Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Unknown Citizen by W.H Auden

Oh HI blog. I temporarily forgot you existed.

I wish I could come up with some fabulous excuse for my absence - like I've spent the last week and a half in the New York office, working on some incredibly important papers, nicotine and coffee-filled to my eyeballs, ordering interns to "bring me those files, stat!" before firing someone in a violent fit of efficiency.

Actually I've spent most of my week making photocopies. Hurrah.

And in the light of this, here is a somewhat appropriate poem by the always excellent Auden.

The Unknown Citizen

He was found by the Bureau of Statistics to be
One against whom there was no official complaint,
And all the reports on his conduct agree
That, in the modern sense of an old-fashioned word, he was a
For in everything he did he served the Greater Community.
Except for the War till the day he retired
He worked in a factory and never got fired,
But satisfied his employers, Fudge Motors Inc.
Yet he wasn't a scab or odd in his views,
For his Union reports that he paid his dues,
(Our report on his Union shows it was sound)
And our Social Psychology workers found
That he was popular with his mates and liked a drink.
The Press are convinced that he bought a paper every day
And that his reactions to advertisements were normal in every way.
Policies taken out in his name prove that he was fully insured,
And his Health-card shows he was once in a hospital but left it cured.
Both Producers Research and High-Grade Living declare
He was fully sensible to the advantages of the Instalment Plan
And had everything necessary to the Modern Man,
A phonograph, a radio, a car and a frigidaire.
Our researchers into Public Opinion are content
That he held the proper opinions for the time of year;
When there was peace, he was for peace: when there was war, he went.
He was married and added five children to the population,
Which our Eugenist says was the right number for a parent of his
And our teachers report that he never interfered with their
Was he free? Was he happy? The question is absurd:
Had anything been wrong, we should certainly have heard.

W.H Auden

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Briefly It Enters, Briefly It Speaks by Jane Kenyon

I'd never heard of Jane Kenyon until last week and I've already decided to do everything in my power to look like her. This is a beautifully simple poem that's probably about God. Funny how that put me off at first - until I realised how hypocritical I was being, considering I have a poster of The Last Judgement on my bedroom wall.

Briefly It Enters, Briefly It Speaks

I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper....

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. . . .

I am food on the prisoner's plate. . . .

I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. . . .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. . . .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. . . .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . . .
the longest hair, white
before the rest. . . .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit. . . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

Jane Kenyon

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

I don’t care if Evelyn Waugh lived a century ago, I WANT HIM TO BE MY FRIEND.

Five Points About This Book Which I Thought Of And Wrote:

1. The Characters

The novel opens as Captain Charles Ryder, after stumbling across a stately home in war torn England, begins to reminisce about the two most important people in his life: Sebastian and Julia Flyte. So begins the “revisiting” referred to in the title, and one of the funniest, most heartbreaking and poignant stories you will ever read.
Beginning with his university days, Charles is taken on a journey of debauchery and “naughtiness” by teddy-bear holding, atheist socialite Sebastian, introducing Charles to his home at Brideshead and his religion obsessed family. Sebastian is a complete personification of the Roaring Twenties spirit; frivolous, extravagant and ultimately, doomed.
Charles semi-infatuation with Sebastion occupies the first half of the book, whilst the second half focuses on his love for Sebastian’s equally profound and religiously confused sister Julia. The thing is, Waugh writes so BLOODY beautifully that you cant help but fall in love with these characters yourself, sharing Charles dizzying highs and pathetic lows with the two.

2. The Writing

Sometimes Waugh writes so well that I don’t even realise until I’m making dinner several hours later, shout “wait – what did he say?” and rush off to check while my macaroni cheese foams over the sides of the saucepan.
Take a read this passage to understand what I’m talking about:

This was the creature, neither child nor woman, that drove me through the dusk that summer evening, untroubled by love, taken aback by the power of her own beauty, hesitating on the cool edge of life; one who had suddenly found herself armed unawares; the heroine of a fairy story turning over in her hands the magic ring; she only had to stroke it with her fingertips and whisper the charmed word, for the earth to open at her feet and belch forth her titanic serpent, the fawning monster who would bring her whatever she asked, but bring it, perhaps, in unwelcome shape.

Yes, that is one sentence. Now go and make some macaroni cheese.

3. The Comedy

Imagine two Oxbridge students from the1930s, add champagne, strawberries, frivolity and homoeroticism and you get a flavour of the humour of this novel. Waugh writes with a biting wit, so caustic that it could burn a hole through the page, expressing great disdain through his characters for the multitude of well-to-do stereotypes that inhabited that particular era.
My favourite comedy scenes though involved Charles and Sebastian, who spend much of their time inebriated and carefree, talking about “rot” and “getting tight”; only occasionally reflecting on their behaviour as in this passage which made me cackle like a mad witch on the tube:

“Ought we to be drunk every night?” asked Sebastian one morning.
“Yes, I think so.”
“I think so too”.

Oh Sebastian and Charles, I want to be in your gang.

4. The Tragedy

The triviality eventually fades away though, and the second half of the novel becomes a lot more introspective, examining the nature of addiction, religion and love. At the risk of giving anything away, I wont delve too deep but rest assured that even when Waugh writes tragedy, it’s never melodramatic. Everything is contained, bubbling under the surface. Charles’ infatuations shift from Sebastian to Julia, but it is really the Flyte family and the world they inhabit, Brideshead, that ultimately captures him and causes him to reminisce so vividly.
The real sucker punch is this – the biggest spoiler of Brideshead Revisited is on page one. Charles is a lonely soldier, and encounters Brideshead again completely by chance. I don’t need to tell you how his relationships with Julia and Sebastian turn out; the inevitable destruction of each character is really at the tragic centre of the novel.

5. The Relevance

Perhaps the aspect I enjoyed most about Brideshead Revisited was how many times I found myself thinking “good grief, that is so true”. I felt this especially when Charles described his experiences at University; he is told calmly that “you’ll find you spend half of your second year shaking off the undesirable friends you made in the first” (unbelievably true) and particularly when he thinks that “if I was not going to take up one of the professions where a degree is necessary, it might be best to start now on what I intend doing” (it has occasionally struck me that I ought to start on that novel I’ve been planning since I was fifteen – my degree in philosophy was rendered useless the day I discovered “Philosopher” isn’t an actual career).
Not only this, but the observations he makes about society and social niceties completely spot on.This is a remarkable achievement, considering that the novel was written 80 YEARS AGO. Evelyn Waugh could be transported into the here and now and feel perfectly at home – once he gets used to touchscreens and unexpected items in the bagging area.

Put quite simply, this novel is a masterpiece. Anybody with even a passing interest in literature should consider this a must read.


Monday, 10 October 2011

Genius by Mark Twain

It's days when your bank makes you wait for 35 minutes for no reason on your lunch break and the wind blows your skirt up just as a group of five teenage boys walks past, that you wish you looked more like Mark Twain. That moustache does not take shit from anybody.


Genius, like gold and precious stones,
is chiefly prized because of its rarity.

Geniuses are people who dash of weird, wild,
incomprehensible poems with astonishing facility,
and get booming drunk and sleep in the gutter.

Genius elevates its possessor to ineffable spheres
far above the vulgar world and fills his soul
with regal contempt for the gross and sordid things of earth.

It is probably on account of this
that people who have genius
do not pay their board, as a general thing.

Geniuses are very singular.

If you see a young man who has frowsy hair
and distraught look, and affects eccentricity in dress,
you may set him down for a genius.

If he sings about the degeneracy of a world
which courts vulgar opulence
and neglects brains,
he is undoubtedly a genius.

If he is too proud to accept assistance,
and spurns it with a lordly air
at the very same time
that he knows he can't make a living to save his life,
he is most certainly a genius.

If he hangs on and sticks to poetry,
notwithstanding sawing wood comes handier to him,
he is a true genius.

If he throws away every opportunity in life
and crushes the affection and the patience of his friends
and then protests in sickly rhymes of his hard lot,
and finally persists,
in spite of the sound advice of persons who have got sense
but not any genius,
persists in going up some infamous back alley
dying in rags and dirt,
he is beyond all question a genius.

But above all things,
to deftly throw the incoherent ravings of insanity into verse
and then rush off and get booming drunk,
is the surest of all the different signs
of genius.