“Walk on air against your better judgement.”
That line above is the epitaph in the gravestone of Seamus Heaney, which he wrote himself. Heaney’s family is compiling 100 of his poems into a new collection, most of them for their greatness, but others for what they meant personally to the family. (“The first 70 or 75 almost self-selected, they agree, and it was in the final 25 the choices became more significant.”) He memorably wrote poems for his grandchildren, including the last poem he ever wrote, “In Time”:
Chris: “Mum says she saw him watching the Proms, and his fingers.” He taps on the side of his armchair. “She says she could sometimes tell: he’d be tapping the fingers, which would be metre, rhythm, working out the line, the syllables. She’d look and say, ‘Ah, there’s something going on under the bonnet.’ ”
Such lovely remembrances from them of him, as a father and poet. He sounds like he was a special man.
“Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect on art.” - Susan Sontag
“...these people never knew where the very roads they lived on went to...”
In Eudora Welty's "Death of a Traveling Salesman" (from A Curtain of Green), the protagonist R.J. Bowman is lost in the boonies of Mississippi.
He had made the Beulah trip before. But he had never seen this hill or this petering-out path before - or that cloud, he thought slyly, looking up and then down quickly - any more than he had seen this day before. Why did he not admit he was simply lost and had been for miles? ... He was not in the habit of asking the way of strangers, and these people never knew where the very roads they lived on went to; but then he had not even been close enough to anyone to call out. People standing in the fields now and then, or on top of the haystacks, had been too far away, looking like leaning sticks or weeds, turning a little at the solitary rattle of his car across their countryside, watching the pale sobering winter dust where it clunked out behind like big squashes down the road. The stares of those distant people had followed him solidly like a wall, impenetrable, behind which they turned back after he had passed.
With my given name, I have an issue with the term "petering-out", but otherwise I admire this passage. Welty telegraphs Bowman's fate with that title, but the means of his demise wasn't what I expected. I guess this is one way (of many) that she diverged from Flannery O'Connor.
“...the quicksand that stirred your footprint and kissed your heel...”
From "Moon Lake", by Eudora Welty:
Luminous of course but hidden from them, Moon Lake streamed out in the night. By moonlight sometimes it seemed to run like a river. Beyond the cry of the frogs there were the sounds of a boat moored somewhere, of its vague, clumsy reaching at the shore, those sounds that are recognized as being made by something sightless. When did the boats have eyes - once? Nothing watched that their little part of the lake stayed roped off and protected; was it there now, the rope stretched frail-like between posts that swayed in mud? That rope was to mark how far the girls could swim. Beyond lay the deep part, some bottomless parts, said Moody. Here and there was the quicksand that stirred your footprint and kissed your heel. All snakes, harmless and harmful, were freely playing now; they put a trailing, moony division between weed and weed - bright, turning, bright and turning.
There are plenty of long, luxurious passages like this in The Golden Apples (1949), in contrast to the more succinct narration of the stories in A Curtain of Green (1941), her debut. Due to a weird inconvenience of the interlibrary loan system*, I'm currently reading both books - or, more accurately, I've set aside the former (which I own) to read as much of the latter as I can before I have to return it to the library. I'm noticing significant differences in style between the two books, although they appeared only eight years apart.
(*Really, Bellwood Public Library? I can only have the book for ten days, with no renewals? Why? Do you really have that much patron demand for Eudora Welty story collections?)
“Optimism assumes that all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it’s all irredeemable; both let us stay home and do nothing. Hope for me has meant a sense that the future is unpredictable, and that we don’t actually know what will happen, but know we may be able write it ourselves.” - Rebecca Solnit
Comments are back on...
...through no effort of mine. Typepad truly works in mysterious ways. My apologies to the two or three of you who still read this blog.
Fading Ad: Del’s Cafe
The former Del’s Cafe, on Ocean Front Walk in Santa Monica, California. Love that typography. The ad was uncovered during renovations which will convert the building into...not a diner, but...wait for it...a Starbucks. Sigh.
Summer of Classics
I've developed a (fairly recent) admiration for Eudora Welty, but other than the widely-anthologized "Why I Live at the P.O.", I've never read any of her short stories, for which she is widely renowned. (I've read her novels The Optimist's Daughter, The Ponder Heart and Delta Wedding; her memoir One Writer's Beginnings; and her collected correspondence with William Maxwell.) So, for this year's Summer of Classics, I'm reading nothing but Welty's short stories. I'm starting with her 1949 collection The Golden Apples, which is entirely set in the fictional MacLain County in Mississippi. After that, I have my eye on a used copy of Thirteen Stories (1965) at Open Books, but after that I'm uncertain. I'm intentionally trying to avoid Collected Stories or her Library of America story volume - I really don't care for story omnibuses (too unwiedly, both in physical heft and wandering theme/tone), and would really prefer to read her shorter, original collections. I'll probably be relying heavily on my public library after I've finished The Golden Apples.
“...airships and colloids.”
Rebecca West, on H.G. Wells’ novel Marriage:
He is the old maid among novelists; even the sex obsession that lay clotted on Ann Veronica and The New Machiavelli like cold white sauce was merely old maid’s mania, the reaction towards the flesh of a mind too long absorbed in airships and colloids.
Her biting assessment was probably correct, given how utterly the book has vanished from the literary landscape, a hundred years later. Far from being offended, Wells was intrigued, and sought her out. They became lovers, and even had a child together. West’s Return of the Soldier is high on my reading list for this year, though not soon enough to join the Guardian‘s reading group.