Wednesday, 31 July 2013

20 - Saki/Yeats/Hazlitt

Short story
Saki. The Open Window. Another brilliant and funny story by Saki, about a man visiting neighbours in the country village he has moved to for health reasons.

Poem
W.B. Yeats, The Wild Swans at Coole (1917) A beautiful rustic poem about swans in the autumn over the years when he visited a friend, and is the title poem of one of Yeats's collections of poems. It has a regular rhyme, but so cleverly done that it's not noticeable, and it doesn't have the sing-song quality of many rhyming poems such as bush poems. It's more contemplative and the lines are different lengths, which allows for pauses before changing ideas.

Essay
William Hazlitt (1778-1830). Of Persons One Would Wish to Have Seen (pub. 1826). Charles Lamb posed the question, and Hazlitt answers it, describing a discussion in Lamb's house on which dead people those in the room would most like to see. They discuss writers, artists, politicians, famous women and so on. Many of the names are still familiar- such as Chaucer, Shakespeare, da Vinci and Judas Iscariot - and others are not known to me, or I recognise the name but know nothing about them. An interesting question though -if you could for instance only pick two to meet, who would they be?

19 - Greene/Yeats/Hume

Short story
Graham Greene, The Case for the Defence. (1939). An absolutely brilliant story. It has everything - beautifully written, concise, intriguing, mysterious, surprising, challenging and riveting. And all this in perhaps 1500 words or less! I'm in awe of GG.

Poem
W.B. Yeats, Reconciliation. A sad, forlorn poem, that feels more like grief to me than a reconciliation.

Essay
David Hume. Of Some Remarkable Customs. An interesting essay about strange political customs in ancient Athens, Rome and in London. I learned, for example, where the words tribune and plebiscite come from.

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

18 - Greene/Yeats/Hume

Poem
W. B. Yeats (1865-1939, Love Song: From the Gaelic: This seems to be a poem about being at one with nature, and once one is at one with nature, 'death, oh my fair one, will never come near'. I think it's about a rejection of modern society and an acceptance of the old ways and their connection with the world around us.

Story
Graham Greene, I Spy. (1930). From Graham Greene twenty-one stories. Charlie is 12 years old, living at a time when searchlights scan the sky, and he has never smoked a cigarette even though his father own's a tobacconist's shop. He decides to steal one, and hides when his father returns, and he hears some amazing things. This is a really short story, but brilliantly written. I'm in awe of GG.

Essay
David Hume. On the Immortality of the Soul. Hume offers metaphysical, moral, physical arguments against the immortality of the soul. A difficult essay, and one I would have to read several times to fully understand. We are so stupid and uneducated these days!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

17 - Saki/Stevenson/Greene

I gave myself a couple of nights off after I heard of the death of a friend, and played lots of music and went for long walks. I never imagined I could do this for 1000 nights straight, and there's no particular reason why I should. Life happens. It shouldn't be a chore, and it isn't. I'm loving this, actually.

Poem
Robert Louis Stevenson, Requiem:
Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And laid me down with a will.

Home is the sailor, home from the sea and the hunter home from the hill.
This seemed appropriate after I learned of Kevin's death. He was too young to die (aren't we all), and would have loved more time, but I think he would look back and say that he lived a life worth living.

Story
Saki. The Seventh Pullet.  Again the wonderful names Saki dreams up - Blenkinthrope and Gorworth! Blenkinthrope lives a humdrum life in which the most interesting thing is that he can grow big potatoes. When his friend encourages him to make up a story about a snake mesmerising his chooks and killing six of the seven, Blenkingthrope tries it out. He enjoys his heightened fame and follows with more outrageous stories, but his fellow travellers don't believe him. And then something really odd and interesting happens, but nobody believes that story either. A funny story, but with a lot of wisdom and truth in it.

Essay
Wesley Greene. Potato. Well, I'm not sure if this should count as an essay, but who is to say? Me! So it's an essay. It's a self-contained section of a fascinating book I'm reading called 'Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way'. It's about vegetable gardening in a living history town called Williamsburg in Virginia in the US, and they're re-enacting life in the 18th century. The potato essay is of a similar format to the others, giving a history of the vegetable and its introduction to Europe and America. In its introduction to Ireland there is a legend that ships from the Spanish Armada foundered off the coast of Ireland in 1588 with potatoes on board. The locals planted the spuds, and their love affair with potatoes began. The essay then goes into how the humble spud is grown in Williamsburg using 18th century methods. I love the history sections, and instructions like this to: 'plant seed potatoes when the early daffodils bloom'. Space them '10 to 12 inches apart, in rows 2 feet asunder.'

This is a fascinating book, and it's about the 18th century methods, which are organic because that's all they knew, and low-tech and using what's available in their environment. Is it an essay? Well, for the purposes of this exercise, it is if I say it is. It's non-fiction and it interested me more today than any of the other essays I looked at. It's a great book and when I return it to the library I might even buy a copy to keep.

Writing
None today. I spent a lot of time in the garden planting spuds, mowing lawns and weeds, preparing the asparagus patch and fencing the raised beds to keep the dog out and stop her using them as her toilet. I may write something after this.

Friday, 26 July 2013

16 - Saki/Emerson/Hume

Short Story
Saki. Fur. Suzanne's rich cousin wants to know what she wants for her birthday and while she doesn't want to be greedy, she also doesn't want to waste his immense wealth. After all, he can afford to give her a much more expensive gift than she could ever afford. She decides she wants furs. As in expensive fur coats or stoles. (I love the name of the shop: Goliath and Mastodon's!) Saki comes out with some gems, as in: 'the sacrifices of friendship were beautiful in her eyes as long as she was not asked to make them.' when Suzanne refuses her friend Eleanor's request. In return the friend sabotages Suzanne, telling the cousin she would love the think she would least like - a fan. She also spins a yarn to the cousin, and she ends up with the fur instead.

Poem
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Brahma.  I will have to do some research on this one as I'll be blowed if I know what it means. It all sounds good, but I've no idea what he's on about.

Essay
David Hume. Of Civil Liberty. The thrust of Hume's argument is that the erosion of liberty is the beginning of the end for societies. When people have liberty, the arts flourish, but when liberties decline, so do the arts and everything else that's fine and good about society. Absolute governments tend to preside over a decay in commerce as well as the arts. He thinks things have improved in the last century, and that monarchies have moved closer to perfection, and yet he also appears to be a Republican. I'm probably too tired for this essay at the moment. Maybe I should switch to reading in the morning instead of at night. This style of writing is so foreign to me, that I find it difficult to follow, especially as he goes off on tangents, and makes many references to ancient Greece and Rome. I'll read it again.

Writing
A non-fiction day, but also very busy with other things.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

15 - Saki/Longfellow/Hume

Now we enter the third week and night 15 of the 1000 nights. So far it's been fine and I've found the time to do this, although I must admit my selections have been based on how short the essay or story is! It doesn't matter, and I expect life will intervene from time to time and I will have gaps when I do nothing at all. Having said that though, it takes about 30 minutes to read a poem, a story, and an essay, and if I can't find that then there's something wrong. I've also found time to write, and have written two fairly decent short stories and other stuff as well, along with my non-fiction articles and editing.

Poem
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. The Village Blacksmith. This is a great poem. It tells a story, is emotional without descending into pathos, and paints a picture of a hard-working man who has had ups and downs in life and who carries on and does what he needs to do. I can picture him, and I can empathise with him, and even though the job of the village blacksmith is gone, I can see him mirrored in a thousand men and women in a thousand different jobs. Big fan of HWL.

Short story
Saki, The Match-maker. I'm on a roll with Saki and loving this crazy, imaginative and probably quite weird, man. I love this: 'You needn't tell me that a man who doesn't love oysters and asparagus and good wines has got a soul, or a stomach either. He's simply got the instinct for being unhappy highly developed.' I know people just like that! How about this:
'My mother is thinking of getting married.'
'Again?'
'It's the first time.'
or:
'brevity is the soul of widowhood.'
I'm loving the way Saki writes.

Essay
David Hume. Of Superstition and Enthusiasm. Hume defines superstition and enthusiasm as corruptions of the true religion. (I would have thought they are both characteristics of religion, but who am I to say - and in fact he says as much later on.) He thinks superstition is founded on depression and melancholy and enthusiasm is founded on presumptuous pride and confidence. Hume contends that superstition is an enemy to civil liberty and enthusiasm is a friend to it.
I need to read this one again as it seems alien and foreign to this 21st century world, and I'm not sure what he's really saying.


Writing
Didn't do any fiction today, but wrote a couple of non-fiction articles.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

14 - Saki/Hume/Wordsworth

End of the second week, and so far so good. I've been a bit tardy on posting the details, but haven't missed a day yet (not that it matters, as there's nothing that says this has to be 1000 consecutive days, and it's just an exercise to help me get my head full of stuff so I can improve my writing). 

Poem
William Wordsworth. The World is Too Much with Us.  I can relate to this poem, which is about our disconnect with nature and are unmoved by its wonders. 'For this, for everything, we are out of tune;/ It moves us not...' I had to look up Proteus and Triton, and found they are both gods of the sea. I think what he's saying is that while we may think ourselves advanced, he would rather be a pagan who could appreciate these simple but awe-inspiring natural wonders.

Short story
Saki. The Philanthropist and the Happy Cat. What a brilliant title! And again, what great choices in names: Jocantha Bessbury and a cat called Attab! Jocantha prides herself on being one of the most contented women in Chelsea, and is pleased with herself and feels sorry for those unfortunate enough to be beneath her and her philanthropic urge is to buy a ticket for the theatre and give it away to some poor, miserable unfortunate. She sees an attractive young man in a tea shop and decides to give him the ticket and imagines future engagements with him. She fails to attract his attention and is resentful that she will be going to the theatre alone instead. Great last line - but you'll have to find the play and read it to find out what it is. I am loving Saki to bits.

Essay
David Hume again, even though his last one annoyed me somewhat. It's not surprising though really, as we're living in different worlds, three hundred years apart. Of the Origin of Government. Hume sees Government as a natural extension of the family, there to ensure justice is served and that the peace and order of society are maintained. Order in society is maintained by government and people tend naturally towards obedience to the rules laid down by governing bodies. He suggests that the first ascendence of one man over the multitudes first arose during a period of war, and the long continuance of that state meant people became used to submission. After people became used to subservience, it came to be enforced. An interesting and thoughtful essay, which I will read again as this first reading has no doubt given me just a superficial understanding of what he's saying.

Writing
I went to the writers group and read the story I wrote and revised this week. It was well received. I've been writing and editing more, but nothing to write home about. Why do we need to sleep eight hours a day? There's too much to do!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

13 Saki/Scott/Hume

Short story
Saki: The Reticence of Lady Anne. Ok, so I'm having a Saki period. Deal with it! This is the Saki story I used for the basis of my short film, The Silent Treatment. I didn't do it very well, and had technical problems such as camera noise (it was super 8), but I'm still proud of it. My friend Betty Kavanagh played Lady Anne, and we shot the film in the house of my other friend, Doc Doyle in Newtown, Sydney, with Egbert played by a professional actor, whose name I have now forgotten -- so I should drag out the film and watch it again. Basically, the story is about an argument between a man and his wife, and in which the man loses the argument, but he fails to notice his wife has been dead for two hours.

Poem
Sir Walter Scott. Native Land.  This is an unsympathetic poem in language to us in the 21st century, but I get the overall thesis of the poem, that we all belong somewhere and going home to that place is the best feeling there is. It's hard to get the full effect of it though, since the language and sentiments have changed so much.


Essay
David Hume. The Platonist. Hume muses on the fact that we're all the same but differ so widely, and we also differ from ourselves from one time to another. He thinks our purpose in life is to contemplate God but we constantly get distracted, and basically worship ourselves instead of the Big Invisible Sky Daddy (BISD)  (not his name for it!). According to Hume, we are vile and contemptible, which I think is pretty idiotic, but I do agree with him on one thing he says, and that is that the works of art made by people are imitations of the beauty of the works of nature. He concludes that therefore there must be a BISD and anybody who doesn't feel 'the warmest raptures of worship' is stupid.

Writing
I have written a short story this week. Preparing tonight for the writers group tomorrow. I  will read my latest story plus I have some other things in hand, but that I probably won't read.

12 - Saki/Lovelace/Hume

Short Story
Saki: The Unkindest Blow. A story about a zoo-keepers' strike, and what happens to the animals in such a situation. And then it waffles on and I lost sight of what the hell the story was about. Maybe it's my mood at the moment (too much to do, too little time), but I'll reserve judgement, and just say that I'm going off Saki a bit with this one.

Poem
Richard Lovelace, To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars.  T'his poem is about men and wars, and how 'I could not love thee, dear, so much/ Loved I not honour more.'  Well, as a woman, I don't understand this love affair men have with wars, and why they get their rocks off on killing other people in strange lands. So this one left me cold. It scans well and all that and the rhythm is good, but it's an alien poem to me about alien ideas of men who think it's their role in life to go off to war with people they have no quarrel with, Hmm. Maybe after all, I'm in the 21st century and they were not. But then there seems to be an awful lot of people who are not in the 21st century now either.

Essay
David Hume. Of the Delicacy of Taste and Passion. The thrust of this essay is that a delicacy of taste is far superior to a delicacy of passion, and in fact the former is to be cultured and the latter to be suppressed.

Writing
I didn't mention it on the blog, but I did write a short story the other day, and I did some editing of it today and printed out the revised version. I've also been working on another short story.

Monday, 22 July 2013

11 - Saki/Suckling/Hume

I've been keeping tabs of all this, but I'm trying to cut the time I spend on the Internet, so have delayed posting on it. I also try to have at least one day of the week that is completely free of computers/Internet and technology. I may go to one posting a week or something. This is a work in progress!

Short story
Saki (1870-1916). A Holiday Task. This is from a book of short stories by Saki (H.H.Munro) I've had on my bookshelf for years. I've dipped into them from time to time, and have always loved his powers of observation. One of the things I like about Saki is his ability to make up names. Where on earth did the name Kenelm Jerton come from? Or Lady Knewford? Or Lady Braddleshrub? Who is the Fair Unknown? This story did nothing for me really, which might be because of my mood or because of my current busyness, but it just seemed pointless.

Poem
Sir John Suckling. Why So Pale and Wan.  I think this is a poem about a woman who wants people to love her but who can't love herself.

Essay
David Hume. Of the Middle Station of Life.  (From David Hume, Selected Essays, Oxford World's Classics.) The essay never really defines 'the middle station of life', but I suppose it's what we would call middle age - but what is that? 40-60? 45-65? 50-65? Dunno. The goalposts keep moving. But Hume says the middle station of life is one of strengthening friendships, and of wisdom and virtue. It is also more favourable to happiness. I guess that's where I'm at right now too.

I should say here while I'm at it that this project is to study a short story, a poem and an essay every day for 1000 days, but I don't for a minute expect that I'll be able to do 1000 days consecutively. Life has a way of intervening in plans like that. That's fine. It may be 1000 days spread over 1050 days for all I know. It really doesn't matter.


10 - Saki/Henley/Hume

A very busy day, and the last few days have been hectic. I managed to do some reading but am behind in posting.

Poem
Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. His soul is unconquerable, he's unbowed and unafraid, he's the master of his fate and captain of his soul. In Australia we have a phrase for this, and that is he's totally 'up himself'. Only a man could write this, and sorry to be so sexist, but I think it's true that women harbour so much internalised oppression that most would find it difficult to attach such positive images to ourselves. Henley has no problems of that nature. He's the captain of his soul and unconquerable, and good for him.

Short Story
Saki (1870-1916). The Romancers.  I read Saki's stories years ago, and so I'm revisiting them. I was so impressed by one of them that I turned it into a short film, back in the days when Super 8 was the thing. Actually, I think Super 8 is still the thing - it's much better than crappy digital video. This little story is about a meeting in London with a person who claims he's from Afghanistan. It's weird, and I'm not sure I know what it means, but it's a good vignette and character sketch.

Essay
David Hume (1711-1776). Of Essay Writing. I found a book of Hume's essays in the library and so decided to check it out. This essay is about the 'elegant part of mankind, who are not immersed in mere animal life.' It's an interesting essay, with a digression on what would later be called feminism.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

9 - O'Connor/Carroll/Swift

Short story
Frank O’Connor (1903-66), Guests of the Nation. Okay, this is the first one that has made me cry. It’s about two Englishmen in Ireland, and I assume it’s during WWII. They’re captives, and they make friends with their captors, but when four Irish prisoners are shot by the English, there’s a call for a reprisal. God, I hate wars! And I also hate this sense of duty that people have, that lets them do just about anything they like, and as long as they can say they’re just doing their duty, they convince themselves it’s just fine to act like barbarians.

Poem
So, to something much lighter. Lewis Carroll, Father William from Alice in Wonderland. This is one of the most delightful poems ever written, and I just love it. 1st stanza:
‘You are old, Father William,’ the young man said,
‘And your hair has become very white;
And yet you incessantly stand on your head

Do you think, at your age, it is right?’
Yep. It’s right. If you can do it, do it.

Essay
Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) Hints Towards an Essay on Conversation. There’s a lot I recognise here, and nothing much has changed really. There is still the person who hogs the conversation, still the one who says so little it kills the conversation, still the foul-mouthed, still those who talk only of themselves as if they believe they are the centre of the universe, and still the jokers who turn all talk into jests that kill all meaningful conversation. I could see references in this 300-year-old-essay to Facebook!! A very well written essay that obviously captures our humanity, which is not limited to any particular place or time.

Writing

I’ve had a commission to write non-fiction articles today and tomorrow, and I’ve also had a couple of editing jobs come in, so no fiction done today. One of the real drawbacks of writing for a living is that it kills the desire to write any more after work. I should get up earlier and write fiction first. Or maybe find a way of making a living outside of writing or editing, so I keep fresh for fiction/poetry etc., and don’t have the feeling that the last thing I want to do is turn on a computer. (I guess this is why I do most of my first drafts on paper, writing with a fountain pen.)

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

8 - McLaverty/Whitman/Jonson

Short story
Michael McLaverty (1904-1992) The Poteen Maker, from the Irish book.
This is a lovely short story from the perspective of a man looking back on his boyhood in a tiny two-roomed school, and on his teacher, Mr Craig, who was poor but inventive. It doesn’t look back through rose-petal glasses, but a great deal is left to the reader to work out, but all the clues you need are there. It’s one of those stories you could read a dozen times or more, and you’d still be finding something new in it.
A new word: flivell, as in ‘flivell the pages of a book’. Another: ploofed, as in ‘the snow ploofed against the window.’
Poteen maker, means a brewer of very strong alcohol. I had to google this before I fully understood the story. Had a good chuckle.

Poem
Walt Whitman, I Hear America Singing, written in 1891, A very different poem to those I’ve been reading, as it has no rhyme. It does feature repetition and there is a strong rhythm, although it isn’t regular. Women are practically an afterthought, with only one line, and it’s probably extraordinary for the time that Whitman even acknowledged their existence. There are some great images, of the men at their various trades. Singing? This must be a metaphor for something. The buzz of industry perhaps? Each one is a cog in the industry that is America, and each has his or her own niche, and makes a unique contribution. I like Whitman.
I remember once introducing a modern poet to the poems of Walt Whitman, of whom he had never heard, and his comment was: ‘oh, he’s a long line poet.’ That was it.

Essay
Ben Jonson (1573-1635), On Bacon, Dominus Verulamius, from the Harvard Classics. Jonson paints a picture of Francis Bacon that makes me want to build a time machine so I could hear him speak. He must have been an extraordinarily charismatic man. It’s interesting in light of what I said a couple of days ago, that Jonson, speaking around 400 years ago, says this:
‘Now things daily fall, wits grow downward, and eloquence grows backward...’ Having done a few Shakespeare plays and studied several more, I’m not sure it’s just an older person having a jaundiced view of the next generationthe language in the Renaissance was richer, and the vocabulary was larger, and their knowledge of history and mythology was far and above the present knowledge. We’ve been dumbed down for at least the last 400 years!
Writing
Nothing fictional today. I had a big editing job, a small editing job, and a gig to write some non-fiction articles. After all that I’m too bushed to write anything worth the ink or paper. (I write my first drafts longhand with a fountain pen, real ink, and real paper, with no help (or slow-computer hindrance) from Bill Gates or his contemporaries.)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

7 - Lavin/Hood/Addison

Short story
A Wet Day (1944) by Mary Lavin (1912-??) from the Classic Irish Short Stories book. This is a great story with lots of symbolism and metaphor (Ray Bradbury would have approved). There’s a woman and her aunt and their rainy kitchen garden and lettuce, whichlike usis fragile and can’t be preserved, and then there’s the priest, Father Gogarty, who comes for free vegetables and tells stories about having no decent food, and a farmer who is engaged to the priest’s niece visiting him. The visitor is sick, and Gogarty sees to it that he goes and doesn’t stay with him, which would be an inconvenience. So the niece takes him home and he dies. It’s interesting that the words of the priest are swamped by the sub-text shining through them. You could read this story a dozen times or more and still be seeing more symbolism, more metaphors, and more sub-text. I liked it.

Poem
I Remember, I Remember, by Thomas Hood. A sad poem in which the poet remembers the joys of his childhood from an adulthood that obviously has its challenges, since he says:
But now, I often wish the night Had borne my breath away.

His spirit is heavy and he feels farther away from heaven than when he was a boy. The poem has perfect rhyme, but it isn’t a sing-song rhythm and feels natural. The images are beautiful. I don’t know a thing about Hood, but will look him up and find out more.

Essay
Joseph Addison (1672-1719), Westminster Abbey (again from the Harvard Classics I have on my bookshelf). Published in 1711 in ‘The Spectator’. By coincidence, this is also a sad tale. The author often goes into Westminster Abbey and there contemplates the many people buried there, and how the things that concern us in life matter not a jot, as we all end up in the same ground crumbling into dust. A good essay, and unlike yesterday’s, this was easy to read, clear and concise. It brought back memories of my many memories of visits to the Abbey too. I wonder if Addison himself is buried there. (Another googling task!)

Writing
Wrote a poem, sorta-kinda based on the Mary Lavin story, or bits of it. It turned out to be pretty pathetic, but it was a poem, and is the basis of something I can work on later.

First week report:

I wrote a new short story this week and did a couple of edits on it. I’ll read it at our next writers’ group meeting and then decide what, if anything, I will do with it. I also edited some older stories, wrote a poem, read other stuff, did some editing work and writing work, and thought about writing a lot more. A successful first week.

Monday, 15 July 2013

6 - Somerville & Ross/Byron/Cowley

Poem
I chose Farewell, by George Gordon, Lord Byron. It's a poem about lost love and guilt.
Oh! more than tears of blood can tell
When wrung from guilt's expiring eye,
Are in that word - Farewell! Farewell!
The language seems stuffy and distant to me, and it sounded 18th century, but I just checked and it was early 19th century.

Short Story
E. OE. Somerville (1858-1949) and Martin Ross (1862-1915), Lisheen Races, Second-hand. I didn't like this one at all. The dialect was just about indecipherable in places and it was a story of casual cruelty to horses, and drunken men, neither of which are my favourite topics. They didn't get to the races at all but there was one point at which I couldn't fathom what was happening. Some humour, but most of it was lost on me and I was glad when I got to the end of it.

Essay
Abraham Cowley (1618-67) Of Agriculture. I beg to differ with the commentary, which said Cowley has a 'clear and easy English prose style'. Hmm, I wonder what the comment-writer had been reading. I found it far from clear and easy, with its endless Latin quotes and allusions to Greek writers. The overall impression I had was that he was very learned, but didn't have all that much to say. All I gleaned from it was that farming (husbandry) is an art, poetry can only come out of natural surroundings, there ought to be apprentice farmers as there are apprentices in other trades, and that country life is the ideal. Okay, so I suppose he did have a bit to say!

I wonder why we are so poorly educated these days. Sure, more of us get some education, but few get the kind of education Cowley obviously had. I have two degrees and some post-grad, and I found him hard to follow. Why don't we get taught Latin and Greek any more? They're the building blocks of our language!

Rant over.

Writing
Not much today, but did lots of editing.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

5 - Strong/Herrick/Steele


Short story
Prongs, by L.A.G. Strong (1896-1958). A story of Johnny (8) and Danny (12), and their troubled relationships with each other and their drunken father. Prongs are the name Johnny has for the prawns he catches. They fight and argue, but the ending shows great tenderness between the boys, who really only have each other.

Poem
To the Virgins to Make Much of Time, by Robert Herrick (1591-1678) from my Treasury of the World’s Best Loved Poems. Written in 1648. This is a lyrical poem with perfect metre (I think so anyway), advising the young to ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may/ Old Time is still a-flying...’ and live life to the full while they still have their youth. It’s a reminder that time is fleeting and ‘this same flower that smiles today/tomorrow will be dying’. I think Herrick was a priest and never married, and the poem suggests people should marry while they can, suggesting he regrets this omission in his life. I’m going to memorise this one.

Essay
The Spectator Club by Sir Richard Steele (1672-1729). A description of the gentlemen at the Spectator Club, all of whom are wealthy and ‘well-bred’. Sir Roger de Coverley is first and seems like a nice chap since he calls the servants by their names and chats to them on his way ‘upstairs’. Sir Roger is my favourite, and I would like to have met him. Like several others, he’s a bachelor, and he was rejected some years ago and reacted by refusing to follow fashions, and wears the same clothes year after year. The others are similar in being upper class well-to-do and educated men. Will Honeycomb is a womaniser who ‘where women are not concerned, he is an honest worthy man.’ He is my least favourite.

Writing

Edited the story I wrote on day 1. Not much time for anything else, but may write more later – big music day today.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

4 - Cross/Blake/Swift

Short story
The Jury Case by Eric Cross (1905-??) in Classic Irish Short Stories. Narrated in first person and very Irish and funny, this is the story of a jury of 12 ‘ignorant menas ignorant as any twelve men you would find in this parish’. They convene in the local pub to act as a jury to decide if a man who has been found dead died from misadventure or something else. The jury members have wonderful nicknames like Dan Bedam (who says bedam in every sentence), Cork Echo, Ball o’ Wax, and the Sheep. It doesn’t really go anywhere and reads like a long joke rather than a short story. I didn’t think it was resolved well because nothing really happened. A fun read though.

Poem
Read two today, both from William Blake’s Songs of Innocence: The Lamb and The Shepherd. The Lamb is a famous poem that starts off:
Little Lamb, who made thee?
Dost thou know who made thee?

This is told by a child narrator. The repetition works really well, I think. The Shepherd follows on with the religious theme of the Lamb as Jesus, and the Shepherd tending sheep. These are both happy poems, and very fitting inclusions in the Songs of Innocence. These would be terrific poems to use to introduce children to poetry, which I think was the original intention of them.

Essay
A Treatise on Good Manners and Good Breeding, by Jonathan Swift (1667-1745). This is a witty essay, and says a lot about the class system in Britain and its three levels: your superiors, your equals, and those beneath you. ‘...good sense is the principle foundation of good manners; but because the former is a gift which very few among mankind are possessed of, therefore all the civilised nations of the world have agreed upon fixing some rules for common behaviour...’
He also thinks duels are a great thing because he can see no reason why ‘bullies, sharpers, and rakes’ shouldn’t be allowed to rid the world of each other by methods of their own choosing. Maybe we should bring back duels!

Writing

A busy work day today so not much done, but did a bit on the ebook of short stories I’m putting together.

Friday, 12 July 2013

3 - O'Flaherty/Blake/Defoe

Short story
Three Lambs, by Liam O’Flaherty. I liked the way he tells us Michael is 12 through actionhe tears his jumper climbing over a fence, but that’s okay because he’ll get a new one on his 13th birthday. This is an absolutely delightful story about a young boy going out to watch a black sheep lambing. It’s delightful because of the boy’s language, his aim to be given pancakes as a reward for seeing the lambs born, and because he calmly and gently helps the sheep when she struggles, and knows what to do.
Why is the sheep black? Is she a metaphor for black people, or for people who are discriminated against and looked down on?

Poem
William Blake, The Ecchoing Green from Songs of Innocence. Another happy poem with the sun making the skies happy and merry bells welcoming the spring, and children playing until at the end of the day they’re too weary. This doesn’t seem to scan as well as the Introduction, and the rhythm is a bit uneven. The notes say Blake’s spelling is ‘idiosyncratic’. Well, maybe that’s being kind and maybe he couldn’t spell and couldn’t afford a dictionary!

Essay
Daniel Defoe (1661-1731), The Education of Women (from the Harvard Classics book). Basically, Defoe laments that women of his time are rarely educated, and he thinks all women would benefit from education, that men would also benefit from the same, and he looks forward to the time when it will happen. A feminist? I think so, even though he says women should be educated just so they will be more fit to be companions of men. Hey! This was written around 300 years ago, and that makes him far ahead of his time. Here is a quote: ‘If knowledge and understanding had been useless additions to the sex, GOD Almighty would never have given them capacities; for he made nothing needless.’ And this gem (pardon the pun): ‘The soul is placed in the body like a rough diamond; and must be polished, or the lustre of it will never appear.’
I wish those who still haven’t caught up, like the Taliban and the leaders of countries like Saudi Arabia, would read this 300-year-old essay and realise how backward they really are. He’s just given me more impetus to keep on with Ray Bradbury’s challenge.

Writing

I’ve typed up and edited the story I wrote on day 1. It’s a comical ghost story (yes that is a pun!)

Thursday, 11 July 2013

2 - O'Flaherty/Blake/Hunt

(This blogger platform insists on saying I'm living on California time! I'm going to schedule the posts from now so they appear on the date I'm saying I'm posting.)

Short story
Liam O’Flaherty (1897-1984) The Fairy Goose, published in Classic Irish Short Stories. This is a wonderful story about a goose hatched by a chook. It’s a strange goose that doesn’t grow into a real goose, and which becomes the centre of superstition among the villagers, who first think it’s enchanted and later, on the visit of an enraged priest, think it’s a devil. It’s interesting how the woman and the villagers change during the story, and how the goose becomes an agent for peace and is later, on its death, an agent for disharmony. Interesting story.

Poem
William Blake’s Introduction to the Songs of Innocence (1789-94). The famous poem that begins:
Piping down the valleys wild
Piping songs of pleasant glee
On a cloud I saw a child,
And he laughing said to me:
I should have started with this one yesterday instead of just picking one at random. It introduces Blake’s poetry book for children. I also skimmed through the introduction to the book (the Penguin William Blake: Selected Poetry, published in 1988, and which I’ve only ever ‘dipped’ into before). Anyway the introduction is a happy poem reminiscent of the pied piper and telling how the piper was asked to tell the stories for the children.
I love rhyming poetry that has lyricism, imagery and that is actually poetic. I agree with Ray that most of today’s poetry is crap.
BTW I’m not usually going to have time (and will rarely have any inclination) to do a scholarly essay on what I’m reading, and that isn’t the point of the exercise. The point, as Ray Bradbury said, is to fill my head with lots of ‘stuff’ and not to pontificate about the stuff I’m filling my head with, and this blog is intended to document it and help to keep me on track, as well as act as a reference source for later, when I think: ‘what was that story about that goose again?’ I will be able to look it up here.

Essay
This is from the Harvard Classics English Essays, which I’ve had on my bookshelf for years and ‘dipped into’. Leigh Hunt (1784-1859) Deaths of Little Children. I can’t remember having read this essay before, or for that matter having heard of Hunt. His use of the royal ‘we’ is quaint, but he is at heart an optimist, even seeing good in the deaths of little children, which was of course commonplace in the early 19th century and before. Most people would have lost at least one child. He says that those who have lost a child always have an immortal child who is always young and innocent, and earlier on reminds us that the pain of grief never lasts for ever and eventually what one is left with is the happy memories of the people who have died. One sentence struck me (as someone living in a world where every child is expected to survive and the death of a child is rare): if no children ever died ‘it will easily be conceived what a world of endearing cares and hopes this security would endanger.’ (The security being that of knowing that all children are ‘a man or woman secured’.) He seems to be suggesting that people today, living in such a world, love their children less because they are much less likely to lose them and therefore take their continued existence for granted. Interesting thought.

Writing
Typed up a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago today. I usually write stories etc. out longhand and type them up later only if I think they’re worth the effort. I find the second draft is much stronger than it is if I type it in the first place because the temptation then is to just change a word here and there rather than actually re-write and create a real second draft. This is probably why so much writing seems like a first draft with a bit of editing. I intend to follow Ray’s advice and keep on reading the old stories, essays and poems for this 1000 nights.


Wednesday, 10 July 2013

1 - O'Farlain/Blake/Jonson

I read William Blake's poem 'The Blossom' from the Songs of Innocence. It's very short and quite weird with  the juxtaposition of the happy blossom and other happy images with a bird in a narrow cradle and the robin sobbing, and both close to the blossom's bosom.

The short story I read was 'The Trout' by Sean O'Farlain, published in 1947. This was a strange story about a girl who finds a trout in a dark, concealed well in a dark laurel tunnel. She's bothered by the fish and can't sleep and goes out to rescue it and take it to the river, after which she looks forward to the rivers of joy which are her holidays. I loved some of the writing, such as: 'she came to the cool ooze of the river's bank where the moon-mice on the water crept into her feet.' The river is a metaphor for freedom and happiness, and Julia grows from being scared to enter the tunnel in the day to being brave enough to go in alone at night to free the fish.

The essay I read was Ben Jonson's 'De Shakespeare Nostrat'. Ben Jonson lived from 1573 to 1635, and so was a contemporary of Shakespeare (1564 to 1616). Jonson pokes fun at Shakespeare saying his company boast he never blotted out a line, but 'would that he had blotted a thousand'. He says there is more in him to be praised than pardoned, and Shakespeare appears to have been funny and full of wit. There's no hint of Jonson thinking Shakespeare wasn't the author of the plays.

I picked those at random from books I already have, and since it was late when I started, I picked short ones.

This morning I wrote a short story.

The journey begins

I watched this Ray Bradbury video again today, and decided to follow Ray's advice and study an essay, a short story, and a poem every night for a thousand nights, with the aim of filling my brain full of 'stuff' to help me progress as a writer.

As an added impetus to actually doing this, I've decided to blog about it here and dedicate this blog to Ray. I may not write a blog post every day, but I will endeavour to read a short story, a poem and an essay every day/night for a thousand nights and post about what I'm reading.


Here's the Ray Bradbury video:


I've loved Ray Bradbury for a long time, and I've always loved to hear him speak on videos like this, and find him inspirational.