Today in Fiction

Nathan Englander reads John Cheever

The new school year started only 3 days ago but I already feel tired and a little lost. The new students from the tech university are a bit hard to adjust to, and I don’t feel like putting much effort because I sense they’re not going to appreciate it. Let’s wait until the philologists next week and see where it’s going.

Meanwhile I’m just going to say that I’m so enjoying Jonathan Coe’s Expo 58, it’s so sparkingly British! Great relief after The Prague Cemetery, uff.

English Spelling

Dearest creature in creation
Studying English pronunciation,
   I will teach you in my verse
   Sounds like corpse, corps, horse and worse.

I will keep you, Susy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy;
   Tear in eye, your dress you’ll tear;
   Queer, fair seer, hear my prayer.

Pray, console your loving poet,
Make my coat look new, dear, sew it!
   Just compare heart, hear and heard,
   Dies and diet, lord and word.

And so it goes for 274 lines. Written by a Dutch scholar and traveler in about 1920.

There is also a 147-line version, which you can listen to being read right here, and I should credit Propel Steps for the delight it brought me. A great material to teach spelling vs. pronounciation, and well, since we’re talking about spelling, here’s another amusing poem. “Sauce unknown”!

Virginia Woolf Talks about the English Language

To combine old words with new words is fatal to the constitution of a sentence. In order to use new words properly you would have to invent a whole new language, and that though no doubt we shall come to it, is not at the moment our business. Our business is to see what we can do with the old English language as it is. How can we combine the old words in new orders so that they can survive, so that they create beauty, so that they tell the truth? <…> [Words] are the wildest, freest, most irresponsible, most unteachable of all things. <…> [They] don’t live in the dictionary, they live in the mind. If you want proof of this, consider how often in the moments of emotion when we most need words we find none.

It was recorded by BBC in 1937 and is the only surviving recording of Mrs. Woolf’s voice. (via Open Culture)

There is an exhibition at the National Gallery at the moment, Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision; I envy Londoners and tourists.

Some Poetry

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling place.

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

by Lord Byron

It was Dead Poets Society that reminded me of this poem. I remember at the university one of my groumates copying the poem to a girl of our acquaintance, she didn’t figure it was not his and was quite impressed 🙂

and here’s a nice poetry podcast, may be helpful if you’re not too condifent in rhythm and rhymes:

Julian Barnes and cross-reference in teaching literature

Julian Barnes reads Homage To Switzerland by Ernest Hemingway

Julian Barnes writes Homage to Hemingway

Julian Barnes is cool.