Saturday 17 April 2010

Receiving a revelation

Part I.

The wonderful city library and the joys of being an autodidact, at least as far as this poetry is concerned. It is so much fun to find things out for oneself.

From the library: two old tired books about Gerard Manley Hopkins, one an analysis of  a selection of his poetry, (Landscape and Inscape, Vision and Inspiration in Hopkins's poetrey, by P. Milward, SJ and R Schoder, SJ, 1975) and another a collection with an introduction (Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 4th edition, revised and enlarged,  W H Gardner and N H MacKenzie, eds, 1967). Am learning The Windhover by heart. It is not in my main poetry book (Poetry of the English-Speaking World, R Aldington, ed., 1950), though others which I loved are - among them Pied Beauty, and In the Valley of the Elwy.

Today is Shabbat and on Shabbat I do not read about the Holocaust or other horrifying stories, nor do I work on the computer (It is now after dark, so officially no longer Shabbat).

Today for once there was absolutely nothing else to do. Always interesting to see what happens when nothing is planned. So: a nice long meditation, and a quiet morning lying on the sun-warmed patch on the floor, with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Peter was in his office, so I could read the poems out loud.

I was very happy.

I realise that the rest of the educated English-speaking world will know this poem. The more I read about Hopkins, the more interested I became. A Jesuit. A mystic. A great need for peace. An equally great love for nature. One of the commentaries said he had influenced the next generation's use of English.

Then a vigorous walk up Mt Kaukau with P and friends. I am fortunate.

Part II
I have not managed to keep up my blog writing, so a quick tour of recent reading:
A not good enough book by Amin Maalouf, entitled Baltasar's Odyssey, which is a voyage through parts of the Ottoman Empire and Europe in 1666, when many people believed that the end of the world was nigh. I don't know why he wrote it, except that it was published shortly after 2000, when people also worried about what would happen if all the computers stopped working.
 I had the recurring feeling that he himself travelled along the same route and wrote in all the little details he noticed about people's behaviour in the 20th centurey into his book, adapting the material things around them to the 15th century. One of the reviews says "Sparkling and erudite". It did nothing for me.

Now quite different and a stunner: Peter Hobbs' The Short Day Dying (2005) - what a tour de force, and his first book too. It was shortlisted for the Whitbread Best First Novel - I wonder who won that year, this book would have been hard to beat.
A well-meaning relatively uneducated man is struggling with his faith and his life. He writes in the style of the Bible, for that is all that he knows. Meaning, he never reads anything else. His syntax is Biblical and this is done with great skill. I found it wonderful. The character of this man is completely believable and his story is compelling.

Pushing Time Away: My grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna by Peter Singer  (2003). This is the Peter Singer, the ethics specialist, writing about his family. I read it as part of research on Teresienstadt, which I promised a friend  I would do for her. What a relief to read a book like this where someone remembers to put in the details that one wants to know, they did so and so, why did they choose to do that just then, and how did they go about it, that sort of stuff is often not covered well enough by people who experienced it. He has done thorough research, and I am grateful to him. Also: I recognise the feelings he describes - he went to the school where his grandfather taught and he says, I walked into the entrance hall, the same place my grandfather will have gone through many many times, it is unchanged...This is a recurring event through the book, an experience I had when I was in Nuremberg, My mother was here and here and here, I am standing on the same place where she will have stood. Intensely moving.

And a book launch at the Goethe Institut: Wildes Licht,  a translation of NZ poetry into German, by Dieter Riemenschneider (2010). Bill Manhire read one of his Arctic poems (in English) with great emotion. A mystery.

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