Poetry Month #5: Longfellow

In celebration of April Poetry month, I’m sharing favorite poems of mine all through April. Today’s poem is the first poem I fell in love with, and a magnificent story poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride.” It has some beautiful lines in it. One of my favorite is describing the dark homes in the middle of the night, “lonely and spectral and sombre and still.” Enjoy!

Paul Revere’s Ride

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch
Of the North Church tower as a signal light,–
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

Then he said “Good-night!” and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somerset, British man-of-war;
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon like a prison bar,
And a huge black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.

Meanwhile, his friend through alley and street
Wanders and watches, with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers,
Marching down to their boats on the shore.

Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,
By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,–
By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town
And the moonlight flowing over all.

Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,
In their night encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still
That he could hear, like a sentinel’s tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, “All is well!”
A moment only he feels the spell
Of the place and the hour, and the secret dread
Of the lonely belfry and the dead;
For suddenly all his thoughts are bent
On a shadowy something far away,
Where the river widens to meet the bay,–
A line of black that bends and floats
On the rising tide like a bridge of boats.

Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,
Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride
On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.
Now he patted his horse’s side,
Now he gazed at the landscape far and near,
Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,
And turned and tightened his saddle girth;
But mostly he watched with eager search
The belfry tower of the Old North Church,
As it rose above the graves on the hill,
Lonely and spectral and sombre and still.
And lo! as he looks, on the belfry’s height
A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!
He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,
But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight
A second lamp in the belfry burns.

A hurry of hoofs in a village street,
A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,
And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark
Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet;
That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,
The fate of a nation was riding that night;
And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,
Kindled the land into flame with its heat.
He has left the village and mounted the steep,
And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,
Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;
And under the alders that skirt its edge,
Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,
Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.

It was twelve by the village clock
When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.
He heard the crowing of the cock,
And the barking of the farmer’s dog,
And felt the damp of the river fog,
That rises after the sun goes down.

It was one by the village clock,
When he galloped into Lexington.
He saw the gilded weathercock
Swim in the moonlight as he passed,
And the meeting-house windows, black and bare,
Gaze at him with a spectral glare,
As if they already stood aghast
At the bloody work they would look upon.

It was two by the village clock,
When he came to the bridge in Concord town.
He heard the bleating of the flock,
And the twitter of birds among the trees,
And felt the breath of the morning breeze
Blowing over the meadow brown.
And one was safe and asleep in his bed
Who at the bridge would be first to fall,
Who that day would be lying dead,
Pierced by a British musket ball.

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British Regulars fired and fled,—
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
>From behind each fence and farmyard wall,
Chasing the redcoats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

So through the night rode Paul Revere;
And so through the night went his cry of alarm
To every Middlesex village and farm,—
A cry of defiance, and not of fear,
A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,
And a word that shall echo for evermore!
For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,
Through all our history, to the last,
In the hour of darkness and peril and need,
The people will waken and listen to hear
The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed,
And the midnight message of Paul Revere.

Poetry Month #4: Robert Burns

To celebrate poetry month I’m sharing a few of my favorite poems this month. This is Robert Burns, Scotland’s most famous poet, in my favorite of his poems.

To A Mouse, On Turning Her Up In Her Nest With The Plough

Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,
O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi’ bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,
Wi’ murd’ring pattle!

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,
Has broken nature’s social union,
An’ justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
‘S a sma’ request;
I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,
An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!
An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,
O’ foggage green!
An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,
Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste,
An’ weary winter comin fast,
An’ cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter’s sleety dribble,
An’ cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men
Gang aft agley,
An’lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.
On prospects drear!
An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,
I guess an’ fear!

Poetry Month Post #3: Thomas Hardy

In celebration of Poetry Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite poems all throughout the month of April. This post is a sneaky little bit of snark a la Thomas Hardy.

Ah, Are You Digging On My Grave?

“Ah, are you digging on my grave,
My loved one? — planting rue?”
— “No: yesterday he went to wed
One of the brightest wealth has bred.
‘It cannot hurt her now,’ he said,
‘That I should not be true.'”

“Then who is digging on my grave,
My nearest dearest kin?”
— “Ah, no: they sit and think, ‘What use!
What good will planting flowers produce?
No tendance of her mound can loose
Her spirit from Death’s gin.'”

“But someone digs upon my grave?
My enemy? — prodding sly?”
— “Nay: when she heard you had passed the Gate
That shuts on all flesh soon or late,
She thought you no more worth her hate,
And cares not where you lie.

“Then, who is digging on my grave?
Say — since I have not guessed!”
— “O it is I, my mistress dear,
Your little dog , who still lives near,
And much I hope my movements here
Have not disturbed your rest?”

“Ah yes! You dig upon my grave…
Why flashed it not to me
That one true heart was left behind!
What feeling do we ever find
To equal among human kind
A dog’s fidelity!”

“Mistress, I dug upon your grave
To bury a bone, in case
I should be hungry near this spot
When passing on my daily trot.
I am sorry, but I quite forgot
It was your resting place.”

My Year of Favorite Authors

bleedys-icons-dockjpgI have a terrible habit.

I’m not talking about anything dark or sinister… just something that is self-frustrating. On the surface, it doesn’t even sound so bad, really. It is this: I like to save the best for last.

This is something I learned at a young age, as a dessert loving foodie. If you save the best bit until last, you don’t have the memory of that taste marred by something lesser.

Unfortunately, though, I don’t always leave this philosophy to food, and it makes much less sense in most other forms. For example: books. Every book lover knows that as readers, we work on a sort of hierarchy  and that hierarchy looks more or less something like the following:

  • Books I have to read right now
  • Books I want to read
  • Books I should want to read
  • Books I want to want to read (You know what I’m talking about. “Why don’t I want to read this?”)
  • Books I have to read (Okay, maybe this is just in school)
  • Books I don’t particularly care to read but that everyone else are reading that I don’t want to be behind on

You all have a hierarchy something like that, yes? Is that just me?

Anyhow. I have, many times, kept books from my favorite series or by my favorite authors in reserve after books of a lower order, as a sort of “treat.” In fact, this started out in school when I had to read books. I would read a “fun” book alongside it and allow myself the pleasure of something I wanted out of the fiction world after reading a chapter or two of what I was supposed to be reading. Somewhere along the path, it morphed into me reading something I sort of wanted to read alongside the book that I really wanted to read, so that I got both books done.

And then it flipped into something I can’t really explain… me keeping books by beloved authors beholden in some sort of guilty way, because I had so many other books that I hadn’t read yet, so I felt as if I didn’t deserve to read the newer books that I really wanted to read. Yes, I became a reader weighed down by her (unspeakably huge) to be read shelf. I was getting to the point where I was barely reading anything. The last handful of years I have read fewer books than ever before in a year, just passing twenty last year.

Just recently I decided this sort of practice was, in a word, ridiculous. It has led to me both being behind the times on books and authors I care about, and has dragged down the enjoyment of reading anything less than stellar. Not even that. Anything that had less than a stellar expectation point for me. Meaning I was stopping myself from discovering new book and author loves that really were stellar.

Last year, my goal was to read something more challenging. I picked up Bleak House by Charles Dickens, but I am a faithless lover when it comes to books, so I also picked up Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Suzanne Clarke, and The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky… and I overwhelmed myself. I’m pressing pause on two of the three, because I am still, yes STILL in the middle of all three of them. I’m some three-fifths done with Bleak House and honestly enjoying it, I just cannot read Dickens fast and enjoy it.

So this year I am going through my books and I am reading first and foremost the unread books I have by authors that I love, like Maggie Stiefvater and Jasper Fforde and series that I really enjoyed the beginning of like Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse, and anything else that I’ve been eyeing. I will still keep Dickens by my side for glances when I feel like it, but I’m not pressuring myself when it comes to reading things I don’t particularly care to this year. Maybe next year I will feel differently, but that is to remain to be seen. For now, I’ve finished one book I’d been dying to read for an age (The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater, more on that later), and am looking forward to more.

Do your reading habits change? Do you ever find yourself resenting the book you’re reading, because you want to be reading something else?

In Translation: The Devil, as Always, is in the Details.

Dostoevsky vs. Dostoevsky Photo by Lisa Asanuma, Creative Commons License.

Recently (or not recently at all, really, if we’re being honest, or you look at my Goodreads) I’ve taken it upon myself to read through all of Dostoevsky. All of him. Everything I can find that he wrote. Or, all his fiction, at least, as I don’t really know if he wrote essays or anything like that.

A little background: I took a course in college about Dostoevsky, mainly because I had read Crime and Punishment in high school and loved it. LOVED it. C&P is one of my all-time favorite novels. For so many reasons. None of them being that the main character is sympathetic. Which is another reason I love that book—because he really, really isn’t.

I did not remotely make it through most of his books during my college course, though. In fact, all I can confess to actually finishing is his short stories (I think) and again, Crime and Punishment. Getting through two short-story collections and three whoppers of novels is intimidating at best—much more so for Russian Lit. (Have you SEEN The Brothers Karamazov? My copy is well over 600 pages.) (That said, it reads like a Whodunnit mystery. Still, I didn’t finish due to time-constraints.)

I decided also, to start on what was to me, the least enticing of his novels. The Idiot. Actually, I was very curious about The Idiot because of a little fad I like to follow in my classic reading. I like reading novels about characters that the novelist themself has deemed as remarkably good. For example, Anne Elliot in Persuasion, or Mary Garth in Middlemarch, another monolithic tomb I love.

So I set out on The Idiot. But I did so when I couldn’t get my hands on a physical copy, and at the same time, was experimenting with the Kindle app on my phone. Needless to say, my progress was slow-going. Dostoevsky is hard enough to swallow when it’s on a few hundred pages, not to mention 12,000+ tiny screens pages. Even if the quality of the writing is the same (my example of this is 13 Little Blue Envelopes, also read half on my phone, half in real book form).

In this case, though, the quality of the writing was not the same. Dostoevsky is Dostoevsky, right? Wrong.

This is actually another something I learned in that same college course: the quality of the translator is, while not everything, a lot. In fact, when I took classes where books were read in translation (EG: my Dostoevsky class and another Russians class*… what? I like Russians) I would often purposefully check a copy out of the library rather than buy the one prescribed for class, because then I got to see and hear some of the differences in the text that the translators made (also I was dirt poor, but anon…)
I had come to the conclusion in that class that each translator offered a somewhat different portrayal… but often they were just as rich in different ways. This experience with The Idiot, however, did not match up, and it’s all down to the fact that when I went to Kindle to test the book out, I naturally tried the free edition. Dostoevsky’s not around to collect a royalty check, so I didn’t feel too bad about it.
I picked the book up and put it down a lot, then put it down for a long time when I didn’t really have enough space for the Kindle app on my phone, then checked the book out from the library, and tried to go back to swapping back and forth between the two.
It would not do. And I’ll tell you why.
Here is an exerpt from my library copy of the book translated by Constance Garnett (my own is still tucked away in a box somewhere in Southern California):
Nina Alexandrovna looked about fifty, with a thin and sunken face and dark rings under her eyes. She looked in delicate health and somewhat melancholy, but her face and expression were rather pleasing. At first word one could see that she was of an earnest disposition and had genuine dignity. In spite of her melancholy air one felt that she had a firmness and even determination. She was very modestly dressed in some dark colour in an elderly style, but her manner, her conversation, all her ways betrayed that she was a woman who had seen better days.
Now compare this to the description in the Kindle version, translated as you can see above by Eva Martin (a note on this, my professor knew the translators by name, and could tell us a little of their histories and his preferences, which I still find most impressive. Garnett, now that I see her name, was his favorite, I think):
The lady of the house appeared to be a woman of about fifty years of age, thin-faced, and with black lines under her eyes. She looked ill and rather sad; but her face was a pleasant one for all that; and from the first word that fell from her lips, any stranger would at once conclude that she of a serious and particularly sincere nature. In spite of her sorrowful expression, she gave the idea of possessing considerable firmness and decision
Her dress was modest and simple to a degree, dark and elderly in style; but both her face and appearance gave evidence that she had seen better days.
Not only is the first excerpt more concise, it has a lot more in the way of aesthetics to it. When I went from reading the passage in the Garnett version to reading the Martin translation, and I was surprised by how much the Martin didn’t measure up.
So if you’re reading something in translation, don’t just pick the first copy you find. Sit down for a minute and browse… make sure the translation you get is the one you want. It will make for a nicer experience, and maybe stop you from prematurely thinking that some author who wrote in another language had no idea what they were doing.
*I also took a class on Hungarians, but didn’t check out Hungarian stuff from the library because let’s face it, there wasn’t many options to choose from (Read: that was the only translation there ever had been, or probably would ever be).

What I’m Reading Wednesday – Across the Universe by Beth Revis

I have to admit, sometimes when it comes to reading, I feel like I’m playing a never-ending catch-up game. I’m not a fast reader (yes, you may gasp) and I like to reread books… which only puts me further behind sometimes. Right now the other two books I’m reading are rereads, gearing me up for finishing up their respective series (Fablehaven, and The Wolves of Mercy Falls).

But I’m trying to put newer books that I own into my reading circulation. Because let’s face it, I like talking about new(ish) books just as much as anybody else.

So right now, my newer book that I’m reading is Across the Universe by Beth Revis. If you’re not familiar, it’s about a girl named Amy who gets cryogenically frozen so she can travel 300 years asleep with her parents to help inhabit a new world. Only she gets woken up fifty years early… and someone’s done it on purpose. Now she has to adjust to life on board a ship with its own unique civilization, where someone just may be a murderer…

Oh, and if she ever sees her parents again, she’ll be double their age. Awkward… And devastating, considering she’s given up her entire outside life to be with them.

Anyhow. I’m about a quarter of the way into the book now. If you’ve heard all the hype about this book? Believe it. I’ve loved every minute of it. Revis has a sharp, crisp voice, and Amy and Eldest (the other POV in the book) are both very unique. I love, love, LOVE Amy. She’s feisty and not afraid to say what she’s thinking (which is good, because she’s going to have to ask a LOT of questions here really soon).

I have to admit, I fell so in love with cryo-Amy’s voice that I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy Amy’s chapters as much after she woke up. Well, she’s just woken up, and boy have I been proven wrong so far.

As to other reading… I’ve finally coordinated my Google Reader. Yes, I know I’m a jillion years behind. I had an account once, but it was full of blogs that I never really wanted to read… or at least that I don’t care to read anymore. Things that aren’t of interest to me anymore, but I thought might have been once upon a time.

Now I’ve cleaned those old blogs out and put in all of the blogs that I actually do want to keep up with. Personal friends, writers I respect and love, other writers that are struggling to get somewhere, just like me.

And I have the app on my droid, which I love more than I can say. Maybe for the first time since I was on Livejournal every day, I’ll actually be able to keep up with the blogs I care about!

What have you been reading lately?