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A Book of Verses, a Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread and Thou: Edward FitzGerald’s Birthday

March 31, 2017

A Book of Verses, a Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread and Thou

Loaf of bread jug of wine8c859c04f840c00709dc9f99bef3ef07

On this day in 1809 Edward FitzGerald the author of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám was born in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. Fittingly for my blog post, the celebrated author of one of the most famous poems about Spring was born in Spring. So here we go, folks. Happy Spring.

FitzGerald claimed his version (actually he wrote three distinctly different versions) of the Persian poem by Omar Khayyám was a translation of the poem from the original language. Well, let’s just say, kindly perhaps, that his translation bears as much relation to the original Persian as, say an Amazon.com suggestion that, hey, if you liked this Persian poem then maybe you will like this other thingy by the Victorian poet Edward FitzGerald. Nevertheless, The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám was a Victorian bestseller and since 1859 has been issued in nearly a thousand editions. I haven’t seen a copy in the last few years, but at one time you could count on nearly every Hallmark store and other stores selling inexpensive gift books to have on hand an illustrated copy of the Rubáiyát.

What makes the poem interesting for readers of Great Literature is the way the melancholy “eat, drink, and be happy” theme runs so counter to the usual popular literary fare of its time. Many readers read the poem as a celebration of life right now, while others read the poem as a celebration of wanton hedonism, specifically in its celebration of living life for the sake of drinking all the wine you can.

Here are some lines from the beginning of the 30-40-page poem. I conclude with its most famous lines.

I
Wake! For the Sun who scatter’d into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav’n, and strikes
The Sultán’s Turret with a Shaft of Light.
II
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
“When all the Temple is prepared within,
“Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside?”
III
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted–“Open then the Door!
“You know how little while we have to stay,
“And, once departed, may return no more.”
VII
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter–and the Bird is on the Wing.
VIII
. . . .

Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
IX
Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday?
. . . .
XII
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread—and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness–
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!

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The Ultimate Tale of Romance: Romeo and Juliet Meet each Other for the First Time

February 14, 2017

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Happy Valentine’s Day to all lovers. What more beautiful way to think about romance, love, and how you feel about your Valentine. To celebrate love and romance here is the passage from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet when Romeo first casts eyes on Juliet.

It’s at the masquerade party at the Capulet which Romeo has crashed. Across the way he sees young Juliet and immediately is striken with Cupid’s arrow—as is she. He asks the passing server:

ROMEO

[To a Servingman] What lady is that, which doth
enrich the hand
Of yonder knight?

Servant

I know not, sir.

No name, but he stares across the way anyway, and his fiery passion begins its consummation of his heart.

ROMEO

O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear;
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear!
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows,
As yonder lady o’er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? forswear it, sight!
For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.

But on the other side of the hall some of the Capulets begin to notice the young Romeo, son of their bitter enemy. Romeo edges closer. They watch as he confronts his newfound love in a way only young lovers have. He touches her hand. She too has been watching him and she feels his hand with similar ardor.

ROMEO

[To JULIET] If I profane with my unworthiest hand
This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this:
My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand
To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss.

JULIET

Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,
Which mannerly devotion shows in this;
For saints have hands that pilgrims’ hands do touch,
And palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss.

ROMEO

Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?

JULIET

Ay, pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.

ROMEO

O, then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do;
They pray, grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.

JULIET

Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake.

ROMEO

Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.
Here Shakespeare gives speech to the young lovers in the form of a sonnet. A sonnet from the master of love sonnets. These are the first words exchanged between the lovers. Romeo is dressed as a pilgrim.

What is it that makes this passage stand out so much from the hurly burly of the party? What makes this speech so special that it is remembered by all as one of the greatest moments in dramatic history?

Look at the basic metaphor employed in the sonnet, and notice how it affects the tone of the relationship flaring into flame between the lovers. And then, ah yes, there’s that famous play on words first with “and palm to palm is holy palmers’ kiss” and later with

“Saints do not move, though grant for prayers’ sake./ Then move not, while my prayer’s effect I take.”

As their palms kiss and as both realize the turmoil within their breasts for this very moment of their lives, so you, lovers young and old, take your beloved and kiss as if for the very first time in your lives. Happy Valentine’s Day.

romeo-and-juliet-kiss

 

Martin Luther King Day: “‘Wait!’ has almost always meant ‘Never!”

January 16. 2017

mlk-in-jail

As it happens, the third week of January 2017, the week in which the United States holds its formal Inauguration of a new American president, begins with the commemoration of Martin Luther King Day today and ends with a Women’s March on Washington, D.C. that will dwarf the attendance of the Inauguration itself. This will be a week that will overwhelmingly manifest the sharp moral divide in the United States over questions of basic human rights.

As I begin The Literary Life for the last half of Season Two, let me put in front of you this poignant passage from Martin Luther King’s most important written work, the Letter from the Birmingham Jail, written in 1963.

“I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is a historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.

“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well-timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait!’ has almost always meant ‘Never!’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”

THE VOYAGE OF THE PILGRIMS AND THE LANDING AT CAPE COD

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(Repeated from November 2015)

I love coffee and I love coffee shops. And, yes, I love Starbucks. Nothing beats a classic grande latte at the Starbucks down the street. You know the one. Everyone has a Starbucks down the street, right? Ok, give me a break. I know it’s all so basic and I’d die if anyone ever accused me of being basic. What’s so great about being a man of class and sophistication is that I can look around this Starbucks and see–let me count them–and see at least five other men dressed exactly like me in khaki pants, Oxford cloth dress shirts with sleeves rolled up, and classic brown penny loafers. ‘Makes me feel at comfortable and, basically, in my element. By the way, what does it mean to be basic again?

Well, I’ll tell you what’s not basic. I’m holding in my hand my copy of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation. That’s not basic Starbucks reading. So there.

I’ve been trying to make the point that Bradford is the perfect read for November if you live and breathe Great Literature in the U.S. If you are just now clicking in to The Literary Life for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Let’s look at the famous section about the Pilgrims’ voyage in the Mayflower and their safe landing in Massachusetts in 1620. Bradford tells the story in Book I, Chapter IX: Of Their Voyage and How They Passed the Sea; and of Their Safe Arrival at Cape Cod.

One instance recorded here is that of a “lusty” young sailor who habitually cursed and belittled everybody aboard who was sick, and there were plenty of sick Pilgrims. Look how Bradford tells of his fate: “But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.” I always thought that was funny–lots good humor in Bradford. Except, I don’t think our dour author intended us to laugh. Anyway, Bradford continues: “Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the first hand of God upon him.” He’s smacked down by the providence of God.

In another passage, parallel to the one above, the opposite occurred. God’s providence saved a man from drowning: “but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length.”

Mayflower125671-050-A1F260E1

They finally arrived in the New World and Bradford notes that their plight was worse than the Apostle Paul’s when he was shipwrecked. They had nothing to sustain them, he writes, “but the Spirit of God and his grace. . . .”

I’m not being fair to Bradford, I know. He really is a great writer and his History of Plymouth Plantation is more than one of the most important of early American documents, and it is far more intriguing as Great Literature than its historical significance. As Aristotle says, literature has more truth than history—or something like that.

But look at its literary style. Look at all the sentences that have much the same rhythm as lines from the Bible? Look at the grand Biblical diction that sets the tone of the writing as solemn, dignified, emotional, and religious. And note the actual Biblical allusions. Particularly the one from Deuteronomy 34 comparing their arrival to the ascent up Mt. Pisgah.

How should we describe Bradford’s concept of how God works in this world? Is this as much an American concept for our country and its history as much as a simple Christian idea? Can you imagine how this concept influenced the later history of the U.S.?

Or notice that in the very first the reference to the indigenous peoples Bradford expects to find that he calls them “savage barbarians” before they even appear. Let’s see if Bradford’s pre-judgment turns out to be warranted?

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

THE VOYAGE OF THE PILGRIMS AND THE LANDING AT CAPE COD

e09d93fdd9d3752b6baad24d7a352c8c

I love coffee and I love coffee shops. And, yes, I love Starbucks. Nothing beats a classic grande latte at the Starbucks down the street. You know the one. Everyone has a Starbucks down the street, right? Ok, give me a break. I know it’s all so basic and I’d die if anyone ever accused me of being basic. What’s so great about being a man of class and sophistication is that I can look around this Starbucks and see–let me count them–and see at least five other men dressed exactly like me in khaki pants, Oxford cloth dress shirts with sleeves rolled up, and classic brown penny loafers. ‘Makes me feel at comfortable and, basically, in my element. By the way, what does it mean to be basic again?

Well, I’ll tell you what’s not basic. I’m holding in my hand my copy of William Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation. That’s not basic Starbucks reading. So there.

I’ve been trying to make the point that Bradford is the perfect read for November if you live and breathe Great Literature in the U.S. If you are just now clicking in to The Literary Life for the first time, take a moment and scroll down through the last several postings just to get a context for this post.

Let’s look at the famous section about the Pilgrims’ voyage in the Mayflower and their safe landing in Massachusetts in 1620. Bradford tells the story in Book I, Chapter IX: Of Their Voyage and How They Passed the Sea; and of Their Safe Arrival at Cape Cod.

One instance recorded here is that of a “lusty” young sailor who habitually cursed and belittled everybody aboard who was sick, and there were plenty of sick Pilgrims. Look how Bradford tells of his fate: “But it pleased God before they came half seas over, to smite this young man with a grievous disease, of which he died in a desperate manner, and so was himself the first that was thrown overboard.” I always thought that was funny–lots good humor in Bradford. Except, I don’t think our dour author intended us to laugh. Anyway, Bradford continues: “Thus his curses light on his own head, and it was an astonishment to all his fellows for they noted it to be the first hand of God upon him.” He’s smacked down by the providence of God.

In another passage, parallel to the one above, the opposite occurred. God’s providence saved a man from drowning: “but it pleased God that he caught hold of the topsail halyards which hung overboard and ran out at length.”

Mayflower125671-050-A1F260E1

They finally arrived in the New World and Bradford notes that their plight was worse than the Apostle Paul’s when he was shipwrecked. They had nothing to sustain them, he writes, “but the Spirit of God and his grace. . . .”

I’m not being fair to Bradford, I know. He really is a great writer and his History of Plymouth Plantation is more than one of the most important of early American documents, and it is far more intriguing as Great Literature than its historical significance. As Aristotle says, literature has more truth than history—or something like that.

But look at its literary style. Look at all the sentences that have much the same rhythm as lines from the Bible? Look at the grand Biblical diction that sets the tone of the writing as solemn, dignified, emotional, and religious. And note the actual Biblical allusions. Particularly the one from Deuteronomy 34 comparing their arrival to the ascent up Mt. Pisgah.

How should we describe Bradford’s concept of how God works in this world? Is this as much an American concept for our country and its history as much as a simple Christian idea? Can you imagine how this concept influenced the later history of the U.S.?

Or notice that in the very first the reference to the indigenous peoples Bradford expects to find that he calls them “savage barbarians” before they even appear. Let’s see if Bradford’s pre-judgment turns out to be warranted?

Write your comments in the comment box. And let’s see your comments no matter when you read this blog. None of the ideas I am approaching are time sensitive.

Let’s start a conversation. Re-blog. Re-tweet. Re-tumble. Follow The Literary Life. The more readers who are posting comments the better.

Cordelia: “Sure I shall never marry like my sisters, To love my father all.”

Cordelia012321

King Lear

Good my lord,
You have begot me, bred me, lov’d me; I
Return those duties back as are right fit,
Obey you, love you, and most honour you.
Why have my sisters husbands, if they say
They love you all? Haply, when I shall wed,
That lord whose hand must take my plight shall carry
Half my love with him, half my care and duty.
Sure I shall never marry like my sisters,
To love my father all.

Painting By Frank Dicksee (1896) Public Domain

Out, damned spot!

Lady Macbeth 417px-Gabriel_Cornelius_von_Max_002

Out, damned spot! out, I say!—One: two: why,
then, ’tis time to do’t.—Hell is murky!—Fie, my
lord, fie! a soldier, and afeard? What need we
fear who knows it, when none can call our power
to account?—Yet who would have thought the old
man to have had so much blood in him?

Image Details: Gabriel von Max (1885)

Famous Last Lines

“I lingered round them, under that benign sky: watched the moths fluttering among the heath and hare-bells; listened to the soft wind breathing through the grass; and wondered how anyone could ever imagine unquiet slumbers for the sleepers in that quiet earth.” Who can identify the famous Romantic novel of which these are the last line? Follow #ALiteraryLife Blog.

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