Saturday, February 02, 2008

Chekhov: Uncle Vanya

Sonia: Well, what can we do? We must go on living!

We shall go on living, Uncle Vanya. We shall live through a long, long succession of days and tedious evenings. We shall patiently suffer the trials that fate imposes on us; we shall work for others, now and in our old age, and we shall have no rest. When our time comes, we shall die submissively, and over there, beyond the grave, we shall say that we've suffered, that we've wept, that we've had a bitter life, and God shall take pity on us. And then, Uncle dear, we shall both begin to know a life that is bright and beautiful, and lovely. We shall rejoice and look back at these troubles of ours with tender feelings, with a smile-- and we shall have rest. I believe it, Uncle, I believe it fervently, passionately..........We shall have rest!

We shall rest! We shall hear the angels, we shall see all the heavens covered with stars like diamonds, we shall see all earthly evil, our sufferings swept away by the grace which will fill the whole world, and our life will become peaceful, gentle, and sweet as a caress. I believe it, I believe it.....

Poor, poor Uncle Vanya, you're crying. ...You've had no joy in your life, but wait, Uncle Vanya, wait....We shall rest....We shall rest!

We shall rest!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Mother, any distance

Mother, any distance greater than a single span
requires a second pair of hands.
You come to help me measure windows, pelmets, doors,
the acres of the walls, the prairies of the floors.

You at the zero-end, me with the spool of tape, recording
length, reporting metres, centimetres back to base, then leaving
up the stairs, the line still feeding out, unreeling
years between us. Anchor. Kite.

I space-walk through the empty bedrooms, climb
the ladder to the loft, to breaking point, where something
has to give;
two floors below your fingertips still pinch
the last one-hundredth of an inch...I reach
towards a hatch that opens on an endless sky
to fall or fly.

Simon Armitage

Friday, December 01, 2006


This is what he wrote:

'DEAR FATHER, -- I dare say you will think it queer me writing you a letter like this, but it is the best thing I can do, and I hope you will excuse me. I dare say you will remember I told you that night when you came home late from Manchester here in the attic that I wanted to be an architect. You replied that what I wanted was business experience. If you say that I have not enough business experience yet, I agree to that, but I want it to be understood that later on, when it is the proper time, I am to be an architect. You know I am very fond of architecture, and I feel that I must be an architect. I feel I shall not be happy in the printing business because I want to be an architect. I am now nearly seventeen. Perhaps it is too soon yet for me to be apprenticed to an architect, and so I can go on learning business habits. But I just want it to be understood. I am quite sure you wish me to be happy in life, and I shan't be happy if I am always regretting that I have not gone in for being an architect. I know I shall like architecture. -- Your affectionate son,


'Well, what?' he growled savagely, as Edwin halted.
In spite of his advanced age, Edwin began to cry. Yes, the tears came out of his eyes.
'And now you begin blubbing!' said his father.
'And what's made ye setting on architecting, I'd like to be knowing?' Darius went on.
Edwin was not able to answer this question. He had never put it to himself. Assuredly he could not, at the pistol's point, explain why he wanted to be an architect. He did not know. He announced this truth ingenuously --
'I don't know -- I --'
'I sh'd think not! said his father. 'D'ye think architecting'll be any better than this?' 'This' meant printing.
'I don't know --'
'Ye don't know! Ye don't know! Darius replied testily. His testiness was only like foam on the great wave of his resentment.


It's all very well', observed Charlie reflectively, fingering one or two of the other volumes -- it's all very well, and Victor Hugo is Victor Hugo; but you can say what you like-- there's a lot of this that'll bear skipping, your worships.'
'Not a line!' said a passionate, vibrating voice.
The voice so startled and thrilled Edwin that he almost jumped, as he looked round. To Edwin it was dramatic; it was even dangerous and threatening. He had never heard a quiet voice so charged with intense emotion. Hilda Lessways had come back into the room, and she stood near the door, her face gleaming in the dusk. She stood like an Amazonian defender of the aged poet. Edwin asked himself, 'Can anyone be so excited as that about a book?' The eyes, lips and nostrils were a revelation to him. He could feel his heart beating. But the girl strongly repelled him. Nobody else appeared to be conscious that any thing singular had occurred.
Arnold Bennett

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Long wont to roam

Helen, thy beauty is to me

Like those Nicean barks of yore

That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,

The weary, way-worn wanderer bore

To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,

Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face

Thy Niad airs have brought me home

To the glory that was Greece,

And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo, in yon brilliant window-niche

How statue-like I see thee stand,

The agate lamp within thy hand!

Ah! Psyche, from the regions which

Are Holy Land!

'To Helen' by Edgar Allen Poe

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Far off and exceeding deep

Shall I be believed? I do not know. And it matters little, after all. What I now affirm is, that I have a right to speak of those seas, under which, in less than ten months, I have crossed 20,000 leagues in that submarine tour of the world, which has revealed so many wonders in the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the arctic and antarctic seas.

But what has become of the Nautilus? Did it resist the pressure of the maelstrom? Does Captain Nemo still live? And does he still follow under the ocean those frightful retaliations? Or did he stop after that last hecatomb?

Will the waves one day carry to him this manuscript containing the history of his life? Shall I ever know the name of this man? Will the missing vessel tell us by its nationality that of Captain Nemo?

I hope so. And I also hope that his powerful vessel has conquered the sea at its most terrible gulf, and that the Nautilus has survived where so many other vessels have been lost. If it be so -- if Captain Nemo still inhabits the ocean, his adopted country, may hatred be appeased in that savage heart! May the contemplation of so many wonders extinguish for ever the spirit of vengeance. May the judge disappear, and the philosopher continue the peaceful exploration of the sea. If his destiny be strange, it is also sublime. Have I not understood it myself? Have I not lived ten months of this unnatural life? And to the question asked by Ecclesiastes 6000 years ago, "That which is far off and exceeding deep, who can find it out?" two men alone of all now living have the right to give an answer --- Captain Nemo and myself.

From Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea

by Jules Verne

Friday, October 06, 2006

Prayer before birth

I am not yet born; O hear me.
Let not the bloodsucking bat or the rat or the stoat or the club-footed ghoul come near me.

I am not yet born; console me
I fear that the human race may with tall walls wall me, with strong drugs dope me, with wise lies lure me, on black racks rack me, in blood-baths roll me.

I am not yet born; provide me
With water to dandle me, grass to grow for me, trees to talk to me, sky to sing to me, birds and a white light at the back of my mind to guide me.

I am not yet born; forgive me
For the sins that in me the world shall commit, my words when they speak me, my thoughts when they think me, my treason engendered by traitors beyond me, my life when they murder by means of my hands, my death when they live me.

I am not yet born; rehearse me
In the parts I must play and the cues I must take when old men lecture me, bureaucrats hector me, mountains frown at me, lovers laugh at me, the white waves call me to folly and the desert calls me to doom and the beggar refuses my gift and my children curse me.

I am not yet born; O hear me,
Let not the man who is beast or who thinks he is God come near me.

I am not yet born; O fill me
With strength against those who would freeze my humanity, would dragoon me into a lethal automaton, would make me a cog in a machine, a thing with one face, a thing, and against all, those who would dissipate my entirety, would blow me like thistledown hither and tither, or hither and tither like water held in the hands would spill me.

Let them not make me a stone and let them not spill me.
Otherwise kill me.

Louis MacNeice.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

An unfound door

....a stone, a leaf, an unfound door; of a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.

Naked and alone we came into exile. In her dark womb we did not know our mother's face; from the prison of her flesh have we come into the unspeakable and incommunicable prison of this earth.

Which of us has known his brother? Which of us has looked into his father's heart? Which of us has not remained forever prison-pent? Which of us is not forever a stranger and alone?

O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane-end into heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. Where? When?

O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.

From Look Homeward, Angel
by Thomas Wolfe.