Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Faint-Smiling Like A Star

This said, he rose, faint-smiling like a star
Through autumn mists, and took Peona's hand:
They stepped into the boat, and launch'd from land.
-Endymion, Book I, 1818

Today is the anniversary of the death of John Keats, who is known as one of the great poets of the Romantic period. His major works of poetry were composed between the ages of nineteen and twenty six; the age of his death. Like the other major poets of the Romantic period such as Byron or Shelley, his life was struck by complexities and tragedy. His father died due to an accident when Keats was still a child, and the rest of his immediate family, save his sister Frances, would succumb to tuberculosis . Though many people of the time would also have been struck by the effects of this horrid disease, the significance of the deaths of his family cannot be lessened. The last days of his life were wrought with pain both physical and emotional; the woman he loved was thousands of kilometers away in England, while he himself lay dying in a bed in Rome. He was unable to read the last letters Fanny Brawne wrote to him, so profound was his heartbreak.
The poems he wrote during his short and difficult life remind me that even an existence plagued by darkness and shadow can still be a source of yet unimagined beauty and light. The physical life he led was brief, though that which he produced during that life inspires us still.

For more information on Keats and the products of his life, click here.

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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Late Night Thoughts on Books.

She is too fond of books,
and it has turned her brain.

-Louisa May Alcott

I must admit that I first encountered this sentence on a book bag I saw a lady carrying in a Winnipeg McNally Robinson. As I currently occupy my time as a history student at the graduate level, I must admit that this sentence now often comes to mind. This is especially true when I find myself poring over a book late into the night when the usual activity of the surrounding city is dulled to a sleepy state, while, at the same time, my mind and imagination race with the possibilities presented by the matter I encounter between the printed pages of text I thumb. Therefore, I consider this sentence written by Louisa May Alcott in the nineteenth century with great affection. Books have fascinated me since I can remember. Even before I could read, I remember noticing the books my parents held between their hands and considering, as they read, "What could there possibly be on those pieces of paper which demands their concentration?"

It is the potential which lies within books which has long inspired my fascination. Scholarly works provide incite into the complexities related to the authors' thoughts and processes, as well as the complexities of the subject matter. Meanwhile, works of fiction are veritable rabbit holes of possibilities. Quite selfishly, it seems that in a world where so many experiences are shared by many through television and film, books offer the possibility for individual experience. Of course many people read the same books, but the content of these books are first experienced individually. The characters and settings are subject greatly to the construction of the reader's imagination. I find that bibliophiles usually share this common understanding that books are great bastions for fantasy and thought; a sort of security blanket for the contents of one's own mind.

I find that without complexities and imagination life loses something important. What is life if one cannot dream of something greater or ponder the meaning of the surrounding world? So perhaps it is a bit odd to own eight different published version of the same book because you like the variations in their presentation. Or considering the different methodology used in that new work of social history published by the University of Toronto Press, only to realize that, yes, I am in fact grocery shopping, and, yes, I have been staring at this tomato that I hold in my hand for well over a minute. Or thinking, "What would Oscar Wilde be wearing were he alive today? Would he ride the bus?" and, "When I finally get to England I am SO going to that Charles Dickens theme park I've heard about." So, perhaps books do have the ability to "turn a brain", but books hold the potential to be a shining salve which works away life's accumulated grit.

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Thursday, February 3, 2011

Winter Stores

Written by Charlotte Bronte,
published under the pen name Curer Bell, 1846.

We take from life one little share,
And say that this shall be
A space, redeemed from toil and care,
From tears and sadness free.

And, haply, Death unstrings his bow,
And Sorrow stands apart,
And, for a little while, we know
The sunshine of the heart.

Existence seems a summer eve,
Warm, soft, and full of peace,
Our free, unfettered feelings give
The soul its full release.

A moment, then, it takes the power
To call up thoughts that throw
Around that charmed and hallowed hour,
This life's divinest glow.

But Time, though viewlessly it flies,
And slowly, will not stay;
Alike, through clear and clouded skies,
It cleaves its silent way.

Alike the bitter cup of grief,
Alike the draught of bliss,
Its progress leaves but moment brief
For baffled lips to kiss

The sparkling draught is dried away,
The hour of rest is gone,
And urgent voices, round us, say,
"Ho, lingerer, hasten on!"

And has the soul, then, only gained,
From this brief time of ease,
A moment's rest, when overstrained,
One hurried glimpse of peace?

No; while the sun shone kindly o'er us,
And flowers bloomed round our feet,--
While many a bud of joy before us
Unclosed its petals sweet,--

An unseen work within was plying;
Like honey-seeking bee,
From flower to flower, unwearied, flying,
Laboured one faculty,--

Thoughtful for Winter's future sorrow,
Its gloom and scarcity;
Prescient to-day, of want to-morrow,
Toiled quiet Memory.

'Tis she that from each transient pleasure
Extracts a lasting good;
'Tis she that finds, in summer, treasure
To serve for winter's food.

And when Youth's summer day is vanished,
And Age brings Winter's stress,
Her stores, with hoarded sweets replenished,
Life's evening hours will bless.

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