Categories
Literature Poetry Uncategorized

The Walk; A collection of short stories by Robert Walser

Newly published collection
Newly published collection

The publication of this collection of around forty short stories from Serpent’s Tail books affords the English speaking public a unique opportunity; that of reading Walser, possibly the leading modernist writer of Swiss German in the last century. He has received high praise in A Place in the Country, W.G.Sebald’s recently published posthumous collection and he is well-known as being a significant influence on Franz Kafka. His work here dates from 1907 to 1929 and along with his poetry won him recognition with Berlin’s avant garde. He combines lyrical delicacy with detailed observation; reflective melancholy with criticism of brash commercialism. The fine writing in this volume strives to achieve a hard won integrity together with an experimental capacity for reflection. It challenges the reader and provokes him to new insights.

Referring to Walser’s ten page account, Kleist in Thun, written in 1913 Susan Sontag in her introduction states, “Wasler often writes from the point of view of a casualty of the romantic visionary imagination”. Walser describes how Kleist, an intense poet of High German Romanticism arrives in a villa in the beautiful Bernese Oberland. Kleist is overwhelmed and disturbed by his own response to what appears to him as the artificiality of his surroundings, as though it were all a sketch by a clever scene painter in an album with green covers. “Which is appropriate. The foothills at the lake’s edge are so half-and-half green, so high, so fragrant”. The changes in the weather and the seasons are portrayed as Kleist struggles with his own historical writings which he is forced to destroy over and over. This piece portrays with sensitivity Kleist’s struggle for the peaceful moments when he can feel again the outright happiness of a child. All that now remains is a plaque on the wall to commemorate the poet’s visit.

Robert Walser, Swiss poet and writer
Robert Walser, Swiss poet and writer

Written over an extensive period these tales vary in tone from the surreal “Trousers” to the strange voyage of a captain, a gentleman and a young girl over the luminous course of the Elbe in “Balloon Journey”. In the more psychologically interesting “Helbling’s Story”, a bank clerk finds that he is feckless in time keeping and prefers the self-forgetfulness of dancing. His pursuit of his lively fiancée reveals that her sweetness tempered by her faithlessness. He seems caught between how he is perceived by his colleagues at the bank and his deep yearnings for isolation to the point of oblivion. There is a degree of Weltschmerz in some of these tales but worth the effort. Gradually, they repay the reader with their strange charm.

The longest story of sixty pages, “The Walk”, is an account of the writer venturing forth in his English yellow suit and recording his strongly felt impressions of the people, countryside and architecture that he encounters on a fine morning. As he gets into his stride, he remarks,” Spirits with enchanting shapes and garments emerged vast and soft, and the country road shone sky-blue, and white and precious gold”. Written in 1917, it also reveals his impressions of noisy cars passing by and of intrusive advertising in all its brashness contrasting with this rural idyll. He visits the post office, his tailor and goes to pay his taxes. Nothing escapes his eye, wild strawberry bushes, rivulets, the innocent play of children, honest black-jet dogs and he is almost hypersensitively given to reflect too upon the impression he makes upon others. Into this prose poem enter curious character like the odd lanky beanpole of a fellow called, Tomzack, who travels restlessly and devoid of human connection. Then with Swiss punctuality he dines with a cordial gracious lady that had previously been an actress. His self-justification and need for recognition attain huge and angry proportions when he negotiates his tax payments and it is at this point that his writing brings Kafka to mind. Out of this dense writing emerge passages with a sense of monumental grandeur and an awareness of transcending grace.

sriimg20030414_1763336_1

In addition to his value as a great writer, Robert Walser also affords the delights of entering a past world, that of Switzerland, a land isolated by the partial protection of its neutrality. The elegance of this past together with his sensitive impressions, including the already crowding and wearying pressures of commercialism, adds an extra level of piquancy. Joseph Roth, a well-known contemporary who also had a developed taste for irony, on arrival in Berlin, wrote in 1921, “The diminutive of the parts is more impressive than the monumentality of the whole”. In Walser’s writing we continually encounter this same fascination with the fine entrancing detail of small and beautiful things.

The cover image by August Sander shows three smartly dressed young farmers in Westerwald, although not entirely appropriate, makes an elegant jacket to these varied stories of imagination and vision.

A You Tube programme for German speakers is at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=twMopurvK8g  Portrait und Erinnerungen

Berlin Stories Another available selection
Berlin Stories
Another available selection
Categories
Literature Uncategorized

NIGHTHAWKS nach Edward Hopper’s Bild – Wolf Wondratschek

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Es ist Nacht

Und die Stadt ist Leer.

Die Glücklichen sind zu Hause

oder noch wahrscheinlicher,

es gibt keine mehr.

Auf Hoppers Bild sind vier Menschen übriggebleiben,

sozusagen die Standardbesetzsung:

der Mann hintererm Tresen zwei Männer und eine Frau.

Kunstfreunde, Ihr könnt mich steinigen

aber diese Situation kenne ziemlich genau.

Zwei Männer und eine Frau,

als ob das ein Zufall wäre-

Ihr bewundert den Bildaufbau,

mich packt das Lustgefühl einer

volkommenen Leere

Geredet wird nichts, was auch?

Beide rauchen sie aber nirgendwo Rauch.

Ich wette, sie hat ihm einen Brief geschreiben.

Was auch immer drin stand, er ist nicht Mehr der Mann,

ihre Briefe zweimal zu lesen.

Das Radio ist Kaputt,

Die Air-condition dröhnt,

Ich höre das Heulen einer Polizeisirene.

Zwei Ecken weiter steht im Hauseingang ein Fixer,

stöht und sticht eine Nadel in die Vene.

So sieht das aus, was man nicht sieht.

Der andere Mann ist allein

und erinnert sich an eine Frau,

auch eine in einem roten Kleid.

Es ist eine Ewigkeiter.

Es gefällt ihm, daß es solche Frauen noch gibt,

aber es interessiert ihn nicht mehr.

Wie könnte es damals

zwischen ihnen gewesen sein?

Ich wette,er wollte sie haben.

Sie sagte, ich wette: “Nein“.

Keinwunder Kunstfreunde,

daß dieser Mann Euch den Rücken zudreht.

More information at http://mapyourinfo.com/wiki/en.wikipedia.org/Nighthawks/ a Mind/Concept Map

Soir Bleu   http://mapyourinfo.com/wiki/en.wikipedia.org/Nighthawks/
Soir Bleu
http://mapyourinfo.com/wiki/en.wikipedia.org/Nighthawks/
Hopper.self-portrait
Hopper.self-portrait
Categories
Literature Uncategorized

Else Lasker-Schüler; Es gibt Worte, die sich dem Herzen des Lesers für immer einweben werden

Ein alter Tibetteppich

images

Deine Seele, die die meine liebet,
Ist verwirkt mit ihr im Teppichtibet.Strahl in Strahl, verliebte Farben,
Sterne, die sich himmellang umwarben.Unsere Füße ruhen auf der Kostbarkeit,
Maschentausendabertausendweit.Süßer Lamasohn auf Moschuspflanzenthron,
Wie lange küßt dein Mund den meinen wohl
Und Wang die Wange buntgeknüpfte Zeiten schon?

http://lyrik.antikoerperchen.de/else-lasker-schueler-ein-alter-tibetteppich,textbearbeitung,145.html

Else Lasker Schüler “Du machst mich traurig-hör” gesungen von Mieze

 

mp0Xi3IjuT93uw_ChLwZ3og

Katja Ebstein http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SUWxsciDyvw

c

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Das Gebet

Ich suche allerlanden eine Stadt,

Die einen Engel vor der Pforte hat.

Ich trage seinengrossenFlügel

Gebrochen schwer am Schulterblatt

Und inder Stirne seinenStern als Siegel.

Und Wandle immer in die Nacht …

Ich habe Liebe in die Welt gebracht –

Dass blau zublühen jedes Herz vermag,

Und hab ein Leben müde mich gewacht,

In Gott gehüllt dendunklen Atemschlag.

O Gott,schliess um mich deinen Mantel fest;

Ichweiss, ich bin im Kugelglas der Rest,

Undwennder letzte Mensch die Welt vergiesst,

Du mich nicht wieder aus der allmacht lässt

Und sich einneuer Erdball um mich schliesst.

images (9)

Categories
Literature Poetry Uncategorized

The Home is the Word Itself;Rose Ausländer 1901-1988

 

 

 

Wort an Wort

 

Wir wohnen

Wort an Wort

 

Sag mir

dein liebstes

Freund

 

meines heißt

DU

Kirsten Krick-Aigner  of the Jewish Women’s Archive  writes of Rose Ausländer, “a German-speaking Jewish poet from Czernowitz/Bukovina who spent much of her life in exile in the United States and Germany, wrote that her true home was the word itself.”

There is a very useful biography at http://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/auslander-rose. Her poems are short, aphoristic and beautiful. There is some more about her life at http://www.tierradenadie.de/archivo6/rosebiographie.htm and also in German at http://www.ursulahomann.de/RoseAuslaender/ and in considerable detail at http://www.literaturepochen.at/exil/

 

Das Schönste

Ich flüchte

in dein Zauberzelt

Liebe

Im atmenden Wald

wo Grasspitzen

sich verneigen

weil

es nichts Schöneres gibt

Which might be very freely translated thus:-

The very best thing

I seek the protection of your magic tent my love,

Beneath the whispering forest,

Where the springy grass bows under us;

Nothing is more beautiful……

Regenwörter

Regenwörter

überfluten mich

Von Tropfen aufgesogen

in die Wolken geschwemmt

ich regne

in den offenen

Scharlachmund

des Mohns

Rain-words

Are overwhelming me

So that absorbed into droplets

into the floating clouds

I rain

into the open mouth of the scarlet poppy                                                            

It is worth pausing at this point to view some old postcards of the elegant, fascinating city of Czernowitz, Rose’s home city and also that of the celebrated poet Paul Celan. These are on You Tube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AkR7JGthjwk&list=HL1352998582&feature=mh_lolz

Czernowitz before the Second World War

Peaceful hill town
encircled by beech woods

Willows along the Pruth
rafts and swimmers

Maytime profusion of lilac

About the lanterns
May bugs dance
their death

Four languages
Speak to each other
enrich the air

The town
breathed happily
till bombs fell

Rose Ausländer translated by Vincent Homolka

Czernowitz vor dem Zweiten Weltkrieg

Friedliche Hügelstadt
von Buchenwäldern umschlossen

Weiden entlang dem Pruth
Flösse und Schwimmer

Maifliederfülle

um die Lanterner
tanzen Maikäfer
ihren Tod

Vier Sprachen
verständigen sich
verwöhnen die Luft

Bis Bomben fielen
atmete glücklich
die Stadt

This translation comes from a Poetry in Translation website where there are further engaging comments on Rose Ausländer at http://poetryintranslation.org/category/german/

Manchmal spricht ein Baum …

Manchmal spricht ein Baum

durch das Fenster mir Mut zu

Manchmal leuchtet ein Buch

als Stern auf meinem Himmel

manchmal ein Mensch,

den ich nicht kenne,

der meine Worte erkennt.

Sometimes a tree speaks…….

Sometimes a tree speaks

to me through the window courage which

Sometimes lights a book

like a star in my sky, and

Sometimes a person

whom I do not know,

recognises my words.

Loneliness I

My pores suck it up
until it’s evenly distributed
throughout my body

Days ceaselessly tattoo
lines upon my cheeks
signs none but the sibyl
can interpret

My friends are sewn up
their breath inaccessible
upon their lips there hangs a colourless flag:
a frosty smile

When I turn around
I see footprints
trailing away in the sand

The windmill on the horizon
moves its sails in time
to a lullaby
It’s time
to put an end to solitude
with bed and sleep

Rose Ausländer    (translation by Vincent Homolka)

Einsamkeit I

Die Poren saugen sie auf
bis sie im ganzen Körper
gleichmäßig verteilt ist

Tage tätowieren
unablässig Linien
in die Wange
Zeichen die nur die Sibylle
deuten kann

Die Freunde sind zugenäht
man kommt nicht heran an ihren Atem
auf ihren Lippen hängt eine farblose Fahne:
frostiges Lächeln

Wenn man sich umwendet
sieht man Fußspuren die
sich verlaufen im Sand

Die Mühle am Horizont
bewegt die Arme nach dem Pulsschlag eines
Wiegenlieds
Es ist Zeit
dem Alleinsein ein Ende zu bereiten
und schlafen zu gehn

Czernowitz is situated in the area known as Bukovnia and its complex history is quite remarkable; once part of Poland-Lithuania, as Galicia, Moldavia it has an extremely varied population. For example, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bukovina we read that in the late Eighteenth Century,” The Austrian Empire occupied Bukovina in October 1774. Following the first partition of Poland in 1772, the Austrians claimed that they needed it for a road between Galicia and Transylvania. Bukovina was formally annexed in January 1775. On 2 July 1776, at Palamutka, Austrians and Ottomans signed a border convention, Austrians giving back 59 of the previously occupied villages, and remaining with 278 villages.”

Tensions over identity, unsurprisingly, following the difficult history remain:-

“The fact that Romanians and Moldovans were presented as separate categories in the census results, has been criticized by the Romanian Community of Ukraine – Interregional Union, which complains that this old Soviet-era practice, results in the Romanian population being undercounted, as being divided between Romanians and Moldovans.”

 

Mit fremden Augen

Mit fremden Augen

kommt der Morgen

mit den vertrauten Augen

der Fremde

kommt der Mittag

mächtig sein Licht

die Fremde mächtig

morgens mittags

und abends

melden sich Stimmen

mit dunklem Klang

der Fremde

altbekanntem Klang

Der Mond lodert rot

auf den Lippen

des Fiebernden

Hörst nachts

das Echo

wenn deine Stimme schläft

erkennst den Körper

die schwarze Wange

aus blauen Poren

fremd vertraut

 

Categories
Literature Poetry

Autumn and Rilke, Keats usw.

René Karl Wilhelm Johann Josef Maria Rilke

 

 

Rilke’s poem seems apt for the time of the year, although the recent summer might be difficult to describe exactly as  groß.

Herbsttag

Herr: es ist Zeit. Der Sommer war seht groß.
Leg deinen Schatten auf die Sonnenuhren,
und auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.

Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin und jage
die letzte Süße in den schweren Wein.

Wer jetzt kein Haus hat, baut sich keines mehr.
Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

One translation may be found at http://picture-poems.com/rilke/images.html#Herbsttag

The phrase “picture-poems” is suggestive of imagism and Pound and Wyndham Lewis somehow seem to be current in the zeitgeist with the excellent production of Parade’s End on BBC2 adapted by Tom Stoppard in currently much in vogue. There are certainly lines which capture the visual imagination such as,” auf den Fluren laß die Winde los.” Although time and season are obviously central to the poem. This dynamic is reinforced in the second stanza with,” Befiehl den letzten Früchten voll zu sein;
gieb ihnen noch zwei südlichere Tage,
dränge sie zur Vollendung hin…..” Befiehlen here probably being an invocation so as to arrange, allow or ordain matters so that the fruits attain full ripeness.

The wind, frequently and beautifully referred to in Shakespeare’s sonnets, also connected with time for example Sonnet 54 as wanton, (” As the perfumed tincture of the roses,

Hang on such thorns, and play as wantonly

When summer’s breath their masked buds discloses:”) adds to the unruly, random, dégringole quality and to the sadness, possibly of the poet himself, in the final stanza.

Wer jetzt allein ist, wird es lange bleiben,
wird wachen, lesen, lange Briefe schreiben
und wird in den Alleen hin und her
unruhig wandern, wenn die Blätter treiben.

Of course, most English readers will immediately be reminded in this poem of Keats’s Ode to Autumn.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Keats wrote in 1819, ‘How beautiful the season is now–How fine the air. A temperate sharpness about it. Really, without joking, chaste weather–Dian skies–I never liked stubble-fields so much as now.”

John Keats

For an insightful and a radical and political reading of Keats’s poem, it is worth looking at A Poetry Primer, The Secret Life of Poems by Tom Paulin (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Secret-Life-Poems-Poetry-Primer/dp/057127871X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1346952035&sr=1-1)

in which the poppies are associated with the repressive/reactionary use of the Redcoats of the British Army and the grim reaper’s sickle with the cavalryman’s sword. If Rilke knew of Keats’s Ode as one imagines he did, he is unlikely to have been aware of such associations.

There is an entertaining discussion of Rilke in Clive James’s splendid collection, Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time.

There is a detailed website in German at http://www.rilke.de/

Another discussion of Keats’s Ode is at http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/mar/23/john-keats-autumnal-idealist-social-commentator

Categories
Literature Uncategorized

Images from the Rape of Lucrece/Lucretia

In the dolorous, beautiful and heart-rending poem “The Rape of Lucrece”, Shakespeare writes these wonderful lines:-

To see sad sights moves more than to hear them told,

For then the eye interprets to the ear

The heavy motion that it doth behold,

When every part a part of woe doth bear.

‘Tis but a part of sorrow that we hear:

Deep sounds make lesser noise than shallow fords,

And sorrow ebbs being blown with wind of words.

The poem may be found on the Literature Network at http://www.online-literature.com/shakespeare/331/

The work will be presented at the Edinburgh Festival this year and details may be found at http://www.eif.co.uk/rapeoflucrece

Lucretia, 1520/25 Oakwood 76 x 54 cm

The first painting, considered here, ofLucretia is that by Joos van Cleve, a Flemish artist dated 1525 (Oil on panel). The Rijksmuseum says,”Joos van Cleve was probably born in the town or province Kleve in Germany. He trained under a painter in Kalkar. Probably, he started working in Bruges in 1507. Later he moved to Antwerp, where he registered as a master painter in the painters guild. Van Cleve was one of the most influential painters in Antwerp. He received major commissions for portraits and altarpieces. In his paintings he combines a traditional approach with new elements. He was one of the first to paint broad landscapes in the background. In the north, painters began to show an interest in landscapes in the sixteenth century.” It is said that, that like Quentin Massys, a fellow artist of Antwerp, Joos van Cleve appropriated themes and techniques of Leonardo da Vinci.

Flora by Quentin Massys

Having recently seen Massys’s beautiful painting of Flora, 1559 in the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, I can vouch for its entrancing effect which has spurred me to look too at his splendid and interesting oeuvre.

This may be further explored at http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/massys_jan.html

Detail from Lucretia

There are 9 images for The Rape of Lucrece in the Lessing Archive http://www.lessing-photo.com/search.asp?a=1&kc=202020203B61&kw=RAPE+OF+LUCRETIA&p=1&ipp=6 of which that of Joos van Cleve, in my view, is the most moving. This is due partly to the intense use of colour and partly because of the composition. Her head is slightly raised and there is a plaintive and doleful expression on the face which clearly evokes her immeasurable sense of violation. The gesture is expressive rather than realistic and conveys the sense of drama, emphasised in the picture by the diagonal composition. The swirling dishabille of her dress and attendant necklace, the lacing, the elegant sleeving and in particular the looping arc about her headdress adds to the emotional sense of dire confusion. Her royalty is conveyed by these fine robes. The red and black surrounding the more delicate flesh tones add to the sense of catastrophe. Such emphatic use of colour reminded me of Munch’s painting of The Madonna with which it is interesting to compare and contrast, since this second painting with its languorous quality is quite different in terms of the feelings communicated. http://www.edvard-munch.com/gallery/women/madonna.htm

Edvard Munch Madonna 1894-1895

The second picture is by the renowned British print maker, Stanley William Hayter, whose magnificent work has appeared fairly recently at the Annex Galleries, http://www.myspace.com/annexgalleries/blog/433291678.Hayter, it is mentioned was, “A chemist by training, Stanley W. Hayter spent most of his life in Paris. He is often noted for his 1927 founding an experimental workshop for the graphic arts – Atelier 17-that played a central role in the 20th century revival of the print as an independent art form”. His knowledge of chemistry was obviously a great asset in his printmaking and a brief biography may be viewed at http://www.wolman-prints.com/pages/artistbiog/all/h/293.html His etching from 1934 appears to be in MOMA and further detail can be obtained from http://www.moma.org/collection/browse_results.php?criteria=O%3AAD%3AE%3A2558&page_number=3&template_id=1&sort_order=1

Rape of Lucretia (Viol de Lucréce) by Stanley William Hayter

The etching and engraving which in a twisted and troubled composition in black and tones of grey, dramatically suggests the violence of the rape itself in convoluted tubes with a sharp diagonal point, perhaps suggestive of Tarquin’s arm but surely demonstrates the violence of the crime itself. The lower figure seems distraught and crudely exposed to the upper figure which appears too as some sort of metamorphosised fly with the same stabbing structure seeming like some horrific proboscis. Also Armion according to Wikipedia remarks upon,” The association between the phallus and the blade later becomes quite clear when Tarquin enters Lucrece’s chamber and threatens the young woman with his sword”. Here the abstract forms fully express the extremity of the situation. At this time, it appears Hayter had just moved to No. 17, Rue Campagne-Première and was, a few years later to collaborate with Miro, Kandinsky and Picasso on artwork for the Republican cause in Spain. Perhaps this is reminiscent of the significant political result of these events, that Lucius Junius Brutus, nephew of the last Tarquin King led the rebellion against him and founded theRomanRepublic.

Hayter was influenced by the Polish printmaker Józef Hecht, who introduced him to copper engraving. Hecht’s own prints and paintings are both interesting and highly engaging. http://mushecht.haifa.ac.il/art/GhezCollection_eng.aspx?id=8

Joseph Hecht
Noisy Street
oil on canvas, 80×100 cm.
Vendage by Joseph Hecht

 This is now playing in the Edinburgh Festival 2012, should be really interesting:-http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/aug/13/camille-o-sullivan-rape-lucrece

Categories
Book Reviews Literature Uncategorized

Disputed Land by Tim Pears

Amazon link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Disputed-Land-Tim-Pears/dp/0434020818/ref=sr_1_7?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1298808607&sr=1-7

Genre: Literary Fiction

In this engaging novel, Tim Pears tackles many challenging themes: sibling rivalry, time and change in the countryside, facing terminal illness, reflections on the isolation of academic life and undertaking risky financial investment. This is not a portrayal of a rural idyll although much of the most lyrical writing concerns the colours of the Shropshire countryside and this is strengthened by reference to the layers of the archaic past that underlies this disputed borderland territory. In attempting such a multi-layered narrative in a relatively short novel, it is not surprising that for instance, the traumatic shocks in the epic tale are diminished by random, experimental shifts in the tone of the narrative.

‘’Disputed Land’’ is seen through the eyes of thoughtful young Theo who is taken by his parents, both Oxford Academics back to Rodney’s, his father’s family home in the Welsh Marshes for Christmas holiday. This is not the relaxing Christmas to which they might be looking forward. Leonard and Rosemary, Theo’s grandparents have been considering their foreshortened future and tasked not only Rodney, but also his younger materialistic and brutish brother Johnny, and his preoccupied sister Gwen with the division of the family goods.  Theo’s arrival is made more challenging again by Baz and Xan, two feckless and brazen twelve year olds, just one year his junior, the offspring of the philistine Johnny and his attractive, zippy South American wife, Lorna.

Much of the most engaging writing concerns Theo’s burgeoning adolescent sexuality. Firstly, from an admiring distance in relation to his Aunt Lorna whose trim figure undertaking early morning jogs through the countryside thrills him with ecstatic admiration of her athletic charms. Secondly, his fellow feeling for his tomboyish cousin Holly, about Theo’s age, leads him into a sympathetic relationship and subsequently, some maturity. This is despite being in the midst of the many conflicts and pressures by which he himself, Holly and her older sister,Sydney-divorced Gwen’s children -are surrounded.

As Christmas progresses the warm relationship between Theo and his grandfather, Leonard is strengthened in activities in and around the ancient farmhouse. Pears evokes the bucolic smells beneath the eaves of the stables, in Theo’s untidy workshop in the Coach house, and wandering around the variegated woods with Leonard’s lolloping  dogs and listening to his grandfather’s tales of ancient divided loyalties. Theo’s granddad is an ardent enthusiast for every aspect of local history such as tribal incursions across the border hills and the stanch affiliations of the Civil War. Leonard too encourages Theo’s interest in husbandry, forestry and ornithology.

It is Leonard’s practical enterprise that won the hand of Rosemary, Theo’s grandmother, who was born into the parochial gentry, and an accomplished horsewoman. Unfortunately, her imperious manner and disposition to frankly speak her mind causes pain particularly to Auntie Gwen’s partner, Melony. Her energetic advocacy of green issues including views on population, are so vigorously expressed that it reduces the latter to tears after Gwen proudly announces her partner’s surrogate pregnancy has reached 12 weeks. However, further catastrophic shocks occur on the discovery that in fact Rosemary is not just being just her usual difficult self. Her disproportionate railing is exacerbated by the incursions of a terrible illness.

Some of the difficulty in the flow of Pears’s prose is due to the fact that the novel is written in reflection from a time some fifty years in the future, by the middle-aged Theo. When occasionally reminded of this, the otherwise absorbing story is momentarily disturbed and the flow unpleasantly disrupted. Fortunately, this does not happen often. Pears indulges himself in bouts of strange mysticism, which may appeal to some readers since it adds a dynamic of menace and mystery. Others may just find it somewhat silly.

Fortunately, there are other constituents which make this a very worthwhile read. Tim Pears has imaginatively reconstructed the past, invoking such treasures as the splendid library of Leofric, Bishop of Exeter and the mossy redoubts of the Norman knights, the Marcher Lords. The poetic atmosphere is heightened with descriptions of the altering winter sunlight on the crimson mountainsides and the song of a solitary woodpecker. Pears, too has been a filmmaker and excels at sculpting figures, interiors and props, like the kitchen where the difficult, dominating Grandmother lays her hand upon the Aga, from where she conjures recipes and dominates the set. Then there is control of pacing, producing convincing drama. The dark and poignant quarrels and losses are heightened by their contrast with the hilarious descriptions of a football match that highlights, and for a moment, reconciles the loopy idiosyncrasies of this odd family.

Langland, not far away to the south on the Malvern borderland once wrote in ‘Piers Plowman’, ‘’And with Mammon’s money he hath made him friends’’. Tim Pears in ‘’Disputed Land’’ has written with a similar urgent exhortation, to slay the false gods of growth and greed; to show how issues around grasping and grabbing can tear a family apart.

 

Categories
Literature Poetry Uncategorized

“The poet’s business is not to save the soul of man but to make it worth saving.” James Elroy Flecker 1884-1915

Undated photograph of Flecker

“O friend unseen, unborn, unknown,
Student of our sweet
English tongue,
Read out my words at night, alone:
I was a poet, I was young.” To a Poet a Thousand Years Hence

Flecker is often said to have been influenced by the Parnassians about whom Wikipedia comments:-

The Parnassians were influenced by Théophile Gautier and his doctrine of “art for art’s sake”. As a reaction to the less disciplined types of romantic poetry, and what they considered the excessive sentimentality and undue social and political activism of Romantic works, the Parnassians strove for exact and faultless workmanship, selecting exotic and classical subjects which they treated with rigidity of form and emotional detachment. Elements of this detachment were derived from the philosophical work of Arthur Schopenhauer.

These poets were French and were published in an anthology that was first issued during 1866, then again during 1869 and 1876, including poems by Charles Leconte de Lisle, Théodore de Banville, Sully Prudhomme, Stéphane Mallarmé, Paul Verlaine, François Coppée and José María de Heredia. The general style was influenced by the author Théophile Gautier as well as the philosophical work of Arthur Schopenhauer.

The Ballad Of Camden Town

I walked with Maisie long years back
The streets of Camden Town,
I splendid in my suit of black,
And she divine in brown.
Hers was a proud and noble face,
A secret heart, and eyes
Like water in a lonely place
Beneath unclouded skies.
A bed, a chest, a faded mat,
And broken chairs a few,
Were all we had to grace our flat
In Hazel Avenue.
But I could walk to Hampstead Heath,
And crown her head with daisies,
And watch the streaming world beneath,
And men with other Maisies.
When I was ill and she was pale
And empty stood our store,
She left the latchkey on its nail,
And saw me nevermore.
Perhaps she cast herself away
Lest both of us should drown:
Perhaps she feared to die, as they
Who die in Camden Town.
What came of her? The bitter nights
Destroy the rose and lily,
And souls are lost among the lights
Of painted Piccadilly.
What came of her? The river flows
So deep and wide and stilly,
And waits to catch the fallen rose
And clasp the broken lily.
I dream she dwells in London still
And breathes the evening air,
And often walk to Primrose Hill,
And hope to meet her there.
Once more together we will live,
For I will find her yet:
I have so little to forgive;
So much, I can’t forget.

Ballad of the Londoner


Evening falls on the smoky walls,
And the railings drip with rain,
And I will cross the old river
To see my girl again.
The great and solemn-gliding tram,
Love’s still-mysterious car,
Has many a light of gold and white,
And a single dark red star.

I know a garden in a street
Which no one ever knew;
I know a rose beyond the Thames,
Where flowers are pale and few.

A first attempt at translating into German

Ballade des Londoners

Die Glättung fällt auf die rauchigen Wände,
und das Geländer tropfen mit Regen,
und ich ueberquere den alten Fluss
Um mein Maedchen wiederzusehen..
Die grosse, ernstgleitende Strassenbahn,
Der ruhige geheimnisvolle Wagen der Liebe
Hat  viel  Licht des Goldes und weiß
und einen einzelnen dunkelroten Stern.

Ich kenne einen Garten in einer Straße
Den niemand je kannte überhaupt wussten;
Ich kenne eine Rose jenseits der Themse,
Wo Blumen bleich und wenige sind..