Archive for the Literature Category

Four Quartets, No. 2. – East Coker II by T.S. Eliot

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on November 27, 2022 by telescoper

What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings.
The poetry does not matter.

It was not (to start again) what one had expected.

What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes.
There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been.
We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.

In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment.
Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

The houses are all gone under the sea.

The dancers are all gone under the hill.

by T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)

September Song, by Geoffrey Hill

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on September 13, 2022 by telescoper

born 19.6.32—deported 24.9.42

Undesirable you may have been, untouchable
you were not. Not forgotten
or passed over at the proper time.

As estimated, you died. Things marched,
sufficient, to that end.
Just so much Zyklon and leather, patented
terror, so many routine cries.

(I have made
an elegy for myself it
is true)

September fattens on vines. Roses
flake from the wall. The smoke
of harmless fires drifts to my eyes.

This is plenty. This is more than enough.

by Geoffrey Hill (1932-2016)

(The word “deported”  alongside the dates of birth and death of a child at the beginning is of course euphemistic; the poem tells us what really happened.)

Love after Love, by Derek Walcott

Posted in Poetry with tags , , , on August 15, 2022 by telescoper

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

by Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

“The Whale”, by John Donne

Posted in Literature with tags , , , on August 2, 2022 by telescoper

A beached Sperm Whale (Dutch woodcut, 1598)

At every stroake his brazen finnes do take,
More circles in the broken sea they make
Than cannons’ voices; when the aire they teare:
His ribs are pillars, and his high arch’d roofe
Of barke that blunts best steele, is thunder-proofe:
Swimme in him swallow’d Dolphins, without feare,
And feele no sides, as if his vast wombe were
Some inland sea, and ever as he went
He spouted rivers up, as if he meant
To joyne our seas, with seas above the firmament.

He hunts not fish but as an officer,
Stayes in his court, at his own net, and there
All suitors of all sorts themselves enthrall;
So on his backe lies this whale wantoning,
And in his gulfe-like throat, sucks every thing
That passeth neare. Fish chaseth fish, and all,
Flyer and follower, in this whirlpool fall;
O might not states of more equality
Consist? and is it of necessity
That thousand guiltlesse smals, to make one great, must die?


These are Stanzas XXXII and XXXIII from “Metempsycosis” by John Donne (1572-1631); posted because they feature in the programme I watched yesterday.


R.I.P. James Lovelock (1919-2022)

Posted in Literature, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on July 28, 2022 by telescoper

I heard this week of the death, on his 103rd birthday, of scientist and writer James Lovelock. He started out as a chemist but became what is now called an “independent scientist” and “futurist”. These terms are often applied to people who are simply cranks, but he wasn’t just that. Unorthodox he was, certainly, but there was depth to his thinking that mere cranks never reach.

James Lovelock was best known to me – and I suspect to many others – for his work on the Gaia Hypothesis, which is roughly speaking the idea that the system of life on Earth functions as a single organism that defines and maintains the conditions necessary for its own survival.

I’ve just had a rummage around my bookshelves and found my copy of his famous book on this topic, which I bought and read back in the 80s. The first edition was published in 1979, but the one I bought was the version published in 1987 after the topic had been featured on the BBC TV programme, Horizon:

The Gaia hypothesis has been widely criticized by biologists and ecologists but I remember finding it a very thought-provoking book, though I interpreted more as a metaphor than a mechanism. At any rate it seems to me to be a useful counter to the extreme reductionism of many prominent life scientists. It’s also very well written and definitely worth reading over 40 years after it was written. James Lovelock was as inventive and ingenious a thinker as he was unorthodox.

Rest in peace, James Ephraim Lovelock (1919-2022).

Epilogue, by Oliver Tearle

Posted in Poetry with tags , on July 8, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday I was looking around for a poem on the subject of goodbyes to post facetiously about the departure of Boris Johnson when I stumbled accidentally on this gem which I’m posting now, not facetiously and definitely not in any way about Boris Johnson…

Maybe our paths will cross
when this universe folds in and makes another.
Maybe, at the point

when all that is, and all that’s ever been,
collapses into everything else and is remade,
our paths will cross, however briefly, and

our terminus become a junction.
It may be a long shot. I will take it
and hope and trust our paths will cross again.

by Oliver Tearle


The Song of Wandering Aengus

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on July 2, 2022 by telescoper

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)


Bloomsday 2022

Posted in Biographical, Literature with tags , , , , on June 16, 2022 by telescoper

So it’s 16th June, a very special day in Ireland – and especially Dublin – because 16th June 1904 is the date on which the story takes place of Ulysses by James Joyce. Bloomsday – named after the character Leopold Bloom – is an annual celebration not only of all things Joycean but also of Ireland’s wider cultural and literary heritage. This year the Bloomsday Festival marks the centenary of the first publication of the complete Ulysses in Paris; it had been published in instalments before that but 2022 was when the full novel was published.

Here is a little video produced by the Irish Foreign Ministry spreading the impact of Bloomsday around the world:

This is also the first time for a few years that Bloomsday events have been held in person. I was toying with the idea of going into Dublin and wandering about some of the locations described in Ulysses, but I have too much work to do. One day I should try to write a paraody of Ulysses about a day in the life of a man who doesn’t go anywhere or do anything except spend the whole day on Microsoft Teams while real life passes him by.

If time permits, however, I will go out and buy the ingredients for a Gorgonzola and mustard sandwich, although unfortunately I shall have to forego the glass of Burgundy that Mr Bloom had with his.

Update: I tried the Gorgonzola and mustard sandwich. It’s an interesting (!) taste, but I don’t think I want to taste it again.

If you haven’t read Ulysses yet then you definitely should. It’s one of the great works of modern literature. And don’t let people put you off by telling you that it’s a difficult read. It really isn’t. It’s a long read that’s for sure -it’s over 900 pages – but the writing is full of colour and energy and it has a real sense of place. It’s a wonderful book.

(There’s also quite a lot of sex in it….)

The Brief Span of Life…

Posted in Art, Literature, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , on May 7, 2022 by telescoper

I found this rather poignant cartoon on Facebook because a friend shared it. Some people have told me they find it depressing. I don’t. I think the finiteness of life is one of the things that makes it bearable.

I don’t know the name of the artist. If anyone does please let me know.

Halley’s Comet last visited us in 1986 when I was 23 and living in Brighton. It will next be visible in 2061, when I shall be 98!

The comet’s orbital period of 75 years or so is brief by astronomical standards, as is the duration of a human life. As Quintus Horatius Flaccus (Horace to you and me) put it in one of his Odes (Book I, Ode 4, line 15):

Vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam

What would I do without this world – #PoetryDayIRL

Posted in Poetry with tags , , on April 28, 2022 by telescoper

what would I do without this world faceless incurious
where to be lasts but an instant where every instant
spills in the void the ignorance of having been
without this wave where in the end
body and shadow together are engulfed
what would I do without this silence where the murmurs die
the pantings the frenzies towards succour towards love
without this sky that soars
above its ballast dust

what would I do what I did yesterday and the day before
peering out of my deadlight looking for another
wandering like me eddying far from all the living
in a convulsive space
among the voices voiceless
that throng my hiddenness

by Samuel Beckett (1906-89)