Archive for the Literature Category

A Reminiscence of Cricket

Posted in Cricket, Literature, Poetry with tags , , , , on August 19, 2019 by telescoper

W.G. Grace, photographed in 1902

Not a lot of people know that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a keen amateur cricketer who played ten first-class matches (for the MCC). He was an occasional bowler who only took one wicket in a first-class game, that of W.G. Grace, which was such a momentous event for him that he wrote this poem about it:

Once in my heyday of cricket,
One day I shall ever recall!
I captured that glorious wicket,
The greatest, the grandest of all.

Before me he stands like a vision,
Bearded and burly and brown,
A smile of good humoured derision
As he waits for the first to come down.

A statue from Thebes or from Knossos,
A Hercules shrouded in white,
Assyrian bull-like colossus,
He stands in his might.

With the beard of a Goth or a Vandal,
His bat hanging ready and free,
His great hairy hands on the handle,
And his menacing eyes upon me.

And I – I had tricks for the rabbits,
The feeble of mind or eye,
I could see all the duffer’s bad habits
And where his ruin might lie.

The capture of such might elate one,
But it seemed like one horrible jest
That I should serve tosh to the great one,
Who had broken the hearts of the best.

Well, here goes! Good Lord, what a rotter!
Such a sitter as never was dreamt;
It was clay in the hands of the potter,
But he tapped it with quiet contempt.

The second was better – a leetle;
It was low, but was nearly long-hop;
As the housemaid comes down on the beetle
So down came the bat with a chop.

He was sizing me up with some wonder,
My broken-kneed action and ways;
I could see the grim menace from under
The striped peak that shaded his gaze.

The third was a gift or it looked it-
A foot off the wicket or so;
His huge figure swooped as he hooked it,
His great body swung to the blow.

Still when my dreams are night-marish,
I picture that terrible smite,
It was meant for a neighboring parish,
Or any place out of sight.

But – yes, there’s a but to the story –
The blade swished a trifle too low;
Oh wonder, and vision of glory!
It was up like a shaft from a bow.

Up, up like a towering game bird,
Up, up to a speck in the blue,
And then coming down like the same bird,
Dead straight on the line that it flew.

Good Lord, it was mine! Such a soarer
Would call for a safe pair of hands;
None safer than Derbyshire Storer,
And there, face uplifted, he stands

Wicket keep Storer, the knowing,
Wary and steady of nerve,
Watching it falling and growing
Marking the pace and curve.

I stood with my two eyes fixed on it,
Paralysed, helpless, inert;
There was ‘plunk’ as the gloves shut upon it,
And he cuddled it up to his shirt.

Out – beyond question or wrangle!
Homeward he lurched to his lunch!
His bat was tucked up at an angle,
His great shoulders curved to a hunch.

Walking he rumbled and grumbled,
Scolding himself and not me;
One glove was off, and he fumbled,
Twisting the other hand free

Did I give Storer the credit
The thanks he so splendidly earned?
It was mere empty talk if I said it,
For Grace had already returned.

by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930).




Preparatory Reading

Posted in History, Literature, Politics with tags on August 12, 2019 by telescoper

With less than a month to go before I take up a position as Head of Department, I thought I’d spend some of the book tokens I got from the Everyman Crossword prize on some preparatory reading material…

Insects, by John Clare

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on July 9, 2019 by telescoper

These tiny loiterers on the barley’s beard,
And happy units of a numerous herd
Of playfellows, the laughing Summer brings,
Mocking the sunshine in their glittering wings,
How merrily they creep, and run, and fly!
No kin they bear to labour’s drudgery,
Smoothing the velvet of the pale hedge-rose;
And where they fly for dinner no one knows–
The dew-drops feed them not–they love the shine
Of noon, whose sun may bring them golden wine.
All day they’re playing in their Sunday dress–
Till night goes sleep, and they can do no less;
Then, to the heath bell’s silken hood they fly,
And like to princes in their slumbers lie,
Secure from night, and dropping dews, and all,
In silken beds and roomy painted hall.
So merrily they spend their summer day,
Now in the cornfields, now the new-mown hay.
One almost fancies that such happy things,
With coloured hoods and richly burnished wings,
Are fairy folk, in splendid masquerade
Disguised, as if of mortal folk afriad,
Keeping their merry pranks a mystery still,
Lest glaring day should do their secrets ill.

by John Clare (1793-1861)



Sonnet No. 76

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on June 29, 2019 by telescoper
Why is my verse so barren of new pride,
So far from variation or quick change?
Why with the time do I not glance aside
To new-found methods, and to compounds strange?
Why write I still all one, ever the same,
And keep invention in a noted weed,
That every word doth almost tell my name,
Showing their birth, and where they did proceed?
O know, sweet love, I always write of you,
And you and love are still my argument,
So all my best is dressing old words new,
Spending again what is already spent:
   For as the sun is daily new and old,
   So is my love still telling what is told


by William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

5th June 23.15 GMT

Posted in Literature, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , on June 6, 2019 by telescoper


Blessent mon cœur
D’une langueur


(This excerpt from a poem by Paul Verlaine formed a coded message broadcast to the French resistance by Radio Londres, 5th June 1944 at 23.15 GMT informing them that the Allied invasion of France was imminent. Preceded by extensive airborne operations, the landings on the beaches of Normandy began on the morning of 6th June 1944.)





The Second Coming

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on April 19, 2019 by telescoper

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again; but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939): this poem was written in 1919.

The Multiverse – Andrew Wynn Owen

Posted in Poetry, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on April 18, 2019 by telescoper

The Multiverse is Andrew Wynn Owen‘s first book of poems. It was published last year by Carcanet Press, but I only found out about it a week or two ago, from a review in a recent edition of the Times Literary Supplement. I had £10 in book tokens left over from a crossword prize so decided to spend them on this exuberant and diverse collection (which cost £9.99).

There are two particularly interesting things about this book. One is its thematic range, which is centred on science and philosophy but spreads out very widely across many fields. It’s actually not unusual for poets to be interested in science, though perhaps it is rather rarer for scientists to be interested in poetry…

The other particularly interesting aspect of these poems is their stylistic range. All of them are written in very precise forms, including the various types of sonnet, each with a strict metre but differing radically in structure from one to the other. As you might expect there are clear echoes of poetry from other eras, including nods in the direction of the metaphysical poets such as George Herbert.

You might infer from what I’ve said that these poems are merely imitative of other works, but that’s not the case. Although they are often very witty, these poems are not just parodies. I think the poet’s intention was to demonstrate how much can still be said that’s relevant to the modern world using established forms. I think he succeeds brilliantly, and he shows such mastery of so many different styles that it’s hard to believe this is a debut collection.

The title The Multiverse plays both on the aspects I described above, the scientific and philosophical themes, and the plurality of verse forms contained in this collection. As a physicist, though I’m not a proponent of the ‘scientific’ Multiverse, I recommend the poetic version very highly!