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Adams Street

The couple moved slowly along the sidewalk, laboring in the sun-drenched heat. The husband, just behind, stopped and then stepped into the shadow which brought a few degrees of relief. His wife also stopped, and glanced patiently back at him. The look in his bulged eyes, just above the tube that trailed from his nostrils and down to the oxygen tank on his hip, showed her his anxiety, even fear. As if he wasn't quite sure he would make it, unless he paused for a rest. She waited, without a word or even a gesture, as if long accustomed to such moments.

June 27, 2013 in Chicago Observations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Curbside Castoffs


Fifth in a series of memorable curbside discards. This one is actually of our own driveway - Maddie decided to finally get rid of her Elmo lawn sprinkler, which never worked very well anyway. Given the longtime appeal of Elmo, I'd be surprised if somebody doesn't salvage this before the garbage man arrives tomorrow, but it was still there as of this morning.

June 24, 2013 in Joliet, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

"Never spakest thou word that worse could hurt me; Nor that made me, Völund, more bitter for vengeance..."

I'm continuing my slow journey through The Poetic Edda. It's been a rewarding if sometimes ponderous experience - the archaic phrasing and grammar, the repetition and the often didactic nature of the narratives (many of the lays exist solely to record names of families and places) have sometimes tried my patience. But it's been a very good read overall. This morning I had the pleasure to read Völundarkvitha (or The Lay of Völund), which translator Lee Hollander calls "stark and powerful," adding that the lay "stands by itself in richness of invention, its grim compactness. Limned with a few broad strokes, the characters stand before us indelibly..."

I was so impressed by this ancient work that I have posted the entire text below, rather than just linking to the online source. Hollander's translation isn't freely available online; this translation is by actually by Henry Adams Bellows (1936). The ellipses indicate places where the original text has been lost.

Völundarkvitha (or The Lay of Völund)

There was a king in Sweden named Nithuth. He had two sons and one daughter; her name was Bothvild. There were three brothers, sons of a king of the Finns: one was called Slagfith, another Egil, the third Völund. They went on snowshoes and hunted wild beasts. They came into Ulfdalir and there they built themselves a house; there was a lake there which is called Ulfsjar. Early one morning they found on the shore of the lake three women, who were spinning flax. Near them were their swan garments, for they were Valkyries. Two of them were daughters of King Hlothver, Hlathguth the Swan-White and Hervor the All-Wise, and the third was Olrun, daughter of Kjar from Valland. These did they bring home to their hall with them. Egil took Olrun, and Slagfith Swan-White, and Völund All-Wise. There they dwelt seven winters; but then they flew away to find battles, and came back no more. Then Egil set forth on his snowshoes to follow Olrun, and Slagfith followed Swan White, but Völund stayed in Ulfdalir. He was a most skillful man, as men know from old tales. King Nithuth had him taken by force, as the poem here tells.

1. Maids from the south      through Myrkwood flew,
Fair and young,      their fate to follow;
On the shore of the sea      to rest them they sat,
The maids of the south,      and flax they spun.

2. . . . . . . . . . .
Hlathguth and Hervor,      Hlothver's children,
And Olrun the Wise      Kjar's daughter was.

3. . . . . . . . . . .
One in her arms      took Egil then
To her bosom white,      the woman fair.

4. Swan-White second,--      swan-feathers she wore,
. . . . . . . . . .
And her arms the third      of the sisters threw
Next round Völund's      neck so white.

5. There did they sit      for seven winters,
In the eighth at last      came their longing again,
(And in the ninth      did need divide them).
The maidens yearned      for the murky wood,
The fair young maids,      their fate to follow.

6. Völund home      from his hunting came,
From a weary way,      the weather-wise bowman,
Slagfith and Egil      the hall found empty,
Out and in went they,      everywhere seeking.

7. East fared Egil      after Olrun,
And Slagfith south      to seek for Swan-White;
Völund alone      in Ulfdalir lay,
. . . . . . . . . .

8. Red gold he fashioned      with fairest gems,
And rings he strung      on ropes of bast;
So for his wife      he waited long,
If the fair one home      might come to him.

9. This Nithuth learned,      the lord of the Njars,
That Völund alone      in Ulfdalir lay;
By night went his men,      their mail-coats were studded,
Their shields in the waning      moonlight shone.

10. From their saddles the gable      wall they sought,
And in they went      at the end of the hall;
Rings they saw there      on ropes of bast,
Seven hundred      the hero had.

11. Off they took them,      but all they left
Save one alone      which they bore away.
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .

12. Völund home      from his hunting came,
From a weary way,      the weather-wise bowman;
A brown bear's flesh      would he roast with fire;
Soon the wood so dry      was burning well,
(The wind-dried wood      that Völund's was).

13. On the bearskin he rested,      and counted the rings,
The master of elves,      but one he missed;
That Hlothver's daughter      had it he thought,
And the all-wise maid      had come once more.

14. So long he sat      that he fell asleep,
His waking empty      of gladness was;
Heavy chains      he saw on his hands,
And fetters bound      his feet together.

     Völund spake:
15. "What men are they      who thus have laid
Ropes of bast      to bind me now?"
Then Nithuth called,      the lord of the Njars:
"How gottest thou, Völund,      greatest of elves,
These treasures of ours      in Ulfdalir?"

     Völund spake:
16. "The gold was not      on Grani's way,
Far, methinks, is our realm      from the hills of the Rhine;
I mind me that treasures      more we had
When happy together      at home we were."

17. Without stood the wife      of Nithuth wise,
And in she came      from the end of the hall;
On the floor she stood,      and softly spoke:
"Not kind does he look      who comes from the wood."

King Nithuth gave to his daughter Bothvild the gold ring that he had taken from the bast rope in Völund's house, and he himself wore the sword that Völund had had.

     The queen spake:
18. "The glow of his eyes      is like gleaming snakes,
His teeth he gnashes      if now is shown
The sword, or Bothvild's      ring he sees;
Let them straightway cut      his sinews of strength,
And set him then      in Sævarstath."

So was it done: the sinews in his knee-joints were cut, and he was set in an island which was near the mainland, and was called Sævarstath. There he smithied for the king all kinds of precious things. No man dared to go to him, save only the king himself.

     Völund spake:
19. "At Nithuth's girdle      gleams the sword
That I sharpened keen      with cunningest craft,
(And hardened the steel      with highest skill;)
The bright blade far      forever is borne,
(Nor back shall I see it      borne to my smithy;)
Now Bothvild gets      the golden ring
(That was once my bride's,--      ne'er well shall it be.)"

20. He sat, nor slept,      and smote with his hammer,
Fast for Nithuth      wonders he fashioned;
Two boys did go      in his door to gaze,
Nithuth's sons,      into Sævarstath.

21. They came to the chest,      and they craved the keys,
The evil was open      when in they looked;
To the boys it seemed      that gems they saw,
Gold in plenty      and precious stones.

     Völund spake:
22. "Come ye alone,      the next day come,
Gold to you both      shall then be given;
Tell not the maids      or the men of the hall,
To no one say      that me you have sought."

23. . . . . . . . . . .
Early did brother      to brother call:
"Swift let us go      the rings to see."

24. They came to the chest,      and they craved the keys,
The evil was open      when in they looked;
He smote off their heads,      and their feet he hid
Under the sooty      straps of the bellows.

25. Their skulls, once hid      by their hair, he took,
Set them in silver      and sent them to Nithuth;
Gems full fair      from their eyes he fashioned,
To Nithuth's wife      so wise he gave them.

26. And from the teeth      of the twain he wrought
A brooch for the breast,      to Bothvild he sent it;
. . . . . . . . . .

27. Bothvild then      of her ring did boast,
. . . . . . . . . .
. . . . .      "The ring I have broken,
I dare not say it      save to thee."

     Völund spake:
28. 'I shall weld the break      in the gold so well
That fairer than ever      thy father shall find it,
And better much      thy mother shall think it,
And thou no worse      than ever it was."

29. Beer he brought,      he was better in cunning,
Until in her seat      full soon she slept.

     Völund spake:
"Now vengeance I have      for all my hurts,
Save one alone,      on the evil woman."

30. . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . .
Quoth Völund: "Would      that well were the sinews
Maimed in my feet      by Nithuth's men."

31. Laughing Völund      rose aloft,
Weeping Bothvild      went from the isle,
For her lover's flight      and her father's wrath.

32. Without stood the wife      of Nithuth wise,
And in she came      from the end of the hall;
But he by the wall      in weariness sat:
"Wakest thou, Nithuth,      lord of the Njars?"

     Nithuth spake:
33. "Always I wake,      and ever joyless,
Little I sleep      since my sons were slain;
Cold is my head,      cold was thy counsel,
One thing, with Völund      to speak, I wish.

34. . . . . . . . . . .
"Answer me, Völund,      greatest of elves,
What happed with my boys      that hale once were?"

     Völund spake:
35. "First shalt thou all      the oaths now swear,
By the rail of ship,      and the rim of shield,
By the shoulder of steed,      and the edge of sword,
That to Völund's wife      thou wilt work no ill,
Nor yet my bride      to her death wilt bring,
Though a wife I should have      that well thou knowest,
And a child I should have      within thy hall.

36. "Seek the smithy      that thou didst set,
Thou shalt find the bellows      sprinkled with blood;
I smote off the heads      of both thy sons,
And their feet 'neath the sooty      straps I hid.

37. "Their skulls, once hid      by their hair, I took,
Set them in silver      and sent them to Nithuth;

38. "And from the teeth      of the twain I wrought
A brooch for the breast,      to Bothvild I gave it;
Now big with child      does Bothvild go,
The only daughter      ye two had ever."

     Nithuth spake:
39. "Never spakest thou word      that worse could hurt me,
Nor that made me, Völund,      more bitter for vengeance;
There is no man so high      from thy horse to take thee,
Or so doughty an archer      as down to shoot thee,
While high in the clouds      thy course thou takest."

40. Laughing Völund      rose aloft,
But left in sadness      Nithuth sat.
. . . . . . . . . .

41. Then spake Nithuth,      lord of the Njars:
"Rise up, Thakkrath,      best of my thralls,
Bid Bothvild come,      the bright-browed maid,
Bedecked so fair,      with her father to speak."

42. . . . . . . . . . .
"Is it true, Bothvild,      that which was told me;
Once in the isle      with Völund wert thou?"

     Bothvild spake:
43. "True is it, Nithuth,      that which was told thee,
Once in the isle      with Völund was I,
An hour of lust,      alas it should be!
Nought was my might      with such a man,
Nor from his strength      could I save myself."

June 20, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (2)

Karl Wolff reviews Wheatyard

Belated thanks to Karl Wolff for his fine review of Wheatyard at CCLaP.
Despite this rather bare-bones summary, Wheatyard is a wonderful little book. If one is inclined, one could read it in an afternoon. The novel also explores the challenges and ever-present despair involved with those aspiring to get into the writing business. Publishing has just as many dreamers and wannabes as Hollywood and major league sports.
Count me as one of those wannabes.

June 18, 2013 in Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

Randolph Neon


I just can't get enough Randolph Street photos from the fifties and sixties, and only partly because my dad used to work in the block shown above, between State and Dearborn. The signage (including, just on the north side of the street, Eitel's Old Heidelberg, the Oriental Theatre and the Woods Theatre) is so gaudy that it's almost beautiful. Plus I love that there was a bowling alley right in the middle of downtown; its unlit sign is in the left-center of the photo, above the bus.

June 17, 2013 in Chicago Observations, History, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

Meet me at the drive-in



Having not driven the north end of Illinois Route 47 for many, many years, I was quite pleased this past weekend to discover that the towns of Huntley and Hebron still have their old-fashioned ice cream stands: Huntley Dairy Mart and The Dari, respectively. The Dairy Mart even still appears to offer car-side service. Both places were packed on Sunday afternoon (not evidenced by these photos, which are from Google Street View). Nice to see that some old traditions still endure.

June 17, 2013 in History | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...her arms did gleam..."


In this stanza from Skírnismál (or The Lay of Skírnir, from The Poetic Edda), the Norse fertility god Frey waxes eloquent about a giant maiden he has become smitten with.
From on high I beheld in the halls of Gymir
a maiden to my mind;
her arms did gleam, their glamor filled
all the sea and air.
The Norse gods seem somewhat odd. This is just one of many references to the beauty of maidens' arms, a body part which isn't usually cited as a favorite of lusty males. These gods are also often less than all-powerful and seem to have particular difficulty hooking up with desirable women - in this case, Frey has to send his valet Skírnir to the land of the giants as some sort of emissary/pimp. Zeus rarely had that problem.

June 11, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Book Recycling finds


This year's Will County Book Recycling was a letdown - first, because Julie wasn't feeling well and decided not to go, and second, because the quantity of available books seemed lower than earlier years. I only came home with three books - Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach (which I've been wanting to read for some time), Jack London's Call of the Wild (for bedtime reading with Maddie - my boyhood copy somehow disappeared) and the intriguing book shown above.

The book is a 1963 profile of one of my favorite writers, Sinclair Lewis, by his biographer Mark Schorer. Schorer's bio of Lewis is a massive 900-page doorstop which, despite my interest in Lewis, I have no inclination to read. But this volume is basically a hardcover-bound pamphlet (just 44 pages) that briefly surveys Lewis' life and writing career and which I find much more appealing. The book came from the library at Joliet Central High School and still has the little pocket in the front where the checkout card used to be. Not surprisingly, the book wasn't terribly popular - it was only checked out 30 times between 1965 and 1988. And based on how many of the checkout dates are clustered, it looks like many of those checkouts were renewals (probably by students whose Lewis term papers were taking too long to finish), so I'd guess that no more than 20 students read the book during the 23-year period.

The book is from a series of author profiles published by University of Minnesota Press. I'd love to find more volumes from the series, including those on Nathanael West, Herman Melville and T.S. Eliot. (Eliot is a kindred spirit - he was a Midwest native and misplaced banker, working as a clerk at Lloyd's of London for eight years.) The image below is of the back cover, which lists the 28 volumes in the series as of the publication date.


June 9, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Lake Street


Lake Street, looking east from the Chicago & North Western viaduct. Yesterday afternoon.

June 7, 2013 in Chicago Observations, Photography | Permalink | Comments (0)

What I'm writing

Now that the Wheatyard hubbub is starting to subside a little, I'm finally starting in on a new book. It's a novella with the working title Junker, which is actually the first of a planned trio of novellas set in a small town in northern Illinois. The town isn't based on any specific municipality, but instead is a composite of several towns that I've known, including my hometown.

I prefer the term "trio" instead of trilogy, because the latter implies a series that proceeds linearally from book to book. So I'm calling it a trio, since I hope to write the books in such a way that they can be read in any order. They go together, as sort of equals, and not one after the other. The writing is very tentative and slow-going so far; I have a pretty good idea of the protagonist's story, but haven't figured out yet the best way to tell it.

June 6, 2013 in Fiction | Permalink | Comments (2)

Wheatyard at The Page 69 Test

Marshal Zeringue's Campaign for the American Reader blog empire is a longtime favorite of mine. Today he was generous enough to publish the short essay I wrote about Wheatyard for his Page 69 Test blog. The concept behind "the page 69 test" is simple: when you come across a new book, open it to page 69 and read that page, and if you find that sample intriguing, the book might be worth exploring at length. By page 69, the author should be well past the introductory formalities and be fully into the narrative, so that page probably gives a good flavor to what the book is like. I picked up this habit from Marshal and now apply it, almost subconciously, to almost every book I find. My sincere thanks to Marshal for running this piece.

June 4, 2013 in Books, Wheatyard | Permalink | Comments (0)

"...yet be sparing withal..."

I'm starting off this year's Summer of Classics with The Poetic Edda, a medieval verse compilation of Old Norse myths and legends; this edition is Lee Hollander's translation, from 1962. I'm particularly enjoying Hávamál (or The Sayings of Hár), which poetically dispenses advice on living, including how to conduct oneself as a guest in someone else's home. I admire this bit:
The cup spurn not, yet be sparing withal:
Say what is needful, or naught.
For ill breeding upbraids thee no man
If soon thou goest to sleep.
The general gist of this hospitality section so far seems to be "don't drink too much, and keep your mouth shut." Timeless advice indeed.

June 4, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)

Casey at 125

As Barnes & Noble's Daybook notes, Ernest Lawrence Thayer's "Casey at the Bat" was first published 125 years ago today. The poem has been a near-lifelong favorite of mine, which I was able to recite from memory at age eight. It also inspired one of my first published stories, "Mighty Casey", which appeared in Zisk Magazine in 2006. It wasn't until I finished the story that I realized the version of the poem I had known for so long wasn't the definitive one, but a variant that happened to end up in the book I first read as a child.

June 3, 2013 in Books, Fiction | Permalink | Comments (0)

Raymond DeCapite

I just discovered a writer I had never heard of: Raymond DeCapite, who wrote several well-regarded Cleveland novels during the 1960s that went out of print for decades. Here's what Cleveland Magazine said about DeCapite in 2010:
His oeuvre reads like a long poem to the working-class West Side, the spare descriptions conjuring up the blue chug of steel mills and the 2 a.m. sizzle of fried eggs amid the cold blade of life lived by punching a clock.
In 2010, Kent State University Press reissued DeCapite's first two novels, The Coming of Fabrizze and A Lost King, the latter of which my friend Charles Dodd White called "a hidden classic" and a "truly great book." DeCapite is now firmly on my radar, though I see that my library system doesn't have any of his books, so I'll have to buy A Lost King somewhere.

June 3, 2013 in Books | Permalink | Comments (0)