Friday, 25 February 2011

The Way through the Woods by Rudyard Kipling

They shut the road through the woods
Seventy years ago.
Weather and rain have undone it again,
And now you would never know
There was once a road through the woods
Before they planted the trees.
It is underneath the coppice and heath,
And the thin anemones.
Only the keeper sees
That, where the ring-dove broods,
And the badgers roll at ease,
There was once a road through the woods.

Yet, if you enter the woods
Of a summer evening late,
When the night-air cools on the trout-ringed pools
Where the otter whistles his mate,
(They fear not men in the woods,
Because they see so few.)
You will hear the beat of a horse's feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew,
Steadily cantering through
The misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew
The old lost road through the woods.
But there is no road through the woods.

The more I read this poem the better it becomes. I like especially how Kipling jolts his lilt, breaking up the rhythm, making the way through the poem less straightforward than you expect it to be - as though trees had been planted.

If you read the story that this poem prefaces ('Marlake Witches') you'll find that the swishing skirt might be said to belong to a 16 year old girl called Philadelphia.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

There is a select group of books that, were I some ancient Egyptian potentate, I would demand be entombed with me, and this is one of them (others include Daniel Boorstin's 'The Discoverers', Proust, Owen Chadwick's 'Victorian Miniature' and anything by Jane Austen - but the group is not set; it changes with the months). It is part anthology, part guide, part series of lectures, but mostly it is companionable. "Yes", you find yourself saying, chuckling at the good way something you have always thought has been put. Unlike Babel and Tolstoy, I would certainly cross the street to meet her.

Monday, 21 February 2011

True Grit

Growly growly, hats with holes in 'em, and lots of knowing humour appealing greatly to the intellectual snob in us (Ezekial in the field of bones etc), but when it comes down to it, this lacks the pace, the verve and the charm of the earlier film. John Wayne owns Rooster Cockburn, ain't nuthin' them Co-ens can do 'bout it.

Ed Ruscha

My correspondent Mr K made a delicate comment under my 'Stage and Page' post, concerning the work of Ed Ruscha. You can find out more about Ed Ruscha here. In the meantime, I bring you It's Only Vanishing Cream, 1973. Shellac on satin.

Friday, 18 February 2011

The Return of Superficial Emotion

This is a spot where I shall confess to instances of inappropriate weeping. I start, as so often before, with Masterchef, the first episode of which I have just watched on iPlayer. I wept more or less from the start.

Words I Cannot Bring At Once To Mind

This will be an ongoing series

This is a word with two spellings and two separate meanings - ah! yes! Com - no, lost it again. YES!






GLAUCOMA (which I have!!)





Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Stage and Page: A Thought Had While Bathing

For all Goethe’s genius, Faust is a work primarily of literature, a work of the page, a masterpiece to be read. Shakespeare, however, in his greatest plays, marries the two forms – stage and page – to exactly that extent which raises him above all others. Shakespeare continues to be acted because he was a great playwright. It might be said that he continues to be read because he continues to be acted, but the fact is that even were Shakespeare not, still, the most performed playwright on earth (not to mention the most prodigious of writers for the screen - on the IMDB there are over 150 matches and part matches for ‘Hamlet’ alone), he would still be the English language’s greatest poet. We read the plays as poems, we watch them as dramas. What the solitary reader cannot fully evoke is their great flow and rhythm. Plays, too, are collaborative. The thing that is engaged with by the audience is the work not just of Shakespeare, but of actors, directors, designers, stage hands, carpenters, voice coaches and so on. In both the library seat and the theatre seat the imagination is certainly at work, but in quite different manners. In the library we seek those internal resonances and connections that rich poetry gives us. In the theatre we are asked to see armies and sunsets. What is metaphor on the page is simile on the stage, in that the actor plays horror or amorousness or madness or ruthlessness, and the audience is required to transform the seeming into truth. And then there are the lines themselves. An actor can bring a different meaning to a line hitherto thought nailed by the reader, although by the same token the ordinary actor can choose only one meaning at a time. “I am constant as the northern star”. Is this pride, arrogance, ruthlessness, charisma, constancy, stubbornness? A great actor may be able to evoke several of these, but not all. In our armchair they all apply. The point is that in doing so they interrupt the drama. Finally it perhaps might be said that Shakespeare is the greatest of all poets because he is the greatest of all playwrights, and of course vice versa. Then again, let’s not forget Touchstone’s Wildean saying: “the truest poetry is the most feigning”. Poetry too is an act. I won’t bang on because I’ll just get knotty and knotted what with all the world being a stage and so on….

NB - apologies to those who also receive the Shakespeare club blog, who will have received this twice.

Monday, 14 February 2011


Rather surprised myself, finding that I had not seen this before. I was sure I had at least seen the movie, directed and produced by auld acquaintances Parker and Thompson. Not knowing how a classic ends is fairly rare, and a thrill. But this, like so much of Wilde, is a serious play cleverly camouflaged by wit and elements of farce. Its deepest subject is not love, but friendship, the friendship of two men, one of whom is ambitious the other who has no ambition at all; the one whose public image is of uprightness and integrity, the other who is known for idleness and dandysim; the one who has a shameful secret, the other who tells the truth. It is also a play about tolerance and forgiveness and kindness. The idle, unambitious hero understands the sanctimonious mind, he understands the sway of financial temptation, the requirements of ambition. These things are forgiven. What he does not forgive is unkindness.

Samantha Bond was outstanding in a very good cast. The sets (Stephen Brimson Lewis) were golden, reflecting the way in which Wilde gilds this examination of public and private moralities.

Very good indeed.

Directed by Lindsay Posner
Playing at the Vaudeville Theatre on the Strand, but not, sadly, for very much longer.

Useful new word for Valentine's Day: Fribbler

A Fribbler is one who professes Rapture and Admiration for the Woman to whom he addresses, and dreads nothing so much as her Consent.
R. Steele Spectator No. 288. 1712

Found in Dr Johnson's Dictionary while trying to establish the difference bewteen frost and hoar-frost (the latter being frozen dew, of course, as any fule kno).

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Most Beautiful Words

The Two Most Beautiful Words in the English Language:
“Summer afternoon” – Henry James

The Most Beautiful Words in the English Language:
"…are not ‘I love you’ but ‘It’s benign’” - Woody Allen

Molly Line Blog

The Lion and the Mouse

Check out my niece Molly Line's blog here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Voi che sapete sung by Frederica von Stade

This is one of my very favourite pieces of music, sung by the woman acknowledged to be the greatest Cherubino ever. It is from Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro.

Here are the words:

Voi Che Sapete che cosa e amor
You know what thing is love

donne, vedete s'io l'ho nel cor
ladies, see if I have it in my heart

Quello ch'io provo, vi ridiro
That which I experience, to you I will repeat

E per me nuovo, capir not so
It's new to me; I don't understand it.

Sento un affetto pien di desir,
I feel a longing full of desire,

ch'ora e diletto, ch'ora e martir!
that now is delight, that now is death!

Gelo, e poi sento l'alma avvampar
I freeze, and then I feel the soul burst into flame

e in un momento torno a gelar;
and in a moment I go back to freezing;

ricerco un bene fuori di me,
I search for a blessing outside of me,

non so ch'il tiene, non so cos'e.
I don't know who holds it; I don't know what it is.

Sospiro e gemo senza voler,
I sigh and moan without wishing to,

palpito e tremo senza saper.
I throb and tremble without knowing.

Non trovo pace notte ne di,
Not find I peace night nor day,

ma pur mi piace languir cosi.
but yet me it pleases to pine thus.

Translation thanks to:
G. Schimer, Inc. (c) 1972

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Aaron Porter

Aaron Porter strikes me as being rather impressive, not to say brave. Elected to his post as President of the NUS with a 65% share of the vote, he certainly has more right to speak on behalf of students than anyone else. Unfortunately he also strikes one as perhaps a Kerensky like figure, altogether too reasonable a man for the job. Here is an extract from his piece in The Times the other day, describing the way in which he was prevented from speaking in Manchester by those who dislike peaceful demonstration, democracy and, it would appear, Jews.

In Manchester on Saturday the National Union of Students organised what was the latest in a series of protests against government plans that are allowing the burden of the deficit reduction to fall on young people. We were there to expose the contradiction of David Cameron saying that we cannot build a future on debt and then tripling tuition fees, asking young people to build their futures on debt; and the contradiction of him saying that he would rebuild the economy and create jobs while abolishing the Future Jobs Fund.

However, before I was able to speak to the rally of thousands, a small group of people started to chant abuse to try to intimidate me, and there were audible anti-Semitic comments. Racism is something that student activists have been fighting to eliminate for decades and this was a sobering reminder that there is still work to do.

I wouldn’t associate the racist comments with everyone in this breakaway group, who are largely drawn from hard Left factions and who disagree with the tactics and some of the policies of the NUS. For them it is not enough for the NUS to mobilise 50,000 students and lecturers to protest against the rise in tuition fees; instead they say we should be standing alongside those who kick in windows and burn effigies of Nick Clegg.

Those tactics are wrong and do not work. I represent the vast majority of students who believe that peaceful protest should be one part of a campaign.