Thursday, February 28, 2019

Notes on "The Scholar-Gipsy"

[Image source: . Illustration by Henry Ospovat (1877 - 1909).]

Go, for they call you, shepherd, from the hill ;
   Go, shepherd, and untie the wattled cotes !
       No longer leave thy wistful flock unfed,
   Nor let thy bawling fellows rack their throats,
      Nor the cropp'd herbage shoot another head,
         But when the fields are still,
   And the tired men and dogs all gone to rest,
      And only the white sheep are sometimes seen
      Cross and recross the strips of moon-blanch'd green,
   Come, shepherd, and again begin the quest !


The first of 25 stanzas, and not perhaps one of the best, but I didn't feel like excerpting from later because the poem is an unbroken arc. We don't quite believe in this shepherd or this quest: the poet finds his scholar-gipsy in his own meditation, not in an actual search (for a man who, after all, lived two centuries before).

And the beginning is a little confusing. "They" are the sheep, left penned on the hill. The sheep are also the "bawling fellows" of the fourth line.

I suppose the fifth line ("Nor the cropp'd herbage shoot another head") means the pasture outside the sheepcote, into which the hungry sheep will be released. but calling it already "cropp'd" puts us on the wrong scent. Once we work it out, we see that this herbage was cropped by the sheep before they were penned. In the next few hours, with the marvellous celerity of grass, it will already be stippled with fresh green shoots. Once the sheep are unpenned they'll put a stop to this... at least to outward appearance, so swiftly do they nip off the new growth. (In actual fact the herbage will go on putting out new growth whether the sheep are there or not.)

The line indentations reflect the rhyme-scheme, but not exactly, because line 1 rhymes with the shortened line 6  -- the least indented line and the most indented line. These important lines are somewhat separate from the rest of the stanza, which otherwise consists of two quatrains, thus:

a  bcbc a deed

The music of this beautiful stanza form has three points of special distinction. 1. The first three lines, none of which rhymes with the others; the first answering rhyme is delayed until the fourth line. 2. The sixth line, with only three stresses, which stops the flow of pentameters. 3. The final quatrain with its inverted answering rhymes, which means that the eighth and ninth lines rhyme with each other (the only adjacent pair in the stanza) -- but the adjacent rhyme, falling here, isn't clinching, since we know that one further line remains to be uttered. (Browning invented a hundred different stanza forms, but never one with this kind of beauty and intelligence.)

In this first stanza, as in nine of the others, the first line is complete in itself and ends with a stop. But the fifteen other stanzas try other things, allowing the first line to be mistaken for the beginning of a quatrain, and for the real first line (i.e. line 2) to seem like a second line. Arnold tries every kind of counterpoint to his metre. For instance, the sentence runs on from St 6 into 7 and from St 24 into 25, but the effect is very different in each. The continuation of 6 ends in the detachable first line of 7, as we might have anticipated. 7.2 is a major new beginning - a prose writer would start a new paragraph. The continuation of 24 likewise takes us to 25.1, but it turns out that this time the crossing sentence is a parenthesis, so 25.2 actually resumes the narrative from 24.9 .

The rhyme showers/towers in St 3 is a prelude to powers/ours in St 17 and its reiteration in St 23 : the latter rhyme encapsulating the intellectual centre of the poem. (Does the S-G in any sense retain "powers", did he ever have them, or did he sacrifice their possibility for a fruitless and perverse pursuit? Isn't it truer to admit that power is "ours", though it wastes and shames us?)


St1-3 The poet in the field.
St 4-5 The story of the scholar-gipsy
St 6 Sightings
St 7 The poet wondering
St 8 Imagined sightings - summer night
St 9 Imagined sightings - spring evening
St 10 Imagined sightings - summer day
St 11 Imagined sightings - late summer; spring
St 12 Imagined sightings - autumn
St 13 Imagined sightings - the poet sees the S-G in winter
St 14 "But what -- I dream ! Two hundred years are flown..."
St 15-18 But the S-G hasn't lived like us and doesn't waste away like us
St 19 Our "dying spark of hope"
St 20 ...contrasted with the S-G's eternal hope
St 21-23  Apostrophe to the S-G: "Fly hence, our contact fear"
St 24-25 The Tyrian trader fleeing the new Grecian masters of the waves and making a journey to the far west.


The "abandon'd lasher" above Godstow Bridge (St. 10). A lasher is "the slack water collected above the weir in a river".


Wednesday, February 27, 2019

In Lapland

R.P. Lister, A Journey in Lapland (1965)

I've just re-read this cheerful book, part of my standing collection of curious books about the north. Lister is entertaining, fanciful, and gregarious. He seems to have got on well with other travellers and with the Saami people he encountered, especially when they shared a lingua franca  (broken Swedish).  He calls them by the old Swedish term Lapps, as was normal at the time, but is now rightly deprecated.

However, this is mostly a book about hiking. He travelled in summer, of course. But the weather was often awful: his book is a paean to the addictive discomfort of harsh weather and the insouciance of not doing much planning. "In most parts of Lapland no food is available except that which the traveller carries on his back. If he carries enough to eat he cannot travel, since his burden is too heavy. He can either eat or travel, but he cannot do both." On his second journey Lister lost over two stone in weight.

For the book actually describes two journeys. Lister's introduction to Lapland was a fortnight's jaunt, with his friend John, from Kiruna to the Norwegian coast, incorporating an ascent of Kebnekaise. Eight years later, now fifty, he returned for two months of travelling through Swedish Lapland, Finnmark (in Norway) and Finnish Lapland. After an initial circuit of Sarek he hooked up with a delightful Californian, Carla, with whom he was evidently a little in love.

Journey 1

Train to Kiruna - Holmajärvi - lake Paittasjärvi - Nikkoluokta - the valley of Ladtjovagge (contains lake Ladtjojaure)  - Rieppovare (summit) - Kebnekaise (summit) - Rieppovare - Singi - Kaitumjaure - lake Teusajaure - Vakkotavare (on Stora Lulevatten) - diversion to Saltoluokta to eat - up Akkajaure to Akka - Ritsemjokk - Unna Segok (summit) - (they attend reindeer-marking) - lake Sitasjaure (Morfasbukten) - Fjellbu (Norway) - Bokholmen - Elvegård - bus to Narvik - boat trip to Lofoten islands (Svolvaer) - Narvik - train back to Stockholm.

Journey 2

Train to Jokkmokk (June 20) - train to Luspebryggan (lower end of Stora Lulevatten) - bus and boat to Saltoluokta - ascent of Kerkau and back - Pätsaure and back to Saltoluokta - [circuit of Sarek:] Kungsleden south to Kvikjokk via Sitojaure, Aktsestugan, lake Laidaure, Pårtestugan - Kvikkjokk - up the valley of the Tarrejokk river - Bäcken - Njunjes - lake Tarraure - Tarrekaise - Såmmarlappa - Tarreluoppalkåtorna - Staloluokta - north to Mellätno - unfinished stuga at Låddejokk - slopes of Laotakvare - Vastenjaure - Salojaure - Kutjaure - Vaisaluokta [end of circuit] - boat down to Ritsemjokk.

[Meets Carla on the boat from Saltoluokta, as it docked at Stora Sjöfallet.] - Kungsleden to Abisko, beginning at Vakkotavare, Teusajaure, Kaitumjaure, Singi, Sälka, Alesjaure (Allesjokk river), Abiskojaure, Abisko. Boat west on Torne Träsk to Pålnoviken - Sörgård  (Norway) - Bardu - bus to Tromsö - hitchhike to Karesuvanto (Finland) [opposite Karesuando in Sweden] - Syvajärvi - Favresjokk (Norway) - Galanito- Kautokeino - hitchhike to Alta - Rafsbotn - bus to Hammerfest - ship to North Cape then Honningsvåg - ship to Kirkenes.

Bus south along the Pasvik valley to Emanuelbekken - lift to Vaggetem - crosscountry SW - lake Elenvann - along the Norway/Finland frontier - Virtaniemi (Finland - arrested by frontier force) - lift to Ivalo - bus to Inari - lift to Njurgalahti - boat up the Lemmenjoki to Kultala-Hamini - Morgamoja - Jäkäläpää (hill) - Miessijoki river (August 21st) - Naukusselkä forest - they cross the Vaskojoki - Kalmankaltio - Nunnanen - lift to Enontekiö [parts with Carla who carries on to Gällivare] - bus to Rovaniemi - hitchhiked to Haparanda (Sweden).


The human capacity for enjoyment is a peculiar thing. Since the bright departure from Staloluokta it had been bitterly cold all day, I had fallen into one ravine and one river, and the last half of the day there was nothing to see at all [thick mist]. Nevertheless, I considered this a fine day on the hills. I am still at a loss to know why.


On the hills behind Kirkenes Carla and Lister found quantities of "möltebär, or cloudberry". It's surprising that Lister didn't think they grew in England or Scotland. I know them in Swedish as hjortron, but Lister's alternative name exists, though his is one of the few spellings not sanctioned by Hansell's Bärboken . (No: molte;  Da: multebaer; Sw popular names: molter, målter, multer, multor, myllte ...etc)

Here's a longer extract, of Lister being typically fanciful as he walks along:


I am not in the habit of being reminded of music by anything, or of being reminded of anything by music, for that matter. It exists in itself for me, apart from anything in the outer world, and is much more my real home than the outer world usually is. But Lapland positively oozes Sibelius, there is no getting away from it. Fortunately Sibelius wrote quite a lot in his younger days, while he still felt like it, so there is plenty of change of tune; one is not restricted, as in the Hebrides, to one overture, charming though that one overture is.

It would be a mistake to go to Lapland knowing only, say, Finlandia and The Swan of Tuonela. These would become monotonous, like the Mendelssohn. It is better to go equipped either with no Sibelius at all, or a lot of it.

I have wallowed in a fair basinful of Sibelius myself, in my time, and I found the way in which different sections of the country, and different climatic conditions, evoked different works interesting. A rocky pass might be shaped exactly like the savage theme in En Saga. The curve of a hillside would distinctly resemble the opening theme from the fourth movement of the sixth Symphony. Any stretch of river with the sun on it would, in an unguarded moment, recall that appealing 'Musette' from the King Christian Suite that they used to play so indefatigably on Housewives' Choice during the rationing period.

The Fourth and Seventh Symphonies occur pretty well everywhere in bad weather, particularly on lakes. En Saga and Tapiola are ubiquitous in all conditions. The Third and Fifth Symphonies, the Lemminkainen Legends, the Violin Concerto and Karelia are frequently heard. The First and Second Symphonies are by no means uncommon. But there is no passage from Sibelius that will not unavoidably drift into the mind from time to time, not even excepting the Valse Triste and Voces Intimae.

There is distinctly a touch of Tchaikovsky here and there, however. Sibelius is often sombre and sometimes even morbid, but never neurotic. In this he is untypical of the country, which sometimes looks like a grandiose embodiment of all the neuroses that ever were. It is surprising that, as far as I know, Tchaikovsky never went there.

This pass between Urtetjåkko and Slikmanatjåkko is a rarity. It is a Mozartian place, a corn-coloured upland. There is still, however, a sufficient flavour of the opening bars of the second movement of the Sibelius Sixth, so ingeniously scored for nothing but flutes and bassoons, to keep the place in key.

The pass ends in a sharp drop to a lake, Teusajaure...


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Tuesday, February 26, 2019

ivy never sere

Ivy, and yet not. This strange sight is a large patch of Hedera colchica (Persian Ivy) in wet woodland beside the railway track in Bridgemead, Swindon.

It's having a go at climbing the trees, but it's a rather slow climber compared to the Common Ivy (Hedera helix), although it does have the same impressive clinging roots. However in warm climates it outcompetes other ivies, so we'll keep seeing more of it.

Hedera colchica is widely grown here as low-maintenance ground cover, usually in forms with variegated leaves (presumably they revert when the plant goes wild). It is considered useful, like all ivies, for shady spots, and is less threatening to foundations and drainpipes than the native species.

Hedera colchica is native to the Caspian region, the humid western Caucasus and Pontic ranges in northern Turkey. It likes humid microclimates e.g. on mountain ranges and in cloud forests. "In the Caucasian forests it reaches huge dimensions" (Bean's Trees and Shrubs). This is in the vegetation belt known as Colchis forest (20m-1400m). 

Below, a variegated specimen beside the bowling alley on Shaw Ridge, and a close-up of the fruits.

I come to pluck your berries, harsh and crude...

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Friday, February 22, 2019

some poems from Karin Boye's For the Tree's Sake (1935)

Karin Boye in 1937, portrait by Arne Cassel

[Image source: ]

From For the tree’s sake (1935)


I’m sick with poison. I’m sick with a thirst
for which nature hasn’t fashioned any drink.

Out of all the land rise becks and springs.
I bow down and draw from the earth’s veins its sacrament.

And the heavens are overflowing with holy floods.
I stand tall and feel my lips wet with gleaming ecstasies.

But nowhere, nowhere . . .

I’m sick with poison. I’m sick with a thirst
for which nature hasn’t fashioned any drink.


Jag är sjuk av gift. Jag är sjuk av en törst,
till vilken naturen icke skapade någon dryck.

Ur alla marker springer bäckar och källor.
Jag böjer mig ner och dricker ur jordens ådror
dess sakrament.

Och rymderna svämmar över av heliga floder.
Jag sträcker mig upp och känner läpparna våta
av vita exstaser.

Men ingenstans, ingenstans...

Jag är sjuk av gift. Jag är sjuk av en törst,
till vilken naturen icke skapade någon dryck.

A stillness spread

A stillness spread, gentle as the sun-filled winter woods.
How was it, my will grew certain and my path obedient to me?
I bore in my hand an etched bowl of ringing glass.

Then it was, that my steps became cautious and would not stumble.
Then it was, that my hand became careful and would not shake.
Then I was suffused and borne along by the strength of fragile things.

En stillhet vidgades

En stillhet vidgades mjuk som soliga vinterskogar.
Hur blev min vilja viss och min väg mig underdånig?
Jag bar i min hand en etsad skål av klingande glas.

Då blev min fot så varsam och kommer inte att snava.
Då blev min hand så aktsam och kommer inte att darra.
Då blev jag överflödad och buren av styrkan ur sköra ting.

If I could follow you

If I could follow you far away
further off than all you knew
out to the uttermost regions
the world's solitude
where Wintergate* is rolling
its brash, dead trace
and you're looking for a foothold
in overwhelming space

I know - it can't happen.

But when you stagger shivering
blindly baptised
then right across the universe
I will hear your cry
and be your new warmth
and be your new arms
be near you in a different world
of things with unborn names

*The Milky Way

Kunde jag följa dig

Kunde jag följa dig långt bort,
längre än allt du vet,
ut i de yttersta rymdernas
där Vintergatan rullar
ett bjärt dött skum
och där du söker ett fäste
i hisnande rum.

Jag vet: det går inte.

Men när du stiger huttrande
blind ur ditt dop,
tvärsigenom rymden
skall jag höra ditt rop,
vara dig ny värme,
vara dig ny famn,
vara dig när i en annan värld
bland ting med ofött namn.

Blonde morning

Blonde morning, lay your soft hair
along my cheek and breathe unstirred in your silence.
The earth opens wide and then wider its great bowl
that was born as new in the secret dark.
On bright wings
the Miracle comes to rest like a huge insect
that lightly brushes the unconscious
awakening stigmas.

Morning on the seventh day . . .

Blonda morgon

Blonda morgon, lägg ditt lena hår
mot min kind och andas orörd i din tystnad.
Jorden öppnar vid och vidare sin jättekalk,
född på nytt i slutet mörker.
På klara vingar
dalar Undret som en väldig insekt
för att snudda lätt vid aningslösa
vakande pistiller.

Morgon på den sjunde dagen...

Ripe like a fruit

Ripe like a fruit, the world lay in my arms —-
it ripened overnight —
the peel was a delicate blue membrane that spanned — like a bubble —
and the juice was the sweet and fragrant, streaming, consuming flood of sunlight.

So I’m leaping now like a swimmer into the clear everything.
I’ve been plunged in a font of ripeness and reborn with the power of ripeness.
Holy, for doing it.
Light like a laugh.
I’m cutting into a gold sea of honey; it wants my famished hands.

Mogen som en frukt
Mogen som en frukt ligger världen i min famn,
den har mognat i natt,
och skalet är den tunna blå hinnan som spänner sig bubblerund,
och saften är det söta och doftande, rinnande, brinnande solljusflödet.

Och ut i det genomskinliga alltet springer jag som simmare,
dränkt i en mognads dop och född till en mognads makt.
Helgad till handling,
lätt som ett skratt
klyver jag ett gyllene honungshav, som begär mina hungriga händer.

The tree under the earth

There grows a tree under the earth;
a mirage pursues me,
a song of living glass, of burning silver.
Like darkness before light
all weight must melt
when only one drop falls fom the song of the leaves.

An anguish pursues me.
It trickles out of the earth.
A tree suffers agonies in the heavy stratum of the earth.
Oh wind! Sunlight!
Feel that agony:
the promise of scent of paradise wonders.

Where are you wandering, feet, that trample
so soft or hard,
that the crust fragments and gives up its booty?
For the tree's sake, have pity!
For the tree's sake, have pity!
For the tree's sake I'm calling you from the four points of the compass!
Or must we wait for a god - and which?

Trädet under jorden

Det växer ett träd under jorden;
en hägring förföljer mig,
en sång av levande glas, av brinnande silver.
Som mörker för ljus
måste all tyngd smälta,
där bara en droppe faller av sången ur löven.

En ångest förföljer mig.
Den sipprar ur jorden.
Där våndas ett träd i tunga lager av jord.
Å vind! Solljus!
Känn den våndan:
löften om doft av paradisunder.

Var vandrar ni, fötter, som trampar
så mjukt eller hårt,
att skorpan remnar och ger sitt byte ifrån sig?
För trädets skull, förbarma er!
För trädets skull, förbarma er!
För trädets skull kallar jag er ur de fyra väderstrecken!

Eller måste vi vänta en gud - och vilken?

Our eyes are our fate

Our eyes are our fate.
You grew alone, poor eyes,
among the stars who do not pity
in a living, earthly way.
Had I seen less,
my thoughts would be different but
indifferent the outcast
to justice made a prey.

Holy, holy, holy
is truth, dismaying truth;
I know it, I bow to it,
its right to all maintain.
But flesh and blood shiver,
the living seek the living,
warm is human company,
cold its disdain.

Pleading I wander
through the ice-cold light-years,
seeking for a help
to stand up in my grave.
I recall with hot affection
eyes of long ago,
these too were lost
in loneliness's wave.

So, I cannot lament.
So, I must give thanks.
With them I have shared
everything I knew.
Through the darkness comes
home and company.
The sister eyes I love!
You did exist. You do.

Ögonen är vårt öde

Ögonen är vårt öde.
Så ensamma blir ni, stackars ögon,
med stjärnor, som vägrar förbarma sig
på levande jordiskt vis.
Hade jag sett mindre,
tänkte jag andra tankar,
och slapp bli en utstött,
de rättfärdiga given till pris.

Helig, helig, helig
är sanningen, den förfärande,
jag vet det, jag böjer mig,
och den har rätt till allt.
Men kött och blod ryser,
det levande söker livet,
och varm är mänskors gemenskap
och deras förakt kallt.

Och bedjande irrar jag
bland iskalla ljusår,
söker efter hjälp till att
stå upp ur min grav.
Minns med het ömhet
ögon långt borta,
också de förlorade
i ensamhetens hav.

Då kan jag inte klaga.
Då måste jag tacka.
Med dem har jag delat
vad jag vet, vad jag minns.
Och genom mörkret anar jag
hem och gemenskap.
Älskade syskonögon!
Ni fanns. Ni finns.

The Portal

Too many times have I been through the portal.

It rears up so high it is rubbed out by the sunlight,
beneath the arch one hears the passage
of eternal winds in eternal space.
The threshold is of promise-stones, stairs to an altar,
where she may go who binds herself to a gift,
with all her time past, and all her time to come,
and an entire will.

Too many times have I been through the portal.

And still I pray:

Watcher at the door, master of all beginnings,
let me pass! I am not finished yet...
Truly as I never put anything by,
take it, but take it all, to the last penny.
The day I quibble, the day I calculate,
then block my way and throw me in the furnace.
Everything is the door. Everything is the beginning.
Life’s axis is in your hands.

Entire I go beneath the dizzying arch,
and eternal winds in eternal space
drink my gift.


För många gånger har jag gått genom porten.

Den lyfter sig så högt och suddas ut i solljus,
och under bågen hör man gå
eviga vindar i eviga rum.
Tröskeln är av löftesstenar, trappa till ett altare,
dit den slipper fram, som helgar sig till gåva
med sin gångna tid och sin kommande tid
och en hel vilja.

För många gånger har jag gått genom porten.

Och ändå ber jag:

Väktare vid dörren, all börjans herre,
släpp mig fram! Jag orkar ännu.
Så sant som jag aldrig gömde något undan,
tag, men tag till sista skärven.

Den dag jag delar, den dag jag räknar,
spärra min väg och kasta mig i smältugnen.
Allt är dörr. Allt är början.
Livets axel är i dina händer.

Hel går jag under svindlande bågen,
och eviga vindar i eviga rum
dricker min gåva.

The mouths

All round me frightful mouths are swimming.
The suburban train is juddering.

These are mothers.
Predator fish mouths
locked and straining in greedy torment:
to eat or be eaten.
Themselves eaten up (nobody has noticed),
they haul their intestines in the shopping-bags.
Dead eyes, dead torment,
predator fish mouths.

This is the lover.
Paint-swollen toadstool mouth
sucking at its prey.
The shame of giving oneself, the dupe’s shame
sucking to avenge a thousand triumphs
is never sated,
and settles into anguished pertness
around a wet toadstool mouth.

This one is pious
who with holy pursing
hides and disowns his own lips:
what you can’t see can’t be –
God himself can’t see them!
Why is he so afraid of his own lips?
What do they look like when he sleeps?

This – oh, the happy one.
She who became a possessor.
Among all those who struggled
it’s she who won through.
No lever can force apart the jaws
clamped round life’s prize.

But over there by the window,
a mouth half-opened
is flowering and taking nothing.
What is it you are breathing across the wide world,
you stranger in the world?

How soon will you be scared down into the deep,
among the predator fish
and the suck-mouths,
to strike viciously at your quarry,
and to chop in despair at these others?
By tomorrow,
if you wish to live.

So I’ll take my stick and I’ll go.
I’m going to find you a different world,
a world where mouths can really be flowers
and breathe like flowers
their life’s breath,
and break forth like flowers
from deeper sources,
and abide like flowers
gladly open.

All round me the deep sea mouths are snapping.
The suburban train is juddering.


Omkring mig simmar förfärliga munnar.
Förstadståget dunkar.

Detta är mödrar.
spärrade och spända i girig ångest:
äta eller ätas.
Själva uppätna (ingen har märkt det)
släpar de sitt innanmäte i kassen.
Döda ögon, död ångest,

Detta är den älskande.
Färgsvullen svampmun
suger efter byte.
Skammen att ha givit sig, den lurades skam
suger efter tusen triumfers hämnd,
blir aldrig mätt,
lagrar sig i pinad fräckhet
runt en blöt svampmun.

Detta är den fromme,
som med helig snörpning
gömmer och förnekar sina läppar.
Syns inte, finns inte --
Gud själv kan inte se dem.
Varför är han rädd för sina läppar?
Hur ser du ut när han sover?

Detta är den lyckliga,
hon som blev en ägande.
Bland alla de kämpande
är hon den som segrade.
Ingen hävstång bänder upp de käkarna,
hopskruvade kring livsvinsten.

Men där vid fönstret,
blommar en mun som ingenting fångar.
Vad andas du så över vida världen,
så världsfrämmande?
Dig själv?

När skall du skrämmas dit ner i djupen
till rovfiskar
och sugmunnar,
snappa vilt efter jagat byte,
hugga förtvivlat åt de andra?
I morgon redan,
om du vill leva.

Så vill jag ta min stav och vandra
och söka en annan värld åt dig,
en värld där munnar får vara blommor
och andas som blommor
sin livsanda
och flöda som blommor
av djupa skänker
och stå som blommor
lyckligt öppna.

Omkring dig glafsar våra djuphavsmunnar.
Förstadståget dunkar.

Complete Swedish text of For the Tree's Sake (För trädets skull):

English translations by me.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn: Apricot Jam

Georgy Zhukov ("Times of Crisis")

Александр Солженицын (1918-2008)

Three years after Solzhenitsyn's death this collection of nine stories appeared in English translation (his youngest son Stephan Solzhenitsyn translated the final story, all the others were translated by Kenneth Lanz). The stories were written in the 1990s.

The collection may give a ragbag impression but this is an illusion. A writer of such stature can't write small books. In practice this is a portrait of 20th century Russia -- "peripheral" Russia mostly, from post-revolutionary turmoil via WW2 to the post-USSR 1980s. Solzhenitsyn's late style is telegraphic and journalistic. The prose appears simple, only the material is complex. But Solzhenitsyn's large hand grasps all the technical, industrial and political material. Enormous distances in time and space are traversed in a page or two. There are sudden switches between first second and third person, and a very characteristic deployment of bracketed sentences to nod at further stories. A number of the stories are split into two very different halves. All these tactics keep nudging us to look beyond a narrow scene of action, so we have to be agile. These mostly long short stories are the opposite of miniatures, they don't confine themselves (in contrast to the characters in the stories, who are all confined.)

Here's the end of one of the stories, "Ego". Ego, that is, Pavel Vasilyevich Ektov -- he conceals his real name. A natural activist and a warm-hearted idealist, "his heart was at one with the peasants and their troubles". He gets involved in the Antonov peasant rebellion of 1920-1921, and becomes a much-needed "chief of staff". That is, until he's picked up by the authorities and, with his own family threatened, betrays the rebellion. He has to witness the outcome.


Glasses of vodka were poured, raising the mood and the fellowship of the meeting. Mutton and ham were sliced with long knives; smoke from the bracing homegrown tobacco rose here and there and spread across the ceiling. The hostess floated about the room while the younger women fussed, served, and cleared away the dishes.

What if some miracle suddenly took place and saved everything? What if the Matyukhin men realized what was going on and saved themselves?

The "Cossack" second lieutenant, "Borisov" (a commissar and Chekist), rose and began reading a fabricated "Resolution of the All-Russian Conference of Partisan Detachments" (that now must be convened). Soviets, but without communists! Soviets of the working peasants and Cossacks! Hands off the peasant harvest!

One of the Matyukhin men, a younger fellow with a round, flowing beard, a fluffy moustache, and a face well tested by life, looked at the speaker with calm, intelligent eyes. His neighbor, who might have been cast from iron, cocked his head and squinted a bit.

What fine fellows they are! And how unbearable this is!

But now it's too late to save anything, even if you shout out loud.

Matyukhin, showing his support of the second lieutenant, pounded the table with his fist: "We'll destroy their bloody communes!"

From the far end of the table, a young fellow with a broad forehead and flaxen hair that looked as if it had been freshly curled, a village dandy, shouted out: "Hang the bastards!"

Kotovsky returned to the business at hand: Where was Antonov? Without him we're not likely to make it.

"We still haven't found him," Matyukhin said. "I've heard he got shell shock in the last fight and is getting treatment. But we can raise all the Tambov people again on our own,"

His next plan: attack the concentration camp near Rasskazovo where they put the families of the rebels and are killing them off. That's our first job.

Kotovsky agreed.

Now -- was that a signal from Kotovsky . . . ?

All the Kotovsky men, in unison, whipped out their weapons -- some of them huge Mausers, others Nagans -- and began firing across the table at their "allies".

A thunderous roar filled the hut; there was smoke, fumes, and the desperate cries of the women. The Matyukhin men fell, one after the other, onto the table with their chests in the food, onto their neighbors, backwards off the bench.

The lamp fell on the table, and a burning stream of kerosene ran along the oilcloth.

The dashing, sharp-eyed fellow in the corner managed to fire back twice and drop two Kotovsky men. Then a saber cut off that head with the twisted moustache, and it tumbled onto the floor; a crimson stream of blood spurted from the neck to the floor, forming a pool around his body.

Ektov did not move; he was frozen. If only they would finish him off quickly -- a Nagan, a saber, it made no difference.

Kotovsky's men ran out of the hut to seize the confused Matyukhin guards who still did not realize what was happening.

Kotovsky's horsemen were already rushing in from the other side of the village, shooting and cutting down the Matyukhin men in the yards, in the huts, and in beds, not letting them mount their horses.

The few who were still able galloped toward the dark forest.


Cooperate or... something unthinkable. It's a non-choice that recurs in many of these stories. Even in the brilliant autobiographical stories of action in WW2 ("Adlig Schwenkitten", "Zhelyabuga Village"), the political officer is never far away. Always there's an authority characterized by indifference to individuals and their lives, whether in the "hardened" soldier Marshal Georgy Zhukov ("Times of Crisis"), or in the bureaucratic decision to destroy a river in the post-communist era ("No Matter What"). What survives is broken, to use a word we're now becoming more used to in the west. But it survives.


"Apricot Jam". Kursk province is 500km to the south of Moscow. Further south still is Belgorod and Kharkov (the latter now in Ukraine), as is Dergachi. Further south still is the Don region, Vasily Kiprianovich's "little stain". (The reference is to the anti-Bolshevik Don Republic of 1918-20.)

"Ego" The setting is Tambov province, 400km SE of Moscow. The Lubyanka prison was in the Chekist HQ on Lubyanka Square in Moscow, 900m NE of Red Square.

"The New Generation" takes place in Rostov,  1,000km south of Moscow, at the mouth of the Don where it flows into the Black Sea.

"Nastenka"  I'm not sure where Nastenka's story begins. The only Milostayki I could find is in Poland, and the only Cherenchitsy in Novgorod province (NW Russia). But these ones, I guess, are meant to be in rural Ukraine, at some distance from Poltava and Kharkov, (see above). Taranovka is in Smolensk province, 400km WSW of Moscow and close to the modern border with Belarus. Sanatorium at Sevastopol in the Crimea. Back to Kharkov, then Moscow. The second Nastenka grows up in Moscow, and is then uprooted to Rostov.

"Adlig Schwenkitten". Then in East Prussia, now Poland (Świękity); 100km S of Königsberg (Kaliningrad), 100km ESE of Gdansk.

"Zhelyabuga village" In Oryol oblast, 350km S of Moscow. Oryol is 45km to the west.

"Times of Crisis". Zhukov is from Kaluga oblast, 200km SW of Moscow. His military service takes him to Yekaterinodar (S of Rostov), Voronezh (500km SSE of Moscow) , Tambov (see above), Belarus, Khalkhin-Gol in Mongolia, Kiev (now in Ukraine), Yelnya (now in Belarus), Leningrad, defence of Moscow, Stalingrad (=Volgograd, 950km SE of Moscow), Oryol (see above), Romania, Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, Berlin ... When he was demoted after WW2, he had stints in Odessa and Ural districts.  Zhukov's dacha a gift from Stalin) is on the Moskva river in the desirable Kuntsevo district to the west of Moscow.

"Fracture Points" Dmitry Yemtsov is in Moscow as a student, then goes to run the defence factory in "the city he had come from" -- somewhere on the Volga. The second part of the story also takes place in this unnamed city.

"No Matter What" The first part of the story takes place in an unspecified location where a reserve regiment awaits news of the battle of Stalingrad. The second takes place (in the 1980s) on the Angara river in Siberia (Krasnoyarsk Krai) - just about the dead centre of Russia, north of Mongolia.


Friday, February 15, 2019

time travel to the shops in 2002


anti-bacterial moisturising handwash



get it together


Bench, Psycho Cowboy, Drunknmunky


A deep family-style trolley full of bulging white bags. Only the French stick and a big packet of bread rolls need to travel exposed.


                                    [photo of Harry Potter type  reading a book of spells]

Low prices on books,

even when he graduates


Osiris (skate shoes - extravagantly wide tongues, named designers)






pots big x 5                 coke
new pots                      diet coke
carrots x 2                  olive oil
leeks x 2                      rice
onions x 2                   spaghetti
fine beans                   bread
mushrooms                rolls
                                    bolg. sauce
                                    chicken tonight
                                                - h + m
tampax – reg.             kievs
snackajacks               stuffing balls
packed lunch              actimel
            stuff                parsnips



B L U E   H A R B O U R

(accompanied by an oblong of blue and red on a black background, suggesting a nautical flag)


Vodafone, O2, T-Mobile, Orange, Virgin Mobile


Butter     Oats    Flaked almonds
Honey    Ground almonds     Lemon Juice

Serpentine Green, Peterborough 2002

[Image source: ]


CLIMATE CHANGE -- OUR VIEW     (pamphlet in Esso service stations)

There is much concern today about man’s potential role in climate change, often referred to as ‘global warming’, and the long-term risk this may pose.

Man-made greenhouse gas emissions occur primarily from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas). So we take climate change very seriously. There are still many gaps in the understanding of climate change, but it poses serious long-term risks and uncertainty is no reason for inaction.

Action is needed, but as greenhouse gases arise from everyday energy use, it is important that actions should address environmental concerns but not threaten standards of living or economic growth. A focus on new technology will be essential.


- Vigorous pursuit of energy efficiency. Saving energy reduces emissions.

- Promotion of carbon ‘storage’ through forestry and agriculture.


It is consistent with Esso’s longstanding commitment to the environment, reflected in our track record of leading our industry in introducing ‘cleaner’ fuels to motorists in the UK, our global record of excellent environmental performance and the recent confirmation by the international quality assessor Lloyd’s Register that our company is ‘among the leaders in industry’ in integrating environmental management into our business.


Thursday, February 14, 2019

the last word in Shakespeare


Ah, hark, the fatal followers do pursue,
And I am faint and cannot fly their fury;
And were I strong, I would not shun their fury.
The sands are numbered that makes up my life....

(3 Henry VI, 1.4.22-25)

This post is about an ornament that shows up in early Shakespeare plays. It consists of making successive or nearly-successive lines end in the same word, e.g. 1.4.23-24 in the passage above. [It's also common in the plays of other authors in the early days of the commercial theatre: Kyd's Spanish Tragedy has many examples.]

It probably has some technical name that I don't know*. And it probably should be studied in the wider context of the early Shakespeare's fondness for patterns of word-repetition elsewhere (e.g. the beginnings of successive lines) . But for this post, we'll ignore that and stick to the repeated line-endings only. In this post I shall just call them "repeats".

[* I don't think it would be right to adopt the rhetorical term epiphora (or its synonym epistrophe). The distinction between prosodic and rhetorical spheres should be maintained, for the good reason that sometimes the repeats do have a clearly epiphoric rhetorical function, as e.g. R3 4.4.40-46 (a pattern of anaphora and epiphora, as Wolfgang Clemen noted). But that's a separate matter. Other repeats are divided between speakers, so it may be more appropriate to see the repeat as responsive: as picking up on another's words. Or picking up on one's own words, as in the dying York's halting soliloquy, where the second line is a follow-up thought to the first. So there's a wide variety of ways in which the repeat can be used, and perhaps most often of all it's merely an ornament, that is, with the low-level but not unimportant contribution of its mite to building up the world of the scene.]

The repeat discussed here is quite different from identical rhyme in Chaucer and others. Identical rhyme requires two homonyms with different senses, whereas in Shakespeare the repeated words usually bear the same sense.

Below are some quick counts from 1 Henry VI, 2 Henry VI , 3 Henry VI , Richard III The Taming of the Shrew the rather later King John and the much later Henry V.  They are not rigorous. I've taken them from editions to hand, and haven't investigated how reliable each reading is.

I've counted repeats and rhymes if they are adjacent or are separated by a single intervening line, but no more. This may seem like an arbitrary point, but it is not. As you can see from the tables there are quite a lot of repeats separated by one intervening line and for the most part they seem intended to be registered. [Allowing one intervening line also means that cross-rhyme gets included -- a more noticeable feature of King John than the earlier plays.] But gaps of two or more lines raise the question whether the repetition is meaningfully foregrounded (consider e.g. King John 1.2.42, 45, 48). After all, every line-ending is certain to get repeated eventually!

I haven't counted "repeats"/"rhymes" if the words in question consist only of unstressed syllables (typically, words like "them" or "it"). I haven't counted rhymes when the lines are not pentameters (for instance, the short lines of inset songs). Some rhymes are moot so I've used my own judgment: in hindsight I probably ought to have included rhymes where one word ends in -s and the other doesn't, but it's too late now. Since the topic is line-endings I've naturally ignored prose, but the borderline between prose and verse can sometimes be unclear (especially in The Taming of the Shrew).

Anyway, my totals are:

         repeats             rhymes
1H6      20                   123
2H6:     18                   37
3H6      44                   48
R3        58                   51
TOTS   21                   49
KJ        42                   57
H5         4                    31

The two devices are not used in the same way. For example, rhymes tend to clinch a speech or end a scene. Repeats often jump between speakers and suggest ongoing debate rather than a concluding cadence.

In viewing these figures, authorship specialists shouldn't get too excited. Both repeats and rhymes are conscious devices, and Shakespeare (or whoever) employs them  in an artistic, intuitive way, so these wide variations in the totals probably aren't significant from an authorship point of view. The chosen plays differ widely from each other; for example 1H6 has some fully rhymed scenes (mostly by Shakespeare, according to Vincent), 2H6 has quite a lot of prose, 3H6 has hardly any prose, and some scenes in R3 are very highly patterned. TOTS has a lot of fun with doggerel rhyme. The early Shakespeare is an experimentalist who's always trying out new things (in a way that seems somehow different in character from the assured mastery of later plays, notwithstanding their variety).  H5 (1599) shows the near-disappearance of repeats and the restriction of rhyme to (largely) the closing one or two couplets of a scene; though the rhymed Epilogue rather skews the figures.

1 Henry VI


1.1.86-87 France
1.3.15-16 here/hear 44-45 face
1.5.4-5 thee
2.5.17-18/20 come 33-34 come
3.1.68-69 Winchester 147-148 not 168-169 blood 180/182 York 186-187 York 207-208 all
3.2.117/119 Burgundy
3.3.36-37 Burgundy 74-75 men
4.1.86-87 wrong
5.3.124/126 wife 178-179 Margaret
5.4.171-172 England
5.5.66-67/69 king


1.1.33-34, 89-90, 146-147, 158-159, 179-180 (ends scene)
1.2.13-14, 86-87, 92-93, 115-116, 117-118, 133-134
1.3.43-44, 45-46, 53-54, 55-56
1.6.30-31 (ends scene)
2.4.17-18, 36-37, 69-70, 127-128, 134-135 (ends scene)
2.5.8-9, 76-77, 128-129 (ends scene)
3.2.138-139 (ends scene)
4.1.194-195 (ends scene)
4.2.55-56 (ends scene)
4.3.29-30, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, 40-41, 42-43, 44-45,46-47, 53-54 (ends scene)
4.4.8-9, 38-39, 45-46 (ends scene)
4.5.16-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23, 24-25, 26-27, 28-29, 30-31, 32-33, 34-35, 36-37, 38-39, 40-41, 42-43, 44-45, 46-47, 48-49, 50-51, 52-53, 54-55 (ends scene)
4.6.2-3, 4-5,6-7, 8-9, 10-11,12-13, 14-15, 16-17, 18-19, 20-21, 22-23, 24-25, 26-27, 28-29, 30-31, 32-33, 34-35, 36-37, 38-39, 40-41, 42-43, 44-45, 46-47, 48-49, 50-51, 52-53, 54-55, 56-57 (ends scene)
4.7.1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-14, 15-16, 17-18, 19-20, 21-22, 23-24, 25-26, 30-31, 32-33, 36-37, 38-39, 40-41, 42-43, 44-45, 46-47, 48-49, 50-51, 95-96, 98-99 (ends scene)
5.1.60-62 (ends scene)
5.2.4-5, 19-20
5.3.58-59, 85-86, 108-109, 116-117

2 Henry VI


1.1.185-186 Protector 212-213 land
1.2.103-104 broker
1.3.136-137 law
2.2.49-50/52 son 67-68 king
2.3.32-33 realm
3.1.6,8 himself 105/107 France 241-242 life 266-267 deceit 274/276 priest
3.2.62/64 groans 299-300 Suffolk 369/371 thee
5.1.43-44 prisoner 185/187 oath 212/214 bear


1.1.221-222, 270-271 (ends scene)
2.1.173-174, 175-176, 201-202, 203-204, 209-210, 211-212, 217-218 (ends scene)
2.3.35-36, 37-38, 39-40, 45-46, 47-48
3.1.203-204, 222-223, 302-303, 328-329, 387-388 (ends scene)
3.2.224-225, 309-310, 427-428 (ends scene)
4.2.141-142, 179-180
5.1.217-218, 219-220 (ends scene)
5.2.29-30, 71-72, 73-74, 89-90 (ends scene, apart from a half-line)
5.3.33-34 (ends scene)

3 Henry VI


1.1.13-14 blood  79-80 crown 102/104 crown 114-115 head 131/133 king 144-145 crown
1.4.23-24 fury 161-162 tears
2.1.4-5 news 25-26 suns/sun 52-53 Troy
2.2.131-132 right 153/155 day
2.3.33-34 thine
2.5.5/7 sea 6/8-9 wind 86-87 heart 104/106/108 satisfied
2.6.25-26 pity 71-72 faults
3.1.64/66 content
3.2.38/40 good 88-89 queen 97/99 queen 171-172 crown
3.342-43 sorrow 53-54 amity 78/80 queen 139-140 king 201-202 friend 207/209 him 239-240 loyalty
4.1.39-40 itself 41-42 France
4.2.24-25 him
4.3.60/62 do
4.6.26-27 virtuous 82/84 him
5.1.4-5 Montague 31/33/35 gift
5.2.7-8 shows
5.5.56-57 child 73-74 do it
5.6.13-14 bush


1.1.8-9, 223-224
2.1.116-117, 122-123, 186-187
2.2.61-62, 173-174, 176-177
2.5.10-11, 19-20, 121-122
2.6.29-30, 109-110 (ends scene)
3.2.107-108, 109-110, 194-195 (ends scene)
3.3.19-20, 36-37, 127-128, 163-164, 231-232, 254-255, 264-265 (ends scene: a half-rhyme (misery/mockery))
4.1.104-105, 110-111, 147-148 (ends scene)
4.4.14-15, 23-24, 34-35 (ends scene)
4.5.28-29 (ends scene)
4.6.14-15,16-17, 30-31, 75-76, 87-88, 99-100, 101-102 (ends scene)
4.7.38-39, 71-72, 86-87 (ends scene)
5.6.90-91, 92-93 (ends scene)
5.7.45-46 (ends scene)

Richard III


1.1.29/31 days 55-56/58 'G' 105-106 obey
1.2.60-61 unnatural 62-63 death 80/82/84-85/87 self 124-125 effect 134-135 life 141-143 husband
1.3.54-55 grace 66-67 self 76-77 need of you 142-143 world 147-148 king 154-155 Queen thereof 159-160 me 197-198 king 199-200 Wales 250-251/253 duty 292-294 him
1.4.228-229 weep
2.1.36-37 friend 48-49 day
2.2.72-73 Clarence 74-76 gone  77-79 loss 82/84 so do I
2.4.9-11 grow
3.1.49-50 place 53-54 there 79/81 long 113-114 give 128-129 me
3.4.79-80 me
4.1.102-103 well (ends scene)
4.2.70-71 enemies 75-76 them
4.4.40-46 kill him / kill'd him 63-64 Edward 95-96 thee 140/142 crown 218-219 destiny 257/259 soul 284-285 way 350/352 last 392/394 age 410-411 but by this 452/454 go 483-484 north 502-503 arms
5.3.83-84 mother 127-128 despair and die 189-191 myself 197-199 degree 203-204 myself 253-254 enemy 266/268 attempt
5.4.7-8 horse


1.1.39-40, 56-57, 58-59, 64-65, 75-77, 83-84, 99-100, 161-162 (ends scene)
1.2.267-268 (ends scene)
1.4.82-83, 247-248, 272-273 (ends scene)
3.4.106-107 (ends scene)
3.6.13-14 (ends scene)
3.7.2-3, 103-104, 220-221
4.2.63-64, 121-122 (ends scene)
4.3.54-55, 56-57 (ends scene)
4.4.15-16, 20-21, 24-25, 103-104, 114-115, 124-125, 130-131, 166-167, 168-169, 170-171, 195-196, 210-211, 395-396
5.1.28-29 (ends scene)
5.2.23-24 (ends scene)
5.3.17-18, 150-151, 156-157, 166-167, 172-173, 174-175, 176-177, 183-184, 270-271, 305-306, 313-314
5.5.38-39, 40-41  (ends scene)

The Taming of the Shrew


1.1.213-214 Lucentio
1.2.74-75 Padua 97/99 Minola 157-158 it is 172-173 prove
2.1.141-142 pale 187-188 Kate 200-201 and so are you 207/209 buzzard 230/232 sour 275-276 Kate 376/378 argosy
4.1.112-113 before
4.3.7-8 entreat 95/97 time
4.4.36/38 well
4.5.4-5 bright 17-18 sun
5.2.21/23 that 81-82 come 133/135 her


1.1.3-4, 64-65, 68-69, 70-71, 158-159, 166-167
1.2.11-12, 17-18, 34-35, 173-174, 187-188, 212-213, 227-228, 229-230, 243-244, 278-279 (ends scene)
2.1.73-74, 239-240, 325-326, 328-329, 332-333, 339-340, 341-342, 404-405
3.1.13-14, 71-76, 89-90 (ends scene)
4.1.197-198 (ends scene)
4.2.44-45, 57-58
4.3.37-38, 55-56, 57-58, 59-60, 116-117
4.4.104-105 (ends scene)
4.5.23-24, 78-79 (ends scene)
5.1.128-129, 139-140 (ends scene)
5.2.2-3, 178-179, 180-181, 182-183, 184-185, 186-187, 188-189 (ends scene)

King John


2.1.86/88 to heaven 144-145 robe 180-181 Earth 201-202 will 211-212 subjects 378-379 king 444/446/448 Blanche 523-524 myself 525-526 her eye 538/540 love 557-558 hands 559-560 assured 620/622 rich
3.1.9-10 man 13-16 fears 27/29 true 40-41 done 62-63 John 85-86 day 135/137/139 limbs 210-211 Cardinal 214/216 Rome 219/221 faith 272-273 faith 278-279 thyself 295/297 forsworn
3.3.56-57 well
3.4.23-24 redress 74-75 liberty 94-95 child 142/144 fall 146-147 Arthur did
4.1.65/67 do it
4.2.131-132 France 158-159 so 213/215 Arthur's death
4.3.29/31 now 40-41 grave 59-61/63 hand 75-76 you


1.1.42-43, 84-85, 149-151, 154-155, 156-157, 168-169, 170-171, 173-174, 175/177, 176/178, 179-180, 181-182, 184-185, 186-187, 209-210, 265-266, 279-280, 281/283, 282/284 (ends scene)
2.1.148-149, 430-431, 432-433, 526/528, 527/529, 530-531, 623-624, 625-626 (ends scene)
3.1.11-12, 63-66, 76-77, 229-230, 323-324, 336-337, 340-341, 352-353, 361-362 (ends scene)
3.4.59/61, 107-108, 186-187 (ends scene)
4.1.60-61, 147-148 (ends scene)
4.2.54-55, 101-102, 103-104, 156-157, 258/260, 280-281 (ends scene)
4.3.7-8, 9-10, 166-167
5.1.80-81 (ends scene)
5.2.182-183 (ends scene)
5.4.22-23, 61-62 (ends scene)
5.7.72-73, 109/111, 123-124 (ends scene)

Henry V


1.2.132/134 England
4.1.247-248 ceremony 290/292 peace
4.8.95-96 France


1.Prol 33-34, 35-36 (ends scene)
1.2.320-321, 322-323 (ends scene)
2.Prol 39-40, 41-42 (ends scene)
2.2.201-202 (ends scene)
3. Prol 36-37 (ends scene)
3.1.36-37 (ends scene)
3.3.42-43, 58-59 (ends scene)
3.5.70-71 (ends scene)
3.7.160-161 (ends scene)
4.Prol.53-54 (ends scene)
4.1.269-270, 319-320 (ends scene)
4.2.37-38, 63-64 (ends scene)
4.3.139-140 (ends scene)
4.5.24-25 (ends scene)
4.8.130-131 (ends scene)
5.2.366-367, 385-386 (ends scene)
5.Epilogue. 1/3, 2/4, 5/7, 6/8, 9/11, 10/12, 13-14 (ends scene)


Monday, February 11, 2019


Ulla-Lena Lundberg is a Finland-Swedish author. Is was published in 2012. The English translation, by Thomas Teal, came out in 2016.

The novel is set on the Örlands (a made-up name, I think), one of the many groups of tiny islands to the east of the main Åland mass. (The Åland islands are part of Finland, but are almost exclusively Swedish-speaking.) It begins in May 1946, with a young priest and his family arriving to take up the vacancy. That's really all I want to say, it's a book to be shared but not written about. Here's a typically low-key, almost inert, registering:


Every day it changes a bit -- more hay, less grass -- but what hay! The sea level is still low, the sun shines, there is a light breeze. A dry spell so perfect that Mona ventures out after only two days to start turning the windrows, in the afternoon when the hay on top is completely dry. The windrows are so light and fine that it's a joy to let the breeze help as she turns them with her rake. At times the windrows seem to turn themselves. She walks beside the verger's Signe, who works the neighbouring row. It's not heavy work and they talk as they go, about the animals and their hope that the weather will hold and folks will finish their haymaking well before they start getting ready for the herring fishery. Signe tells her how it used to be, when they all went off to the fishing camps and stayed until well into September. She talks more than she could have in the verger's company, and before the day is over, the hay is turned and the smell has changed -- more barn, less heaven. Both of them are pleased and sweaty. "Almost makes you want to jump in the sea, if it weren't for all those sailboats," says the pastor's wife. But Signe says that you jump in the sea if you want to kill yourself. Otherwise you wash in the sauna!

For the next few days, Mona is deeply nervous. She runs around doing her chores and suddenly stops to look at the sky. This strangely beautiful weather can't last, it's only natural for the sea level to rise a bit at the shore, it's starting to get cooler and there are banks of clouds above the outer skerries. Everyone who came to church on Sunday was astonished that the pastor's hay was already mown. If it rains on the hay now, everyone will say that they were in too great a hurry. She passionately wants to show them that this is the time to cut grass, not when the hay is overgrown, and with all her might she tries to keep the clouds away. "Stay out there!" she commands them silently. "Don't you dare come in over these islands!"

The verger, who is her friend and admirer, states with all his authority that the granite is now so warm that the rain will go around it. "Even if it rains at sea, that doesn't mean it will rain on land." He is wise and experienced, no nonsense about God's will. Why would he want it to rain on her hay! She walks down to the meadow one more time to check. If it doesn't rain, it needs only one more day. At least one, because the humidity is higher now and the hay is drying more slowly. She noticed that with the laundry she hung out.


Petter and Mona are incomers, and their attempts to connect with the Örlanders, both their success and the inevitability of failure, is the bread-and-butter of the book. This provisionality gradually develops a more cosmic dimsension.

They live on the small "church isle", in the centre of the group. A rivalry exists between the east villages and the west villages. In summer you get about by boat; in the winter, the Örlanders are connected by sea-ice.

[As usual, I label Finland-Swedish literature under both national traditions, since Finland-Swedish literature (being in Swedish) is so widely read in Sweden.]

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Hugo Alfvén

Mainly due to people asking me what I want for my birthday, I've managed to build up quite a stock of music by the Swedish composer Hugo Alfvén (1872 - 1960). I'm not much good at writing about classical music, but this post gives me a chance to arrange the various pieces on these CDs into chronological order. They are all either orchestral or for chorus and orchestra.

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 11 (1898-1899)

At the time this was the most ambitious Swedish symphony. At this date Alfvén was not so far behind the musical developments of other European traditions: it's late romantic, chromatic, and Alfvén brought a new virtuosity of orchestral handling into Swedish music (comparisons with Strauss don't really do him much service, though). There's a slight lack of balance: the first, third and fourth movements hang together as a fine medium-to-bold symphony, but the long second movement aims at being positively heroic, or should I say Eroic?

Vid sekelskiftet (At the Turn of the Century), Op. 12 (1899)

Cantata for soprano, choir and orchestra, with text by Erik Axel Karlfeldt. Very enjoyable!

Klockorna (The Bells), Op. 13 (1900)

A rather dramatic ballad for baritone and orchestra. (Text by Frithiof Holmgren)

Midsommarvaka (Midsummer Vigil), Op. 19 (Svensk rapsodi nr. 1) (1903)

Doubtless the best-known piece of Swedish classical music outside Sweden, this is an irresistible popular piece, book-ended by folk-dances with a serene Nordic night between.

En skärgårdssägen (Legend of the Skerries), Op. 20 (1904)

Stormy tone-poem depicting autumn night on the skerries. (To some extent intended as a contrast to the preceding piece.)  Probably my single favourite piece by Alfvén: everything develops so naturally and inventively from the opening calm. The composer has such a stock of good ideas in these early years, and his orchestral skills make for very satisfying elegant pieces... Scandinavian-design sofas and shelving units.

Alfvén was very fond of messing about in the Stockholm archipelago (the skerries). The locale also inspired his Symphony No. 4.

Symphony No. 3 in E major, Op. 23 (1905-06)

Alfvén's sunniest symphony, written in Italy and in love. Very attractive and enjoyable. I would say more if I didn't seem to have lost the CD. (When I opened the case, I found Act I of Aida instead.)

Uppsalarapsodi (Uppsala Rhapsody), Op. 24 (Svensk rapsodi nr. 2) (1907)

A charming and cheerful piece based on students' songs, evidently recalling Brahms' Academic Festival Overture, but much less elaborately composed. The luminous colours make some atonement for that.

Kantat vid Reformationsfesten i Uppsala 1917 (Cantata for the 1917 Reformation Festivities in Uppsala), Op. 36 (1917)

The text for the final section (Luthers hammare) is by Karlfeldt. Its late arrival meant that Alfvén wrote a stark and dramatic arrangement, in effective contrast to the more elaborate choral writing of the first two sections.

Symphony No. 4  in C minor "Från havsbandet" (From the Outermost Skerries), Op. 39 (1918-1919)

To some this is his greatest work, along with the ballet Bergakungen (see next). His first three symphonies had been easy to enjoy as symphonies. In this case the four movements flow together and all share the same melodic material. It's a symphony that's trying to be a large-scale tone poem, including sections with two wordless voices and a sort of skeletal narrative.

"My symphony tells the tale of two young souls. The action takes place in the skerries, where sea sea rages among the rocks on gloomy, stormy nights, by moonlight and in sunshine . . . the moods of nature are no less than symbols for the human heart."

 I find these two quite different forms difficult to meld in my head while I'm listening. Harmonically it's his most "advanced" work, reminding me of Scriabin sometimes.

whelm   reproach    4
  beach    hull
then   arose   cliff
 hall      shake   wrack
weeps the arm stretch
tendrils mutiny
we cried      we kissed
  tempest     autumn

Suite from Bergakungen (The Mountain King) (1916-1923)

Alfvén worked on the ballet pantomime Bergakungen (Op. 37) from 1916 to 1923. This concert suite has just four pieces; the breakneck Vallflickans dans (Herdmaiden's Dance) is one of his most popular pieces, often performed separately.

Dalarapsodi (Dalecarlian rhapsody), Op. 47 (Svensk rapsodi nr. 3) (1931)

The last of the three rhapsodies, a comparatively melancholy piece, based on Dala folk melodies from the area north of Lake Siljan. Alfvén outlined a program (a shepherdess's memories and thoughts, returning with a crash to present melancholy). The composer, though born in Stockholm, made his home in Dalarna for much of his life.

Elegy from "Gustav Adolf II", Op. 49 (1932)

Written for the play "Vi" by Ludvig Nordström, later part of a suite called "Gustav Adolf II", but this Adagio is often performed on its own. The motif of two falling chromatic seconds also occurs in the 4th Symphony (the young man's theme).

Festival Overture, Op. 52 (1944)

A triumphal piece for a popular audience.

Symphony No. 5 in A minor, Op. 54 (1953...)

I can't help thinking about Sibelius 8. That of course was abandoned/destroyed.  Some might think that Alfvén should have done the same with this, but I'm so glad he didn't because it is fascinating. It was performed in 1953, but the ageing composer still wasn't satisfied and withdrew it for further tinkering. The first movement is an impressive charred slab of what Alfvén does, but more chromatic, dominated by a descent of three semitones ("det minst dåliga jag gjort"..."the least terrible thing I have produced"). Here, as in the other movements, it may strike you that the symphony is eking out quite a small stock of melodic material (and even so, some of it is recognizable from earlier works).The idea of being trapped, of being caught in the workings of a clock; we experience this at the same time as quite different emotions. The third movement has a sarcastic motif like a joke that continues to turn out wrong; the second movement is understatedly beautiful, the fourth tries to be an optimistic celebration; but nothing is quite what it seems. No point in listening to it with a furrowed brow, and when I set out to just enjoy each movement for its colour and its simplest aspirations, then that's when the experience is most worthwhile. (Assuming that private listening to old-fashioned music is ever worthwhile: a moot point.)

Concert suite from Den förlorade sonen (The Prodigal Son) (1957)

The ballet was based on folk pictures of the biblical parable. Alfvén at 85 was unable to compose a complete ballet from scratch (I don't think it was given an Opus number). He re-used some pieces of earlier music as well as adding new material based on folk melodies, which is what we get in the very attractive concert suite. The polka and final polska are a delight.

There's some inconsistency about the names of the seven sections. These are the most complete ones I can find.

1. Gånglåt från Leksand — Sonens gånglåt
2. Polska från Orsa
3. Drottningens av Saba festmarsch
4. Polketta
5. Steklåt
6. Polka från Roslagen
7. Final: Polska


Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Swedish/English idioms

A frozen Lake Mälaren

As I've mentioned before, I'm half-Swedish but have always lived in England. (A matter of significant regret right now, as I've got no chance of qualifying for a Swedish passport.)

Anyway, the upshot is that I'm apt to regard English culture as a bit mundane and, on the contrary, to idealize Swedish culture because it reminds me of childhood memories and holidays. It's therefore been a salutary experience, now that I'm making a daily effort to read the news in Swedish, to discover that the two languages share many of the same idioms and clichés.

A Swedish politician is as likely to slip on a "bananskal" as an English one on a banana-skin.

The pithy phrase "slowly but surely" is in Swedish the equally pithy "sakta men säkert".

Words used in the same figurative way in both languages:

Hörnsten: cornerstone
Målat in sig i ett hörn: painted her/himself into a corner
Grönt ljus: green light
Gör sig hemmastadda: make her/himself at home
Ett steg längre: one step further
Lämna stafettpinnan vidare: hand on the baton
Lejonparten: the lion's share
Klämtade klockan: the bell tolled
Tappa mark: lose ground
Banérförare: flag-bearer, standard-bearer
Tummen ner: the thumbs down

And finally, it isn't just British politicians who say this:

Det är helt oacceptabelt att resenärer drabbas så fort det blir lite vinterväder.
It's completely unacceptable that travel is disrupted as soon as there's a bit of winter weather....

What classes as "a bit of winter weather" might vary between the two countries, but the sentiment remains the same!


Of course there are many picturesque Swedish expressions that don't translate directly to English equivalents:

"mota Olle i grind": counter Olle at the gate. I.e. stop something before it gets out of hand, nip it in the bud. [There's something about the name Olle that means it gets used in comic or folky contexts.]


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Free Reality Street PDFs

That essential but now sadly defunct poetry publisher Reality Street Editions has announced that eleven of its out of print titles have been made available as free downloadable PDFs. You can get them from the Reality Street front page (towards the bottom, on the right!)

The eleven happens to include two of my favourite books, Ken Edwards' eight + six and Carol Watts' Wrack -- I've touched on both of them here.

Today, however, I'm more interested in the books I bought but never managed to get into, Fanny Howe's O'Clock and Emergence .

Discovering a new poet is not usually a matter of love at first sight, at least that's my experience. Many arid and bad-tempered hours of reading usually precede the moment when something happens... or rather, when I become aware that something has happened. So it was with Ken and Carol, and with Andrea Brady, and Drew Milne. My initial feeling about all these now-beloved poets was at best sulky, critical, resentful. I positively disliked Drew's poetry (I recall that it was the Australian writer Alison Croggon who first put a different idea in my head). At this early stage of reading I certainly was not on board with the program -- but I kept on reading, and that's the thing. Of course I believe that all books of poems are good, but how long will I have to keep on reading  (and stopping reading, and thinking, and trying again), before I can see it... will I be able to sustain the effort?

And what is it that happens, when it happens? It isn't so simple as re-reading a poem and suddenly liking it or suddenly understanding it.  Not in these sorts of poetry. The thing that clicks is more something about the project as a whole. It's not that I understand the project either. But  there's at any rate something I get, the geography of the page has become meaningful, I have guesses about where the poet is trying to go and the places they keep returning to, my vision of their individuality as a poet is more distinct, perhaps I'm even beginning to move to the music. All of these formulae are analogical. And so is this one: Every poem makes a statement and now I can hear it being made, though I still don't know what it is.

A great deal of serendipity attaches to this matter of getting into a modern poet's work. I gave up on Fanny's two books, but now I've been given a second chance. I look at them and seem to know them, but better than I did; as if after all I've been reading them the whole time.

Two from O'Clock (a sequence of short poems written while in Co. Monaghan and on the road in the UK)


Every task works its way to infinity.
But blue eyes don’t make blue sky.

Outside a grey washed world, snow all diffused into steam
and glaucoma. My vagabondage
is unlonelied by poems.

Floral like the slow-motion coming of spring.

And air gets into everything.
Even nothing.


I f you mess up, run to the west
and hide in its sunset.

P retend invisibility
can be opted for

w hen it’s everywhere
until you want it.

I f you need to get lost, go underground.
T here you grow strong and fertile as a slum.

From "Alsace-Lorraine" (in Emergence):

The fancy they builded had many,
had fancy, many mansions once,
but no room in, each one full
     “All in the head” as celestial
mansions be
Now of that collection only an image stays, dazzle
in a traveling surface
Can also hit their hearts by a ballet or Monet
but never build again, outside the house of art.

She wants to find a really lonely village
     set off, see
in a shade of day lily      this bitter sensation
and early morning dense misting
     White iron where spirits’ll meander, the gone
ones she can’t believe in
leaving her, the way they hang her heavy head,
     as sculpture, still
saying nothing of the truth’s ill tense.

Steven Toussaint's review of Emergence:
Maureen N. McLane on Fanny Howe (considers, among other poems, O'Clock and "Alsace-Lorraine")


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