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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Sixteen, in which the Poem of the Month is featured

Since we have been in a Wild West frame of mind recently, we thought to feature some cowboy poetry this month.

Wallace McRae is the self-styled Cowboy Curmudgeon. His poems cover the range of his experiences managing his family's 30,000-acre ranch in Montana. The National Endowment of the Arts granted him a National Heritage Award in 1990. Here, in his typical style of humor and earthiness, is one of his poems from the collection Cowboy Curmudgeon and Other Poems, published by Gibbs Smith.


I been mashin' them critters and brandin' them calves
Since the wagon pulled out, back in May.
But I rolled out my bed for the last time this year.
Work's done. Boys, it's time now to play.

I've done ate up my share of blue brandin' smoke
And of dust and them Dutch-oven beans.
I'll just test out my rump on a civilized chair
And my charm on some honky-tonk queens.

I'll shed off some hair, shuck these horse sweaty clothes,
Rediscover hot water and soap.
The cavvie's strung out. They know that we're goin'
To headquarters at a long lope.

Old camp cookie's flapjacks and biscuits I'll miss some;
But I won't miss his "Cowboys roll out!"
There's a clean wild rag in my war bag somewhere,
And a semi-clean shirt, no doubt.

Some smoky saloon may get half my pay.
There's sidewalks I hanker to stroll.
You'll know I've arrived when you see me show up
With my spurs--out at the town hole!

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Fifteen, in which is presented the third Review of the Slaves of Golconda

One evening, as Owen Wister would have us believe, he and Walter Furness, son of Shakespearean scholar Horace Howard Furness, were dining at the Philadelphia Club when talk turned to life in the West.

"Why isn't someone writing about the heroes of the sage-brush," Furness wondered. "Someone should write about life on the open range, before it disappears altogether."
"I'm going to try it myself!" Wister replied.

By midnight, Wister had written "Hank's Woman," his first cowboy story. Harper's soon bought it, and their request for more had Wister on the path to fame. This was the tall tale the author spun in his seventieth year. In truth, he had already begun writing a story of the west, titled "Chalkeye," which was never completed, and was published thus in 1984.

In a note "To the Reader" from 1902, Wister wrote that upon release of his novel, The Virginian: A Tale of Sundry Adventures, some newspapers called it a historical novel, which Wister took to mean a colonial romance. As his narrative "presents faithfully a day and a generation," it is historical. As it contains many elements later to be the staples of the western genre, such as the chase, the lynching, and the gunfight, it is the grandfather of all westerns. Yet to us, as it describes the courtship of a mysterious, and perhaps dangerous, man and a strong-willed independent woman, it also reads unmistakably as the grandmother of all contemporary romance. Though the tag of romance in the last century meant a pastoral tale more than a love affair fantasy, Wister apparently bristled at the appellation, and changed the subtitle to A Horseman of the Plains.

The novel Wister produced was truly a collection of sundry adventures witnessed and overheard during the years he spent in Wyoming. According to the University of Wyoming, as Wister gathered these stories, a composite character took form in his mind: a Southern born ranch-hand who represented the best qualities of the cowboys Wister saw, as well as the values Wister himself espoused. This character came to be known as The Virginian. Once this character had taken definite shape, and he had accumulated enough material, Wister wove his stories with the unifying thread of a love affair to create his novel. The following passage could be dropped right into the center of a Gena Showalter novel today and no one would notice:
        Molly Wood was regarding him saucily. "I don't think I like you," she said.
        "That's all square enough. You're goin' to love me before we get through. I wish yu'd come a-ridin', ma'am."
        "Dear, dear, dear! So I'm going to love you? How will you do it? I know men think that they only need to sit and look strong and make chests at a girl--"
In the end, of course, Miss Wood
knew her cow-boy lover, with all that he lacked, to be more than ever she could be, with all that she had. He was her worshipper still, but her master, too. Therefore now, against the baffling smile he gave her, she felt powerless.
There is an unevenness to the style which we think is evidence of the way the material was brought together. Some chapters are written in the first person; others are omniscient; still others are in the third person, and sometimes jump from the thoughts of one character to another. The character of Lin McLean comes from Wister's first novel, the sad and terrible drama that has been chronicled elsewhere. There is often coincidental and convenient meetings of characters which strike us as implausible, considering the grand scale and variety of setting in which the scenes occur, larger than the western range itself. The literary map of the novel shown here, from the Library of Congress, provides a good visual understanding of the scope of the novel's setting.

Wister also included some passing social commentary. In his description of Miss Wood, he writes that others spoke poorly of her, because her behavior did not always match their prejudices. In the guise of the narrator, Wister writes, There always have been such people, I suppose, because the world must always have a rubbish heap. Lying is characterised as a worse evil than war. The most powerful passage, and the most difficult for many a modern reader to accept, is Judge Henry's thoughts concerning
certain junctures , crises, when life, like a highwayman, springs upon him, demanding that he stand and deliver his convictions in the name of some righteous cause, bidding him do evil that good may come.
He is working out the way to explain to Miss Wood the actions of the Virginian, who lynched three men for rustling cattle. The Judge makes the following supposition:
I went over to my neighbor's field on Tuesday, after the sign-post [stating that trespassers would be prosecuted by law] was put up, because I saw a murder about to be committed in the field, and therefore ran in and stopped it. Was I doing evil that good might come? Do you not think that to stay out and let the murder be done would have been the evil act in this case? To disobey the sign-post was right; and I trust that you now perceive the same act may wear as many different hues of right or wrong as the rainbow, according to the atmosphere in which it is done.
A more recent and timely example would be the actions of the passengers aboard United flight 93. These people intended to kill certain men, and crash an airplane into the ground, that they may save countless others from death. It was the right and true thing to do. They did not try to negotiate with the men, or make promises of leniency or clemency. They recognised the men were terrorists, and so being they had already foresaken their own lives, making the choice to no longer expect to be treated with civility and humanity by others. As the Judge observes, when ordinary citizens take justice into their own hands, "far from being a defiance of the law, it is an assertion of it--the fundamental assertion of self-governing men, upon whom our whole social fabric is based."

Life in cattle country required rugged individualism and personal responsibility. Though the Virginian carries a gun, and uses it when forced to, he is generally not respected because of it. This is the key difference between an outlaw and a hero: deference to the outlaw is paid solely because of his gun. The Virginian is a born leader, one who can command obedience with a look, as when he confronts Trampas over remarks slanderous to Miss Wood: The eye of a man is the prince of deadly weapons. Of course, the Virginian can also use his gun with deadly accuracy, as in the final showdown with the protagonist, Trampas, when his actions happen abruptly, quickly, and completely devoid of thought or effort--he is all instinct and reaction. But Colin A. Clarke of George Washington University believes the Virginian was not a wholly original character: as a man skilled in frontier ways, who lives by a strict personal code, the Virginian seems fairly descended from James Fenimore Cooper's hero of the Leatherstocking novels, Natty Bumppo.

The popularity of the The Virginian spread, according to Struthers Burt in his Introduction to the Heritage Press edition, with "prairie-fire-like rapidity." The veracity of dialogue, the detailed and honest descriptions of the land, and the thorough accounts of such things as Em'ly the chicken, the winning of the bed, and the trail to Sunk Creek Canon bring the reader right into the story. Burt calls this a daring novel for its time, though when premature obituaries were written for Wister, he was called a "first-rate second-rate writer." Some of the best flavor for the ways of life for the horsemen of the plains is conveyed when the Virginian stops at an "eating palace" for breakfast. The cook is given the following orders: "Brown the wheat!" for pancakes; "White wings! Let 'em fly up and down" for fried eggs cooked both sides; "Draw one in the dark!" for coffee with no milk; "One slaughter in the pan, and let the blood drip!" for a beefsteak rare; "One Missourri and ice" for a glass of water.

Stefanie recently posed some interesting questions, which we will try to address here.

1. There is no doubt that the western has lost some of its appeal. It no longer seems as relevant, no longer seems to move large audiences on some mythic level as it once did. Why? Have the times changed so that the western story is no longer ours? Are there other genres whose themes more accurately capture our world today?

As a boy, I remember sitting up late at night watching old black and white western movies on television. What struck me years later was the much slower pace of those movies. Though there was action, especially in the chase and gunfight, there were no quick cuts or pulsating music to heighten the effects--one simply heard horses' hooves interspersed with guns firing for stretches of five minutes, an eternity in today's films. That same pace can probably be felt in the novels as well. But the real difference in the story seems to be the strict code, the firm values that mark the hero of the western. Today few people live with such a personal code, acting often as if anything goes, and applying theories of relativism to every troublesome situation. Too often it seems as if the only thing folks believe the embezelling CEO did wrong was get caught, because who wouldn't do what he did? The only clear-cut bad guy now is a confirmed Islamic terrorist, and there is debate whether even he should forfeit his life?

2. The Virginian and other westerns are sometimes read as repudiations of the cult of domesticity that dominated American culture in the nineteenth century, and therefore as an assertion of regenerate masculinity over women and femininity. Does The Virginian read that way to you?

Life on the frontier was not like life in the cities. Ranches operated in manner reminiscent of feudalism, and each person had a specific role to play in survival. There was no time for women to be independent or self-assertive. If they did not maintain the house, and cook the food, and bear the children, everyone would suffer the consequences. The Virginian and other westerns reflect that fact.

3. Like Mario Puzo's mafiosi, Wister's Virginian has an archaic sense of honor. Does Wister give us any hint of where that sense comes from? Does the cowboy life itself promote this?

We don't seem to be told where this sense of honor comes from. Perhaps in choosing Virginia, Wister was suggesting a connection to the Founding Fathers, who were believed to have the highest of principles. Perhaps this was simply a way for Wister to glorify his own values. The cowboy life seemed to promote honor no more than it promoted dishonor, thievery, and generally obnoxious conduct.

4. If you were there at the wedding of the Virginian and Molly, would you have predicted a happy marriage? Are they truly suited to each other? What problems would you have foreseen?

The showdown reminded us of the final scene in High Noon, when the woman is leaving, and the gunfighter must face down his challenge in the street. Do the differences in the values and priorities of Miss Wood and the Virginian mean the two are not really suited to a life together? The final chapter of the novel seems designed to answer that very question. To us, though a descriptive and evocative piece of writing, the chapter is but an epilogue which adds almost nothing and wholly detracts from the last two paragraphs of the penultimate chapter. The proof and guarantee of their happiness, we believe, is the most beautiful way they are married; in the words of the Virginian:
"No folks to stare, no fuss, no jokes and ribbons and best bonnets, no public eye nor talkin' of tongues when most yu' want to hear nothing and say nothing. Just the bishop of Wyoming to join us, and not even him after we're once joined."
There is no pressure or expectation; no fantasy; no distraction of alcohol or gifts or dancing; there is a man and a woman requiring only one another to be happy. To that, we raise our glass, and say, "Here's how!"

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Fourteen, in which a Bibliatholon is run

Who wouldn't be worn out after five book sales and three book stores in twenty-four hours?

The event began on a beautiful spring evening at the county fairgrounds. Members formed a line to the right; non-members formed a line to the left. As soon as the doors opened, the non-members handed over their entrance fee and moved quickly inside. The members inched forward as two old ladies flipped through several pages in an attempt to look up the names of each person before letting them inside. I hope the organizers rethink that backwards process before next time.

There was lots of room inside, with tables spread wide, and none of them crammed full, all of which made browsing easy. We went first to the old books, then through the fiction, then the "better" books, then art, then history, then the rest. One of our specific needs was for Civil War books, and we found several. We walked out with numerous full bags, nothing that seemed spectacular, but some that were very good. (And nothing is more rewarding than pricing those books and putting them in the "New Arrivals" section of the bookshop and having them sell right away.)

The next morning we hit the road, traveling ninety minutes to a relatively small sale. They had a preview night, so much of the best had already been shopped. A few items ended up in our bag.

Back on the road, we traveled another hour to a university town. Our directions led us nowhere, and without a detailed street-level map, we gave up the search for the sale in favor of a search for a bookstore. Here we found the shop of a book-fancier who had visited our own humble shop last year. Calm and soft-spoken, he remembered his visit, and was pleased to see us. He explained his pricing scheme: each book is dated, and after a year the price is reduced by half. The square-footage of his shop was approximately the same as ours, though his shelves were not as full as ours, perhaps thanks to his pricing methods, which probably helped move older books out. A steady stream of students must help as well. The great majority of books were reasonably priced, and we found a couple Civil War books, as well as a few books relating to our favorite explorer Ernest Shackleton. The book-fancier then gave us directions to a store he said we had to see, and off we went with our thanks and well-wishes.

One-way streets do not make finding a store without a map very easy. After a few circular minutes we figured out where we needed to be. Once again we would have to circle around and come back. Luck would have it that we turned on the same road where the book sale was, the road we had been unable to find with our directions earlier. Sometimes Saint Duckett smiles upon you. So we parked and into a grand library we went in search of more books. Here also were the Usual ScanMonsters, the regular dealers and grabbers and shovers that we encounter at so many events. This sale offered much quality, and the prices were appropriately higher than at other sales. We filled two bags, mostly with Civil War books, and set off to find the recommended bookstore.

An alley does not sound like the ideal location for a bookstore. This alley, however, is right in the downtown business district, and has large signs at the end pointing the way. This bookstore is truly a destination in itself. Enter the door where a kindly old man sits on the throne of his book palace. The first thing to notice is the beauty of the books. Perhaps three-quarters of them are old, pre-1950s, and nearly every single book has a plastic archival cover protecting it, whether or not it has a dust jacket. There are a couple shelves with books for under three dollars; otherwise, as expected, these premium books all have premium prices. The second thing to notice is the accessories which tie in to the categories of books. So, for instance, in the miltary section there are old helmets and grenades and gas masks on the shelves with and among the books. In the sports section there is an old baseball glove, old football headgear, old golf clubs. The third thing to notice is the general layout and merchandising of the store. The space is quite large, and almost all the shelves are along the perimeter walls. Few shelves are in the interior of the space, which is instead occupied by tables to display books, glass cabinets for even premiumer books, couches, a piano, a printing press, old trunks. Books are spread out on all these items, stacked on chairs, piled neatly on the floor, fanned across the tables. The difference in display is similar to the difference one finds between Wal-Mart and Bloomingdales: one has aisles and aisles of merchandise on shelves, and the other has small tables scattered around an open space with pretty displays. And that is not to say this bookshop didn't have a large quantity of books. Another browser was overheard saying next time they would bring a sleeping blanket. This was about the time a sickness overcame us, perhaps much like an alcoholic feels when he realises he can't drink everything, and yet he can't stop himself. We knew our desire for these books far surpassed our funds, and if we worked consistently and wisely and exclusively on our own collection, it would never match this one, squirreled away in an alley. A pilgrimage to a shop such as this is one of the necessary acts of devotion--a purchase is not required, though we like to support our fellow booksellers. Today we could afford one volume of Christopher Morley. We have not been to Hay, nor to the Strand, nor Mr. McMurtry's famed establishment, nor to the legendary Beggars of Azure, but we would be surprised to find another bookshop closer to heaven than this one.

So back on the road in pursuit of more (affordable) books. We have about sixty minutes to relax, let our heart and breathing resume their normal patterns, and reacclimate ourselves to reality. When we reach our next sale, we are too late--it has already closed for the day. We proceed then to the discount book store. On our list of needs is also books about mushrooms, and here we find a few. Here's a little tip when shopping the remainder book outlets: when there is a stack of the same title, look through them all. Often you will find one that is a first edition, or one that does not have a remainder mark, or one that does not have the special UPC label on the back, or one that has a lower price than the others. Hidden treasures have been known to be discovered among the remainders.

After a little sustenance, we make our way to the penultimate book sale. Perhaps, though, we would make it our last for the day. We are there just after opening and again find the Usual ScanMonsters already stuffing their bags and boxes full. The selection here is not as good as it has been in the past, and we leave with only one bag. We decide, though, that our day is not finished.

We are out the door and off for the next book sale ahead of the Usual ScanMonsters. They will all show up shortly after, but a few of them have co-conspirators already working the second sale, so as not to miss anything. But again, there is not much of quality to be had. We come out with a bag from the main room, a couple volumes from the overpriced "better" room, and another bag from the quarter bargain room of paperbacks and magazines.

The day has concluded according to plan; Saint Duckett, however, is not through with us. Driving through the business district on our way home, we spot a book shop and stop. This store opened over a year ago in the newly revitalised downtown section that is anchored by the big new library on one side and the commuter train station on the other. This shop had a nice mix of old and new, all of good quality, with some paperback pulp in the back for the benefit of the commuters. And this shop also had numerous volumes of Christopher Morley. Of course, we wanted them all, but our pockets were nearly empty. The benefactor who had accompanied us this night graciously put up the funds necessary to acquire five of the key titles, and presented them to us as a gift to mark the upcoming anniversary of our birth. This was the icing on the bibliatholon cake.

And a couple scoops of premium ice cream to wash it all down brings a wonderfully exhausting twenty-four hours to a close.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Thirteen, in which Discoveries are made

If you have not yet heard of the Absent Classics, we urge you to take a look and become familiar with some literary masterworks that have been, for a variety of reasons, swept under the rug. Though their appeal may be limited, they stand at the heights of their genres, and any well-rounded course of education (as typified by the Renaissance man) will include at least a working knowledge of these books.

Ella's presentation of these classics pre-dated the recent National Geographic presentation of the Lost Gospel of Judas. Though presented as a stunning new discovery, the gospel actually turned up in the early 1970s. This was likely one of the first banned books of history, and presents a somewhat different version of what most people now know as Jesus' betrayal. The Absent Classics and revelations of suppressed gospels both attest to a wealth of other knowledge available to the discerning mind, but which have been generally relegated to the dustbin of history.

Last week the World Organization for Manuscript Preservation (WOMP) announced the upcoming release of The Lost Blogs: From Jesus to Jim Morrison, billed as "the most significant epistolary archive of ancient digital documents ever to be made public." Once again will be revealed knowledge that was presumed not to exist, or, if it did, to be heretical. This book is also based upon recent discoveries, such as this image (from WOMP) of a piece of what is now referred to as the "blog of Christ."

The popularity of a book like The Da Vinci Code, by Dan Brown, shows us that the public is eager for and intruged by new information and previously hidden knowledge. Vociferous opposition, such as the Catholic church has made against Brown's entire premise, only serves to lend credability to such "heretical" claims. What the Collected Essays on Moose, the lost Gospel of Judas, and the blog of Christ all show is the true democratic power of knowledge, and its inherent ability to overcome suppression. The world is full of more truths than we can ever know, and those who claim to know them all, or the One Truth, are denying each of us our rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Friday, April 7, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Twelve, in which We offer a guided Tour

After enjoying a peek at Andi's bookshelves, we thought we would offer both of our inquiring readers an exclusive glimpse inside Mad About Books International Headquarters. Yes, what you are about to see is an unprecedented series of images that reveals the secret inner sanctum of your Bibliothecary, and the factory where are produced all the mad ramblings of a certified book-fancier.

First, a word of warning: some of the following images are not suitable for children or bookaholics. If you feel you may be offended, please immediately click to the following safe haven.

Enter the office of the CRO. There are several stacks of books on his desk at the moment, but we can't show them because there is also some material of a highly confidential nature. We can show the bookcase beside the desk:

Next we turn down one of the hidden corridors leading out of the inner sanctum, where we find some shelves full of reference books:

And on the other side another smaller shelf:

In the meeting room we find a shelf of books on books:

A half-wall which parcels the space makes a nice cubby for books:

Books also serve as decorative objects:

The catch of the day--pulp fiction--unloaded on the floor:

In the conservatory there is a set of shelves that are full of religious books, like this:

In the corner are shelves for part of the American Revolution collection:

Against the stairwell leading to the Bookcave, another shelf of books:

In the recreation center we have a shelf full of Arthuriana:

And a couple piles of books your Bibliothecary is currently reading:

One of the offices contains some shelves of books:

Another office contains some more shelves of some more books:

The grand entry is appropriately stocked with books:

There are valuable treasures safe behind glass:

In the conference room we find several shelves of books:

And more books on more shelves:

The magical Bookcave has some shelves with books over here:

And some shelves with books over there (with a ladder to reach the top):

And if you will direct your attention this way you will see a few shelves with more books:

On our left we will see some other books on shelves:

And through the labyrinthine passageways to the dark center of the Bookcave where there are some shelves that are shamefully in need of more books:

We hope you have enjoyed this tour, and ask that you please don't hold those last empty shelves against us. We are working hard to get them filled as soon as possible. If you would like to see more in person, we are now offering pre-packaged fantasy vacations that include a day of work in a real bookstore, a pre-dawn alphabetizing of new arrivals, and a guided book hunt (license required). Contact your travel agent for more information.

Chapter One Hundred Eleven, in which the Silent Partner speaks

Poet Vs Parent:

It took me eighteen years to get through high school and twenty-two years to get through college. Interrupted only by the birth of my daughter whom I spent time raising. However, if you do the math it only took four years longer to get a degree than my diploma; thus, I am right on track.

You may ask, “what this has to do with the blog?” The answer is this: I gave up my college career because I felt raising a family was more important. Therefore, it is with any wonder that I refused to give up my college again for any matter.

Having decided after the labor of my first child that a second was not anywhere in the future, I set off to once again find myself. No longer “so and so’s wife” or “what’s her name’s mother.” I now was going to make a name for myself!
Now as fate would have it, I met and fell in love with your Bibliothecary. Here was a match made in heaven! A partner who not only did not mind if you read in bed, but actually joined you in the task!

Needless to say it wasn’t long before the shuffling of pages set ignition to passions and sparked a fire that just couldn’t be extinguished. Common interests grew, including helping to raise the first offspring into a successful adult. Or at least one who lives in her own rented apartment, has a job and pays her own bills! Whew!

What a whirlwind of a romance. Now a year from graduation and I alas find myself planning for yet another prodigy to enter my life. So, what was a few months off from school. I could give birth a second time and still have my career. After all, I had twenty years of parenting under my belt and felt that balancing family and career would be a piece of cake! Especially since this new endeavor was really the Biliothecary’s idea. After all, I just had to support, and deliver and once in a while rock it while he sat to the task of nurturing and molding the lil' progeny to his liking.

Little did I remember how difficult and exhausting labor pains truly are and how, even with a partner as supportive as your Bibliothecary is, that all the work actually had to come from me while he sat on the side lines and coached. He even had rest periods while I labored from sun up to sundown with little rest in between.
But I am happy to say that on June 11, 2005 we gave birth to a healthy child and our friends and close aquaintances shared in our joy and celebrated this momentous occasion with us. August came and I resumed my studies and until now have only occasionally put in my “two cents” and rocking hours.

I must say to our Bibliothecary that as a poet (Robert Frost?) you seem to do ok. After all, I believe it was MY poem that actually brought us together (of course this is coming from Elizabeth Bishop). However, as a parent, you outweigh me in the balance. Perhaps it is the fine example of the “mom” that made you so good at an otherwise difficult task.

I have experienced the labor (May 30th -June 10th 2005), the arrival (June 11, 2005), the long torturing nights of little sleep from the pain and frustration of teething, and also the first “sitting up alone” ( March 26, 2005).

Today as I sat reading over the scrapbook you have created and shared with everyone here, I realize we no longer are nourishing an infant, but I now am beholding this cute little toddler. Where has the time gone?! What kind of mother have I been? Here you have taken our offspring on trips and brought back all kinds of treasures that I am just discovering today. I feel that I have missed out on so much! It was for this reason alone I never wanted a second hatch. After all, would there be as much devotion given to the younger brood as to the first spawn? My first instinct told me “no”. While I can honestly say first instincts are the best, I can also say never judge a book by its cover. You have to read it to appreciate its value. I understood this when we met and I searched your soul from cover to cover. Our nights of sententious dialogue left me desirous of a life-long commitment to your very person. Now, I find that I have been negligent of my charge, and thus make this new covenant. I do solemnly vow to cherish you and our progeniture and provide you with the necessitous consideration deserving of a sire and his offspring.

All my love,
The “sometimes too silent” Silent partner
ps. Did you give the “used treasures” I spoke of to our babe yet?

Thursday, April 6, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Ten, in which We are a Poet

Your Bibliothecary had no interest in knowing what Modern American Poet we are. After all, what do we need another modern American poet for, when we have Shakespeare and Donne and Hardy and Keats and so on? Yes, we are not well versed in poetry, especially the modern type that is passed off as poetry. Give me metre or give me death!

The Silent Partner took the test, and so encouraged us to play along. We followed Stefanie's link, and here is the result:

Which Famous Modern American Poet Are You?

You are Robert Frost. You are the epitome of white heterosexual men who love tradition. You love to write about nature and stuff but hate the outdoors. Your scowl is legendary!
Take this quiz!

Who would have ever thought? Maybe the test is fairly accurate after all.

Monday, April 3, 2006

Chapter One Hundred Nine, in which We remember

What follows was sent to your Bibliothecary by our dear Callisto. She doesn't see the beauty of it--she doesn't understand. Still she agreed to let us post it here, and we thank her.

I just finished browsing this primer on philosophy, and one of the topics was, "What is real?" Only now. Only this precise moment. Ten seconds ago when I typed "I just finished browsing this primer on philosophy" no longer exists. It is past. The only record of its existence, the only way I know it happened, is by the words I see on the screen in front of me.

Is this what history is? History strings together all the moments of the past so we see where we came from and can follow the progression to where we are now. Then what of Ariadne's string? Theseus goes into the labyrinth, and then follows the string back out--he moves backward, he retreats into the past. It doesn't turn out the way he or Ariadne had hoped. Is that the message of the myth?

I have a memory: I don't want to go to school, and my mother makes me. Out the door I go, but to school I will not go. I sit on the milkbox for the rest of the day. This happened, but it is no longer real. Or is it? What about all the things I have forgotten? Perhaps one fifth grade day I fell in love with a handsome young boy from down the block: my first love. But I no longer remember the experience, and the boy I do recall pining for in seventh grade instead is enshrined in my mind as my first love. Which is true?

If the past is just memories of things that have already happened, is the future just memories of things that have not yet happened? If the moment won't stay, but the memory does, are memories the real things? When we are struck by happiness, we become as Faust, imploring the moment to stay. Maybe moments are only the way memories of the future become memories of the past.

When someone says they feel lost, like they don't know where they are or belong in the world, is it becase they lack the memories others have? Are they somehow not able to see how they got where they are today? And why, instead of freeing them, does it enslave them? Is memory the essence of what we think of as our selves? Without memories, who would you be? Could you ever know yourself?

I don't understand.

Here, then, is a small part of Eloisa's plea to Abelard. We encourage our Readers, spend ten minutes' time, and read the entire poem by Alexander Pope.

Relentless walls! whose darksome round contains
Repentant sighs, and voluntary pains:
Ye rugged rocks! which holy knees have worn;
Ye grots and caverns shagg'd with horrid thorn!
Shrines! where their vigils pale-ey'd virgins keep,
And pitying saints, whose statues learn to weep!
Though cold like you, unmov'd, and silent grown,
I have not yet forgot myself to stone.
. . .
How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!