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Posts Tagged ‘Jim’s death’

friedrich-caspar-david-le-soir-1821
Caspar David Friedrich (174-1840), Le Soir (Evening, autumn), 1821

Dear readers and friends,

My friend, Martin, remembering this is the anniversary of Jim’s death wrote me tonight about reading Auden, especially “The Sea and the Mirror.” So I took down from its shelf W.H.Auden: Collected Poems — it was once Jim’s book, one of those he would return to read. I went to where Prospero speaks to Ariel and thought this closest to my condition:

Now our partnership is dissolved, I feel so peculiar:
    As if I had been on a drunk since I was born
And suddenly now, and for the first time, am cold sober,
    With all my unanswered wishes and unwashed days
Stacked up all around my life; as if through the ages I had dreamed
    About some tremendous journey I was taking,
Sketching imaginary landscapes, chasms and cities,
    Cold walls, hot spaces, wild mouths, defeated backs,
Jotting down fictional notes on secrets overheard
    In theatres and privies, banks and mountain inns,
And now, in my oId age, I wake, and this journey really exists,
    And I have actually to take it, inch by inch,
Alone and on foot, without a cent in my pocket,
    Through a universe where time is not foreshortened,
No animals talk, and there is neither floating nor flying.

When I am safely home, oceans away in Milan, and
    Realise once and for all I shall never see you again,
Over there, maybe, it won’t seem quite so dreadful
    Not to be interesting any more, but an old man
Just like other old men, with eyes that water
    Easily in the wind, and a head that nods in the sunshine,
Forgetful, maladroit, a little grubby,
    And to like it. When the servants settle me into a chair
In some well-sheltered corner of the garden,
    And arrange my muffler and rugs, shall I ever be able
To stop myself from telling them what I am doing,
    Sailing alone, out over seventy thousand fathoms -?
Yet if I speak, I shall sink without a sound
    Into unmeaning abysses. Can I learn to suffer
Without saying something ironic or funny
    On suffering? I never suspected the way of truth
Was a way of silence where affectionate chat
    Is but a robbers’ ambush and even good music
In shocking taste; and you, of course, never told me.
    If I peg away at it honestly every moment,
And have luck, perhaps by the time death pounces
    His stumping question, I shall just be getting to know
The difference between moonshine and daylight…
    I see you starting to fidget. I forget. To you
That doesn’t matter. My dear, here comes Gonzalo
    With a solemn face to fetch me. O Ariel, Ariel.
How I shall miss you. Enjoy your element. Good-bye.

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ianthisevening
In my house during renovation of kitchen, Ian pussycat this evening — does not like to kept in the back half of the house so staring at closed door (cats don’t like closed doors either)

My own feebler effort as I watched:

How does it feel
to be
half a person?

Hard to describe.
I take
up half our space.

I stand there
next to
an alert silence.

My awareness
creates
him, there, unseen.

But people disappear,
all the time,
everywhere

The thread is to know how
to seek,
find what is lost.

“Where did you go,
you disappeared?!”
I once said to him,
half-frantic.

He replied solemnly
“I did not, I
remained
perfectly visible
all the time.”

And now
I am the one
who remains
perfectly visible
all the time.

*****************************

jamesnortonasandrei

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James Norton and Jessie Buckley as Andrey and Marya Bolkonsky (2016 War and Peace, scripted Andrew Davies)

As you know, I’ve been reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the Maud English translation, with the Elisabeth Guertik French translation (La Guerre et la Paix) tucked in just below, and listening to David Case reading aloud Constance Garnett’s translation.

This is an extraordinarily good book: I can see falling back into it endlessly. Among so many other themes, kinds of scenes, characters, arguments about what is history, how large events happen, Tolstoy understands and records death, how the dying die, and how those of us left are split through the soul: in Tolstoy’s description of how Andrey went through the process of dying (Book 3, Part 3, Chapter 32), he seemed to me to capture in words how the person inwardly feels and outwardly behaves. Tolstoy has explained to me what I saw in Jim – but physiological, psychological, mental changes, what I saw in his eyes, the lack of affect,e.g., “his attention was suddenly carried into another world, a world of reality and delirium in which something particular was happening.” Natasha’s grief, “where it is a beloved and intimate human being that is dying, besides this horror at the extinction of life there is a severance, which like a physical wound is sometimes fatal and sometimes heals, but always aches and shrinks at any external irritating touch” (Book 4, Part 4, Chapter 1).

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Lily James as Natasha Rostova leaving Moscow, her eyes seeking (same movie as above)

I now know why all 4 films of War and Peace I’ve watched thus far (1955 Vidor; 1966 Bondarchuk; 1972 BBC Pulman; 2016 Davies) felt they must dramatize some of this – though to my mind Davies’s dwelling and Norton’s acting comes closest, there’s nothing comes near Tolstoy and his three translators’ words.

Miss Drake

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Jean Baptiste Mallett (1799-1835), A Young Woman Standing in an Archway

Dear friends and readers,

I close the curtain I drew aside the last time I wrote. This is life n front of the curtain since coming home from Cornwall

My edition of Charlotte Smith’s Ethelinde; or, The Recluse of the Lake has been published by Valancourt Press. “Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! She chortled in her joy!” Here is the generic description and where and how to buy it When it arrived yesterday afternoon, tears came to my eyes because I loved the cover illustration. You see it above. The rest of the book is a pure white, it’s a quarto size but very thick, 506 pages. 136 of the 138 notes I wrote made it into the text at the bottom of the appropriate pages! It took 5 years on and off. I’ve made a blog with an account of the story and themes. At the beginning Jim was helping me adjust a scanner so as to be able mechanically to mount pages which I then would correct, type, annotate. When my computer died two months after he did, I was distraught over the loss of what I had done up to that point. It was all rescued and about a year after his death, I resumed work. it arrived on the day Jim would have been 68 (October 3rd); tonight it appeared on Valancourt’s site: we would have been married 47 years; this is the 48th anniversary of the night we met (Oct 6th, 1968).

A second new event for me occurred on October 3rd too: I drove into Washington, D.C. to go to an HD film at the Folger Shakespeare Library of a live performance of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as performed by players under the direction of Kenneth Branagh at his theater in London. I have seen two HD films from Stratford at the Folger (Love’s Labor’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing renamed Love’s Labor’s Won — with the same actors), but never before drove in. I no longer trust the Metro as three weeks ago I attempted to go to the first of monthly Washingon Area Print Group meetings at the Library of Congress and found there would be no blue line for another hour. The published Metro schedule of the continual disruptions in service (due to danger, work being done) does not come near telling what is literally going on in that system from hour to hour. The schedule-writers couldn’t begin to. So I discovered that around the library the population is white and upper middle class or yuppy. People in gym outfits, women carrying yoga mats rolled. Men walking with pretty young daughters. Well-groomed dogs. There is in effect no parking during the day for people without permits until 6:30 pm when the two-hour permission ends at 8:30 pm. I didn’t want to fight a huge traffic jam so had left at 4:15 pm, and sat in my car reading once I found a good spot to wait for 6:30. I moved once lest I get a ticket after I left the car.

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It was well worth it. I’m not sure the production entirely succeeded: Branagh situated the action in, had all the actors dressed and behave as if they were in a version of verismo, say Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana verismo played out with the desperation and violence of a 1948 Italian film I’ve never forgotten, Bitter Rice, with the belligerence of the males straight out of The Godfather. Some of the acting seemed too stylized, too forced: instead of watching characters dancing, we were watching actors miming intense patterns that characters at a dance might manifest. I found Derek Jacobi just too old for Mercutio, though I gather the idea was he was a kind of mascot, super-talkative and show-offy as this old man. The play has problems as it veers from ludicrous comedy to deep tragedy and Mercutio’s speech really doesn’t fit so some of the troubles of the first half were not Branagh’s doing: he was coping with these by borrowing from the comedy of a woman who has lost all her relatives and now dotes on her charge (Meera Syal as the nurse). He brought out how harsh Juliet’s father (Michael Rouse) is to daughter, wife, nurse. But the play soared in the second half — partly this is Shakespeare pouring himself into these deeply melancholy, distraught, lightening changes into idyllicism to dark despair speeches. But I give Lily James (not given sufficient respect since the Downton Abbey role that brought her to prominence has a tendency to frame her as an easy pretty face) credit for inhabiting a young girl’s deeply passionate presence, one of wild impetus, deep sensuality, reluctance too at moments, bewilderment, and total absoluteness. Jack Madden with his dark-glasses, tie and hair-do put me in mind of West Side Story; the ambiguity of the Friar was caught by Samuel Valentine. It was in black-and-white which placed it in a film noir frame: I heard members of the audience not keen, but it was justified and especially by the final tableau of the bodies in this nightmare ghostly coloration. Together Lily James and Kenneth Branagh made Romeo and Juliet astonishing once again.

About the Folger concert at Kennedy Center that Izzy and I went to this past Saturday evening perhaps the less said the better. It was billed as Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas with speeches from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure — and again Derek Jacobi was a box-office attraction. We hoped for a moving performance of the opera as we had during all three Folger concerts last year found the singers acted beautifully roles their songs implied. No such thing. They were not only dull but the least interesting of part of Measure for Measure were made to frame the opera: the story line omitting great speeches like “Be Absolute for Death” in order to understand life or accept death, in order perhaps to make a non-existent parallel between the classical lovers and the hypocritical Antonio and his pursuit of the nun Isabella, desertion of Marianne, and attempt to murder Claudio for sexual sins he commits. The woman singing “Remember me” had a reedy-voice and everyone seemed uncomfortable with the roles. Izzy fell asleep. One interesting element was how the audience in the intermission were looking for something positive to say aloud and then at the end clapped hard as if they were enthusiastic which they weren’t. No one wanted to admit they had thrown their money and time away. Years ago Jim and I tried the Folger Concert and had found it this bad often; I guess every once in a while they returned to uncompromising dullness.

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robert-leighton-i-m-not-a-guru-i-m-just-hanging-out-here-till-my-renovation-is-done-new-yorker-cartoon
Actually Izzy and I have eaten out twice in Old Town, once to a pizza place where we watched Leslie Stall exploring the North Pole, walking in the dusky light around the Potomac ….

I am kept very busy this sad week. My kitchen is being renovated. At one point last Friday everything was ripped out and Izzy and I had no sink, the dish-washer and washing machine and dryer were in the backyard under tarpaulin on pieces of wood in the pouring rain. I am not replacing the appliances and the stove was only not plugged in one night and fridge kept plugged in as well as the microwave oven. All the stuff that was in the cabinets is in boxes around the dining room table. Izzy and I have eaten at home chicken legs baked and basmati rice. I wash the dishes we have in her bathroom sink. I’ve gotten quite orderly and know where things are and manage breakfast and lunch on the coffee table in the front or at my desk in front of my computer.

I worried I would not get the work done I wanted: but this man is very good, and his two helpers do what I have wanted, getting rid of eye-sores like this thing on the wall for a phone to hang from; like the man in January fixing the pipes and they have replaced rotting walls with good wall. Jim and I had discussed renovating the kitchen, using the same super-expensive (and now I realize cosmetically oriented) crew that did our bathrooms. Patty the project manager never came by when she was supposed to; she did not like my sceptical attitudes towards what she called “creativity.” Of course we would want a new washing machine and dryer and she would put them in a cabinet one on top of the other. I asked what was wrong with having such machines in the kitchen? Why did she want to hide them? I am able to do this renovation far more wisely because my neighbor Sybille became my friend and recommended this man.

It will be very pretty when they finish: new cream-colored cabinets with designs or lines of soft brown beige; the walls of the room will be painted soft cream; the trim is soft brown. I’ll have lights under the cabinets. The tile is lovely and for the first time ever stretches from one end of the room to the other: it is a stony-beige color. I’ll have a kitchen chandelier of some sort too. I’ve wanted to replace the kitchen that was not done right in 1993 for a long time.

Jim did not live to see this, and I will have no one to show it too. I’m doing it to support my own self-esteem, feel better about myself. (I won’t describe what the room had become over the 23 years since we renovated.) My friend, Phyllis, did say she would come over to see it, and I said since I don’t know how to cook meals for guests or do what’s called “entertain,” I said if she came I would buy pre-cooked or prepared food from Whole Foods and we could eat that together with Izzy and the two of us drink wine. We could watch more Outlander again on my big-screen TV (she likes Outlander).

clarynearsept216

My poor pussycats are made uncertain of themselves and thus nervous. I keep them in the back half of the house to protect them from running out of the house in terror. And I spent three hours today in an equivalent nervousness (like my cats). Two hours yesterday. Izzy and I are both going to Chawton Library for the Charlotte Smith conference where I’m to give a paper on the post-colonial Charlotte Smith. We’ll be gone 7 days including traveling time. I just couldn’t feel comfortable with the visiting services: the contractor is not finished and they would have to be shut away in the back and hear these men with no one else in the house with them. I can imagine them frantic to run away and getting run over by a car or killed by some animal stronger than they or starving to death. I found the people who do house-visiting and offer other kinds of in-house services not reassuring enough. Would they be able to keep the cats in the back? what happens when no one is here but the men working? In short, I just didn’t feel it would be safe. Having now visited a Pet Resort boarding place I am persuaded it’s the safest & most cheerful choice. My cats will have a social life with other cats while I’m gone.

oldtownpetresort

I drove to the place — I used the garmin to get there — it’s said to be Springfield but is in a remote outpost of Fairfax County. It used to be in Olde Towne but rents are too high now. A handsome older building, well kept up, 4 floors; my pussycat’s “penthouse” is in a large airy room. The penthouses with windows are the ones by the large windows, but they are catty-cornered to the windows. There is a large play area in the room. Toys. I saw sleeping contented and playing cats! They had company. I feel the cats will now be safe (they cannot run away). Clarycat, I can see, coming out to play. There’s a woman there all the time. I will take them on the Tuesday and have reserved until the following Wednesday though I hope to be back Tuesday and pick them up then. I now have peace of mind over them, my heart is easy.

I now think people who resort to neighbors, vague arrangements, to visiting services (not expensive, $20 a visit) don’t want to put their animals in such places because they don’t want to pay the money such a place costs. The money motivation for most people is high: for me too, but I find I’m often willing to pay for what others aren’t (say for a seat at Wolf Trap) and for what others are willing to pay (say an expensive gym rather than a public one), I avoid. I admit that it may be there are many people who can’t afford to pay $80 a night. I also have a car I could drive to get there and back. A British friend sent me the garmin which is so easy to use.

The Inevitable Navigation System: 'You have arrived at your destination.'

The Inevitable Navigation System: ‘You have arrived at your destination.’

*************************

I did have two more experiences I want to tell of: because reader, you could enjoy them too. The film club nearly two weeks ago before, Sunday, September 25th, had the Swedish film directed by Hans Holm, A man called Ove, based on a novel by Fredrik Bachman. It has rightly won many awards.

The story emerges slowly: we see Ove (played by Ross Lassgard), a large man get very angry at a flower shop because the flowers are priced so as to force him to buy two rather than one. At first we don’t realize what the flowers are for: but then we see he is daily buying these, and daily putting them by a beloved wife’s gravestone.

cemetery

He has been let go of his job (forced redundancy, retired) because he is old, and stubbornly not keeping up with “new ways,” so now pensioned off, he lives alone. We see that he is an ill-tempered difficult man who scolds people and tries to get them to obey regulations, before where he worked and now inside his housing project. We watch and see amid his mechanical routines to get everyone to obey rules, he is a widower desperate to kill himself.

It’s surprisingly conservative parable or comic fairy tale: as in attempt after attempt, Ove is comically interrupted, prevented, himself does not plan his suicide carefully enough so it doesn’t work, we get flashbacks of his life. An immigrant family move in and he is led to give up his anger, scorn and alienation as a young wife (middle eastern, heavily pregnant) befriends and uses him to help her and her children and lends him her husband to fix his kitchen. The flashbacks show us a lonely life redeemed by one woman who brought joy into his life, she loved, married him and now is gone. The cards are stacked against him though. The film makes comedy out of deaths: Ove has been singularly unlucky: his mother dies in a freak accident, and father dies because a train runs over him after he is made so happy his son is promoted. He is all alone until a woman on a train recognizes his good heart and aggressively courts and then marries him. She almost dies in a bus accident; because he holds out against the hospital staff’s idea she will never come out of her coma and she does, he can take her home. We then see her fight to get a job in a wheelchair, fight to help others who are disabled. It is she who made him a happy life. Now that she is gone, he has wanted to die.

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A small motif in the film concerns a long-haired cat. At first we see this cat as a mangy desperate animal everyone, including Ove, kicks. Gradually the cat begins to stay near Ove, and then he is pushed by his immigrant woman friend to take the cat in. He begins to buy food for the cat and by the end of the film is sleeping with the cat. She or he is there when Ove dies — for he does die by the end, when he is surrounded by the friends he has made through giving in. He leaves a note telling how the cat likes her food and how she likes to sleep.

I say the film is conservative because a repeating kind of incident happens which in effect condemns group judgements, activities, the state in effect. This pushes against the pro-social group and acceptance the story enforces. I mentioned the hospital staff. It seems the state in the form of heartless men with white shirts and ties have time and again imposed its will on Ove or his father and mother or his beloved wife. These men took from him and his parents a house they loved and replace it with supposedly a better neighborhood. These men resort to burning a house down that he built piece by piece. In the present time sequence we see versions of these men in white shirts and suits try to put in a home another old man whose wife finds her raison d’etre in caring for and who wants to be with her even if nearly paralyzed. Ove had been this man’s almost friend and so too his wife who needs his help. Ove is able to help this couple because he has been led by the same immigrant Iranian woman to cooperate instead of shouting and screaming at people and making enemies: he gets a lawyer to help and she exposes the truth these people are making huge profits. You might say he is redeemed, called back to life by a second loving woman.

This film is not playing locally in my area but is playing elsewhere. I recommend it. I was much moved and also absorbed — of course I would be. There is talk among the audience after the film led by Gary Arnold (the film critic who chooses the films, introduces them). One man said he found irritating the idea that people grieve intensely and want to kill themselves and called it cliched; he knew what would happen. I controlled myself and defended the film on the basis of the comic-anguish art. Arnold said, “You never know who is going to be killed next.” He thought maybe the train running over Ove’s father was over-the-top. In each case you don’t know how it will be that he won’t manage to kill himself. I did worry when he bought himself a shot gun, loaded it, sat down and aimed it at his chin and began to pull the trigger.

Back yet further in time, a Tuesday night, September 22nd, I went to the Smithsonian to hear an excellent lecture on “Frankenstein Revisited” by Bernard Welt (he lectures regularly). I’m teaching Mary Shelley as a 19th century woman of letters, with her Frankenstein as her first but by no means only good book, I dared to try to get to a lecture at the Smithsonian using the Metro. I did manage it — was lucky that night. There are two different trains that stop at the Smithsonian: blue and silver. If the blue line doesn’t work, I can take the yellow to the orange and then the orange to the silver; it’s roundabout and takes much longer but is doable.

The first third told the usual story of the Shelleys, Byron and Polidori in their Italian villa on the lake in a dark rainy summer challenging one another to write a ghost story. He went over Mary’s parents, the love match with Shelley (he omitted all the misery of Shelley’s equal affair with her step-sister, his impregnating other women), all the usual literary groundwork, its political and other radicalism, its susceptibility to all sorts of thoughtful perspectives. He emphasized the Rousseau one: everything about society is wrong, a challenge to Hume and Kant, science, to the idea that life must be good (Prometheus as Job). He added some I hadn’t known: like that summer there had been a vast volcanic explosion which affected weather across the earth. It was the second two-thirds of his talk that were stirring: he seems to be a film and cultural studies scholar. He talked of the early responses to Shelley’s book, the first play, how it became part of a discourse about outcasts, working people, a way to describe the human condition in extremis. Then he came to the 20th century and went through the film history: from James Whale in 1931 to the recent National Theater dual Frankenstein with Cumberbatch as the doctor one night, and Johnny Lee Miller the creature, and then the next switching roles. I found his bringing him ideas about the golem, the use of light and darkness on the screen (as Branagh used it I discovered when I went to the Folger) fascinating and useful. Throughout the creature and doctor embodied reactionary ideas, hatreds, insane angers, and Prof Welt ended on how in cartoons recently the creature has been likened to Trump, with the villagers no longer throwing rocks at him, but following with their pitchforks gleeful to destroy the present world order.

FRANKENSTEIN by Dear, Benedict Cumberbatch (as The Creature), Jonny Lee Miller (as Dr Frankenstein), Naomie Harris (as Elizabeth Lavenza), The Olivier, National Theatre, 15 February 2011, Credit : Pete Jones/ArenaPAL, www.arenapal.com
Naomi Harris was Elizabeth

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So gentle reader and friend, on from the time I arise from bed each morning to the time I take my nightly tradazone pill, cover myself, and Clarycat snuggles up alongside me. I have left out all my reading, teaching work, movie-watching — I’ve been blogging on some of that elsewhere. Like Fielding, a good showman if ever there was one, at the end of Book 6 (which I read and quoted from this week) in Tom Jones when Tom and Sophia have both set off on that road of life, with the audience (world as stage) watching, I say don’t pay a higher price for whatever it is than it is worth, try not to become intoxicated by emotion or drink, and don’t fall to weeping.

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Samantha Morton and Kathy Burke as Sophia Western and Mrs Honor, setting forth with a good will (1997 BBC Tom Jones)

Miss Drake

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Lovelytulips
Home again

Dear friends and readers,

The temperature going down to freezing here; I’ve flowers in all three patches, white tulips, soft lavender, clumps of different flowerets and buds.

For these weeks I’m feeling I am moving in and out of peopled worlds in Pittsburgh and here in DC and Alexandria, where I abide. Who knew there were so many constantly reforming clouds of people. And then Izzy finds herself over the moon after several 10 hour days watching ice-skating at Junior World Championship in Boston.

For myself: Around Thursday noon I started off. So many miles. Thanks to my “garmin,” which talks to me with a bland American women’s accent, I had little trouble driving from Alexandria, Va to the Omni William Penn Hotel. The voice is most important at these transition moments when the highway gives out, you have to come off and drive through some series of low-cost gas stations, “family” food restaurants, and motels that have grown up precisely because this the highway gives out here. She tells you a few minutes ahead to bear left or bear right, cites the sign accurately, and with ease you get back onto said highway going in the right direction.

The route in the city reminded me of old highways in Brooklyn, and then I had simply to drive up a wide street, turn left twice and there I was, in front of the hotel. Nearly 5 hours each way. Homeward I worried intensely at one point because my gas was low and I had to realize that there were no on-highway gas stations. I got off said highway and nearby filled “‘er up,” and back on I went. I began to feel dizzy once I was near home, so got off the highway and found myself in a traffic jam around an accident.

This led me to stop off at Noodles and Company for a pasta dish to bring home; I downed it with Shiraz wine while watching yet another episode of the very well-done 1972 War and Peace scripted by Jack Pulman and the 2nd episode (Of 3) of the utterly inadequately adapted Dr Thorne, scripted by Julian Fellowes: a friend has likened him to Popplecourt; it’s as if Popplecourt were explaining Trollope’s art to us. I’ll write about this film adaptation separately too: coming to and going from I had listened half-way through Trollope’s Dr Thorne as read dramatically well by Simon Vance. I collapsed into bed, by that time my pussycats staying close by.

I had a good time while there: it was rejuvenating to go to sessions filled with varied intelligent talk and papers on new aspects of a subject matter I’ve spent my life reading about, studying. I’ll write of these separately. I was at two nights of receptions. I renewed old friendships during the first night’s dinner and first day’s lunch

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2015AidanasRoss
40 years on Robin Ellis returns as the deeply reaction Halse and Aidan Turner defies him (2015, scripted by Debbie Horsfield)

My paper, “Poldark Rebooted: 4 Years on” went over well; the three other papers were from different points of view and done differently yet all linked as about recent TV and movie films (Outlander among them). The audience was not too small and we got good questions. The second night I seemed to gravitate towards the Burney group, and spent the second night’s dinner time and the next day women’s caucus with them. I can’t say I participated in intellectual political talk (as I do regularly now at the OLLI at AU in DC), but I did hear about local politics in different places from friends as well as happenings among books and writers and coming conferences (at Chawton). What people were working on, their topics of special interest and told of mine. One woman on sabbatical reading Burney’s manuscripts in the NYPL, living in Brooklyn for the year.

omni-main-lobby

The William Penn Omni hotel is a beautiful building: art deco central hall or lobby downstairs, and the grand ballroom beautifully carved. It was the second time I’d been there: before with Jim I arrived at 11 at night and remember we got a meal!

As a memento I found on sale Norma Clarke’s probably highly readable biographical Brothers of the Quill: Oliver Goldsmith in Grub Street — its cover takes the left-hand side of Hogarth’s picture, enrichens the browns and yellows, suggestive of Grub Street life.

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William Hogarth, The Distressed Poet (1736)

The experience occurred in the context of the two OLLIs, going to the Jewish Community Center, Smithsonian, the Folger, so I felt how I enter into and float out of differently peopled worlds. How different this is from the way I lived by Jim’s side. It’s like a quiet merry-go-round or roundabout. You get off and find under this pavillon a set of numerous people having adventures, stay and talk in whatever form is appropriate, then you go back to the path towards the merry-go-round and get on and off at another place. Interesting and informative discussion over lunch at Temple Baptist Church (one of the AU OLLI locations) by a retired lawyer and an economist about the importance of the supreme court, how much of US civic life corporations through their control of media is being poisoned.

But how and why do all these people keep it up? Cheerfully too. I feel so aware of these worlds’ fragility. That’s the strange and built-in dangerous thing: the necessary disconnect between casual friends and other people all the while you renew what you can or just have fleeting good talk. Here’s a question: how do you define friends?

Snow
Outside Izzy’s window in Boston: celebratory and commentating snow ….

Izzy had taken a 10 hour train trip to Boston via Amtrak. She had a long trip there and back and there was an accident at Philadelphia the day before she came home. No money in the US for public transportation. Fortunately her trip back was only (only) 40 minutes longer, so it took 11 hours. But she was comfortable the whole time. A decent seat, decent enough food available (real sandwiches with people to serve it), free wi-fi. She was not continually photographed or scrutinized as in a airport. She did not have to sign up for “paid privileges” which allow a cell phone or ipad to work, and separately for any music or movies (as in abusive airplanes).

She stayed in a hotel in Boston, from the which there were trains each day going back and forth from hotel to convention center. She found herself coming back to the hotel with the same people each night. Her day sometimes started after 10 or 11 or once noon. She often returned at 11 at night, once much later.

Flags

Rink

She got herself to the Museum of Fine Arts twice (it was a stop on her train), and explored the first floor. She said it was huge:

HUge

She saw a sign outside “to the Isabella Gardner museum,” but did not have the time for it. She walked in the city commons, on three different mornings, and late in the evening ate in different places around her hotel room, mostly Italian restaurants. Those nights she did return early it was very cold out; her window high and the winds strong. So she stayed in with her ipad and books.

Boston

Since she had the same seat for all but one day (as did most others), she sat behind the same group most days: British women who talked to one another and briefly to her too. Her sense of ecstasy as she watched and watched and the experience mounts she captured in a phrase she used to my question, “How’s it going?” “I’m over the moon.”

Miss Drake

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Maggie-Smith-The-Lady-in-thevan
Maggie Smith in Lady in the Van — towards the end of the film she allows herself to be taken to a hospital

Friends and readers,

I don’t know how this happened but I seem never to have read this poem by Emily Dickinson before last night:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading — treading — till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –

And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum —
Kept beating — beating — till I thought
My mind was going numb —

And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,

As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here —

And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down —
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing — then —

None of this false closure,”uplift, ego-imposed hope. The poem was read aloud in a Future Learn course (these are videos, podcasts, conversations, essays, links to other sites with videos …) I’m following dubbed “Mental Health and Literature.” As I heard it read aloud, the beat of the tread overcame my brain, and I felt my mind and body too roll like some body amid a tempest of waters, my soul cracked open, yes bells bells bells, and then the silence. It is a profoundly grief-haunted poem. Filled with the sounds, the noise of active presences. I had gone to a Body Strenghtening Class (music and mild exercise) at the JCC in the early morning and then had a day’s satisfying reading of a good book on Elizabeth Gaskell, listened to Claire Willis’s eloquent dramatic reading aloud of her North and South (CDs in my car), seen Alan Bennett’s Lady In the Van, featuring Maggie Smith (on which I shall write a separate blog), which had been cathartic, downed two large glasses of wine, so I didn’t go mad listening to it, just turned my head to the side so as not to be hit by thrust of its imagined actors. I don’t know how Dickinson survived after writing such a poem while staying in a few quiet rooms almost all the time, with just close family (several of those living in a house next door she hated), perhaps talking to only her sister (only one picture of her sombre-looking survives). She ends falling into an abyss. Reaching no one (it seems), her arms uplifted as she goes down, how to respond to such a extraordinary poem?

I seem continually to come across the assertion by widows, widowers, those who have the capacity genuinely to care if someone, some place, are taken from them, some set of memories all they have left, that they live among ghosts. Are haunted. They see the beloved face now vanished through experience, hear the beloved voice now silenced, predict or say what their beloved would have thought or said upon this or that emergent occasion. I cannot. If Jim comes to me in dreams, and I have half-memories, he has, his face is dissolved, his voice not there. To be sure, I don’t read those of his letters I have in the form of emails. How could I endure hearing that loving tender and sometimes half-comical tone he could adopt to me. I don’t delete them but I dare not read them. I don’t experience a funeral in my brain except when I read of others’ experiencing analogous depths of bouleversement (only the French word will do).

amalfi-roman-style

Mental Health and Literature is led by Jonathan Bate (whose marvelous Shakespeare and his World I’ve described here) and Paula Byrne, an Austen-centered independent scholar (though married to someone big in an Oxford college and knowing everyone who matters it seems, she has not held a salaried position in a university — for which I’ve heard her sneered at by tenured American academics), or maybe professional author (she has written at least two publish books, one on Austen and theater and the other a brilliant elaboration on the idea of “small things” in Austen’s life and oeuvre). I was drawn in by the “introduction” where various people (scholars, actors, apparent common readers) told of how reading profound poetry helped them find adequate enough meaning, fulfillment, sheer company and validation in life. The first week on poetry and stress began with a reading and discussion of Yeats’s “Lake Isle of Innisfree:” the very poem I once memorized and would repeat on days of unbearable hopelessness after Jim and I moved to Virginia suburbs in 1980 (you don’t want to know). I was disappointed by the artificiality, generalized of the talk (guarded cant) and sheerly awkward staged feel of Byrne and Bate (who did rightly turn us to Wordsworth).

But the second week was on poetry and heartbreak and a professor of poetry, Jack Lankester was willing to voice genuinely what reading Philip Sidney’s (Renaissance) sonnet sequence to Penelope Rich (Stella) meant to him:

I was less alone and less afraid of it, less ashamed of actually expressing myself … Poetry, however, did make me aware of it and almost— not enjoy it, but understand and revel in that intensity of emotion … but it allows us to grapple with these emotions on the stage, or even emotions we haven’t felt ourselves with that intensity. Tony Harrison says poetry allows us to kind of stare into the darkest aspects of the world and our own life … with a sonnet you’ve got the iambic pentameter and the rhythm: There is a structure to it, which is something we can take comfort in, almost like music. So I would get them reading aloud and then talking and the response would be deep and startling sometimes.

Philip Sidney’s sonnet sequence was what set off the proliferation of these sonnet sequences where people bared their souls. I have long thought the determination to deny autobiographical content sheer social censorship on the part of 20th century critics. Other poets took the paradigm further: Sidney does not quite reach the levels of dark despair even found in Petrarch or (one of my favorites) Samuel Daniel, but he tells a coherent story — as does Shakespeare if only people would pay attention.

Byrne talked movingly at length about the heartbreak in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (both heroines) and Anne Elliot in Persuasion, but the state of being was defined sheerly as when you lose a beloved person, a spouse, a deeply loved friend or partner. There are many other causes for heartbreak — you can be shattered when you lose a parent or child or anyone who means a lot to you to death or if they reject you, that includes parent and child who estrange themselves. There really are people who care enormously whether they succeed in a career, whether their book is widely read and praised, whether something they invented is respected, whether they are promoted high. And if they don’t get what they drove themselves intensely to get are heart-broken. People can be shattered when an animal companion is lost or dies.

The third and last week was on grief, bereavement and it was another English teacher who could bring herself to talk adequately on the poetry of bereavement in Dickinson’s poem and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Clarke said that before her mother had died, she had never responded to Hamlet as a person grief-struck from death: for her “the beauty of works of literature like Shakespeare’s Hamlet is that they offer a constant, unchanging source of solace, reflecting and articulating her own emotions without ever putting any pressure on her to ‘feel better’ or ‘move on’.

One problem about Byrne and a psychiatrist Andrew Schuman’s conversation was the the two people seemed to assume that because the grief-striken person is carrying on publicly, all is well or well enough, and the person is adjusting. Not so at all. I carry on actively since Jim died died two years, four months, and three days ago but I am as deeply grief-striken and desolate as if I did nothing or hallucinated. This measuring of the inward soul by the outward behavior is as artificial and wrong as Kubler-Ross’s silly categories.

*****************************************

cruikshankhernethehunter
George Cruikshank, Herne the Hunter — a 19th century illustration — according to Lucy Morton, belief in animal ghosts is common

Among the learner’s threads and comments (these are spaces appended for those following the course to write to one another), I told of how it was after my father died that I began to read gothic literature and especially ghost stories utterly differently: the latter now seem to me to be about the irretrievable; I could never make up for what I had not done, never compensate, never explain. I had this fear he was there reproaching me. But he never materialized and within a few months the acute guilt, thwarting, sense of his absence from the world, and how unfair it was faded. I still miss my father, have not forgotten him or what our relationship was.

This experience left me with an understanding of the apparently common belief in ghosts for the first time. I began to study and have taught this genre ever since. I can connect a book I read just this December back to my father’s death: Lucy Morton’s Ghosts: a Haunted History for which I insert this brief synopsis with a few details:

She begins with the idea or truth that belief in ghosts are pervasive, universal across cultures. The word ghost means the essence of life and she goes into the Bible to discover uses which can be reduced to “soul,” some spirit or breath; the use of the word ghost to mean the spirit of the dead is first found popularly around the time of Chaucer. This is how Shakespeare uses, and this is where she began to persuade me: first ghost animals are found in many cultures, and the world’s religions treat ghosts in a variety of ways, so that they are prophetic as well as dark and mischievous, Kafkaesque, malicious. Equated with deities in Homer. They become expanded to mean dead men again first seen in literature in the middle ages. She successfully show how ghosts (spirits or spirits come back from a dead person so that is central) intersect with other supernatural entities and can be seen as demonic (gellos want to kill children in Sappho). In dreams they may arouse fear or not; Scottish folklore had them as a wraith or fetch.

She goes with Freud after going over Spiritualism and seances; our fear contains the deep belief (not to be gouged away) that the deceased is a kind of enemy of his or her survivor and wants to carry him or her off to share the life of the dead. She thinks about how ancient tragedies and accidents in life are instigated by a dead spirit, who sometimes resorts to a letter! These are often about land and money disputes (so maybe forgeries so to speak). Those dead before their time particularly vengeful and active. Strong malevolence and often involved in body acts — so they are more revenants than ghosts – she thinks of a revenant as dead person come back. The Romans had many rituals and ceremonies to appease them — Halloween as originally done (before the modern trivialization) belongs here. The most famous ancient and first full ghost stories is found in Pliny the younger — a malevolent ghost has clanking chains and is demanding to be buried properly; once this is done the spirit vanishes.

She covers an enormous amount of time and varied societies and tells of some barbaric terrifying practices and murder. It is an excellent book and I cannot begin to do it justice here. For the “west,” she shows Christianity brought about more focus on this world of ghosts, of the dead, of demons as spirit children (this is found in women’s 19th and 20th century ghost stories). The first literary ghost story Defoe’s famous “Mrs Veal” was part of an introduction to a religious work, Christians Defence against The Fear of Death. Joseph Glanvil’s narrative – a collection of (dangerous) witch stories did much harm. She cites Wm Hogarth’s wonderful anti-superstition print: Credulity, superstition and fanaticism, set in a church with a preacher with dolls for devils and we see the harm done. She speaks of Jewish belief in a dibbuk or dybbuk, the spirit of a dead person who takes possession of a living person who has sinned. The dibbuk leads a melancholy existence. Maybe I am better off not being haunted.

After the dark ages when tens of thousands of people were accused of witchcraft or mobbed out of superstitious ostracizing and scapegoating, the secular world begins to emerge: A new kind of haunting by ghosts proliferates. 1847 is the date she uses for the rise of spiritualism and séances. She moves to the middle east, Latin America and Hispanic cultures, modern movies. The point is people do believe in this stuff and that’s why it’s popular on TV too.

She suggests at the close the origin of all these similar phenomena (horror on TV shows however crude is not distinguishable from sophisticated terror when it comes to a ghost) is fear of death, a sense the dead are angry comes from the persistent inability to accept that death is final, annihilation. I think death is final and annihilation.

I have had intelligent people tell me suddenly preposterous interpretations of things they said happen. One stays with me for now: a woman told me when she saw a butterfly land on her car she knew it was the spirit of her dead mother. She said this with such total conviction that she was not pretending or kidding or half-believing. But it seems to me just as mad to say when you are about to have a C-section to give birth that the hour of prayers you did before made God take the hand of the surgeon and make it the easiest C-Section he ever did. Since I usually tell people upfront if we ever get into these discussions — which I have since Jim died — that I’m an atheist, I rarely hear such stories. I heard them in these grief-support groups and much else. The one about the butterfly was told by the person running the group, the lady with the degree in social psychology. Yes the woman having a C-section wants to believe God is in charge of everything; she reads almost nothing, seems incurious of all around her but what is personal or part of her job. She is afraid.

Manzon’s I Promessi Sposi opens up on a mob incident where a huge group of people murder someone said to have put marks on buildings and then infected the whole population with plague. The narrator wants us to see how dangerous such beliefs are. Ill add old women living alone especially.

This ghost belief seems to me part of a larger world view. If I believed or could believe there is an afterlife or some sort of god, then logically ghosts might exist too — or witches, or the undead or whatever supernatural phenomena one wants to name. Yet each belief is separate and comes with its own vibes, subset of beliefs and so on. From what I see or have been told while some of these phenomena — say vampires too — are domesticated to be less terrifying, it’s altogether too easy to make them all powerful and vengeful and then easy to attach them to people. Students enjoyed reading and could talk about ghost stories (they have a simple paradigm of injustice/justice, evil, guilt, the irretrievable), but after about 5 years when I realized or began to take seriously many students’ half-embarrassed or frank admissions they believed in ghosts, I stopped assigning ghost stories lest I be doing harm.

Like Jenny Diski, I concede, know, that if I could believe there is an afterlife and Jim still existed somewhere, and better yet somehow was aware of me and what’s happened since he died, it would be comfort. But I cannot and do not. She says this in talking of confronting her own coming death, but to me his death was a death of me too. Yesterday around 4 after having been in the house alone most of the day confronting these awful holidays insisted upon all around me, I lost it for a time. Became deeply depressed, upset, went out without my money, couldn’t focus. It’s the thought he does not exist and never will again.

*************************************

bacall
Lauren Bacall at the time of the publication of By Myself

By myself is the title of Lauren Bacall’s first memoir (1979) written in the wake though it was nearly a quarter of a century before she got herself to do this of her husband Humphrey Bogart’s death from esophageal cancer (1957, age 58). He endured a version of the criminal operation Jim submitted to, chemotherapy and radiation as practised in 1956. I came to this book this week because a friend quoted one of Bacall’s aphorisms (which can be found on the Net) where Bacall responds to the way others reacted coercively to her after Bogart’s death, demanding in effect that she not mourn and consider herself lucky.

In reviews, Bacall is praised for the honesty of what she writes, which matches (it’s said) her conversation. June Allyson, another 1950s woman star whose husband, Dick Powell, also died early of cancer (they all smoked like chimneys and it was regarded as sexy, glamorous) quoted Bacall as having said: “I’m learning a lot and I guess the main thing I’ve learned is, when your husband dies, you go too.” So there is another key to Dickinson’s poem. Someone has died, something had died, and she ceases too.

The book arrived on my stoop today (it’s very cheap) and I have read the section about Bogart’s death and its long long aftermath (I can see the rest of her life) where she says after a time all the things she and Bogart had accumulated together had lost much of their meaning — except their children. She says she found deepest calm by sitting in a silent church. Among her worst problems were coping with her growing children’s grief reactions. Her future was the future he had given her too. She says keeping things inside lengthened the time before she was able to put memory into perspective.

Possession does not give safety (she is right about that), she had herself brought hardly any possessions to the marriage (neither had Jim or I), but such things, concrete, holdable, there, my home are what substitute for ghosts for me. These are the forms of ghosts I know. Jim’s spirit in his letters could be such. Writing preserves the minds of others much of which I and Jim valued together and thus give me continuity and some weight and solace and things for me to do — if only to read and write about them — for my true existence. For me without these the world is without meaning, without anything for me to turn to.

I’ve gotten over being unprotected (which was another deep anxiety Bacall had as her career had begun with Bogart next to her) but what I cannot alter is Jim is no longer between me and the world. Bacall says how it was hard to care about things she did when Bogart was not here for her to show what she was doing. I cannot tell Jim about our cat Ian’s new personality. Lady in the Van was cathartic because Jim read Bennett, and (as Jim said) though Bennett had gotten too full of himself in his last years, I felt I was reaching Jim as I responded to Smith today and remembered the two of us watching her as Susan, the desperately alcoholic Vicar’s wife, in a video recording of the visceral — magical — Bed Among Lentils, which I can embed in the comments. Miss Shepherd was the ghost of his mother come back to haunt him: the film shows how he became involved with her out of guilt over his own mother having been put in an asylum when he was a boy and having died there.

I cannot reach him though. And if anything the emotions get stronger and worse. I felt deeply distressed by Smith’s performance of a woman terrified someone would put her in an asylum — which does connect back to why Susan gave up her drink. This fear of aslyum reflects Bennett’s deep guilt over his mother having been put in one and dying there, and it is presented as why Miss Shepherd never appealed to anyone for permanent shelter and lived in her van on the checks the gov’t sent her.

I cannot become Emily Dickinson but I can come closer to her inward strength and try to lose less of myself in frustrating attempts to find any substitutes for what I cannot ever find or know again. I’m near the end of my promised Poldark paper for the coming ASECS conference. Now that I care less I find I can do papers more quickly and produce in size and aspect something more like what’s wanted. I have also caught up with preparation for my coming courses, so I can now think of returning to deep loves of books in French, Italian, on women living alone, women’s novels.That is another aspect of my latest phase of widowhood, facing that any dreams I had of building satisfying peer relationships locally are delusions. I have found I cannot tell even passing thoughts about the movies I’ve seen to those people I meet locally.

Finally, widowhood is falling out: in this upper class neighborhood I live in many of the houses are being renovated: turned into huge mansions: a whole house built around the old one, on top of it, or razed and some modern cottage-looking mansion, buildings too large for their lots. Next door the the young couple (now not so young) have moved and I’m told a gay couple with big incomes are going to renovate. I expect the sky and light will end up blocked from that side. My house will become that familiar small plain widow’s house out of sync with everyone else’s. but I dislike these often tasteless extravaganzas (to be fair, some are attractive, when rightly-sized, not overdone in character so not false). For my part I’ll fix the kitchen, paint the house cream. I won’t move from the place where life has meaning. Also I’m protecting it. It would be a tear-down, and it’d be another heart break to see it too vanish.

Sylvia

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4-November-Afternoon-Stapleton-Park-city-scenes-landscape-John-Atkinson-Grimshaw
John Atkinson Grimshaw (1836-93), November later afternoon, Stapleton Park, Leeds (1880s)

Outside an order
I calm within
Yet my soul in shambles

Friends, I wish I could write poetry like this whose lines make beautiful what my haiku condenses:

Crepuscular

(after Baudelaire)

The insinuating dusk, friend of all outlaws,
is here like a conspirator or as a wolf will pause
as it lopes; dark and light pass in the sky’s revolving doors,
our beast’s teeth lengthen like white buds in our jaws.

Twilight, old lover, how I still thirst for you
together with those whose hands can say and mean it too
today we laboured, O blue draught that grants relief
to the mind that is tom at by a feral grief:
the dogged visionary with his forehead of stone,
the screen-shrunk wage slave who straphangs home alone.
Meanwhile, in the infested air, astral parasites
rise like any cufflinked puppets of their appetites
and clatter their plumes on the steel-shuttered shops;
no wind perturbs the streetlights gleaming like sucked cough drops,
beneath which bought love’s flame strokes silver foil
as it releases the antennaed horde of those who toil
along the arcana ofcondemned estates’scrawled stairwells
(writhing like a worin in the city’s poisoned bowels
and turning to its own end all that men can eat,
an enemy assuming that victory’S complete).
Now and then you hear the sizzle of an angel’s wing
from striplit kitchens, the streets’ unhuman yipping,
the tack-tack-tick of the wheels in the gambling den
that flashes and dings like a giant playpen,
while the petty criminals, whose line of business
is just as exacting as a suit’s – and work it is –
are outwitting all locks with agile, godlike hands
so they can join the blazing feast and deck their queens in brands.

In this grave radiance, this fatal Now, my soul
recollects itself as the silent pupil of the whole
roaring vortex where dusk is always coming on,
where night’s trap snaps white necks with teeth of iron
and the sick take the exit for the pit (we’re lovin’ it);
the world is an asylum erected by a scream,
in which each evening one less gouches in his meat
in the comer by the heater where the nobles sit:
all who’ve never known unless in dream
the understanding that life’s holy, mere existence sweet.

— Ned Denny

I lack the actuating power
he provided and must endure
the straining to keep

to (as the man says)
“grave radiance
in this fatal Now.”

Or hold fast.
Jim would’ve put it,
That’s all there is, my you.

PortraitofYoungwomanOftenidentifyasSapphoFrescoPompeii1stcenturyCE
Portrait of a Young Woman, a fresco from Pompeii, 1st century CE

This was playing on NPR on the radio (my mother left me) while I was writing this blog:


Rachmaninov, Piano Concerto 2, 2nd movement — with a montage of landscapes

Nearby, Ian alert, Clarycat snuggling in:

IanClaryJan1

I turn to do bills, then read Hermione Lee’s Penelope Fitzerald: A Life.

Saturday morning, cool, rainy …
Miss Drake

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Vuillard_PlVintimille1916 (Large)
Vitnmille (1916) by Edouard Vuillard (188-1940), a detail of one of his murals is the top image for this blog …

Dear friends and readers,

So many people on face-book and elsewhere on the Net and in physical life cheerily uttering “Happy New Year!,” others half-parodying this observance. Like all the lights against the darkness.

An awareness that death is going to come to us all defines our attitudes towards our lives and how we live them.

St Petrock’s

So many dead lie round, each coffin-shape
under the freezing grass a heap of earth
to show the earth each wooden box displaced,
the same good top-soil, saved, the healthy turf
put back to grow again, less and less
prominent as every decade scrapes
the churchyard with a new man come to mow,
until only this slight unevenness
underfoot reminds me they’re below.

It’s almost dark. Someone will be here soon
to lock the church we took a sudden right
to look for, downhill into narrow Parracombe
and out, past flashing Christmas fairy-lights,
a couple with an unfamiliar car
he’s watched across the fence from his front room,
thinking to leave us in the day-long dusk
of cold St Petrock’s thirteenth century part-
restored, redundant, consecrated husk,

imagining, I suppose, our late arrival
worth something to us, worth sitting for
through hours of gritted motorway, our drive
a pilgrimage, not this five-minute detour
tagged on to the end of Boxing Day,
an opportune, unpromising surprise
I should have known you would appreciate
as properly as here they used to pray.
I stand beside a grave beside the gate —

yes, yes, the church is lovely, squatting there
solid against the sky’s pale winter black.
Just as it pleases you to stir the air
between the crooked pews and squint at cracks
under the ancient tower (crooked too
and roped-off, ‘Falling Masonry Beware’)
this disappearing outline pleases me:
its icy foreground, gloom I can’t see through
to the thick of where the walls should be,

its bulk a blank surrounded on all sides
by listing headstones, frosted flower-beds,
a meadow full of children, husbands, wives,
and, further off, the hidden human spread
of double-glazed windows, open fires, hot baths,
a heaven on earth I’d give my after-life
to believe in. Feel my hands. My feet are numb.
Before we lose each other on the path
shall we go home and let the warden come?

— Kate Bingham

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forsale

Jim and I didn’t visit many graves or graveyards. I remember though that the hour or so we spent in Rome in a small 19th century graveyard for Protestants where you can find the gravestones of some famous English poets (Keats is one) was one of the high points of our visit to Rome. The sayings on the stones, the flowers, bushes, the quiet and lack of pomp. It is now partly a cat sanctuary — and duly commemorated. Cats are found in and about the stones; they have a separate place too.

Another high point was a 15th century wall mural in a 13th century church, both in the midst of being restored. The whole scene with the picture at its core.

When in London, we visited Anthony Trollope’s grave in Kensal Green — at the time not as well-taken care of as it is today. Thackeray’s is a mess and so too many others. Both were fine to our eyes. They told truths. In Paris we went into a very formal graveyard and walked right out: the heaviness of the monuments, the rigorous symmetrical lines; all clamping down on, refusing to accede to the natural world.

Jim wanted to be cremated so I did it and realize that unless you have some sort of belief in supernatural realities, it’s a romantic illusion to persuade oneself that a corpse in a coffin rotting slowly in the ground provides comfort, and, unless you can take what it means in a salutary spirit, to dwell on such sites morbid. Nonetheless, what I should like to do would be to bury the urn he chose, and the poem he wrote for it in some graveyard with a stone providing a site to remember him at. His mother buried his father’s urn before she left Southampton to live out her last years in Leeds — where he and I met, married, and lived the two years of our lives together.

Jim’s poem on his urn:

If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign mantelpiece that is for a while England.

It is on my mantelpiece, but as he says, but “for a while”

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There is a St Petrock’s in Devonshire; it has an active program to help the homeless. Its motto:

st-petrocksmotto

Jim never worried about ending up homeless, but his father did. When his Dad would talk of this, Jim’s Mum would pooh-pooh him.

Miss Drake

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4-November-Afternoon-Stapleton-Park-city-scenes-landscape-John-Atkinson-Grimshaw
Stapleton Park, Leeds, November [4] Afternoon by John Atkinson Grimshaw (Leeds, 1880s)

I can’t even get close to what they call faith, though I quite see Pascal had a point; and so did Wittgenstein (though quite wrong globally) when he said: ‘Go on, believe! It does no harm.’ I don’t and won’t and there it is — Diski, “Who’ll be last?”

Dear friends and readers,

The third November without Jim is passing by and by the calendar we are almost up to Thanksgiving once again. Lately I’ve been remembering Leeds, the excellent bus service when I lived there (1968-70), how once I needed to get somewhere and took 6 buses, but the service was so frequent and stops so many that I got where I needed to go and back again in what felt like record time: and how beautiful Yorkshire was, I went all around the West Riding. I remember Headingley, Horsforth and then round in a circle to Wakefield, and home again to Leeds.

I find it more and more difficult to write on this blog. I don’t know what to say that is truthful. I mostly talk about my outer life, and I go on about how I’m doing this, attended that, was active with new acquaintances locally (after all I’m not sure I should say friends except that a couple nearly fit the definition as I’m coming to understand it), seeming cheerful and fulfilled enough. This is quite different from how I would talk about my inner life, where inside me, I’m very still, in a stasis. I can’t say I’m in a struggle to be or find myself as my experience is when I try to go outside this self, which I’ve come to see is now an independent scholar (yes that phrase captures this), I cannot because I can’t misrepresent my tastes, inwardly compelling ideas about what is worth spending time on or why I spend it this or that way. If I try, I’m found out, or a reaction to me grates on me and I (as it were, using the modern slang) push back, if only to protect my past, memories, self-esteem, present. So the 3 local friends I made attenuate.

My entries read this way mostly so here’s another: This past week I went to two lectures, one at the Smithsonian on Castles, Country Houses, and Cottage (by Bill Keene, introduced as an independent scholar) was not disappointing in the sense I was given huge amounts of information and saw many slides of wealthy and powerful people in the UK and US since the middle ages. I was not sure there was a perspective beyond evolution of structural elements and lifestyles. The auditorium was full, lots of “mature” women (as usual), and the occasional extra comment, wry, usually about the blindness of the rich to their privilege, elicited laughter. Keene did provide a long bibliography which I can avail myself of. Another at the Folger (members only sort of thing, the first time I’ve gone since I joined about a year and one half ago), about the life of someone studying law, what they studied, what courts they argued in, some central content of their arguments as they affected life in Elizabethan England significantly. Not quite dryasdust in comparison: I learned who Edward Coke was, why his legal views important (he argued the king was subject to the law) and also (very bad) he was a violent man, jealous, and beat his wife, what was the life of a law student at the time, where did they get the books they studied (private libraries mostl). Movies at night, including the remarkable 1979 The Long Good Friday (which maybe I’ll write a blog about), Shoulder to Shoulder into Suffragette.

I’ve been glad of less teaching (at the same time very glad of reading and reading about Tom Jones) and more time to follow my own bends again: I finished Linda Porter’s felicitously written and perceptive Katherine the Queen [Katherine Parr the subject] where Porter explained more lucidly and memorably to me some political movements at the time which shaped Parr’s life (Pilgrimage of Grace, the evangelical turn of forward-thinking religious writers and readers). I wrote more about this sort of thing for me in my Victorian to Edwardian. I’ve begun Ford Madox Ford’s The Fifth Queen (first of a trilogy on Katharine Howard’s life): who knew that Katharine Howard was a component in Thomas Cromwell’s downfall? No wonder it’s taking Hilary Mantel so long to write the 3rd book of her trilogy. I do things that interest me because what else can I do?

But only fractionally does any of this touch me where I live. Do my cats? I’ve grown very fond of them indeed, and IanPussycat comes out of his former shell more and more. When I came home last Sunday, he was in some hidey-hole (seeking refuge in a closed tight space to feel secure is certainly his way):

cat-in-a-box
From a study on the Net which informed readers that cats are calmed by placing themselves in snug places — Yvette (Izzy) said to that, it’s true of large cats too.

He came out and sat like a top in the way cats do (tail wrapped around their close-together feet), and swayed slightly, he was tremble-shaking ever so perceptively. He had missed me. Clarycat thinks she is a dog and comes right up, tail not wagging, but miaowing at me, standing on chairs and whatever is near by, reaching out to stay my progress or movement with her paws. This is heart-rending and comforting (such self-centered creatures that we are) and I reciprocated in all physical and word ways I could, assuring them (though they have so little English) at the same time that I won’t be away again until next March.

FunnyCat
Yvette’s great joke: this is wrong, we ought to see the cat inside heaven, looking at the barred way, glaring at St Peter to be let out …

The best way to communicate with cats directly through playing is string. My two never tire of playing with string with me.

Rack up my achievements? I have learned getting, using , accessing, spending money while traveling as far away as Europe, and to more than one country, is no problem for a lady like me. I can drive long distances by myself — with within reason for a 69 year old woman. (Note the different formulation.) I could tell of my daughters and me, and their lives but that is trespassing.

I admire Jenny Diski (her latest, “Who’ll be last”) but cannot myself imitate her nuanced detail of misery — any more. Hers she still thinks is soon coming to end. I’ve been led to think not so for me, nor do I want the end as I know it will, must go hard. So to take a metaphor from Samuel Johnson on Henry Fielding’s art, I’m telling my readers and friends what time it is on the clock, not how the clock is working or why, not how it feels as it ticks away. I fear to dismay those few and valued real friends and family who might read what I write by putting into words the full effect of his absence on me. But (like Diski in this) do not want to give a false impression for the sake of my fellow widowed.

From another perspective I sometimes say to myself I have two selves; in literature it’s so common to come across the doppelganger figure, either in parallel characters or within one character. I probably parroted this theory without crediting it. Now I wonder if I have two selves.

A poem I found:

Unpalatable

Living with grief is like having to eat what is put in front
of you.
You look for the napkin,
    or the dog
but they are nowhere in sight. So you have to swallow the
whole thing.

The friends who are willing to sit at the table with you
are the water that helps to wash it down.
— Seren Fargo

Just make that napkin a glass of wine; that dog, two cats; and friends, Net-friends.

Miss Drake

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