Top Ten Tuesday

top-ten-tuesdayOctober 18: Ten Characters I’d Name A Child/Dog/Cat/Car/Etc. After

I have three cats right now who are named after Elinor Dashwood, Dorothea Brooke, and one Fitzwilliam Darcy Copperfield so I’m accustomed to searching through literature to find names.   I named a human son Benedict after Much Ado About Nothing but felt that changing the last letter from “k” to “to” was warranted.

Today what comes to mind is:

  1.  Gatsby
  2. Falstaff
  3. Mr. Suckling (from Emma)
  4.  Monmouth (See Shakespeare and William Trevor’s The Old Boys
  5. Dolly Longstaffe
  6. Signora Neroni
  7. Lady Lufton
  8. Ruth Bridge/Mrs. Gaskell’s Ruth:  I just would love a cat named Ruthie!
  9.  Lupin Pooter (From Diary of a Nobody)
  10. Little Chandler (From Joyce’s story, “A Little Cloud”)

A lot of my choices are based on the possibility of a plethora of good nicknames.  The characters I’ve selected are not particularly glorious, but they are memorable.



The Villanelle

There are many good and even great villanelles. I’d like to dedicate a topic to them.

Lonely Hearts

By Wendy Cope

Can someone make my simple wish come true?
Male biker seeks female for touring fun.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Gay vegetarian whose friends are few,
I’m into music, Shakespeare and the sun.
Can someone make my simple wish come true?

Executive in search of something new—
Perhaps bisexual woman, arty, young.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Successful, straight and solvent? I am too—
Attractive Jewish lady with a son.
Can someone make my simple wish come true?

I’m Libran, inexperienced and blue—
Need slim, non-smoker, under twenty-one.
Do you live in North London? Is it you?

Please write (with photo) to Box 152.
Who knows where it may lead once we’ve begun?
Can someone make my simple wish come true?
Do you live in North London? Is it you?


A standard villanelle has two rhymes, 19 lines, and two lines that are repeated throughout the poem. Repeated line A appears in lines 1, 6, 12, and 18. Repeated line B recurs in lines 2, 9, 15, and 19.  It is essential that lines A and B can work well together or even get married and grow old together, while keeping the passion and fervor of early days.  Wendy Cope’s “Lonely Hearts” is an example of a witty villanelle:  it’s meant to both parody the “personal ads” (from before the days of computer dating) and also to show the poignance of loneliness.

Here’s an other example:

They are all gone away,
The House is shut and still,
There is nothing more to say.

Through broken walls and gray
The winds blow bleak and shrill.
They are all gone away.
Nor is there one to-day
To speak them good or ill:
There is nothing more to say.
Why is it then we stray
Around the sunken sill?
They are all gone away,
And our poor fancy-play
For them is wasted skill:
There is nothing more to say.
There is ruin and decay
In the House on the Hill:
They are all gone away,
There is nothing more to say.“The House on the Hill” by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
Line one, “They are all gone away” recurs in lines 6, 12, and 18.

The two rhymes used are “away” and “still”. The form provides an unusual amount of constraint, which means that while it might not be difficult to write a villanelle, it is very difficult to write a readable, yet alone a memorable, one.

“The House on the Hill” is a bleak example–it’s moody and atmospheric. I like the  melancholy, mystery, and finality EAR evokes.

Some villanelles rouse the spirit with an exhortation; some are very witty.   How difficult it must be to write a good one with all of the constraints of the form (and I very much like formal poetry that is pulled off well). Elizabeth Bishop and Dylan Thomas have some wonderful villanelles that deserve their own posts.  The Elizabeth Bishop villanelle, “One Art” is especially brilliant.

Here’s another example by Sylvia Plath:
Mad Girl’s Love Song

I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead;
I lift my lids and all is born again.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

The stars go waltzing out in blue and red,
And arbitrary darkness gallops in:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I dreamed that you bewitched me into bed
And sung me moon-struck, kissed me quite insane.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

God topples from the sky, hell’s fires fade:
Exit seraphim and Satan’s men:
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.

I fancied you’d return the way you said.
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

I should have loved a thunderbird instead;
At least when spring comes they roar back again.
I shut my eyes and all the world drops dead.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)

–Sylvia Plath

All of this repetition and reiteration! It’s a good way to describe the claustrophobia of overwhelming emotion–especially Plathian emotion.

“The Waking” is astute to the uncertainly of life.  “I wake to sleep” reminds me of J. Alfred Prufrock’s idea that “mermaids wake us and we drown”.  We wake from the uncanny dream world into the uncertain fate of our human condition.

The Waking
by Theodore Roethke

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

This poem is complicated by the many levels of sleep/waking Roethke examines:  Is he being ironic or precautionary when he proclaims “God bless the Ground!”  Is this  lover of root cellars commending the fact that the “lowly worm” has got a “winding stair”  The final four lines are a brilliant commentary on the transience and paradox of life:  “shaking” keeps him “steady” and “what falls away” is “always”.  It is essential, perhaps, to shake to stay sturdy and to know that there is no “always” and to keep that idea clear and near.

By Anthony Hecht

We have set out from here for the sublime
Pastures of summer shade and mountain stream;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.

Is all the green of that enamelled prime
A snapshot recollection or a dream?
We have set out from here for the sublime

Without provisions, without one thin dime,
And yet, for all our clumsiness, I deem
It certain that we shall arrive on time.

No guidebook tells you if you’ll have to climb
Or swim. However foolish we may seem,
We have set out from here for the sublime

And must get past the scene of an old crime
Before we falter and run out of steam,
Riddled by doubt that we’ll arrive on time.
Yet even in winter a pale paradigm
Of birdsong utters its obsessive theme.
We have set out from here for the sublime;
I have no doubt we shall arrive on time.


The brilliant Anthony Hecht provides another villanelle that seems to accompany Roethke’s on the dubious stair-case.   The first stanza brims with confidence.  Yes, let’s all set off for the sublime!  How easeful and easy and green it will be.  Are we thinking of a memory or a photograph?    We don’t have any money; we don’t have any food, and we are clumsy!  We don’t even have a guidebook that tells us if we might need to swim or climb.  And it’s winter to boot!

And we need to pass an old crime-scene.  We are “riddled by doubt” that we will make it in time.  The “old crime” could be original sin or more likely the secular sin of being human.  Birdsong reminds us of the poetic birds that provide a paradigm for poetry and singing:  Keats’s Nightingale, Shelley’s Skylark, Hardy’s thrush, Yeats’s indignant desert birds And the green enamel bird he wishes to become.  Prospects finally is less likely to be about the distant view and perspective and more about the future of people and all of the obsessive themes we create.

These villanelles range from light and sparkling to unsettling and nerve-wracking but they all also demonstrate the masterful work of lines playing echo and response to each other.


The Bookish Time Travel Tag


I was not tagged, but I noticed this and wanted to participate on a delicious walk through my many ages.  I first read this literary meme in the wonderful blogs of Sandra at and Jane at  Their responses are worthier than my own.

1.What is your favourite historical setting for a book?

englishlitqueenvictoriaThe Victorian period is the best for me by far.  Trollope!  Dickens!  George Eliot!  The Brownings! Hopkins!   Tennyson!  Swinburne!   Thomas Hardy!  Matthew Arnold.  Walter Pater.  George Meredith.  William Morris.  The Rossettis!  A touch of Gaskell, Gissing, and WS Gilbert.

2.  What writer/s would you like to travel back in time to meet?

I am simply rubbish at naming favorites when often 9 or 10 authors seem to have an equal claim on my affections.  I would not mind having a drink with Shakespeare or being at the Atheneam Club in London listening to Trollope and Thackeray.atheneaumlibraryclub

3.  What book/s would you travel back in time and give to your younger self?

I wish that I had read EM Forster when I was younger.  But my younger self was  such a naïve reader.  I recall thinking that Angel Clare was certainly acting with the best of propriety when I read Tess of the Durbervilles at age 15.  I also know that when I first read Mark Twain I was oblivious to the humour.    And I recall thinking that Causabon was intellectually more adventurous than Will Ladislaw.    Happily I have never permitted my pre-conceptions to allow me to avoid rereading.  I needed to read Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie earlier than I found them.

My biggest regret is that I read my first Barbara Pym book and was inspired to write her a fan letter of unadulterated enthusiasm, but finally discovered that she had died only a few months previously.  I wish I had known about her while she lived.



4.What book/s would you travel forward in time and give to your older self?

There are many.  I have a book collection that will last me until I am 5000 years old.  I have to remind myself that when I am dead I will not be chastising myself for not having reread all of Elizabeth Taylor or Barbara Pym yet one more time.  And I hope I will always remember why I slept with a copy of 11 Kinds of Loneliness by Richard Yates when I was 15 and 16.



5.What is your favourite futuristic setting from a book?

I am not sure what that means, really.  I know at the end of Pride and Prejudice and of Middlemarch we are given glimpses of the future.

6.What is your favourite book that is set in a different time period (can be historical or futuristic)?

Let me begin with Jane Austen, who did not make it to the Victorian period.  Any of her novels will do. 

7.Spoiler Time: Do you ever skip ahead to the end of a book just to see what happens?

No, I really don’t.  Sometimes I check to see how many pages there are but I don’t read anything on the last page.

8.If you had a Time Turner, where would you go and what would you do?

I would not want to interfere with anything but I would love to be on the periphery of a party given by Lady Glencora Palliser and her husband.  I want to meet Mildred from Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women and have some tea and maybe a repast of cauliflower cheese.   But yes!  I do want to interfere.  I would like to be an invisible presence by the side of Mrs. Bridge as she goes to vote and tell her that she should follow her impulses and not the law of her husband.  I’d like to encourage Simon when he makes his cassoulet in A Fairly Honourable Defeat.  I’d like to sort out the cat, Lady Jane, in Bleak House and provide her with food and affection.  I’d like to warn King Lear that daughters named Cordelia are the best.  I’d like to tell Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern to disavow the King and his summons.  I’d like to befriend Mrs. Palfrey and take her out to tea.  I’d like to befriend John Keats and take him out for a substantial meal!  I would love to have a heart to heart about successful banter with Stevens from Remains of the Day.   And I am certainly ready to share a po-di-mu with Lucia and admire Georgino’s bibelots.  I would love to stroll down a Baltimore street with Anne Tyler and listen to her comments.


And in my personal time, I regret that I carefully read all of the Nancy Drew books and wrote down all the clues to the location of River Heights, where Nancy lived.  I went to the reference room at the local library and tried to pinpoint the location and realized that, as a sad reseach librarian aged 8, River Heights was a myth:  a snare and a delusion.  I wish I had not been so literal minded at that age.


9.Favourite book (if you have one) that includes time travel or takes place in multiple time periods?

Mrs. Bridge by Evan Connell goes perhaps from the 1890s until the 1940s.  That book is such a master class in reading and writing.

  1. What book/series do you wish you could go back and read again for the first time?

I wish I could experience the magic of reading the Betsy, Tacy, and Tib series by Maud Hart Lovelace.  I was 6 and I was bored with the superficiality of the problems facing the Bobbsey Twins and Dick, Jane, and Sally.   Betsy, Tacy, and Tib had some impulses that were imaginative and sometimes a little bit bad.  I used to close my eyes tight and try to imagine myself right into one of the illustrations so I would become a fourth little girl, interested in Syrian immigrants, royalty, and the wondrous city of Milwaukee.betsytacytib

The first Beverly Cleary book I read was Ellen Tibbits.   How vividly I recall Ellen’s struggle with an entrenched beet!  (And beets are rather hard!).  I went on to enjoy the Ramona books, but I was always Beezus.  As the oldest of 6 children born in 7 years, my life was full of little Ramonas.ellentebbits

Sherlock Holmes was a magnificent revelation after Nancy Drew became simply risible and once I found Agatha Christie, I was a happy reader indeed.


I am new to the world of bloggers, so I will not tag anyone.

The 1947 Club: The Fall of the Magicians by Weldon Kees


I’ve decided to join the 1947 club!


There’s a 1947 club in the blogosphere and this week people are reading books published in 1947.   The Fall of the Magicians by poet Weldon Kees was published in 1947.  Kees was one of the stranger blokes of the 20th century poetry world and also among the best.  Born in 1914 in  small Beatrice, Nebraska–a largely agricultural town just a tad north of the Kansas/Nebraska border—named after the teenaged daughter of a judge[by the way, it’s a bit like those cities in the USA with street names like Cindy Lou Drive or Patty Jane Boulevard or Annie Avenue] where Arby’s and Dairy Queen are in the top ten restaurants, according to Trip Advisor.  Was that even a sentence?  In 1885 40 acres of Beatrice were dedicated to the institution of “Feeble Minded Youth”.   With well over 1000 residents this institution (renamed the “Beatrice State Home” in 1945) may well have loomed over the everyday life of young Weldon Kees.

It took a while for Kees to get out of Nebraska, although he did have some schooling at the University of Missouri.  He arrived in New York City in 1941, ready to write and listen to jazz.   In 1950 Kees drove across country with his wife, Ann, to San Francisco where he worked with jazz musicians on ballads and torch songs and began taking professional photographs.  Ann had a nervous breakdown because she watched too much of the Army-McCarthy hearings on television.  They made her psychotic, which was an eminently reasonable reaction.   Kees started telling his friends that he wanted to commit suicide or that he wanted to disappear to Mexico and reinvent himself.    His car was found, abandoned, near the Golden Gate Bridge.  For decades people watched and waited for the real Weldon Kees to emerge from Mexico or some other hiding place.  That did not happen.  Perhaps he did end his life in July, 1955, at the age of 41.

About half of Kees’s poetry appeared in the 1947 volume, The Fall of the Magicians.  Kees explored America and its people through these works which include much bitterness and sardonicism.  The first poem, “Eight Variations” begins with:tapirs

Prurient tapirs gamboled on our lawns,

But that was quite some time ago.

Now one is accosted by asthmatic bulldogs,

Sluggish in the hedges, ruminant.


Readers are probably saying:  this is what’s wrong with poetry.  Tapirs are not prurient nor are the likely to have gamboled in our yards.  But you could also see that previously things were very sexy and full of meat and energy. Today’s bulldogs are slow because of their asthma.  They ruminate rather than play.  “Eight Variations” has got a Wallace Stevens quality beginning with the “prurient tapirs” and including haunted houses, Rousseau, couples called the Millotsons and the Farnsworths wintering on the coast of France, Victorian beadwork, grapes, and chimneys.  There’s a wasteland touch too:  the “brown weeds” in “parched and caking land”.  Beauty is a “topic for ill-mannered minds,” “gossip,” and “remote despair”.  As in Eliot’s The Waste Land when the typist home from tea has a quick and unsatisfying round of sex with the “young man carbuncular” the woman at the end of “Eight Variations” stands with her back turned to her lover, “quite alone”.   “Eight Variations” may be derivative, but it remains its own piece of art and social criticism.

My beloved poet, Donald Justice, a contemporary of Kees wrote that no one poem by Kees “stands out” and “there are no epics” but I would say that some of the poems do stand out from the really very high bar that Kees had already reached in this 1947 volume.

So why read Kees if he’s derivative?  He is original.  He found his own rather apocalyptic meaning is ways that are different that Eliot, who reached what he considered spiritual salvation and Wallace Stevens, who is always measured and a bit oracular but impersonally so, in most poems.

One of the best known works in this volume is “For My Daughter,” a sonnet:

For My Daughter

Looking into my daughter’s eyes I read

Beneath the innocence of morning flesh

Concealed, hintings of death she does not heed.

Coldest of winds have blown this hair, and mesh

Of seaweed snarled these miniatures of hands;

The night’s slow poison, tolerant and bland,

Has moved her blood. Parched years that I have seen

That may be hers appear: foul, lingering

Death in certain war, the slim legs green.

Or, fed on hate, she relishes the sting

Of others’ agony; perhaps the cruel

Bride of a syphilitic or a fool.

These speculations sour in the sun.

I have no daughter. I desire none.

This must have been written this past weekend in response to Donald Trump’s view of women, correct?  No, it was written in 1940 but first published in a volume in 1947.  This sonnet to a daughter is decidedly unconventional and defies other famous poems written by fathers to daughters, such as those by Ben Jonson, Longfellow, Yeats and others.  The speaker is worried that his innocent  daughter is doomed to dreadful experiences:  death and before that perhaps meanness and marriage to a “syphilitic or a fool.”  The final couplet surprises the read:  The speaker admits that he has no daughter; he does not want a daughter, hence his speculations are sour.  Yet Kees, to my mind, is expressing his anxiety about the children of a world at war, the children of a world where innocence is doomed.  It seems to be an excellent poem to read in conjunction with “The Second Coming” by Yeats.

This volume also contains “Five Villanelles” which proceed along an increasingly menacing trajectory.  The first examines a crack in the house:

The crack is moving down the wall


The crack is moving down the wall.

Defective plaster isn’t all the cause.

We must remain until the roof falls in.

It’s mildly cheering to recall

That every building has its little flaws.

The crack is moving down the wall.

Here in the kitchen, drinking gin,

We can accept the damndest laws.

We must remain until the roof falls in.

And though there’s no one here at all,

One searches every room because

The crack is moving down the wall.

Repairs? But how can one begin?

The lease has warnings buried in each clause.

We must remain until the roof falls in.

These nights one hears a creaking in the hall,

The sort of thing that gives one pause.

The crack is moving down the wall.

We must remain until the roof falls in.

The second villanelle laments the bad behavior of men and how they go on to ruin women; the third villanelle looks at the “snug vantage point” of publishers who live to turn down works:  “I turned down Joyce myself.  It was the thing to do.”   In the fourth villanelle people are paralyzed and numbed because no messages will come.  They are entrapped in a soundless, speechless world.  The series of villanelles culminates in one that is about eternal war: “The truce was signed but the attack goes on.”

I plan to write more this week and hope that I will be accepted into the 1947 club.

William Wordsworth anticipates the material age

“The World Is Too Much with Us”

William Wordsworth

The World Is Too Much With Us (1806)

The world is too much with us: late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The sea that bares her bosom to the moon:
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for every thing, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.- Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn

Wordsworth’s words and ideas seem ever-fresh to me. We do “lay waste our powers” with too much work, too much spending, too much debt, too much buying, to much chasing after credit cards. I can hardly boast that I am close to nature when I prefer nature through the mediation or poetry, novels, paintings, or other art works. I’d much rather listen to Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony than walk through the fields.    This preference for art is a learned taste and one I am trying to remediate by walks

But by and large I’d rather experience “nature” through the eyes and words of Wordsworth, Keats, Shelley or other poets than experience it for myself. I, too, am out of tune.  True confession.

Wordsworth would rather be a “pagan” than be out of touch with nature. I wonder what he saw as preferable to paganism?   At least he sees paganism as better than materialism.

Sometimes I like to paraphrase poems–the results are always terrible but this exercise (best done privately) helps me to clarify what I think the poem is about and what kinds of aesthetic merits are deeply lost when I translate poetry into prosaic English.
Paraphrase:  The need for material goods seems more and more urgent and I’d rather go shopping than go on a walk. I’d rather work to earn money so that I can buy something….maybe a Hermes scarf or a Mont Blanc pen. True, I don’t have time for nature and I don’t look at the moon because I can’t stop watching reality tv. I’d rather see Taylor Swift  than the ocean or the flowers. But really, I’m not totally happy about this and I’d just as soon get back in touch with the days of Woodrow Wilson or Herbert Hoover if it meant that I could appreciate natural beauty again.

See how much is lost? Not that I ever thought of Herbert Hoover as being Protean….wordsworthstrangefits

Wordsworth, brooding.

“He mutter spiffy”



So Long? Stevens

He lifted up, among the actuaries,
a grandee crow. Ah ha & he crowed good.
That funny money-man.
Mutter we all must as well as we can.
He mutter spiffy. He make wonder Henry’s
wits, though, with a odd

… something … something … not there in his flourishing art.
O veteran of death, you will not mind
a counter-mutter.
What was it missing, then,
at the man’s heart
so that he does not wound? It is our kind
to wound, as well as utter

a fact of happy world. That metaphysics
he hefted up until we could not breathe
the physics. On our side,
monotonous (or ever-fresh)—it sticks
in Henry’s throat to judge—brilliant, he seethe;
better than us; less wide.

—John Berryman
—from His Toy, His Dream, His Rest

Dream Song

John Berryman’s brilliant “Dream Song” is a good way to end the Wallace Stevens’s birthday week.  He loves Stevens, but feels that something is missing.  Of course the “funny money man” mutters spiffy.  But Henry feels that something is lacking.  He cannot quite put his finger on it but wants to issue a “counter-mutter”.    I don’t agree with his idea that Stevens does not wound, for I have been wounded by Stevens as often as any other great poet.  Perhaps more.  Stevens can wound me.   But different sorts of weapons wound different readers and perhaps Berryman is responding to some of the late poems that can seem very solemnly intellectually and even a bit cold.   Henry, Berryman’s alter ego, ends up asserting that while Stevens is brilliant, he is “less wide” than Henry.   It’s possible that Henry’s trauma’s are more deeply personal than those which Stevens reveals in his own poetry.  The dream songs are a brilliant and cohesive and very project; Stevens worked, I think, more broadly and widely than Berryman.



“How he rolls the vocables!”


“A Rouse for Stevens”

(To Be Sung in a Young Poet’s Saloon)

by Theodore Roethke


Wallace Stevens what’s he done?

He can play the flitter-flad;

He can see the second sun

Spinning through the lordly cloud.

He’s imagination’s prince:

He can plink the skitter-bum;

How he rolls the vocables,

Brings the secret — right in Here!

Wallace, Wallace, wo ist er?

Never met him, Dutchman dear;

If I ate and drank like him,

I would be a chanticleer.


Speak it from the face out clearly:

Here’s a mensch but can sing dandy.

Er ist niemals ausgepoopen,

Altes Wunderkind.


Roar ’em, whore ’em, cockalorum,

The Muses, they must all adore him,

Wallace Stevens — are we for him?

Brother, he’s our father!


This rollicking  burlesque for young poets in tribute to Stevens just adds to the accumulation of respect Stevens received from other poets.   The jaunty style, the setting, the word-play are a fitting tribute to Stevens.   The Great Man of Hartford inspired many light verses in his honor.  Why?  Because Stevens can be so much fun to read.  Stevens can be a joy to imitate.  “Er ist niemals ausgepoopen,” probably means that “he is never screwed up” to offer  a very mild translation.

Roethke is a poet I cherish more with each passing decade.  He has affinities with Stevens and even if he’s squeamish about the line “Brother, he’s our father” much of his verse seems to be engaging with Stevens–conversing with him or talking back to him.


Listening:  “Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis” by Ralph Vaughan Williams.  It’s somber organ chords and it’s repetitions make it a perfect autumnal piece.   And yet it’s also of a very English pastoral mood.  Like “The Lark Ascending” its aim seems to transcend the melancholy and lift the listening spirit.   I play this in tribute to Neville Marriner.  As my mother aged, the music of Delius and Vaughan Williams moved her more than any others and she reread Thomas Hardy with a fervency that I can identify with.