1. Name the Shakespeare plays begun by each of the following lines:
a. Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York.
b. Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
c. Hence! Home, you idle creatures, get you home!
Is this a holiday?
d. If music be the food of love, play on.
e. Who’s there?
f. When shall we three meet again?
In thunder, lightning or in rain?
2. Name the lover or wife of each of the following characters:
l. Duke Orsino
3. Name the Shakespearean heroes with which each of the following enemies contended:
c. Laertes and Claudius
e. Octavius Caesar
g. Brutus and Cassius
When I don’t have any long trips planned but want a story to listen to while running errands and driving back and forth to work, I sometimes pick up an audiobook that I think won’t be too demanding, so recently I picked up Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson, and listened to it in small pieces, enjoying it every time I got back to it. Because other people were driving my car, I put the box for the audiobook in a storage console and left out the first wallet of CDs. Then, because other audiobook boxes got put on top of the Major Pettigrew one, I forgot that there were two wallets of CDs. Thus, I got to a point where this very straightforward story ended with a lot of ambiguity, and I felt a bit indignant. How could the author set up so many situations and leave them to my imagination like that, I wondered.
Major Pettigrew is situated late in life, living as a widower in a small village with a son who occasionally visits from London. His brother has just died, which makes him sad, gives him several opportunities to get better acquainted with the local shopkeeper, Mrs. Ali, and provides grounds for family squabbling over a gun that was promised to him on his brother’s death but the rest of the family wants to sell.
In the process of working it all out, culture and class differences–between the British, the British and Americans, the British and Indians, and what seems to the Major to be a crassly materialistic younger generation—are highlighted. Although the Major always seems to act correctly, he and the reader both realize, as the story goes on, that he might occasionally go beyond mere correctness.
The moment when my first wallet of CDs ended was the end of Chapter 14, at which point the Major has a conversation with Mrs. Ali’s nephew, Abdul Wahid, who is nearly the age of his son, about how it is possible to live a life that means something. The Major believes that his son, like his late brother’s wife and daughter, is consumed with material ambitions. The chapter ends with Abdul Wahid asking the Major “do you really understand what it means to be in love with an unsuitable woman?” The Major replies “My dear boy….Is there really any other kind?” And I thought that was the end of the book. I was disappointed and drove around for a couple of days mentally bashing the people who had told me that Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand was worth reading. Then, of course, I discovered the second wallet of CDs and was amused at myself and pleased that there was more.
Everything works itself out in extremely satisfactory detail, with the exception of Abdul Wahid’s love affair. I would also like to have seen a drawn-out homage to Grace, one of the real heroes of the story, since she does not let the Major succumb to her “inevitability” but insists that he should go after the woman he loves (Mrs. Ali). As it is, though, the ending is quite perfect because of the dialogue between the Major and Mrs. Ali on the day of their wedding:
“You’re not supposed to be here,” he said.
“I thought it wrong to leave even one small tradition unbroken,” she said, smiling.
This is not a demanding book, but it’s a very pleasant one, and it will make you want a cup of tea. Eleanor tells me that people in London think that Americans are oddly particular about tea. Do you have a favorite kind?
When I saw Aimless Love: New and Selected Poems by Billy Collins at the bookstore during our shopping trip this weekend, I knew I had to buy it and introduce his poetry to someone new this year. Of course, I had to leaf through it and see what might be new to me.
There’s always something new, even when I look through a familiar volume of poetry. Since I’ve lived through more, different poems will catch my attention. This time through some of the previous volumes by Collins, it occurred to me that these poems—although I am usually a fan—strike me a little like good Hallmark cards. “Oh, that’s just how that feels!” I think, or “that reminds me of so-and-so.”
Since in the last few years, I’ve become aware that I have a number of friends who are quite discriminating about popular music–especially from the 1960s, 70s, and 80s—I noticed a poem that I wouldn’t have otherwise, since I’m mostly a person who lets pop music wash over her without developing many strong feelings about it:
“More Than a Woman”
Ever since I woke up today,
a song has been playing uncontrollably
in my head—a tape looping
over the spools of the brain,
a rosary in the hands of a frenetic nun,
mad fan belt of a tune.
It must have escaped from the radio
last night on the drive home
and tunneled while I slept
from my ears to the center of my cortex.
It is a song so cloying and vapid
I won’t even bother mentioning the title,
but it plays as if I were a turntable
covered with dancing children
and their spooky pantomimes,
as if everything I had ever learned
was being slowly replaced
by its slinky chords and the puff-balls of its lyrics.
It played while I watered the plants
and continued when I brought in the mail
and fanned out the letters on a table.
It repeated itself when I took a walk
and watched from a bridge
brown leaves floating in the channels of a current.
Late in the afternoon it seemed to fade,
but I heard it again at the restaurant
when I peered in at the lobsters
lying on the bottom of an illuminated
tank which was filled to the brim
with their copious tears.
And now at this dark window
in the middle of the night
I am beginning to think
I could be listening to music of the spheres,
the sound no one ever hears
because it has been playing forever,
only the spheres are colored pool balls,
and the music is oozing from a jukebox
whose lights I can just make out through the clouds.
The poem makes me think of the 1970s, when I was a teenager, and the movie Saturday Night Fever, which I enjoyed when I was 17 because it gave me a glimpse into a world different from my own. The speaker’s reaction to the song amuses me because I think of how my friends are so affected by pop music while it usually kind of washes over me.
I had the opposite reaction to a poem about seeing faces in textures, because this is something I do all the time. Once I called an entire houseful of guests into the bathroom off of my bedroom to see that, if you sit on the toilet in there, the theatrical comedy and tragedy masks are clearly visible on adjoining bits of the flooring tiles.
Hamlet noticed them in the shapes of clouds,
but I saw them in the furniture of childhood,
creatures trapped under surfaces of wood,
one submerged in a polished sideboard,
one frowning from a chair-back,
another howling from my mother’s silent bureau,
locked in the grain of maple, frozen in oak.
I would see these presences, too,
in a swirling pattern of wallpaper
or in the various greens of a porcelain lamp,
each looking so melancholy, so damned,
some peering out at me as if they knew
all the secrets of a secretive boy.
Many times I would be daydreaming
on the carpet and one would appear next to me,
the oversize nose, the hollow look.
So you will understand my reaction
this morning at the beach
when you opened your hand to show me
a stone you had picked up from the shoreline.
“Do you see the face?” you asked
as the cold surf circled our bare ankles.
“There’s the eye and the line of the mouth,
like it’s grimacing, like it’s in pain.”
“Well, maybe that’s because it has a fissure
running down the length of its forehead
not to mention a kind of twisted beak,” I said,
taking the thing from you and flinging it out
over the sparkle of blue waves
so it could live out its freakish existence
on the dark bottom of the sea
and stop bothering innocent beach-goers like us,
stop ruining everyone’s summer.
That’s a kind of greeting card poem I could send to my friends who go to the beach with us every other summer. “Look,” I could say, “this kind of thing happens to other people, too!”
More poems in this collection are available as greetings–to people who are annoyed by children playing “Marco Polo” in public pools (“Hangover,”), by the language of “young girls” in public places (“Oh my God!”) or by the need to voice a conventional phrase (“I Love You”). Some are for people who have lost someone (“Carry” and “All Eyes”), have seen people “Divorce,“ or have ever bitten into a soft apple (“Quandary”).
But some of the new poems in the volume move past the appreciation of small moments and usual circumstances, towards making a new idea or image for the reader to contemplate. The reference to the “music of the spheres” in “More Than A Woman” becomes a title for a better, newer poem, although perhaps a less amusing one:
The Music of the Spheres
The woman on the radio
who was lodging the old complaint
that her husband never listens to her
reminded me of the music of the spheres,
that chord of seven notes,
one for each of the visible planets,
which has been sounding
since the beginning of the universe,
and which we can never hear,
according to Pythagoras
because we hear it all the time
so it sounds the same as silence.
But let’s say the needle were lifted
from the spinning grooves
of those celestial orbs—
then people would stop
on the streets and look up,
and others would stop in the fields
and hikers would stop in the woods
and look this way and that
as if they were hearing something
for the first time,
and that husband would lower
the newspaper from his face
look at his wife
who has been standing in the doorway
and ask Did you just say something, dear?
I like the idea of a sound stopping and everyone suddenly listening. It’s less of a greeting card idea, and more of a way to consider paying attention, which is one of the things I look for in poetry.
How about you? What do you look for? Does the poetry of Billy Collins give you much of it?
from “One After the Other: An Alphabetical Round” in Who Killed Iago? by James Walton
1. What’s the third in Louisa M. Alcott’s series of novels about the March sisters?
2. What’s the actual name (not the nickname) of the most famous literary creation of Leslie Charteris?
3. Which novelist gave the eulogy at the memorial service for Benny Hill?
4. Which thousand-page novel of 1996 is set in a North America where Canada, the United States, and Mexico are unified?
5. Whose last two novels were The Years and Between the Acts?
After reading Eva’s post for A More Diverse Universe about how much she likes N.K. Jemisin books, I was reminded of why I’ve had The Killing Moon sitting on my shelf for a while, and got it down. I found it a bit of a slow read, and it ended up on my bedside table, which was the right place for a fantasy tale about a world with Egyptian flavor in which devotees of one of the extremely weird gods of this fantasy land learn how to steal into peoples’ dreams in order to kill them, but only if they’ve been judged “corrupt” by those the devotees serve (which may not always be the god, it seems).
One of my favorite moments of reading came about 11 pm one cold, November night, as the cats lay draped over my legs and my eyes were getting heavy-lidded while flickering from the end of one chapter to an “interlude” in italics on the opposite page. I was deciding whether to read on as I read this:
“Now that you have heard the greater stories I must begin the lesser—for I see that you have grown weary and distracted. No, don’t apologize. We are men of the Hetawa, after all; sleep is no hindrance. There, take the couch. Sleep if you wish. I’ll weave the tale into your dreams.”
So I closed the book and went to sleep, although as it turned out, my dreams were not as interesting as the brightly-colored world of the book, and I woke to gray Ohio.
Basically, this is a travel story, with two Gatherers, servants of Hananja, going along with a foreign spy who has talked them out of “gathering” her in order to find out who is giving the orders in their own land. Part of the cleverness of this narrative structure is that the foreign spy, Sunandi, has the same kind of horror of their calling, Gathering, that a modern reader will, at first: “she resisted the urge to swallow at the menace in his tone. He still intended—no. He still believed wholly in the rightness of killing her.”
It takes an old foreign woman to whom the older Gatherer intends kindness to tell him what is obvious to those outside his country and his peculiar devotion to Hananja:
“I can see how they made you,” she said, her voice soft despite its hoarseness. “They took away everything that mattered to you, che? Upended your whole world and left you alone. And now you think love blooms in a breath and silencing pain is a kindness….I could let you kill me now, lovely man, and have peace and good dreams forever. But who knows what I get instead, if I stay?”
The Gatherers, Ehiru and Nijiri, learn the price of their power if the devotion of every single one of their brothers is not pure—they can become “reapers,” who can kill almost effortlessly, reaching into a person’s mind from a distance, without caring why or how. They must become less cloistered and even, to some extent, political to solve the mystery of who has been using them, along with all the followers of Hananja. By the end, it’s clear that it will be another long age before their Gatherer descendants allow their power to be used by any single person.
At the end of the book, it seems our dreams are safe. Mine were more entertaining and memorable than usual while I read The Killing Moon. I dreamed someone gave me a baby, and woke feeling the way she clung to me and how much I wanted her. I dreamed I came into a room with Nathan Fillion and said to everyone there, “stop that!” and then “Hey, Nathan Fillion wants you to stop that!” which, of course, made them immediately stop and look up.
My mother always told me that if you tell a dream before breakfast, it will come true. I think it’s because that makes you remember it, or maybe she just didn’t want to have to listen to long dream-tales every morning of my childhood. We try to listen to dreams at my house, most of the time. Does anyone listen to yours? Have you had a good one lately?
Endings, from Literary Trivia by Richard Lederer and Michael Gilleland:
“L-d, said my mother, what is all this story about? –A COCK and a BULL, said Yorick–And one of the best kind I ever heard” is the ending of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy.
Can you identify the titles from the endings that appear below?
1. “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”
2. “After all, tomorrow is another day.”
3. “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
4. “Villains! I shrieked, dissemble no more! I admit the deed!–tear up the planks!–here! here!–it is the beating of his hideous heart!”
6. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody.”
7. “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I got to, than I have ever known.”
8. “Who knows but that, on lower frequencies, I speak for you.”
9. “So I awoke, and behold, it was a dream.”
10. “I lingered round them, under that benign sky; watched the moths fluttering among the heath and harebells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how any one could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.”
11. “That might be the subject of a new story–but our present story is ended.”
13. “There were three thousand six hundred and fifty-three days like this in his sentence, from reveille to lights out. The three extra ones were because of the leap years.”
14. “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”
15. “Nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura–and so goodbye…”
In the fictional universe, where I spend so much of my time, parents get old and die when their children leave home and start making their marks in the world. The next generation takes up any cause left undecided, and the camera pans away…twenty years of living quietly are covered in a couple of pages…parents impart their wisdom and fade gracefully out of the picture.
I’ve never been very good at quiet or graceful. We drove home in a storm the other night, hearing the tornado sirens, both to see it and to avoid having to sit in our friends’ basement. It’s not that we don’t value our lives; it’s that such caution seems excessive now, like adding a packet of chemicals to a vase, the kind designed to make cut flowers last longer.
Here is a poem about cut flowers and mortality, by Cynthia Huntington:
Though the cut flowers wilt
and the leaves wither, blanching
in the vase for days, still
they remind me of fields, the loveliness
of fading part by part, so many
changes, not sudden the cutting
down, not brutal but a way of
undoing. A fulfillment.
Merciful, you could say,
the cutting down and then
the slow undoing, which returns
forms to their beginning
as they go, petal by petal, and leaf
curling, how one shrivels
and falls. A blossom
that folds in on itself, remembering
the bud. Complete in its beginning.
As we say the flower is perfect,
and I feel my soul in danger
if I believe this because I am
a flower, no, a field of imperfections
and I may yet be cut down.
Be mercifully undone.
I’m sitting by the window and it is night;
I smell the cut grass, and gasoline
burning in cars that pass, and an insinuation
of skunk—these frighten me
because I cannot join them; they are not
sorrow or undoing, they are life fulfilling itself,
and I cannot settle my mind
from this ungainly sadness.
The window is open;
the flowers lean away from it, wilting.
A wish that I might be, not spared,
but taken back into this
night garden, made part of
something. This “I” a blossom
that opens and falls,
taken into a smell of cut grass,
whatever comes to me, for me,
across night, flown to this
single window, lit
from within by lamplight.
A faintest fragrance of fields
persists in these flowers, still lovely,
wilting without sorrow, without knowing loss.
And yet grief lives in the corners
and under our hair and nails, private
and untended against the world’s machine.
It prevails, this grief,
wrapped in moderation, and making small
gestures toward what breaks
the heart. But everything breaks the heart!
It is here to break, only invented to be
the fist of blood that bursts in the fire.
Why I love the wilting
flowers and the greens rotting
in the yellowing water, not gently,
not gently at all, but like some dead animal
held in the hand. It is not
merciful, I was wrong
to say “merciful,” that was wish only.
I have come to a place
here at the kitchen table where nothing
consoles me but these flowers
detonating silently by the window.
Somewhere a meadow strewn
with flowers untidy as stars, shimmers
in light. A meadow uncut, never turned.
I think I am talking about fear
and I know fear is only ignorance
of our true nature, mistaking
the loss of ourselves for an end
of being. The flowers stand up in the air
beside the window. They were not slain,
they were not rolled in heaps
into ditches to lie upon one another;
they stand up in the air beside the window,
as life wanes, in normal use, not in terror.
I am sitting by the window.
I am looking at the flowers.
The night air is cool and I breathe it
into every cell. Molecules of
darkness become me.
When “everything breaks the heart” there’s no point in protecting it, or in making a big deal about it, really. Simply to “stand up in the air beside the window” is a victory, some days. Just breathing makes “molecules of/darkness become me.” It’s a second adolescence, perhaps–we’re going to take risks again; we’re not going to go gentle.
What risks have you taken lately?