

Droodle 9

(All Droodles published at Mr. Center's Wall are available for copy and download.)


Saint Isidore, courtesy
Isidora, Isadora (alt. spelling), or Isadore (masculine) are essentially equivalents.  As will be the case for most of the Khan's cities--or, well, most of Polo's cities, as they're different, after all--I need to spend a few lines on the name.  While this particular name, similar to the last, is most typically given--if "typical" can apply to such rare use--in Spanish-speaking cultures, the name is originally Greek.  Similar to the last city, however--and I can't help but think, all things so far considered, that Calvino's doing this on purpose--this one has a couple of potential interpretations, one literal, of course, the other(s) much more subjective and connotative.  For a moment, forget the Greek (which thing is a pretty natural course for me as I've essentially no experience with Greek beyond abstract and limited peripheral study and am, instead, so much more Latin in my background).  The little parts of the name--Isi, d', and ora--indicate two iffy connotative possibilities.  It puts me in mind of either "Island of Time," or, particularly if we take ora (Italian for hour) as adjectival  rather than nominal and therefore required to match the feminine gender of island, oro (gold) to ora (adjectivally golden), "Island of Gold" or "Golden Island."  And it this makes at least a little bit of sense as the name deals naturally with a geographic location, correlating strongly with not only the book as a whole but the previous city, Diomira, which name connects directly to city/village, and, in Isidora's case, one near the sea, which would account for all the seashells.  The name "Isidora" is, however, not derived from such a place or from the "dirty" Latin I've employed.  It means rather and simply "Gift of Isis," Isis being a powerful Egyptian goddess.  This works too, of course, and probably even better.  Incidentally, Isidore--er, Saint Isidore--archbishop of Seville, was named in 2001 as patron saint of computers.

  1. In many ways, the treatment of Isidora is very similar to that of Diomira.  The city is highly idealized.  We enter on the move and, though it wasn't mentioned by word in Diomira, full of desire.  What is the connection between memory--even nostalgia, that most subjective form of memory--and desire?
  2. There are also among these similarities, of course, differences.  Instead of the cock's crow signaling the morning, there are cockfights; instead of the women pleasantly crying out from terraces, they solicitously crowd travelers on the street.  What is the potential that Isidora is (and to a degree even phonetically--just an "m" off, after all) a mirror reversal of Diomira?
  3. But Isidora--Gift of the Powerful Goddess--is not a real city, but just the desire for a city by a traveler too long away from civilization.  What does this powerful desire do to the essence of the city--whichever city--he finally reaches at the end or interim of his journey?  Similarly, how subjective upon human perspective is the nature and identity of a city?  Do we see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear, find what we want to find, regardless of what really is or isn't there and available?
  4. What do you make of all the spirals?  How do they, too, connect to memory and desire?
  5. Finally, define the ending sentence in context of what we've gone over above.

Monday, May 30, 2011

"Kubla Khan," "Invisible Cities," and "An Approach to Literature"

"KK" in C's own hand
(For the record, it appears that Coleridge has the spelling deficiency, not Calvino or his translator, William Weaver (whom, by the way, Eco also happens to endorse), regarding the spelling of the 5th Great Kahn of the Mongol Empire.)

I stated in a comment earlier today that I believe Samuel Taylor Coleridge's "Kubla Khan" was an integral part in the creation of Calvino's Invisible Cities.  In the most recent three editions of Sunday Poetry, I've been digging through An Approach to Literature, assembled by Cleanth Brooks, John Thibaut Purser, and Robert Penn Warren (yes, that Robert Penn Warren), which, by the way, I happen to think is excellent and happens also to have a solid and succinct application of the interpretation of "Kubla Khan" to the general interpretation of poetry in general, and, as it happens, very specifically to Invisible Cities.  This, "Kubla Khan," is a poem that every literature student (at least those with an correlating BA) on the planet has read and torn apart.  I'm a big fan of the monster and have even taught it to my high school students.  Here it is (and, if your interested, I've looked over the Italian translation, and it appears to be right on--not that I'm an expert):

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.

So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round:
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher's flail:
And 'mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean:
And 'mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!

The shadow of the dome of pleasure
Floated midway on the waves;
Where was heard the mingled measure
From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

A damsel with a dulcimer
In a vision once I saw:
It was an Abyssinian maid,
And on her dulcimer she played,
Singing of Mount Abora.
Could I revive within me
Her symphony and song,
To such a deep delight 'twould win me
That with music loud and long
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread,
For he on honey-dew hath fed
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Next, here is most (like 99.9%) of An Approach to Literature's word-for-word ... uhm ... approach:

“Kula Khan” raises in a most acute form the whole question of meaning in a poem and the poet’s intention.  …  We have Coleridge’s account account of how the poem was composed:

        In the summer of the year 1797, the Author, then in ill health, had retired to a lonely farm house between Porlock and Linton, on the Exmoor confines of Somerset and Devonshire. In consequence of a slight indisposition, an anodyne had been prescribed, from the effect of which he fell asleep in his chair at the moment that he was reading the following sentence, or words of the same substance, in 'Purchas's Pilgrimage:' 'Here the Khan Kubla commanded a palace to be built, and a stately garden thereunto: and thus ten miles of fertile ground were inclosed with a wall.' The author continued for about three hours in a profound sleep, at least of the external senses, during which time he has the most vivid confidence, that he could not have composed less than from two or three hundred lines; if that indeed can be called composition in which all the images rose up before him as things, with a parallel production of the correspondent expressions, without any sensation or consciousness of effort. On awaking he appeared to himself to have a distinct recollection of the whole, and taking his pen, ink, and paper, instantly and eagerly wrote down the lines that are here preserved. At this moment he was unfortunately called out by a person on business from Porlock, and detained by him above an hour, and on his return to the room, found, to his no small surprise and mortification, that though he still retained some vague and dim recollection of the general purport of the vision, yet, with the exception of some eight or ten scattered lines and images, all the rest had passed away like the images on the surface of a stream into which a stone had been cast, but alas! without the after restoration of the latter.

        Can a poem dreamed up, as “Kubla Khan” was, be said to have a meaning?  Can it be said to express some ideas held by the poet?  But supposed it is not a poem dreamed up, but a discovery in mathematics or a chemical formula?  Does the mathematical discovery or the formula have any less validity because it was dreamed up or came in a flash?  We should have to say, no, its validity does not depend on how it came, it depends on its own nature.  We can, in fact, find many accounts of important scientific discoveries made quite literally in a dream or in some flash of intuition.  For instance, the great German chemist Kekule’ dreamed up two of his most important discoveries just as Coleridge dreamed up “Kubla Khan.”  But there is one important fact to be remembered: only poets dream up poems and only scientists dream up scientific discoveries.  In other words, the dream, the flash of intuition, or the moment of inspiration really sums up a long period of hard conscious word.
        Wordsworth, in the Preface to the second edition of Lyrical Ballads, has a very important remark on how meaning gets into poetry.  Having just said that he hopes his poems to be distinguished by a “worthy purpose,” he continues:

        Not that I always began to write with a distinct purpose formally conceived: but habits of meditation have, I trust, so prompted and regulated my feelings, that my descriptions of such objects as strongly excite those feelings, will be found to carry along with them a purpose. If this opinion be erroneous, I can have little right to the name of a Poet.  For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: and though this be true, Poems to which any value can be attached were never produced on any variety of subjects but by a man who, being possessed of more than usual organic se sensibility, had also thought long and deeply.

The important point is that Wordsworth takes a poem that happens to come in a flash as embodying the ideas carefully developed over a long period of time.
        Sometimes, of course, a poet does start with a pretty clear notion of what he wants his poem to be and works systematically.  Sometimes he starts with on the vaguest feeling and with no defined theme.  Sometimes he may simply have a line or a phrase as a kind of germ.  But no matter how he starts, he is working toward a conception of the poem that will hold all the parts in significant relation to each other.  Therefore, as his general conception becomes clearer, he may find more and more need for going back and changing parts already composed.  The poem isn’t a way of saying something that could be said equally well another way.  Its “saying” is the whole poem, the quality of the imagery, the feel of the rhythm, the dramatic force, the ideas, and the meaning does not exist until the words are all in their order (emphasis added).
        It does not matter, then, whether the composition is slow and painful or easy and fast.  We do not have two kinds of poetry, one spontaneous and one calculated.  Without reference to the origin, we consider the quality of the poem, for the poem must deliver its own meaning.  Some of those meanings may have entered in a flash, out of the poet’s unconscious, but once they are absorbed into the poem they are part of the poem; they are ours and not the poet’s (emphasis added).
        Let us come back to “Kubla Khan.”  We know that it came to Coleridge in an opium dream.  But we also know the origin of almost every image and of many phrases in the poem, for John Livingston Lowes has tracked them down in Coleridge’s reading (The Road to Xanadu.  Houghton Mifflin Co. (1930), pp. 356-413).  But the materials from Coleridge’s reading do not give us the meaning of the poem any more than the fact of the composition under the influence of opium necessarily renders it meaningless.  We have to look at the poem itself.  The poem falls into two main sections.  The first describes the dome of pleasure, the garden, the chasm, the great fountain and the ancestral voices prophesying war.  The second, beginning with the line, “A damsel with a dulcimer,” says that music might rebuild the world of Xanadu—or rather, that the special music of the Abyssinian maid might rebuild the world—and if the poet could recapture that music all who saw him would recognize his strange power, both beautiful and terrible.  In other words, without treating the poem as an allegory and trying to make each detail equate with some notion, we can still take it to be a poem about creative imagination: “song,” the imaginative power, the poetic power, could “build a new dome in the air” and recreate the enchanted and ominous world of Xanadu.
        Does the fact that Coleridge considered the poem unfinished argue against this interpretation?  Probably not, because though from the point where the poem now ends many different lines of development might have been followed, we have a thing that is in itself now coherent and that comes to a significant climax.  This thing might have been a section in a larger work, but in default of that larger work it can stand alone.
        How do we know that Coleridge “intended” the poem to mean what we have just said it means?  Now we are back to our starting point.  We do not know that he “intended” anything.  He simply had a dream.  But we do know that this poem is very similar in tone and method to his great poem “The Ancient Mariner” and the great unfinished work “Christabel,” which were composed bit by bit and not dreamed up.  Slow or fast, opium or no opium, Coleridge wrote the same way, and it all came out of Coleridge, and there carries his characteristic themes and ideas.  …

Note to two sections I bolded and how they fit precisely with our discussion of Invisible Cities' introductory account between Polo and Khan.  Thoughts?


courtesy bonacho-portuguessave.blogspot.com
  1. Many (all, actually, if I'm not mistaken) of Calvino's cities are girls' names.  Diomira is no exception.  My go-to site for name etymology is behindthename.com, which I've used here before.  Today, it failed me.  I found information instead here, and by extension here, which gives the meaning as the "important woman in the village."  The name is allegedly Spanish, but if we look at it from the Italian perspective (admittedly not all that different, particularly in this case), then we can break it into its constituent parts: Dio and mira.  Dio is, of course, God, and Mira (in nominal form) aim, sight, target, butt, end, goal, design (from my well-worn, i.e. beat-to-ribbons, Dizionario Inglese E Italiano by Loescher) and (verbal, "mirare") to take aim, to admire, to gaze, or in its reflexive, to look at oneself.  Thoughts?
  2. Notice the motion of the first sentence?  From where are we leaving?  Why begin thus if, without context, we cannot know the starting point, in which case the direction and distance are useless, geographically speaking?
  3. What is the poetical power (that is to say dripping rhetoric) of this line, "...is that he feels envy toward those who now believe they have once before lived an evening identical to this and who think they were happy, that time"?
  4. Compare that line above to the general theme of entropy from the introductory ......
  5. There's a dreamlike quality to Diomira--idyllic and distant.  Does it regard the name, Diomira, as discussed above?  How does it regard the type, Cities of Memory?
  6. Notice also the sense of fairytale to the description: the 60 of this, the golden and crystal that, the idealized season.  How does this correlate back to Marco Polo and begin build his character (this is a longterm as well as an immediate question)?

INVISIBLE CITIES I -- Introduction, and Chapter 1, ..... 1

Superficially, Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, is not a complex book.  If you look at the table of contents, you can see that it's categorized very simply into cities and types (memory, desire, signs, etcetera), as well as the periodic ".....," which indicates italicized encounters between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (and considering Calvino, we might even want to ask, "So why the 5-point ellipsis?").  From the outset, these descriptions of cities and how they (the descriptions and the cities, which, as we discover, are two distinct things) relate back to their stated type are fascinating all on their own, one by one like individual poems in a collection.  However, as we dig into the meat of the book--the relationship between Polo and the Khan and the situation (a deliberately vague word) of the empire and the overlapping of cities--we should see how these descriptions and adventures interrelate and build one upon another.  Calvino, as far as I'm concerned, is a magician with a million tricks.  The conceptual undercurrent of this book is, first, ingenious, and, second, all the more so because he makes it work, faithful to the concept to the end.  Be open-minded.  This book, if you let it, will stretch you.

On a technical note, regarding the blogging of the book, each reading day I'll put up one to five posts, one post per city and "......"  This is mostly for organizational purposes, particularly as I'm very interested in going back at the end and examining together, for example, all the "Cities of Memory" or "Hidden Cities."


….. 1

1.       Calvino’s language and word choice is always important.  I think we need to assume that he’s taking on the whole Beethoven every-note-must-be-perfect thing.  Notice the use of we.  Who is “we”?  We see it first in the second sentence: “…of the territories we have conquered….”  If we assume that we can’t take anything for granted, then what’s he going for there?  (The italicized encounters are narrated in third person omniscient.)  I guess I should ask whether you believe Calvino is speaking “we” from his own first person perspective over the survey of the book’s contents or if he’s channeling the Khan and speaking the emperor’s “we.”
2.       Considering what I said in the little introduction above, is Calvino, in the remainder of this fatty second sentence, acknowledging that we—he and us—will never fully understand….  What?  Cities?  Cultures?  People?  The book (or Book)?
3.       There’s an adroit composition to this little essay.  Compare the first sentence to the last.  Why does the Khan pay more attention and interest to Polo than his other explorers?  What obstacles, or potential conflict, can we anticipate?
4.       A question to consider over the course of the book: Why did Calvino choose Marco Polo and Kublai Khan?  There are some near-obvious possibilities, but others….
5.       Have you read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Poetry XXXI -- TEXTBOOK POETRY 3.3

The subtitle for this section is about as off-putting as anything anywhere across the humongousness literature's pedagogy: "The Mechanics of Verse."  As far as my experience goes, this is the single most influential contributor to students' dislike nearly acatalectic (if you'll excuse the clearly slant usage there) poetry--even more so than just the difficulty of interpretation.  As I look at An Approach to Literature's editors' very limited selection (you'll see in a moment) for exemplifying and explaining the mechanics of poetry and versification, I can't decide if, on the one hand, they're really into it and, at that, only in its purest, most abstract form, or if they understand how dismal counting syllables can be and decided to keep it as short as possible.  But here's the problem: the section isn't short.  In word count, it certainly exceeds the previous two sections, but there are only (are you ready?) TWO POEMS.  (Section 4, by the way, has nearly thirty to choose from!)  Whether it would have been better for the editors to have included a dozen poems, or just two for the entire bloody concept I'll leave to you.  Here, then, I reproduce all of the poetry in this section--no personal selection necessary:

An Approach to Literature
Brooks, Purser, Warren

That the Night Come
William Butler Yeats
She lived in storm and strife,
Her soul had such desire
For what proud death may bring
That it could not endure
The common good of life,
But lived as 'twere a king
That packed his marriage day
With banneret and pennon,
Trumpet and kettledrum,
And the outrageous cannon,
To bundle time away
That the night come.

Come Down, O Maid
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (clearly a favorite of the editors’)
Come down, O maid, from yonder mountain height:
What pleasure lives in height (the shepherd sang),
In height and cold, the splendour of the hills?
But cease to move so near the Heavens, and cease
To glide a sunbeam by the blasted Pine,
To sit a star upon the sparkling spire;
And come, for Love is of the valley, come,
For Love is of the valley, come thou down
And find him; by the happy threshold, he,
Or hand in hand with Plenty in the maize,
Or red with spirted purple of the vats,
Or foxlike in the vine; nor cares to walk
With Death and Morning on the silver horns,
Nor wilt thou snare him in the white ravine,
Nor find him dropt upon the firths of ice,
That huddling slant in furrow-cloven falls
To roll the torrent out of dusky doors:
But follow; let the torrent dance thee down
To find him in the valley; let the wild
Lean-headed Eagles yelp alone, and leave
The monstrous ledges there to slope, and spill
Their thousand wreaths of dangling water-smoke,
That like a broken purpose waste in air:
So waste not thou; but come; for all the vales
Await thee; azure pillars of the hearth
Arise to thee; the children call, and I
Thy shepherd pipe, and sweet is every sound,
Sweeter thy voice, but every sound is sweet;
Myriads of rivulets hurrying thro' the lawn,
The moan of doves in immemorial elms,
And murmuring of innumerable bees.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


Today just a few thoughts as I finish out the book and muse over the past several weeks:
  1. I've read most of Kipling's Just So Stories and quite a lot of his poetry.  While I enjoy the Stories, I can't say the same for Kim.  The stories, obviously, are short format, much like poetry, really, and the poems--if you doubt it just read the introductory verses to each chapter of Kim--are far superior to anything of the text that follows each, except possibly chapter 9.
  2. Notice the use of present tense--inconsistent, though it is--in the beginning of this chapter.  If I remember correctly, this is the first  in the book.  Does it do anything, in your opinion, to benefit the story--er, the story's narration?
  3. Considering the unilateral focus on finding the River of the Arrow here in the last chapter, I wonder if the entire middle of the book (because Kim's literal finding of the Red Bull on the Green Field seems to have nothing to do with anything, least of all his life--and this by fault of the narrative, not Kim or the soldiers of the Red Bull unit) is not dissimilar, other than its exceedingly length, from Shakespeare's induction stories, giving context to what's after (and before, in this case).  (Check James Smith's unmoderatedcaucus.blogspot.com for further discussion.)
  4. Of course it makes sense that the Lama is dying as we approach the end of the book (almost makes me wish he had in the end--not because I don't like him, but so we could have something happen), and as death is an end, perhaps the book--or the story--too is dying, though if we follow that comparison the other way round, then the Lama would have died sometime shortly after the third chapter of so.
  5. I'm going to ask this with deliberate obtuseness: do Kim and the Lama have to find the River to find the River?  How do you feel about the fact that they do, supposedly, find it in its tangible, physical iteration?
  6. Has the story improved--even if insufficiently--in these final two chapters?
  7. Further proof that Kipling likes to narrate what no one wants to read and bypass what might actually prove interesting: The Lama found the River of the Arrow, and we didn't even get to watch him do it!  I feel robbed!  Further, look at all that happens in this chapter.  We read and read and don't read anything and then hear that Kim is sick, sick, and he's got someone tending him, and there are momentous occurrences while he's out aside from his massage.  I've never read someone (save perhaps myself) who could say so little with so many words!
  8. And the ending could have been just fantastic--even redemptive.  Look back at what Kim's journey was until he and the Lama came to the River.  The story--the STORY--is good; the narration is ABYSMAL.
  9. And now that I'm done with this book, I am tired.  Tired.  Tired.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Wednesday's for Kids XXVII -- DINOSAURS

I've learned, recently enough that it's even a little embarrassing to admit, that what I like--Joe the Grownup--has absolutely nothing to do with what kids like.  On the other hand stuff I liked as a kid, whether I'm still into it or not, does--to a degree.  But even then kids 25-30 years ago are not kids today.  (Duh, right?)  Basically what I'm getting at is that I am no authority on kid stuff.  Now this might sound redundant, but, well, basically, kids like what kids like, right?  And it doesn't matter or have anything to do with what mom, dad, teachers, or whoever else may foist on them.  Case in point (though not exactly completely contemporary): The Land Before Time series, which, for some reason, somehow, kids love.  But this is not a movie review.  (And it's bad enough just watching those "movies," let alone dwelling on them long enough to write a review!  Ugh.)

One assertion I believe I can make and with some authority is:



by Mary GrandPre
If, let's just say, I am attempting to tread the Wheel--or even escape it--and if the Wheel is indeed just, I can probably expect some comeuppance for my "passionate" thoughts regarding this book.  Should I take shelter?  Might I expect to be reborn a snake or some other unclean beast?  Of course, perhaps the gods don't like this book either, but then--o, dear! --I'm still no better off, because then haven't I been wasting not only my time but yours?  Maybe there's still time to salvage my situation.  Maybe the last chapter will be so surpassingly excellent as to redeem (for lack of a better word) the previous fourteen.  I doubt it, though.  Does that make it impossible?  At this rate, I will never attain Nirvana.
  • I like "The Woman of Shamlegh"; she's got depth, dimension, and is easily the most interesting character since, I think, the priests at the military camp or Mr. Lurgan, if not of the entire book.  Even better, there's only one chapter left of the book, so it's unlikely Kipling will have time to ruin her!  (Sorry.  That was mean.)
  • "Umm," said Kim thoughtfully, considering the past. "It may be that I have acquired merit also. . . . At least she did not treat me like a child."  Is this what this whole thing's been all about?
(I wonder if the Lama's scar is shaped like a bolt of lightning.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011



In case you haven't heard, our next book, starting this coming Monday, is brilliant.  If you love poetry and/or so-called "experimental" writing, and if you love the best that either of these--or better, both together--has to offer, then this (have I overdone it yet?) will wow you.  It wowed me.  (And hopefully I'm not presuming too much assuming that since I've loved it, so you will love it.  See, not only am I really excited about the new book, I'm really excited to be done with Kim, which I think may very well be slowly killing me--even, dare I say, crushing my very soul.)  I will stop now.  Here's a picture.  Get a copy--GET A FREAKING COPY! --and join us on Monday.

"Interpretation of Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities,"
courtesy of maryannpark.com

"The Castle of the Pyrenees," by Rene' Magritte,
courtesy internetculturale.it


(MS Paint is fun.  Feel free to copy
and use this if you'd like; it's mine.)
I thought I might approach this chapter with a little positivity for a change.  Forget discussion questions and all their frustration.  I am, instead, going to list the literary moments—the little nuggets—of good, great, or excellent wit and sentence craft I encounter.  Indeed, there have been many such moments (as long as you don’t compare that number to the overall word count, of course).  Let's see what we get in chapter thirteen.
  • "...drew a deep double-lungful of the diamond air...."
  • "All day long they lay like molten silver under the sun, and at evening put on their jewels again."
  • "...he mourned aloud that he could not have been in the place of the stubborn, inattentive coolies, who with grass mats over their heads and the raindrops puddling in their foot-prints, waited on the weather."
  • "He discoursed of botany and ethnology with unimpeachable inaccuracy, and his store of local legends—he had been a trusted agent of the State for fifteen years, remember—was inexhaustible."
  • "There are more ways of getting to a sweetheart than butting down a wall."
  • "...Kim hurried upward through the gloom, swearing like a cat...."
  • And that’s it.  The end.  Of the chapter.  Not the book.  Sorry if I got your hopes up there.

If there is someone out there, anywhere, through the vast reaches of the ether and who loves this book, Kim, please tell me where I'm going wrong!  I wonder if it's possible that some personal prejudice is getting in my way and if so what I might do to right it.  My problem is that I see nearly no narrative skill in this book—with the English language, sure, but that’s a different animal.  Here in chapter thirteen, for example, there's a spot of violence.  It lasts a paragraph.  And don’t get me wrong, this is not to say I crave or require violence from the stories I read, but the moment here in Kim got my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, something interesting was about to happen or was in the process of happening.  And I think it was.  And that’s my point!  Even when something cool is happening, we don’t get to read about it!  Some pages later it's even mentioned that the "war was breaking out afresh," but there's no narrative evidence save shoddy dialog.  Is it but a cultural thing?  Am I, a 21st century American to far distant—in geography and time—from the events to get them?  I think I’m actually a pretty good—even skilled—reader.  I am frustrated!  This book is defeating me.

Monday, May 23, 2011


"The Wheel of Things"
  1. Were somebody else writing this book, I'd be less inclined to think there's nothing to what I'm about mention, but, as it's digging me, here it is: what do you make of the use of a serial number, essentially, as designation for and in place of a name for the young spy Kim saves?  Does the lack of name alter our perspective of the character?  Why not have Kim--and this would not, I think, be out of his character--press the young man for his rightful name and thence use it?
  2. "...by the curse of the Queen's stone ... and by an assortment of Gods with wholly new names."  (haha)
  3. new word (as always, new, anyway, for me): ruck: n. a crease or wrinkle (as in fabric, cloth), or crowd of people; v. to compress into untidy folds.  Off-hand, I wonder if this word might apply to the waves and bowing of very old panes of glass.
  4. Potential for a complication!  Will Kipling take advantage of the opportunity he's created for himself?  It seems to me that the misjudgment by the Lama on Kim early in the chapter could open up a conflict.  Will this have lasting effect on Kim or the relationship between him and [one of] his [many, though this the first] master[s]?
  5. Kim, as Friend to all the World, lives in more than world.  In particular, of course, is his duel citizenship to that of the Sahibs and of the Lama.  What do you make then of the Lama's words, "No matter what thy wisdom learned among Sahibs, when we come to my River thou wilt be freed from all illusion," inasmuch as it may indicate a required choice, and therefor abandonment of one World for another, of Kim, especially as it was the Lama who essentially paid for Kim's tuition to the Sahib's world?
  6. "Let us get to the yolk of the egg":  What is this chapter even about?
  7. On racism (this time brought up by Kim's discussion with Huree Babu): I'm feeling the need to defend, at least for the moment, and maybe by some personal tendency toward devil's advocacy, against accusations of Kipling's racism.  Can it be racist to indicate, and often as dominant label, race and caste if this too is the manner by which individuals of the story--time and place--identify themselves?  Would it have been even possible for Kipling to avoid the potentially racist labels (and why would he, as there was little cultural reason for him to do so)?
  8. On finger-snapping (an aside): There are, obviously, I think, two or three general applications of the finger-snap (aside from musical), that is [1] the "darn-it", [2] the "hurry-up" or otherwise indication of velocity, and [3] the less-common-to-US impatience, irritation, or disagreement (that of finger-snapping under another's nose, for example).  The first two, and their derivatives, I've seen and used most of my finger-snapping life.  The third, however, I've only observed in connection to British and other European cultures, until my son (6-years-old) mentioned an observation of his from a student in his kindergarten class: a girl, of apparently long-term family residency in the USA, snaps her fingers under the nose of anyone she disagrees with when she corrects that person.  Thoughts or other applicable experiences?
  9. "There is no hurry for Hurree" (haha).
  10. "He believed that the dung of a black horse, mixed with sulphur, and carried in a snake-skin, was a sound remedy for cholera; but the symbolism interested him far more than the science."
  11. How often Kipling appears to fully narrate the unimportant or disinteresting while glossing over the stuff I think I'd actually enjoy reading!
  12. What does the Lama require of Kim in return for the latter's paid tuition for his three-year sahib's education?

Sunday Poetry [30] -- TEXTBOOK POETRY 3.2

I have to remind myself, especially as I’m going through a textbook with which I am surprisingly (so, at least, to me) sympathetic, that the point of this little endeavor (the textbook poetry entries) is to show poems with which I am not familiar, poems that indicate the type of the textbook containing them, and, of course, the first and last poems of the lot.  This is difficult here with this text, because I know and enjoy so much of the poetry; I want to include so much more than I should, and not because it’s new, but because I know it and love it.  Maybe that in and of itself is some indication of the type of the textbook I’m holding right now, or maybe it just bears witness against my overall well-roundedness.  There is, after all, so much out there to read that I haven’t even touched.

An Approach to Literature
Brooks, Purser, Warren

The Eagle (included in section introduction as example)
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain wall,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

Silver (first of section collection)
Walter De La Mare
Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
Silver fruit upon silver trees;
One by one the casements catch
Her beams beneath the silvery thatch;
Couched in his kennel, like a log,
With paws of silver sleeps the dog;
From their shadowy cote the white breasts peep
Of doves in a silver-feathered sleep’
A harvest mouse goes scampering by,
With silver claws and a silver eye;
And moveless fish in the water gleam,
By silver reeds in a silver stream.

To Daffadills
Robert Herrick
Faire Daffadills, we weep to see
      You haste away so soone:
As yet the early-rising Sun
      Has not attain’d his Noone.
            Stay, stay,
         Until the hasting day
            Has run
         But to the Even-song;
And, having pray’d together, wee
         Will goe with you along.

We have short time to stay, as you,
      We have as short a Spring;
As quick a growth to meet Decay,
      As you, or any thing.
            We die,
      As your hours doe, and drie
      Like to the Summers raine;
Or as the pearles of Mornings dew
         Ne’er to be found againe.

Nulla Fides
Patrick Carey
For God’s sake mark that fly:
See what a poor, weak, little thing it is.
When thou has marked and scorned it, know that this,
This little, poor, weak fly
Has killed a pope; can make an emp’ror die.

Behold you spark of fire;
How little hot!  how near to nothing ‘tis!
When thou hast done despising, know that this,
This contemned spark of fire,
Has burnt whole towns; can burn a world entire.

That crawling worm there see:
Ponder how ugly, filthy, vile it is.
When thou hast seen and loathed it, know that this,
This base worm thou dost see,
Has quite devoured thy parents; shall eat thee.

Honour, the world, and man,
What trifles are they; since most true it is
That this poor fly, this little spark, this
So much abhorred worm, can
Honour destroy; burn worlds; devour up man.

The Mower to the Glow-Worms
Andrew Marvell
Ye living lamps, by whose dear light
The Nightingale does sit so late,
And studying all the Summer-night,
Her matchless Songs does meditate;

Ye Country Comets, that portend
No War, nor Princes funeral,
Shining unto no higher end
Than to presage the Grasses fall;

Ye Glow-worms, whose officious Flame
To wandering Mowers shows the way,
That in the Night have lost their aim,
And after foolish Fires do stray;

Your courteous Lights in vain you waste,
Since Juliana here is come,
For She my Mind hath so displaced
That I shall never find my home.

Ode to the West Wind
Percy Bysshe Shelley
O WILD West Wind, thou breath of Autumn's being,
      Thou, from whose unseen presence the leaves dead
Are driven, like ghosts from an enchanter fleeing,

      Yellow, and black, and pale, and hectic red,
Pestilence-stricken multitudes: O thou,
      Who chariotest to their dark wintry bed

The wingèd seeds, where they lie cold and low,
      Each like a corpse within its grave, until
Thine azure sister of the spring shall blow

      Her clarion o'er the dreaming earth, and fill
(Driving sweet buds like flocks to feed in air)
      With living hues and odors plain and hill:

Wild Spirit, which art moving everywhere;
Destroyer and preserver; hear, oh, hear!

Thou on whose stream, 'mid the steep sky's commotion,
      Loose clouds like earth's decaying leaves are shed,
Shook from the tangled boughs of Heaven and Ocean,

      Angels of rain and lightning: there are spread
On the blue surface of thine airy surge,
      Like the bright hair uplifted from the head

Of some fierce Mænad, even from the dim verge
      Of the horizon to the zenith's height,
The locks of the approaching storm. Thou dirge

      Of the dying year, to which this closing night
Will be the dome of a vast sepulchre,
      Vaulted with all thy congregated might

Of vapors, from whose solid atmosphere
Black rain, and fire, and hail, will burst: oh hear!

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
      The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lulled by the coil of his crystalline streams,

      Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
      Quivering within the wave's intenser day,

All overgrown with azure moss and flowers
      So sweet, the sense faints picturing them! Thou
For whose path the Atlantic's level powers

      Cleave themselves into chasms, while far below
The sea-blooms and the oozy woods which wear
      The sapless foliage of the ocean, know

Thy voice, and suddenly grow gray with fear,
And tremble and despoil themselves: oh, hear!

If I were a dead leaf thou mightest bear;
      If I were a swift cloud to fly with thee;
A wave to pant beneath thy power, and share

      The impulse of thy strength, only less free
Than thou, O uncontrollable! if even
      I were as in my boyhood, and could be

The comrade of thy wanderings over heaven,
      As then, when to outstrip thy skyey speed
Scarce seemed a vision; I would ne'er have striven

      As thus with thee in prayer in my sore need.
Oh! lift me as a wave, a leaf, a cloud!
      I fall upon the thorns of life! I bleed!

A heavy weight of hours has chained and bowed
One too like thee: tameless, and swift, and proud.

Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is;
      What if my leaves are falling like its own!
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies

      Will take from both a deep, autumnal tone,
Sweet though in sadness. Be thou, Spirit fierce,
      My spirit! Be thou me, impetuous one!

Drive my dead thoughts over the universe
      Like withered leaves to quicken a new birth!
And, by the incantation of this verse,

      Scatter, as from an extinguished hearth
Ashes and sparks, my words among mankind!
      Be through my lips to unwakened earth

The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?


Other poems in this section:
·         “The Man with the Hoe, Written After Seeing Millet’s World-Famous Painting,” by Edwin Markham
·         “The Woodpile,” by Robert Frost
·         “The Lotos Eaters,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
·         “Mariana,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
·         Sonnets 18, 73, and 97, by William Shakespeare
·         “Song,” by Edmund Waller
·         “The Bugle Song,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
·         “The Tree of Man,” by A.E. Housman
·         “A Passer-By,” by Robert Bridges
·         “The Wild Swans at Coole,” by William Butler Yeats
·         “Hymn to Diana,” by Ben Johnson
·         “The Night-Piece to Julia,” by Robert Herrick
·         “God’s Grandeur,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins
·         “The Lamb” and “The Tiger,” by William Blake (two of my all-time favorite poems—seriously)
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